Mountains in transition: global change in environments
Mountain environments are the backbone of Canada's network of parks and protected areas, and they sustain a disproportionate number of our species at risk. They are also especially sensitive to climatic change - in part due to their unique geography and ecology. In this session we will present papers that examine ecological change in alpine ecosystems in the past and looking to the future, at scales from genes to biomes (University of Guelph).
Consumers-Resource Dynamics in the Planet's Grasslands (Nutnet)
Two of the most pervasive human impacts are alteration of global nutrient budgets and changes in the abundance and identity of consumers. Fossil fuel combustion and agricultural fertilization have doubled and quintupled, respectively, global pools of nitrogen and phosphorus relative to pre-industrial levels. Concurrently, habitat degradation and hunting and fishing disproportionately remove consumers from food webs. At the same time, humans are adding consumers for endpoints such as conservation, recreation, and agriculture, as well as accidental introductions of invasive consumers. In spite of the global impacts of these human activities, there have been no globally coordinated experiments to quantify the general impacts on ecological systems. The Nutrient Network (NutNet), established in 2007, is a grassroots research effort to address these questions within a coordinated research network comprised of 100+ grassland sites worldwide. This symposium will present findings of global, regional, and site-level research deriving from Nutnet over the last decade and more, with speakers from around the planet (University of Minnesota, University of Guelph).
Merging theory and empirical research on ecosystem functioning of connected ecosystems
Understanding the impacts of connections (e.g., dispersal of organisms, flow of nutrients) among populations, communities and ecosystems is a fundamental challenge in ecology. The crux of the problem is that major nutrient flows and organism dispersal connect complex subsystems (e.g. aquatic-terrestrial, aboveground-belowground) that individually strain our capacity to model and predict trends at landscape extents. Recent meta-community and meta-ecosystem theories are promising but have yet to yield general principles to be confidently applied to real-world problems, as meta-population theory has been. Our session aims to develop a practical synthesize of spatial ecology theory by uniting the theoretical and empirical knowledge of the effects of flows between coupled ecosystems (University of Toronto).
Long-term studies of invertebrate ecology in Canada
Long-term studies of animal ecology provide crucial information for understanding how animals adapt (or not) to environmental change. Such adaptations provide insights into how animal populations evolve and also provide the basis for improved conservation strategies. While long-term studies of vertebrates are rare, long-term studies of invertebrates are even rarer. This symposium will highlight Canadian research projects that have continuously monitored invertebrate populations for at least a half-decade, examining issues of ecology, evolution, and conservation. The papers will explore and exchange new ideas, methods and tools for developing and continuing monitoring programs for invertebrate species now and into the future (Brock University, University of Guelph).
Genetic estimates of population size
How to estimate the size of a population is central to evolutionary, conservation and population biology. In this symposium we will synthesize recent conceptual, methodological and empirical advances in the estimation of the genetically effective size of a wild population (Ne) as well as on progress on inferences on the relationship of Ne with census population size (Nc). The effective size of a population is the size of an ideal population that loses genetic diversity at the same rate as the actual population under study. It influences both the rate of random genetic drift and the effectiveness of natural selection acting on the population, and is thus a fundamental concept in conservation genetics. Because wild populations usually depart from ideal conditions (e.g., overlapping generations, iteroparity, spatial fragmentation, skewness in reproductive success, etc) effective population sizes, are generally smaller than the corresponding census population size, but how much smaller remains uncertain. Our symposium will showcase recent major conceptual, methodological and empirical advances on these topics (Dalhousie University and Concordia University).
Evolutionary conservation: Where are we at, where are we going?
The field of evolutionary conservation, which aims to quantify and understand the ability of species to respond to environmental change, has been formalized only very recently. While the need to understand the evolutionary potential of species facing extirpation and extinction has long been recognized, the capacity to do so was hampered by technological limitations. However, in the current ‘big-data era’ we now have the ability to analyze large quantities of data across populations of non-model organisms. With this potential comes the ability to integrate genomic and large-scale ecological data to aid the development of more effective conservation programs. In this symposium we will delve into this new and burgeoning field by addressing where the research is at, where it is going, and what are the potential limitations being faced by investigators. (University of Alberta, University of New England, Yale University).
Revealing food web rewiring under ecosystem change
Given the ongoing and widespread effects of climate change and a myriad other natural and human-induced environmental changes, ecologists are eager to predict how ecosystems and their constituent species will respond. Ecologists are now documenting behavioral responses to changing conditions, such as changes in species’ ranges, habitat use, and interactions with other species. These responses alter ecosystems’ energy and nutrient flows and stability, ostensibly rewiring food webs as the wires or flows between species change. Thus, rapid behavioral responses should provide ecologists with an avenue to assay organism- to ecosystem-level responses to environmental change. This symposium will highlight some diverse examples of species behavioural responses to environmental change and reveal how the world’s food webs are rewiring. (University of Guelph).
Using human modification to model connectivity in multifunctional landscapes for conservation planning
Environmental modifications caused by human activities are an important threat to biodiversity and ecosystem service sustainability. They are the main drivers of changes in community structure due to their effects on land-use change, climate change, and biological invasions. Understanding their impact on landscape composition, fragmentation, and connectivity is important for developing efficient conservation planning in multifunctional landscapes. While species differ in their functional response, coarse-filter approaches are needed for land-use and conservation planning. This symposium will present new tools for large-scale landscape connectivity modeling using human modification-based indices, assess their ability to explain biodiversity patterns and predict effects of land-use change, and discuss their usefulness for conservation planning. (Université de Picardie Jules Verne [France], University of Toronto).
Ecology in an urbanizing world
Urbanization is increasing around the world at unprecedented rates and changes ecosystems through a variety of processes including habitat fragmentation, increased noise, light, temperature, pollution, traffic, and anthropogenic food sources. In this symposium, we will have speakers on wide-ranging topics in urban ecological research, a growing field in ecology. The approach to this symposium is to be broad, with the objective to disseminate how we study urban ecology, present the impacts of urbanization on aquatic and terrestrial systems, from wildlife research to green roofs to urban wetlands, and to bring people together to increase our understanding of ecology where most people live – cities. (University of Ontario Institute of Technology, DePaul University).
Learning and memory allow phenotypic plasticity within each generation of animals. These cognitive traits vary substantially across a wide range of taxa, but also vary among individuals and social groups (for example bee colonies) within populations or species. Understanding how such variation in cognitive performance might be adaptive under different ecological conditions is a major outstanding question. There is increasing interest in the field of cognitive ecology and this symposium brings together a selection of excellent researchers from across North America working on these questions using a diverse range of taxa as model systems, including fruit flies, bees, bats and birds. (University of Guelph).
Working at the science-policy interface: passion, perspectives, and public discourse
With the onset of the Anthropocene and its many environmental challenges, science-informed policy is increasingly the mantra of many government agencies. As a result, multiple special interest groups and scientists vie for an authoritative scientific narrative to feed into the decision-making process. To effectively bridge the divide between sound science and policy and regulatory development, practitioners and policy makers need to address issues of scientific uncertainty, and come to common understandings of what information is needed, and when. Effective science for policy also requires understanding around issues of values and bias, normative science, and science communication. Further, understanding the dynamics of the decision-making process, and seeing the broader regulatory landscape is crucial; failure to do so can result in policy that does more harm than good. This symposium will bring together scientists and policy experts from academia, industry, government, and non-governmental organizations to help inform the discussion of the application of science to decision-making, and highlight the potential gains and risks associated with science advocacy and with producing and applying decision-oriented science (Natural Resource Canada, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement).
New perspectives on the consumption and non-consumptive effects of predators
Ecologists have a longstanding fascination with the role of predators in animal population dynamics, including how predation shapes prey distribution, abundance, numerical variability and natural selection. Likewise, attributes of prey can profoundly influence predators, causing variation in predator condition, foraging behavior, demography and population persistence. Important recent advances have propelled our appreciation of the relevance and complexity of predator-prey interactions, and this symposium will collate our current understanding of these dynamic relationships while forecasting the major developments that will lead to major breakthroughs. For example, consumptive effects of predators must be better tied to mechanisms affecting the predation rate itself, including predator foraging dynamics, predator-predator interactions, and prey selection patterns, before a robust explanation of predation rate determinants is possible. Likewise, non-consumptive effects of predators are increasingly assumed to be substantive to prey, but the weak link between short, highly-controlled lab experiments (where perceived predation risk is primarily assessed) vs. more realistic field situations (where long-term consequences are difficult to discern) must be reconciled. Thus, despite substantive recent advances in our understanding of the role of predation, significant knowledge gaps must be filled before a truly robust and comprehensive perspective can emerge. This symposium will address these knowledge gaps. (Trent University).
Agroecosystems systems in the 21st century
A major challenge is feeding a growing population while minimizing environmental impacts. Integrating agricultural and ecological knowledge into the management of cropping and grazing systems can help address this global issue. For instance, leveraging evolutionary dynamics between weeds and insect pests with their crop hosts, biodiversity – ecosystem functionality relationships, or improved understanding of above- and below- ground interactions all have potential to improve both agricultural and environmental bottom lines. This session invites contributions that explore ecological and environmental processes within agroecosystems, progress on valuation of ecosystem services, and novel ways to produce a more resilient agricultural landscape. We hope to collectively deepen understanding and improve predictions of how agricultural systems are likely to change in the future and how to best manage them for multiple ecosystem services on both local and global scales (University of Guelph).
Trophic interactions in the changing north
Northern ecosystems are experiencing great change. Climatic warming alters the intensity of abiotic limitation factors, while the northward migration of species changes biotic interactions. Together these changes affect the balance of top-down and bottom-up regulating forces in boreal and Arctic ecosystems. This symposium addresses how changing abiotic conditions and shifting species distributions alter trophic interactions and ecosystem dynamics in the north. Community ecology, network ecology and biogeographical approaches to studying trophic interactions will be united and talks will cover trophic levels from producers, to herbivores and carnivores as well as soil ecology. The symposium will therefore provide a holistic venue for synthesizing understanding the regulation of northern ecosystem dynamics and communities in a period of intense environmental change. (Norway University of Science and Technology, Université Laval).
Pollinator and pollination ecology
Pollinators and the pollination services they provide are critical for agriculture and terrestrial ecosystem function. Roughly one in three mouthfuls of food we eat depend on animal mediated pollination, services worth around $720 Billion CAD to global agriculture each year. Almost 90% of flowering plants rely to some extent on animal mediated pollination for reproduction. Understanding the behaviour and ecology of pollinators in the context of the diverse flower species they interact is a field that has never been more popular. This interest is set against a public awareness about pollinator declines and the ramifications of losing these ecosystem service providers. This symposium brings together a diverse range of excellent researchers and presenters from across North America. They will present on a range of topics touching pollinators and pollination in natural and managed (including agricultural) landscapes. (University of Guelph).
The invasion risk of microbial biofertilizers
Soil microbes are sold world-wide as biofertilizers, but we know very little about the fate of commercial inoculum in natural ecosystems. Can they become invasive and drive plant invasions? Unfortunately, there is little research on distribution of commercial inoculants, on or off site, so these questions remain unanswered. Key to understanding how quickly they could spread is knowledge about their dispersal. Traits that make an isolate good for use as a commercial product, such competitiveness may also increase the invasiveness of the strain. There is an urgent need for scientists to discuss the state of the art surrounding fungal biofertilizers and identify research challenges in order to guide best practices. We propose a meeting whereby scientists will articulate a path forward for both research, industry and policy makers (UBC Okanagan).
Ecology and evolution of food caching in the wild
An overview of field studies of food caching species that focus on how species cache food, the long-term fitness consequences of food caching behaviour, and global change impacts on these phenomena.