Monday, 16 December 2013

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 19 December 2013

Biosciences Seminar Series - Michaelmas 2013
19 December 2013 - 4pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

(note change of time!)

Biological Management 

of Aquatic Systems

Dr. Marc Verdegem

(Wageningen University, Netherlands)


What a better way to end in style a successful seminar series than .. with an additional surprise seminar?! Dr. Marc Verdegem from the  Aquaculture & Fisheries Group at Wageningen University (Netherlands) will be visiting our department this week and will present us his work on Thursday afternoon. 

And it's not finished here - given the time of year, Christmas mince pies & refreshments will be offered, too! Thanks to CSAR for this.


But back to the talk. Do you know which is the most rapidly growing food industry in the world? No, no tractors involved, it is aquaculture! 


Given the rapidly depleting fish stocks in the oceans due to overfishing (e.g. see here and here) many hopes had been put into aquaculture to guarantee food security at a reduced environmental impact. Not everything worked out as expected, however, as aquaculture has created novel problems, or sometimes even exacerbated the problems of traditional fisheries (e.g. see here). 

Given that globally human population is not only increasing, but also becoming more carnivorous (see here and here), good sustainable solutions are urgently needed. Marc's research is dedicated to finding novel solutions for sustainable aquaculture production systems and during his talks he will present us the current state of the field and present the questions that will need to be addressed:


The contribution of aquatic foods to world protein supply is growing. Predictions are that seafood and chicken, will become the most important 'meat' commodities by mid century. The danger is however, that aquaculture will develop into a large scale non-sustainable bio-industry.

Polish fisherman pull a net from the Milickie Ponds during the traditional Carp haul in Grabownica village, south-west Poland. From:

Presently, aquaculture products are mainly produced in ponds, and will be so in the future. Ponds are like grasslands, providing natural foods. The productive basis of ponds is explored, and compared to the present practice of external feed driven aquaculture. The latter uses the pond as a 'holding tank', relying on externally produced foods and counting on the environment to process wastes. 

The grassland concept was abandoned. Today's practice is linked to problems, including pollution, diseases, low product quality and consumer risks. Are there ways to reverse ongoing trends, and if so, what are important research questions to take up?

Everyone is welcome, as usual. And don't forget - there will be also Christmas mince pies & refreshments :-)

Friday, 13 December 2013

Science Club Events - 13 December 2013

Biosciences Science Club Events - Michaelmas 2013
13 December 2013 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Linking behavioural, physiological and demographic responses to climate change


Tina Cornioley

(University of Zurich, Switzerland)

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This week we have a visitor from the University of Zurich working on the demography of the wandering albatross. Tina recently started her PhD and her project is a collaboration between the lab of Arpat Ozgul in Zurich, the Jenouvrier lab at Woods Hole, Henri Weimerskirch's group at Chize in France (who has been studying these birds since many decades) and (ahem) my lab here at Swansea

What Tina would like to do is present her project, aimed at developing a trait-based demographic model linking environmental change to individual demographic responses, and discuss her ideas for modelling the movement data (results from the latter will then be included as one of the traits in the demographic model).

We are all excited about this project, as studies linking explicitly individual state, movement behaviour, environmental change, and demographic responses are rare. This means, however, that Tina will have to develop several novel ways to use her data and hence any feedback will be most welcome. 

Hope to see many of you today at 1pm! And for the exceedingly curious ones among you, here a bit more info:

Photo by Kimball Chen

There is an increasing body of evidence highlighting ecological alterations induced by climate change across the globe. Last year, Henri Weimerskirch and his colleagues showed that the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans), a wide-ranging Sub-Antarctic seabird responded behaviourally, physiologically and demographically to changing wind patterns. This bird, which takes advantage of winds to reduce the flying cost, benefited from stronger winds and could cover more distance during foraging trips. Consequently, individuals increased in mass and had a higher reproductive success. 

Taking into consideration the potential changes in the environment is crucial to efficiently manage wild populations. Changes in the environment can be linked to demographic rates using behavioural and physiological traits as state variables. Using a trait-based model, we aim to investigate the effects of changes in foraging patterns and physiology, whether directly or indirectly induced by environmental changes, on the population dynamics of the wandering albatross. 

Quantifying movement and foraging patterns as a trait adds a new dimension to the existing trait-based modelling approaches. This model will enable us to (1) determine the most critical life history processes or pathways governing the population  persistence,  and  (2)  predict  population,  behavioural  and  phenotypic dynamics  under alternative climate change scenarios.

Obviously, I cannot resist from posting a David Attenborough video ...

... but have to confess that the first video that still springs to my mind about albatross flight is another one ;-) 

See you at the Zoology Museum!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 05 December 2013

Biosciences Seminar Series - Michaelmas 2013
05 December 2013 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems:

 Towards a global model of local biodiversity

Prof. Andy Purvis 

(Natural History Museum, UK)

Tree of life by Leonard Eisenberg, 2008

“It is an incalculable added 
know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to 
read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.”

                                 – Theodore Roosevelt

Humans have marvelled at the diversity of life probably since ever and understanding how the diversity of life has evolved is arguably the most fundamental question in biology. However, on the 100th anniversary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace, the Welsh naturalist who conceived the theory of evolution by natural selection (independently and at the same time as Charles Darwin, e.g. see here), it is increasingly clear that biodiversity is declining globally at a fast pace, maybe on the path to reach the rate of past mass extinctions (see here or here).

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This process may not be irreversible and an increasing number of successful conservation projects is reported (e.g. see 'Wild Hopes' and also here). A key question to address then is how to predict biodiversity dynamics under environmental change and this will be the topic addressed by our seminar speaker of this week, Prof. Andy Purvis from the Natural History Museum in London.

Andy has a broad interest in biodiversity science, ranging from changes in the diversity of planktonic foraminifera during the transition to the last ice age to the evolution and biogeography of passerine birds in the Indo-Pacific to how to predict local biodiversity responses to human-induced environmental change. The latter question is addressed by the PREDICTS project and will be the subject of this week's talk: 

Biodiversity underpins many ecosystem services on which human wellbeing largely depends, but a range of indicators show that biodiversity is continuing to decline. What about the future? The design of biodiversity indicators means that they cannot readily be projected into the future, whereas currently-available projections have a very limited evidence base.

The PREDICTS collaboration aims to provide a sounder basis for global projections of how local terrestrial biodiversity will change under scenarios of anthropogenic impacts, by pooling data sets from hundreds of studies of many different taxa from all around the world. I will explain the design of PREDICTS, give an overview of the first 1.2 million data points, and present results of two ongoing analyses.

The first is an all-encompassing analysis of how multiple facets of biodiversity are responding to land use change and intensification, with projections of the response to 2050 under scenarios developed by IPCC; the second looks in more detail at a group with particular economic importance - European bees - and asks how important species' functional traits are in determining how bees respond to agricultural change.

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Related papers:
Tim Newbold, Drew W. Purves, Jörn P. W. Scharlemann, Georgina Mace and Andy Purvis (2013). PREDICTS: Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity in Changing Terrestrial Systems. Front. Biogeogr. vol: 4 no: 4 p: 155-156.

Tim Newbold, Jörn P. W. Scharlemann , Stuart H. M. Butchart, Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, Rob Alkemade, Hollie Booth and Drew W. Purves (2013) Ecological traits affect the response of tropical forest bird species to land-use intensity. Proc. R. Soc. B vol: 280 no: 1750. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2131 

Cornelissen JHC, et al., 2013, Functional traits, the phylogeny of function, and ecosystem service vulnerability, ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION, Vol:3, ISSN:2045-7758, Pages:2958-2975.

See you this Thursday - everyone is welcome!