Winter seminars

Speakers for the Biosciences Seminar Series Winter 2021

Venue: Zoology Museum - or online, depending on Covid-19
Time: 1pm

28th January
Speaker: Dr Zarah Pattison (Newcastle University)
Title: Riverbanks as battlegrounds: the role of invasive alien plants in shaping riparian communities


Invasive alien species are recognised as one of the main causes of biodiversity loss worldwide, costing the British economy an estimated £1.7 million. Riparian habitats are particularly vulnerable to invasion by alien plants, as they are dynamic and highly disturbed. Europe’s 'Dirty dozen' invasive alien plants which threaten native flora include Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), although the impact of these species is hotly debated. I will discuss how invasive alien plants respond to changing environmental conditions in the UK and how this impacts native plant communities.


Twitter: @ZarahPattison

11th February CANCELLED
Speaker: Dr Markus Zottl (Linnaeus University)
Title: The social organisation of mole-rat societies

It has been suggested that social mole-rats may be organised in castes that differ in behaviour and physiology, suggesting that their social organisation resembles that of some eusocial insects. However, behavioural data are rare and the structure of wild mole-rat societies is poorly understood. Our research on Damaraland mole-rats (Fukomys damaransis) and naked mole-rats (Heterocephlus glaber) provides no evidence that non-reproductive individuals show fixed, divergent developmental pathways, or specialise in particular tasks or specific life-history trajectories. In wild populations of Damaraland mole-rats, breeders contribute substantially to cooperative foraging of the group and their reproductive success is high even when reproducing in absence of non-breeding helpers. Individuals that live in burrows alone after dispersal from their group show high annual survival rates. Together our research suggests that the breeding ecology and the social structure of mole-rat societies shows substantial differences to those of other cooperatively breeding vertebrates and social insects.


25th February
Speaker: Professor Nicholas Casewell (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine)
Title: Evolutionary convergence: stories of venoms and poisons in the animal kingdom

Venoms and poisons have evolved on numerous occasions throughout the animal kingdom. These 'biochemical weapon systems' typically function to facilitate, or protect the producing animal from, predation. Most venomous/poisonous animals remain unstudied despite their toxins providing model systems for investigating predator-prey interactions, molecular evolution and functional convergence, and for identifying novel targets for pharmaceutical discovery. In this talk, I will highlight the utility of studying natural toxins to investigate the basis and consequences of convergent evolution. I will discuss how the evolution of resistance to poisons can be underpinned by parallel molecular changes in the target sites of diverse taxa, and how animal venom systems offer amenable models to investigate the impact of convergence on the genotype-phenotype continuum.

11th March
Speaker: Dr Matthew Struebig (University of Kent)
Title: Oil palm and biodiversity: towards more sustainable palm oil production in the tropics

The environmental impacts of palm oil continue to attract controversy. Sustainability certification, through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, has a key role to play in  improving prospects for wildlife and people. DICE research in Malaysia and Indonesia demonstrates how changes to landscape design and management can improve levels of biodiversity in plantation estates, helping oil palm companies adhere to ‘no-deforestation’ commitments. Our work at the science-policy interface is beginning to have some influence on the ground, leading to tangible positive impacts for conservation in the oil palm sector.

25th March
Speaker: Dr Dan Jones (Advanced Invasives)
Title: Japanese knotweed: Challenges for Evidence-Based Management

Invasive plants are an increasing worldwide challenge for the environment and society. Japanese knotweed is perhaps one of the best-known invasive plant species in Europe and North America; this is in large part a consequence of invasive knotweeds possessing a range of biological properties that make them very difficult to control and manage. This presentation explores how invasive knotweed biology and ecology creates a unique set of legislative, legal and management challenges, the solutions to which require evidence-based, pragmatic and sustainable solutions. However, when the evidence points toward contentious (though environmentally sustainable) management solutions, changing stakeholder, public and government perception around the key issues can be quite difficult!