Tuesday, 29 January 2013

PhD week 47: VII Southern Connections Congress

The Otago University clock tower.
Photo courtesy of Velvet Android via Flickr. Licence: CC: BY-NC-SA.

Over the past week I had the priviledge of attending the 7th Southern Connections Congress, held this year at the University of Otago in Dunedin. This congress, held every three years, seeks to bring together scientists from a variety of disciplines including biology, climatology, palaeontology and geology to discuss factors which have influenced the distribution of plants and animals in the Southern Hemisphere. For me, the highlights of this conference included:

Microclimate: A number of talks highlighted the variation in environmental conditions that exist at very localised scales. For example, a rock may be heated up to 50°C, while a couple of metres away, it may be only 12°C in the shade of a plant. Alpine areas are particularly variable in this respect. This is somewhat intuitive, but it is worth being reminded about, particularly when regional-level climatic data is being used to try to infer the effect of climate change on species responses.

NZ in the Oligocene: It is well known in geological circles that the extent of New Zealand was much reduced during the Oligocene period, as much of the land was submerged below the ocean. A few years ago, some biologists and geologists questioned whether there any part of New Zealand was actually above the water, with the implication that all of NZ's biota got here from somewhere else after this time. This contention has spurred a significant amount of geological research to figure out where land may have been during this time. Evidence is appearing that there may have been islands north of New Zealand, and emergent land in the Otago and Catlins area during this time of maximum inundation.

Evolutionary Radiations: I had the priviledge of talking in a symposium of papers considering evolutionary radiations. All the talks were excellent, and included both conceptual overviews of the subject, as well as more in-depth case studies.

Overall, I had a great time. Many thanks to the organisers! The next congress is in 2016 and will be held in Chile. I hope to get there, depending on my situation at that time.

   Pine-Coffin RS (translator). 1961. The confessions of Saint Augustine Middlesex: Penguin
   Chesterton GK. 1908. Orthodoxy. Image, New York (2001 Edition)
   Proverbs 6–8, Romans 1–11

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