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Have you seen your study system?

by Lidia della Venezia

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Last August, I had the chance to
participate to the 2016 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of
America (ESA) in Fort Lauderdale, on the theme of “Linking
biodiversity, material cycling and ecosystem services in a changing
world”. It was both my first time in Florida and the first ESA
meeting I could attend, which offered an incredibly stimulating
environment, with students and researchers from all over the world,
and a variety of backgrounds and experiences I am sure it is not easy
to find at all conferences. In addition to this, I have to say that,
thanks to the QCBS financial support, I was finally able to visit a
part of my study area.

As a matter of fact, I took part in the ESA
conference to present my research about aquatic invasive species.
More in detail, at the time I was studying how climate change would
affect the ability of certain species to establish and thrive in the
United States and Quebec, using a modelling approach that included
data about animal imports, environmental conditions and species
characteristics. My study system included most of the freshwater fish
species that are imported in North America as pets, and there are a
whole lot of them, if you consider that at least 10% of all US
households possess some ornamental fish. In my research, I used data
for over 1000 species, among which some have already managed to
establish, and in some cases to become invasive, in the US. Actually,
most of them happened to be found precisely in Florida, whose region
seems to be already characterized by a climate good enough for some
of these often tropical species to survive and build a persisting
population. Florida is already known as an important hotspot for
invasions, and predictions from my models seemed to suggest that the
situation would become worse with the forecasted scenarios of climate
change, so I was curious to visit it. Before it was too late? Maybe.

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The conference was stimulating, but very
intense. Talks started at 8.30 in the morning and finished in the
late afternoon, leaving a very limited amount of time to explore the
surroundings, or even to go to the beach. Knowing that the schedule
was going to be hectic, I decided to remain for three extra days
after the end of the meeting. That time allowed me to drive across
the Florida Keys, spend a day in Miami Beach (I know…), and above
all, visit the Everglades. I believe the Everglades National Park is
one of those places where you can spend days, go back every year for
an entire lifetime, and still you would see only a relatively small
percentage of it. Reading about the local fauna made me want to pack
some food and stay there camping for weeks, but of course that wasn’t
an option for two reasons: the first was that I had to go back to
work, the second that probably they would have never found my body…
gotta work on my survival and crocodile-taming skills.

During the time I spent there, I didn’t
really have the chance to see any of the species I modelled, but at
least I can say that I have tested Florida’s climatic conditions
personally… and it was indeed pretty hot and humid, especially in
that period of the year. I probably would have enjoyed it even more
if I was a tropical ornamental fish!


Lidia Della Venezia is a PhD candidate
at McGill University. Her current research focuses on evaluating how
different classes of predictors integrate into predictive models of
successful establishment for potentially invasive freshwater fish
species. She is passionate about travelling, good food, and sharks.

Post date: May 01, 2018

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