Friday, 30 May 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series 3rd June 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series - Spring 2014
3rd June 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace)

Talk 1

American mink in the UK and its impact on the neighbours 

Natalie Croft

(MSc by Res student, Swansea University, UK)

Natalie is a Masters by Research student under the supervision of Dan Forman and Penny Neyland. She studied Zoology at Swansea, and began her research focused on otter diets. She now works mainly with mink but that has come to involve the other British mustalids and foxes too. 

American mink eat many things, but what impact does this have on native wildlife in comparison to that of other predators?

The American mink (Neovison vison) were first brought to the UK in 1929 for the use in fur farms. Subsequent escapes and intentional releases have led it to become a highly successful invasive species in this country. Mink are generalist, semi-aquatic predators, feeding on locally abundant prey and have undoubtedly had an impact on native wildlife. This research aims to assess how much of an impact it has had; how that impact has changed over time; how it and the native wildlife has adapted to its presence. It will also look at the effect native predators have on water voles and how this compares to the effect of mink. Data from studies carried out to date in the UK has been collated into a larger data set to produce more encompassing results. Scats of mink, fox and otter collected concurrently from a site containing water voles will be used to show niche partitioning between these predators and provide a comparison of the effect native predators also have on water voles.  

Talk 2

Anaerobic digestion effluent to discharge or reuse by microalgal biomass production 

Graham Nelson

Microalgae production as a treatment process for AD effluent is an attractive alternative compared to existing AD effluent treatment processes. The primary benefit of microalgal production is that the by-product is a potentially valuable biomass. A indigenous freshwater mixed microalgal species was isolated adjacent to an AD process plant, Port Talbot (UK). The application of high protein biomass production of this species grown on filter sterilised AD effluent was investigated.

BioMaths Colloquium Series - 30 May 2014

BioMaths Colloquium Series
30 May 2014 - 3pm 

Computer Science Board Room 314 

Faraday Tower

Stochastic models of ecological populations

Dr. Ostap Hryniv

Our BioMaths Colloquium Series concludes for this term, so to make things more challenging, we will change the venue for this time and move to the Computer Science Department! *

We discuss geometric properties of solutions to several stochastic (agent based) models of ecological populations (such as the Bolker-Pacala model, or the spatial logistic equation) and argue that the resulting populations are stable under very natural non-degeneracy conditions on the main parameters of these models. We then use the obtained bounds to describe long-term properties of the corresponding ecological populations.

Based on a joint work with Yu.Kondratiev (Bielefeld), O.Kutovyi (MIT) and S.Molchanov (UNC-Charlotte).

Everyone most welcome to attend, as usual!

* In reality, this is due to building work currently being undertaken in the Maths Department.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series 29th May 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series - Spring 2014
29th May 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace)

Sea, Sand, Sun, and Turtle Sex: How climate change impacts sea turtle populations, and other important questions

Jacques Olivier-Lalöe

(PhD student, Swansea University, UK)

Jacques is a second year bioscience PhD student under the primary supervision of Graeme Hays. After studying for a BSc in Zoology at University College London, he completed a Research Masters in Ecology and Evolution at UvA (Universiteit van Amsterdam), Amsterdam. His love of turtles brought him to Swansea where he has just published his first paper, in Nature Climate Change.

In this talk I will introduce the type of research I am currently undertaking at Swansea University as part of my Ph.D. in Marine Biology. I am interested in the population dynamics of sea turtle populations. There will be two main topics that I will touch upon in this seminar:

1. A warming world poses challenges for species with temperature-dependent sex determination, including sea turtles, for which warmer incubation temperatures produce female hatchlings. In a first study I am looking at the effect of warming air temperatures on the viability of an important sea turtle population. I will present the results of this recently published study here.

2. Genetic studies advance our understanding of sea turtle population dynamics. For example, we are able to learn valuable information about population structure, evolution, migrations, and colonization events. I will give an overview of some of the main findings in this field and present a study I am currently working on.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 22 May 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Spring 2014
22 May 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Disease detection in dairy cows through the analysis of individual and social movement behaviour

Dr. Ed Codling

Downloaded from:

Radiotracking, telemetry, GPS and biologging techniques have revolutionized the study of animal behavioural and population ecology in the last several decades, as it has become possible to observe the behaviour and survival of animals over long distances, at night and day, under the sea and in the air, etc. Whilst the advantages of these technologies for studying species like polar bears or wandering albatrosses are obvious, one might wonder why one should put similar high-tech biologgers on dairly cows in a barn ... which is what our seminar speaker of this week is doing!  It turns out, though, that there are strong biological and economic reasons for doing that and Dr. Ed Codling, senior lecturer at the Maths Department at the University of Essex, will show us why. For example, it is even not easy to reliably track and record the behaviour of cows within a barn!

Image by Glenn Gorick
Before providing more information on the cow project, a bit more information about our speaker. Ed is a mathematical biologist and is interested in movement and behavioural ecology as well as in the population dynamics and optimal management of fisheries and marine ecosystems. For example, current research focusses on how humans respond to different sources of directional information during crowd evacuations (see here) as well as on multitrophic interactions in the sea (see here) or on zooplankton grazing (see here). Ed might also be considered a front runner in the award for ‘best study of your name’ scientist ever with his publication on Cod fisheries (see here) ...

So, now here why putting collars on cows in a barn is actually important and interesting:

Dairy cow welfare is increasingly a subject of public concern. A major ongoing challenge is the development of methods for automating the detection of welfare problems. Such detection systems should be able to operate as early warning systems and detect the early signs of disease or illness within dairy herds and individual cows. 

Thanks to new technological developments there are potential solutions. Novel local positioning wireless sensors can be deployed over large networks of animals and give positioning information for individuals over long periods of time. It is known that diseases such as lameness in dairy cattle can affect general behaviour, such as how long cows spend lying down. Similarly, social interactions between individual animals, such as how much time they spend close to each other or how closely they synchronise their behaviour, have been suggested as possible measures of animal welfare. However, it is a non-trivial problem to determine and quantify changes in individual and social behaviour and subsequently to use such changes to predict the onset of disease.

Cow with collar (image by Ed Codling)
In this talk, I will explain how we are using automated data collection techniques to record patterns of space use, movement, and social interactions of dairy herds within a confined space (a commercial barn). We are subsequently using a range of techniques and methods borrowed from the ecological literature to analyse and predict the movement, behaviour and welfare status of cows within the herd. 

I will explain how we can use space utilisation methods, hidden Markov models and/or change point analysis to monitor individual behavioural states and highlight abnormal periods of behaviour that may be indicative of reduced welfare. I will also explain how social network analysis techniques will allow us to determine the social hierarchy within the herd and how this may also be used to monitor welfare status. I will illustrate these methods with data from two preliminary trials involving lame v non-lame dairy cows, and a small herd of beef cows.

The project serves as an ideal case study to test and develop new methods for the analysis and modelling of animal movement and behaviour at both the individual and collective level. Our ultimate goal is to develop an on-farm automated 'early warning' system for disease detection. Such a system would be invaluable for improving the welfare and productivity of dairy cows.

Co-authors: Jon Amory, Zoe Barker, Nick Bell, Darren Croft, Holly Hodges and Jorge Vazquez Diosdado

Everyone is most welcome to come and listen!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series 15th May 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series - Spring 2014
15th May 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Does the importation of live American lobster pose a threat to native European lobster populations? 

Charlotte Eve Davies

(PhD student, Swansea University, UK)

Charlotte is a third year bioscience PhD student under the primary supervision of Professor Andrew Rowley. After graduating from a BSc Biology at Swansea University in 2011, she is now studying the various diseases and parasites afflicting the European lobster.

Since 1989 there have been over 100 recorded incidences of American lobster (H. americanus) being found in European waters. Usually a result of escapees from ships, these ‘invasive’ lobsters may have serious implications for our native lobster (H. gammarus). European lobsters have an estimated value of £26.5 m to the U.K. lobster fishing industry therefore it is important to monitor the effect that these introduced species may have – there have already been reports of Homarus hybrids caused by inter-breeding and there are fears for the introduction of disease.

A form of shell disease, termed epizootic shell disease (ESD), has hampered southern regions of the North American lobster fishery for over a decade; however, there are recent signs of the syndrome spreading farther North. It is feared that this increasing prevalence of shell disease, plus American lobsters being found in European waters, could have serious implications for the health of native European lobster populations.

Our study examined the susceptibility of American and European lobsters to shell disease. Molecular techniques and scanning electron microscopy were used to identify differences between the cuticle structure of both species, as well as bacterial flora and subsequent structural modifications of the cuticle after induced damage.

The carapace and claws of American lobsters were found to be thinner and more vulnerable to abrasion damage than their European counterparts. The induced damage resulted in the formation of shell disease lesions on the claw and carapace of both species; however, American lobsters, unlike their European counterparts, had extensive bacterial colonisation on the margins of these lesions. It was deduced that the cuticle of the European lobster may be less susceptible to damage and resulting microbial colonisation.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 08 May 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Spring 2014
08 May 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Exploring the landscape of ageing and lifespan in the tree of life

Dr. Owen Jones

Photograph: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images

from: Wikipedia
Why do we age? Yes, we get older, but why does our mortality risk increase? Why does our fertility decrease with age? For example, at least some cells seem to be able to continue growing and dividing without a decline in performance (e.g. see here about the 'immortal' HeLa cells, the cells of Henrietta Lacks). One well-known idea is that aging is simple an inevitable outcome of evolution, as the famous evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton argued (see here). However, as our seminar speaker of this week, Dr. Owen Jones, has shown in a recent paper (see here and here), things look different once one starts to compare patterns of aging across species with contrasting lifespan and demographics, which strikingly had never been done before!

Owen is an evolutionary biologist and associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark, broadly interested in demographics and in using quantitative and comparative methods. After working on the famous Soay sheep project for his PhD at Imperial College London and the Macaulay Institute at Aberdeen, Owen worked for his first postdoc on the LITS project at Imperial College London, setting up a database of UK-based long-term individual-based time series data sets. Owen moved then to the Zoological Society of London to work on population genetics, after which he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, where he stayed until joining the University of Southern Denmark last year.

During the seminar, Owen will present his latest work on the aging patterns across a wide range of organisms, ranging from humans the the hydra to long-lived trees. 

Some species live for a very long time, others more fleeting. Animals like elephants, whales and tortoises are comparatively long lived and in the plant kingdom bristlecone pines have life spans of around 5,000 years. At the other end of the scale, creatures such as the mayfly or annual plants live for just a day or a year. Underlying these life span estimates are the demographic trajectories of mortality and fertility that respectively capture the changing probability of death and number of offspring produced, with age. 

Photo: Neil Miller
The evolutionary theories of ageing suggest that senescence, a decline in fertility or an increase in mortality risk with age, is inevitable. Is it really? I will explore demographic data from the animal and plant kingdoms to question the inevitability of senescence and to highlight the need to examine a broad taxonomic range in order to understand the evolution of demographic traits.

Everyone is welcome to attend!