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Historic ILTER Open Science Meeting a novel platform for global ecosystems research and collaboration


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More than 300 delegates from countries as far afield as China, Japan, India, Mexico, Austria, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the United States converged on Skukuza in the Kruger National Park on Monday 10 October 2016 to share their research in 160 presentations, reinforcing the International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) Network's status as an internationally acknowledged research network.

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The OSM group picture was captured by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated by SAEON technician Rion Lerm

In line with the umbrella theme of Long-term ecosystem research for sustainability under global changes, some 30 additional contributions - ranging from keynote speeches and network position papers to workshop sessions - were included to raise the Open Science Meeting (OSM) to a level where globally shared scientific and organisational issues were actively deliberated on and advanced among the global change research community.

This landmark event, initiated and hosted by SAEON with sponsorship from the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and National Research Foundation (NRF), coincided with Global Climate Change Week.

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ILTER Chair Michael Mirtl provided a glimpse into future developments envisaged for ILTER, largely based on the results of a survey among its members in 2015

Citing an old African proverb, David Lindenmayer left delegates with this message: "If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together."

"Place your research where the change happens," Bob Scholes told delegates                                                     

The conference was opened by Phil Mjwara, founding Co-Chair of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and Director-General of the South African Department of Science and Technology. Mjwara welcomed the delegates, as essential contributors to the achievement of sustainable development goals, to South Africa, and said that he was looking forward to "a unique meeting of minds in a world-renowned biodiversity sanctuary, the Kruger National Park".

Mjwara predicted that the meeting's presentations and deliberations would serve to enhance our collective understanding of global change impacts, which could lead to more informed decision-making to safeguard the future of our planet. He added that in situ derived LTSER (long-term socio-ecological research) time-series data will be irreplaceable sources of information to inform and to monitor conservation and restoration practices for sustainability.

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Phil Mjwara, founding Co-Chair of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and Director-General of the South African Department of Science and Technology (L) with Johan Pauw, Managing Director of SAEON

Pedro Beja of the University of Porto intrigued delegates with his presentation on very long term ecological research - aimed at understanding the drivers of biodiversity change over 30 000 years in LTER Sabor

The first day's programme ended with a poster session featuring 70 posters, which resulted in lively interaction and discussion     

A new vision for ILTER

In his inspiring address, ILTER Chair Michael Mirtl said that the first OSM presented a platform for globally organised research input as well as global partnerships and collaborations. He traced the development of member networks since 1993 and highlighted the role played by ILTER scientists in contributing to high-level roundtables and the global body of knowledge by means of a wide range of scientific publications.

He introduced delegates to DEIMS, a newly developed repository for research site data sets. In conclusion he provided a glimpse into future developments envisaged for ILTER, largely based on the results of a survey among its members in 2015.

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SAEON's Eva Mudau, in traditional Venda dress, welcomes Forest Isbell of the University of Minnesota to Skukuza camp in the Kruger National Park

Plenary talks

Two thought-provoking plenary talks by internationally acclaimed scientists - David Lindenmayer of the Australian National University and Bob Scholes of the University of the Witwatersrand - set the tone for the rest of the day.

Lindenmayer discussed key values in a biodiversity context that influence policy, and attributes that make good long-term studies. He stressed that long-term studies need to demonstrate value with regard to investment, that these studies need unifying themes for justification and that global frameworks provide opportunities for integration and relevance.

Scholes looked at long-term social-ecological research from a developing country perspective and provided a snapshot of some of the crucial development-relevant long-term studies that have been undertaken in South Africa, such as those at Jonkershoek and Cathedral Peak, all of which have important consequences for policy and decision-making in the country. He stressed the importance of ensuring that the long-term information that does exist is preserved and made accessible in these young countries.

The parallel sessions that followed - on Biodiversity, Carbon and Data Integration - left delegates with a more comprehensive understanding of the wide variety of topics and time scales of research being undertaken by the contributing ILTER networks. Pedro Beja of the University of Porto (Portugal), for example, intrigued delegates with his presentation on very long term ecological research - aimed at understanding the drivers of biodiversity change over 30 000 years in LTER Sabor.

The first day's programme ended with a lively poster session featuring 70 posters.

Further reading:

Opening Address - Dr Phil Mjwara

Storify put together from the tweet stream by Marty Downs of USLTER 

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Dinner at a restaurant on the banks of the Sabie River with a herd of elephants passing through just below, provided a fitting conclusion to an enlightening and productive first day (Picture © Mitzi du Plessis)

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