2013 Benthic Ecology Meeting

bemlogoJust got back from the 42nd Annual Benthic Ecology Meeting in Savannah, GA. Can’t say it was very warm for springtime in the Old South (and we never did find any good ribs) but the company was excellent, as always, and the talks fascinating. I thought I’d write up a few brief highlights (for me, anyways):

-Randall Hughes & Ashlee Lillis: I must have not gotten the memo, but apparently the next big thing is auditory cues. Both speakers gave really excellent talks, not at all influenced by the fact that they played the soothing sounds of the oyster toadfish. The first showed through a series of very nice experiments that prey respond strongly to predator sounds, with cascading effects for lower trophic levels (an interesting twist on non-consumptive effects). The second analyzed soundscapes in Pamlico Sound and showed larval settlement from the water column could be triggered by respond to certain frequencies. While a commentator in the audience pointed out that we don’t know the relative strength of auditory vs chemical cues in driving larval settlement (with the latter having quite a lot of support), Ashlee did note that sound travels independent of currents (unlike chemicals), and consequently might be a more reliable indicator of suitable settlement habitat.

-Dave Kimbro: An excellent presentation highlighting some great work by him, Jeb Byres, and Jon Grabowski looking at the strength of non-consumptive effects along a latitudinal gradient (from NC to FL). They found that both sedimentation and larval recruitment interacted to drive a hump shaped relationship between latitude and the strength of the NCE. Very cool stuff and I look forward to seeing what else comes out of this collaborative network.

-Mark Hay: Like Mark, I’ll cut straight to it. MPAs do not act as seeds for nearby unprotected areas because (duh) fishes don’t move very far and would prefer to stay where the reef is healthy.

-Pamela Reynolds: I’m a bit biased here because my picture was buried somewhere in the acknowledgements (and I already knew the punchline), but Pamela presented the latest and greatest results from the Zostera Experimental Network, a networked approach to investigating top-down vs bottom-up forces in seagrass beds. It turns out that, despite the myriad local, regional, and global forces shaping the interaction between nutrients, seagrass, and grazers, biodiversity is at the top of the list in terms of explanatory power (right alongside factors like latitude). But not only the species richness, but also the genetic richness of Zostera (!). I’m extremely keen to see where the next iteration of ZEN goes in getting at the potential mechanisms explaining this finding. BONUS CONTENT: Our FULL ZEN music video and Beneath the Waves Film Festival contribution is available to view here!

-John Valentine: probably the best talk of the conference, but I’m biased because it played right into my top interests. He and Charles Martin did a wonderful mesocosm manipulation crossing habitat diversity (combinations of 3 foundation species: seagrass, marsh, or oyster reef) and predator diversity (combinations of 2 fish and 1 shrimp predator). Unfortunately (from a diversity-functioning standpoint) they found that trends in the response (prey biomass) were mostly attributable to the presence of seagrass, failing to support the idea that coastal restoration should facilitate a variety of habitats, but their analysis was very preliminary (and focusing on only a single response). I’ll be curious to see whether they can wrangle some more compelling recommendations from the data.

Not to mention all the great VIMSers who presented, including my labmate Solomon Chak who gave a very well-received talk on mechanisms driving reproductive skew in social shrimps. Apologies if I missed anyone, I’m only one man who had to prepare his talk for the last hour of the last day.

Thanks all for a great meeting and see you in Jacksonville next year!

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