Tuesday 29 October 2013

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 07 November 2013

Biosciences Seminar Series - Michaelmas 2013
07 November 2013 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

(please note change of date due to strike action on October 31st)

The more the merrier? 

When, where and why does biodiversity matter for ecosystems.

Dr. John Griffin 

Downloaded from: http://www.vliz.be/wiki/Predicted_biodiversity_changes_in_the_Mediterranean_Sea

This week we go local! I mean, our seminar speaker this week will be Dr. John Griffin, lecturer at our Biosciences Department. John's research, though, is 'well-travelled' as his study sites range from rock pools on Welsh coasts, to seagrass system in the southern US, to high-altitude sites in Tibet.

Underlying this diversity of study sites is one common question - how does biodiversity change due to human influences and how does this affect the structure and services provided by ecosystems to humans? Whilst this is an important and urgent question under current global change, it has however proven difficult to drive generally applicable conclusions. John might, however, have found a solution:

Variety is the spice of life, right? Unfortunately, human activities are reducing this variety by driving local and even global species extinction. I am interested in how such changes to the diversity of organisms will influence how ecosystems function, and ultimately the quality and quantity of services provided to humans. 

Diversity in ecological communities can be considered in two simple dimensions – horizontal (the diversity of species sharing resources within a trophic level) and vertical (the number of trophic levels within a system). Using field and laboratory experiments based on a range of different ecosystems – from rocky shores to Tibetan alpine meadows – I investigate the importance of both these dimensions of diversity. 

I’ve found that effects of diversity on ecosystem function are (not surprisingly – this is ecology after all) highly context-dependent, varying both within and among studies. The cool thing is though, this context-dependency can be explained by considering how the traits of species interact with their environment. So, it may just be possible to predict the impacts of biodiversity changes within specific ecosystems and contexts. 

Everyone will be welcome, as usual!

Friday 11 October 2013

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 14 October 2013

Biosciences Seminar Series - Michaelmas 2013
14 October 2013 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)


Chasing the High-fliers: 

Recent Insights from Radar Studies of Insect Migration

Dr. Jason Chapman

(Rothamsted Research, UK)

Downloaded from: http://www.pems.adfa.edu.au/~s9104004/trews/ww_re_qa.htm

How would you go about detecting and tracking little insects, such as moths, flying high up in the air at 100m height or more? Or millions of birds or bats? It turns out it is not as hopeless as it sounds, as all these organisms can be detected by radars!  Actually, the aerosphere supports an enourmous abundance of life forms and the field of aeroecology now crucially relies on the use of dedicated radar systems, such as entomological radars

Our next seminar speaker, Dr Jason Chapman, from the Insect Migration & Spatial Ecology group at Rothamsted Research (UK), is a well-known world expert in this field. He will present us a fascinating talk about how he and his group have used radar technologies to understand what determines the flight and migration behaviour of little moths.

Billions of insects migrate between winter and summer ranges to take advantage of seasonally-available breeding resources. To cover the distances required (100s km), many insects rely on wind assistance, and routinely ascend 100s m above the ground to migrate in fast-moving airstreams. Given that wind speeds are typically three to five times faster that the insects’ airspeeds, it was not clear what influence high-flying migrants could exert on their migration direction or whether substantial ‘return’ migrations to lower-latitude winter-breeding areas were possible. 

Photo provided by Jason Chapman

To answer these questions, I have studied the flight behavior and migration patterns of the Silver Y Autographa gamma and other moths with specialized entomological radars. 

Photo provided by Jason Chapman

Radar observations demonstrate that an ability to select favorably-directed airstreams (i.e. northwards in spring and southwards in autumn) is widespread among high-flying migrant Lepidoptera, and thus migrants gain considerable wind assistance for their seasonal migrations. Furthermore, moths preferentially fly at the altitude of the fastest winds, and partially compensate for wind drift away from their seasonally-preferred migration directions. 

Trajectory simulations show that these flight behaviors result in significant increases in mean nightly migration distance, and a high degree of success in reaching the next breeding region, while population monitoring indicates that high-latitude summer-breeding results in a fourfold population increase. Comparison of moth migration parameters with those of nocturnal passerine migrants demonstrates that the moths’ highly efficient strategies result in them achieving the same travel speeds and directions as birds capable of flying three times faster. 

The migration strategies employed by the study species explain how small, short-lived and relatively slow-flying organisms are able to cover great distances in seasonally-beneficial directions, and demonstrate that migration is highly adaptive.

Relevant Publications:
Chapman JW et al (2012). Seasonal migration to high latitudes results in major reproductive benefits in an insect. PNAS 109: 14924-14929.

Chilson PB, Bridge E, Frick WF, Chapman JW and Kelly JF (2012). Radar aeroecology: exploring the movements of aerial fauna through radio-wave remote sensing. Biology Letters 8: 698-701.

Alerstam T & Chapman JW et al (2011). Convergent patterns of long-distance nocturnal migration in noctuid moths and passerine birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278: 3074-3080.

Chapman JW, Drake VA and Reynolds DR (2011a). Recent insights from radar studies of insect flight. Annual Review of Entomology 56: 337-356.

Chapman JW, Nesbit RL, Burgin LE, Reynolds DR, Smith AD, Middleton DR and Hill JK (2010). Flight orientation behaviors promote optimal migration trajectories in high-flying insects. Science 327: 682-685.

Everyone is welcome to attend - please do come along and again note the change of day for this week: Monday!

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Science Club - 1st event

Science Club!

Science Club Meetings - Autumn 2013
Venue: Zoology Museum
Time: 1pm on Thursdays

Downloaded from: virtuallaboratory.colorado.edu (bit.ly/1fZaPNa)

No, we are not getting the BBC involved nor will we invite over Dara O Briain (sorry!). But consider, we scientists come about in all possible 'shapes and forms' (e.g. here), yet one of the things we generally all like to do is discussing about new ideas, debate the pros and cons of different theories or methods, exchange tips on where to find specific species, etc. Our aim here is then to provide a series of biweekly informal meetings that complements our departmental seminar series.

The Science Club events will be open to all graduate students and permanent researchers. There will be no prescribed format - everyone can propose to hold a journal club about a new exciting paper (or maybe tear apart an egregious clunker-paper that the illustrious high-impact journal 'put-the-name-here' has somehow just managed to publish as novel groundbreaking research ...) or present a short presentation (~20 min) about work-in-progress with the intent to generate discussions and feedback.

For example, have you just finished preparing the experimental design you will start in the next month, or have you devised the sampling design for your upcoming fieldwork in 2 months time? That's exactly the time to get some feedback from your collegues and friends! And yes, that's also for you, MSc students :-) 

Same goes for upcoming conference presentations, or a manuscript you are trying to publish but continue to get bounced off due to increasingly obscure reviewer feedback, or ... any other suggestions are welcome! Just drop me a line at l.borger (at) swansea.ac.uk.

And, we are off for a great start, thanks to Matt from the University of Sydney (Australia):

Matt (Matthew Hansen) is currently visiting our department for a month and will do some cool experiments in the CSAR facility. This coming Thursday, at 1pm, Matt will tell you about that and some other cool work he is currently doing. The title and abstracts are:

Social Foraging and Movement in Fish Shoals

While the co-ordination of foraging movements in eusocial species are well studied, the mechanisms behind social foraging in non kin related groups lag behind. Recent technological advancements in video analysis and tracking software allow us to revisit questions raised in social foraging theory over a decade ago and test them empirically. 

My work explores social foraging and movement of small shoals of fish, and my current experiment aims to quantify how the nutritional environment affects individual and group behaviour. 

Note the date in your diaries and join the discussion! Thursday 10th October, Zoology Museum @ 1pm.

For the full list of Science Club events, see here.

[in case you wonder what the 'luca' acronym stands for in the first pic: 'Last Universal Common Ancestor']

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 03 October 2013

Biosciences Seminar Series - Michaelmas 2013
03 October 2013 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

The Collective Behaviour of Fish Shoals

Dr. James Herbert Read (aka Teddy) 

Downloaded from: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-mosh-pits-panic-situations.html

OK, I know, these aren't fish shoals in this picture. However, have you ever experienced being in a human crowd, being pushed and carried away by the motion of the group? Maybe you have even experienced being in a mosh pit at rock concerts? The interesting thing is that these kinds of so-called collective behaviours share many characteristics with movements of large herds of animals, flocks of birds, or fish shoals.

Understanding how these collective behaviours emerge from individual interactions and movement rules has become a very active area of research in biology. Interestingly, many principles and methods from physics, e.g. used to study the behaviour of particles in gases, can be applied in this context (e.g. see here or here) and it is often surprising how apparently complex swarm behaviours can be produced by very simple basic principles. Even amazing anti-predator behaviours such as torus formation produced by mackerel and other fish:

Downloaded from: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/powers-of-swarms/all/
Photo: Christopher Swann/Science Photo Library

Which brings us straight to our seminar speaker of this week - Teddy -- sometimes known also as Dr. Herbert Read from the University of Upsala in Sweden. Teddy's research focuses on animal interactions and how these drive group level behaviours. To do so he uses fish shoals as model system to test specific predictions and obtain a mechanistic understanding. For example like this one:

Dowloaded from: https://webspace.utexas.edu/dm3947/www/Class/MNS307_11F_Blogs/Blogs12.html

Well, maybe not exactly like this one. Best thing to do - come this Thursday over lunch and find out yourself! It promises to be a very intersting talk, as you can deduce from the abstract:

My research investigates how animal groups can display complex and coordinated behaviours, despite each individual in the group having limited information about its neighbours and surroundings.  In particular, I focus on determining how simple, individual level rules give rise to the collective dynamics we often observe in animal groups.  

In this talk, I will show you how using highly quantitative methods to analyse the behaviour of individual fish in shoals, we can gain insights into how groups achieve coordinated movement, accurate decision making, and transfer information about threats. I will also demonstrate how individuals express their personality in groups, and show you how this research could inform and improve safety measures in human crowds. 

I will finally discuss how seemingly cooperative behaviours are in fact driven by selfish individual level rules, explaining how these behaviours evolved in groups of unrelated individuals. 

Everyone is welcome and I hope to see many of you. James will also be around in the Department on Thusrday and Friday - if you would like to have a chat with him just let me know (l.borger (at) swansea.ac.uk). 

There will be also an opportunity to meet up with our speaker over a beer - JCs at 5pm! And if you would like to join us also for a dinner in hte Mumbles area, get directly in contact with Andy King ( a.j.king (at) swansea.ac.uk).