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!

Friday, 24 April 2015

BioMaths Colloquia - 24/04/2015

BioMaths Colloquium Series - 2014/15

24 April 2015 - 3pm Maths Seminar Room 

(room 224 Talbot Building 2nd floor)

Swimming Patterns of Zoospores

Dr. Fordyce Davidson

A key aim of our BioMaths Colloquia is to foster interactions and collaborations among mathematicians and biologists which are of mutual interest to both groups of researchers. This week's seminar speakers, Dr. Fordyce Davidson, Head of the Division of Mathematics at the University of Dundee, is an ideal speaker for this intent, as his research spans both research divisions. Specifically, Fordyce's lab aims to develop and analyse mathematical tools with which to better understand biological processes, and research covers two broad, complementary areas, the quantitative study of biological systems and the analysis of differential equations models arising from biology. Similarly, Fordyce is on the Editorial Board of a journal like 'Fungal Ecology', as well as on the IMA Journal of Applied Mathematics.


Oomycetes are a group of  pathogens that cause many destructive diseases in animals and plants. One species in particular, Phytophthora infestans, is perhaps the most well known and is responsible for the potato late blight disease. It  was the  cause of the infamous Irish potato famine in the 1880s and remains  a  significant global problem with associated costs estimated at $3 billion  annually. Key to the success of this  pathogen  is the dispersal of  free-swimming cells called zoospores. 

A poorly understood aspect of zoospore behaviour is  auto-aggregation -  the spontaneous formation of large-scale patterns in cell density. Current competing hypotheses suggest that these patterns are formed by one of two distinct mechanisms: chemotaxis and bioconvection. In this talk  we present mathematical and experimental results that together  provide strong evidence that auto-aggregation can only result from a combination of these mechanisms, each having a distinct, time-separated  role.

The discussions will continue over biscuits and tea/coffee after the seminar. 
Hope to see many of you!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Biosciences Seminar Speaker 23 April 2015

Biosciences Seminar Series - Winter 2015
23 April 2015 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Biodiversity offsetting: challenges in theory and practice

Prof E.J. Milner-Gulland


After the Easter break our seminar series resumes with a talk by Prof EJ Milner-Gulland, Professor in Conservation Science at Imperial College London, Department of Life Sciences at the Silwood Park campus. E.J. leads the Imperial College Conservation Science group and is the Director of the multidisciplinary Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment group.

E.J. is broadly interested into how people interact with the environment, especially the incentives and attitudes of natural resource users; social-ecological system dynamics; and management of natural resources. A key interest concerns also how to reach robust decisions for managing socio-ecological systems, in the face of uncertainty determined by our lack of full knowledge and understanding of the underlying processes. E.J.'s research is hence highly interdisciplinary, covering the full range from ecology to social psychology, economics, and anthropology, using a combination of modelling and field work approaches.

Specific example of research include the 20-year research programme on the conservation ecology of the saiga antelope (see here), bushmeat exploitation in Africa (see here) or the development of a decision-theoretic framework for the allocation of limited resources for conservation actions (see here). The seminar, specifically, will focus on the very topical yet also highly controversial topic of biodiversity offsetting (e.g. see here, here, here).


Biodiversity offsetting is expanding rapidly, both as a tool of corporate social responsibility and in government policy-making around the world (including in the UK). Offsets are used as the last stage of a "mitigation hierarchy" to compensate for the residual damage caused by developments. The aim is for the development overall to cause "no net loss" of biodiversity. 

Offsetting has attracted huge controversy and concern from some, while others see it as a way of rebalancing the development-conservation trade-off in favour of nature. In this seminar I will highlight and explore both the theoretical and conceptual issues that need to be addressed in order to reach no net loss of biodiversity from development. 

Using a case study of the Ustyurt plateau in Uzbekistan, I look at how offsetting could work in practice. I then touch on some work I'm about to start on using offsetting in a marine context, to think about bycatch mitigation. I sum up by suggesting some ways in which scientists could engage with the offsetting debate.

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