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 www.ecoevoblog.com

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

Immage from www.walesonline.co.uk

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 www.breconbeacons.org
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

Downloaded from BBC.co.uk

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!