It's no surprise to most people who know me, but I absolutely LOVE scientific conferences. They are a fantastic place to share research, learn from others, form new connections, discuss ideas, and start exciting conversations and collaborations!
Over July and the start of August, I had the opportunity to present my research at four amazing conferences. I wouldn't have been able to do this without financial support, so I want to say how incredibly grateful I am to the Botanical Society of America, the Holsworth Wildlife Research Foundation, the Grieve Memorial Travel Award, and my very accommodating family and friends overseas. I made sure to squeeze as much knowledge, discussion, and adventure into these trips as I possibly could! Here's some of the highlights:
Society for Conservation Biology Oceania Conference in Wellington, NZ
At this conference, I presented my PhD research in the Ecology and Conservation session with a talk on “Conservation of Darwin’s ‘most wonderful plants in the world’: insights from ecological research and challenges for the future”. I had some great discussions with people afterwards and my eyes were opened to a whole new world of research possibilities for the conservation of carnivorous plants! I also learnt a LOT about conservation over in New Zealand:
I attended an awesome workshop by Katie Moon & Deborah Blackman on the use of social science theories in conservation research. I can't wait to read up more and make some plans!
In light of the new Predator Free NZ campaign, I attended a really interesting panel discussion on "Killing for Conservation", hosted by Radio NZ's Kim Hill with four panelists: James MacLaurin, Edy MacDonald, Doug Armstrong and Cilla Wehi.
I also visited an incredible wildlife sanctuary called Zealandia, which is surrounded by a predator-free fence. We spotted heaps of wildlife there, including a weta in a weta hotel, a cute little gecko, four wild kiwis (two babbies!!), and a tuatara as still as a statue!
Just around Wellington itself, I spotted a tui with an R2-D2-esque call and a rare southern right whale, also known as tohorā, which came to visit Wellington Harbour during the conference! 🐳
Best of all, I got to spend time with my wonderful family in Wellington, including Jet the dog! We enjoyed lots of delicious food, talked about my plans for the future with my uncle, went shopping to some really cool places with my auntie, had a go at a boxing class with my cousin, and spent a wonderful weekend away in beautiful Martinborough 😊
Botanical Society of America Conference in Rochester MN, USA
At this conference, I presented my PhD research in the Evolution, Ecology, Development, and Conservation of Carnivorous Plants colloquium, with a talk titled “How carnivorous are carnivorous plants? Investigating reliance on heterotrophy using natural abundance stable isotope techniques”. A whole day-long session devoted to carnivorous plants research - it was a dream come true! It was wonderful to hear from some of the world's scientific experts and amazing students working on carnivorous plants. I have to say a huge thank you to Tanya Renner, Tom Givnish and Rob Naczi for inviting me!
Aside from all the cool carnivorous plant conversations, there was so much going on in the education, outreach, and arts side of botany! Here's just a few of the highlights for me:
An awesome plenary talk by taxonomist Walter S Judd on his book Flora of Middle Earth (illustrated by his son!), discussing all the environmental stewardship messages apparent in JRR Tolkien's stories!
An amazing poster by artist Amy Wendland & biologist Ross McCauley on "Drawing on a scientific legacy: repurposing discarded herbarium specimens as art"
Meeting Dr Chris Martine from the YouTube show "Plants Are Cool Too" - a project I first became aware of in undergrad whilst googling "cool plants". Definitely check it out if you haven't already!
An amazing talk by Nuala Caomhanach featuring the botanical artist Marianne North, who travelled the world painting plants in their natural habitats, including heaps of carnivorous plants!
Plus lots of examples of college radio shows, books, films, animation, and art - there are just so many awesome ways that we can engage and include the public in our scientific endeavours!
After this conference, I joined in on a field excursion to the north fork of Whitewater River, and it was a real adventure - crossing streams, admiring plants & fungi, tasting wild blackberries, spotting frogs, and hiking up a surprisingly steep hill. A wonderful, exciting, and peaceful end to a fantastic week!
The 11th International Conference on Applications of Stable Isotope Techniques to Ecological Studies (IsoEcol), in Vina del Mar, Chile
IsoEcol 2016 in Tokyo was actually my first ever scientific conference and it was such a fantastic experience that I was so excited to return this year! At this year's IsoEcol, I presented my research in a poster titled "How carnivorous are carnivorous plants?" focusing on the nutrition of carnivorous plants in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and I was pretty darn excited to find out that my poster was awarded first prize! I had a blast talking to people about my work, so I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who came by and thank you to the judges! Here's some of my other personal highlights:
Seeing my supervisor Prof Gebauer and my friend Philipp from Bayreuth, Germany! It was wonderful to catch up, chat about our research, solve some problems, and take any chance we could to wander around Viña del Mar and have churros filled with dulce de leche by the beach!
Joining a mid-conference excursion to Casa de Isla Negra: the beautifully eclectic and sea-inspired home of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda. Apparently he wanted his home to feel like a boat, long and narrow, and filled with navigational equipment, ship figureheads, and shell mosaics!
Visiting Pomaire, a small town famous for its giant empanadas and earthenware pottery. I got a little piggy-bank as a souvenir and had an amazing pastel de choclo (corn pie) for lunch!
And of course, meeting some new people and geeking out about stable isotopes! They can be used to answer questions in the fields of biochemistry to marine biology to archaeology to plant ecology and more... so cool!
So thank you to Chris Harrod & his team for putting together another excellent IsoEcol! I only wish I could have stayed in Chile longer, it's definitely on my list of places to return to one day!
International Carnivorous Plants Society Conference in Santa Rosa CA, USA
This conference was another wonderful opportunity to meet a big crowd of carnivorous plant researchers, growers and all-round enthusiasts! I sadly had to miss the first couple days of the conference, but I got a lot out of the final day! I presented part of my PhD research in a talk on the “Nutrition, ecology & conservation of Australian carnivorous plants” and there were a bunch of other awesome highlights:
A bunch of fascinating talks; I particularly enjoyed Fernando Rivadavia's one going through our current understanding of the evolutionary history and relationships of carnivorous plants, and making some predictions for the future... glow-in-the-dark Venus flytraps anyone?
The Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Show & Sale, featuring a whole lot of ridiculously cool carnivorous plant artworks & displays! One of my favourites was the crochet pitcher plants made by Rebecca Robinson 🎨
The chance to see some American carnivorous plants in the wild! I joined a day trip to visit a really interesting site full of non-native carnivorous plant species. I've written up a few thoughts about it over on Instagram if you're interested!
Meeting up with friends from the the 2016 ICPS in Kew Gardens and making lots of new friends over a delicious banquet in the beautiful gardens of the conference venue! Plus we were treated to some MAGIC performed by Naoki Tanabe!
I want to say a big thank you to Damon Collingsworth, Daniela Ribbeke, and the rest of the team at California Carnivores for putting together such a brilliant conference and inviting me along. I'm looking forward to the next one, wherever it may be!
And finally, I was lucky enough to spend a few days chilling out in San Francisco with my cousin and his partner. We spent a lovely weekend away in the Napa Valley, tasting California wines, visiting art galleries, and having ice-cream! I also visited the Museum of Modern Art, the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Bridge Park, the famous zig-zagging Lombard Street, Pier 39 with all its sea lions, and lots of cute book stores and vintage shops. Amazingly, I even managed to catch up with my friend Hannah (from Perth but living in San Fran right now) literally four hours before my flight home to Perth!
So yes, I really do love conferences. As you can tell, I've had some incredible experiences, met some amazing people, and come away with lots of new questions and ideas. Again, this would not have been possible without the support I received from the Botanical Society of America, the Holsworth Wildlife Research Foundation, the Grieve Memorial Travel Award, and my very accommodating family and friends overseas. I cannot express how grateful I am to have had these opportunities.
And now that I'm home... it's time to finish up this thesis! Let's do this!