RDG Conference Report of Aris A. Reginaldo

Write up about the Conference

Around six hundred delegate from all over the world gathered for the 11th International Mammalogical Congress which was held in Belfast City, Northern Ireland United Kingdom from August 11-16, 2013.  Attendees were mostly professional mammalogists with some students who are starting their career in mammalogy.  Most participants came from Europe, United States and Australia and.  There were also few delegates that came from Asia, primarily from China and Japan. The congress featured plenary sessions, oral presentation and poster presentation that cover almost all aspect of mammalian biology (evolution, ecology, disease and parasitism, responses to climate change) and conservation and management of mammals. The plenary talks were given by distinguished scientists in the field of mammalogy.  Selected topics that were presented include most extensively investigated researches like “Dynamics of Mammalian Communication”, “Conservation of Mammals” and “Infection and the Dynamics of Wild Rodent Population”. In the other hand, Oral presentations were divided and grouped into 43 symposia with an average of 5 parallel symposia occurring in a day. To name a few of these symposia, these are: Mammal-Macroparasite RelationshipsMammalian Adaptations to Human Dominated LandscapeExploring Population Dynamics in Community and Landscape Context,Reintroductions: Objectives, Methods and Obstacles, Impact of Disease on Mammal Population, Wildlife Human Interactions and Invasive Mammals: Impacts, Control and Mitigation.  Most of the researches presented are works of prominent mammalogists who spend most of their life in research.  Many of the papers presented were a result of long-time field research and observations and were published in prestige journals like Science and Nature. For the poster presentation, more than 200 papers were also exhibited and similarly include a wide range of researches which are mostly done young researches and students who are pursuing a career in mammalogy. It’s hard to identify which field of mammalian biology was more highlighted in the conference but generally, most of the papers are studies conducted from the temperate region and focuses on the biology of large mammals.  It is also quite noting the scarcity or almost absence of studies that focus on mammals of the tropical region. An academic tour was also organized for the participants on the 3rd day.  Each participants chose from different tour options (like visit to historical sites, caves, neolithic tombs, natural formations; hiking and walking).  A day is not enough to visit all the historic and beautiful places of Northern Ireland.  Later on that day, all participants also got the chance to visit the Belfast City Zoo.  The zoo is home to at least 150 species of animals from all over the world.  The animals, (mostly are the rarest and are endangered) kept in the zoo are not only for public viewing but primarily kept for conservation purposes.  Two Philippine mammal species are also kept in the zoo. These are the Visayan Warty Pig (Sus cebifrons) and the Palawan Binturong (Arctictis binturong) I can’t help but to compare this International Conference from other conferences I have already attended, especially the ones conducted here in the Philippines. The gathering was very simple and really put more value to the paper presentations and venue where participants can discuss and be asked about their works.  Unlike the way how we do things in the Philippines, the presentation of the speakers are very informal, questions are very straightforward, there is always a sense of respect given to the work of an individual who are presenting and food is not a big deal. It is very encouraging to see individuals who are really passionate about what they are doing, individuals who have been contributing significantly to information about the biology of mammals and individuals who are indeed a master of their own respective work. The wide array of researches that I’ve seen in the conference gave me a better picture about the state of mammalogical research in the Philippines and the things that can be done.  Two important things that I can highlight – answers to the question on “What have we been doing?” and “How many are significantly participating?” We owe most of the information that we have about Philippine mammals to the works done by foreign institutions.  For the past decades, the Field Museum in Chicago through Dr. Larry R. Heaney and his colleagues have been actively conducting researches all over the country to document the high diversity of mammal species in the country and to test some ecological and evolutionary concepts.  There are also a number of studies done by Filipino researches around the country but many are short-term, not continuing and remain to be unpublished.  But evaluating these initiatives and work in the light our current national situation, I believe, these work are still significant. The current pool of wildlife biologists in the Philippines, existing and available research methodologies, the support that we are receiving from our foreign counterparts and their willingness to help advance mammalian studies in the country can make us contribute significantly to the generation of relevant information about the biology of mammals. After delivering my paper on the last day of the congress, I became more confident in my belief that, at this time, I do not need to study abroad in order for me to make a significant contribution to mammalian research in the country.   My experience and observation during the meeting made me realize that each nation or society has its own stage of development, this includes the state of research a nation has. It is not right to compare the state and level of research activities between nations because research interests and or initiatives, especially if we compare first world and third world countries,  started at different span of time.  What I think is more important is, we should learn to embrace our own level of development, accept our current situations and act accordingly.  To be more specific, in the case of mammalian studies in the country, we have all what we need to contribute significantly and going abroad for a formal study, I believe, is not a requirement for now. The fact that we only know a little about the mammals of the Philippines, suggests that there are still much things that can be done -from the simplest to the most extensive type of research. Diversity works are ongoing and still far from complete.  Many ecological procedures can also be conducted. Also studies on reproductive biology, distribution, home range, behavior, GPS tracking, phylogenetic studies and many more can also be explored.  What is important is to focus on what we can do now.  We should also continue to encourage, train and involve more people to participate.  The national government should also invest on the generation of scientific information that comes from basic or pure science researches and not just on applied research.  I think it is also critical to create a culture that will make research as a profession in order to draw more people to be part of the research community.

Feedback on paper presented

Only one question was asked during the question and answer portion of the presentation.  I can only conclude on the general feedback from the listener base on the applause and the absence of negative comment or reaction that the audience appreciate and understood the presentation. After the presentation, a Japanese and Singaporean delegate also expressed their appreciation of the research.  According to them, they liked it because it is something that was done in Southeast Asia.  There’s not much paper that actually came from the region.  In fact, I think the paper that I presented was one of the two that I encountered.

Future directions of research presented

The paper presented is just the beginning of a long term investigation on the dynamics of movement between native and non-native species of small non-flying mammals of the Philippines.  Several other sites that exhibit the same system as the one investigated in the study must also be studied in order to establish the true answer to the effect of habitat disturbance to species composition and abundance of small non-flying mammals in a certain habitat.  At this time, we are only beginning to understand this and so we expect that many more studies will be done in the future.   Results of this kind of work are also contributing good information about the plan of the government to establish a guideline on the invasive species.  The study may not have been intended primarily to study invasive species, but researches about the diversity and ecology of small non-volant mammals in the country may significantly contribute to this.

Potential foreign collaborators

I cannot identify any future foreign collaboration that directly involves what I am currently doing right now on the ecology of small-non-volant mammals in the Philippines.  This is, I think, because of the difference of the line of work of most of the mammalogists attended the congress, especially the group who saw my presentation, compared to what we are doing here in the country.   I was however, able to speak to two parasitologists (Dr. Jean-Pierre Hugot of France and Dr. Boris Krasnow of Israel) and who attended the conference.  I also study parasites (both ectoparasite and endoparasite) and one of the things that we were discussing was the possibility of working together in studying parasitism in wild populations, specifically in the identification of species of parasites.  Parasitology, other than medical parasitology, remains to be one of the understudied fields in the country.

Other important contacts and insights

I was surprised to learn from Dr. Jean-Pierre Hugot (Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris France) that there are mistakes in the methodology that we use to collect and prepare specimens for endoparasite studies. The methodology that my students are using was given by a known Filipino parasitologist.  Because of this, I see the need to really communicate and get update from foreign parasitologist in order to do the right research on parasitology.

Short write-up of one’s participation (to be used to feature/publicize the grantee’s participation in the conference)

My attendance to the International Mammalogical Congress had been very memorable and timely.  What I can mention specifically is my experience of presenting my work to an audience that primarily consist of top scientist and researches who had been into mammalian studies for very long time already.  Participants were very appreciative and the respect to every presentation, including mine was very evident.  I value this so much because the paper I presented was not as complex as the papers of many.  I can’t help but to be also more appreciative on the kind of work current progress of mammalian research that we are doing here in the country.   My participation, I mentioned, was also very timely.  It is very helpful in making me decide on what kind of researchers I will be doing in the future.  My knowledge on what others are doing in other countries gave me more of a sense of awareness of what must and can be done in the area of mammalian research in the country.  The whole experience also helped me realize more the answer on the question of whether I need to pursue a Ph D abroad or not for purposes of self-growth and attaining new techniques. What I came up with is, with the kind of work that I am doing right now and the help I am receiving from our foreign friends who are doing mammalian studies in the country, studying abroad, at this time, is not a requirement.  What I think will be best to do is to establish collaborations.  The only thing, I think that will be a problem is on the availability of a PhD program that is related to what I intend to do.  Nevertheless, I can still continue whatever I have started and I intend to involve and ask others to also pursue a career in mammalian study.   I recommend that participation (presentor or not) to international conferences (organized by experts and professionals who has been doing it for the long time) must be encouraged, especially to young researchers who are still starting their career in science.   At present, there are available funding to support an attendance to an international meeting.  It can however be fully availed by making separate requests.  In my case UP Baguio, UP System and CHED funded the entire trip.  Requests must be forwarded at least two months for the CHED’s Support for Paper Presentation in International Conferences and at least a month for UP Research Dissemination Grant.