"One-of-a-kind": Early Career Scientists Symposium 2012 on biodiversity informatics
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The eighth annual Early Career Scientists Symposium on biodiversity informatics was “one-of-a-kind” according to keynote speaker Robert Guralnick, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, University of Colorado Boulder.
“The focus on early career scientists is a great one, and it gives a particular window into not just up-and-coming people but also cutting edge techniques and where novel research agendas are developing,” Guralnick said. “For example, I really liked Morgan Tingley's talk about the intersection between species distribution modeling and occupancy modeling. Those areas are very worth exploring. Also, biodiversity informatics is an ‘emerging’ field and so the symposium helps to show directions and get young scientists in the audience to consider where this field sits in relation to their interests and abilities.
“This event is one-of-a-kind and what I liked most was a mix of being well-run but also somewhat relaxed and very collaborative. I had a great time and felt so honored to be involved.”
The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan presented eight outstanding scientists early in their careers as part of an international symposium on biodiversity informatics and its application to research in ecology and evolutionary biology. ECSS was held at Palmer Commons on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, March 25, 2012. The presenters pursue cutting-edge approaches to biodiversity sciences that integrate and/or synthesize informatics resources, including genomic/genetic, phylogenetic, morphological, geographic, and ecological datasets and those who are leveraging information from natural history collections.
"The early career scientists symposia provide overviews of emerging research topics in ecology and evolutionary biology from the perspective of accomplished graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty,” said Professor Christopher Dick, chair of the ECSS 2012 planning committee. The 2012 symposium provided the EEB department a chance to explore research directions that will likely impact U-M’s extensive natural history collections, according to Dick. “Another advantage of the symposium is that it gives us a chance to meet our future colleagues. In fact, we met two of our present faculty members in the 2004 and 2007 ECSS meetings.”
Some common themes identified by Guralnick were: 1) All symposium participants work with legacy data sources, whether field notebooks or records stored in natural history collections. 2) We are building exciting new ways to share these legacy sources of information in repositories built around community standards that support interoperability. 3) We are beginning to be able to use such sources of data for examining global-scale patterns. Developing these broad-scale views requires new modeling techniques. 4) These approaches are very integrative and can incorporate phylogenetic histories and the paleontological record.
“We saw some great ecological modeling talks that use biodiversity data that have been made available via development of publishing platforms and technologies to scale the way we deliver data,” said Guralnick. In his opinion, the future of biodiversity informatics is development of repositories for data, information and knowledge, and solutions that work at scale and are cost-effective.
When asked to comment on interesting research that was discussed, Guralnick said, “Where to start! So much of the material presented was great, from the deep time perspectives on turnover to integrating phylogenies into measurements of diversity, to global change work showing changes in community structure or to impacts of warming, through to citizen science approaches for building our knowledge about biodiversity.”
“I was intrigued by some of the research involving ‘citizen scientists,’” said Dick. “For example, Andrew Hill described how the public was employed to transcribe captain's logbooks from the British Royal Navy, which provided detailed data on weather conditions at thousands of precisely mapped oceanic locations from the early 19th Century. Morgan Tingly described how data from birdwatchers is being used to track population dynamics and range expansions. Both speakers detailed the methods that are used to verify and cross-check data generated by the public, and showed the great promise that lies in combining museum collections and efforts of enthusiastic naturalists and historians.”
160 people registered for the event, with more than a fifth from other institutions including Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University, Texas Tech, University of Illinois, University of Windsor and University of Notre Dame. There was great interest across disciplines with registrants from the School of Information, School of Natural Resources and Environment, Center for the Study of Complex Systems, Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health's Department of Epidemiology, Museum of Zoology, Museum of Paleontology, The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the Cellular and Molecular Biology Program.
“I was impressed by the numbers of students from EEB and neighboring universities who presented posters during the lunch break,” said Dick. “It was great to touch base with EEB grad students and postdocs and learn about related work in progress in other universities.”
“It was an excellent event and brought together some interesting and talented speakers,” said Professor Mark Hunter, acting chair of EEB. “The symposium was an excellent reminder that, whatever our research interests, biodiversity collections and the information that they generate can play a central role in our work.”
Caption: ECSS 2012 committee (back, left to right): Evan Economo, Stephen Smith, Hayley Lanier, Ya Yang, Christopher Dick, Phil Myers. Speakers (front, left to right): Monica Papeş, Robert Guralnick, Dan F. Rosauer, Lauren Sallan, Jessica L. Blois, Morgan W. Tingley, Ana Carolina Carnaval, Andrew Hill, Zhiheng Wang.
ECSS book raffle
Thanks to the following authors and illustrators who donated a copy of their book for a raffle at the event. Michigan Trees by Burt Barnes and Herb Wagner; Field Manual of Michigan Flora by Edward G. Voss and Anton A. Reznicek; Nature’s Matrix by John Vandermeer, Ivette Perfecto, Angus Lindsay Wright; Thumping on Trees by Richard Alexander, illustrated by John Megahan; Pippa’s First Summer by Catherine Badgley, illustrated by Bonnie Miljour.
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