Thursday, May 13, 2010

The world of conferences

I also had the opportunity to attend a conference this week, the 5th annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, held at the Universite Laval. It was a well organized conference with a lot of energy and some very interesting talks and posters. Quebec City served as a wonderful setting for the conference and I was impressed by how the conference was truly bilingual. I was also impressed by vieux Quebec and the beauty of the St.Lawrence.

This was my first "real" conference and hence my first "real" presentation. I was eager (and a little nervous) to present my MSc research thus far. My presentation was entitled "Zooplankton metacommunity responses to climate change in the subarctic" (A.Winegardner and K. Cottenie) and was presented in the Conservation and Climate Change session. The main take home messages for this presentation (and really our work on this project thus far) are:

- salinity of coastal freshwater systems along the coast of Hudson Bay is increasing.

- this increase may exceed tolerated limits of salinity in many zooplankton species.

- salt addition during a field experiment did not have the expected effect of changing zooplankton community composition in either isolated or potentially connected rock pools.

- salinity may not be the most important environmental driver in this metacommunity. Rather pool hydroperiod, connectivty and resting egg dynamics may be important either alone or in concert.

- this study is one of the first to apply the metacommunity concept to an issue of climate change.

Students and faculty from the Integrative Biology department and School of Environmental Science at Guelph contributed about 10-12 presentations and posters at this conference. This along with the sheer number of student presentations made for a very supportive environment. My talk was not the only from Guelph with a Churchill focus. Nick and Ola from the Gregory Lab presented their research on genome size of Churchill area and low arctic crustaceans and molluscs respectively. Once I got my talk out of the way I was able to attend many interesting presentations. I was especially intrigued by several presentations on metacommunity dynamics, connectivity, network theory and fragmentation by students and post-docs from the Gonzalez lab at McGill University.

The conference also included a student workshop on science communication and the media. Jim Handman, executive producer of the CBC radio show "Quirks and Quarks" spoke about how the media often interprets the majority of science as falling into 1 of 3 categories:
- an oddity (think wierd science)
- a threat (ex. honeybee Colony Collpase Disorder, nuclear weapons, big pharma)
- a cure (every newspaper wants to be the one to run the headline "Scientist cures cancer")

But the problem with this is science is not black and white or neatly categorized like this. And the headline "Scientist cures cancer" is probably more accurately read as (example from Handman) "Scientists and numerous collaborators, graduate students and undergraduate summer students find some statistically significant evidence that treatment X results in marginally reduced levels of Y in subpopulation A when all other variables are controlled." This reminded me that uncertainty is one of the exciting things about science and that even though I haven't sorted out what all my experimental results mean yet, there are tons of possible explanations out there.

I'm looking forward to future conferences and especially to the CSEE's 2011 conference which will be held in Banff.

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