We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The 8th Greek Summer School ends with project presentations

The plant team, Martina Vanini, Chiara Catalano
and Daniele Lagnaz, presenting their findings
 at the end of the GSS course.
by Gábor Lövei

The two-week long Greek Summer School in Conservation Biology ended today with high quality presentations of the 5 projects done by the participating students. The students formed groups of three, and executed small projects on resampling the plant community in two Natura 2000 sites after their first sampling in 1996, the vegetation and the canopy arthropods in a nearby sacred grove, the use of bird cherry trees by birds, and on predation on artificial caterpillars of different colours and background.

This was preceded by the “panic day” when data were evaluated and presentations prepared. The stress was eased by the customary “gastronomy night” when participants cooked one of their national dishes. In the true spirit of appreciating diversity, we had several Italian pizzas, pasta of course, and excellent Parmesan cheese, a German beetroot soup and a cheesecake, Chinese and Malgasy dishes, several Greek delicacies from entrees to desserts, a clafoutis, and a sweet cherry soup. All these were accompanied by Italian, Hungarian and Greek wines. All dishes were much appreciated by the participants, recipes were exchanged, and a good time had by all.

The dates for the 2017 Summer School are set (26 June – 7 July), so keep your eyes open for the announcement that will come at the end of the year.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Debates and more environmental consciousness at the Greek Summer School

by Gábor Lövei

This year the novelty of the Greek Summer School was the organisation of two student debates. Half the participants were nominated  audience, and the remaining half formed two teams. After a morning theoretical introduction and discussion, the two teams had an afternoon to prepare their cases. One team supported, and the other one opposed the proposal “Invasion biology should be abandoned as a discipline, and replaced by redistribution biology”. Each team presented their case in 15 minutes, interrogated each other, followed fielding questions form the audience. The debate formally ended with a vote. Even though the proposing team mounted a determined and spirited support of their case, the majority voted not to accept the proposal, and keeping invasion biology as a discipline. For the second debate day, the former audience became the debating teams, and the proposal was that “The aim of conservation biology is to ensure the continued functioning of ecosystem services for humans”. A similarly lively debate was held around this proposal, too, but this also suffered the fate of defeat as the first one. In both cases, the discussion continued in the local bar, into the late hours of the night. Both debates were hugely enjoyed by the participants, and debates will certainly remain on the program of future GSSs.

This year was the 8th occasion that the Greek Summer School was held, and the third one at the Palase Field Station in Ano Pedina. The Organising Commitee has decided that it is time to do as we preach, and several steps were taken to reduce our environmental footprint. Participants were encouraged not to fly to Ioannina but take a bus either from Athens of Thessaloniki, and to consider using a carbon offset program.

Locally, we almost totally abandoned the use of plastic, recycled what we used, also recycled paper, cardboard and glass, drank tap water rather than bottled water, sourced what we could of our food from local producers, and cut down on eating meat – one main meal every day was a vegetarian meal. All this was well received by the students and is set to continue and expand.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The First Ano Pedina Bio-blitz at GSS2016

Alessandro Locacciato insect-hunting
during the First Ano Pedina bio-blitz
During the summer course in conservation biology, one of the exercises has always been a crash course in arthropods. Held by Gabor Lovei & Zoltan Elek, this consisted of a discussion about global biodiversity, after which the students were tasked to collect and photograph arthropods they can find, and they were identified. This year we changed the setup, and organised the first "bioblitz" – two teams competed who could find the most arthropod species during a given time. The students mostly used their smartphones and cameras, but others opted for more traditional methods of catching arthropods around the Palase Field Station. This First Ano Pedina Bio-blitz was won with 120 OTUs collected or documented (the other team only found 59 species). The share of beetles, normally around 40% of all species globally, was only 20-23% - and butterflies were overrepresented.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Greek Summer School climbs the mountain, and jumps into the river

by Gábor Lövei

Sunday 3 July was excursion day in the intense program of the GSS. So, for an easy day out, we were driven to the village of Papingo, the spectacular location of several former GSSs, and from there, we followed the meandering but steep ascent from Mikropapingo to the mountain refuge on the Astraka Pass (1950 m a.s.l.). The climb lead us through the oak-hazelnut forest into the regions of the conifers, with numerous large trees of Juniperus foetidissima, then the subalpine bushes, and finally, the alpine meadows. This climb is never easy and the participants spread along the path, some looking for plants, others for birds or butterflies. There still were a few snow patches here and there at the higher sides of Mt. Timfi, and lots of the playful alpine coughs. After a rest and a mountain tea at the refuge, we returned to Papingo village to have an early dinner at the Pantheon restaurant before descending to the icy and crystal clear Voidomatis River for a quick bath. The river is considered the cleanest in Europe, and the EC Water Framework Directive has this river as the baseline in water quality. It seemed that it is not only the cleanest but also the coldest of the European rivers... For the coming second week, we do not mind to remain more sedentary.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Greetings from Greece - Report from the Greek Summer School

Science and fun - the Greek Summer School for young conservationists has begun. 
Check out the SCB-ES blog for new updates sent by the participants in the coming days!

Day 1: 27th June 2016,
The day started with the introductory lecture of Dr. Kaliopi Stara. She referred to the region of Zagori and its cultural heritage. She made an overview of the flora and the fauna of the region, mentioning the particularity of the local natural environment. Finally, she talked about the sacred natural sites, which include trees more than 300 years old and their significance for the local society, as well as the myths that evolved for them.

Afterwards, we departed for the first field excursion from Ano Pedina to Monodendri. On our way we stopped to do an exercise about the evaluation of sacred trees. We were asked to mark the characteristic features that define the tree Platanus orientalis as a veteran. Furthermore, we had the chance to observe and identify many plant species as well as some insects and reptiles. We visited the monastery of St. Paraskevi and we enjoyed the spectacular view of Vikos Gorge.

In the evening we went to Kato Pedina for the opening dinner of the Greek Summer School. 

Day 2: 28th June 2016,
Today, Prof. Alessandro Chiarucci talked about measures and factors who define species diversity. After that, Prof. Gabor Lovei introduced us to the theories about the function of biodiversity. After lunchtime, Prof. Zoltan Elek applied all the theory acquired from the previous lectures using R software. Later in the evening, we had the first discussion about the potential projects and the formation of the teams.

sent by Evi Papantoniou

Monday, 27 June 2016

It´s a long way to the top (if you want to be a conservation biologist) - book review

Saving the Earth as a Career: Advice on Becoming a Conservation Professional (2nd edition). Hunter Jr M. L., D.B. Lindenmayer and A.J. K. Calhoun, 2016. John Wiley and Sons Ltd, Chichester, UK.  224 pp. £29.50 (paperback). ISBN 978-1119184799.

Rather than a book, Saving the Earth as a career resembles a good talk with old friends who want to share their experience. The authors wrote about the struggles and joys of a conservation biologist, from the beginning of a passion to the realization of a job. Of course, they faced the challenge of generalizing their suggestions to an array of people, universities and job systems, which may be as diverse as the world is.

After the preface, a guide map indicates which chapters to skip based on your own career stage. As a PhD student I could have started reading from chapter 5, leaving out almost half of the chapters and about one third of the book; so this book is possibly more useful for undergraduate students. I wondered, though, if another way of communication like a blog or an interactive mind map would have been equally or more efficient. Using Italics or bold instead of boxes where text is almost always literally repeated would have not caused a big loss, allowing also the reader to continue the paragraph without interruptions. The conversations between Pat and Terry (the imaginary student and advisor of the book) swing from hypothetical real cases to childish entr'actes between paragraphs.

The further reading section is both a nice idea and a need, as the book is not a stand-alone manual, especially for the most technical parts like writing a proposal, writing scientific papers, preparing posters and giving oral presentations. Still, there are good suggestions sprinkled here and there, and the chapters are easy to read. Chapter 1 sounds a bit too promotional, trying to convince you that conservation biology is the best job ever (even though it may actually be). Nevertheless, it sounds a bit "preaching to the converted":  people who think the same would not benefit too much from reading this chapter, while people who do not would not have bought the book anyway.

Chapters 2-3 give some good suggestions about the educational program, however I do not always agree with them. For example, I found the recommendation to devote work days, spare time, weekends, and holidays (basically all your lifetime) to scientific activities too extreme. I do believe that non-scientific activities can also help to develop skills that may be pivotal for a scientist. I know a professor of biology that also has a passion for baking (she is especially good at preparing cakes). She told me once how learning to follow meticulously the receipt was helpful for being good at lab work. I myself am an amateur chess player since my youth, and this helped me to develop various skills ranging from getting a solid preparation before a tournament, to learn from my mistakes, to create a training plan to improve, and to handle stressful situations. I believe that chess was also important for my "forma mentis".

However, I agree with the list of desirable traits for an aspiring young researcher: hard worker, enthusiastic, open minded, socially interactive (especially with other scientists), precise, and cautious. Chapters 3-4 may give some useful suggestions about selecting an educational program and applying for admission, but you definitely have to be an undergraduate to appreciate this advice. Chapter 5 is a nice starting point for students enrolled in higher educational programs where most of the tasks are probably similar to the ones covered (i.e. project, courses, teaching, internship, qualifying exam). Chapter 6 focuses on executing a project, but only three pages are dedicated to writing a proposal that is probably the most difficult part. Chapters 7-8 introduce briefly to the principles of scientific writing and communication; these are no more than a starting point for further studies. Chapter 9, about the non-easy task of finding a job is something I would probably need to read again soon. I particularly appreciated the last chapter, where the authors discuss how a conservation biologist could and should make the difference in her life, the risk of the Savior Syndrome (with symptoms and cure), and especially remembering that the work of someone who wants to save the Earth is more like a vocation, and it´s not over with the end of the working day. Overall, how much of these things can be learned from a book rather than personal experience is likely to vary from person to person, in the same way different readers will benefit differently from reading this book. The authors decided to donate all book royalties to support student activities of the Society for Conservation Biology, a gesture that alone makes buying the book worthwhile.

Marco Ferrante
Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, Flakkebjerg Research Centre, 4200 Slagelse, Denmark. email: Marco.Ferrante@agro.au.dk

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Reflections on being a conservation scientist

Guest Blog Post by Isabel Vique

I grew up in a child’s dream. Every summer I spent my holidays in a tiny village in southern Spain, where the time seemed to have stopped and people seemed to have a real connection with nature. I can still see myself covered with mud, playing with earth worms, with my grandpa (who has that wisdom that only people from the countryside can have) smiling at me, while my dolls were forgotten in a corner. I remember going with him to the river, to the mountains…the smell of the vegetables, the colours of the flowers... And I still remember the moment I learned that when swallows fly close to the ground it means that the rain is coming.

Probably no one was surprised when I decided to study biology instead of medicine at university. As a biology major I learned a great deal of interesting things about animals and plants that would be very useful for a career in conservation. At the same time, my plan was to save the world, and all the species, so I volunteered in a conservation non-government organization (NGO).

After I left university, I had amazing opportunities to work with a number of NGOs, focusing on different aspects of conservation, including: education, management of volunteers, and also technical work. However, for some reason, when I showed people my data about biodiversity loss and the amazing graphs and excel sheets I used to build with them, they didn’t run to save the world as I was expecting. After observing this several times, I decided I was interested in finding ways to increase people’s passion about conservation. With this goal in mind, I left beautiful Spain to look for answers. I travelled through different countries and I worked in different organisations.

The author and fellow conservation leadership classmates with David Attenborough. 
Photo courtesy of Isabel Vique. 

One day, during my travels, a good friend of mine told me about the master of philosophy course in conservation leadership at University of Cambridge, and mentioned that this course was special because it targeted professionals with previous experience in conservation. Lecturers in this leadership course are both academics from the University of Cambridge as well as practitioners from some of the best known international conservation NGOs. So, I applied for the conservation leadership course, and was accepted! During the last year, I have been learning about economics, innovation, management, communication, governance… and many other things. Furthermore, my classmates are 21 outstanding professionals from 18 countries from all over the world. All of my classmates have extensive experience in conservation. I can certainly say that I have learned as much from my classmates as I have from my lecturers. Most recently, I am also participating in a project in one of the NGOs, using marketing tools (can you believe it?) to work against the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Central America. I will write my Masters’ thesis while learning about managing an authentic conservation leadership challenge.

Through all of my experiences I now understand that conservation is much more than biology, even though biology is a key piece of the puzzle for conservation, and I believe I have the tools to inspire people to be passionate about nature. I believe I can make the difference in conservation.


About the author: Isabel is a Masters of Philosphy candidate in Conservation Leadership at University of Cambridge and a member of the European Section of the Society for Conservation Biology. You can follow her on Twitter @isabel_vique!