The origins of MEDECOS and ISOMED date back to March 1971 when an international meeting of Mediterranean-region ecologists was convened in Valdivia, Chile. This meeting was organized by Francisco di Castri and served as the initiation of a new program of study of convergent ecosystems within the International Biological Program (IBP). This conference led to a synthesis of the comparative geography and ecology of the world’s five Mediterranean-climate regions (di Castri and Mooney 1973). This edited volume and the comparative studies of Chile and California that followed in the IBP program brought a broader ecological and evolutionary perspective to comparative ecosystem studies.
There was a consensus at the Valdivia conference of the need to initiate a cycle of international conferences that would rotate among the five Mediterranean-climate regions. With this impetus the second MEDECOS conference, although not yet called by this name, was held in the summer of 1977 at Stanford, California, organized by Hal Mooney. An international group of more than 100 scientists attended this meeting, which focused on the environmental consequences of fire and fuel management practices on the functioning of mediterranean-climate ecosystems (Mooney and Conrad 1977).
The third international conference, termed MEDCOM, took place in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 1980, and was attended by 130 scientists. While previous conferences had clearly established the significance of climate as a factor promoting convergence in morphological and physiological plant traits between the five mediterranean-climate regions, it was decided to focus on nutrient availability as a factor that was divergent among these regions. It was well known that southwestern Australia and the Cape Region of South Africa had ancient nutrient-poor landscapes unlike the other three regions. Moreover, these impoverished soils were associated with remarkably high levels of species richness at local scales. Thus, the conference and the publication resulting from talks presented emphasized the theme of nutrients as a factor promoting divergence between mediterranean-climate regions (Kruger, Mitchell and Jarvis 1983). A day field trip during the conference provided an opportunity to see field sites of strandveld and other habitats under intensive study in the South African ecosystems program. A post-congress workshop at Hermanus followed the meeting, and provided an opportunity to synthesize ideas on many of themes presented at the meeting.
The fourth international mediterranean ecology conference, termed MEDECOS for the first time, was convened in Perth, Western Australia in August 1984, with 150 attendees registered. The chosen theme for this conference was resilience and resistance in mediterranean-climate ecosystems. This theme was explored in at a variety of levels of analysis from physiological levels to communities to ecosystem processes, with presentations focused on both plant and animal systems (Dell, Hopkins and Lamont 1986). John Beard led a week-long post-congress field trip that looped south along the west coast from Perth and then on through the eucalyptus woodlands and forest back up to the wheatlands and west back to Perth.
It was proposed during the Perth conference that a society be established to insure the future continuity of the international mediterranean conferences that had proved so useful and productive in fostering interregional collaborations and syntheses. The concept of the International Society for Mediterranean Ecology (ISOMED) was thus formulated, but without any legal charter or structure. The objectives of the society were stated to be the promotion of communication among ecologists in the five mediterranean-climate regions through the continuation of international MEDECOS conferences as well as through special symposia and exchanges of scientists and students. Hal Mooney (United States) was elected as the first president of the society, and Francisco di Casti (France) was elected secretary. The other members of the founding executive committee wee Richard Groves (Australia), Eduardo Fuentes (Chile), and Fred Kruger (South Africa).
The fifth MEDECOS conference, closing the cycle of meetings in each of the five mediterranean-climate regions, was held in Montpellier, France in July 1987 at the Centre Emberger of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. The theme of this conference was the role of water in the functioning of mediterranean-climate ecosystems at multiple spatial and temporal scales of analysis. A selection of papers from MEDECOS V, examining time scales of biological responses to water constraints, was later published (Roy, Aronson and di Castri 1995). Two field trips associated with the conference provided an opportunity for participants to visit the Mount Aigoual region and the remarkable ecosystems of the Camargue, as well as to experience a French rodeo. It was in a restaurant in Montpellier during the conference that the now iconic MEDECOS custom of a competitive wine tasting was born. This first wine tasting involving just five people has grown to the massive event of recent years.
In September 1991, MEDECOS returned to the Mediterranean Basin with a conference in Maleme, Crete, organized by Margarita Arianoutsou. The theme was plant-animal interactions in mediterranean climate ecosystems, and invited contributions from this MEDECOS VI conference were later published (Arianoutsou and Groves 1994). A field trip during the conference provided participants with an opportunity to see the diverse ecosystems of Crete and view the upper end of the famous Samara Gorge, the largest river gorge in Europe. A hardy group of ecologists later hiked the 18 km trail through the gorge to the south coast.
The MEDECOS VII conference was held in Reñaca, Viña del Mar, Chile, in October 1994, and organized by Gloria Montenegro. While there was not a formal theme to the conference, a group of invited papers dealing with landscape degradation and biodiversity in mediterranean-type ecosystems was published (Rundel, Montenegro and Jaksic 1998). A field trip during the conference introduced participants to central Chilean ecosystems in La Campana National Park, with a memorable opportunity to see the famous Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis, at Ocoa. This conference was the last in the series to have an exhibition following the wine tasting of Zulu chants and dances by the South African contingent.
In 1997 the MEDECOS VIII conference moved back to California with a conference in San Diego in October, organized by Walter Oechel. This meeting focused heavily on the theme of global change and mediterranean climate ecosystems. Pre- and post- conference field trips were offered to the mediterranean-climate regions of northwestern Baja California and to the Sky Oaks and Santa Margarita Biological Field Stations and the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.
The ninth international mediterranean conference returned Stellenbosch, South Africa in September 2000, two decades after MEDECOS III. This conference designated as MEDECOS 2000 was organized by Karen Esler and David Richardson, and sponsored by the Institute for Plant Conservation, University of Cape Town and the Botany Department, University of Stellenbosch, in association with the Botany Department, University of the Western Cape, Cape Nature Conservation, the CSIR’s Division of Water, Environment and Forestry Technology, the National Botanical Institute, and South African National Parks. Participants were given a choice of field trios to visit Kirstenbosch and the Cape Nature Reserve or urban ecology and land use conflicts in the Cape Flats.
With MEDECOS X in April 2004, the international participants returned to the eastern mediterranean for a conference in Rhodes, Greece. The tireless Margarita Arianoutsou again organized this meeting. Following on its nine previous meetings, MEDECOS X offered ecologists an opportunity to discuss a broad range of ecological and environmental issues relevant to the five mediterranean climate regions of the world. A full day excursion allowed all of the participants to see the range of diverse habitats on the island of Rhodes, as well as its rich archaeological history and cultural attractions. In an innovative manner of publication, abstracts as well as a CD of the full text of all papers were included in a published volume distributed to all participants (Arianoutsou and Papanastasis 2004).
Finally in September 2007, the international mediterranean conference returned to Australia with MEDECOS XI at the University of Western Australia in Perth. This conference organized by Kingsley Dixon brought together three hundred registered participants representing 65 different countries, making it arguably the largest and most diverse conference in the series. Opportunities were provided for a four-day pre-conference field trip to the eucalypt woodland and forests of the south coast, and a three-day post-conference field trip north the kwongan heathlands of Eneabba, Mount Lesueur, and Kalbarri National Park.
Apart from congresses formally designated as MEDECOS conferences, there have been many other international meetings of mediterranean region ecologists that have led to publications, with a notable group of these in the 1980s. One of these was a meeting in Kassandra, Greece in September 1980, the week before MEDECOS III in South Africa, which focused on the components of primary production in mediterranean climate ecosystems (Margaris and Mooney 1981). Pierre Quezel organized a workshop in Saint-Maximin, France in November 1981 on the definition and distribution of terrestrial mediterranean ecosytems. This was published as a special issue of Ecologia Mediterranea (Quezel 1982).
Over 300 ecologists and resource managers participated in a conference on fire management in mediterranean climate regions in June 1981 in San Diego, California (Conrad and Oechel 1982). Another international conference was held in Sesimbra, Portugal in October 1985 on the theme of plant ecophysiology in mediterranean-climate ecosystems (Tenhunen et al. 1987).
Arianoutsou, M. and R H. Groves (eds.). 1994. Plant-Animal Interactions in Mediterranean-Type Ecosystems. Kluwer, Dordrecht.
Arianoutsou, M. and V.P. Papanistasis (eds.) 2004. Ecology, Conservation and Management of Mediterranean Climate Ecosystems. Millpress, Rotterdam.
Conrad, C.E. and W.C. Oechel (eds.). 1982. Dynamics and Management of Mediterranean-Type Ecosystems. U.S.D.A. Forest Service, General Technical Report PSW-58.
di Castri, F. and H.A. Mooney (eds.). 1973. Mediterranean-Type Ecosystems: Origin and Structure. Springer-Verlag, New York.
Kruger, F.J., D.T. Mitchell and J.U.M Jarvis (eds.). 1983. Mediterranean-Type Ecosystems: The Role of Nutrients. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Margaris, N. and H.A. Mooney (eds.). 1981. Components of Productivity of Mediterranean-climate Regions. Junk, The Hague.
Mooney, H.A. and C.E. Conrad (eds.). 1977. Symposium on Environmental Consequences of Fire and Fuel Management in Mediterranean Ecosystems. U.S.D.A. Forest Service, General Technical Report WO-3.
Quezel, P. (ed.) 1982. Définition et localization des écosystemes mediterranées terrestres. Ecologia Mediterranea 8: 1-493.
Roy, J., J. Aronson and F. di Castri (eds.). 1995. Time Scales of Biological Responses to Water Constraints: The Case of the Mediterranean Biota. SPB Academic Publishing, Amsterdam.
Rundel, P.W., G. Montenegro and F. Jaksi (eds.). 1998. Landscape Disturbance and Biodiversity in Mediterranean-Type Ecosystems. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Tenhunen, J., F.M. Catarino, O.L. Lange and W.C. Oechel (eds.). 1987. Plant Response to Stress–Functional Analysis in Mediterranean Ecosystems. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg.