1994 - Stockholm
Stockholm – a new beginning
At some point in 1992 or early 1993 I was lingering in the lunch room of the Department of Zoology at Stockholm University, talking to Bengt Karlsson about how it was strange that there were no meetings dedicated to basic research about butterflies. We were both rather new PhDs at the time, Bengt graduating in 1989 and me in 1991, and from our supervisor Christer Wiklund we had heard the stories about the London meeting in 1981 where "everyone" was present. And we had seen the 1984 proceedings volume, of course. But since then nothing seemed to have happened in Europe, with the exception of a couple of meetings strictly dedicated to butterfly conservation aspects.
We more or less decided on the spot that we should try to do something to rectify this situation. We wanted a meeting where everything was about butterflies, so that everything would be interesting to listen to! Besides, it could be a career-helping way for us to become well-known among butterfly people.
And it didn't need to be so complicated; the important thing was to get people together for a rewarding meeting. In Sweden there was (and is) a tradition of yearly meetings for ecologists, the Oikos meetings, and we thought that the simple way that they were organized at the time (they have since become larger and more expensive) was a good model that we could pull off by ourselves and would ensure that the meeting would be cheap to attend. That is: the meeting should last only three days; there should be only one session so that no hard choices had to be made by the audience; there would be no proceedings published; people would have to find their own lodging in Stockholm and (with some guidance) their own food in the campus area. So, no expensive professional help from conference organizers needed.
But was anyone else really interested? Only days later we sent out the first circular to try to get an answer to this question, indicating the possible dates October 10-12 1994. We sent it by snail mail to everybody we knew about that could be interested, and also did a database search for people publishing on butterflies. This was a bit more complicated task at the time than it is today. And yes, this was even in the days before we really trusted e-mail - even though I do have in my records a few out-prints of e-mails that I received from Hans van Dyck, Jim Mallet and some other people on the technological forefront, and had to download one by one from a mainframe server using the "popular, easy-to-use" program package Pine.
The response to the first circular was very gratifying, almost every day for several weeks we found positive responses in the mailbox. It was clear we had to do this. The next step was to try to invite some well-known people, but then we would need some extra funding in order to still keep the registration costs down.
And this was the decisive point; this was when the Stockholm meeting became Biology of Butterflies II, even though it was in fact Butterfly Ecology and Evolution I. After all, the London meeting was a one-off thing, and over a decade had gone by since then. However, to get financial help from the Swedish Research Council and the Wenner-Gren Center Foundation, we had to pretend to be organizing a meeting that was part of a series, so that it was Sweden's turn to do its duty (this was part of their funding rules). Not being sure that actually starting a series was OK for getting the grants, and not knowing if there would ever be a next meeting, we decided that the series started already in London 1981.
Being just humble new PhDs, we asked the more senior Christer Wiklund and Olof Leimar to co-sign the applications for funding, including the names of the people who had already agreed to give keynote talks: Carol Boggs, Paul Brakefield, Mamuro Watanabe, Konrad Fiedler, John Thompson and Richard Vane-Wright. We got the money, and it was enough to pay for the travel costs of the invited speakers, and actually at the end of the meeting we had enough money left to buy the ultra-freezer that is still in use here at the department. It has over the years housed many a butterfly specimen, including those used by me, Niklas Wahlberg and collaborators to clarify phylogenetic relationships in the Nymphalidae.
As soon as we knew that we had the extra funding we sent out the second circular, and received close to 100 registrations by the closing date of February 1 1994 (this later swelled to 125). We had a very hard time picking the speakers, and I'm sure not everybody was happy with our choices. But it was our meeting, after all. Up to this point Bengt and I did everything ourselves, but later we found some more or less willing volunteers to help with putting together the programme, keeping track of conference fees, handling slide projectors during the talks, poster sessions and what not. It was still a very slim organization.
As the date for the meeting approached, there were some other developments. First, we realized that the department had some money in a testimonial grant fund that we could make good use of, and invited Naomi Pierce to give a special Ester Lager lecture on the day after the meeting. Second, Ilkka Hanski quickly organized a satellite meeting on "Butterfly population ecology & dynamics", including related conservation issues, to be held before the meeting partly on the ferry between Stockholm and Helsinki, and back again. Third, Bengt and I went shopping for the now world-famous black and electric blue conference bags (I still use mine at every conference I go to).
The meeting itself went smoothly. There were 43 scheduled talks, including eight invited talks, and 35 posters. The Conference Dinner took place already the first evening at restaurant Stora Skuggan, and featured singing at the tables in the traditional Scandinavian way, and a very funny spontaneous talk by Mike Singer. The second day ended with a combined poster session and pub with pizza. Time-keeping by speakers was overall excellent, but the third day ended with the very last speaker, Mark Scriber, who was already known for often having perhaps a few slides too many to present in a given time. He approached the slightly worried Karl Gotthard – in charge of the slide projector – with two full carousels of slides for a twenty-minute slot, stating "I'm going for the record!" He almost made it.
On the day after the meeting, there was a bus excursion to Uppsala and Linneaus' Hammarby. Brilliant autumn weather and a very nice trip. We were back in time for lunch followed by Naomi Pierce's special lecture on "Ants, plants and blue butterflies".
Already the first day, we put the question if anybody was interested in organizing another meeting in three or four years, and Carol Boggs and Ward Watt rose to the challenge and organized the meeting in Crested Butte, Colorado, in 1998. The rest is history.