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Another ILTER milestone: 2nd Open Science Meeting in Leipzig, Germany

By Johan Pauw, Managing Director, SAEON
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Delegates engaged non-stop while hiking up to the Brocken Peak (top left), the highest peak of the Harz mountain range 

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Gregor Feig of SAEON-EFTEON familiarising himself with the biodiversity of a bog ecosystem in the Harz mountain range

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Familiar faces at ILTER meetings: Victor Amoroso from the Philippines (left) meeting up with Johan Pauw of SAEON

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Gregor Feig posing a question to the speaker in one of the 2nd OSM sessions

Five participants from SAEON made great contributions to the success of the 2nd ILTER Open Science Meeting (OSM) held in Leipzig during mid-September.

The second OSM was held three years after the memorable first OSM, which was initiated and hosted by SAEON in the Kruger National Park in 2016.

The success of the first OSM sparked the decision to organise an OSM every three years. The third OSM will be hosted by China in 2022.

Tomorrow’s data, today

The thought-provoking scientific opening address, “Slow research in an era of urgency”, was presented by an associate of SAEON through its Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environment Observation Network (EFTEON) Research Infrastructure – Bob Scholes from the University of the Witwatersrand.

He emphasised that in ecosystems research, fast variables are merely noise; slow variables are what we need to observe to establish real change in the structure of the system. For this reason it is more important to have long datasets than standardisation across systems, and more important to measure key variables, that by definition will be slow.

Bob reintroduced the Adaptive Management approach as the only realistic way of ecosystem management under global pressures. Science, he said, should be thought of as tentative a priori hypothesis that can be tested and requires measuring of appropriate variables to support or discard the hypothesis.

Ecosystem scientists must therefore be willing to be proven wrong and learn from that. Bob was very clear that ILTER collects the data that will be needed tomorrow, today.

Several other keynote presentations were interspersed during the programme. Those ranged from social-ecological research to atmospheric observations in relation to climate and air quality, plant-pollinator interactions, drivers of tropical biodiversity and the Global Dryland Ecosystem Programme.

Critical topics

The OSM was organised into six critical long-term ecological research (LTER) topics: drivers of long-term changes in biodiversity, ecosystem integrity and ecosystem function; climate change impact on ecosystem processes; altered nutrient cycles and environmental pollution; advances in long-term socio-ecological research and sustainability science; new methods, technology and innovative science support services; and global research infrastructures.

SAEON featured strongly in the latter session, with Gregor Feig presenting on EFTEON, Tommy Bornman on the rationale for growing the coastal LTER component of ILTER, and myself on the development of a Global Ecological Research Infrastructure (GERI). 

The presentation by Jasper Slingsby under the topic of “new methods, technology and innovative science support services” intrigued the audience and introduced “a core model for satellite-based change detection, observation and attribution of ecosystem function in a fire-prone ecosystem” that will be super-useful to large-scale land managers who need to control invasive species and illegal land-use practices.

Workshops and field trips

The programme of presentations was supported by ten three-hour workshops ranging from how droughts should be classified to citizen science, data issues, social-ecological research processes and research on extreme weather events.

Mid-conference field trips were organised, of which the most strenuous was a 16-kilometre return hike to the Brӧcken Peak of the Harz Berg and the least demanding a boat trip on the Elstermühlgraben around Leipzig.

The multitude and breadth of topics addressed during the second OSM fascinated and stimulated the delegates from around the globe and kept them intensely occupied.

The ILTER OSM has now been established as the meeting place of choice for LTER scientists globally and a breeding ground for new collaborations and synthesis of global knowledge of the slow but essential variables of ecosystem trajectories of change.

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