For those of you who attended the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin last month, you may have run into Liana Vitali in the exhibit booth. I had a great time chatting with Liana and attending the ARKive workshop. I’m excited to report that “my” study organism – the Barton Springs Salamander (Eurycea sosorum) – was featured on ARKive’s On the Road blog yesterday. I’m sure all of you on Field Trip 18 will recognize Barton Springs and the salamander! And, to make this a biocreative post, I’ll share with you one of my aunt Victoria Harrell’s paintings that appeared in my dissertation manuscript:

Victoria Harrell "Barton Springs Salamander" watercolor on paper

Victoria Harrell "Barton Springs Salamander" watercolor on paper.

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: 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!