Feeding flamingoes, a jumping spider poised to strike and a roadrunner-rattlesnake showdown all feature in the visual feast of images selected as winners in the 2020 British Ecological Society photography contest. Captured by ecologists and students across the globe, the winning photos serve to celebrate the planet’s diversity of flora and fauna.

Overall winner – The Art of Flight by Alwin Hardenbol (University of Eastern Finland)
A panning shot of a Dalmatian pelican in flight.
Image © Alwin Hardenbol/British Ecological Society photography competition

Alwin Hardenbol’s action shot of a pelican cruising over a lake in Greece clinched the top prize in this year’s hotly contested competition. Hardenbol snapped thousands of photos before landing the perfect shot.

"I gave this image the title 'The art of flight' because of how impressive this bird's wings appear in the picture, you can almost see the bird flying in front of you despite it being a still image," Hardenbol said. "Winning such a competition as an ecologist provides me with the opportunity to continue combining my research with my passion for nature photography."

Also featured in this year’s competition is an image of a great dusky swift on a rock at Argentina’s Iguazú Falls, which earned photographer Pablo Javier Merlo the top prize in the student category of the contest.

The birds – sometimes called ‘waterfall swifts’ in Latin America – can be found darting around the fringes of high waterfalls. “The Iguazú National Park has remarkable importance since it protects a very diverse natural ecosystem,” Merlo said. “The waterfall swift is an important icon of Iguazú and its diversity.”

The contest winners were decided by an independent judging panel made up of highly respected eminent ecologists and award-winning wildlife photographers. Gabriela Staebler, a wildlife photographer with 30 years of experience under her belt formed part of the judging panel. "The standout images show not only great photographic skills, but love and emotion for wildlife,” she said. “With their impact on people they will contribute to the preservation of nature.”

Here are the winning images:

Dynamic Ecosystems Student winner – Into the Lion's Den
A jumping spider (family Salticidae) sits at the edge of its den, constructed on the underside of a fallen leaf in the rainforests of Costa Rica, as it triumphantly feasts upon its unfortunate insect prey.
Image © Sam J England/British Ecological Society photography competition
The Art of Ecology Overall winner – Mouth by Roberto García Roa (University of Valencia)
Despite being harmless, Cope's Vine snakes (Oxybelis brevirostris) often adopt this aggressive behaviour, opening their mouths to scare predators away when they are discovered. 
Image © Roberto García Roa/British Ecological Society photography competition
Up Close & Personal Student winner – Look into my eye by Lauren Henly (University of Exeter)
At the end of a dive on the Great Barrier Reef I was lucky enough to have a friendly humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulates) swim up close to my camera and ‘pose’ for some photos. I was able to show off the intricate maze-like patterns of lines that cover its face.
Image © Lauren Henly/British Ecological Society photography competition
Individual & Pop Overall winner – Last meal of the day by David López-Idiáquez (Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive and the University of the Basque Country)
At the saltworks of Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone in the vicinities of Montpellier (France), a group of greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) feed just before the end of the day.
Image © David López-Idiáquez/British Ecological Society photography competition
People & Nature Overall winner – Housing for the threatened by Alwin Hardenbol (University of Eastern Finland)
A picture of a Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) nesting on an abandoned, decrepit building in Varanger, Norway.
Image © Alwin Hardenbol/British Ecological Society photography competition
Dynamic Ecosystems Overall winner – Dances with Rattlers by Peter Hudson (Penn State University)
Roadrunners will kill and eat rattlesnakes but must avoid being struck, so they perform this amazing dance, always moving and keeping beyond striking distance with their wings. This snake survived and moved on – too big and too risky I guess but great to watch.
Image © Peter Hudson/British Ecological Society photography competition
People & Nature Student winner – This is our playground by Elena Racevska (Oxford Brookes University)
As the day turned to night, mesmerised tourists gathered to witness the baobabs’ grandeur amidst a deep-coloured sunset. The trees stood silent and tall, as they have for centuries. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, two children appeared. Tumbling through this theatre of shadow and fading light. Claiming their playground.
Image © Elena Racevska/British Ecological Society photography competition
The Art of Ecology Student winner – Common nettle, foe or friend? by Sanne Govaert (Ghent University)
Thanks to humankind, common nettle is a widespread species. It is typically found at disturbed sites with high soil fertility. The hairs of nettle sting, a quite unpleasant experience. However, it is also a host plant of several butterflies. With the right angle of light, it can even look beautiful.
Image © Sanne Govaert /British Ecological Society photography competition
Overall Runner Up – Ant tale by Upamanyu Chakraborty
Weaver ants social behaviour taken in a backlit situation. Known as 'ecosystem engineers', a colony of weaver ants exhibits a great example of social behaviour in the animal kingdom. 
Image © Upamanyu Chakrabortyl/British Ecological Society photography competition
Up Close & Personal Overall winner – Breath. Adapt. Relax. by Michal Smielak (University of New England)
A bearded leaf chameleon (Rieppeleon brevicaudatus), with its rather underwhelming "beard" consisting of just a few raised scales. The species is endemic to the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya. This one was spotted during a night walk in the Udzungwas.
Image © Michal Smielak/British Ecological Society photography competition
Ecology in Action winner – Constant Flow by James Orr (Trinity College Dublin)
This photograph is a panorama made up of multiple long-exposure photographs of the Milky Way above an experimental stream system made up of 128 mesocosms. As part of my PhD, I helped to run a multiple-stressor experiment testing the individual and combined effects of different climate-change stressors on freshwater food webs. Each of the 128 mesocosms, or medium worlds, had a diverse ecosystem from bacteria to fish. Pumps constantly pushed water from the nearby river up to eight main water tanks and then down through our mesocosms for five weeks straight, day and night.
Image © James Orr/British Ecological Society photography competition
Overall Runner-up – Hatching by Pichaya Lertvilai (University of California San Diego)
The paralarvae of California two-spot octopus, Octopus bimaculatus, hatching from their egg sacs. The egg yolks attached to their mouths will sustain them for a short period before they have to start hunting to survive.
Image © Pichaya Lertvilai/British Ecological Society photography competition
Individual & Pop Student winner – I see you by Elena Racevska (Oxford Brookes University)
From the dusty roads of Sainte Luce to the busy streets of Antananarivo, the nightjars evaded me for months. My luck changed on a sunny day in Berenty Reserve, when I finally spotted my quarry. Perfectly camouflaged, perfectly still. Already watching me, long before I even took the shot.
Image © Elena Racevska/British Ecological Society photography competition
Overall Student winner Waterfall swift by Pablo Javier Merlo (Nacional University of Córdoba)
Cypseloides senex is a species of swift known in Latin America literally as "Waterfall swift". It can be found on the steep rocky walls (up to 80 metres high) of the Iguazú Falls, flying frequently near and through these waterfalls offering a unique show.
Image © Pablo Javier Merlo/British Ecological Society photography competition
Ecology in Action Overall winner – Wolf Fascination by Peter Hudson (Penn State University)
My grad student Ellen being watched by fascinated visitors to Yellowstone as she examines one of her study animals, a wolf killed in a fight for dominance. This female was exiled from the Junction Butte pack after she had killed the pups of the alpha female, her own sister.
Image © Peter Hudson/British Ecological Society photography competition