Biocreativity On The Road: Ecological Society of America Meeting 2012

The 97th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Portland, Oregon is here! Though I won’t be able to attend this year, I had a lot of fun putting together last year’s list of biocreative activities at the 2011 ESA meeting and it got me thinking about how the biocreativity blog recently passed its one-year anniversary! So, without further ado, here’s this year’s lineup of biocreativity at #ESA2012. If you find anything I missed, or see any interesting biocreativity going on at the meeting, please let me know about it in the comments or via twitter using #ESA2012 and #biocreativity!


The first day of the conference starts off with a really biocreative-sounding workshop organized by Karim-Aly Kassam, Teresa Mourad, James Lassoie and R. Jamie Herring about how to use the Internet-based platform called ‘ConservationBridge’ that supports interdisciplinary, ecological conservation education by using real-world case studies. (WK 24 – Creative Multi-Media Approaches to Conservation Education for the Next Generation, 11:30-1:15pm, D139).

Monday night also kicks off a week of musical activities by ESA ecologists! An Evening of Music: Live Performance by ESA Musicians (SS 13), hosted annually by Nicholas Gotelli takes place Monday night from 8-10pm in A103 at the Oregon Convention Center. Also, Monday through Thursday 5:00-6:30pm and Friday 11am-12:30pm bring your instruments to ESA Musician’s Central in the Ginkoberry Concourse!


Tuesday morning begins with what may be the most biocreative event on the schedule: WK 35 – Engaging Arts/Humanities with Long-Term Research and Education Programs: Outcomes, Approaches, Networking (11:30am-1:15pm, B116). This workshop, organized by Mary Beth Leigh and Frederick Swanson, focuses on how “the visual arts, performance, environmental ethics and history, and creative writing have all found expression in place-based, long-view programs”. The workshop will cover examples of art-science collaborations, business models and funding, and will include a discussion of how to foster future art/science/humanities collaborations at individual sites.

Tuesday afternoon you might want to stop by COS 59 – Education: Tools And Technology for some biocreative takes on citizen science and classroom teaching. COS 59-5 – Combining art, science, and technology for environmental outreach in an urban watershed (2:50pm, D139) and COS 59-9 – Project BudBurst and FieldScope: Piloting continental-scale citizen science data visualization tools (D139, 4:20pm) sound particularly interesting! SYMP 8-7 – Ecology of self: Stories of trying to use ecology as a verb (Portland Ballroom 252, 4:10pm) also sounded great, though it overlaps with COS 59-9, so you’ll have to choose.

A couple of posters for Tuesday afternoon’s poster sessions (4:30-6:30pm, Exhibition Hall DE) caught my eye. PS 21-49 – Using visual imagery and service learning to teach ecological concepts by Dana Garrigan and Laura Rodman Huaracha describes Carthage College’s course Interpreting Nature: Effective Visual Communication About the Environment. “This course was designed to bring interdisciplinary teams together to complete community-based service projects to facilitate learning about ecological concepts and conservation issues.  During the course, Graphic Design and Communication majors partnered with students from Biology and Environmental Science to produce environmental education materials for a local state park.” PS 23-62 – The Evolution of Sustainable Use, a flash-based classroom tool for teaching population biology and sustainable resource management describes yet another science and digital arts collaboration between Christopher Jensen and Aaron Cohen of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. “Students act as fishers sharing a fishery, and must make decisions about how to exploit their common resource. Players have the potential to over-exploit or under-exploit their fishery, both of which can cause their fishing village to fail. Playing the game allows students to discover the Tragedy of the Commons first hand, and to experiment with different approaches to regulating a limited resource. The game empowers students to answer questions about population growth, predation, cooperation, and sustainable exploitation through an inquiry-based process.”

To cap off a very busy Tuesday, check out WK 39 – Submit Your Teaching Resource to ESA’s EcoEd Digital Library (8-10pm, D138). This session will provide participants with a hands-on opportunity to submit their own ecology teaching resource to ESA’s EcoEd Digital Library (beta). EcoEdDL is a peer-reviewed online digital commons where ecology educators can share the unique resources they have developed for teaching with the ecology education community. The library provides free access to high-quality teaching resources that have been peer-reviewed for scientific accuracy and instructional value.” Well, that sounds awesome, and even illustrations and photographs are eligible for submission to the library!


Wednesday is a bit more relaxed (art-science wise, anyway). It starts off with SYMP 11-4 – Creating new ways to bring people and knowledge together: Evolving ‘translational ecology’ into ‘transformational ecology’ (9:15am, Portland Ballroom 252). The speakers will be discussing transformational ecology, “a new effort to encourage ecologists to work and communicate with the public and policymakers”. Of course, one of my favorite ways of doing this is through the arts, and that seems to fit well with the transformational ecology philosophy.  “This model requires new multi-way language replacing one-way communication words like ‘outreach’, ‘technology transfer’, and ‘dissemination’ with ‘engagement’ and ‘co-learning’, and borrowing tools from the humanities and social sciences like participatory action research, qualitative data collection, and narratives.  It also requires a basic philosophical shift so that knowledge is not only about data, but about experiences, stories, and spiritual connections.”

Wednesday afternoon’s OOS 33 – Growing Pains: Taking Ecology Into the 21st Century promises some really great talks about maintaining and increasing the relevance of ecology to society. I’m perhaps most intrigued by filmmaker Randy Olsen’s talk Storynomics: Proof that scientists evolved from humans. In fact, I nomintate it for Best Abstract of ESA 2012:

“Scientists suffer from “storyphobia” (the irrational fear of the words “story” and “storytelling”) AND they think they are sooo different from normal people, BUT they need to communicate more effectively, THEREFORE they should work harder on their communication skills (did ya get the “And, But & Therefore” template?). We now know that scientists descended from humans and, more importantly, that the split occurred not that long ago.  This is revealed by the recent common ancestor, “Renaissance Man,” who was in fact capable of both writing literary novels whilst also engaging in scientific inquiry.  More powerfully, we can see the evidence of how recent the divide occurred through the three “Storytelling Vestiges” of speaking, writing and thinking.  Scientists still respond to “well told stories,” they write their papers following a structured template that is clearly descended from three act structure (alignment analysis confirms this), and the “problem/solution” approach of the scientific method is no different than the “question/answer” approach of your basic “who dunnit” novel.  The bottom line is that it’s time for scientists to come down off their high horse, admit they still have human DNA in their genome, realize there is no such science as “Storyomics” that will instantly solve the challenge of effective communication, and accept the need to learn the same age old storytelling processes that all humans have used since before the time of pipettes.

Wow! Right!? This is one of the reasons I write this blog, and why I recently founded Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin, TX: to help scientists become more engaging and down-to-earth storytellers about science. Wish I was at the meeting this year to hear this talk!

Also on Wednesday afternoon, Melissa Nelson presents Toward a poly-cognitive science: The Native ecologies of tribal canoe revitalization (2:10pm, A107) about reviving the cultural traditions that go along with reviving the traditional ecological knowledge around watercraft (though, I’m not sure how I feel about the need to abbreviate “traditional ecological knowledge” as “TEK”).


If you’re interested in art-science collaborations, don’t miss OOS 39 – Insights and Innovations From Sustained, Place-Based Collaborations In Arts, Humanities, and Environmental Sciences (8-11:30am, B110)

“The objective of this Session is to inform the ESA community of the fruitful and natural collaboration of arts and humanities with environmental research, education, and outreach programs at sites with a long-term commitment to learning about the natural world and our place in it.”

Many of the talks in this session will explore how artists and scientists can work together to engage the public in ecology and conservation, and introduce more people to long-term thinking about these fields.

At 11:30, join Liana Vitali in WK 42 – Arkive.Org: Using Audio-Visuals to Preserve Threatened Life On Earth (11:30am, D135). I had a great time in this workshop last year and really enjoyed meeting Liana and visiting with her more at the booth in the exhibit hall. Make sure to check it out!

Thursday ends off with some high-tech biocreativity in OOS 46 – From Books to Barcodes: Challenges and Opportunities of Next-Generation Field Guides for Ecologists, Students, and Educators where you can learn about some great new innovations in digital field guides, online biological collections and identification keys (LeafSnap, GoBotany, Merlin). I wrote a little bit about my wishes for more apps and games that could help teach ecology last year, and this session seems to highlight some of the best innovations along these lines in ecology!

I hope you all have a great time at ESA this year! Don’t forget to tweet using #ESA2012 and #biocreativity (or make a comment below) about any biocreative happenings you see that aren’t covered here. Safe travels, everyone!

This entry was posted in conferences, ecology by h. gillespie. Bookmark the permalink.

About h. gillespie

Hayley Gillespie is an artist-scientist with a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution and Animal Behavior. She studies endangered species, teaches biology at Austin area universities, and is the founder/director of Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin, Texas.

3 thoughts on “Biocreativity On The Road: Ecological Society of America Meeting 2012

  1. I plan to check out Olsen’s talk and will let you know. I find his book – Don’t Be Such a Scientist – intriguing on many levels. Don’t agree 100% but he makes some really good points.

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