DAZED AND CONFUSED: a naturalist in the 20th century
Abstract: As I am retiring from my faculty position at the end of this month, I have been asked to give this exit seminar, though I am not actually going anywhere. I will reflect on what it was like to be a naturalist in the last half of the twentieth century, with the coming of age of evolutionary biology and the emergence of evolutionary ecology and behavioural ecology as vibrant and exciting subdisciplines. This has truly been a golden age for evolutionary biology with new concepts (kin selection, sperm competition, honest signalling, island biogeography, selfish genes), new instruments for tracking, recording and observing animals and plants (GPS, drones, satellites, citizen science) , and new tools for data analysis, writing, and drawing graphs (desktop computers, GUIs, R, machine learning). While I have embraced all of these ideas and technologies with a passion, I still see a lot of value in getting out into the wilds with a pencil, a notebook, and an enquiring mind.
Thinking outside the park: a landscape ecology approach to urban ecosystem services Abstract: The current era of unprecedented urban growth has markedly changed ecosystem structure, function, and biodiversity, and consequently the ecosystem services that our health and wellbeing depend on. To work towards more sustainable, liveable cities, it is important to understand where there are opportunities to manage cities for increased ecosystem service provision – requiring an understanding of urban areas as spatially heterogeneous and temporally dynamic ecosystems. Drawing on synthesis, observational, and citizen science approaches, I will discuss how landscape structure, land-use history, and biodiversity can impact multiple ecosystem services in urban landscapes. Specific examples are drawn from empirical work in the mid-size city of Madison, Wisconsin, including: the role of agricultural legacies and contemporary land-use in driving patterns of soil-based ecosystem services; a novel, sensor-based approach for quantifying the potential of urban forest management for climate adaptation; and the use of citizen science approaches in urban invasion ecology.
The immediate phenotypic effects of whole-genome duplication on asexual reproduction through clonality
Abstract: Polyploidy, having 2 or more complete chromosome sets, is extremely common throughout the flowering plants and is believed to play a large role in speciation and diversification. However, surprisingly little is known about the mechanisms that contribute to polyploid success in natural populations. Here I will present my work on the immediate phenotypic effects of whole-genome duplication (WGD) on asexual reproduction via clonality, a trait that is expected to promote polyploid establishment, by comparing diploids and newly synthesized polyploids in two study species. The use of synthesized polyploids in studying the evolutionary and ecological consequences of polyploidy remains rare, but is indispensable for understanding the specific role of WGD in evolutionary divergence between polyploids and their diploid progenitors.
RoboScientist: Whale research in collaboration with machines
Abstract: Whales and dolphins has always been a challenge, as they spend most of their lives below the surface. Oceanic conditions can also make observations tricky. Fortunately, technological developments are opening up new avenues of study. We can now deploy equipment into the ocean to eavesdrop on passing animals and attach tags to track their underwater movements. Most recently, drones and remotely operated underwater vehicles have given us previously unimaginable opportunities. With the help of these technologies, we are beginning to unlock some of the secrets kept by these enigmatic species.
Selection for elaborate female traits: sex-biased resource allocation in insects
Abstract: Sexual selection theory was developed to describe the elaborate sex-specific traits that result from intra-specific competition for mates. Since then, a substantial body of theoretical and empirical literature has revealed sexual selection to be a common phenomenon that frequently selects for weapons or ornaments that improve male reproductive success. However, in the rare cases that female-specific elaborate traits arise, we know very little about how theoretical and verbal models of ornament evolution apply. My work looks at how ecology and evolution shape sex-specific resource investment in diverse insect taxa. I will present recent work on female-specific resource investment within and between species including female ornamentation, sexual size dimorphism, and sex-biased immune expression.
Marine conservation genomics: exploring the past, present, and future of oceanic ecosystems
Many marine ecosystems have been dramatically changed due to anthropogenic influences, yet, monitoring these changes can often be challenging due to the inaccessible nature of the marine environment. Genomics can offer us unprecedented insights into aspects of these ecosystems, allowing us to design management strategies to increase sustainability and conserve marine species. In this talk, I will use examples from my own research into seabird and fish populations to highlight some of these techniques. I will show how we can use genomics to illuminate species’ responses to past climate change and therefore offer us a window into how they may respond to future climate change. I will demonstrate the use of genomics in informing the management of exploited fish stocks to maintain the resilience of dwindling populations and I will talk about how I am using seabirds and genomics to gain a glimpse into the future, increasing our ability to set appropriate catch limits for important forage fish stocks in advance of current monitoring methods.
Evolution and Environment Shape Cancer Across Species
Evolutionary theory explains why metazoan species are largely protected against the negative fitness effects of cancers. Nevertheless, cancer is observed across a range of species and sometimes at high prevalence. I present a simple model showing how life history traits (e.g., body size) are expected to co-evolve with anti-cancer mechanisms. The insights of this model form the basis for understanding cancer incidence and resistance mechanisms in different species and across different human tissues.
This week, we welcome our own Alexandra McClymont.
Abstract: Extensive road salt use across the Northern Hemisphere is causing long-term and substantial salinization in many freshwater systems, with significant consequences for aquatic organisms and communities. American and Canadian water quality guidelines for chloride are currently based on single-species studies conducted under laboratory conditions, which do not account for community interactions or the effects of additional stressors. Concurrent with salinization, lakes are warming due to climate change. Increasing water temperatures alter lake communities, and could exacerbate the effects of increasing chloride concentrations on aquatic biota. To determine the impacts of these stressors, we conducted a mesocosm experiment using pelagic plankton communities from a lake typical of the Canadian Shield. Our results show that plankton communities will be negatively affected by road salt pollution, even at low chloride concentrations. To ensure the preservation of freshwater systems, Canadian water quality guidelines should be modified to better protect these crucial populations.
Abstract: A species’ genetic structure results from interactions between genetic drift, natural selection and gene flow and, therefore, strongly depends on the species’ spatial distribution and can have a profound influence on the management of species at-risk. I will discuss two factors that may influence range wide genetic structure in the endangered coastal dune species Abronia umbellata; peripherality and hybridization. On one hand, peripheral populations may have low genetic variation, low fitness and be prone to extinction. Alternatively, they might be adapted to extreme range-edge environments and thus well-poised for range expansion during climate change, increasing their conservation value. This is extremely relevant to Canadian conservation where ~90% of “at-risk” species are at their northern range limit in southern Canada but much more common to the south. Hybridization from a closely related congener could provide beneficial alleles needed for adaptation to habitats beyond the range or result in demographic swamping, eliminating the rarer species. Hybridization could play an important role in a species’ genetic structure, but it is rarely studied in a single species across its entire range. The results from our study will contribute to the recovery strategy of this precarious species and help us move towards biologically informed strategies for managing species at-risk in Canada.
This week, we welcome our own Kelly Alexandra Estrada Piedrahita
Having spent the last seven years as the administrator of a wild animal rehabilitation centre in the Amazon region of Ecuador, what it means to work in the field of conservation has become a very complex question to me. There are many more players and factors involved in the rescue and release of an endangered yellow-bellied spider monkey or a lowland tapir than the animals themselves. I will be telling you the story of amaZOOnico – Selva Viva – an animal rescue project that champions the rights of wildlife to live a wild life in a country that is battling the illegal animal traffic trade on an international level. We will be exploring the questions of what it means to rehabilitate an animal, the complexities of foreign intervention in a local indigenous Quichua community, how demands and pressures on a global scale are affecting our rainforests, and a behind-the-scenes look at what it means to run a wildlife rescue in a remote location on a daily basis. Take a journey with me to discuss some of the struggles and joys in the jungles of South America.