“Birds on the Edge: Dynamic Boundaries,” the theme for the 2019 AOS annual meeting in Alaska, highlights the birds that inhabit the northernmost domains of the North American continent and their dynamic connections across the globe. Our theme was also inspired by the many threats that birds are currently facing here and elsewhere in the world, placing populations on the edge of sustainability, especially in areas where ecological boundaries have been shifting rapidly and often unpredictably. The theme of this meeting encompasses many of the scientific challenges that unite us as ornithologists: the evolution of species’ ranges, hybrid zones, dispersal, and migration ecology in dynamic environments; the health and conservation issues that cross cultural, geopolitical, and ecological boundaries; and the development of innovative tools to advance our scientific investigations, analyses, and communications.
The conference logo features the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica), which represents the many species that are facing profound threats to their survival. This large shorebird, known by indigenous peoples in Alaska as Tevatevaaq/Teguteguaq (Yup’ik) and in New Zealand as Kuaka (Māori), is a fitting ambassador for birds on the edge, as it unites the northern and southern hemispheres annually through the longest nonstop migratory flight documented for any bird.
Climatic change is recognized as a major driver in changes to arctic breeding and coastal wintering habitats for many species of shorebirds. Huge losses of migratory stopover habitat due to large-scale development in the Yellow Sea, however, pose an equally grave threat to the survival of godwits and many other northern-breeding birds. As you participate in this conference, we encourage you to think beyond the conventional boundaries of individual efforts and consider how best to work together to conserve our globally shared species.
Celebrating Women & Gender Diversity in Ornithology
Inspired by the legacy of Dr. Brina Kessel (1925–2016), who blazed new trails for women in professional ornithology, at this year’s meeting we will highlight gender diversity in ornithology, both past and present. Driven by her passion for research on birds in the Far North, Brina worked despite parochial gender barriers to become a renowned ornithologist, professor, dean, and museum curator. Brina was one of the first women to be honored as a Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union (one of the two predecessor societies of AOS), was elected as the society’s president, and became a role model for a new generation of women ornithologists. Look for displays celebrating Brina, women ornithologists throughout history, and women and gender diversity in our society and field today. During the morning plenary sessions, we’ll also show short videos of female and non-binary ornithologists telling their stories as scientists.
Honoring Alaska Native Cultures
Birds and other wildlife are integral to Alaska Native cultures. Traditional indigenous knowledge is based on observation and experience and is accumulated over generations by people living in close contact with nature. Ornithological research has often overlooked traditional knowledge, however, and western bird management and conservation efforts have commonly failed to fully consider Native peoples as stakeholders and partners. Expanding the boundaries of ornithology, this conference will foster exchanges of knowledge between western and Alaska Native cultures. We invite you to attend a stimulating plenary lecture by Patty Schwalenberg on the conservation of migratory birds through co-management, followed by a symposium on human dimensions in bird research and conservation that includes talks on cross-cultural initiatives. Look for other diverse events and activities interweaving facets of Alaska Native cultures throughout our conference. We hope to expand collaborations between ornithologists and indigenous peoples in the U.S. and abroad.
Communicating Science through Birds in Art
The connection between art and science is critical for generating new knowledge and deepening an understanding of our world. Artistic creations speak powerfully to the human mind and spirit in a way that can far surpass messages given through the typical channels of scientific communication. We seek to broaden the traditional media of communication during our conference and to invite the public at large to explore through art the amazing world of birds. Look for a number of opportunities to explore these connections, including an invitational art exhibit at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, a series of short documentaries from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, a storytelling event at 49th State Brewing, and a display of children’s creative depictions of Alaskan birds.