Matthew Aiello-Lammens Ecologist at Work

South Africa 2015

A little less than a month ago, I took my second trip to South Africa. Last year I spent nearly seven weeks there, collecting field data that we’re currently in the process of analyzing. It was an amazing experience, and given the length of time I was there, I felt like I was pretty immersed in the region. In contrast, this year I was in country for only seven days - two teaching a Software Carpentry workshop, one playing tourist, and three at a symposium our research group organized. In this post, I’d like to focus on the symposium a bit.

The title of the symposium was Plant Diversity in the GCFR: From Genomes to Biomes. The motivation for organizing and hosting this symposium came from the fact that our research group has been largely funded by a NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity grant for almost five years, putting us in the final year of funding. (Note: I’ve only been involved with the group for the last two years.) So this symposium was a way for us to share what we’ve found over the last few years, to bring together other scientists investigating similar questions, and as a way to acknowledge and thank the many South African scientists who helped various members of our group over the years. In total, just under 100 people participated in one way or another. In my opinion, all of the talks were interesting and thought provoking. And the Q&A and conversations during breaks and meals demonstrated that there was both a lot of synergism among those who attended. For sure, lots of great ideas were exchanged. Personally, I had several great conversations about the results I presented on community assembly in the Baviaanskloof region, which have me re-thinking some of our initial interpretation. I also talked with several of the speakers and other attendees about ideas outside of my immediate interest, such as what explains the evolution of such a large number of plant species in this region.

One thing I thought particularly interesting is that the talks were about a 50/50 mix of scientists directly supported by the dimensions grant and some of the prominent scientists whose research largely, or partly, focuses on the GCFR. That meant that dimensions supported scientists were a mix of graduate students, postdocs, early career faculty, and established faculty, while to other talks were all given by very well established scientists. I don’t really have the ability to remove myself from the situation enough to say that this made a difference in quality of talks or importance of the ideas presented, but it was at least something that stood out to me.