LEE Seminar Series
Details on completed seminars are included in the expandable boxes below.
Writing for Publication Workshop
Genes to Ecosystems: The problem of complex traits - Dr Casten Kulheim
Genes to Ecosystems: The problem of complex traits.
Division of Ecology and Evolution, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra 2601, Australia
Ecologists often talk about “genes to ecosystems” to describe how genetic variation influences ecological interactions. Many of the traits of interest are “complex” and controlled by many genes. Understanding the architecture of these complex traits is a major roadblock in integrating molecular approaches in ecology. In this talk I will describe the molecular basis of variation in an important group of plant secondary metabolites, the terpenes, in Australian Myrtaceae.
Using a candidate gene approach, I was able to discover genetic variants that explained some, but not all of the genetic component of trait variation, showing that much of the trait heritability remains unaccounted for. To test whether the “missing heritability” was caused by variants outside known candidate genes I changed to a whole genome sequencing approach, which discovered both novel genes involved in secondary metabolite variation and increased the amount of variation that could be accounted for.
While Genome-wide Association Studies allow to dissect the genetic architecture of complex traits, Genomic Selection is the only method in non-model organisms that can integrate whole genome variation and account for the vast majority of the heritability. This approach also allows for efficient and fast selection of individuals for use in breeding programs.
Animal-Fungal Interactions and How They Shape the Forest Ecosytems - Todd Elliot
Friday May 28th, 2018
This week Todd Elliott will be taking us on a globetrotting adventure illustrated with his nature photography. He will share insights, adventures, and entertaining stories from his latest research into the role of the fungal kingdom in forest ecosystems around the world. He will shed light on the ecological importance of the fungal Kingdom in Australia and beyond.
Todd Elliott’s passion for the natural world has taken him on research expeditions to remote corners of the world to explore tropical rainforests, temperate woodlands, deserts, beaches, and high mountains on six continents. Todd has collaborated on many publications covering this research, and his new book Mushrooms of the Southeast (USA) was released this year. Todd is currently a PhD candidate in Environmental and Rural Science here at UNE, focusing on the role of macrofungi in vertebrate diets. To see some of Todd’s wildlife photography from his adventures, visit his Instagram: @toddfelliott
The Sex Life of Grasses: Why 'Local Is Best' Doesnt Work For Revegetation With Australian Native Grasses - Associate Professor Ralph Whalley
Friday May 25th
Studies of the breeding systems of native Australian grasses have shown that self-pollination is very common and that no specific mechanisms (except for a few dioecious species) preventing self-pollination have been recorded. In dioecious species, vegetative reproduction may be more common than seedling establishment. The implications of these findings with respect to the adaptive plasticity of individual species and choice of seed sources for revegetation material are far-reaching.
Assoc Prof Whalley started out as a Research Agronomist with NSW Agriculture at Trangie, spreading buffel grass in the Western Division of NSW. He went to the Riverside campus of University of California for a PhD and then joined UNE as a Lecturer in Botany in September, 1965. Ralph started his research on native grasses and weeds and has been doing so ever since!
New Evidence On The Origin Of Modern Crocodiles: Who Wins The Game Of Crocs? Lachlan Hart
Friday June 15th
Compared to most other parts of the world, Australia’s record of the crocodilians that lived during the Mesozoic Era (the time of the dinosaurs) is quite sparse. Apart from the species Isisfordiaduncanifrom the Cretaceous of Queensland, all other Mesozoic crocodiliform remains are inconclusive. Here, new evidence will be presented on other crocodiliform fossils, found at Lightning Ridge, NSW, and their significance in the evolutionary story of crocodiles will be discussed.
Lachlan is a 3rd year Masters student who has been studying the origin and evolution of fossil crocodilians in Australia, under the supervision of Dr Phil Bell. He was the UNE representative at the Asia-Pacific Finals of the 3 Minute Thesis competition last year.
Pollination In A Changing World - Dr Jamie Stavert
Friday June 22nd
Worldwide, there is great concern about the decline of pollinators. However, despite ever-increasing research interest and media attention, we still know very little about how human activities impact pollinators and pollination services. Using a case study from New Zealand, I will show how human-mediated environmental change has produced both “winners” and “losers” in pollinator communities. Further, I will discuss how exotic species can provide important pollination services, particularly in highly modified environments where native species have declined. Finally, I will present recent findings on historic pollinator declines, and show that we still know very little about long-term pollinator population trends in most parts of the world.
Dr Jamie Stavert is an Endeavour Postdoctoral Research Fellow based at the University of New England. His research focuses on how ecological communities and species interactions are impacted by anthropogenic disturbances. In particular, Jamie is interested in how pollinators respond to land-use change and how landscape management can be improved to ensure the delivery and security of pollination services.
From Plant Traits To Ecosystem - Case Studies From Asian Forests - Dr Sabine Both
Friday July 27th
Borneo’s rainforests are 140 million years old and home to iconic species like orang-utans and Pygmy elephants. However, they are severely threatened by logging and conversion to agriculture. Selective logging is a widely used procedure in which valuable timber species are removed but the rest of the forest remains. Little is known about how the functional composition of tree communities changes after this disturbance. Based on data from 284 tree species and a wide variety of functional plant traits, I show how trait expression varies across landscapes as a result of anthropogenic disturbance and what that implies for plant functional diversity across human-modified tropical forests.
Dr Sabine Both is a plant ecologist focusing on tropical and subtropical species-rich forest ecosystems and the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Her main interest lies in the interactions between tree species richness and functional diversity of forest ecosystems and the interplay with other trophic levels. Her observational and experimental studies have been conducted in south-eastern China and Malaysian Borneo. Sabine recently came from the UK to join ERS and looks forward to collaborating with fellow researchers at UNE!
Walking With Dinosours: Investigating Locomotion Biomechanics In Sauropods - Ada Klinkhamer
Friday July 20th
Sauropods represent the ‘iconic’ dinosaur because of their gigantic size and distinctive long neck and tail. Growing to masses exceeding 50 tonnes and lengths of over 30 meters, the way they moved around and supported their weight has long been a topic of discussion. With the development of many new computational modelling techniques we can now look at this area in a whole new way. Using musculoskeletal modelling and Finite Element Analysis I have investigated muscle function and mechanical performance in both the forelimb and hindlimb of sauropod dinosaurs, looking specifically at the effect of changes in posture over their evolutionary history.
Ada is a vertebrate palaeontologist who has recently completed her PhD at UNE studying sauropod dinosaur biomechanics in the Function, Evolution and Anatomy Research (FEAR) lab. Her research involves digitally reconstructing dinosaur limbs in order to learn how they moved. Much of her research is done in conjunction with the Australian Age of Dinosaur Museum in Winton QLD.
Let's Talk About The Birds and The Bees, The Flowers and The Trees: A Landscape Perspective - Mark Hall
Friday July 13th
Throughout the world, extensive conversion of natural environments for agricultural production has drastically reduced the amount, quality and configuration of habitats for wildlife in rural environments. A characteristic feature of rural landscapes globally is the presence of linear strips of (semi)natural vegetation, often forming networks amongst farmland. I used a landscape-level natural experiment to investigate the relative importance to birds and wild bees of these linear features and other habitat components, and systematically surveyed taxa in each of 44 landscapes. I show that by examining both site and landscape-level effects of landscape modification, we can better inform management of these landscapes for the conservation of multiple taxa.
Mark completed his PhD at La Trobe University in Melbourne, investigating the role of remnant vegetation within agricultural landscapes—often occurring along linear roadsides and streams or as scattered paddock trees—for biodiversity conservation. He currently works on crop pollination with the Rader Lab at UNE.
With great sociality comes great ecological consequences: the two sides of noisy miner cooperation - A/Prof Paul McDonald
Friday 1st September, 2017.
This talk focuses on two areas of research being undertaken into this common, but fascinating species. Noisy Miners have one of the most complex social systems of any bird, which facilitates large numbers of individuals cooperating with each other across a range of social pathways, including cooperative breeding, social foraging and anti-predator vigilance. Unfortunately, these traits have enabled miner populations to take advantage of human-altered landscapes throughout south-east Australia, effectively excluding other woodland bird species from vast tracts of habitat. In this seminar, I will discuss some of the means by which miners achieve this incredible social connectivity, whilst also discussing research investigating amelioration techniques to reduce their influence on avian biodiversity.
Paul completed his PhD at ANU working on sex allocation in Brown Falcons in 2004, before he completed postdocs at the University of Bangor in Wales, NTNU in Norway and then Macquarie University focusing on cooperative behaviour. He joined UNE in 2010 as a Lecturer in Animal Behaviour.
The role of cryptobenthic fishes on coral reefs - Dr Christopher Goatley
Friday 21st July, 2017.
Reef ecosystems around the world are dominated by small fishes. In fact, on the Great Barrier Reef the average length of a reef fish is less than 45mm and 50% of all reef fish individuals belong to species that remain smaller than this for their whole lives. These species are known as cryptobenthic reef fishes, defined as small, camouflaged, bottom-dwelling fishes. While hugely abundant, we know remarkably little about the ecological roles of these fishes on coral reefs. However, there are clear indications that these little fish may play a critical role in coral reef ecosystem dynamics, particularly as abundant prey items and as links in complex trophic webs. In this presentation, I will begin by providing a brief synopsis of what we currently know about the ecological roles of cryptobenthic reef fishes. I will first discuss recent findings regarding the dynamics and drivers of the extremely high predation rates suffered by cryptobenthic fishes. Then, I will focus on how we can apply new tools to develop an understanding of how cryptobenthic fishes fuel these fast growth rates. Understanding where these little fishes gain their nutrition is of critical importance, as their diets may ultimately affect populations of larger, economically valuable species. Rather than conducting complex dietary analyses on individual fishes, I will demonstrate the potential for computer based morphological and biomechanical analyses which may allow us to infer critical dietary information about species across entire assemblages.
Originally from the UK, Chris moved to Australia in 2007 to study marine ecology at James Cook University, Townsville. In January 2017 he began a 3-year UNE postdoctoral research fellowship working on the ecology and function of small, cryptic reef fishes. Working in the FEAR lab he combines 3D imaging, shape analysis and biomechanical techniques with field work on eastern Australian reef ecosystems to determine what highly abundant, small fishes ‘do’ in reef ecosystems.
Reservoirs of Sri Lanka: Ancient heritage as a modern-day biological resource for rural food security - Professor Upali S Amarasinghe
Friday 7th July, 2017.
The inland fishery of Sri Lanka is one of the major sources of affordable animal protein for rural communities. The reservoir fishery has undergone both rises and falls during the recent past. The major milestones were: (i) dramatic increase in production during 1980s, (ii) drastic decline in production from 39,750 tonnes in 1989 to about 12,000 tonnes in 1994, and (iii) revival of production to about 73,950 tonnes in 2016. Two introduced cichlid fish species, Oreochromis mossambicus and O. niloticus, are ubiquitous in reservoirs of Sri Lanka and are often labelled as invasive species. However, there is clear habitat segregation between these exotic cichlids and indigenous riverine species and as such, harmful impacts on native species are unlikely. Small indigenous cyprinids, which are abundant in perennial reservoirs of Sri Lanka, are not commercially exploited mainly due to restrictions imposed by gillnet mesh size regulations. In addition to capture fisheries in large and medium-sized reservoirs, there is a great potential for the development of culture-based fisheries in small village reservoirs.
Professor Upali S. Amarasinghe works at the Department of Zoology and Environmental Management at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, completed his M.Sc. in fisheries biology at the University of Wales in 1984, and Ph.D. in inland fisheries at the University of Ruhuna in 1991. Upali has been instrumental for providing a scientific basis for the development and management of reservoir fisheries in Sri Lanka.
Water and energy balance of the thorny devil - Philip Withers
Friday 26th May, 2017.
Water and energy balances are fundamental requirements for animals, and particularly desert animals. The thorny devil (Molochhorridus) is a highly specialised, myrmecophagous agamid (dragon) lizard found in sandy Australian desert and semi-arid environments. The highly specialised diet of thorny devils, small ants, and their ability to survive for extended periods without drinking, means that there is a tight relationship between water and energy turnover. Despite being able to survive for extended periods without drinking, thorny devils will drink if given the opportunity, albeit in a highly unusual manner. Thorny devils do not drink water directly using their lips and tongue (as do many other lizards) but have “blotting paper” skin that absorbs water by contact (e.g. when standing in a puddle), and transfers it by a network of fine cutaneous channels to the corners of the mouth, where it is ingested by rhythmic jaw movements. The cutaneous channels have a complex structure that distribute water omni-directionally by capillary action; it appears that these channels must be filled with water before drinking can occur. The potential sources of drinking water have been examined for thorny devils, leading to the conclusion that moist sand is a likely ecologically-relevant source of water.
Professor Philip Withers’ research expertise is comparative animal and environmental physiology, in particular the hygric, thermal and metabolic physiology of desert amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Professor Withers completed his undergraduate degree in Zoology at the University of Adelaide, and his PhD in Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Zoology at the University of Cape Town, and has subsequently had academic appointments at Portland State University and currently the University of Western Australia.
Evaporative water loss regulation by mammals and birds - Christine Cooper
Friday 12th May, 2017.
Water balance is as fundamental a requirement for mammals and birds as is energy balance, but far less is known about regulation of water balance, especially non-thermoregulatory (“insensible”) evaporative water loss (EWL). Water balance is particularly critical for mammals and birds inhabiting arid zones and areas undergoing habitat modification such as desertification and climate change. This is significant for much of Australia’s mammalian and avian fauna, since Australia is the driest inhabited continent and is experiencing rapid further desertification. We have recently discovered that some mammals and birds can maintain “insensible” EWL constant under varying environmental conditions, a previously unappreciated capacity for potential regulation of this important variable. Regulation of EWL may be an important mechanism for conservation of water by mammals and birds when exposed to dry air, promoting their acute survival in hot and dry environments. It may also play an important thermoregulatory role, simplifying metabolic adjustments under different evaporative environments.
Dr Christine Cooper's research expertise is in vertebrate environmental physiology, in particular the metabolic, hygric and thermal physiology of birds and mammals. Her research is a combination of both laboratory and field studies. She competed her undergraduate degree and PhD in Zoology at the University of Western Australia, was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Zoology at the University of New England in 2004, and is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environment and Agriculture at Curtin University in Perth.
Ecosystem services and insect communities in agroecosystems - Manu Saunders
Friday 31st March, 2017.
Ecosystem services are the benefits we receive from natural functions and processes. In agroecosystems, animal communities provide numerous benefits (e.g. pollination and pest control), but can also produce costs for growers, (e.g. damage to crops). Trade-offs and synergies between these costs and benefits are often mediated by environmental context, such as landscape composition and land management practices. In this talk, I will present a summary of my previous research in orchard agroecosystems in southeast Australia and briefly touch on what I will be working on in my new postdoc at UNE.
Dr Manu Saunders has just started a 3 year UNE postdoctoral fellowship working on catchment-scale ecosystem services networks with Romina Rader, Darren Ryder (ERS) and Oscar Cacho (UNE Business School). Previously she was based at Charles Sturt University in Albury, working on wild pollinators and ecosystem services with Gary Luck.
Sieving the small stuff: big stories from tiny fossils - Marissa Betts
Thursday 2nd March, 2017.
Early Cambrian microfossils can help us answer some big questions: How old are different packages of rocks? Where do we draw boundaries in the geological timescale? What are the evolutionary relationships between major groups of animals? Where were the continents millions of years ago? Accurately determining the age of fossils and rocks is a fundamental task in palaeontology. The Cambrian Explosion was perhaps the most significant animal radiation in Earth history, however resolving when anatomical innovations occurred and how long ecological changes persisted for is an ongoing challenge.
Shelly microfossil occurrences, in combination with geochemical and radiometric dating techniques have helped refine the timescale, and provided a reliable means to globally correlate early Cambrian rocks from of South Australia. This dating scheme has provided critical temporal context for fossil discoveries. New techniques are being applied to extract a unique suite of microfossils from Cambrian-age rocks. Placing these extremely delicate microfossils on a timeline is essential for filling in some of the gaps in the fossil record and answering big questions about animal evolution in its earliest phases.
Dr. Marissa Betts completed her PhD in 2016 at Macquarie University, studying early Cambrian shelly fossils from South Australia and their application to dating and correlating rocks. Broadly, her research is motivated by a curiosity about what the earth was like a long time ago and the ways we can discover evidence about how it has changed. She has just begun an ambitious new project at UNE requiring patience, a steady hand and some really strong acid. Please send positive thoughts.
Animal-driven ecosystem services in cider-apple orchards in North-West Spain (Asturias): biodiversity factors and effects - Rodrigo Martinez-Sastre
Thursday 16th February, 2017.
Apple fruit crops depend on pollination and pest control services provided by different animals sharing a common landscape. We studied the environmental (i.e. landscape) correlates and the functional role of biodiversity (abundance and richness) of pollinating insects and insectivorous birds in 26 cider-apple orchards in NW Spain. Pollinator richness and abundance increased along a gradient of availability of seminatural habitat around orchards, whereas bird biodiversity was more affected by farm managements. Wild bee abundance, but not richness, affected positively pollination success (seed set), whereas both bird abundance and bird richness promoted insectivory rates. Our study provides evidence that there is not a single pattern for the biodiversity-ecosystem service links. This is because many different animal groups are involved in providing local ecosystem services, such as crop production.
Rodrigo is a PhD student in the north of Spain (Oviedo University and SERIDA). After working in the Socio-Ecological lab (Autonomous University of Madrid) with ecosystem service delivery to participatory stakeholders, he has continued studying ecosystem services in a more applied way. He is trying to develop suggestions of management for pollination and pest control ecosystem services that encourage a balance between biodiversity and agricultural productivity in North-west Spain (Asturias) cider-apple orchards.
Global changes and the end-Permian mass extinction - Guang Shi
Friday 10th February, 2017.
The end-Permian mass extinction ca. 252 million years ago (Ma) is the largest of the ‘Big Five’ mass extinctions in Earth history. An expanding body of evidence has increasingly linked this extinction to global warming following eruptions of the Siberian Traps volcanism. But, a key question remains: was the Siberian volcanism merely a trigger and accelerator of an ecosystem already doomed to collapse? In other words, would there have been a mass extinction at the Permian-Triassic boundary had the Siberian Traps volcanism not taken place? This talk will review recently published evidence in support of key Late Palaeozoic global environmental changes and large scale biotic responses, followed by proposing a synergistic model suggesting that the end-Permian mass extinction was an event that had been precipitated by a number of prior global change processes over several millions of years that, on approaching the Permian-Triassic boundary, conspired and accelerated creating a potentially inevitable catastrophic situation in which the global ecosystem was already severely stressed to the brink of collapse.
Prof Shi earned his PhD in geology and palaeontology from the University of Queensland in 1991. He joined Deakin University in 1992, where he was promoted to a Personal Chair in Palaeontology in 2006, and awarded the title of Alfred Deakin Professor in 2016. Since 2003, Professor Shi has held a number of academic leadership positions at Deakin University, including Head of School. He served as President of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists for two years (2010-2012).
The buzz on Honeybee energetics: Novel radio-isotopic techniques find that Honeybees match their field metabolic rate to their ecosystem - Sean Tomlinson
Thursday 8th December, 2016.
Ecological restoration of anthropogenically disturbed landscapes often involves the reconnection of isolated fragments in a disturbed matrix. Thermal tolerance and energetic requirements of hymenopteran pollinators were overlaid on topoclimatic models to provide thermo-energetic models of a restoration site north of Perth. Two species of bees that are conspecific at our focal site have similar tolerance thresholds, but very different energetic requirements at similar temperatures. This has the potential to explain differences in their dispersal patterns across a disturbed habitat, and their capacity to invade restoration sites. We then measured the metabolic rates of one species in the wild to assess the validity of our models using a radio-isotopic tracer.
Sean Tomlinson is a Research Fellow at Curtin University and a Research Scientist at Kings Park & Botanic Gardens in Western Australia where he studies trade-offs and interactions between physiological or morphological adaptations and social and behavioural adaptations to the environment or ecological niche.
Soil carbon - easy to deplete and hard to accumulate - Professor Graeme Blair
Thursday 8th December, 2016.
There is much talk about being able to sequester C in soils and a scheme is in place in Australia to reward farmers for such accumulations. This seminar will demonstrate how difficult this is to achieve. Most disturbed soils have lower total C concentrations than natural systems but the C present is cycling faster and contributes to nutrient cycling and soil physical fertility. As agricultural productivity increases the residues retained in the system are generally of higher quality and consequently are broken down more rapidly by the soil biota hence the difficulty of sequestering soil C and maintaining high agricultural outputs. Data from short and long term (up to 155 years) experiments will be presented to support this hypothesis. These experiments have utilised stable and radioactive isotopes of C to identify C sources and pools.
Graeme completed his PhD at Sydney University, was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Guelph in Canada and began working at UNE in 1970. After retiring in 2002, he has continued as an Honorary Fellow and most recently an Adjunct Professor. In 2000 he received the prestigious International Fertilizer Award for research contributing to the efficient use of mineral fertilisers. He was made a Fellow of the Australian Society of Agronomy Inc. in 2012 and awarded the C.M. Donald Medal by the Society in 2014 for his contributions to Australian Agronomy. The seminar is co-authored by Dr Nelly Blair who completed her PhD studies at UNE on soil C.
Dynamic earth processes in Iceland: products, environmental effects and historical influences - Paul Ashley
Wednesday 9th November, 2016.
Iceland is a unique entity on planet Earth. Its tectonic position and development since the mid-Miocene has led to formation of a dynamic landmass dominantly created by volcanic processes, modified by ice, water and wind, and more recently by human activities. The present co-incidence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rift zone and a mantle plume (“hot spot”) has led to enhanced magma production and a dominance of largely basaltic volcanism that has constructed the present landmass. In the seminar, these processes are briefly explained, along with the nature of volcanic products and the imposed processes that have created the Icelandic landscape. Historical volcanic-related events have periodically negatively influenced the population in Iceland and the Northern Hemisphere as a whole. Due to landscape “fragility” and climatic factors, major environmental degradation has occurred historically and Iceland faces daunting challenges to manage environmental sustainability.
Paul Ashley is an Adjunct Associate Professor in Earth Sciences at UNE, being a staff member between 1985-2008, and casually employed in 2011-2013, following an earlier career in the minerals industry, and gaining of a BSc from the University of Sydney and PhD from Macquarie University. He has had broad research output, focused in the last 20 years on environmental geochemistry. He is also employed in petrographic and environmental consultancy work for the minerals industry and government agencies. Wider interests in recent years have included the relationship between geological processes and other natural sciences in diverse “wild places” in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Iceland, the Himalayas, the North American cordillera and South America (Patagonia and the Atacama Desert), with Gondwana connections being of particular interest.
How sustainable is sustainable energy? - Rex Glencross-Grant
Wednesday 26th October, 2016.
This presentation will discuss energy at large and then concentrate on electrical energy from traditional sources through to new and emerging areas. Rex will discuss how the sector is changing dramatically to address economic and environmental imperatives and community expectations, including security. More topically, some discussion will cover the recent state-wide outage in South Australia and what signals that is sending to the regulators and the community.
Prior to academia Rex worked for a state government road authority, several local government authorities, including Norfolk Island and at various stages, his own consultancy. Rex has been employed in the Civil and Environmental Engineering discipline at the University of New England for varying periods since early 1995. His other professional interests, apart from alternative energy, are in engineering heritage and solid waste management.
Conserving the queen of the snow-covered mountains: Snow Leopard survey of Bhutan - Phuntsho Thinley
Wednesday 19th October, 2016.
The endangered snow leopard (Pantherauncia) is an iconic wildcat of 12 Asian countries. It is an important predator that regulates the alpine ecosystems, most of which are located in the water towers of Asia. Saving this magnificent but sadly dwindling species can help save the water sources that sustain the livelihood of almost half of the world’s population. The Royal Government of Bhutan embarked on the ambitious National Snow Leopard Survey to take stock of the country’s snow leopards and to draft a viable conservation strategy to ensure its longevity in the Eastern Himalayas. The survey revealed amazingly 96 individuals in a tiny nation of 38,394 km2. First among the snow leopard range countries to conduct a nationwide survey, Bhutan holds promise as a stronghold for snow leopard conservation in the current face of mounting threats from poaching, habitat loss and climate change.
Dr Phuntsho Thinley is an Endeavour Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UNE and works as the Principal Research Officer at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Conservation and Environment in the Royal Government of Bhutan. His main interest is studying human-wildlife interactions to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts. He was involved in the National Snow Leopard Survey as the co-principal investigator and the principal scientific advisor. He studied Bachelors of Forestry at the University of Philippines, Masters and PhD in Natural Resources at Cornell University in the US.
Bell Miner behavioural ecology - Kathryn Lambert
Wednesday 28th September, 2016.
The bell miner Manorina melanophrys is the smallest of the miners. More often heard than seen, this species lives in large colonies and aggressively defends their territories against all intruders. They are endemic to eastern and south-eastern mainland Australia, restricted to coastal and mountain regions in open eucalypt forests and woodland with a dense shrubby understorey. Bell miners can also be found in suburban areas, where eucalypts and dense shrubs have been retained. Their colonies are sedentary usually remaining in the same location for many years. The feeding and breeding behaviour of this species is thought to impact on the ecosystem in which they inhabit and as such, the phenomenon Bell Miner Associated Dieback (BMAD) has been listed as a Key Threatening Process in NSW. However, the exact role of the bell miner and the reasons behind their habitat choices are largely unknown.
Dr Kathryn Lambert completed her PhD at UNE in 2015. She has since been working with Northern Tablelands Local Lands Services and Department of Primary Industries as an ecological consultant. She has also been a Lecturer in Zoology since April, specialising in Vertebrate Evolution. Recently she was also appointed as the Conservation Officer for BirdLife Northern NSW.
Fire ecology of desert myrtle (Aluta maisonneuvei) heathlands and ethno-ecology of edible grubs of the Pintupi people of the Gibson Desert, Western Australia - Boyd Wright
Wednesday 14th September, 2016.
In the vast dunefields of the Gibson Desert, a battle wages between the fire-sensitive shrub Aluta maisonneuvei (desert myrtle) and grasses of the widespread genus Triodia (spinifex). Triodia grasslands accumulate fuels after high rainfalls, and burn regularly and intensely. On the other hand, Aluta heaths rarely burn as fuels cannot accumulate beneath dense Aluta overstoreys. Nevertheless, under high wind conditions, spinifex fires that abut Aluta stands can trigger high-severity crown fires that raze Aluta populations. This talk presents the results of recent seed bank experiments, germination trials and mensurative field studies that explored mechanisms enabling the persistence of Aluta communities after fire.
The talk also includes a photographic journey of the Gibson Desert through images captured on the 2015 Bush Blitz scientific expedition to the Kiwirrkurra Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). In this segment, details and images of an ethno-ecological study on the edible grubs of the Pintupi-Luritja Aboriginal people will be presented. Additionally, video footage will be shown of a sighting of the rare northern marsupial mole (Notoryctes caurinus) near Lake Mackay, in the north of the Kiwirrkurra IPA.
Dr Boyd Wright is a fire ecologist and para-professional Pintupi-Luritja interpreter. He has been researching fire and working and living intermittently among the Pintupi-Luritja people in the Western Desert since 2002. He is currently based in Botany at UNE.
Ecological information webs: alarm calls and interspecific eavesdropping - Rob Magrath
Wednesday 31st August, 2016.
Individuals gain valuable information by eavesdropping on the signals of other species, so forming ecological “information webs”. The flow of information, just like material resources, potentially affects individual fitness and community resilience. I focus on avian eavesdropping on other species’ alarm calls, and consider both the mechanisms and consequences of such eavesdropping. Alarm calls of different species might share acoustic properties, or individuals might learn to recognize other species’ alarm calls. I illustrate these issues with our work on Australian birds, which reveals that while call structure can affect response, learning is critical in enabling individuals to tailor responses to the local community and to explain taxonomically widespread eaves- dropping. Heterospecifics provide valuable information about danger, and learning helps individuals harvest this information and so join the ecological information web.
Rob Magrath is a behavioural ecologist at the ANU. He has worked primarily of birds, including on their breeding ecology, social behaviour and acoustic communication. He did his Hons degree at Monash University and PhD at the University of Cambridge.
The Cambrian explosion and Earth's earliest predators - Dr Allison Daley
Wednesday 20th July, 2016.
The Cambrian Explosion was a major biodiversification event that saw the rise of nearly all animal phyla in a rapid burst over 500 million years ago. The anomalocaridids are iconic members of these early animal ecosystems, owing to their large size, bizarre morphology and complicated history of description. In this talk, I will discuss the ecology and evolutionary significance of the anomalocaridids. These animals have been interpreted as highly specialised apex predators attacking trilobites, but my research has shown that they actually employed a diverse range of feeding strategies, including generalised predation and even suspension feeding. Anomalocaridids occupied a critical position in the early evolutionary lineage of the arthropods, and their morphology helps us to understand the evolution of key features of this successful animal phylum, including biramous limbs, exoskeletons and head appendages.
Allie received her PhD from Uppsala University in 2010. She spent two years at the Natural History Museum in London before moving to Oxford in September 2013. Allie jointly holds positions at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and as a Junior Research Fellow at St Edmund Hall. In 2016, she will be taking up a position at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, as Assoc Professor of Paleontology.
Responses of bats to fire - Anna Doty
Wednesday 20th July, 2016.
Bats are incredible animals, being the only mammal capable of true flight and the second largest order of mammals in the world. Because of their small body size and ability to fly, they occupy a wide range of habitats and have developed varying strategies to cope with the constraints associated with their environments. Insectivorous bats have a high surface area to volume ratio, and therefore they must compensate for high rates of heat loss with high rates of energy expenditure. One way bats deal with this limiting energetic conundrum is the use of torpor, whereby metabolic rate and body temperature are markedly reduced. Global warming can affect the physiology and ecology of bats via a long-term increase in Ta, but also by encouraging fire and other extreme weather events. Although it has been previously shown that small, daily heterothermic terrestrial mammals use more torpor in response to fire, how hibernators, i.e. bats, physiologically respond to smoke and wildfire is unknown.
Anna is a PhD student at the University of New England and is interested in using physiological and ecological principles to answer questions regarding activity and energy use in small mammals. She is particularly interested in insectivorous bats because of their ability to fly as well as their comparatively long life span and low reproductive output to other small mammals. Anna has attended universities in the USA, South Africa and Australia.
Physiological and behavioural responses of mammals to fire - Clare Stawski
Wednesday 6th July, 2016.
Globally, climate change is already causing an increase in the occurrence of destructive wildfires, changing the physical and biological characteristics of many ecosystems. While fires are an important natural phenomenon that can rejuvenate landscapes and increase biodiversity, many species may not be able to cope with a change in fire regime. Data on how populations change in response to fire are available to some extent, but we currently have little understanding of the behavioural and physiological adjustments that may enable an individual to survive a fire and its aftermath. Therefore, I have recently been examining how small mammals respond to fire cues and also changes in the environment created by fires. In particular, I was interested in how torpor, an energy saving mechanism, may play a role in ensuring the survival of small mammals in a landscape removed of vegetation and food resources.
Clare is interested in combining the fields of physiology and ecology to answer questions related to how animals cope with the energetic challenges they face regularly in their environment. In particular, how they cope physiologically and behaviourally with detrimental weather and environmental conditions or a shortage in food and water resources. She has studied and worked at universities in Australia, Poland and Austria and is currently researching the behavioural and physiological responses of small mammals to habitat degradation.
Bolivia Hill upgrade; Country bridge solutions; A new Clarence River crossing - David Andrews and Adam Cameron
Wednesday 22nd June, 2016.
Project manager, Roads and Maritime Services
Bolivia Hill Upgrade
The Bolivia Hill upgrade involves the realignment of a 2.1km section of the New England Highway at Bolivia Hill between Glen Innes and Tenterfield. Together with terrain constraints, the existence of the spotted-tailed quoll, and the Bolivia wattle has required innovative design to avoid and minimise the impacts on these species. It is an example where engineering design, new techniques and environmental understanding has combined to provide a sympathetic solution that is also cost effective.
Country bridge solutions
Local councils, as road authorities, face the growing challenge of maintaining and eventually replacing ageing bridges on Regional and Local roads. The NSW Government is developing Country Bridge Solutions (CBS) to help councils meet this challenge. It is a modular bridge system developed by Roads and Maritime Services (Roads and Maritime) in collaboration with the IPWEA and NSW councils. CBS will provide regional and rural councils with simple and easy to build bridge solutions, deliver cost savings, and promote regional economic growth by using existing council resources to replace and build bridges.
Senior project development manager, Roads and Maritime Services
A new Clarence River crossing
Planning for an additional crossing of the Clarence River at Grafton was initially funded by the NSW Government, starting from 2002. A community update issued in December 2010 identified 13 preliminary route options and invited community comment via a postal survey. Subsequent phone and business surveys were also carried out. Twenty-five preliminary route options in five corridors were identified for engineering and environmental investigation.
In January 2012, six route options were announced for further investigation. The short-listed options and short-listing process are documented in the Preliminary Route Options Report – Final (RMS, January 2012). The visualisation which will be shown today was a tool that the project team used to describe the project to the community as part of the EIS display in 2014.
What can mid-ocean ridge sediments tell us about deep-sea explosive volcanism? - Ryan Portner
Wednesday 15th June, 2016.
A long held debate in marine geology has pondered how the extreme environmental conditions of the deep seafloor restrict explosive eruptions and if such explosivity can occur at all. This debate is rooted in the physical and chemical characteristics of deep-sea sedimentary deposits. Recent submersible observation of an explosive eruption at 1200 mbsl has shed light on this topic, yet many uncertainties remain. The connections between volcaniclastic deposits sampled from the seafloor, and their transport processes, inferred eruption styles and underlying origins remains unclear. How magma composition, volatile contents and conduit processes influence eruption style is particularly important. This study will present results from several remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) mapping efforts on Axial Seamount of the Juan de Fuca mid-ocean spreading ridge.
My research is focused on physical and chemical Mid-ocean ridge processes, submarine volcanology and sedimentology. My roots are in land-based field work, but have moved into the marine realm for the last 5 years.
Torpor as an emergency solution? - Julia Nowack
Wednesday 8th June, 2016.
Torpor, the ability of some animals to temporarily reduce body temperature and metabolic rate, has long been related to survival of seasonal bottlenecks in primarily cold habitats. However, findings of torpor use in species living in tropical habitats have challenged this view and recently it has become evident that torpor has many more functions than just energy conservation in winter. The list of “the other functions of torpor” seems to be continuously growing. Major recent findings in torpor research are that animals employ torpor to survive and cope with adverse and unpredictable conditions during and after natural disasters, in particular fires and storms. Such data support the hypothesis that the opportunistic use of torpor during unpredictable conditions will likely enhance survival. I will introduce some of my findings of torpor use in response to energetic emergencies that suggest that heterothermic species with their flexible energy requirements have an adaptive advantage over homeotherms in the context of climate change.
Dr Julia Nowack is an ecophysiologist interested in thermoregulation of mammals and the ability of heterothermic animals to use torpor during unpredictable bottlenecks. She completed her PhD at the University of Hamburg in Germany and in 2014 came to Australia to work at the University of New England. She is currently an Endeavour Research Fellow at Western Sydney University and just received a fellowship from the Humboldt foundation to work at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna in Austria.
Urban Expansion: The planned loss of biodiversity - Robert Patterson
Wednesday 11th May, 2016.
As our capital cities grow outwards, consuming food-producing lands to suffice the Australian dream of a free standing house, biodiversity of soil ecosystems and drainage patterns are lost to concrete motorways, paved areas and urban sprawl. This presentation will examine the South-West Growth area of Sydney and the impact upon current high value food producing lands and rural amenity. The outcomes in Sydney are replicated to a certain extent around regional cities.
Dr Bob Patterson operates Lanfax Laboratories in Armidale, specialising in soil, water and wastewater management. Bob graduated from UNE with First Class Honours in B. Nat.Res and went on to complete his PhD at UNE. As a consultant, Bob has been involved in many Land & Environment Court cases where loss of agricultural lands also means a loss of biodiversity, not the other way around.
Feeding and fighting: how agropastoralism shaped life in prehistoric Ukraine - Sarah Ledogar
Wednesday 27th April, 2016.
The spread of agriculture and pastoralism and how these technologies influenced prehistoric lifeways culturally, environmentally, and biologically has interested researchers for centuries. Eastern Europe was one path the movement of people and ideas took from the Fertile Crescent into the rest of Europe and parts of western Asia. Here, I present case studies on the Tripolye Culture from the Late Neolithic/Copper Age site Verteba Cave located in western Ukraine. I illustrate some of the cultural and biological changes following the adoption of agropastoralism in this region using data on human health, economic and symbolic animal use, and interpersonal violence.
Sarah Ledogar is a PhD candidate at the University at Albany and Doctoral Fellow at the New York State Museum. She is an anthropological archaeologist interested in studying prehistoric animal use using geochemical and zooarchaeological analyses. She works primarily in Ukraine, but she has also worked on projects in Northeast America and Mexico. She has an MA in Anthropology with a focus in biological anthropology from University at Albany, and BAs in Anthropology and Mathematics from Syracuse University.
Hominin feeding biomechanics and human craniofacial evolution - Justin Ledogar
Wednesday 30th March, 2016.
The evolution of the modern human cranium is characterized by a reduction in the relative size of the feeding system. Compared with australopiths, an extinct group of early hominins from which modern humans are likely to be descended, humans exhibit marked reductions in the size of the facial skeleton, postcanine teeth, and the muscles involved in biting and chewing. These changes are often thought to reflect a shift toward eating foods that were less mechanically challenging to consume and/or were pre-orally processed using tools. However, the biomechanical consequences of evolutionary changes in human craniofacial form remain poorly understood. Were our fossil relatives truly exceptional in their ability to fracture hard foods? Was human facial reduction associated with decreases in facial strength and/or the ability to produce high biting forces? Here, I use finite element analysis to examine the feeding biomechanics of a morphologically diverse sample of human crania alongside a sample of closely-related taxa, including modern chimpanzees and fossil hominin species.
Justin Ledogar received his PhD from the University at Albany in 2015. He has held a postdoctoral position at UNE in the Function, Evolution and Anatomy Research (FEAR) Lab since 2015. Justin is a biological anthropologist, with a primary research focus on feeding biomechanics and craniofacial evolution in living and fossil primates, including early human ancestors. In addition to primate skulls and teeth, he has studied the dietary influences on primate community structure and primate conservation biology in Suriname.
How do animals evolve on isolated islands? A palaeohistological perspective - Anneke van Heteren
Wednesday 16th March, 2016.
Unbalanced endemic island faunas lack mammalian predators, and, as a result, evolution takes courses which fundamentally differ from those on the mainland. For example, large animals, such as Hippopotamids, tend to dwarf to a fraction of their ancestor’s size once isolated. Additional key insular adaptations include heterochrony, “reversals” to an ancestral state and adaptations for low gear locomotion. How did such major size changes occur? Bone histology can be used to determine how fast and for how long an animal grew, thereby providing information on whether insular dwarfs attained their diminished size by truncating growth or by growing more slowly than their ancestor. Here, I present two case studies from the Pleistocene: a hippo (Phanourios minor) and an elephant (Elephas 0liensis). L.
Anneke van Heteren did her PhD at the University of Roehampton in London, held a postdoctoral position at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris and was awarded a fellowship from the Humboldt Foundation to conduct research at the University of Bonn (Germany). Recently, she was appointed as curator at the Zoological State Collections in Munich (Germany) from May 2016 onwards. Her research program has a broad focus, dealing with almost anything Cenozoic from cave bears to dodos.
Population and consumption: the death of nature and the failure of science - Harry Recher
Wednesday 2nd March, 2016.
This is a seminar about people; their environment, their future, and whether they will have either. Some in the audience will find my words confronting. I make no apologies. There is no time for apologies. Nor do we have choices. We act now, decisively, and with pain or we will be hated by our children’s children and all those that come after them for having destroyed the world of nature and left them a world without choice, opportunity, or freedom.
I am committed to open debate on Australia's environmental and population problems and the need to redefine national priorities in the use of Australia's natural resources. These are discussions that do not happen. To achieve this, I consider it essential to provide conservation scientists with better communication skills and to show them how to use those skills to bring environmental science, irrespective of controversy, into the community. Conservation scientists must set the agenda for society in the 21st Century in the same way that economists set the agenda for the 20th Century. If civilization is to survive, conservation scientists must be leaders and advocates in this process.
Harry Recher held positions at the Australian Museum, Sydney University, and the UNE before his appointment as Foundation Professor of Environmental Management at Edith Cowan University in 1995. Professor Recher was awarded the Order of Australia in 2004. He retired in 2003, but maintains an active research program emphasizing avian ecology and conservation.
The Changing Face, Pace and Place of Solid Waste Management - Rex Glencross-Grant
Wednesday 4th November, 2015.
The waste industry has rapidly grown with population, as has the need for experienced personnel and in particular, professional personnel. It has now reached the stage where the waste industry can be embraced as a career option and quite a lucrative one at that. However, before getting to that stage an appreciation and understanding of the waste industry and waste management is important. No longer is the mantra for municipal councils “rates, rats, roads and rubbish”. Waste management is now much more complex and involved and requires specialist skills and equipment in effectively managing it. Then there is the longer term perspective about disposing of waste and can we continue to do what we have done in the past? This seminar will address the contemporary issues surrounding solid waste management and provide a lay perspective as to where ‘your’ garbage goes when you put out your kerbside bins each week and what you can do to help better manage waste.
Rex is Convenor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Course Coordinator for the Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree. His main teaching areas are infrastructure engineering, pollution management, project management and geotechnical engineering. He has a a longstanding professional interest in waste management as an active member of the Waste Management Association of Australia. In that role he has been a national judge of waste facilities on a biennial basis since 2007 and has toured international. Prior to academia Rex worked for a state government road authority, several local government authorities, including Norfolk Island and at various stages, his own consultancy.
How was the Australian flora assembled over the last 65 million years? A molecular phylogenenetic perspective - Professor Mike Crisp
Wednesday 14th October, 2015.
Australia has a mostly dry, open, fire-shaped landscape of sclerophyllous and xeromorphic flora dominated by eucalypt and acacia trees, with diverse shrubs from a few families such as Myrtaceae, Proteaceae, and Fabaceae. Our work uses molecular phylogenies to test hypotheses derived from the fossil record. I will describe our improved understanding of the principal forces that transformed the ancestral Gondwanan rainforest through the Cenozoic to today’s vegetation.
Professor Mike Crisp studied long-term change in arid zone vegetation for his PhD at the University of Adelaide and graduated in 1976. From 1975-1989, he was a research scientist and herbarium curator at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. He was posted as the Australian Botanical Liaison Officer at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, in 1981-2. In 1990 he took up a lectureship in plant systematics in the Division of Botany and Zoology at The Australian National University, where he became head of school in 2001-3 and Professor from 2004.
Palaeontology, song cycles and conservation: tracking dinosaurs in the Kimberley - Dr Steve Salisbury
Wednesday 7th October, 2015.
The coastline of the Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberley region of WA preserves what may arguably be some of the most spectacular dinosaurian tracksites in the world. But until recently, this area was under threat from a massive industrial development worth tens of billions of dollars. The battle to conserve the ‘Dinosaur Coast’ was hard fought, but eventually won, paving the way for new research involving a fusion of palaeontology, robotics, remote sensing and indigenous knowledge. The results are helping bring the 130 million-year-old landscapes of the Dampier Peninsula back to life, and are providing valuable insights into the diversity and palaeobiology of Australia’s dinosaurs at the dawn of the Cretaceous.
Dr Steve Salisbury is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Queensland. His research focuses on the evolution of Gondwanan continental vertebrates, in particular dinosaurs and crocodilians. He is also interested in vertebrate biomechanics and using extant animals to better understand the anatomy, behaviour and evolution of extinct ones.
Misty Mountains and Moss: Frogs In search of Southeast Asian Amphibians - Dr Jodi Rowley
Wednesday 30th September, 2015.
Confronted with the highest deforestation rate on the planet, and huge over-harvesting pressure, the relatively poorly-known amphibians of Southeast Asia are being driven towards an extinction crisis. At present, one-fifth of Southeast Asian amphibians are listed as threatened, and current estimates of amphibian species numbers are serious underestimates, with new species are being continuously discovered. Our lack of knowledge of this highly threatened group of animals hinders amphibian conservation in Southeast Asia. My research strives to gain a better understanding the diversity and conservation status of amphibians in Southeast Asia, focusing on one of the most topographically diverse and populous countries - Vietnam- and to facilitate long-term amphibian biodiversity conservation. Central to my research are scientific expeditions to remote, unexplored, montane forests. These expeditions have resulted in the discovery of over a dozen new species of amphibian, including the bizarre Vampire Flying Frog (Rhacophorus vampyrus), a species with fanged tadpoles, and the tiny green-blooded Quang’s Tree Frog (Gracixalus quangi), with males that sing more like birds rather than your average frog. Local capacity building and transforming research outputs into a format useful for conservation prioritisation are also vital steps towards amphibian conservation in the region.
Dr Jodi Rowley is a conservation biologist at the Australian Museum Research Institute with a passion for amphibians and communicating biodiversity conservation. Jodi has led over 20 research expeditions throughout Southeast Asia and co-discovered more than a dozen new frog species, including the Vampire Flying Frog. Her research integrates ecological, behavioural, bioacoustic, molecular and morphological data to uncover and document amphibian biodiversity, assess population trends, and inform conservation decisions.
Fitness and social behavior in an asocial species: Highlights from 30 years of chasing red squirrels - Dr Jamie Gorrell
Wednesday 23rd September, 2015.
Untangling ecological effects from evolutionary processes remains one of the biggest challenges in wildlife studies. The Kluane Red Squirrel Project has spent the last 30 years studying the ecology, evolution and energetics of a wild population of red squirrels from the Yukon Territory of Northern Canada. Though red squirrels are classified as asocial and territorial, their surprising social structure is more complicated than expected. I will discuss these strange behaviours and other highlights from our longterm research touching on a range of topics including population dynamics, life history, reproductive investment, genetics, physiology, parasitology and plant-herbivore interactions.
Genomics to management: studies of the mountain pine beetle system in Canada - Dr Jasmine Janes
Wednesday 9th September, 2015.
Ever wondered how applicable genetic studies are to real-life management issues? I have spent the past four years at the University of Alberta in Canada addressing evolutionary questions in an irruptive forest pest using genomic methods. The mountain pine beetle is a significant economic and ecological pest that is capable of destroying millions of hectares of native forest. The most recent outbreak has resulted in a significant range expansion which has introduced the beetle to a novel host. These events provided the ideal setting for answering questions relating to natural selection, population connectivity and general biology as the mountain pine beetle experiences climatic and host shifts. The results have implications for predictive models and the management of outbreaks in North America.
The good, the bad and the ugly: a review of UNE’s recent Botswanan tour - Dr Paul McDonald and Dr Graham Hall
Wednesday 26th August, 2015.
In late June this year 12 students from UNE took part in a 16 day tour of Botswana, visiting such iconic places as the Okavango delta, Chobe River and Nxai Pan. There were incredible, close-up experiences with a raft of wildlife species, a visit to a local conservation organisation to get some African research and even a tutorial on why men should always carry a stick from the locals. In this seminar we’ll discuss some of the success stories from the trip, highlight some learning curves of relevance to future field trip organisers, and also show some of the footage and photos from what is now likely an annual tour.
IODP Expedition 354: Bengal Fan | Understanding the roof of the world from the bottom of the ocean - Dr Alan Baxter
Wednesday 12th August, 2015.
In February and March of this year a team of 30 scientists and 90 ancillary staff sailed to the northern Indian Ocean as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program's (IODP) Expedition 354: Bengal Fan. The aims of this expedition were to recover sediments eroded from the Himalaya, discover how deep marine fans are constructed and to understand how erosion, climate and tectonics have all played a part in their development. In this presentation I will talk about my experiences on the ship, how science is organised on an IODP cruise and present some preliminary results from our expedition.
Large centipedes, larger datasets and the role of morphology in the genomic era - Dr Greg Edgecombe
Wednesday 5th August, 2015.
Scolopendromorpha includes the largest and most fiercely predatory centipedes, totalling more than 700 species worldwide. Subjected to phylogenetic analysis since the late 1990s, early studies drew on small sets of external morphological characters, mostly those used in classical taxonomic works. In order to bolster the character sample, new anatomical data were worked up by systematically sampling the group’s diversity in order to formulate new characters from understudied structures/organ systems. Simultaneously, targeted sequencing of a few markers for a growing number of species provided molecular estimates of phylogeny. These have resulted in stable higher-level relationships that predict a single origin of blindness in three lineages that share this trait, and are now backed up by transcriptomic datasets sampling up to 2100+ genes that include exemplars of all major groups. The tradeoff between matrix occupancy and gene number (i.e., the amount of missing data) is explored with reference to higher-level centipede phylogeny, using morphology as the “reality check”. Explicit matrices of morphological characters and fossils coded as terminal taxa remain vital to total evidence dating/tip dating of the tree and add rigour to age constraints in node calibration approaches to dating.
Risks and rewards: the ecology of boom-bust cycles in arid Australia - Professor Chris Dickman
Wednesday 29th July, 2015.
Episodic floods or heavy rains in arid environments usually herald pulses of productivity that trigger ‘booms’ in the numbers of consumer organisms and dramatic but short-lived increases in local and regional biodiversity. But these times of reward can also be times of great risk, providing opportunities for invasive plants and animals to move into arid regions at the expense of native biota. As ‘bust’ times of low resources begin, wildfires often sweep through large areas and provide further opportunities and hazards for biota. In this talk, I will describe long-term (25-year) trends in vegetation, lizards and small mammals in the Simpson Desert, central Australia. I will also show the responses of these groups to flooding rains, droughts and wildfire, and discuss the likely effects of climate change on boom and bust cycles and the management options that may help to mitigate these effects.
Why Australia needs truffles: co-evolved interactions of fungi, animals and plants in an era of climate warming - Professor Jim Trappe
Wednesday 15th July, 2015.
Over the last 80 million years, Australia’s separation from other continents and it’s changing to ever warmer and drier climate has selected for endemic taxa adapted to hot, dry climates and wildfire. The major Australian tree species depend on mycorrhizal fungi as is true for the rest of the world, but unusual numbers of Australian mycorrhizal fungi have evolved adaptations to its climate. Ectomycorrhizal fungi common to the Myrtaceae and Casuarinaceae include an extraordinary diversity of truffle species that fruit below ground for spore production. These are protected from heat, drought and fire that can kill above-ground mushrooms. Moreover, truffles are a major food resource for many animals. This evolutionary trend offers important possibilities for continuing productivity of fungi, animals and plants interacting during warming climate.
Hibernation and Daily Torpor for non-Physiologists - Professor Fritz Geiser
Wednesday 1st July, 2015.
Torpor (hibernation and daily torpor) is often viewed as the domain of physiologists, but it has implications for ecologists, conservation biologists and biologists in general. Although in the past it was widely believed that the main function of torpor is energy conservation by adult, cold-climate endotherms in winter, recent evidence suggests that other functions are equally important.
Torpor, which is used by many heterothermic mammals and birds from all climate zones including the tropics, assists with long-distance migration, allows reproduction with limited or fluctuating food supply, delays parturition until conditions become more favourable for mother and offspring, and appears to increase the efficiency of energy and nutrient use during development. Further, torpor reduces water requirements and appears to ensure persistence during droughts, but interestingly also during cyclones associated with high wind and heavy rain. Even after forest fires, torpor permits survival on limited resources and the low foraging requirements resulting from torpor use reduce exposure to predators, which in turn seems to be one of the reasons for the low rates of extinction in heterothermic mammals. Thus, the functions of torpor are diverse and affect many aspects of the lives of mammals and birds.
Processes driving aquatic biodiversity: from rocks to regions - Dr Sarah Mika
Wednesday 17th June, 2015.
This seminar provides an insight into how physical and biogeochemical processes influence the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems. We use examples from current research in the Murray-Darling Basin and coastal NSW rivers to show how these processes interact across multiple scales. We start with bioregional assessments of aquatic ecosystem health. From these we identify the importance of catchment-scale drivers of biogeochemical and biological patterns. Variability in these patterns is investigated further by reach-scale assessments of fish and aquatic macroinvertebrate communities and the importance of fine-scale habitat complexity. Ultimately, the dynamic nature of rivers means that we need to understand how physical processes modify habitats over time. We use geochemical fingerprinting and innovative telemetric techniques to quantify catchment- to rock-scale changes in riverine habitats.
From farm ducks to desert nomads: the movement of arid zone waterfowl - Dr John McEvoy
Thursday 4th June, 2015
Waterfowl exploit ephemeral wetlands in arid environments and provide valuable insights into the spatial and temporal patterns of movement in nomadic species and the behavioural flexibility of avian movements.Recent La Niña conditions brought extensive flooding, a rare opportunity to investigate how weather and other environmental factors predict initiation of long distance movement toward freshly flooded habitats. I investigated the nocturnal movement of arid zone birds and their movement ecology in arid and agricultural landscapes. I will also briefly talk about our current work combining remote sensing, satellite tracking and UAV photography to accurately survey waterfowl populations.
How to build a dinosaur: digital reconstruction and biomechanical modelling in vertebrate palaeontology - Dr Stephan Lautenschlager
Thursday 21st May, 2015
By their very nature, fossils are usually incomplete and distorted and, with few exceptions, only preserve the hard parts of an extinct organism. This presents a considerable problem for the study of fossils, as information about taxonomy, behaviour and ecology are inferred from the morphology of the preserved remains. In this talk, I want to present different computational methods and techniques, how both hard- and soft tissues can be digitally reconstructed from fossils. Furthermore, different approaches are presented how this information on form can be used to infer possible function in different extinct vertebrates (cynodonts and early mammals, dinosaurs) using the engineering techniques Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Multibody Dynamics Analysis (MDA).
To meat or not to meat? New perspectives on Neanderthal diet - Dr Luca Fiorenza
Thursday 7th May, 2015.
Neanderthals are undoubtedly the most studied and best-known group in the human fossil record. Despite that, for more than 100 years since their discovery, research on Neanderthal ecology, subsistence strategies, and diet have received remarkably little attention. In this seminar Luca will dispute the commonly belief that Neanderthals were top predators who met their nutritional needs by focusing entirely on meat. This information mostly derives methods that tend to underestimate plant consumption and overestimate the intake of animal proteins. Several studies demonstrate that there is a physiological limit to the amount of animal proteins that can be consumed: exceeding these values causes protein toxicity that can be particularly dangerous to pregnant women and newborns. Consequently, to avoid food poisoning from meat-based diets, Neanderthals must have incorporated alternative food sources in their daily diets, including plant materials as well.
The Cambrian Explosion: new fossil assemblage from The Burgess Shale - Dr Robert Gaines
Thursday 23 April, 2015.
The Cambrian explosion was a singular event in the history of life on Earth, best recorded by the Burgess Shale and other deposits like it. In 2012, an extraordinary new fossil assemblage from the Burgess Shale was discovered in Kootenay National Park. This talk will provide an overview of the Marble Canyon assemblage and new insights into the Cambrian explosion.
Virtual Vertebrate Palaeontology – from scanning to motion modelling - Dr Heinrich Mallison
Thursday 16 April, 2015.
Paleontological research can greatly profit from modern digitizing and modeling techniques. Whereas nearly everyone has become familiar with CT and, more recently, microCT scanning, as well as FEA analysis, other methods are rapidly evolving but not widely known. I will describe several of them, mostly related to locomotion research, on the example of dinosaurs.
The depth distribution of soil organic carbon in the soils of NSW - Dr Nellie Hobley
Subsurface soil organic carbon (SOC) is a large but still poorly understood component of the global carbon cycle. Although land-use and climate are known to affect the content of SOC near the surface, little is known about their effect on subsurface SOC cycling. One hundred sites from across NSW representing three contrasting land-uses (native, grazed and cropped systems) were analysed for SOC content at various depths of up to 1 m and 3 parameter exponential models fitted to the results. Three machine learning algorithms were used to identify the drivers of the depth distribution and storage of SOC throughout the profile. Additionally, 12 sites were selected for radiocarbon content analysis down the soil profile, to identify the effects of land-use and climate on the age of subsurface SOC.
Fire on Earth: Evolution, Ecology and Implication for Agriculture and the Environment - A/Prof Clarke
Friday 5 December, 2014.
In this retrospective by Associate Professor Peter Clarke, he discusses how wildfire and its effect on the ecology and evolution of plants has been neglected as a global factor in the way humans manage ecosystems - including agricultural landscapes. Combined with the effect of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, increasing fire weather will constrain management options for conservation and utilization of natural resources. Major revolutions in fire science have revealed why fire and its interaction with climate and plants allow us to now predict what the future of the globe might be if we factor fire into models of climate change.
Peter has been a member of the UNE community for 21 years, amassing a vast knowledge of Australian ecosystems and their responses to fire, as well as a strong international research profile. He has served on the editorial boards of national and international journals, as well as on the NSW Scientific Committee and the Chief Scientist's Panel of Experts . Peter has published widely, including a popular guide book to beach plants.
Characterization and Evolution of Bipedal Desert Rodent Locomotion - Talia Moore
Thursday 27 November, 2014.
Talia Moore (Harvard University) - will discuss convergent bipedal rodents inhabit the deserts of Australia, North America, Africa, and Asia. I investigate whether bipedal locomotion in these creatures is an adaptive convergence using field observations, new techniques for characterizing non-steady state locomotion, and phylogenetic comparative methods. Using an integrative approach, I examine the biomechanics of bipedal locomotion in an evolutionary and behavioral context.
Assessing Invertebrate Responses to Global Warming: from individual through to biogeographic responses - A/Prof Nigel Andrew
Thursday 20th October, 2014.
A/Prof Nigel Andrew (Zoology) discusses our understanding of biotic responses to Global Warming which continues to be of the biggest issues being assessed by biologists. We are still a long way off from determining if there are underlying generalities in population, species and ecosystem responses to these rapid changes. Nigel will present some of my recent research on different ways that I have been involved in assessing these responses, A/primarily focussing on ants.
School of Ants Australia - a national citizen science project - Dr Kirsti Abbott
Thursday 20th October, 2014.
Dr Kirsti Abbott (Associate Lecturer in Zoology) discusses the School of Ants, national citizen science project and sustainable environmental education initiative launched in Australia in May 2014. It provides a ready-made inquiry-based science project with instructions and resources for teachers of school students, or as a regional activity conducted by ecological groups. It also enables the collection of large data sets on the diversity and distribution of ants across Australia, and ecological characteristics of ants that respond to changes in climate.
Resolving the identity of Himalayan Rodents and cave use by Mexican Mammals: an update on two camera-trapping projects - Associate Professor Karl Vernes
Thursday 2nd October, 2014.
This seminar by Associate Professor Karl Vernes (Ecosystem Management) provides an update on two ongoing camera trapping projects. The first aims to resolve the identity of small mammals (primarily rodents) captures on camera traps in biological corridors in Himalayan Bhutan, and the second aims to determine the use of cenote (water-filled caves) by mammals in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Both projects presented unique challenged and have different conservation objectives, but are united in only being feasible through recent technological advanced.
Can the fig-fig wasp mutualism persist in a fragmented landscape? - Professor Caroline Gross
Thursday 2nd October, 2014.
In this seminar, Professor Caroline Gross (Lecturer in Ecosystem Management) will discuss the impact between habitat fragmentation on the mutualism between the Australian endemic tree Ficus rubiginosa(Moraceae) and its fig-wasp communities, comprised of pollinator species and several species of non-pollinating fig-wasp. She will debate the asynchrony of flowering within fig trees and the role it plays in mediating impacts on the fig wasp communities and genetics of fig populations along a 200kn gradient in eastern Australia.
Macroevolution in the Underworld: large-scale patterns of morphological evolution in burrowing animals - Dr Emma Sherratt
Thursday 18th September, 2014.
Burrowing underground is a common life strategy in the animal kingdom, providing protection from changing climates and predators. I shall give an overview of my research into the morphological evolution of burrowing animals – predominantly limbless vertebrates, but with a brief diversion into molluscs. In doing so, I shall demonstrate the cutting-edge techniques I both develop and apply to address classical questions of macroevolution.
To bee or not to be – are crops pollinated by insects other than bees? - Dr Romina Rader
Thursday 4th September, 2014.
Bees are well known for their important services as crop pollinators but little is known of the contribution that other insects play in providing crop pollination services to global food crops of economic importance. In this seminar, Dr Romina Rader (Lecturer in Ecosystem Management) will give a brief overview of the current status of knowledge concerning the contribution of non-bee crop pollinators such as flies, beetles, moths and butterflies, to the pollination of Australian and global food crops.
Tracking Dinosaurs Around the World - Dr Phil Bell
Thursday 4th September, 2014.
Phil Bell is a lecturer in Earth Sciences and an internationally respected authority on dinosaurs. He has spent the past decade excavating and studying their remains in Canada, Argentina, Mongolia, and now Australia. He is also a member of the International Explorer's Club (New York), a founding member of the Northern Alberta Dinosaur Project, and was instrumental in the design and construction of the Philip J Currie Dinosaur Museum in western Canada. Phil also considers he probably has the most fun job in the world.
Mr Peter Doherty, Program Manager of the Atlas of Living Australia, CSIRO
Thursday 7th August, 2014
The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) contains information on all the known species in Australia aggregated from a wide range of data providers: museums, herbaria, community groups, government departments, individuals and universities. As a consolidated platform, ALA facilitates citizen science, outreach management and research. By bringing together data on species distribution and combining it with biodiversity images, literature, sightings, maps, research, identification tools and molecular data, the Atlas provides a biodiversity 'Yellow Pages'.
Dr Eleanor Slade, Oxford University
Thursday 31st July, 2014.
Dr Slade works on tropical ecology and conservation, with a focus on forest and agro-ecosystems. She has studied a broad range of organisms, from dung beetles to hornbills, and has been part of several major collaborative efforts.