RDG Conference Report of Juan Carlos T. Gonzalez

Write up about the Conference

The International Ornithological Congress (IOC) was organized by the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU), which is recognized as the world’s largest and leading Ornithological society. The IOC draws participants from all continents and almost every country in the world, providing an important venue for showcasing the novel contributions from leading ornithological agencies and universities. It convenes nearly all the global bird experts and students, thus allowing scientific exchange on diverse research topics involving birds, from molecular systematic to bird art and folklore. The 26th congress marks a historical milestone for the IOU, convened every 4 years since 1884, it has been ongoing for nearly 130 years. IOU President, Dr Franz Bairlein emphasized, that the IOC is the oldest and largest continuing ornithological conference in the world. Apart from the Beijing congress in 2002, the 2014 Tokyo congress is the only other IOC hosted in Asia. Oxford University had hosted the IOC twice (1934 and 1966), as did Berlin and Vienna. Prof. Dr. Erik Matthysen noted that some 400 oral presenters in eight concurrent sessions were selected from over 1,000 abstract submissions, and those not selected for talks were offered to present their paper in the four poster sessions. Indeed, Rikkyo University in Ikebukuro is an ideal venue for the IOC, as it in a less congested suburb of Central Tokyo, with numerous affordable shops and accommodations. The congress was well organized, and the university facilities were superb. Across seven days, plenary talks starting promptly each morning and with second daily plenary in the afternoon. Both plenaries are often followed by concurrent and poster sessions, culminating with special meetings, mini-symposia and around table discussions (RTD) in the evening. The modern western-style centralized campus of Rikkyo allowed easy movement between concurrent sessions and plenary talks, and made accessible though the help of dozens of local volunteers, many of which are fluent in English. Congress Convener Prof. Keisuke Ueda mentioned that Rikkyo is a historic university and also celebrating 130 years since its establishment, and has strong ties the Ornithological Society of Japan. Being in heart of Tokyo, participants had ready access to Ueno Park, Abiko City and Mount Fuji, and Narita airport via the affordable extensive train and bus system. Together with the Tokyo Tourism Council, the organizers provided invaluable opportunities for participants to experience the scenic spots, birding areas, arts and culture of Japan, through free mid-conference tours, and also concurrent exhibits and workshops. From these free tours, I had the opportunity to visit the Abiko City Museum for Birds in Chiba Prefecture, and the National Treasure Museum and Skytree Tower in Tokyo.

The level of scientific research discussed during the IOC is indeed impressive, since many oral and posters presented often featured the development of novel techniques and emerging theories in ornithology. I noticed many papers showcased comprehensive molecular phytogenies of various bird groups, including my paper, and all were associated with innovative applications for comparative analysis of life history traits, biogeography and genomics. Current researches use multidisciplinary approaches studying birds, from anthropology and linguistics to computational analysis and bioinformatics. Overall, majority of studies presented at the 26th IOC, focused on the molecular biology and community ecology of birds, with the application of diverse state-of -art techniques including the use of GPS multi-logging devices and NextGen sequencing. My attempt to attend a wide selection of talks across eight concurrent sessions was successful, and the talks inspired me to start developing proposals on the application of these new research methods and data analysis packages, and possibly conduct similar studies in the Philippines. My involvement in the RTD for Ethno-ornithology provided an opportunity to highlight the Philippines, but also opened an awareness of gaps in the country’s ornithological research, thus stimulating global collaboration. Japan’s rich cultural heritage and inherent value of ethno-ornithological studies serves as an ideal template for other Asian countries to adopt. An important contribution of the 26th IOC would be its spotlight on conservation science and addressing the threats to global birds populations. The congress reiterated importance of combined field and laboratory research, thus strengthening avian science in support of effective conservation efforts.

Feedback on paper presented

Immediately after my oral presentation on the Day 2 afternoon concurrent session for Evolution (so08, Room 5), I had sufficient time for comments and questions from the audience.

  • One of the key comments raised during my session, was given by a multi-awarded world expert on hornbills, Dr. Pilai Poonswand from Mahidol University, Thailand. She commented my talk ans suggested that I look into important function of the hornbills’s elaborate casque for thermoregulation and homeostasis. In response, I mentioned a recent paper that compared  the thermoregulatory functions of enlarged bills of Afro-Asian hornbills and Neotropical toucans. Result of this study indicated that toucan bills were highly vascular and bill shape enhanced thermoregulation, but hornbill bills were less significantly correlated with thermoregulation.
  • PhD student Maude Wheeler from Harvard University was thankful for my vivid presentation, and asked whether there was a correlation between hornbill body-size with their territoriality. In response, I had mentioned that there was a significant correlation, both with and without phylogenetic constraints, as noted in my paper on the Evolution of Cooperative breeding in hornbills (Gonzalez et al. 2013 PRSB 280). However, I am thankful for this insight, and behavior.
  • Dr. Ada Zhang from Oxford University asked about the significance of casque elaboration in the breeding strategy of hornbills, and of the aspects of sexual selection contribute to the evolution of casque structures. Thankful for the question, my response explained the inconsistency of casque elaboration amongst hornbill sexes, as some species bear similar elaborate casques on both sexes, while others are strikingly sexual dimorphic, with males have highly elaborate casques.
  • Dr. Alex Kirschel from the University pf Cyprus had asked about the relation of the casque elaboration to vacalization in hornbills, and whether there are potential influences of diet shifts and sociality to increased call resonance in casque structures. My response was indeed gratuitous, as this was a very interesting question, which requires a comprehensive comparison of casque elaboration and development in hornbills across different sex, and age, alongside the compilation of high-resolution digital sound recordings of their calls. This also involves detailed morphometric analysis of the casque and their ability to impact call resonance. Indeed, this entails a lot of work but would make a really good research project.

Future directions of research presented

my research presented one reason that may have influenced the evolution of casque elaboration in hornbills, by conducting a comparative analysis of independent contrasts using a limited set of variables. Additional variables can still be tested further, although it seem appropriate to add a more stringent test of models without the use of phylogenetic constraints. To enhance the paper, the addition of the hypothesis stating the significant influence of varied casque structures on the resonance of vocalizations would be ideal, especially using the same CAIC packages and existing honrbill phylogeny to conduct comparative test with and without phylogenic constraints. Beyond this current paper, additional research work can be proposed to determine other drivers for casque elaboration, such as the importance of sexual selection, and influence of other variables such as sexual dimorphism, sociality and diet-habitat preferences. Another aspect for study would focus on the understanding of the development biology and embryology of casque structures.

Potential foreign collaborators

The 26th IOC allowed me to meet dozens of ornithologists from around the world that suggests potential collaboration, as well as renewing ties with colleagues and previous collaborators. I am revisiting and hopefully expanding my collaboration with other key avian researchers, including Dr. Robert Moyle from the University of Kansas (KU), Dr. Vinod Saranathan from the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Dr. Alex Kirschel from the University of Cyprus (UC). My participation in the launching and RTD of the Ethno-ornithology World Archive (EWA) at the OIC, thus strengthen the opportunity to collaborate with its lead agencies, including EWA project leader Dr. Andrew Gosler from oxford University, Dr. John Fanshawe from BirdLife International, and Dr. Joseph de Hoyo of Lynx Edicions. Renewing ties with my mentors and colleages at the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology (YIO) provided an opportunity to continue collaborative research on bird migration studies between the japan and the Philippines, and potential new cooperative work with their Molecular Ecology Laboratory and extensive Museum Collection. This includes potential joint expeditions to the islands of northern Philippines, together with the YIO Bird Migration Research Center (BMRC), now the Division of Avian Conservation (DAC), with Dr. Kiyoaki Ozaki as DAC Chief, and researcher Dr. Yoshimitsu Shigeta. YIO’s museum collection and library are now under the Division for Natural History, with Dr. Miyako Tsurumi as Chief, and also Dr. Takeshi Hiraoka.

Other important contacts and insights

My participation at the 26th IOC in Tokyo, Japan provided the invaluable opportunity for networking the world’s experts on birds. I had been able to solicit feedback on my PhD thesisfrom leading avian molecular systematist. Dr. Frederick Sheldon of Louisiana State University (LSU) and hornbill researchers Dr. Pilai Poonswaad and Dr. Nareerat Viseshakul of Mahidol University I also had the chance to meet with various members of the Ornothological Society of Japan (OOJ) and biology students from Rikkyo University, of which one acquaintance led to an invitation to contribute to OOJ’s lead journal in avian studies, Ornothological Science. I am preparing to submit  a paper soon to the editor-in-chief, Dr. Masaki Takagi of Osaka University.

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

My participation at the 26th IOC is indeed inspirational and academically fulfilling, being able to contribute to the worlds current knowledge in bird biology, evolution and ecology. More specifically enriching our understanding of hornbills, my model species and a widely charismatic group of tropical birds from Africa and Asia. I presented an oral paper (o08-3) entitled “Tracing the evolution of casque ornamentation in hornbills” on day 2 of the concurrent sessions for Evolution, alongside other presenter from Harvard University and LSU. It was indeed a pleasure and an honor for being able to present an offshoot of my doctoral dissertation of hornbills at the IOC, and gain invaluable feedback from global bird experts to improve it. This continued focus on hornbill research somehow establishes my own niche within the global ornithological community, as a potential authority on Bucerotidae, with emphasis on Philippine taxa. It was flattering to be recognized by colleagues and other IOC participants on this specialization, often being referred to as the “hornbill guy” during the congress.This heartfelr unsolicited global recognition is reinforced by the fact that I was probably one the few Filipino ornithologists granted with the opportunity to present an oral paper at the IOC since its inception, over 100 years ago. In this 26th congress, I was the only Filipino oral presenter out of the 4oo talks, and the only Philippine-based Filipino delegates. Scanning through the roster of over a thousand delegates and authors, only my colleague Carl Oliveros, a PhD student from KU was the only other Filipino participant in the OIC program. Carl and I had collaborated on the Babuyan Expedition and described the Calayan Rail in 2004. Sadly, he was unable to attend and present his poster on the phylogeny of Zosteropidae, instead his supervisor Dr. Moyle served as proxy. The only other delegate from the Philippines was Richard Smeadley, a British PhD student from University of Reading based in IRRI studying birds in rice fields. Part of his thesis was presented at the IOC, during the special concurrent session for rice fields birds. Despite our shared origins in Los Baños, we hardly had time to meet and the IOC provided an opportunity to catch-up and discussed future collaborations.

Attending my first IOC was definitely an enriching experience, cultivated further by the increased awareness for many new techniques for avian studies, and their potential applications in the Philippines. Thus, I return with armed with renewed sense of purpose and vigor for trying out these diverse methods on situ. The 4-year gap between each congress allows sufficient time for researchers to develop new papers worthy of contribution to the succeeding 2018 congress. I look forward to participating in the next IOC in Vancouver, Canada, and have prepared research proposals to implement field studies on Philippine hornbills, thus fortifying mu commitment to contributing global knowledge on hornbill biology and ecology. Moreover, this ensures the continued representation of the Philippines in this prestigious gathering of the world’s bird experts. Nowwithstanding, the invaluable opportunity offered by the IOC for global collaboration. The conference allowed extensive networking with various leading ornithological institutes and universities, and become acquainted with the world’s key ornithologists. Among them was Dr. Fred Sheldon of LSU, who gave a plenary talk on the biogeography of birds from Southeast Asia, and D. Joseph de Hoyo, lead editor of the 19-volume Handbook of Birds of the World. Dr. Rob Moyle of KU whom I had previously co-authored a paperpresented in the American Ornithological Conference, but had never met personally before. My visit to Japan also allowed me to renew ties with mentors from the YIO and from Oxford University’s Edward Grey Institute for Field Ornithology, including my PhD supervisor, Dr. Ben Sheldon. I was alumnus from both institutions in 1993 and 2012, respectively, and both have a strong influence in my academic growth and the development of my career as an ornithologist. Reunited with colleagues from Oxford, particularly Dr. Gosler, I became actively involvement in the launching of EWA at the IOC, including its concurrent sessions and RTD. This further reinforced my interest in this important cross-discipline research of Anthropology, Linguistics, Humanities and Ornithology, we now call “Ethno-ornithology”, to which the Philippines is an ideal model system – given our exceptional diversity of birds species and equally rich indigenous cultures and ethno-linguistic groups.