Blog post by ESA Executive Director Catherine O’Riordan
This week I traveled to Northern Ireland for the first time to represent ESA at the British Ecological Society meeting in Belfast. Traveling to Belfast directly from the U.S. is difficult, as most flights go through London, so I flew to Dublin and took a two-hour bus ride across the border. Fortunately Brexit was not yet an issue so the trip went smoothly (there is discussion of a hard border between the southern Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland).
BES 2019 drew over 1200 delegates from 40 countries around the world. I was joined by Sue Silver, the Editor in Chief of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, in representing ESA in the exhibit hall at the largest ecology meeting in Europe. We spoke with several long-time ESA members and engaged delegates less familiar with ESA in lively discussions about our journal content, policy and education activities, and the upcoming ESA meeting in Salt Lake City. Many delegates were aware of some ESA programs, but were curious to learn about the full range of what we offer.
The scientific program itself was top notch. Plenary talks included such topics as controversies in biodiversity (Jonathan Chase), novel ways to communicate science to the public (Esther Ngumgi), and the interactions between plants and complex soil communities (BES President Richard Bargett). Approximately 11 concurrent oral sessions were held each morning and afternoon. Poster sessions were held every evening in the exhibit hall, and many presenters gave one to two minute “lightning talks” at the end of oral sessions to kick off the posters. Beer and wine served in the exhibit hall added to the atmosphere of animated discussions. The range of subjects mirrored many that are frequently discussed at ESA meetings: evolutionary and community ecology, ecology data, biogeography, nature and humans, ecosystem and functional ecology, wildlife disease, species interactions, and conservation science and policy.
Many lunchtime workshops were held on topics such as publishing and peer review, public engagement and science communication, job skills, publication ethics, and work-life balance. One highlight of the meeting was engaging with ecological societies from around the world. We interacted with representatives from Chinese, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Hungarian, Dutch, and French societies to share common challenges and some best practices. Discussions about science continued at a conference banquet held at the Titanic Belfast (a museum dedicated to the building of the famous ship in Belfast). Attendees ate heartily, enjoyed local brews, and engaged in lively Irish line dancing.
One highlight for those of us who could stay an extra day was a tour of the northern coast that included hiking the Giant’s Causeway. This UNESCO world heritage site is named for a Gaelic legend that the rocks are the remainder of a causeway built by a giant. The result of a volcanic fissure eruption 50 million years ago, it consists of an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns with cliffs of solidified lava that soar 100 feet overhead. Although rainy and cold (common weather in Ireland in winter), the day was spectacular and the locals were welcoming. Our trip left BES delegates with a deep appreciation of the natural beauty of Ireland, as well as the warm hospitality of its people.