Thematic Sessions

We are excited to announce the thematic sessions running at this year’s Festival of Ecology.

Thematic Sessions aim to create a high-profile forum for the discussion of timely, innovative and/or important questionsand showcase integration with disciplines outside of ecology (including other natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities). 

We are excited to announce the following thematic sessions running at a Festival of Ecology, along with the organiser names. These sessions will run live or semi-live, with real time Q&A sessions, and will then be available to view on demand.

Bending the curve of biodiversity change: what will the future bring? 
Guillaume Latombe, University of Vienna 
Bernd Lenzner, University of Vienna  

The rate at which humans have altered the biophysical environment of the Earth has accelerated at an unprecedented speed over the last decade, with profound implications for the current and future status of biodiversity. In this session, we will explore different scenarios for the future of biodiversity in the Anthropocene and the impacts on human welfare, including economic costs and health. We will address different types of anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity, including climate change and biological invasions, for terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Finally, we will discuss the urgency of acting now to ensure a prosperous future for both humans and nature.   

Capturing ecology across scales using new technology
Mariana García Criado, University of Edinburgh 
Jakob J. Assmann, Aarhus University
Isla Myers-Smith, University of Edinburgh

Technology is advancing ecological monitoring, research and biodiversity conservation. New tools in the ecologist’s tool kit are improving our understanding of ecosystem dynamics, processes and functions at increasingly detailed resolutions, often providing entirely new perspectives. This session explores how recently emerging technologies such as drones, satellite remote sensing, time lapse, video and acoustic monitoring are reshaping current ecological research across spatial and temporal scales. The speakers will introduce novel tools applied to ecology, demonstrate the technology in action and discuss the effectiveness of novel methods to address key ecological questions.   

The climatic, ecological and societal importance of peatlands
Charlotte Wheeler, University of Edinburgh 
Lydia Cole, University of St Andrews 

Peatlands act as one of the most efficient terrestrial carbon sinks on the planet. Despite this, across the temperate and tropical zones, many are experiencing rapid change under the pressures of development. Although this has provoked a recent increase in research on how to manage them more sustainably, there are still many unanswered questions about the physical, ecological and socio-economic condition of the world’s peatlands, including the role they play at the local level, and as a potential Nature-based Solution. This session will present research and foster discussion on the varied condition and state of knowledge of peatland regions across the world.  

Long-term environmental monitoring – challenges and opportunities 
Ben Sykes, Ecological Continuity Trust (ECT) 
Don Monteith, UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) 

This session will review the importance and application of long-term monitoring and experimentation in understanding the impact of environmental change on the structure and function of ecosystems. It will consider current limitations, potential synergies with other long-term ecological surveys, and the adoption of emerging technologies. In addressing the evidence for the influence of known drivers of change, such as air pollution, climate and local land use, it will also touch on the serendipitous potential of long-term monitoring records in revealing and understanding unexpected change and events, and in providing baselines for the assessment of new threats.  

Nature-based solutions for climate change and biodiversity
Mike Morecroft, Natural England
Phillipa Gillingham, Bournemouth University
Bethany Chamberlain, BES Policy Team

The UK Governments have committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and there has been considerable interest among decision-makers in the potential for ‘nature-based solutions’ (NBS) to contribute towards this goal and help us adapt to climate change. This session will present key findings from a BES report analysing the potential of different NBS in the UK to deliver climate adaptation, mitigation and biodiversity benefits – and the policies needed to deliver them.   

New methods for studying evolution in ecological time
Rob Freckleton, Sheffield University 
Jennifer Meyer, Managing Editor, Methods in Ecology and Evolution

Changes in climate and land use are driving habitat changes at unprecedented rates, often leading to extinction or distribution changes of species, but also driving fast evolutionary change. Studying evolution on these time scales requires new techniques such as next-generation sequencing, remote sensing or eDNA analyses; combined with statistical methods the resulting large datasets can be integrated with ecological information to make forecasts about the fates of individuals or populations. 

This session, sponsored by Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will focus on a range of methodologies and how they are facilitating new research approaches at the interface between ecology and evolution.  

Rewilding as a recovery strategy to mitigate the biodiversity and climate crises 
Pil Pedersen, University of Leicester
Christopher J. Sandom, University of Sussex 

In the face of the twin crises of biodiversity and climate breakdown, it is of utmost importance to identify effective solutions capable of mitigating both crises. Increasing evidence points to rewilding as a potential twin solution. However, rewilding has not yet attracted the funding, practical and political interest to be tested at scale. Building on the momentum of the latest IPBES report and the Climate Action Summit on Nature-based Solutions from 2019, this Thematic Session provides an opportunity to explore if and how rewilding could help rise to the challenge of tackling biodiversity breakdown and the climate emergency.  

Soundscapes as a tool to monitor disturbance impacts in the Anthropocene 
Samuel R.P-J. Ross, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland 
Darren P. O’Connell, Newcastle University 

With the continued rise of passive acoustic monitoring as a tool for rapid ecosystem monitoring, soundscape ecology is increasingly making use of a suite of new analytical techniques to summarise the acoustic environment. In doing so, a range of ecological questions opens up, as does the opportunity for high-resolution monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem condition.  

This thematic session will cover emerging opportunities to combine acoustic ecology research into a single cohesive disturbance framework. We will explore the ability of soundscapes to capture responses of populations, communities, and ecosystems to various anthropogenic and environmental disturbances across terrestrial and aquatic systems.   

Species interactions and the challenge of mechanistic ecological forecasts 
Maria Paniw, Doñana Biological Station, Spain 
Eloy Revilla, Doñana Biological Station, Spain 

Species interactions mediate the effects of environmental stressors on natural populations, and, if altered, may themselves become a key stressor. This session will lay out our current knowledge and future directions in explicitly modelling and forecasting species interactions. The keynote presentation will highlight how new ecosystems forming under global change shape and are shaped by interactions between plants and pollinators. The two subsequent talks will address case studies that assess the effect of species interactions on conservation outcomes. The remaining talks will then present state-of-art modelling tools that allow for a mechanistic integration and forecasting of species interactions across a wide range of systems.  

Wild microbiomes: understanding the dynamics and consequences of host-microbe interactions under natural conditions 
Amy R Sweeny, University of Edinburgh 
David S Richardson, University of East Anglia 

Wild animals host incredibly complex microbial communities (the microbiome). These symbiotic communities have pervasive effects on host biologybut the role of the microbiome within natural systems remains poorly understood. Since the microbiome of captive and laboratory animals often differ compositionally and functionally from that of their wild counterparts, studies on wild animals with naturally-acquired microbiomes are essential to understand the microbiome’s role in host ecology and evolution. This Thematic Session highlights ground-breaking work that sheds light on drivers and consequences of host-microbiota interactions in a range of wild systems, as well as newly developed methods in this fast-growing field.