Monday 27 April 2015

Biosciences Seminar Speaker 01 May 2015

Biosciences Seminar Series - Winter 2015
01 May 2015 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

(note change of day!)

How elephants grow old

Dr. Virpi Lummaa

This week we will be hosting Dr Virpi Lummaa, an evolutionary biologist from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield. Virpi's research is centred around two study systems of long-lived social mammalian species, humans and elephants. 

The human research is centred around the Human Life-History Project, and focuses on analysing especially data from pre-industrial finish populations obtained from church records. Research for example has highlighted the fitness consequences of aunts and uncles on survival in historic Finnish populations (see here), effects of parental personality on the relationship between family size and offspring education (see here), or a trade-off between having many sons and shorter maternal post-reproductive survival in preindustrial Finland (see here).

The elephant research is based on the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project. This is also an individual-based long-term study, aiming at understanding the ecological causes of senescence and its hormonal associates. This research will be presented during the seminar:

Ageing involves reduced fertility, mobility and ability to combat disease, but some individuals cope with growing old better than others. Such between-individual differences in ageing pattern and their underlying causes are rarely studied in long-lived species. 

One of the longest-lived terrestrial mammals with detailed life-long records available to them are Asian elephants employed in logging industry in Myanmar during the last 100 years. This population constitutes the largest (~5,000) remaining population of captive elephants in the world. The elephants are used during the day as riding, transport and draught animals. At night they forage in their family groups unsupervised and encounter tame and wild conspecifics in forests; breeding rates are natural with most calves thought to be sired by wild bulls. 

Using detailed records maintained by the Myanmar Timber Industry for 5 generations of such working elephants, I will investigate (1) How long do females live and reproduce for? (2) Does reproduction cost in the short and long-term? (3) Do the costs depend on age? (4) What are the proximate causes? 

The persistence of wild elephants in Myanmar is tightly linked to the success of the captive population, since the current mortality and birth rates do not meet the needs of the timber industry and elephants must be captured from the wild to augment the workforce. Our research aims to determine factors affecting health, fertility and mortality rates in the captive population and devising strategies to improve them.

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

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