March 5, 2019, by lzzeb

A conference in eight haikus

A blog by Dr Adam Algar

In January 2019, I travelled to Malaga, Spain to attend the 9th Bienniel Meeting of the International Biogeography Society, funded by the School of Geography. I am an old hand at the (unfortunately abbreviated) IBS meetings, having only missed one since 2007, but this edition had several particular highlights. Firstly, three of my PhD students—Emma Higgins, Henry Fell, and Vanessa Cutts —were presenting their research. Emma on using remote sensing to understand thermal microhabitats of Anolis lizards, Henry on the climatic niche dynamics of plague invasions, and Vanessa on endemism and the evolution of ecological specialization on the Canary Islands. Secondly, my recently-retired PhD supervisor, David Currie, was at the meeting, which gave me the chance to introduce him to his ‘academic grandchildren’ (my PhD students). Lastly, the Society’s Alfred Russell Wallace award for lifetime achievement in biogeography was presented to Rosemary Gillespie for her work on adaptive radiation and island biogeography. This was a highlight because, while I was doing my PhD, on one of Rosie’s papers on Hawaiian spiders helped kickstart my interest in island evolution and adaptive radiation. I’ve been lucky over the past few IBS meetings to meet Rosie and get to know her a little bit, and she’s even more inspiring in person. It’s always great when awards go to excellent scientists who are also nice people, rather than to excellent scientists who are also jerks.

While every conference is a little bit different, there is also a regularity to their rhythm: field trip, welcome reception, plenary presentations, poster sessions, chat with old friends, make new acquaintances, develop new research ideas and revive collaborations. This soothingly familiar structure brings to mind the haiku, a traditional 3-lined form of Japanese poetry, that despite its adherence to a rigid format, allows for considerable creativity and innovation. Much, in fact, like a conference:

Conference season
Plenaries, poster sessions

Meeting old mentors
PhD supervisor
Proud of me I hope

IBS Meetings
“Oh, my first was Tenerife”
Firmly mid-career

My postgrad students
Calmly presenting
Why am I nervous?

Big-data niches
Controversial SDM
The climate of plague

Humming of a drone
There’s nowhere to hide, lizard
A thermal anole

Island endemics
Thriving in isolation
But are you lonely?

Hawaian spiders
Adaptive radiation
Gillespie’s domain


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