EEB Seminar: February 13th

This is Fran, and yes that is a cougar

Frances Bonier will talk on

Perils and pitfalls. How can we measure natural selection on endocrine traits?

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

Behavioral endocrinologists are becoming increasingly interested in the evolutionary context of the endocrine traits that we study. Yet, we lack a robust approach for detecting natural selection on these exquisitely plastic traits, perhaps in large part because of their plasticity, and also because of the complex ways in which selection might act. For example, selection might favor hormone levels that closely match dynamic environmental challenges in nature, and thus optimal phenotypes cannot be understood without accounting for the current and prior challenges facing individuals. I will explore some of the unique challenges for understanding the evolution of endocrine traits. Overall, standard fitness-trait curves can be misleading, obscuring our understanding of how selection acts on endocrine traits. Reaction norm and adaptive plasticity approaches, however, could provide more useful frameworks for moving forward.

tree swallows, photo by P-G Bentz

Dr. Frances Bonier is an Assistant Professor at Queen’s University. She completed her Masters at the University of Idaho, where she worked on cougars, then completed her PhD at the University of Washington with John Wingfield, where she worked on the effects of urbanization on birds. Fran is interested in how animals cope with and respond to challenges in their environment. Her work is dynamic and draws upon multiple disciplines in biology to link environmental challenges with physiological responses, changes in behaviour, and changes in reproductive effort. Fran is also interested in how environmental challenges shape life-histories and the evolutionary trajectories of organism. Recently, Fran received a young investigators award at the International Symposium on Avian Endocrinology, and a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and treats available at the seminar

EEB Seminar: February 6th

Kyle Elliott will talk on

Sex, Death and Rock’n’roll: Correlates of lifetime reproductive success in a long-lived seabird

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

Roughly twenty percent of monogamous animals produce eighty percent of the offspring surviving to the following generation. What’s so special about those twenty percenters? To answer that question, I will examine correlates of success in two long-lived bird species, thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) and black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla). As survival is the main predictor of lifetime reproductive success, I will pay particular emphasis to the role of physiological and behavioural aging on longevity and reproductive success. Partnerships also play an important role in determining reproductive success and successful birds tend to have successful partners. For instance, partnerships that involve one risk-prone and one risk-averse individual have higher fitness than those that involve two risk-prone or two risk-averse individuals. Yet, even after accounting for sex and ageing, the vast majority of the variation in lifetime reproductive success remains unaccounted for. I will end by examining some of the behavioural and physiological attributes of those avian “rock stars” that produce young year after year. Although “individual quality” certainly plays a role, after examining 46 different behavioural and physiological parameters, I believe a large proportion of the overall success comes down to mere luck.

a black-legged kittiwake with two chicks

Kyle recently finished his PhD from the University of Manitoba, where he worked with Drs. James Hare and Gary Anderson. Kyle is interested in aging and how this process affects physiology and behaviours, and explores these ideas using seabirds. Birds, unlike mammals, show little to no physical signs of aging and, contrary to most life-history models, many high-latitude breeding seabirds are some of the longest-lived birds. Much of Kyle’s fieldwork took place in Nunavut where Polar Bears traversed steep cliffs to eat seabird nests and where rock cairns, constructed long ago, rise from the tundra. Kyle has also worked on energetics and the relative costs of traveling through different mediums (e.g. air vs. water) to understand the evolution of flightlessness in penguins.


Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and treats available at the seminar

EEB Seminar: January 30th

Takehiko Yamanaka will talk on

Environmental condition vs. Spatial constraint? Dragonfly metapopulation and metacommunity analyses

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

Populations and communities in nature are largely affected by the within habitat environments, by land use around ponds and by spatial constraint. However, it is generally difficult to disentangle how each affects populations and communities. To evaluate the relative importance of these factors in a damselfly (Copera annulata) metapopulation and an odonate (Zygoptera and Anisoptera) metacommunity living in 74 ponds in Japan, we employed a novel method, variation partitioning, developed in community ecology. The variation partitioning technique evaluates both the relative and the joint contribution of a factor to the total explanatory power of the population and the community model.

As a result from the analysis of the C. annulata, a single species population, we found that spatial autocorrelation had the largest effect and it explains almost all of the variation including both connectivity among ponds and the variation explained by within patch quality. This result shows us that the importance of spatial autocorrelation may not always be interpreted as a spatial constraint limited by the dispersal ability of an organism. For the community analysis, we found that spatial autocorrelation was the most important, though the within-habitat environment and land use had comparable effects. I will discuss how these results can be applicable in conservation practices.

A dragonfly!

Takehiko Yamanaka is a senior researcher at the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan. He is an entomologist and has worked with beetles, true bugs, dragonflies and moths. Takehiko has worked closely with applied entomology to understand the causes of insect-pest outbreaks in natural populations. Recently (Aug 2013), working with Bill Nelson and Ottar Bjørnstad, Takehiko co-authored a paper in Science that linked environmental temperature with outbreaks of the smaller tea torix moth, a pest species of tea plantation in Japan.

Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and treats available at the seminar

EEB Seminar: January 23rd

Stefan Bengtson will talk on

Food quality effects on life history correlations in Daphnia

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

Life history theory predicts that correlations among fitness-related life history traits should be negative among individuals within a species, reflecting resource allocation constraints among traits such as growth and reproduction that trade off because they cannot be simultaneously maximized in the face of finite resource acquisition. Positive correlations have been regularly observed, however, and have usually been ascribed to genetic or resource acquisition differences. They can also indicate the presence of a Darwinian demon. Such a demon should, through competition, decrease diversity. In Daphnia, both positive correlations and genetic diversity are abundant. Daphnia are useful study organisms for questions of life history evolution because mechanisms allowing for positive correlations can be controlled. No previous study, however, has controlled all factors that can generate positive genetic correlations. In my Master’s work, I have controlled those factors in co-occurring genotypes and examined whether positive correlations that persist among individuals in the face of resource restriction also persist among genotypes and in different resource environments. Are the mechanisms that cause positive correlations among individuals the same among genotypes? How are those mechanisms affected by a difficult environment? Answers to these questions may help to explain how multiple Daphnia genotypes coexist in the same lake.

Stefan is a chef, soccer player, and Master’s student with Bill Nelson in the Department of Biology at Queen’s University. Stefan holds a minor in Economics and major in Biology and thinks that both fields can learn from each other- after all, ecology and economics share the Greek root eco, meaning house. His academic interests examine how nutrient limitation influence life-history evolution and population dynamics. For his Master’s work, Stefan examined how food quality affects life history trait correlations of multiple coexisting genotypes.

Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and treats available at the seminar

EEB Seminar: January 16th 2014

Eelke Jongejans will talk on

Tracing the effects of environmental drivers and phenotypic plasticity with hierarchical population models

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

Individuals respond to different environments by developing different phenotypes, which is generally seen as a mechanism through which individuals can buffer adverse environmental conditions and increase their fitness. Understanding how life history variation is affected by resources and climate is crucial for predicting how such a species will respond to climate change in a heterogeneous landscape. To disentangle the effects of e.g. climate, habitat, resources and predation on the life history of species, hierarchical population models are developed in which the impact of environmental drivers, through traits and vital rates, on population growth can be explicitly traced with variance decomposition techniques.

Eelke Jongejans is a professor at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Broadly, Eelke is interested in how ecological and evolutionary processes influence population dynamics in space and time. Research in Eelke’s lab investigates how life-histories influence population dynamics in unstable environments, how phenotypic plasticity and rapid evolution allow organisms to respond to environmental change, and how population level processes, like density dependent selection, allow species to co-exist. Eelke approaches these questions using experimental, observational, and modeling techniques and has worked on a diversity of native and invasive plant species, aquatic invertebrates, fishes, birds, and mammalian carnivores.

Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and treats right after the seminar

EEB Seminar: January 9th 2014

Bob Montgomerie will talk on

Birds are more colourful than they look

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

Recent technological advances have allowed us to measure accurately the colors that birds display, and to estimate what they see when they look at each other. The surprise is that they are much more colourful than they look to us, and that they can detect subtle differences in coloration that are invisible to us. Over the past 20 year my research group has studied the colours and displays of fairywrens and bowerbirds in Australia, ptarmigan and buntings in the high arctic, robins, swallows and goldfinches in Ontario, and feral peafowl in LA, NY and Toronto. I will use these studies to address what I think are some fascinating questions about the evolution of bird colours. Why are they so colourful? What do they look like to each other? Why are some colours so common and others so rare? How does the colour of their plumage influence mating and social interactions? Why are females of some species so brightly coloured? How do they use ambient light to enhance their colourful displays? Why do so many species lay colourful eggs? I hope you’ll wear your most colourful clothing to my presentation. Humans, like birds, are influenced by colors, and maybe that’s why we find them so fascinating.

Anna’s hummingbird

Bob Montgomerie is a professor and research chair in evolutionary biology at Queen’s University. Bob’s research interests are diverse, ranging from mating systems, sexual selection and sperm-competition, to plumage evolution, beauty and the history of ornithology. To tackle diverse questions, Bob has worked on a splendid variety of animals including birds, fishes, flies, snakes, frogs and humans to name a few. In 2010, Bob received the Elliot Coues Award from the American Ornithologists Union, which honors researchers who have made extraordinary contributions to our understanding of birds.

Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and treats right after the seminar

EEB Seminar: December 5th 2013

Fish research at Husky Lakes, NWT

Nikolaus Gantner will talk on

CSI Husky Lakes: Fractionation of mercury isotopes in water, sediments, and fish from the Husky Lakes, Northwest Territories, Canada

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

Mercury can accumulate in apex-predator fish muscle to concentrations exceeding those considered safe for subsistence consumption by humans. Fish species such as Lake trout are typical apex-predators of Arctic lakes and can be a significant source of food for local indigenous peoples. The influence of abiotic factors and biological parameters on Hg accumulation in apex-predators are not well understood. Further, a good understanding of sources of Hg to and processes within water column and food webs is still lacking. Our study aims to investigate the interactions of water column, food webs and Hg transfer in aquatic systems in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Canada). The selected Husky Lakes, Yaya, and Noell Lake ecosystems represent a range of water column and ecological characteristics, as well as Hg delivery (marine-, riverine- or freshwater-derived). We investigate how those characteristics affect Hg transfer and fractionation. All lakes are frequented by the Inuvialuit communities Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk for subsistence fishing. Sampling includes surface water, benthic and pelagic invertebrates, tissues from harvested fishes, and non-target fishes. Biological parameters of fishes (age, length, weight, diet) are recorded and invertebrates separated by species. Sample analysis includes total Hg (THg), monomethylHg (MeHg), and stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N), and Hg (δxHg) and otolith microchemistry. Hg IRs are analyzed by multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP/MS). Hg mass independent fractionation (MIF; Δ199Hg) and mass dependent fractionation (MDF; δ202Hg) was calculated and evaluated against conditions in the water column, food web transfer and the potentially difference in Hg delivery. We demonstrate that MIF varies in Lake Trout from different lakes up to ~2‰; We will present new results from this multidisciplinary study and discuss our preliminary findings with particular focus on implications for future research efforts in a changing Arctic environment.

Nikolaus and pike

Nikolaus is the founder/owner of Gantner Consulting Services and is affiliated with the Dept of Chemistry at Trent University. He holds an MSc in Zoology from the University of Innsbruck (Austria), a PhD in Environmental Biology and Toxicology from the University of Guelph, and then completed an NSERC Visiting Fellowship in Government Laboratories with Environment Canada at the Water and Climate Impacts Research Centre (Victoria, BC).

Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and cookies right after the seminar

EEB Seminar: November 28th 2013

Dianthus carthusianorum (sheep food)

Yessica Rico will give a talk entitled

Does traditional management by rotational shepherding supports landscape connectivity in fragmented calcareous grassland plants?

at 12:30 in the EEB Lounge

Understanding the mechanisms and patterns of dispersal and gene flow in human-modified landscapes is crucial for effective conservation. In plants, seed dispersal is fundamental for recolonization and recruitment, whereas pollen flow and seed dispersal support gene flow. Calcareous grasslands are one of the most species-rich habitats in Central Europe, but abandonment of traditional management since the 20th Century has caused a dramatic decline of calcareous grassland species. In the Southern Franconian Alb in Germany, the establishment of a landscape management project since 1989 by reintroduction of rotational shepherding in previously abandoned calcareous grasslands showed numerous plant recolonizations, and it has been suggested that sheep acts as the main dispersal vector. To test the effect of rotational shepherding on landscape connectivity, I tested competing models of different assumptions on source patch effects, seed dispersal, and accounting for postdispersal effects. I found that patch colonization rates at the community level (aggregate data for 48 plants) was explained by patch connectivity by rotational shepherding and the diversity of microsite in focal patches related to plant establishment. Landscape connectivity models of individual species showed that even plants without dispersal adaptations to animals responded mainly to connectivity by shepherding. In addition, I investigated the potential effect of shepherding on landscape genetic structure in the calcareous grassland plant Dianthus carthusianorum, whose seeds lack morphological adaptations to dispersal to animals or wind. The genetic data showed a significant pattern of landscape genetic connectivity among grazed patches associated to shepherding routes, while ungrazed patches strongly responded to isolation by geographic distance. Also within individual patches, I found that grazing significantly decreases kinship structure and increases genetic diversity. The ecological and genetic data thus show the potential effect of traditional management by rotational shepherding on landscape connectivity in fragmented calcareous grassland plants.

Yessica Rico

Yessica Rico is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher  at the Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensics Centre at Trent University. She did her PhD with Helene Wagner in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto at Mississauga

Everyone is Welcome to Attend the seminar

Coffee and Cookies right after the talk

EEB Seminar: November 21st 2013

Mesocosm City

James Sinclair will speak on

Ecological surprises’ in a bottom-up/top-down stressor interaction

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences, 4th floor)

Interactions between multiple anthropogenic stressors can have unexpected synergistic or antagonistic effects, making it difficult to predict their combined effect using single stressor studies. The bottom-up/top-down interaction between invasive consumers and nutrient enrichment is particularly important as both of these stressors frequently co-occur, and their multi-trophic impacts can be severely damaging to affected communities.

We conducted a field mesocosm experiment that crossed an increasing nutrient addition gradient against an increasing zebra mussel invasion gradient. Native zooplankton communities were added to the mesocosms, and after three months we examined how the single stressor effects on available resources and the zooplankton community were altered by their multiple stressor interaction. Added nutrients had no effect on primary producer abundance, but increased the abundance and dominance of the top consumer, which likely increased predation pressure on the producers and so prevented their response to increased nutrients.

Zebra mussels reduced large phytoplankton abundance by ~75%, rotifer abundance by ~80%, and shifted community composition towards larger consumer species. When combined, the top-down control exerted by the mussels interacted antagonistically to prevent any bottom-up influence of nutrient enrichment on the zooplankton community. These results provide insight into the potential outcomes of bottom-up/top-down stressor interactions, and illustrate the need for researchers to consider single stressor problems in a multiple stressor context.

James showing off his mussels

James is just finishing up his MSc in Shelley Arnott’s lab. Immediately following the seminar he will be defending his thesis and then, he hopes, will begin a PhD in Shelley’s lab, committing himself to endless servitude in the pursuit of more mussels. Unfortunately James goes immediately into his defence at 1:30 on Thursday so will not be able to hang around and receive your questions and accolades but don’t let that stop you from enjoying coffee and cookies after the seminar.


Everyone is welcome to attend

Coffee and cookies right after the seminar


Departmental Seminar: November 15th 2013

Ehab and ant

Dr. Aheb Abouheif will speak on

The Evo Devo of Cooperation and Conflict in Ant Societies

at 10:30 AM in BioSciences Room 3110

This week, Dr. Ehab Abouheif visits from McGill University where he is an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Developmental Biology (Evo Devo). Dr. Abouheif’s research mission has been to understand how genes and environment interact to guide development, and in turn how these interactions have evolved to generate diversity both between and within species. Polyphenism – the capacity of the same genotype to generate discrete phenotypes – in the ants is dramatic, with comprehensive differences in behaviour, life history and morphology between castes. The Abouheif lab works on gene networks associated with development and caste-differentiation in ants, and on the evolution of eusocial behaviour in the ants more broadly. His research is part of the new wave in Biology, breaking down traditional boundaries between disciplines — development, molecular biology, evolution and ecology — with modern tools.

Note: This is the second talk in Dr. Abouheif’s visit.  See post below for more details.