Liverpool – The BESt place to be in December 2016!

By Lindsay Banin, Geertje van der Heijden and Fernanda Coelho de Souza

From 11th to 14th December 2016, Liverpool underwent a mass migration of ecologists – the British Ecological Society annual meeting welcomed over 1200 scientists and practitioners. We were happy to meet BESTEG members new and old during the mixer event on Sunday evening (by the way, you can join our mailing list by e-mailing The highlight of our social calendar was the bountiful buffet and mind-boggling pub quiz we hosted at the Liverpool Pub on Monday evening, leaving people with ‘Club Tropicana’ and other 80’s classics ringing in their ears as they salsa-ed their way home that evening. If you’ve never attended one of our social events before, it’s a fantastic and informal way to meet other tropical enthusiasts away from the meeting madness.

With over 800 talks, there was a vast variety of topics covered. Needless to say, you can’t attend them all. A few of the TEG committee members tasked themselves with selecting their favourites during the meeting. In case you missed them, recordings of talks will be made available via the BES website.

Lindsay Banin on ‘Phosphorus and fungi in the montane forests of Panama’

Brian Steidinger proposed that not all plants are equal in their ability to access soil phosphorus and that not all forms of phosphorus are equal. Using the western montane forests of Panama as a test system, he used two experimental approaches to assess differences in ectomycorrhizal (EM), arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) and non-mycorrhizal (NM) plants, and whether these plants may be co-existing by exploiting difference phosphorus niches. Differing growth responses in the NM species vs the EM and AM species to application of various P forms indicated that the species are likely to be accessing and utilising different forms of P from the soil, reducing soil P competition among species and facilitating coexistence. I was not surprised to later discover Brian had indeed won the Functional Ecology journal Haldane prize! You can learn more about his research here

Geertje van der Heijden on ‘Pearl Mussels on the brink in Malaysia’

Alexandra Zieritz (University of Nottingham, Malaysia campus) presented interesting research on the effects of oil palm conversion on invertebrate communities, in particular fresh water mussels. After extensive river surveys in the Sarawak area in Malaysia, she could only find 2 species of mussels, one native species and one invasive species. However, historical collections indicate that at least four other native fresh mussel species were present previously. Dr. Zieritz suggested that these species may be on the brink of extinction or may already be extinct (or only present in part of the river with man-eating crocs and were therefore unsurveyed!).

Fernanda Coelho de Souza on ‘Fire in the savannahs of the Serengeti’

James Probert, a PhD student from University of Liverpool, gave an amazing talk about the complexity on the drivers of fire in the Serengeti and its importance for successfully managing African savannahs. He used satellite data to investigate the spatial and temporal patterns that are driving fires in savannah ecosystems. The author showed that rainfall is the main driver of fire in Serengeti savannahs and precipitation is positively associated with fire, but humans also seems to be playing a role. Fire regimes increase in both intensity and frequency with the increase of precipitation due to enhanced productivity and available fuel. Probert’s talk also received the acclaim of the ‘twitteratti’ at the meeting. Tweeters we asked to include ‘#BESTEG’ alongside the meeting’s #BES2016, enabling us to see what really inspired discussion and interaction amongst tropical ecologists. People also turned to twitter so say how much they had enjoyed Olivia Norfolk’s talk on the coffee plantations of Ehtiopia, and whether they help conserve butterflies by acting as wildlife corridors. Likewise, the audience was mesmerized by the animations in Kim Calder’s talk, demonstrating how the volume and biomass of trees can be estimated non-destructively.

This is a mere glimpse into the host of interesting tropical topics covered during the meeting, but hope it will inspire you to come along to our early-career researcher meeting in Lancaster in March 2017 and the annual meeting in Ghent next December – you may even feel it’s time for a tropical thematic session; details on how to apply can be found here.