This week, we welcome our own Alyson Van Natto.

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.

EEB Seminar: October 10th

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.

EEB Seminar: September 26th

This week, we welcome our own Regan Cross and Matt Macpherson.

Abstract:  Populations of many snake species around the globe are in decline as a result of anthropogenic threats such as road mortality. To reduce road mortality, wildlife barrier fencing is often used, albeit with varying levels of success. Given how adept gray ratsnakes (Pantherophis spiloides) are at climbing and the relatively large size they reach, this Threatened species serves as a good system for testing mitigation fencing as they can act as an umbrella species for other, smaller Ontario snakes. In this experiment, the exclusion potential and behavioural response of gray ratsnakes to different types of barrier fencing were assessed. We expect fencing material, height, and/or shape to determine an individual’s success in climbing over it. Gray ratsnakes were tested in circular testing arenas 2m in diameter, and constructed of eight different combinations of fencing materials, heights, and shapes based on the recommendations of the OMNRF’s best management practices for reptiles and amphibians. The behavioural responses, such as success in climbing over the fencing, number of climbing attempts made, and time taken to escape were video-recorded for each snake. Morphometrics and ground temperature were also recorded, as these factors can also affect a snake’s climbing ability. For each of the fencing combinations a minimum of 10 trials were performed (88 trials in total). Preliminary results show that the snakes had the most success escaping from the 0.6 m tall vinyl sheet fencing with a lip (100% escaped), and the most difficulty escaping from the 1 m tall hardware cloth fencing with a lip (only 6.7% escaped). Our study will inform the use of barrier fencing to reduce snake road mortality, thus helping to conserve snake populations at risk and apportioning limited resources for conservation more effectively.

Abstract: Species should be able to continuously adapt to conditions at their geographic range edges and disperse into the habitat beyond, yet most do not. Experimental planting of species within and beyond their range directly tests the mechanisms causing stable range limits, however experimental populations are rarely followed for more than one generation, providing little insight into long-term demography and potential for local adaptation beyond the range. In 2005, we transplanted eight source populations of the Pacific coastal dune plant Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia into four sites within and one site beyond its northern range limit. Fitness of beyond-range individuals was comparable to within-range populations, suggesting that the northern range edge is limited by dispersal rather than niche constraints. Compared to sites within the range, the beyond-range population experienced high seedling recruitment in the two seasons following the transplant. Approximately 12 generations after planting, beyond-range individuals remained as abundant and reproductively successful as within-range individuals, providing compelling support for a role of dispersal in limiting the northern range edge for this species. Long-term experiments such as this provide robust conclusions in the face of environmental stochasticity, and allow for a better understanding of how species respond to novel habitats.

EEB Seminar: September 19th

This week we welcome our own Ying Chen.

Divergence in the mate recognition system is the foundation of biological speciation in anurans. Ecological and sexual selection have been suggested as major causes of male call evolution. It is generally assumed that a significant fraction of variation in male advertisement call has an underlying genetic basis and that there is a link between key call attributes and fitness, yet these remain key, largely unproved assertions regarding call evolution, and many factors contribute to diversity of calls within a male chorus. Anurans advertisement calls are important in studies of behavior, sexual selection, speciation, and phenology. In all of these, understanding, heritability is prerequisite to understanding evolutionary patterns and potential responses to selection. However, very few studies have quantified heritability of advertisement calls in wild populations of anurans, nor incorporate all factors know to influence call variation. In this study, I try to estimate the heritability of anuran call attributes within a calling assemblage of a temperate treefrog, Pseudacris crucifer, and quantify the relative contributions of different factors: body size, age, calling temperature, and genetics. I use sonographic analysis to assess call variation, skeletochronology to estimate age, and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) markers to estimate the relatedness of calling males. I use the animal model to evaluate all factors that may affect calls. By simultaneously investigating the genetic basis of advertisement call attributes as well as the effects of environmental factors, we will gain a better understanding of call evolution and the potential for selection to drive divergence.

EEB Seminar: September 12th

This week we welcome Carly Rozins.

Meeting our global population’s food needs has involved intensive mechanization and centralization of food production. While this industrialization has allowed farmers to provide food for a burgeoning population, it has fundamentally changed the life cycles of domesticated animals in ways that create new and unknown threats to global food security. In my research I build mathematical models aimed at answering the question: how do modern agricultural management practices impact infectious disease burden, the risk of disease outbreaks and pathogen evolution? In this talk I will focus on recent changes to the poultry and the honeybee industries.

EEB Seminar: September 5th

This week we welcome Luke Mahler.

The central aim of my research is to understand how ecological and evolutionary factors combine to determine biodiversity patterns over large spatial and temporal scales. To do this, I use radiations of Anolis lizards on Caribbean islands as a natural experiment to test hypotheses about macroevolution, biogeography, and community ecology. In this seminar, I will ask how biogeographic patterns and community structure, both of which bear strong signatures of macroevolutionary history, are being reshaped by human activities in the Anthropocene. Specifically, I will ask how classic biogeographic factors (e.g., island area and isolation) and economic trade combine to predict species richness in invaded island faunas, and how natural climate gradients and recent land use patterns jointly predict the assembly of local communities within islands.

EEB Seminar: April 11th

This week we welcome Aly Van Natto, Regan Cross, and Chris Eckert.

Dynamic dunes: science, stories, and shifting sands

Ecology is the process of turning nature into numbers, addressing theory-motivated questions with biological systems. Most of this takes place in unique ecosystems, and sometimes we’re so busy collecting data that we lose sight of the forest through the trees. Students in the Eckert lab have been working on the coastal dunes of California for more than 15 years. In this seminar, we take some time to pay homage to the ecosystem that has yielded so many great scientific opportunities.

EEB Seminar: March 28th

This week we welcome Marcel Dorken.

Evolution of plant reproductive strategies

Modular organisms (e.g. plants, fungi, algae) dominate terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems but our understanding of their ecology and evolution lags far behind that of unitary, multicellular organisms (most animals). Central concepts, such as fitness, are not easily applied to modular organisms for which “individuals” can be hard to identify, with further complications for organisms like clonal plants that can transmit somatic mutations to offspring. In this talk I will present a recently completed model of sexual fitness in modular organisms and describe a test of predictions from previous modeling efforts.

EEB Seminar: March 21st

This week we welcome our own Qian Gu.

Living in an (elementally) imbalanced world: Is stoichiometry useful in understanding the structure and functioning of an arctic tundra ecosystem?

Humans are causing major perturbations in global biogeochemical cycles, especially carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. These changes put ecosystems under considerable stress, making it critical to understand the mechanisms that underpin ecosystem structure and functioning. Ecological stoichiometry (elemental ratios) is a recent theoretical approach that is based on the realization that all organisms are made of the same essential elements, and therefore provides a mechanistic link from the cellular level all way up to the biosphere. In particular, plant stoichiometric homeostasis – the ability of a species to maintain a certain elemental composition despite variation in the elemental composition in the soil – may represent a useful complementary trait to other plant traits in understanding and predicting community structure. I investigated its applicability in arctic tundra ecosystems by determining homeostasis indices for seven common tundra vascular species. I then analyzed how these homeostatic values were related to key aspects of ecological performance, such as plant dominance. Overall, these results will evaluate the potential contribution of ecological stoichiometry to predicting the impacts of environmental changes on arctic tundra vegetation.

EEB Seminar: March 14th

This week we welcome our own Jill Wettlaufer.

Resource partitioning through the seasons: a test of a competitive ability – cold tolerance trade-off among closely-related, seasonally breeding beetles

Understanding the factors that maintain and constrain biodiversity and species coexistence is a major goal in ecology. When coexisting species use similar resources, this leads to the question: Why doesn’t one species use all the resources to the exclusion of all others? Trade-offs may be key in preventing one species from dominating all resources in all environments, thus allowing multiple species to coexist. Such trade-offs may be widespread in nature and play an important role in maintaining local biodiversity, but remain poorly described and understood. In this seminar, I will present evidence of seasonal resource partitioning in closely-related coexisting burying beetles (Nicrophorus) and explore a potential competitive-ability – cold tolerance trade-off.