Making marks in biogeography

More than a few young biogeographers must be on their way home now with a renewed sense of purpose and community, after the first early-career meeting of the International Biogeography Society, held in Oxford. With the exception of four great plenary talks, all presentations were made by scientists with fewer than five years of post-doctoral experience. In fact the eight members of the IBS board, the only attendees past the ‘five-year’ mark, weren’t even present at most presentations as they were holding a board meeting simultaneously. Not that I’m complaining, it left a curious feeling of a school class being allowed to run their own field trip.

This year, starting with the IBS biennial meeting in January, it’s been obvious to me that the collaborative opportunities and discussion that have arisen through interaction with my peers have been more fruitful than those with more established scientists. This obviously has a lot to do with the fact that my career is moving along, but also reflects what an exciting field biogeography is to be in right now and the remarkable scientific maturity of the PhD students and post-docs around me. To me this reflects the advances the field of biogeography has made in becoming not just a distinct discipline, but one that manages to consider simultaneously processes occurring anywhere from millions of years in the past to every hour of the day. To do this, as Lawrence Heaney pointed out, scientists must examine the paradigm through which they analyse the world. The young scientists I see in my field are perfectly positioned to do just that. There was an emphasis on inter-disciplinary thinking that I haven’t seen at any of other the meetings I’ve attended in the last eight months (since the last IBS meeting in fact!). Even more than that, the presenters were serious about their tools they are using to do integrate their multitudes of perspectives. There were several new techniques presented for uniting data across temporal and spatial scales that seem likely to take biogeography forward.

In particular, Corey Merow presented some really practical work on how a widely used ecological-niche modelling tool can be refined to produce much more realistic results. Nicholas Matzke talked us through new models for reconstructing the ecological niches and distributions of ancestral species. This seems pretty important for investigating speciation and diversification. Juliano Sarmento Cabral demonstrated conceptually how long and short term range dynamics can be united to synthesise the conditions that might have led to the formation of particular communities

There was also a note of confidence in taking on some of the old paradigms in biogeography. Alex Pigot demonstrated that traditional explanations of the ‘boom and bust’ trajectory of range size during a species’ life time are no more supported than a null model. Yael Kisel and Lynsey McInnes showed that there may be a role for speciation and extinction in determining Species Area Curves, over and above environmental drivers.

So to the organizers – more please, and to the colleagues I’ve just met – thanks!

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