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IBC 2011

The International Botanical Congress (IBC) takes place once every six years and was last hosted by Australia 30 years ago.  A contingent of seven CRC staff ( Prof Brad Potts, Assoc Prof René Vaillancourt, Dr Neil Davidson from UTAS and Dr Merv Shepherd from SCU), two PhD students (Ms Christina Borzak and Mr Matthew Larcombe, both from UTAS), two former CRC directors (Prof. Jim Reid and Prof. Rod Griffin) attended “IBC 2011” at the Exhibition and Conference Centre at Docklands, Melbourne, 24-30 July 2011.

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UTAS/CRC delegation at IBC: Back row, L to R: René Vaillancourt, Dorothy Steane, Chris Blackman (now at Macquarie University), Joe Bailey (now University of Tennessee), Jen Schweitzer (now University Tennessee), Mark Genung (University of Tennessee). Middle row: Brad Potts, Rod Griffin, Matt Larcombe, Meisha Holloway-Phillips, Scott McAdam.  Front: Jim Reid, Anthony Koutoulis, Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra, Paddy Dalton, Christina Borzak, Greg Jordan.

The congress embraced all aspects of plant sciences, from classification and nomenclature, through paleobotany, phylogenetics, biogeography, conservation, ecology and ethnobotany, to genetics, physiology and mathematical modelling of plant systems. Because of financial constraints resulting from the global financial crisis, the event was not as well attended as the organisers had hoped, but there were still over 2000 people from 73 countries.  The Congress boasted 171 general symposia, eight keynote symposia, eight plenary sessions, 951 oral presentations, 722 "eposters" (see below), 112 "traditional" posters and five public lectures. The opening ceremony on Sunday evening was highly entertaining for Australians and international visitors alike (view pictures of the opening ceremony).

Dr Julianne O'Reilly-Wapstra and Dr Dorothy Steane organised and chaired symposia.  Julianne's  session on "Community and ecosystem genetics: the extended genetic effects of plant species" [symposium abstract] featured Brad Potts as an invited speaker who presented a comprehensive summary of the research to date on the "Extended genetic effects of a forest dominant: the case of Eucalyptus globulus" [abstract]. The session also showcased a range of international speakers who examined frontier questions in the field of community genetics. These speakers included Dr Jennifer Rowntree from the University of York, Dr Mark Genung, Dr Joseph Bailey and Dr Jennifer Schweitzer from the University of Tennessee. Prof Tom Whitham from Northern Arizona University wrapped up the session by placing the field of community genetics in the context of conservation and restoration ecology and made a call for researchers to set up large scale, multiple common gardens across wide ranging gradients (such as altitudinal and latitudinal gradients) to identify tree genotypes of native species that are best able to survive climate change and support the greatest biodiversity.  A comprehensive review of the symposium will soon be published:

Bailey, J.K., Genung, M.A., O’Reilly-Wapstra, J.M. Potts, B.M., Rowntree, J., Schweitzer, J.A., Whitham, T.G. (in press) New frontiers in community and ecosystem genetics for theory, conservation and management. New Phytologist.

Dot's session on "Patterns and processes of evolution in Eucalyptus" (symposium abstract) was well-received by a surprisingly large audience.  The first speaker, Maria Gandolfo (Cornell University) presented fabulous images of the world’s oldest Eucalyptus macrofossils that were found recently in Patagonia. Dot had the fortunate opportunity to give an unscheduled presentation in lieu of an invited speaker who did not attendthe conference.  She introduced the topics of evolution and phylogenetics, with emphasis on the application of a new technique (DArT) to studies of evolution in Eucalyptus.  Mike Bayly (UMelb) spoke about reconstructing phylogeny of eastern Australian monocalypts and he was followed by Brad Potts (UTAS) whose explanation of the role of hybridisation in Eucalyptus evolution received a lot of interest from the audience (abstract).  Dr Paul Nevill (UWA) reported on historic interspecific relationships among three closely related species of Eucalyptus from southeastern Australia.  The session was rounded off with an overview of mating systems in eucalypts, given by Dr Margaret Byrne (Dept. Environment and Conservation, WA).

IBC-venue

The International Botanical Congress 2011 was held at the Melbourne Convention Centre that adjoins (to the right) the Melbourne Exhibition Centre (the long white roof in this picture).

In addition to these sessions, the CRC received fabulous publicity vicariously through Prof. Zander Myburg (U. Pretoria) (left).  Zander, who collaborates with the CRC Program 2 via René Vaillancourt, gave the CRC an excellent wrap in his Keynote address on the recently released Eucalyptus genome sequence.  As a result of Zander's talk, Eucalyptus genetics hit the headlines - "Eucalyptus genetic secrets unlocked" - in the conference's daily newspapers (view article).

Because of the large number of people at the conference, only a small proportion were able to give oral presentations.  Hence, a large number of  delegates prepared “eposters” for the IBC.  “E-posters” were promoted to delegates as a fantastic new concept, comprising 3-4 powerpoint slides that would be available on lots of huge computer screens, and would be downloadable to iphones etc.  In reality, there were 722 e-posters that could be viewed on only two very large touch-screen computers (see image) and about a dozen normal computers that also served as the internet cafe for some 2500 conference delegates.  People had to identify in advance (from a book of poster abstracts) which posters they wanted to look at and then navigate their way to them on a computer.  Unlike the few paper posters that were presented on boards in the traditional way, the eposters were impossible to browse quickly.  The students who had eposters had the opportunity to give a 5 minute talk about their research, but more senior researchers did not.  There was much disgruntlement among the delegates about this issue, as most people received no feedback on their eposter presentations.  On the bright side, the eposters are still available on the IBC2011 conference website, so we can browse them at our leisure.  Neil Davidson wisely took a "traditional" poster to the conference but, as luck would have it, nobody had the pleasure of viewing it because Neil spent the week in a near-coma on the floor of his daughter's flat in suburban Melbourne, having been struck down by a nasty flu virus the day after he arrived in Melbourne.  Poor Neil!

The most enjoyable part of IBC2011 - as with any conference - was catching up with old colleagues and meeting new ones from interstate and overseas. It's always fun to be able to put faces to famous names whose research has influenced a particular field for years or even decades. The social scene was lubricated by Melbourne's numerous watering holes and feeding stations. Each evening, many happy IBC delegates could be found wining and dining in the secret bars and interesting restaurants across the city.  And, from the point of view of a Tasmanian person who hates shopping ... the shopping in Melbourne is actually not bad!


Biobuzz issue fifteen, December 2011
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