Interest high in five-day science conference

Nearly 300 researchers from about 35 countries will converge on Dunedin this weekend to take part in an international science conference.

The Seventh Southern Connection Congress is a multidisciplinary gathering devoted to natural science research involving the southern hemisphere.

The five-day congress, hosted by the University of Otago, focuses on ''Southern Lands and Southern Oceans: Life on the Edge?'' and starts on Monday.

The ''life on the edge'' theme acknowledges the ''growing pressure from changing climate, extractive use and human populations on the distinctive climates, biotas and human settlement patterns'' which had unfolded since the breakup of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, congress organisers said. A biota is the flora and fauna of a region.

The aim was to learn from ''shared and divergent biotas and cultures'' and their histories, in order to ''contribute solutions to sustaining species and ecosystem services'', organisers said.

Topics range from alpine ecology to marine biology, from mountains to the sea, and from Australian wildfires to wilding pines in this country.

This is only the second time the Southern Connection Congress has been held in New Zealand and it is believed to be one of the most important multidisciplinary natural science gatherings held in this country.

Among congress highlights is a public lecture by Australian ecologist Prof Lesley Hughes on ''Southern Hemisphere Biodiversity in a Changing Climate: 2050 and Beyond'', at Otago University's Castle 2 lecture theatre at 7.30pm on Wednesday. Dunedin conservationist Prof Sir Alan Mark's latest book, Above the Treeline. A Nature Guide to Alpine New Zealand, will be launched during the congress.

Prof Kath Dickinson, who heads the Otago botany department, and Dr Bill Lee, of Landcare Research, Dunedin, are the congress co-conveners. Many natural science researchers were based in the northern hemisphere, but the congress reflected growing awareness of the southern hemisphere's importance, Prof Dickinson said.

New Zealand's diverse flora and fauna and our response to conservation challenges were attracting a great deal of international interest.

''We're regarded as world leaders in some of these aspects,'' she said.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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