This past week I attended the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s annual meeting in Portland, Oregon to present some of the findings from my historical ecology class. This was the second time I went to SICB, and while last year I was an invited speaker, this year I was in a general session on community ecology. I’m back in NYC now and getting over jetlag so I thought I’d dash down a few thoughts about the meeting.


Day 0: I got in on Saturday night and was able to spend the entire week with my college roommate, Scotty, who now works for the State of Oregon planning their response to chemical spills. Cool work and trips to Portland are great because we get to disconnect. While NYC has been having an extended autumn, Sunday was full of winter out in Oregon. We had planned to go for a longer hike but had to amend our plans as I-84 was partially shut down due to poor conditions. We ended up hiking in a very Rivendell looking Multnomah Falls. It was nice to get outside and enjoy the weather (especially since we made a quick trip to REI to bolster our cold weather gear ahead of time).


Day 1: For the first time I had a talk on the first day, 9 A.M. to be specific. It was great, no pressure and I could relax the rest of the time. I got good feedback on my presentation and I feel like I can incorporate some of that into the manuscript submission. I also referenced Mos Eisley spaceport in my talk and thankfully that was not lost on the audience. I also enjoyed a talk by former Columbia MA Student Natalie Hofmeister who did a great job of integrating ecology, evolution and endocrinology into her work on starlings and a poster by Emily Kane who was doing work on using fish to help teach 7th graders about ecology. I think the most interesting talk I saw that day however was by Natalie Wright who presented really interesting, but unpublished work, about the evolution of birds’ morphological responses to predation along an island gradient. The day’s sessions ended on a high note with Shayle Matsuda doing a very nice job presenting his MA work on cryptic diversity within nudibranchs.

There was, of course, a celebratory milkshake. I also finally got to meet Lindsay Waldrop who was the impetus for me coming out to SICB last year. Meals included goat cheese veggie burgers, truffle fries, and salted caramel apple pie from Random Order Pie Bar.


The Drew Lab motto: Eat Big to Think Big

Day 2: Day two started off with an absolutely amazing natural history talk by Sarah Zohdy on parasitic isopods discovered in a sunken cave dive. It’s not yet published, so I can’t go too much into it, but she did an amazing job presenting super interesting material. It reminded me of the Pasteur quote “Chance favors the prepared mind” and also why it’s always important to have a vial of ethanol with you just in case something weird pops up while doing field-work. Berkeley grad student Katie LaBarbera had a really interesting talk on disentangling vegetative and altitudinal gradients when trying to examine differences in bird morphology in the Sierra mountains in CA – fun stuff with museums! I also really enjoyed Patrice Kurnath’s talk, as it had very important insight into how climate change can influence the digestive physiology of desert rodents.

I got to have lunch with Win McLaughlin and heard about her adventures in Kyrgyzstan. Dinner was tacos (natch) and cherry pie back at Random Order.

Day 3: I enjoyed Bernie Lohr’s talk on population size, song innovation and conservation in endangered grasshopper sparrows. While Amanda Hoepfner gave a great talk on Orangutan Long Calls (although she sadly didn’t imitate one herself). Speaking of primates, Katie Grogan presented interesting work on MHC evolution and climate change in ring tailed lemurs. Lastly, I was really impressed by Lauren Buckley’s work on climate change and grasshopper molting history. This work drew from some great historical connections, and while it’s not published yet, I’m excited to see it come out. Dr. Buckley is someone who I often use in my class and it was fun to meet the person behind the papers.

Lunch was with Andy Mahon who is as nice in real life as he is on twitter. Dinner was a burrito the size of my face and donuts from a place you haven’t heard of.

Day 4: I was excited to see there was a coral reefs session and the first presenter Hollie Putnam set a really high bar for the rest of the talks. She gave a fascinating presentation on phenotypic mismatch, and adaptation via epigenetic mechanisms in corals. Some of the work is already out and I’m looking forward to more on this. Incidentally, her presentation style was great and I wish everyone could have seen (and learn from) her. Elizabeth Bevan, now at UAB, presented some of her work using drones to better understand sea turtle mating (spoiler, very awkward). The last talk I attended was that by my former undergraduate intern and now postdoc at Duke, Dr. Martha Muñoz who presented on her work in Australia looking at the thermal tolerance envelops of rainforest skinks. It was a great integration of phylogeny and physiological ecology and wonderful to get back in touch with her.

I had lunch with my collaborator and friend Jenny Gumm and got a chance to meet Megan Porter. There may be a return to stomatopods in the near future! No trip to Portland would be complete without a trip to Floating Worlds comics and Voodoo Donuts.

Overall I enjoyed the meeting. The sessions are fairly outside of my wheelhouse and that has both good and bad. On one hand, it’s great for me to explore and expand my base, particularly as I look to populate my classes with examples that can engage a broader audience. On the other hand, as I move to more clearly define myself and my lab’s work I don’t see this meeting as closely aligning as say next summers International Marine Conservation Congress or the Ecological Society of America meetings will be. That’s good in that there’s less pressure, but as I look at my limited time and money I have to consider whether SICB is going to continue to be on my list of conferences. It most likely will as I love the January time, and if Portland was any indication there should be a lot to keep me engaged in the community.