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!

Fish sculptures from plastic bottles!

I saw this today via Colossal (thanks to the Ecological Society of America for posting a link!): giant fish sculptures made of plastic bottles at the 2012 Rio 20+ U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development! I’m not sure I need to spoil this with words, so here are the fantastic photos:

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Curiously, I can’t find any information out there about who the actual artist is – almost all sources attribute this work to the conference itself. Any ideas out there?

If you’re interested in learning more about sustainability issues in our world’s oceans, please visit the UN’s site:

Biocreativity on the Road: Natural History at ESA 2011

Natural Histories Project on display at the Natural History Section booth at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX.

Photos from the are on display at the Natural History Section booth at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX. Photo by H. Gillespie

More biocreativity has been spotted at the Ecological Society of America meeting going on right now in Austin, TX. The Natural History Section (booth #617) is displaying some of the beautiful portraits and inspiring (but often haunting) words that make up the Natural Histories Project. This project is one of the products of a series of recent workshops sponsored by the Natural History Initiative, which created dialogues between diverse natural historians about the “re-imaging” and future of the field of natural history in the modern world. Photos and audio by documentary team Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele are simple, honest and captivating. The interviews and images reveal the passion and love the interviewees have for natural history, but also remind us of the urgency of revitalizing this field so that it “remains relevant in the 21st century”.

“Natural History – in the arts, humanities and sciences – must be revitalized and re-defined if it is to remain relevant in the 21st century.”  -NH Initiative

What I love about this project is that it is both a true celebration of natural history  – which is inspiring in itself – but it is also something that can speak to very diverse audiences. It shows the faces of natural history – young and old, male and female, diverse backgrounds. It shows that anyone can be a natural historian, and that everyone can find a reason to care about this field, whether or not it is part of their profession. “What was really fun [about the Natural History Initiative workshops],” says Terry Wheeler of the Natural History Network, “was sitting down with a poet, a painter and a scientist to get their perspectives [on natural history]. There were some really creative ideas.” While we were exchanging thoughts on biocreativity, Terry also showed be through the great books on natural history up for silent auction at the booth. I’m hoping to win Michael Canfield’s beautiful new book, Field Notes on Science and Nature, especially if it helps support the Natural Histories Project and other efforts of Natural History Network.

As I mentioned on my blog last week, tomorrow (Wednesday) is the day to catch the symposium A Natural History Initiative for Ecology, Stewardship and Sustainability (SYMP 13, Wed 8/10 1:30-5pm, Ballroom E Austin Convention Center) and the ESA Natural History Section Mixer (Wed 8/10 6:30-8pm, Radisson Hotel Old Pecan Street). I, for one, forsee many great things (including even more biocreativity) emerging from this section in the future, to the great benefit of the craft that inspired many of us to enter the field of ecology in the first place – natural history.

The Natural Histories Project from Benjamin Drummond / Sara Steele on Vimeo.

UPDATE: I’m so glad I attended the Natural History Section Symposium at ESA 2011 because I was able to see Terry’s interview with Doug Levy on the site. I simply love Terry’s quote, “…the biggest surprise I’ve had [at the workshop] is the extent to which art permeates so many of the discussions and sessions this week, and just how closely tied they are in a lot of our meetings. I think, to a certain extent, that the level to which art runs through so much of natural history makes me feel better about not necessarily being able to come up with a definition.” To listen to more interviews with an Art & Literature theme visit

Biocreativity on the Road: Botanical Art at the Austin Convention Center


Texas Botanicals by Jill Bedgood

"Texas Botanicals" by Jill Bedgood in the west corridor of Level 3, Austin Convention Center

For those of you currently at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX head to level 3 of the Austin Convention Center. Along the wall between meeting rooms 8 and 7 you’ll have a chance to view a series of beautiful botanical paintings entitled, “Texas Botanicals” by local artist Jill Bedgood, which are part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Spaces collection. Created between 1996 and 1998 these larger-than-life oil paintings are displayed in series of five panels each and represent “Grasses”, “Shrubs & Aquatic Plants”, “Cacti & Succulents”, “Wildflowers” and “Trees & Vines.” A great example of local biocreativity you can enjoy without leaving the convention center!

And, though it’s a bit early to think about going home, don’t forget to check out more of Austin’s public collection at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport when you leave, which includes a horned lizard sculpture by Bedgood and paintings entitled Green Austin Series by one of my favorite local painters, Jimmy Jalapeeno (located on the walls by security checkpoint 1 and 2).

Biocreativity on the Road: ESA 2011

SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY! Grab your laptop, bring your reusable coffee mug, some Clif Bars, fill that water bottle and, actually…why don’t you just learn how to pack for a scientific conference already and get yourself to the 96th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America that starts on Sunday, August 7th, 2011 in Austin, Texas! Don’t forget your deodorant, folks, because the lineup of biocreative events at this year’s meeting is HOT, HOT, HOT!


Biocreativity is the first order of business on SUNDAY as ecologists learn to create and tell stories with powerful images with Molly Mehling, Neil Losin, Nathan Dappen and Neil Osborne in Photography for Ecologists: Part 1 (WK 5, Sun 8/7 8am-5pm, 13 Austin Convention Center. Registration required). The workshop will begin and end at the conference center, but hands-on field exercises will take place at the University of Texas’ premiere urban field research station Brackenridge Field Laboratory (with a little tour of BFL from yours truly)!

Hyla green treefrog photographed at Brackenridge Field Lab by Director Larry Gilbert.


MONDAY is jam-packed with biocreativity, so try and figure out when you’ll have a chance to even eat anything. Remember those Clif Bars I told you to pack? First, do you want to learn the most efficient, effective and creative means for researchers to engage in broader impacts? Find out in Nalini Nadkarni and Amy Stasch’s special session Outreach as Burden Or Benefit?, as research ambassadors speak about their experiences (SS5, Mon 8/8 10-11:30am, 4 Austin Convention Center). Next, learn to use audiovisuals to promote endangered species protection, conservation and education with a FREE (Yes, FREE!) workshop by Liana Vitali of (WK 25, 8/8 11:30am-1:15pm, 14 Austin Convention Center). In the afternoon, find out how researchers can creatively engage the public in conservation and sustainability programs in Vicente Lopes and Adrian Vogl’s organized oral session Community Engagement for Sustainability: Linking Research, Policy and Education (OOS 1, Mon 8/8 1:30-5:00pm, 16B Austin Convention Center). Could we develop a curriculum that engaged students alienated from local nature, and cultivate basic skills for lifelong learning about environments? Could a Texas sorority girl be encouraged to acknowledge aspects of environmental awareness suppressed in an urban social campus? I’d kind of like to find out, so I’ll be there!

On MONDAY evening, you’ll have to choose between auditory or visual stimuli. MONDAY is the first evening of Musician’s Central where you can just sit and listen, or bring your instrument and jam with other musically-inclined ecologists (Daily M-F 5:00-6:30, Registration Lobby, Austin Convention Center). Now comes the choice! Since you will be visiting the Live Music Capitol of the World, you’d probably enjoy An Evening of Music: Live Performance by ESA Musicians hosted by none other than Nicholas Gotelli (yes, that guy who wrote the primer). If any of you biocreative types want to perform, you can sign up on the music and ecology session page (SS 11, Mon 8/8 7-10pm, 17A Austin Convention Center). If you are more visually inclined, you can put photographic images to work in your own research or for public outreach with another FREE workshop, Photography for Ecologists: Part 2 (WK 28, 8/8 8pm-10pm, 18A Austin Convention Center).


Moving on to TUESDAY…..well, TUESDAY seems fairly academic, but you can take the time to explore how photography and multimedia projects can aid scientific research and outreach via the ESA Student Section Eco-Vision competition organized by photographer Molly Steinwald. Formerly the Eco-Arts Festival, the Eco-Vision contest continues to, “celebrate and award outstanding visual arts contributions made by ESA members to ecological science through still photography and multimedia creations”. In years past, the photography submissions were on display at the ESA Student Section booth in the exhibit hall. No word yet as to where they’ll be on display this year, but I’ll find out and keep you posted. The ESA Student Section Business Meeting & Awards Ceremony (Tues 8/9 6:30-8pm, 7 Austin Convention Center) is the likely place to view the multimedia submissions and meet the winners of the 2011 Eco-Vision competition, but again, I’ll keep you posted. You can check out the 2010 winners here.

In the absence of anything more biocreative to do on TUESDAY, I’ll be giving a talk at 9:20am in the Conservation Management session (COS 33, 8-11:30am, 19B Austin Convention Center) on my research on the endangered Barton Springs Salamander, which features some original artwork by my aunt Victoria Harrell of Conroe, TX. If you really want to get your salamander fix, you can join my field trip to Barton Springs to learn more about these endangered critters and for some chilly snorkeling in Barton Springs pool (FT 18, Tues 8/9 4-8:30pm, registration required).

Life History of the Barton Springs Salamander

Illustration by Victoria Harrell and Hayley Gillespie, Life History of the Barton Springs Salamander. If you want to know what the numbers mean, you have to come to my talk!


Now, I’m sure all you biocreatives out there are excited about the new Natural History Section of ESA (founded in 2010). After all, some of the most elegant examples of biocreativity come from the field of natural history (need I even mention the names Audubon or Haeckel?). I’m sure you’re also aware of what session organizers Joshua Tewksbury, Stephen Trombulak and Kristen Rowell call, “the steady loss in the practice of natural history” over the past 75 years. If you’d like to be part of its revival, make sure to attend WEDNESDAY’s symposium, A Natural History Initiative for Ecology, Stewardship and Sustainability (SYMP 13, Wed 8/10 1:30-5pm, Ballroom E Austin Convention Center). Later in the evening you can also meet up with fellow natural historians at the ESA Natural History Section Mixer (Wed 8/10 6:30-8pm, Radisson Hotel Old Pecan Street). Unfortunately, yours truly will not be in attendance, but if you’ve got something more active in mind, join me as I help lead FREE guided hikes of our local field research station, Brackenridge Field Laboratory, starting at 7pm (2907 Lake Austin Blvd, for directions and transportation info please download our flyer or see our event on Facebook).

Take a FREE tour of the Brackenridge Field Laboratory starting at 7pm on Wednesday 8/10.

Take a FREE tour of the Brackenridge Field Laboratory (2907 Lake Austin Blvd) starting at 7pm on Wednesday 8/10.


On THURSDAY there’s a whole lot of outreach going on in the session on Stewardship, Education and Outreach (COS 104, Thurs 8/11 1:30-5pm, Ballroom B Austin Convention Center). I’m particularly excited about talk #9 in this session after some mutual twitter appreciation with @CanopyinClouds, the creators of Greg Goldsmith will be talking about this “immersive, web-based platform for K-12 earth and life science educationon THURSDAY at 4:20pm.

Creators of the multimedia website will be giving a talk at ESA 2011.

ESA THURSDAY ends off with more Musician’s Central followed by the Austin Night For Nature concert benefitting local environmental groups. Don’t miss one of my favorite artists Alejandro Escovedo in what is sure to be a memorable event at the theater where they now film the TV series Austin City Limits (Thurs 8/11 8pm, doors at 7pm, Austin City Limits Moody Theater, Tickets $19-30 at Waterloo Records or online)! It doesn’t get much more Austin than that!


I know you’ll be sad because its the last day, but don’t miss the latebreaking poster session on Ecological Knowledge, which features some posters with biocreative themes (PS 82, Fri 8/12 8:30-10:30am, Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center). There will be posters on Developing tools and applications to visualize, manage and disseminate biodiversity information (84), Using science to promote inclusive education: An example exploring marine biodiversity using all of the senses (86), and Focusing on Nature: Educating about biodiversity, ecology, and conservation using digital photography (94).

around town

If you have time to check out some art in Austin while you’re here, consider visiting the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. They always have some great biocreativity on exhibit, which currently includes Vibrant Blooms: original paintings on silk by Catherine Beatty Flowers and Aqueus Matters: sculptures by TJ Mabrey. The Austin Museum of Art and Mexic-Arte Museum are both located on Congress Ave downtown, which is very close to the Austin Convention Center. The Harry Ransom Center and Blanton Museum of Art are located on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Don’t forget to see the bats fly out from under S. Congress bridge, and check out Dale Whistler’s Night Wings sculpture right across from the Austin American-Statesman building on the south side of the river. You might also like to seek out more of Austin’s art in public places collection. CowParade, “the largest and most recognized public art event in the world”, is currently visiting Austin, with more than 100 cow sculptures painted by local artists installed around town. Finally, if you feel like traveling south, you can also see my post on biology + art in San Antonio, TX.

Mexican Free-Tailed Bats emerging from the S. Congress bridge in Austin, TX. Photo by H. Gillespie.

Mexican Free-Tailed Bats emerging from the S. Congress bridge in Austin, TX. Photo by H. Gillespie.

Enjoy your trip, and don’t forget to share the biocreativity you see by posting a comment below, or using the twitter hashtags #biocreativity and #ESA11!