Monday, 30 June 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series 1st July 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series - Spring 2014 

1st July 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace)

Imagining the future: people, environment and social change

Anna Pigott

(PhD student, Swansea University, UK)

Anna is a first year PhD student as a human geographer working on environmental issues, supervised by Professor David Clarke and Dr Amanda Rogers.  She came to Swansea in 2011 to complete an MSc in Environmental Dynamics and Climate Change, which led to an interest in social dimensions of environmental issues...and to this PhD!

Current anxieties about resource use, climate change, land degradation and species loss (to name just a few environmental issues) pose unprecedented questions about our responsibilities toward future generations, of where we want to get to and how to get there.  Change is deemed necessary, but is difficult to achieve. It is increasingly argued that the imagination of the future can play an important role in social and political change, and yet it is given little reflexive attention in everyday life.   

The concept of imagination can be used in a geographical sense to understand how unifying or dominant ideas about our relationship with the world are shared, negotiated, consolidated, and reproduced in society – in other words, how 'habits of mind' are formed.  In light of this, the imagination of the future matters because it is part of understanding how possible futures are pre-experienced and set in motion, and how they influence our responses to environmental issues in the present.

Some key questions, then, are:  how is the future imagined and represented in the public sphere, and how does this relate to people's engagement with global environmental issues? This project has an empirical focus on Wales because the country’s strong political stance on the environment - and its emphasis on ‘the future’ as a means to rally support (the ‘Future Generations Bill’ will be introduced in summer, 2014) - provides a novel opportunity to explore relationships between representation, political rhetoric, and social change.  

Oceanic Influences on the Melt Rates of Marine-Terminating Glaciers in South East Greenland

Alistair Everett

(PhD student, Swansea University, UK)

 Alistair is a second year PhD student in the Glaciology Group, supervised by Tavi Murray and Ian Rutt. He graduated from Swansea in 2011 from his undergraduate degree (MEng) in Civil Engineering, followed by 18 months working as a civil engineer.
Alistair decided that particular area of engineering wasn’t for him, so took a chance on a PhD and hasn't looked back since! During his PhD, I developed a strong interest in the interactions of ice sheets and the oceans as well as the mechanics of how glacier actually work.

Recent synchronous acceleration, thinning and retreat of tidewater glaciers in South East Greenland has been linked to changes in the properties of ocean currents around the coastline. However, calculating rates of submarine melt to a reasonable degree of accuracy has proved difficult due to the many variables involved. A number of models have been developed in order to do this, but as yet there has been limited validation of these models against field data. This is primarily due to the inaccessibility of the plumes and the expenses required in gathering such data. I use Fluidity, an open-source finite element fluid dynamics code, to build a small scale model of a plume of subglacial discharge at an idealised ice front. The model is designed to be comparable to the limited field data which is available. Once validated, the model can be used to infer constraints on the outlet properties of the subglacial discharge, and hence improve the accuracy of melt rate calculations.

Monday, 23 June 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series 24th June 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series - Spring 2014 24th June 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace)

Phenotypic mismatch in hatchery-reared Atlantic salmon stocked in the wild

Rebecca Stringwell

(PhD student, Swansea University, UK)

Becky is a third year PhD student under the supervision of Dr Carlos Garcia De Leaniz and Professor Rory Wilson, studying maternal effects and genetic diversity in juvenile Salmonids reared for conservation. 
After attending the University of Hull to study Marine and Freshwater Biology,
Becky came to Swansea in 2007 for an MSc in Aquaculture and the Environment before embarking upon her PhD in 2011. 

The phenotype of fish can diverge greatly in captivity, and this may affect post-release survival. Changes in body shape, fluctuating asymmetry (FA), and crypsis were compared among Atlantic salmon fry kept as controls in captivity and those released and subsequently recaptured in the wild. Hatchery fish that survived in the wild became more streamlined, cryptic and displayed a much lower incidence of asymmetric individuals than control fish kept in captivity. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 19 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Spring 2014
19 June 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Fertilizers, insect pests and natural enemies

Prof. Simon Leather

Photo: PA, via

You might well agree that it would be very difficult to live without farming, but did you know that it is also the most damaging human activity to wild nature (e.g. see here)? Hence, research on how to mitigate future impacts is becoming increasingly important, given also the increasing demands of the growing human population, currently at over 7 billion (see here for amazing live statistics). 

A lot of hope has been put into organic farming, as solution to mitigate the negative effect of farming on biodiversity - for example, organic farms appear to have a better soil quality with a larger range of fungi (see here). Unfortunately, things are not that clear, as our next seminar speaker will tell us, Prof. Simon Leather from Harper Adams University (UK).

Simon is an applied entomologist and ecologist with a keen interest in basic and applied research aimed at developing improved biological pest control practices, but his research interests cover also biofuel production and population dynamics of forest and agricultural pests, such as pine weevil and aphids. He appears to have also an inordinate fondness for roundabouts.  


There are many claims made concerning the virtues of organic farming but the evidence is very patchy and often confounded by the number of factors examined.  Our research compared only one aspect of the equation; soil amendments.  

Using cereal and cabbage crops we examined the effect that organic fertilizers had on plant growth, pest abundance and the effectiveness of natural enemies.  In some cases crops fertilized with organic products suffered less pest attack, in others more.  Natural enemy abundance and effectiveness  did not show a clear-cut relationship with either pest abundance or fertilizer type.  

In conclusion, one size does not fit all;  populations of specialist pest herbivores may be increased in organic crops, but generalist pest species may be less of a problem.

Everyone will be most welcome, students included.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series 17th June 2014

College of Science Postgraduate Seminar Series - Spring 2014 17th June 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace)

Speaker 1


Laurence Dyke

(PhD student, Swansea University, UK)

Laurence is a PhD student as a part of the Glaciology Group, interested in reconstructions of past glacial extent and behaviour, primarily from the late Quaternary. Supervised by Tavi Murray, John Hiemstra and Anna Hughes (Bergen), he came to Swansea in 2005 to study for a BSc in Geography, a field trip to the Austrian mountains kindled a passion for glaciers and he returned in 2010 to start a PhD researching the glacial history of southeast Greenland.

The Greenland ice sheet contains enough freshwater to raise global sea-level by around 7 metres. Recent observations of rapid changes in the marine-terminating sectors of the ice sheet have prompted concerns about its future stability. Long-term records of ice sheet behaviour are required to assess the magnitude of current change and may help resolve the mechanisms driving deglaciation. 

We use cosmogenic isotope exposure dating to reconstruct the timing of deglaciation in southeast Greenland. We develop retreat chronologies for two large fjord systems and compare them with existing work from the centre of the sector to examine the timing and style of deglaciation at a regional-scale. 

Deglaciation occurred at Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord at 11.8 ka at the end of the Younger Dryas (12.8-11.6 ka). Retreat coincides with incursion of the warm Irminger Current onto the continental shelf; this is inferred to have initiated retreat. Deglaciation occurred around 1 ka later in the south of the sector at Sermilik and Bernstorffs Fjords; retreat here was driven by dramatic climatic amelioration at the termination of the Younger Dryas stadial. 

We suggest the disparate timing of deglaciation across the SE region may be explained primarily by the varying influence of the warm Irminger Current; glaciers in southern SE Greenland were isolated from warm Atlantic waters during the Younger Dryas by complex shelf bathymetry. Once initiated retreat was rapid and persistent in all fjord systems. 

Speaker 2

The Early life at sea of juveniles albatrosses and petrels

Sophie De Grissac

(PhD student, Chizé Centre for Biological Studies)

Sophie graduated in Marine Ecology (2009) after a 6 month internship with the CEBC Chizé (Centre d’Etude Biologiques de Chizé) were she worked on the impact of wind pattern changes on wandering albatrosses foraging ecology. Between 2010 and 2013 she was a field worker for the CEBC Chizé “Marine top predators” team and for the French Subantarctic Islands Natural Reserve.
In September 2013, Sophie started a PhD entitled “At sea ecology of albatross juveniles” as part of the ERC granted Early Life program lead by Henri Weimerskich at Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé.

Sophie proposes to talk in two parts. 1) A rapid presentation of the ERC Early Life project leaded by Henri Weimerskirch and 2) A presentation of the first part of my PhD (within Early Life), first results and perspectives.

In long lived species, juveniles and immatures, represent up to 50% of the total population. Therefore, in order to understand the dynamics of those populations, it is essential to better understand their foraging ecology that remains, until recently, poorly known. We tracked the juveniles of nine species of Procellariiformes in the Southern Ocean during their first month at sea in order to examine how their foraging strategy differ from that of adults, and how they differ between species  whose adults show contrasted foraging habits. (1) We use analyze trajectory parameters in order to characterise and compare the different foraging strategies. Within species, birth colony and sex can affect individual strategy and foraging zones. (2) We find that species differ extensively from dispersive to true migratory behaviour. Most juveniles of each species follow, the migration or dispersion patterns of non-breeding adults, showing,an innate ability for navigation toward preferred foraging places. However, for two species we observe a clear contrast between foraging strategies of adult and juveniles. Important sex specific differences also occur for some species. We discuss the implication of these results in terms of the evolution of the foraging behavioir of naïve individuals.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 05 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Spring 2014
05 June 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Evolution of Information Processing

Dr. Andrew L Jackson

If you are like me, this is the time of year to take any opportunity to marvel at the aerial acrobacies of the swallows, hunting insects at lightning speed in the open air and maneuvering with incredible accuracy between obstacles in barnes or cliffs to reach their nests. Certainly, if these birds would not be able to quickly detect obstacles and change their flight, they wouldn't survive long time. Now, think of a sloth, hanging down from a tree and slowly picking some leaves to eat. Do you think it would be able to process visual information at the same speed? More importantly, do you think a sloth would need such capacities, in the first instance? If you wonder, come and listen to our seminar speaker this week, Dr. Andrew Jackson from Trinity College Dublin, and listen to why this may have relevance also to understand how we perceive time.
Image from

But first, who is Andrew? He is an Assistant Professor, broadly interested in the role of evolutionary processes in the formation of ecological systems, especially in the role of interactions among individuals, and to approach these questions Andrew likes to use computational and mathematical models. Recent example include work on the roles of aggression and cooperation behaviours, or how predation has driven the fragmentation of a penguin colony. 

Andrew is also Leader of the Complex Ecological and Evolutionary Systems research group, Principal Investigator in the Ecological and Evolutionary Networks cluster and member of the Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research. But back now to the evolution of information processing - here the Abstract of the seminar:

Perception is in the eye of the beholder. What information about the world animals can access is constrained by their biology and the physics of their environment. Acquiring, processing and acting upon this information is a costly business, and evolution has developed some ingenious approaches to working within, and sometimes beyond these constraints. 

I will present some comparative work we have done on the ability of animals to detect movement with their visual systems which in humans at least is linked to the perception of the passage of time. I will also introduce evolving artificial neural networks as a tool to understand how selection pressure on cognitive systems can drive the evolution of intelligence in systems comprising complex social interactions.

Relevant literature:

Healy, K., McNally, L., Ruxton, G.D., Cooper, N. & Jackson, A.L. 2013. Metabolic rate and body size linked with perception of temporal information. Animal Behaviour, 86(4), 685-696 doi

McNally, L., Brown, S.P. & Jackson, A.L. 2012. Cooperation and the evolution of intelligence. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 279, 3027-3034. doi (Open Access).

Fig. 1 from Healy et al. (2013) Animal Behaviour.