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Student Travel

My Trip to IALE: A Bloom of Ideas After a Long Drought

A few of Thom Worm's favorites from his quick foray in California. Clockwise from top left: Lupinus hirsutissimus, Polycauliona sp., Marah macrocarpa, Eleodes osculans, Mirabilis laevis, Phacelia minor

Editor’s note: Each semester, students in the Geospatial Analytics Ph.D. program can apply for a Geospatial Analytics Travel Award that supports research travel or presentations at conferences. The following is a guest post by travel award winner Thom Worm as part of the Student Travel series.

As a Ph.D. candidate at the Center for Geospatial Analytics, I recently had the opportunity to attend the International Association of Landscape Ecologists (IALE) conference in Riverside, California, thanks to funding from the Center’s student Travel Award. I was excited to present my work on the biogeographic patterns of global invasive insect movement. The reception to my work was overwhelmingly positive. I met a few other grad students who were also studying dispersal at local to continental scales, and we compared notes about the similarities between our chosen problems despite substantial differences in mechanisms and scales.

One of the highlights of the conference was an informative half-day seminar on a new Species Distribution Modelling (SDM) R software package called flexsdm. Led by a fellow Ph.D. student and co-developer of the package, the seminar showed some of the capabilities of flexsdm in building SMDs that ensemble together many (as many as 12) different prediction methods with the same basic set of pre-standardized inputs––a tremendous timesaver, especially when building models for many different species.

After the seminar, a local postdoc piped up, “Does anyone want to go herping before dinner?” The term “herping” means searching for wild amphibians and reptiles, just as “birding” means searching for birds. As a self-confessed iNaturalist addict eager to see some local habitat, I jumped at the chance. We hopped in his car on a quick trip to a local nature preserve to search for frogs (and plants, and insects) in the rain (atypical for Southern California), and before we had made it ten blocks, we were fast friends. We didn’t see any frogs, but because of the recent rains, the hillsides were ablaze in a super bloom of wildflowers––all of which were new to me. We returned for dinner, presentably muddy and damp.

The conference itself was a breath of fresh air after a long “drought” of three years without in-person gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic––comparable to the super bloom of flowers on the nearby hillsides following many abnormally dry years. The welcoming feeling at the conference was palpable, with ecologists from around the country reuniting after missing several meetings. It was heartwarming to see long-time friends and colleagues hugging each other, catching up on each other’s research and sharing anecdotes from their fieldwork adventures. The welcoming atmosphere at IALE was unlike any other conference I have attended, and I am grateful for the opportunity to attend, share my work and meet new friends as made possible by the student travel award.

My iNaturalist observations from my quick foray are available here.