Ecology of Aphidophaga
International symposia on the research into behaviour and ecology of aphidophagous insects
There are many serial conferences in different areas of entomology, but for those working on natural enemies of aphids a high priority has to be the Ecology of Aphidophaga series. The series was founded by the distinguished coccinellid researcher Ivo Hodek, with the first conference held in 1965 at Liblice Castle near Prague. Forty-two years later, the series is still going strong. It has always attracted an international participation although so far all the meetings but one have been held in Europe. Who can forget the 1993 Aphidophaga 5 held in a holiday camp in Antibes with red wine ad lib coming out of a tap in the wall of the dining room!
The 10th in the series was held at the Agricultural University of Athens from 6th and 10th September 2007. The venue, on the second floor of the Old Library, was a superb choice. The large lecture room was flanked by a wide corridor providing ample space for the registration desk at one end and then all the posters as well, while across the corridor from the main door of the lecture room was a large balcony where we could all enjoy coffee breaks, excellent buffet lunches and networking in the sunshine with a splendid view of the Acropolis. It was all so well thought out and implemented by Dr Nikos Kavallieratos and his local organising team from the University's entomology group.
Seventy entomologists from 22 countries attended. This is a very comfortable number, enabling a 'family' atmosphere to develop and particularly making it possible for the organisers to accommodate all the presentations in a single programme without the need for concurrent sessions. Slots for offered papers were in general 15 minutes, with longer ones for invited speakers. Those attending were therefore able to participate in the entire conference.
A real strength and joy of the Aphidophaga meetings is that there is no 'applied' agenda. Although the organisms we were all talking about can be used in biological control, and many of the speakers earn their crust under that banner, Aphidophaga meetings welcome all good and interesting science, whether or not it has practical value. As the result of the friendly atmosphere that quickly develops at these meetings, discussion is genuine and informative, and most speakers left time for it at the end of their slot.
With 60 oral presentations, the organisers grouped the papers under session headings (number of presentations in brackets): Hemiptera as aphid predators (3); Foraging and habitat selection (6); Non-aphid food of Aphidophaga (5); Ecology and behaviour of Coccinellidae (9); Food relations (6); Biological control (7); Ecology and behaviour of aphid parasitoids (7); Parasitoids and pathogens of Aphidophaga and aphid pathogens (6); Benefits and risks associated with exotic Aphidophaga (4); Intraguild interactions (5); Miscellaneous (2). 34 posters were also presented.
What did stand out, however, was that - in contrast to Aphidophaga 9 in 2004 in the Czech Republic - syrphids had few champions in comparison with coccinellids. There was just one paper on pathogens of aphids; one wonders whether insect pathologists working with aphids realise they would be most welcome.
The participants received a well-produced book comprising the programme and abstracts of both oral presentations and posters. However, many full papers from the meeting will be published next year in the European Journal of Entomology..
The concentration needed for long days of sessions in the lecture room is relieved at each Aphidophaga meeting by a day tourist excursion on the middle day. For Aphidophaga 10, the not unexpected choice was a coach tour of the sights of Athens, including a main stop at the Acropolis. The conference needed two coaches. I can only speak for the one I was in, but our guide was a lady who spoke excellent English, was a fount of useful but not irritatingly over-detailed information and had a great sense of humour. Those who had never been to the Acropolis before must have found it the mind-blowing experience it was for me 10 years ago. Excursion lunches at conferences are often not five-star and frequently seem more successful for the restaurant than for the captive customers. Not at Aphidophaga 10. We completely took over an open-air Taverna at the foot of the Acropolis and were wined and dined superbly by a friendly and attentive staff. It says much for this Taverna that, on the remaining two days, members of the conference found their way back there for their evening meal.
With no University accommodation used for the meeting, we all stayed in hotels in the centre of Athens, and used local buses to and from the University. It was easy after learning the ropes on the first day, especially as the bus went over a level crossing shortly before reaching the University. The passage over the rails was quite a seismic event, but it did mean we never missed our stop however deep in conversation we had become!
My hotel was called "La Mirage"; I presumed the name derived from the fact that the reception lobby was quite posh! One got to know conference members at one’s own hotel better than the others, especially over breakfast and so the groups that set forth in the evening to seek a restaurant for dinner tended to be hotel-specific. This is one of the few criticisms I can come up with for Aphidophaga 10.
How did I fare? I was kept up to date in an area highly relevant to my own research and made several valuable new contacts with younger entomologists as well as meeting again with friends from outside the UK. I have several past students in Athens who I enjoyed seeing again and who generously entertained me. If I measure the impact of a meeting on me by the length of my list of “things to do on return”, then Aphidophaga 10 was especially rewarding. These days, in retirement, all costs of conferences have to come out of my own pocket and I can say in all honesty that this meeting was worth every euro, and more. My congratulations to the scientific committee and the local organisers; I enjoyed good science and great hospitality. If you work on natural enemies of aphids and enjoy good science for its own sake as well as for any application, I urge you to be at the next Aphidophaga at Perugia in Italy in 2100. At Athens I found myself the only participant who had been at the first meeting in 1965; I certainly intend to be at Perugia.
A final memory – in my presentation I had just reached the best bit, but with a surprising next result still to come. I remember saying "Did you enjoy that bit?" The audience acknowledged they had. "You'll really enjoy the next bit", I boasted. And I was right, they really did – for at that point I accidentally fell off the stage!
Helmut van Emden