From a striking Kalahari Desert sunrise to a wren’s nest built under the saddle of a parked bicycle, this year’s winners of the BMC Ecology Image Competition celebrate the astounding biodiversity, natural beauty and biological interactions captured by talented ecologists worldwide.
This year’s overall winner encompassed a wide range of ecological relationships within one finely composed photograph.
The stunning landscape image of grazing antelope against the sunrise in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa (above), taken by Davide Gaglio, a PhD student at the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, stood out above the rest.
A guest judge ecologist Matthew Palmer from Columbia University in the US liked the rich details of the winning photo: “The image is strikingly beautiful, particularly the colours and the composition, but it also tells several stories. “The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park spans the border of South Africa and Botswana and is an example of cooperation and shared management between countries – a peace park. However, large areas of this park were leased for the extraction of natural gas in 2014, which may have negative effects on the park’s wildlife.”
There were two overall runners up. Coincidentally, the first runner-up image also featured antelope – but unlike the silhouette seen in Gaglio’s landscape image, the young Saiga antelope are the central subject of the portrait captured by Andrey Giljov of St. Petersburg State University in Russia.
Palmer describes the significance of this rare sighting: “This image highlights two newly born Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) on the Caspian steppe. The photograph has several wonderful aesthetic elements, but the underlying conservation story is also poignant. “Saiga antelope populations have been decimated by hunting for their meat and horns. Conservation efforts have stopped much of the hunting, but illegal poaching and highly-skewed sex ratios driven by culling the males for horns continue to threaten the species. The birthing season is a hopeful time for any conservation program, and it’s easy to project hope onto the animals seen here.”
Troglodytes bicycletes by second runner-up Raf Aerts from the University of Leuven, Belgium, is an example of urban ecology. Palmer said: “We typically think of ecology and nature as being separate from human spaces, this image of a Eurasian wren building its nest under a bike seat reminds us that nature and human space can converge.”
The BMC Ecology Image Competition, now in its fourth year, also awarded five category winners, including Behavioral and Physiological Ecology, Conservation Ecology and Biodiversity Research, Landscape Ecology and Ecosystems, Community, Population and Macroecology and the Editor’s Pick.