Wednesday 3 December 2014

BioMaths Colloquia - 05/12/2014

BioMaths Colloquium Series - 2014/15

05 December 2014 - 3pm

Maths Seminar Room (room 224 Talbot Building 2nd floor)

Dynamic models of size-spectra, and exploitation of fish assemblages

Prof Richard Law


The size structure of ecological communities in water is often quite different from that on land: primary producers are usually the smallest organisms, and animals the largest.  This talk covers some recent ideas from dynamical systems for describing dynamics of size-structured aquatic assemblages.  These models have, at their core, the transfer of mass from prey to predator that leads to death of the prey and growth in body mass of the predator, and track the components of productivity through aquatic ecosystems.   

Numerical results suggest there are benefits both to conservation and to yield in bringing exploitation of aquatic ecosystems more in line with their natural productivity, so-called 'balanced harvesting'.

Hope to see many of you!

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 04 December 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Autumn 2014
04 December 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

The energy in the air: 

How aerial currents affect movement paths, costs and interactions in soaring birds

Dr. Emily Shepard

Photo: Markus Unsöld / Waldrappteam
Certainly our Swansea Biosciences Department is known worldwide for being one of the leading developers of bio-logging equipment to record animal movements and behaviour, thanks to the Swansea Lab for Animal Movement (SLAM) and our speaker of today, Dr Emily Shepard, is one of the key researchers of the SLAM group for everything that concerns animal flight, especially of birds. Emily's research is however wideranging and includes even participation in technology developments initiatives such as Byte Snap Design UK. If you want to find her, when not in her office you need to travel to the Andes in Argentina, where Emily 'flies' after condors, or you can find her around Swansea Bay catching up with gulls.

Understanding how species respond to the physical characteristics of their environments remains a key theme in ecology. But air has arrived late to this particular party. Only recently has it been suggested that the aerial environment should be recognised as 'habitat' at all, and quantifying or visualising the movements of the air remains challenging.

Nonetheless, the dynamic nature of the air has important consequences for animals moving through it. I will discuss how air currents affect flight costs, and the strategies that some birds use to compensate for or benefit from this variability. In particular I will focus on two groups of birds with questionable morals when it comes to feeding: vultures and gulls.

Hope to see many of you - everyone most welcome to attend!


Monday 17 November 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 20 November 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Autumn 2014
20 November 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

How natural enemies shape plant defences

Dr. Lindsay Turnbull

Image from

Ecology as a scientific discipline mainly focussed on plant ecology first. In fact one of the oldest and most prestigious journals, the Journal of Ecology, still only accepts papers on the ecology of plants! Hence, in our seminar series we should cover also plant ecology and this is the week - our speaker is Dr Lindsay Turnbull, member of the Plant Ecology Research Group and Associate Professor at the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University.   

Lindsay is a plant ecologist, widely interested in what generates the large diversity we observe between plants and what consequences this has for the characteristics and dynamics of ecosystems. In her lecture she will focus on plant-herbivore interactions and the costs and benefits of plant defences.

Plants are renowned for producing a wide variety of secondary compounds, many of which are associated with defences against herbivorous insects. However, there is wide variation in both the quantity and type of defence compounds produced. 

Here I describe work on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which demonstrates the costs of the production of plant secondary compounds called glucosinolates, which are known to be effective against herbivores. I also describe work demonstrating that different aphid species can select for different types of these glucosinolates in a controlled setting, which may explain the variation observed in different chemotypes of Arabidopsis across Europe.

Hope to see many of you - everyone most welcome to attend!

Image from

Sunday 16 November 2014

Communicating Science - Swansea Mres Video Blogs -- Social behaviour at the level of the genes

Swansea Biosciences MRes Course 

Communicating Science (BIB 700)

Video Abstracts

Video Abstract on the seminar by Dr. Seirian Sumner on social behaviour at the level of the genes (more info on the seminar here).

click here for the video

Monday 10 November 2014

BioMaths Colloquia - 14/11/2014

BioMaths Colloquium Series - 2014/15
14 November 2014 - 3pm - Maths Seminar Room (room 224 Talbot Building 2nd floor)

Computational and Mathematical Approaches in Cancer Modelling and Treatment Prediction

Dr Gibin Powathil

Image provided by Gibin Powathil

For our second BioMaths Colloquium seminar we will host a talk by Dr. Gibin Powathil from Swansea University. Gibin recently joined the Maths Department and is broadly interested in Mathematical Biology and Computational Mathematics, with a special interest in Mathematical Oncology. Specifically, Gibin's research concerns multiscale cancer modelling, modelling anticancer therapies as well as developing applications of imaging techniques in cancer modelling, but extend also to modelling wound healing.

The issues addressed by Gibin's talk this week are especially exciting for the broad aims of the BioMaths series, as understanding how individual differences and individual interactions scale up to the population level is a hot topic also in current research in biosciences, especially in ecology and evolution.


Each individual cancer cell within a cancer cell mass is unique, with its own internal cellular pathways and biochemical interactions. These interactions contribute to the functional changes at the cellular and tissue scale, creating a heterogeneous cancer cell population. Multiscale mathematical models incorporating such complex interactions can help in studying cancer progression and serve as an in silico test base for comparing and optimising various multi-modality anticancer treatment protocols such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

In this talk, I will consider a hybrid individual cell-based mathematical and computational model, incorporating single-cell based intracellular dynamics, the cell microenvironment and cell-cell interactions to study the growth and progression of cancer cell mass. The model will be then used to study cell-cycle-based tumour heterogeneity and analyse how it contributes to the potential chemotherapeutic drug resistance within a heterogeneous tumour.

Hope to see many of you!

BioMaths Colloquium 2014/15

The BioMaths Colloquium Series 2014/15 has started!

We are excited and proud to have assembled now a great list of speakers for our first full series of the Swansea BioMaths Colloquium Series. The series started at the end of October (see below) and will feature a monthly Feiday afternoon seminar during term time between October 2014 and June 2015, for a total of eight speakers from the UK and abroad (calendar of talks here). 

All seminars will be held at 3pm in the Maths Department (seminar room 224, 2nd floor of the Talbot Building), unless otherwise noted, and will be followed by tea, coffee and biscuits to continue the discussions.

We started with a superb talk by Dr. Jonathan Potts, which generated many interesting questions and discussions:

Towards predictive models of animal movement and space use: a case study of multi-species bird flocks in Amazonia

Dr. Jonathan Potts

Photo by Billtacular:
Though the movement of inanimate objects can typically be described by well-known physical laws, our knowledge of what governs the movement of animals is comparatively very poor. This is not surprising.  There are myriad factors affecting animal movement, from their desire to eat, mate and avoid predation, to social interactions such as flocking and swarming, to physical limitations to movement. 
Disentangling these factors, and placing them into predictive models of animal movement, is a formidable challenge.  

In this talk, I will describe some techniques recently developed to help scientists begin to rise to this challenge.  Though the tools are general, I will demonstrate how they have been used to give insight into a particular study system: multi-species flocks of insectivorous birds in the Amazon rainforest.


This week the series will continue with a talk by Dr. Gibin Powathil from Swansea University on "Computational and Mathematical Approaches in Cancer Modelling and Treatment Prediction" (Abstract here).

Hope to see many of you! 

Thursday 6 November 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 06 November 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Autumn 2014
06 November 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Social behaviour at the level of the genes

Dr. Seirian Sumner

Image from Sumner (2014) DOI: 10.1111/mec.12580

Social behaviour is about interactions among organisms. Well, true - but underlying the propensity (or not) to engage in social behaviour are the genes, their regulatory networks, the proteins they express, and this is the level of analysis our seminar speaker of this week is interested in. Dr. Seirian Sumner is interested in eusocial insects (wasps, bees, ants) and tries to use them as model systems to understand how genomes can produce this remarkable diversity in social behaviour among species.

Seirian is also very actively involved in science communication and among her many activities she is maybe most famously known for having founded and organising the Soapbox Science initiative.


Understanding how phenotypic diversity arises from inherited genomic material is a fundamental question in modern biology. Social phenotypes (queen and worker castes) in the eusocial insects have evolved at least 11 times independently, and arise through differential expression of shared genes in response to environmental cues. To what extent do conserved genomic process and genomic novelty contribute to convergent evolution in insect castes? 

I explore this at the transcriptional, network and regulatory levels in convergent behavioural castes of simple eusocial insects, with contrasting evolutionary routes to eusociality. 

Everyone is welcome as usual!

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Communicating Science - Swansea Mres Video Blogs -- Ecological drivers of lifespan variation

Swansea Biosciences MRes Course 

Communicating Science (BIB 700)

Video Abstracts

Video Abstract on the seminar by Dr. Natalie Cooper on ecological drivers of lifespan variation in mammals and birds (more info here).

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Science Club Seminars - 21 October 2014

Science Club Events - Michaelmas 2014
21 October 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (W129)

(note change of day)

Biological fluid dynamics, sensing and control: Swimming fish, flying birds and insects

Dr. Shane Windsor

Bio-inspiration - that's a hot thing for engineering and technology development, did you know that? It is a rather recent discipline, unifying environmental/biological sciences and physical sciences, which aims to use principles inspired or discovered from nature to develop new engineering solutions. Our speaker of this week, Dr. Shane Windsor from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, is a lecturer in aerodynamics and aeroelasticity, interested in understanding how biological systems interact with environmental fluid flows and how new understanding from this 'bio-inspiration' can be used to develop novel engineering solutions, especially for small scale unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).

I will present a quick tour of a number of different biological systems looking at the fluid dynamics of these systems as well as aspects of sensing and control. Along the way I hope to answer:

- How do blind fish avoid obstacles?
- How do insects stabilize their flight? 
- What can we learn from birds about how to build better unmanned air vehicles?

In answering these questions I hope to illustrate aspects of sensing and control involved with biological fluid dynamics, and show how these could be used as inspiration for the development of technologies for autonomous systems.

Hope to see many of you!

Virtual reality insect flight simulator

Monday 13 October 2014

Communicating Science - Swansea Mres Video Blogs -- Climate change effects on river fish

Swansea Biosciences MRes Course 

Communicating Science (BIB 700)

Video Abstracts

Video Abstract on the seminar by Dr. Siân Griffiths on climate change effects on river fish (more info here).

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 16 October 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Autumn 2014
16 October 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Dying without wings: ecological drivers of lifespan variation in mammals and birds

Dr. Natalie Cooper

Immage from

No, do not take the title too literally. If you attempt to strap on a pair of wings chances are you might end up as Otto Lilienthal and decrease your lifespan, not lengthen it. But certainly this is one of most basic questions - why do certain individuals, and especially, certain species live so much longer than others? Well, chances are that if you have given your kids a mice or hamster or similar small mammal as pet, within a few years you will have to explain and console them about the certainty of death. If you had chosen a cat, dog, this might get postponed until the kids will be in their teens at least, and if it was a parrot, the latter might well outlive yourself (parrots can live up to 80 years).

As these examples suggest, body size might perhaps be linked to variation in lifespan and this is indeed true. However, body size explains at best 30% of the variation in lifespan among mammals and birds, as also the example of the parrot suggests (parrots are smaller than most dogs and cats). This is where the research by our seminar speaker of this weeks comes into play. Dr. Natalie Cooper from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) and coauthors recently published a new study investigating this fundamental question, as she will explain us in her seminar.

Natalie is broadly interested in questions in macroecology and macroevolution and her research spans from questions about convergent evolution and echolocation in Malagasy tenrecs, to analyses on how to use primate fossil data to better inform our interpretation of present-day biodiversity patterns, to studies of parasite sharing among primates.

Maximum lifespan in birds and mammals varies strongly with body mass such that large species tend to live longer than smaller species. However, many species live far longer than expected given their body mass. This may reflect interspecific variation in extrinsic mortality, as life-history theory predicts investment in long-term survival is under positive selection when extrinsic mortality is reduced. 

Here, we investigate how multiple ecological and mode-of-life traits that should reduce extrinsic mortality (including volancy (flight capability), activity period, foraging environment and fossoriality), simultaneously influence lifespan across endotherms. Using novel phylogenetic comparative analyses and to our knowledge, the most species analysed to date (n = 1368), we show that, over and above the effect of body mass, the most important factor enabling longer lifespan is the ability to fly. Within volant species, lifespan depended upon when (day, night, dusk or dawn), but not where (in the air, in trees or on the ground), species are active. However, the opposite was true for non-volant species, where lifespan correlated positively with both arboreality and fossoriality. 

Our results highlight that when studying the molecular basis behind cellular processes such as those underlying lifespan, it is important to consider the ecological selection pressures that shaped them over evolutionary time.

Hope to see many of you attending!

Thursday 2 October 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 02 October 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Autumn 2014
02 October 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

The effects of climate change on valuable river fish

Dr. Siân Griffiths

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Black rivers once crossed South Wales, through landscapes blighted by coal mining industries. After the closure of all coal mines at the end of the 80ies, clean up operations started, especially by the Environment Agency, Local Authorities and angling clubs, and after 20 years the rivers were again so clean that the salmon could come back (e.g. see here). 

Further changes lie ahead though for the salmon populations, caused by climate change and land use changes, such as restoration of riparian broadleaf forests. Our seminar speaker this week, Dr. Siân Griffiths from Cardiff University, has a long standing research interest in the behaviour and ecology of fish populations, be it sharks in the Bahamas, the schooling behaviour of minnows, or the ecology and management of salmonids in southern Wales. 

After studies at Aberyswyth, Oxford and St. Andrews, Siân became a NERC Research Fellow at Glasgow University and the Fisheries Research Services, Freshwater Laboratory, Pitlochry, then joined the faculty at Cardiff University. One of her key research interests is on the consequences of climate change and forest management on the ecology and distribution of salmonids in Southern Wales, as she will describe in her seminar:

The societal value, ecological importance and thermal sensitivity of stream-dwelling salmonids have prompted interest in adaptive management strategies to limit the effects of climate change on their habitats. Additionally, in northern temperate regions, the management and restoration of riparian broadleaf forest is advocated increasingly to dampen variations in stream water temperatures and discharge, but might have collateral effects on salmonids by changing allochthonous subsidies. 
Bjarne Ragnarsson

Here, I discuss a range of field and mesocosm experiments, using traditional techniques from animal ecology and behaviour, alongside stable isotope analysis in salmonids and their invertebrate prey to test whether catchment cover of broadleaf trees could increase salmonid density or biomass or their reliance on production of terrestrial origin. The implications of our findings for climate change adaptation will be discussed.

Image taken from
Everyone will be most welcome to attend, students included, as usual.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Biosciences seminars - autumn 2014

The Talks Will Resume... with an important twist  ...

Biosciences Seminar Series - Autumn 2014
Venue: Zoology Museum
Time: 1pm

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Seminars are fantastic. Engaging. Stimulating. Best of all - this week our Biosciences seminar series resumes again after the summer break! And, let's not be modest, we've got a superb line up of speakers (programme). 

Dr Siân Griffiths (Cardiff University, UK), an expert in aquatic ecology (especially fish), will be our first speaker, followed by Dr. Natalie Cooper (Trinity College Dublin, IE), leader of the Macroevolution and Macroecology research group. This will be followed by a visited from Dr. Seirian Sumner (University of Bristol, UK), whose research focusses on social evolution and social behaviour, especially in eusocial insects. It will then be the turn of a plant ecologist, Dr Lindsay Turnbull (University of Oxford, UK), concluded by a talk by a movement ecologist, our own Dr. Emily Shepard (Swansea University, UK), before the Christmas break.

Now, have you noticed a peculiarity in this list of speakers? Well, whilst a male-only list of speakers is still quite common (in fact, this is what happened last year also for our seminar series - see here), we are probably one of the first to have a female-only list of speakers. And a great one, too - which will continue also for the winter (see here) and spring (see here) seminar series. Not least given the recent hullabaloo caused by the latest announcement of the Royal Society University Research Fellowship winners (e.g. see here), just to mention an example, we feel that our initiative may be setting a positive signal.

Most importantly, however, come and listen to the talks! And watch our blog here for the abstracts and more information about the forthcoming seminars. Everyone is most welcome, students included. Actually, this year the seminars will be followed by our MRes students, who will produce a video abstract and a blog post about each.

Looking forward to it!

Thursday 14 August 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series 19th August 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series - Summer 2014 

19th August 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace)

The ecological determinants of baboon troop movements at local and continental scales

Caspian Johnson

(PhD student, Swansea University, UK)

Caspian is a final year PhD student under the supervision of Andy King and Dan Forman. He studied Zoology as an undergraduate here at Swansea University, obtaining a first class honours in 2011. He began his PhD by spending a year in Tanzania collecting data with the Ugalla Primate Project 

How an animal moves through its environment directly impacts its survival, reproduction, and thus biological fitness. A basic measure of describing how an individual (or group) travels through its environment is Day Path Length (DPL), i.e., the distance travelled in a 24-hour period. Updating a classic study by Dunbar (1992), we investigate the ecological determinants of mean DPL for 39 baboon (Papio spp.) troops across 20 different populations. We find that a measure of plant productivity, anthropogenic influence and local primate richness all have a significant and negative effect on DPL, whilst group size has a significant positive effect. These results are in accordance with previous work indicating baboons show variation in DPLs as a consequence of ecological dissimilarity across their range. We then explore DPLs and Movement Trajectories (MTs: the speed and tortuosity of travel) for yellow baboons (Papio cynocephalus) in the Issa Valley of western Tanzania. We find that Issa baboons travel further than our inter-population model predicts, and troops moved significantly slower, and over shorter distances, on warmer days.  We also found that the baboons moved significantly slower and took more direct travel routes when fruit was abundant, but fruit abundance did not predict total variation in DPL and we did not find any seasonal effects upon DPL or MT. Overall, this study emphasises the ability of baboons to adapt their ranging behaviour contributing to their overall success as a genus, and highlights how investigations of movement patterns at different spatial scales can provide a fuller investigation of the ecological determinants of movement.