The 94th annual Ecological Society of America meeting kicked off this Sunday with two, count them, two Gonzalez lab members in attendance. The theme for this year's meeting is "Ecological Knowledge and a Global Sustainable Society," and while there is some deal of murmuring that the theme is particularly ironic for a relatively isolated location that happens to be in a desert, the unique setting has inspired some interesting conversations on water issues and other elements of sustainability.
External to the meeting theme there have been some genuinely interesting talks in the desperately over-air-conditioned Albuquerque convention center. In particular over the last two days I have enjoyed an interesting special session calling for the emergence of a fully formed discipline of "warfare ecology" to address the unique and prevalent ecological challenges presented by war, and a symposium looking at interactions of ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Indeed, there have been a few shards of inspiration capable of piercing even my bitter and withered heart.
One thing that strikes me about a lot of the talks is the value of a charismatic study system, by which I simply mean a clear cut relationship to nature. I think it is a weakness of my talks, and indeed of many other theoretical talks, that they fail to sufficiently highlight the organisms involved, treating the model systems as abstractions unworthy of particular merit or attention. The problem strikes me as twofold: on one hand I think that such naturalistic exhibitionism keeps the audience's attention better than sheer theory, but also reminds us of the tendency for nature to act in idiosyncratic and contextual ways.
Of course, the talks are only half the conference. Come nightfall there are always interesting people to talk to, and you really never know who you'll end up eating with. Never have I talked to so many people from so many countries.