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Species on the Move 2019 – An international conference series held in Skukuza, South Africa

By Martina Treurnicht, Postdoctoral Researcher, SAEON Fynbos Node
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As a plant ecologist and biogeographer, Martina's current research focuses on studying relationships between species’ performance and the environment from a spatiotemporal demographic perspective

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Sunset over the Sabie River at Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park, where the Species on the Move 2019 conference was held (photo: Martina Treurnicht)

Climate change has affected a wide array of taxa and almost every ecosystem in the world.

With changing environmental conditions, species and their populations must either adapt or migrate, or else face extinction.

How are species and populations responding to ongoing climate change? How do we improve conventional approaches – such as species distribution models (SDMs) – to predict the future distributions of species? And, how do we safeguard our shifting biodiversity and changing ecosystems?

These are some of the questions asked at the international conference Species on the Move 2019 (SOTM 2019).

SOTM 2019, the second conference since the inaugural meeting in 2016, was held in Skukuza from 22–26 July. The event brought together researchers and natural resource managers that study global change impacts on biodiversity, and work on biodiversity management and conservation in this context.

Scientific programme

Studying species responses to global change is a rapidly developing research field in ecology, with associated cultural, social and economic dimensions. It is thus no easy task to assemble a scientific programme on this dynamic topic.

All of this was, however, well-addressed by an enticing scientific programme that constituted 14 thematic sessions relating to the inherent complexity (detection, impacts, prediction and adaptation) of studying global change impacts on marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

Invited plenary speakers presented their research with a notable emphasis on advancing current approaches to studying global change impacts on species by, for example, bringing together different data types, approaches across disciplines (e.g. global change ecology, experimental biogeography and evolution) and spatial scales. Doing so would help develop monitoring tools for detecting range shifts and bridge the paucity of taxonomic and spatiotemporal data hampering a comprehensive understanding of species responses to global change.

As a plant ecologist and biogeographer, my current research focuses on studying relationships between species’ performance and the environment from a spatiotemporal demographic perspective. I was thus most interested in talks about detecting species redistributions and attributing these to specific drivers, incorporating mechanisms and interspecific interactions into models of species range shifts, and dealing with uncertainty in predicting the responses of species under climate change.

I presented work from my PhD research (2018) on the “Geographical variation in sensitivity to wildflower harvesting” to show how demography, the environment and harvesting jointly interact to affect the viability of Proteaceae species across their geographical ranges.

Conference highlights

The conference kicked off with a series of pre-conference workshops and a prestigious conference opening, where delegates were addressed by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, who emphasised the importance of mitigating the effects of climate change and safeguarding biodiversity, which are key domains of action of his Foundation that was established in 2006.

Other conference highlights that provided valuable networking opportunities included an evening poster session that constituted more than 50 theme-specific posters, focused sessions for early-career researchers on perfecting their science communication skills and growing their research network, and sunset safaris to enjoy the outdoors! By the end of the marathon week I was inspired by the excellent science presented and the many new connections formed at Species on the Move 2019.

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More than 50 theme-specific posters constituted the poster session held in the foyer of the Nombolo Mdhluli Conference Centre in Skukuza (photo: Martina Treurnicht)

The next conference will be held in 2022 in Florida, United States of America. Keep an eye on the conference website or follow the twitter account @SpeciesOnTheMov for regular updates.

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