2018 Annual Symposium Program Plenary Speakers

We are excited to announce our plenary speakers for the 61st Annual IAVS Symposium. The program will open each morning with a plenary talk.

Dr. Bob Peet

Biology Department
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill                                                  
Web Site

Monday, July 23

Natural ecosystems as an evolving focus of North American vegetation science.

Vegetation Science in North America has from the beginning had a strong focus on understanding natural ecosystems. In the early days ecologists like H.C. Cowles and W.S.
Cooper examined succession in natural landscapes, whereas ecologists like F. Clements
documented the pattern of community assembly across landscapes. Subsequently, workers
like J.T. Curtis and R.H. Whittaker expanded on this early work by placing natural communities in the context of continuous variation across environmental and temporal gradients. I will summarize more recent work on natural vegetation from three landscapes (forests of the Rocky Mountains, deciduous forests of the eastern US, and pine savannas of the southeastern US). I will use these systems to illustrate how research on them has contributed to and reflects increased understanding of community assembly processes and response to disturbance. Moreover, in each case scale of observation plays a critical role as ecological processes need to be examined at scales ranging from inter-organism interactions to landscapes. In addition, all of these “natural systems” are changing as a consequence of
human activities, leading to a need for further work on how to understand and best manage
landscapes in a novel world that is increasing dominated by human activities. In recent years
there has been an increased emphasis in North America on classification of natural vegetation as a tool for biodiversity inventory, conservation planning, and management implementation, paralleling the longer history of vegetation classification elsewhere in the world. All of this leads us to appreciate the converging perspectives of vegetation scientists from across the world, and the importance of continuing to collect, analyze and disseminate spatially extensive and long-term data on community composition, especially from natural ecosystems.


Dr. Naia Morueta-Holme

Assistant Professor
Center of Macroecology, Evolution and Climate
University of Copenhagen
Web Site

Tuesday, July 24

Understanding the distribution of plants in the Anthropocene

Discerning the patterns of distribution of life on Earth and understanding their drivers have
motivated the work of many naturalists and biogeographers since the Age of Exploration. Over the past centuries, we have learned much about the relative importance of dispersal, biotic and abiotic factors in shaping communities from local to continental scales. This knowledge has been spurred by the informatics revolution and the amassment of large amounts of data on species occurrences, functional traits, and the environment. Further, studies on distribution shifts in response to ongoing environmental change have provided insights into the processes underlying range dynamics. However, the strong influence that humans exert on ecosystems through e.g. land conversion, changes to nutrient cycles, and species dispersal may pose difficulties to the inference of the fundamental “laws” and natural processes driving species’ distributions. With examples from my own work within plant geography in the Americas, I will discuss some of the challenges – but also opportunities – of doing research in landscapes increasingly dominated by humans. I will argue that it is time not only to focus on the negative impacts of humans on global biodiversity conservation, but also to account for the role of humans within basic ecology research.


Dr. Scott Collins

Distinguished Professor
Department of Biology
The University of New Mexico
Web Site

Thursday, July 26

Are inherent dynamics in natural ecosystems a challenge for benchmarks in vegetation science?

The theme of this meeting addresses natural ecosystems and how they serve as benchmarks for vegetation science. At first glance, this theme seems to be simple, important and obvious, yet it can be difficult to objectively establish a benchmark for many ecosystems that are highly dynamic, and subject to tipping points. Moreover, long-term data are implicit in the concept of benchmarks, either historical data compared to current measurements, or current conditions become the benchmark for the future. Based on long-term vegetation data from arid and mesic grasslands, I will explore the rates at which these ecosystems undergo change in the absence of natural or anthropogenic disturbance. In addition, new metrics for quantifying community dynamics (species reordering, species turnover) can be used to explore how communities are changing. Together, long-term data and simple quantitative metrics can be used to measure current rates of change, embedding natural dynamics into the concept of benchmarks for natural ecosystems.


Dr. Janet Franklin

Distinguished Professor of Biogeography
Department of Botany and Plant Sciences
University of California - Riverside
Web Site

Friday, July 27

Vegetation Scientists Answer Big Questions When We Work Together

In a 2017 paper in Global Change Biology, entitled “Big data for forecasting global change impacts on plant communities,” my coauthors and I concluded with the following thoughts: a lot of insightful vegetation science gets done by small groups of collaborators using original data. The pressing need for research on vegetation dynamics in an era of global change demands larger datasets spanning broader spatial and temporal extents than are covered in individual studies.  Data registries, archives and aggregators have developed, and forest inventory data have been repurposed, to address this need. Examples of these in vegetation science include VegBank, European Vegetation Archive, Botanical Information and Ecology Network, and Global Index of Vegetation-Plot Databases. But small, legacy datasets (plots, relev├ęs) still abound, and their full potential has not yet been exploited to address big questions in vegetation science. There is real value in including those who collect vegetation data in analyzing and interpreting them when those data are aggregated. These collaborations develop formally (research networks), and informally. I will describe several such efforts that I have been part of recently. They include a phylogenetic classification of the world’s tropical forests, studies of diversity patterns in Neotropical seasonally dry tropical forests, geographical ecology of West Indian dry forests, and species diversity and turnover in tropical islands across the Indo-Pacific. Publications from these studies had >150, 63, 23, and 27 authors, respectively, in an era when journals are reexamining appropriate criteria for authorship. I contrast these collaborations with my experiences as a data miner of, and data contributor to, vegetation plot archives. By working together, vegetation scientists can ask and answer bigger questions at ecological to biogeographical scales.  These larger-scale efforts are also likely to include information from intact natural ecosystems in a region as benchmarks against which to interpret disturbed, semi-natural and novel plant communities in an era of global change.


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