Open Access

BMC ecology image competition 2017: the winning images

BMC EcologyBMC series – open, inclusive and trusted201717:28

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-017-0138-8

Received: 21 July 2017

Accepted: 24 July 2017

Published: 18 August 2017

Abstract

For the fifth year, BMC Ecology is proud to present the winning images from our annual image competition. The 2017 edition received entries by talented shutterbug-ecologists from across the world, showcasing research that is increasing our understanding of ecosystems worldwide and the beauty and diversity of life on our planet. In this editorial we showcase the winning images, as chosen by our Editorial Board and guest judge Chris Darimont, as well as our selection of highly commended images. Enjoy!

Editorial

The 2017 edition of our image competition has produced a terrific array of images of the natural world, from close-ups that capture the animated life of insects to aerial views of vast landscapes. As with previous editions of the competition [14] we are thrilled at the diversity and excellence of the submissions we received from ecologists across the world.

This year we are delighted to have as our guest judge Chris Darimont of the University of Victoria, Canada. As well as producing high quality interdisciplinary applied research for the benefit of natural and human systems, Chris has demonstrated an admirable commitment to outreach and science communication. This, combined with his considerable enthusiasm for photography, made him an excellent judge to help select the very best from the submissions we received this year.

Alongside Chris, once again our BMC Ecology Section Editors lent their expertise to our competition, picking out their favourite images in their areas of speciality. Having the input of such respected scientists as our judges ensures our winning images are picked as much for the scientific story behind them as for the technical quality and beauty of the images themselves.

Winning images

Our overall winning image this year was Ana Carolina Lima’s photo of giant South American turtles (Podocnemis expansa). Chris Darimont admired the “…rare, multi-layered perspective from above. The photo is well composed, technically sound, and rich with wonderful geometry” (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Overall winner: Podocnemis expansa. “The Giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa), also known as the tartaruga-da-amazônia, is the largest of the side-neck turtles. This picture was taken in one of the most important areas of conservation for this species: the Cantão State Park, in Tocantins, Brazil. The Park is located in the Brazilian “Savanna” or Cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot that is yet poorly known but is thought to be equally or even more biodiverse than the Amazon ecosystem. I was there as part of a research group working in the field to collect data on the status of reptiles and amphibians’ populations for conservation purposes.” Attribution: Ana Carolina Lima

Our Conservation Ecology and Biodiversity Section Editors Luke Jacobus and Josef Settele also admired this image, not just for the photo itself, but also for the story behind it. Dr. Lima, based at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, conducts her research in the Brazilian Cerrardo. This region is the largest savanna in South America and has been recognized as one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world [5, 6]. It holds considerable (and still considerably unquantified) biodiversity, yet is increasingly threatened by human development. As Luke Jacobus said of the image, “its story best communicates the ideas of biodiversity and conservation. Brazil, in particular, is facing certain challenges to conservation of its biodiversity, and we stand to learn much about the Cerrado so that loss of its diversity can be minimized.”

This photo, alongside another image by Dr. Lima of a frog from the family Leptodactylidae (included among our highly commended images), does a fantastic job of showcasing the diversity of the Brazilian Cerrardo that her research contributes to conserving. It is a worthy winner of this year’s competition.

Runners up

Our first runner-up presents quite a contrast to our overall winner. Whereas the image of turtles presented a snapshot of life in tropical rainforests, teeming with life, Christin Säwström’s (Edith Cowan University, Western Australia) photo ‘Two towers’ captures the austere landscape of the Antarctic (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

First runner-up: Two towers. “The tranquil and frozen East Antarctic sea ice landscape in the winter months showing off its amazing pink skies and fantastic icebergs. During my PhD I spent over a year at Davis station in the Australian Antarctic Territory doing research on two freshwater lakes in the Antarctic lake oasis known as the Vestfold Hills. I was lucky to capture these “two towers” and the striking moon on a sea ice trip near the Davis station in June 2004.” Attribution: Christin Säwström

Chris Darimont commented that the image is “not sharp in the low light environment, an effect that gives it a winter dreamy feel. Also, because of its softer edges, it resembles a painting. Owing to this uncertainty, it invites close and sustained examination. Whether by design or happenstance, this is a rare approach that produced an arresting image.”

Our second runner-up, an image by Roberto García-Roa of the University of Valencia, Spain entitled ‘Connections’, shows a remarkable series of ecological interactions (Fig. 3). A predatory spider, camouflaged by the white plant on which it hunts, has caught a large bee, which is also being attacked by a parasitic fly. As Chris Darimont put it, “its title sums up what I like best here. Typically in pictures with animals, one is drawn to the eyes of the larger, charismatic subjects, in this case the spider or bee. In this image, however, the star is the smaller fly. This parasite, tack sharp, commands the attention it deserves as a major player in this interaction and in ecosystems in general.”
Fig. 3

Second runner-up: Connections. “Conservation cannot be understood without taking into account the interaction among species. The disappearance of one species might provoke that other connected species (prey, predators, etc.) can suffer direct consequences. This picture represents the predation of a crab spider on a bee and this was used by a parasitic fly.” Attribution: Roberto García-Roa

Our Section Editor Simon Blanchet also enthused about this photo: “This picture, by encapsulating a four-way species interaction, perfectly illustrates the complexity of species interactions by illustrating the dependence of species on each other, but also the fabulous power of evolution to optimize all the energy available in a food web and to generate aesthetic entities.”

Behavioral ecology and physiology

Our winner in this category was Maïlis Huguin from the Institut Pasteur de la Guyane, French Guiana with his image, ‘Wakeful’, of a lone ant defending its territory (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4

Winner, Behavioral and Physiological Ecology: Wakeful. “Photograph taken in forest in French Guiana. An ant (Ectatomma sp) on alert defending its territory on a leaf.” Attribution: Maïlis Huguin

Section Editor Dominique Mazzi admired “an appealingly simple image with the two colors alternating in strong contrast and a succeeded crossing from sharp to un-sharp. The ant stands at attention with a determination that suggests that the leaf it is watching over is the most important thing in the whole world. At the same time, the ant calls for the viewer’s attention as if claiming that if it was not for its guarding it, then the most important thing in the whole world would be lost.”

Chris Darimont also liked the impression the ant gives us: “It appears territorial but also says to me, ‘I’m an individual and I count’, which protests against the reality that this individual is very likely a tiny and subjugated part of a larger social whole.“

Community, population and macroecology

“L’avenir appartient à ce qui se lèvent tôt”—the future belongs to those who get up early. This French saying was brought to mind for our Section Editor Simon Blanchet, as he chose the winning image for the Community, Population and Macroecology category, entitled ‘Catchers on a hot tin roof’ (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5

Winner, Community, Population and Macroecology: Catchers on a hot tin roof. “Early morning oyster catchers assemble on the roof of a disused boat shed on the Otago Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand” Attribution: Trevor Sherwin

The photo of a group of oyster catchers assembling in the morning sun, taken by Professor Trevor Sherwin of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, was particularly liked by Simon for the “colors of this early morning picture. At the least it is for those unique colors and pictures that we (sometimes) get up early.”

Conservation ecology and biodiversity

Chosen by Section Editors Luke Jacobus and Josef Settele, our winner in this category was Professor Zhigang Jiang of the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China with his image of a male Tibetan antelope guarding his harem of females (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6

Winner, Conservation ecology and biodiversity: Tibetan antelope. “On January 12, 2016, at the foot of white snow covered Kekexili Mountain, a male Tibetan antelope was vigorously guiding a herd of female which would come to estrus soon. Tibetan antelope have a harem mating system, in which a dominant male who defeated other male competitors during rut will have a harem of several to dozens of females during the rutting season in the coldest month of the year. Tibetan antelope are an endemic species to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Its population once reached several millions on the alpine meadows in the heartland of the plateau. However, the population of Tibetan antelope dramatic decreased to 7080 thousands after the mad poaching for its precious wools at the end of 20th century. Since then, populations of Tibetan antelope (Chiru, Pantholops hodgsonii) have been gradually recovering under strict protection. The status of Tibetan antelope was down listed from “Critically endangered” to “Valuable” in the 2015 China’s Biodiversity Red List.” Attribution: Zhigang Jiang

Josef Settele commented that this is “a species and ecosystem that is often underrepresented” and is a reminder of the importance of Chinese conservation efforts in this fragile ecosystem. We also admired the composition of the photo, with the females facing away from us, but the male glaring directly at the camera as though preparing to defend his harem.

Landscape ecology and ecosystems

The winning image in this category was an image from Mount Teide, the huge volcano located on Tenerife, captured by Professor Harry Seijmonsbergen from the University of Amsterdam, Holland (Fig. 7).
Fig. 7

Winner, Landscape ecology and ecosystems: Las Cañadas del Teide. “Micro-habitat on the north-facing caldera slopes at 2100 m altitude in ‘Las Cañadas del Teide’ on Tenerife Island, Spain. Shown here is a rare mixture of the Canary pine (Pinus canariensis) and the flowering endemic Teide bugloss (Echium wildpretii), amongst other plants, such as the rosallilo de cumbre (Pterocephalus lasiospermus). The unique geological environment and geomorphological development created a specific micro-habitat, perfectly suitable for both the Canary pine trees invading from outside the caldera depression and the ‘Tower of Jewels’ or ‘Red bugloss’, a rare species fully adapted to survive in this harsh terrain. The micro-habitat is formed by coarse rock fall deposits, piling up at the foot of the >3 million years old basaltic cliffs, creating local scree slopes. Locally, fine-grained sub-horizontal soil patches form behind larger fallen blocks, as the result of fine-scale surface runoff and sediment transport and deposition, which, in combination with mechanical and chemical weathering, release sufficient nutrients from the basaltic parent material to sustain this unique vegetation cover. Signs of forest fire, especially on the pine trees, emphasize the vulnerability and dynamic nature of this ecologically fragile (micro-)ecosystem.” Attribution: Harry Seijmonsbergen

Our Section Editor Michel Baguette explained his choice: “The Canary islands are located 100 km off Morocco and have a total area of 7500 km2. Of the 1700 plant species recorded on the seven volcanic islands of the archipelago, more than 500 are endemic to this small area. There are also endemic animal species, including reptiles, birds and mammals. The beauty of many endemic species, like the Teide bugloss (Echium wildpretii) or the blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) should not make us forget how fragile they are. Endemic species have usually a low number of individuals and are restricted to small areas that are threatened by human activities. This is perfectly exemplified by the description written by Harry Seijmonsbergen of the complex processes required for the creation of the microhabitat illustrated in the winning picture. The preservation of endemic species on islands is thus a paradigm for biodiversity conservation everywhere on Earth.”

Editor’s pick

If ecology is the art of uncovering connections within ecosystems that are not immediately obvious, then our Editor’s pick, entitled ‘A “well-armed” coral reef community’, represents this perfectly (Fig. 8). At first the image, by Michelle Achlatis of the University of Queensland in Australia, seems to present a coral reef surprisingly lacking in animal life; until, that is, you notice the large octopus hidden in plain sight (if you are having trouble finding it, look for the eye exactly in the middle of the picture).
Fig. 8

Winner, Editor’s pick: A “well-armed” coral reef community. “The underwater equivalent of tropical rainforests, healthy coral reefs teem with life. Often conspicuous, other times a little harder to spot. Like this octopus, that pretended to be a coral as I approached it. The complex three-dimensional framework that corals build provides a sheltered habitat and ideal camouflage ground to approximately ¼ of all marine species, even though reefs are just specks in our oceans. It is hard to imagine however how a bleached or dead reef could host such biodiversity, an alarming thought given the back-to-back global bleaching events of 2016 and 2017. Heron Reef, along with other reefs in the southernmost section of the Great Barrier Reef, may have escaped the bleaching that hit the warmer northern section this time round, but how well-armed these reefs are against intensifying climate change and other anthropogenic pressures is questionable.“Attribution: Michelle Achlatis

Aside from the enjoyment of playing ‘spot the octopus’, the picture is also a reminder of how integrated the different species are within coral ecosystems; this octopus, so beautifully adapted to its environment, could clearly not survive outside this habitat. With coral reefs increasingly under threat, let’s hope in years to come the difficulty in spotting such octopi will still be due to their expert camouflage and not because they have become extinct.

Highly commended

Beyond our winning images we received many other fantastic photos. We highlight our favourites in this section.

The first is by Pablo Juarbe Martinez, a photo of a Galapagos sea lion dozing in the sand—simple, yet striking (Additional file 1). José López Bucio contributed a colorful image of flowering epiphytic plants in his ‘candle in the wind’ (Additional file 2). Initially, ‘Dicing with death’ by James O’Hanlon also looks like another photo of a colorful plant. Closer inspection reveals a well-disguised Malaysian orchid mantis—and a fly lucky to have avoided becoming its meal (Additional file 3).

A rather larger scale vision of nature was provided by Diogo Sayanda’s aerial view of the Sado River estuary in southern Portugal (Additional file 4). Chris Darimont admired the “gorgeous color and composition. One need’s to know it is an estuary from the title to know it is an aerial shot (and that’s a good thing). It invites closer inspection, which take you to the ‘oh-ya!’”.

Life and death

A number of submissions documented the effort species undergo to pass their genes down to the next generation. Michaël Nicolaï contributed a lovely image of a male frog perched on a stem, awaiting any females responding to his call (Additional file 5). Arnaud Badiane photographed two mating common wall lizards; Chris Darimont noted the “intense look from one of the lizards, presumably the male, with his limb thrown around the female” (Additional file 6).

A slightly different male–female relationship was captured by Maïlis Huguin in his image of a male and female spider entitled ‘Sexual Dimorphism’ (Additional file 7). As Chris Darimont put it: “Sexual Dimorphism—clear case of exactly that!”. Demonstrating that mating needn’t be all consuming, Jeroen Everaars photographed a female dancefly feeding on its prey while simultaneously mating with a male—who, seemingly precariously, keeps the three of them from falling to the ground (Additional file 8).

For the swallow-tailed gull, mating involves a substantial lifestyle change. The gulls spend most of their lives out at sea, only returning to land to breed. Majoi de Novaes Nascimento captured a gull perched high up on a cliff face at their breeding grounds on the Galapagos Islands (Additional file 9).

For many species, mating is the easy part; taking care of the resulting offspring is where it gets tricky. Roberto García-Roa captured this reality brilliantly with his photo of the frog Oophaga pumilio carrying its tadpole on its back, searching for a safe pool in which to deposit it (Additional file 10). The composition makes us appreciate the immensity of the rainforest compared to the tiny frog.

Producing young is normally the only job for ant queens, but as Julia Giehr’s colorful photo demonstrates, when they need to they will pitch into save their offspring (Additional file 11). Diogo Sayanda’s photo shows a male Abudefduf luridus trying—and failing—to save his eggs from a shoal of predatory fish (Additional file 12). Perhaps it’s wrong for us to find such an image so beautiful, but as Chris Darimont said “Oh—those gorgeous colors”!

For some species, reproduction and predation are one and the same, as with Cordyceps fungi, which parasitize insects in order to reproduce. The image ‘Fungus Attack’ (a third contribution by the very talented Maïlis Huguin) shows a butterfly parasitized in this way (Additional file 13). Chris Darimont felt the picture “captured the beauty (especially the colors) in an otherwise macabre process of decay. I also liked the apparent suddenness with which the moth expired, its feet seemingly glued by fungus to the leaf”.

The human factor

Several images highlighted how humans can affect natural processes—or vice versa, as in the case of a photo by Mohd Masri bin Saranum of a Cryptolaemus montrouzieri larva eating mealybug larvae (Additional file 14). While the Cryptolaemus larvae may look rather monstrous, it is actually an effective natural control against mealybugs, a serious pest of papaya plants. Simon Blanchet commented that this image “illustrates the complexity of life and the strength of evolution in shaping species interactions and food webs”.

Our judge Josef Settele meanwhile liked “the industry-related story plus the marvellous picture” of Rozilawati binti Harun’s image of a stingless bee (Additional file 15).

Hannah Bose contributed a lovely image of periwinkles making their home alongside humans on a busy beach in the Seychelles (Additional file 16). Chris Darimont liked the “nice composition of wood arching into frame. It takes a while (but not too long) to notice the Littoraria hiding, presumably from hot sun and predators.”

Another example of animals taking advantage of man-made habitats is illustrated in the photo by David Costantini of breeding terns making their nest on an abandoned shovel (Additional file 17). We admired the terrific composition and the matching of the colors between the shovel and the terns.

Conservation

By exhibiting the beauty to be found in the natural world, wildlife photography can contribute to conservation efforts. ‘The roar of the last Andalusian dragon’ by Javier Ábalos Álvarez was a striking image of a charismatic lizard that is under threat from uncontrolled development (Additional file 18). Ana Carolina Lima’s image of a frog from the family Leptodactylidae certainly shows off its subject’s beauty (Additional file 19). Chris Darimont admired the “‘studio’-looking shot that works with the browns of the frog and leaf contrasted with the bright white background. I love the leaf that constructed the perch—shows how small and delicate the frog is”.

While conserving all of the earths’ biodiversity is of course crucial, charismatic flagship species will always be vital to conservation efforts. Two images showcased such iconic species in different ways. Miguel Gomez’s image of an elephant tusk reminded us of the dangers posed to their survival by the ivory trade (Additional file 20). Chris Darimont liked that the image was “framed to show enough, but not too much, of the subject, so one knows it’s an elephant. I especially appreciate the signs of wisdom, hardship and a life long-lived (furrowed skin, fractures on tusk)”. Conversely, a more cheerful portrayal of a charismatic species can be found in Arnaud Badiane’s picture of a koala peacefully relaxing between two tree branches (Additional file 21).

The joys of the field

One reason ecology lends itself so well to this kind of competition is that many ecologists spend much of their research life working in the wild. Diogo Sayanda (who, with three images featured in our competition, clearly enjoys being out in the field) documented his rather enviable interaction with a school of dolphins (Additional file 22). Chris Darimont admired the “gorgeous colors and movement” in this photo. A slightly more startling, if no less exciting, encounter was had by Sjoerd Duijns who got surprisingly close to a polar bear during his field work in Canada’s Hudson Straight (Additional file 23).

Finally, if the idea behind our competition is to showcase the intersection between research and photography, then none of this year’s images did this more explicitly than Dewald Kleynhans’ picture ‘You better get the weight right!’ (Additional file 24). His research assesses the personalities of elephant shrews, and it’s fair to say this individual must rank towards the bold end of the spectrum. As Chris Darimont put it “he seems to be saying, ‘Is this for real?’”.

Conclusions

We were delighted at the variety and quality of the images submitted to the 2017 Image Competition. We thank all those who took part in this year’s competition, and congratulate our winning photographers; we hope our readers enjoyed their work as much as we have. We look forward to the 2018 competition!

Declarations

Authors’ contributions

CF organized the competition and wrote the editorial, with contributions from CTD, MB, SB, LMJ, DM and JS. CTD, MB, SB, CF, LMJ, DM and JS selected the winners. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all of the participants for their excellent submissions and thoughtful commentary. We would also like to acknowledge Simon Harold, who originally created the competition, as well as Julia Simundza, Pippa Harris, Ashleigh Johnston and Tim Sands for their helpful advice; Tanya Ashfaq, Victor Hung and the BMC marketing department; Anne Korn, Matthew Lam, Francesca Martin and the BMC Communications team.

All images published in this Editorial are released under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) to ensure credit with proper attribution [7]. If you wish to re-distribute or re-use any images published in this editorial, please credit individual winners as the image licensee.

Competing interests

CF is an employee of BioMed Central. MB, SB, LMJ, DM and JS are Editorial Board Members for BMC Ecology. CTD declares no competing interests.

Publisher’s Note

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Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
BMC Ecology, BioMedCentral
(2)
Department of Geography, University of Victoria
(3)
Institut de Systématique, Evolution et Biodiversité, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), UMR 7205
(4)
Station d’Ecologie Théorique et Expérimentale du CNRS, Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) & Université Paul Sabatier (UPS)
(5)
Division of Science, Indiana University Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC)
(6)
Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER, Agroscope, Research Division Plant Protection
(7)
UFZ Centre for Environmental Research
(8)
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Halle-Jena-Leipzig
(9)
Institute of Biological Sciences, University of the Philippines Los Baños, College

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Copyright

© The Author(s) 2017