Adventures in nutritional ecology
6 June 2014
"Nutritional ecology is so central to every aspect of life that it should be considered a foundational part of biology in the same way evolution is," said Professor David Raubenheimer, the first chair appointed to the Charles Perkins Centre.
On Friday 6 June Professor Raubenheimer will present the JD Stewart lecture and outline from his research and that of collaborators what nutritional ecologists are discovering as they investigate how nutrients influence the relationships between animals and their environment, from an ecological and evolutionary perspective.
Professor Raubenheimer has conducted groundbreaking research around the globe studying animals from gorillas to pandas, from sea otters to great white sharks, snow leopards and elephants.
His path was set when, as a master's student, he studied butterflies which exclusively fed on cyanide-producing plants. There was extensive literature written on plant toxicology but very little on the nutrients the plants provided to the animals feeding on them. The term nutritional ecology was coined in the 1980s when the importance of how animals access and use nutrients began to be understood.
"Food influences everything we do. Nutrients impact on just about every aspect of an animal's life, from reproduction to growth, resistance to disease, vulnerability to predators and, ultimately, lifespan," said Professor Raubenheimer.
Starting with examples from lab studies, and then showing how the concept of nutritional geometry helps us understand the behaviour of animals in the wild, including monkeys, baboons, gorillas and orangutans, Professor Raubenheimer will conclude by comparing the nutritional ecology of humans to these other primates.
"This new perspective can help us to understand why in recent years humans have accumulated levels of body fat unprecedented in history," said Professor Raubenheimer.
As the Leonard P Ullmann Chair in Nutritional Ecology at the Charles Perkins Centre Professor Raubenheimer works with the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science and School of Biological Sciences.
He builds links between each of these disciplines with the motivation, inherent in nutritional ecology, that research on animals and humans can be of mutual benefit.
JD Stewart is remembered as an inspirational founding member of Australia's veterinary profession and is honoured as the Faculty of Veterinary Science's first Dean through the annual JD Stewart Address.
When: Friday 6 June at 6.00pm Location: Veterinary Science Conference Centre, The University of Sydney
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