Making a sustainable lab

At this point, there is no need for an introduction on why we need to make our life more sustainable. We just need to do it and do it now. This includes being more sustainable at work.
Last week, all lab members gathered together and brainstorm a bit on which actions are we already doing or can start doing. By no means, this “light” measures will fix a global problem, but we think all contributions are welcomed.
  1. Traveling: Select carefully which trips you need to do and arrange Skype meetings when possible. Go by train for trips < 1000 km. Limit international conferences to max. 1 EU conference a year and 1 intercontinental conference every 3-5 years. When flying, on a personal decision, we encourage lab members to compensate for CO2 emissions*. Most projects do not allow paying CO2 compensations directly from the project budget, but we can use the leftovers of the stipulated diet reimbursement to that end.
  2. Daily live: Most of us bike to work. We bring our own food (but we can do better). We use natural air conditioning/heater when possible (open windows in the morning in summer, use a pullover in winter, etc…)
  3. Lab work: We do kill pollinators, but we do not kill any pollinator without a clear purpose and which is not going to be properly curated and databased. We don’t use much single-use plastic, but we plan to change our marking methods for plants (from single-use plastic to re-usable wire). Killing jars are re-used as much as possible. We try to optimize fieldwork by carpooling or visiting sequential sites on the same day. We re-use (and re-assemble) electronic material and computers (Thanks David!).

Ecoflor 2016

Ecoflor is an annual Spanish meeting on everything related to flowers (from evolution to pollinators). The level is amazingly high for being a small “unorganized” local meeting and the most important part is that is a fun forum to discuss crazy ideas, and not just finished work. Here there are some of the things I learnt this year in no particular order:

  • You can do biogeography using Arabidobsis taliana. Moreover, flowering time can be regulated by photoperiod or vernalization and you can map responsible gens across regions (by X. Picò).
  • Plants can cooperate or be selfish depending on its genotype (by R. Torices).
  • The coolest talk was on epigenetics, which can redirect the course of evolution. With experimental data on radish exposed to herbivory. (by M. Sobral).
  • Invasive Oxalis pes-caprae was thought to have only one morph in its invasive rage and hance reproduce vegetatively only, but the second morph has arrived (and its here to stay) (by S. Castro)
  • Plant-pollinator networks can be better plotted than with bipartite (by J. Galeano)
  • And it was the first time one of my students talked in public. Definitively a great talk by Miguel Angel Collado on pollinator habitat preferences.

Next year will be in Seville, join us*!

*You need probably to know some spanish, but some talks are always in english an all slides are english.

What I expect from ESA 2014 (biodiversity, global change, pollination, networks and more)

This is blog post that will appear in J. of Ecology blog soon, but in the meanwhile I thought would be good to post it here as ESA is already starting. Hope to see you there!


Its always exciting to prepare for ESA. Here are some recommendations for people interested in biodiversity, global change, pollination, networks and more. As you can see, my interests tend to be wide and hence I tended to run a lot among sessions in the last editions. My plan this year is to run less and attend full sessions, and let talks within those sessions surprise me. A couple of symposiums looks really cool, like the plants and climate change with Camille Parmesan as moderator. I was also positively surprised by the Ignite talks last year and the one on theory versus empiricism looks promising. If you are into reconciling theory and reality (I am) the talk by Simon Levin and the symposium on theory and conservation biology are a must. One big recommendation if you don’t know yet the ROpenSci people is one of his workshops to learn not only about cool R package to retrieve species occurrence data, but about reproducibility and open science in general. For the ones interested in pollination there is plenty this year. I plan to learn more about citizen science at the symposium on the great sunflower project and there is the usual Pollination I and II sessions. This year I’ll present a pretty cool, but specialized talk about bee tongue lengths, but the work I am really exited about and I think will be of general interest is presented by James Reilly. He will present ongoing work where we show that number of species (e.g. pollinators) needed to fulfil a given ecosystem function increases as you increase the scale of inference. I believe its very interesting not only for pollinator, but for BEF people. As opposed to the pollination talks, mutualistic network talks are very scattered among the sessions, but there are quite a lot of them in different sessions and, unfortunately, several overlaps in time. A good place to start is the Species Interactions III. Lastly what I really expect of ESA is to talk with a lot of people, specially new people, so if you want to chat with me about anything, you can find me @ibartomeus.

Communicating science with comics II: the oikos meeting

I have been exploring how to effectively communicate my results and engage with the audience. I just attended this week the Nordic Oikos meeting and presented a risky poster explaining one of my side projects in a comic stile. But I did one very clever thing: Partner with an artists (and friend, and scientific). I designed the outline and place a first draft of the graphs and text. Then I asked him to do whatever he wants on the cartoons to illustrate pollinators, soil, pests… He could choose the drawing technique and in summary, he had absolute freedom. It was so amazing that he even place myself and Vesna in the poster!

Oikos_final_lowresThe poster had very good critiques, and fulfilled its mission. Drawing the attention of the people and making a story easy to follow. I am looking forward to collaborate again with Jose Luis in another project to enhance science communication!

Full resolution PDF


This will be my second year at ESA. It is also a great chance to see the US friends I made as a PostDoc here, but also to interact with lots of new people.

I would like to do a decent preview of the talks I am looking forward to see, but last week was hectic and I only have the time to post my tentative schedule in EsaSchedule (PDF).

And of course, you should come to my talk (Thursday 02:50 PM – 03:10 PM room: L100B). I have beautiful slides, and I am talking about completely new research. If you are interested in bees, pollination, response/effect traits framework, species loss simulations or Biodiversity ecosystem function, you will like it. And please don’t hesitate to stop to say hello after the talk (or have a beer, or run by the river,…) if you feel like it.


SCAPE-2012 meeting highlights

Last weekend I attended the SCandinavian Association for Pollination Ecologists (SCAPE) meeting. I had a great time there, with many “big names” among the attendants (and very interesting “small names” too!). Compared to the last ESA meeting I attended in Portland this summer, with more than 4000 people and 13 parallel seasons running all day, having only 60 people in the same cozy room was a change. Both formats has its functions, but I think is usually more productive the small and informal gathering.

Before a brief summary of the best talks (according to my biased interests), I want to mention that I am surprised on the big gap between population ecologists (mainly plant ecologists) and community ecologists (networks and landscape stuff). I am clearly guilty of only thinking at the community (and ecosystem) levels, so it was nice to be reminded about genes and specific process occurring at lower levels.

Four talks I liked:

Amots Dafni gave a great talk dismounting and old and beautiful hypothesis suggesting that floral heat reward attracts males to overnight inside the flower, and hence pollinate the plant. Despite the idea is neat, and flowers are indeed around 2ºC warmer than the environment, warmer flowers (those facing east and getting the morning sunlight) did not host more bees. They also show that no other reward is offered, and that no bee-attractive volatile compound was produced as a deceptive attraction mechanism (like the one in some orchids). The icing of the cake was showing that the bees visually perceive the flower entrance as a hole or crevice (i.e. black), indicating that the most parsimonious explanation is that flowers use shelter mimicry to attract the males. For me the most important point was to don’t get too attached to beautiful hypothesis, as often they are not supported when tested rigorously.

Erin Jo Tiedeken (in Jane Stout lab) showed that bumblebees (B. terrestris) can not detect natural levels of toxics (both natural plant toxics and insecticides) in the nectar (lab conditions). Most toxic compounds have low volatility, so that’s bad news for bees exposed to Neonicotinoids.

Robert Junker showed that floral bacterial community is more similar among flowers of different plants, than among different organs (e.g. leafs) of the same plant. Not sure what to do with that, but it’s intriguing!

Jan Goldstein did an experiment (unfortunately un-replicated) removing a network hub from a plant-pollinator network. This is a common practice on simulations to assess robustness of the networks. In those simulations when a species loses all their links is assumed to disappear from the network, however, Jan showed that most species visiting the hub, just change its visitation pattern to another plant when this hub is removed experimentally (i.e. re-wiring). Tarrant and Ollerton have a similar experiment with consistent results and I hope its published soon.

My slides here.