Big Scientific Conference at SLU: Molecular methods reveal more about species interactions
With molecular methods we can resolve how species interact with each other in much more detail than before. This is one of the issues that the more than 170 researchers that have gathered in Uppsala 11-16 September will discuss. The conference focuses on ecological interactions, for example, what predator eats what prey and what animal pollinates what plant. A major part of the week is devoted to how molecular methods are used today and what potential they have in the future.
To understand how nature works, we need to know who interacts with whom. This knowledge can be used, for example, in species conservation and plant protection.
With molecular methods, researchers can find out much more about these interactions. For example, using DNA, you can see which species an insect has eaten by analyzing the contents of its stomach. You can also see which flowers an individual has pollinated or what bacteria and parasites it has come across.
´It's definitely a technology that's coming and we use it more and more in our research at SLU,´ says Tomas Roslin, Professor of Insect Ecology at SLU. He has organized the conference together with Mattias Jonsson, also a researcher at SLU and Michael Traugott at the University of Innsbruck.
Two conferences became one
´In fact, we have fused two different conferences – one for ecologists interested in interaction networks, and another one for molecular ecologists developing methods for detecting who eats whom. Now we want these researchers to talk to each other and to learn from each other´, says Mattias.
Tomas gives an example that illustrates what the molecular methods can provide. He and his colleagues originally started working in high-arctic Greenland since they expected to find really simple food webs there. When they applied molecular methods to resolve the interactions between species in Greenland, they were surprised by how complex the interactions between different species were. Each species interacted with significantly more species than they had seen when studying the ecosystem with other methods.
Humans included in food webs
The conference taking place at Ultuna started with lectures on food-web structure and ecosystem functioning. For example, Jennifer Dunne held an appriciated presentation about food webs and interaction networks that explicitly include humans. Traditionally, most ecological research has studied ecosystems separate from humans.
One of the participants of the conference is Sarah Wolf from Agroscope in Bern. She says:
- I hope I will learn a lot of new stuff. The combination is interesting. I come more from the molecular part so the network-focus is new to me.