Mammalogists by the thousands

Guest post by John L. Koprowski

Just across the pond in Belfast, Northern Ireland, more than a thousand mammalogists are attending the 11th International Mammalogical Congress from August 11-16, 2013, which is hosted by Queen’s University. This large international congregation brings together one species of social mammal (Homo sapiens) interested in other mammals as model systems for the study of evolution, phylogenies, morphology, physiology, population ecology, genetics, and conservation. Previous congresses have been held around the globe, with the most recent occurring in Mendoza, Argentina, in 2009. IMC 11 maintains the customary 4-year interval that separates the congresses. Needless to say, much scientific progress has been made and new challenges have moved to the forefront in the interim, creating a rich and stimulating atmosphere for participants from dozens of nations.While no one will complain about spending a week of their northern hemisphere summer in the cool, green landscapes of Northern Ireland, the opportunity to interact with such a magnificent group of colleagues from diverse scientific perspectives and countries of origin is the real draw. We should put up large yellow signs warning “Scientists at Work” across the university campus!

The format of the International Mammalogical Congress is one that is designed to maximize the interaction of a diverse group of scientists with a common interest in a taxonomic group that contains over 5000 species. The congress features a daily plenary talk by an esteemed scientist that is attended by all of the delegates. The remainder of each day features a series of topical symposia with numerous themed presentations by colleagues. These sessions—with titles such as “Hyper-abundance and defaunation of ungulates: parallel and contrasting fortunes in northern and southern hemisphere,” convened by Baltimore’s own Harald Beck of Towson University, “Assembling the mammalian Tree of Life,” “Advances in the ecology and genetics of emerging zoonoses,” “Migration, dispersal, and orientation: how, when, and where mammals move,” and “Climate change impacts: mitigation, restoration, and novel ecosystems-physiological approaches to conservation”—demonstrate the breadth of research findings to be shared in Belfast. There are several general sessions for papers that do not fit into one of the themed sessions, as well as poster presentations for findings better shared in the large-print form. Sessions are, of course, punctuated with requisite coffee, tea, and biscuits, as well as opportunities to view the newest natural history books at displays provided by publishers such as JHU Press.

The timing of this event is fortuitous: by some counts, nearly 25% of the more than 5000 species of mammal are currently at risk. One of these species is the Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris to those of us in attendance at IMC 11), a species that is imperiled in the UK and now Italy by past introductions of the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) from the United States. Gray squirrels have proven more successful and infinitely more harmful than the good-hearted souls who introduced the species more than 150 years ago ever envisioned. Yours truly will be presenting on the challenges of invasive mammals in a session titled “Invasive mammals: impacts, control and mitigation.” And needless to say, I have packed away my copy of JHUP’s Squirrels of the World for a light nighttime read!

thoring2012John L. Koprowski is a professor at the Wildlife and Fisheries Resources School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona. He is coauthor of Squirrels of the World, available from JHU Press.