Last month, I travelled to the EU Macro in Copenhagen, Denmark. I’m really glad I went even though I didn’t present a talk or poster*. This was a macroecology-focused meeting, organized through a joint effort of the British Ecological Society (BES), the Gesellschaft fur Okologie (GfO), and the Center for Macroecology, Evolution & Climate (CMEC). It sometimes feels like there aren’t a lot of macroecologists compared to other kinds of ecologists, and there is no American Macroecology Meeting (but maybe there should be), so I was pretty excited about the opportunity to join a whole room full of macroecologists eager to talk about their work.
Macroecology could loosely be defined as the study of emergent patterns of diversity, abundance, and distribution, typically at large spatial scales**. One defining characteristic of a macroecological approach is that it is a more top-down approach – looking at the system’s properties as a whole, and the emergent relationships between those properties (e.g. treating individuals as particles without focusing on the nitty gritty details). So macroecological research comes in several different flavors including: those who study continental or global relationships between species and their environment (map-focused, Species Distribution Modelling-focused), those who study statistical patterns of abundance and diversity at large spatial or temporal scales (Species-area relationships, species abundance distributions, etc.), and those linking inference from small-scale studies or experiments with inferences from large-scale patterns. In summary, a great strength of macroecology is that it allows us to study patterns at very large spatial or temporal scales, but its main approach does not necessarily need to be used only with large-scale datasets***.
Prior to the meeting, I hadn’t met many of the European macroecologists (who seem to be more of the species+environment flavor of macroecology) and it was fun and informative to hear that group’s perspective on the state of macroecology. Some of the major challenges brought up included: too many maps, “I don’t believe your p-values”, need more mechanisms, does proxy data mean what we think it means? even MORE data, and extrapolating across scales). There were a lot of global maps and species distribution models presented, but talks included topics such as diversification and biodiversity patterns, species traits and climate change, behavior and metabolism, and predicting change into the future.
One of the things I really liked about this meeting is that was relatively small (a few hundred people) and there were plenty of breaks and social events to be able to have real discussions between talks. I had some great conversations and made some good connections for data, coding tools, research ideas, and touch base with a few collaborators for ongoing projects. I’m looking forward to applying some of these tools and ideas to my own work moving forward!
The organizers for EU Macro did a really fantastic job (Especially Sally Keith, Adam Algar, and Marten Winter – thanks!), and I sincerely hope that this is a meeting that will be held again in the future! Tweeters were active, and you can still check out #EUMacro for tweets from the conference****. It has even been suggested that the hashtag continue to be used for macroecology-related posts such as job or conference announcements!
You can read a few more summaries of the conference:
- @QUBio_Blog – A macroecologist walks into a museum
- @DynamicEcology – Macroecology reaching a self-conscious adolescence
- @InsectEcology – Some thoughts on #EUMacro
- @nhcooper123 – Storify Part 1and Storify Part 2
* Leading up to the meeting, I had mixed feelings about not presenting formally, but I think it turned out really well. Not worrying about a presentation allowed me to focus on getting things done during the previous month of travel insanity, and during the meeting, I was able to really think about the talks and conversations. Even though I don’t tend to get very nervous before giving a talk, it was amazing how much extra brain space not presenting freed up. I’ll still probably present at most conferences I go to, but it was a nice change of pace!
** If this sounds like your thing, check out the Macroecology book by J.H. Brown. It’s 20 years old now, but still a great introduction to macroecological concepts. Or check out the original Macroecology paper (Brown & Maurer 1989).
*** In fact, recent papers and discussions at the EU Macro meeting, have highlighted the need for macroecology to connect back to more detailed studies to gain an understanding of mechanisms driving patterns, to link patterns with natural history information, and to assess the reliability of predictions coming from large-scale or future projection models.
**** You know your meeting has a strong twitter presence when it trends above the Game of Thrones season finale!