All future 2012 events

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Prawns and Probability: Model comparison approaches in collective behaviour   View Summary
9 March 2012

Presented by: Dr. Richard Mann (Uppsala University)

How do groups of animals or humans act cohesively and make collective decisions? How do complex patterns of collective motion emerge in groups of individually simple organisms? Simulation studies show that simple interaction rules between individuals and their local neighbours are sufficient to produce complex group behaviours, but the identity of these rules remains unknown. Recent studieshave focused on inferring interaction rules by analysing regularities in thegroup configuration and the looking for correlations between the motion of individuals and the local configuration of their neighbours, a so-called 'data-driven' approach.

An alternative methodology is theory-driven model comparison. Rather than looking for significant correlations between measured responses and putative cues we phrase alternative hypothesised interactions as models which predict the behaviour of individuals, using a Bayesian model comparison to select between competing theories. Crucially we ask for more than just a rejection of the null hypothesis - we must show that our theories describe the data better. In this talk I will show examples of this approach in the context of the collective motion of glass prawns; co-navigation in homing pigeons; interactions between mosquito fish; decision making in damsel fish; and theonset and cessation of audience applause and I will discuss how theory, model comparison and data-driven research can be combined to best effect.

The behavioural and evolutionary ecology of a sexually cannibalistic praying mantid   View Summary
16 March 2012
Dr Katherine Barry (Department Biological Sciences, Macquarie University) hosted by Peter Banks.
The demographic and genetic trajectory of the human sex ratio from conception to birth   View Summary
23 March 2012

Presented by Dr Steven Orzack (Fresh Pond Research Institute, Cambridge, USA). Hosted by Associate Professor Peter Banks.

I describe the demographic and genetic trajectory of the human sex ratio from conception to birth by analyzing data derived from 1) three-day-old embryos, 2) induced abortions, 3) fetuses that have undergone chorionic-villus sampling or amniocentesis and 4) US census records of fetal mortality and live births. This data set is the most comprehensive and largest ever assembled to estimate the sex ratio at conception and the sex ratio trajectory and is the first to include all of these types of data. This analysis provides fundamental new insights into early human development. - Dr Steven Orzack
Interactions across the symbiosome membrane in soybean nodules   View Summary
30 March 2012

Dr Penny Smith hosted by Robyn Overall

Nitrogen is crucial for plant growth and nitrogen fertilizers still make large contributions to agricultural production. However substituting biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) for fertilizer N is a key part of improving the sustainability of agricultural production owing to the energy intensity of fertilizer production and issues associated with excessive fertilizer use. BNF relies on symbioses between legumes and rhizobia, and allows plants to growwithout N fertilisers. Arguably BNF is perhaps the most economically important of all symbioses.

The symbiosome is the central part of this interaction; it is an organelle surrounded by the plant-derived symbiosome membrane (SM) in which rhizobia fix atmospheric N. Once engulfed in the SM the rhizobia rely on the plant for all their nutrients and this nutrient exchange across the SM effectively controls thesymbiosis.

We have been characterising the symbiosome membrane and the transport proteins that are present on the membrane. In exchange for nitrogen fixed by the bacteroid, the plant provides reduced carbon, probably in the form of malate, to the bacteroids, as well as other solutes including iron, sulphate and zinc. Although characterised biochemically, the molecular nature of most of the transporters is not known. We have used a proteomic approach to identify components of the soybean SM and are now characterizing the proteins and the genes encoding them by utilising information from both the genome and the transcriptome. We have a particular interest in potential transporters for malate from the POT/PTR family and metal transporters. We are using GFP-fusions to confirm their localisation to the SM, gene silencing to investigate their importance to the symbiosome and heterologous expression in yeast to functionally characterise the transporters.

Scaling up invasive species control strategies: from small community-led blocks to landscape scales   View Summary
20 April 2012

Dr Andrea Byrom (Research Portfolio Leader - Weeds, Pests & Diseases, Manaaki Whenua / Landcare Research, New Zealand) hosted by Peter Banks

Management of invasive species is rarely conducted at a landscape scale (i.e. tens of thousands of hectares). More typically, pests are managed intensively in patches that are deemed to be of high importance, with little or no management in the surrounding matrix. This may lead to persistence of some native biota only in areas where invasive animals are controlled, with occasional dispersal between patches. This is known in ecological theory as a metapopulation.

How can we strengthen the metapopulation approach to improve outcomes of invasive species management for native biodiversity? Increasingly, community conservation initiatives in New Zealand and Australia are involved in preserving, restoring and even re-introducing native biota, often in small patches in their 'backyard. Therefore, one of the most obvious practical means of adopting a metapopulation paradigm is to use such community-led blocks as source areas or stepping stones, in order to manage invasive species and native biota at a landscape scale. This means that both large and small sites, from small community-led initiatives to large-scale agency-funded pest control operations, all have the potential to contribute to survival of the metapopulation, with immigrants from neighbouring patches providing a 'rescue effect'. The resilience of the metapopulation is therefore much greater than that of a single, isolated population.

With the aid of several practical examples, we show that in New Zealand and Australia we can, with smarter use of existingpest control tools, start to think big, and that we can establish integrated networks of pest management zones that facilitate dispersal of native species through landscapes. Conversely, pest control programmes can be designed to reduce connectivity for invasive species. The goal is to improve the timing and location of pest control to promote metapopulations of native species, re-establish large-scale ecosystem processes, and hence provide greater overall benefits for biodiversity.

Why small mammals matter: land use change, climate change, and outbreaks of voles, rabbits and pikas   View Summary
27 April 2012

Prof Roger Pech (The School of Biological Sciences Research, The University of Auckland) hosted by Peter Banks.

Small mammals play a central role in ecological processes that sustain, and sometimes degrade, natural ecosystems. After a decade of suppression by rabbit haemorrhagic disease, rabbits are re-emerging in New Zealand and Australia as serious agricultural and environmental pests. In western China, some species of small mammals, particularly those with eruptive population dynamics, are controlled to reduce competition with livestock for scarce forage resources, to stop soil erosion, and to prevent spill-over tohumans of diseases such as bubonic plague.

Three examples will be used to illustrate how the population ecology of small mammals reflects ecosystem-wide changes, including the potential effects of climate change. The examples are Brandt's voles in Inner Mongolia, rabbits in semi-arid Australia, and plateau pikas on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Keast Lecture: Exploring the complex visual signals of Australian Bowerbirds   View Summary
4 May 2012

Professor John A. Endler (Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University) presents the 2012 Keast Lecture: Exploring the complex visual signals of Australian Bowerbirds.

A bower built and decorated by a male bowerbird
A bower built and decorated by a male bowerbird

'Display homes' were used in nature long before property developers and builders took them on as a sales strategy. Bowerbird males build and decorate bowers which are used only for attracting mates and mating - not to raise young. Also, just like property agents, these show-off male birds use perspective illusions to make things seem bigger than they are! The Bowerbirds do this by placing grey and white objects at a particular distance from the bower entrance. The bigger the object the further away from the entrance it is placed. This placement results in a more even background pattern as seen by the female within the bower. This fascinating behaviour is the only use of forced perspective outside of humans!

Professor John A. Endler has been invited to deliver the Keast lecture in 2012 to describe and explain the perspective illusions used by male Bowerbirds. Professor Endler's main interest is in the interaction between ecology, evolution, neuroethology and behaviour. He recently moved from the University of Exeter to Deakin University, as a founding member of the Centre for Integrative Ecology.

This event is hosted by Professor Robyn Overall on Friday 4 May 2012.

Examining microRNA function in plants   View Summary
11 May 2012
Dr Tony Millar (Research School of Biology, Australian National University) hosted by Mary Byrne Of the many classes of recently discovered non-coding RNAs, microRNAs (miRNAs) have been the most extensively studied, where they have been functionally implicated in controlling a multitude of critical processes in both plants and animals. Many of the principles and claims underlying the specificity, mechanism and function of plant miRNAs have been derived from bioinformatics predictions, global studies and gain-of-function approaches. To assess the validity of these principles, we have extensively examined the miR159 system in [[i||Arabidopsis]], one of the most highly conserved and abundant miRNA in plants. Using a loss-of-function and transgenic approaches we have examined its specificity, mode of action and function. I will discuss our findings in context of the general principles of miRNA regulation in plants and approaches that have been used to define them.
Flock of Dodos: film screening and discussion panel   View Summary
14 May 2012

Randy Olsen is a filmmaker whose work addresses contemporary controversies in science, including the evolution vs. intelligent design debate that is current in the USA. His feature documentary, Flock of Dodos: the Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus uses humorous animation in addition to extensive interviews to explore how and why intelligent design has emerged and how and why debate about evolution is influenced by politics, educational policy, and scientific and popular culture.

Randy Olsen joins Sydney Ideas for a screening of Flock of Dodos and for a panel discussion and Q & A about the intelligent design debate from a range of perspectives.


  • Professor Paul Griffiths, University Professorial Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy and Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney and Professor of Philosophy of Science, ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society, University of Exeter
  • Professor Ben Oldroyd, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney
  • Randy Olson, scientist-turned-filmmaker and director of Flock of Dodos
  • Dr Steven Orzack, Fresh Pond Research Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA and visiting fellow at the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science
Plants bite back: The role of plant defences in the demography of mammalian herbivores   View Summary
18 May 2012

Jane DeGabriel, Conservation Policy Unit, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Nutrition underpins the fitness of herbivores, limiting the potential for population growth, yet there remain relatively few examples linking food quality to demography in wild mammal populations. Plant defence compounds reduce the nutritional quality of food available to herbivores, so we might expect that spatial and temporal variation in the distribution of these compounds should have a strong effect on individual life histories. I will present examples from two contrasting herbivore systems to demonstrate the effects of variation in plant defence on the mammal demography: common brushtail possums feeding on eucalypts containing tannins in northern Australia, and field voles feeding on silica-rich grasses in northern England. I will also discuss the predicted effects of climate change on leaf chemistry and the implications for herbivore populations.

Ancient lineages with recent histories: insights into the evolution of ferns and cycads   View Summary
25 May 2012
Dr Nathalie Nagalingum (Royal Botanic Garden Sydney) hosted by Murray Henwood The ferns and cycads have ancient fossil records, and cycads in particular have captured wide interest as survivors and relicts from the age of dinosaurs. However, fossil-calibrated molecular phylogenies demonstrate that living cycad species are not at all ancient. Instead they diversified recently, only ~12 million years ago and ~55 million yearsafter the extinction of the dinosaurs. The parallel radiations within multiple genera are nearly synchronous and are global. Just as remarkably, they ceased to diversify. These findings indicatethat cycads likely responded to a change in global climate occurring 12 million years ago. Despite their antiquity, ferns are the second-most diverse plantgroup after flowering plants. Using an Australia-wide dataset for ferns, a phylogeny is used to understand current diversity and patterns of endemism.
Evolution of Australian Bladderworts (Utricularia; Lentibulariaceae)   View Summary
1 June 2012
Dr Richard Jobson (Royal Botanic Garden Sydney) hosted by Murray Henwood
Postgraduate Research Showcase   View Summary
14 June 2012

Join us for this important event on the School's calendar, which showcases the abundant talent of the School's postgraduates. This is a great opportunity for you to interact with our Postgraduate students and learn about the wide range of projects they are researching.

Co-Chairs - Dr Mary Byrne, Associate Professor Ross Coleman and Associate Professor Peter Banks.

Morning tea, lunch & refreshments provided.



9.00-9.20am Registration

9.30am Welcome by the Chair of the Postgraduate Research Committee
Associate Professor Murray Henwood

Ella Brear
Characterisation of candidate symbiosome membrane proteins and their role in the legume-rhizobium symbiosis

Matthew Hansen
One amongst many: exploring the relationship between individuals and the group in fish shoals

Amanda Huen
Small Silencers: Mobility of Small RNAs in Nicotiana benthamiana

Petah Low
How do plant volatiles influence the interactions between plants, insect herbivores and their natural enemies?

11.00am Morning Tea

Phuc Vuong Nguyen
A theoretical framework for understanding population dynamics in a variable environment

Aline Martinez
Grazer-grazer interactions and habitat structure in rock pools and surrounding open rock shore

Uditha Magammanage Wijethunga
Hopping South: how will cane toads deal with the challenges arising from their invasion of NSW?

Helena Chan
Efficient inheritance mechanism of multiresistance plasmids in Staphylococcus aureus


Timothy Lee
Sex and caste determination in the Australian termites Schedorhinotermes intermedius and Coptotermes lacteus

Lizzy Lowe
The effect of urbanisation on the diversity, abundance and condition of spiders

Sebastian Duchene Garzon
Understanding evolutionary rate variation in viruses

Sonia Esteves Brazao
The nutritional ecology of limpets onNew South Walesrocky shores

2.50pm 2nd Year PosterPresentations

Clarissa Fraser
Trying to fit in: do barnacles limit limpet orientation?

Yaquiong Li
Extinction coefficient for red-shifted chlorophylls: Chlorophyll d and Chlorophyll f

Martyna Molak
Estimating evolutionary timescales using ancient DNA: Accounting for uncertainty in sample ages

Jacquelyn Simpson
Understanding plant uptake of organic and inorganic nitrogen for optimal fertiliser application in forestry plantations

Helen Smith
Replacing Natives with Aliens: Wildlife responses to black rat invasion in the Sydney Harbour National Park

Ximonie Clark
Size does matter

Frances Goudie
The evolution of the Clone: Selection maintains heterozygosity in a clonal population of honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis)

Linda Henderson
Effect of copper, lead and zinc on growth and zoospore release in four zoosporic fungi species

Rodrigo Siqueira Reis
Determining the structure and targets of the viral F-box-like silencing suppressor P0 proteins

Alvina Sarosh
Functional Dissection of the pSK41 Centromere

4.15pm Refreshments

RSVP by 6 June 2012 to

Special Introductory Seminar by Professor Iain Couzin   View Summary
31 July 2012

Join us in welcoming the Murray lecturer for 2012, Professor Iain Couzin. Heis visiting the School of Biological Sciences from Monday 30 July to Friday 10 August. This introductory lunchtime seminar on the 31st of July is an opportunity to meet Professor Couzin and learn about his research before the public lecture on the 8th of August. It is being heldespecially for members of the School, but is open for all.

Can local adaptation save sockeye salmon from climate change?   View Summary
3 August 2012

Dr. Erika Eliason, Postdoctoral Fellow with Frank Seebacher

Every year, millions of sockeye salmon return to the Fraser River (BC, Canada) toperform their once-in-a-lifetime upriver spawning migration. There are over 100 geographically and genetically distinct populations within the Fraser Riverwatershed, each of which experiences unique upriver migration conditions. Climate change-induced increases in summer river temperature have been associated with exceptionally high mortality in migrating salmon, raising conservation concerns. This research examined thermal tolerance and local adaptation across sockeye salmon populations. Fraser River sockeye salmon populations appear to have physiologically adapted to their local upriver migration environment. In addition, some populations may be more susceptible to continued river warming, which has clear conservation concerns for biodiversity.

Murray Lecture: Crowd Control - The Principles of Collective Behaviour   View Summary
8 August 2012

Professor Iain D. Couzin (Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, USA) presents the 2012 Murray Lecture.

Professor Iain D. Couzin
Professor Iain D. Couzin

Collective organisation is everywhere, both around us and within us. Our brains are composed of billions of interconnected cells communicating with chemical and electrical signals. We are integrated in our own collective human society. Elsewhere in the natural world a flock of birds arcs and ripples while descending to roost, and a fish school convulses, as if it is a single entity, when attacked by a predator. How can animal groups move in unison? How does individual behaviour produce group dynamics? Do animal groups function as a "collective mind"? In his lecture Iain Couzin will provide a visual guide to his research on the principles of collective behaviour in crowds, flocks, schools and swarms including the critical role that uninformed, or weakly-opinionated, individuals play in democratic consensus decision-making.

The lecture will be followed by a variety of related interactive demonstrations and experiments as well as a cocktail reception. Bookings are essential.


To make a booking, fill out the online booking form or email with your name, the names of the lecture you wish to attend, and number of seats required (limited to 5 per booking except for School groups). Bookings can also be made by calling (02) 9351 3021 between 10am and 3pm.

Drivers of biological invasion: what we are learning from marine systems   View Summary
17 August 2012

Presented by A/Prof. Emma Johnston, Biological, Environmental, & Earth Sciences, UNSW. Host: Figueira lab.

When an invader reaches a new location, multiple biotic and abiotic factors can influence its establishment and spread. Biotic processes such as competition, facilitation and predation can eitherlimit or promote invasion, as can emergent community-level traits such as species diversity. Abiotic factors are also important, as disturbances regulate resource availability and environmental conditions determine the suitability of an invader to a new environment. Complexities arise when biotic and abiotic factors are influenced by anthropogenic activities. Anthropogenic activities createextreme environments that are contaminated, disturbed, modified and hyper-connected. A mechanistic understanding of the role of anthropogenic activity in driving invasion is vital to the development of management responses. I discuss recent empirical investigations of the drivers of non-indigenous species success in marine systems. I attempt to prioritise the factors that influence invasion, identify important interactions and present a scan of potential management solutions.

Honours Introductory Seminar - Semester 2, 2012   View Summary
23 August 2012

2.10-2.22pm Stuart Foggo -C.Taylor / R.Major (Aus. Museum)
Patterns in agonistic behaviour of the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala)

2.22-2.34pm Charles Foster-S.Ho / B.Conn / M.Henwood
Systematic relationships within Logania (Loganiaceae): how do they relate to the geological history of Australia?

2.34-2.46pm Anna O'Brien -A.Ward / M.Beekman
Learning ability, leadership characteristics and the dispersal of information in Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)

2.46-2.58pm Song-Hee Schumacher -A.Ward / R.Coleman
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. How do animals learn and use information in social groups?

2.58-3.10pm Steven Hawes -W.Figuera
Modelling the connectivity between tropical and temperate coral reefs for several coral reef fish species in NSW, a coupled physical-biological approach.

3.10-3.22pm Jesse Hawley -S.Wilder / S.Simpson
The impact of diet on the longevity and fecundity of a carnivore

Afternoon Tea 3.22-3.40pm

3.40-3.52pm Claire MacAlpine -D.Hochuli / S.Wilder
The effects of exotic plants on the distribution and prey capture of Australian crab spiders (Thomisidae)

3.52-4.04pm Samantha McCann -M.Greenlees / R.Shine
Thermal tolerance and microhabitat use of cane toads (Rhinella marina) at high altitudes in the Border Ranges National Park, NSW

4.04-4.16pm Jessie McKenna -M.Thompson / K.Belov
Linking angiogenesis, viviparity and cancer: using lizards to investigate VEGF111

4.16-4.28pm Katherine Roth -B.Oldroyd / M.Beekman
Testing assumptions about the Reproductive Ground Plan Hypothesis for the evolution of worker sterility in the honey bee Apis mellifera?

4.28-4.40pm Emma Spencer -M.Crowther / C.Dickman
Does Fire Influence Responses of Australian Fauna in the Simpson Desert to the Odour of Introduced and Native Predators?

4.40-4.52pm Rachel Tucker -B.Oldroyd / T. Latty / M.Duncan (UWS)
Developing a pheromone trap for Apis mellifera queens

4.52-5.04pm Dan Watts -D.Hochuli
The effect of artificial night lighting on the ecology of nocturnal insects


Isolation breeds naivety   View Summary
24 August 2012

Isolation breeds naivety: Island living robs Australian varanid lizards of toad-toxin immunity via four-base-pair mutation

Beata Ujvari1, Hee-chang Mun2, Arthur Conigrave2, Jens Osterkamp3, Petter Halling3 and Thomas Madsen2,4

  1. Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
  2. School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
  3. Faculty of Medicine, Lund University, S-22362 Lund, Sweden
  4. School of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia

Since their introduction to the toad-free Australian continent cane toads (Bufo marinus) have caused a dramatic increase in naïve varanid mortality when these large lizards attempt to feed on this toxic amphibian. In contrast Asian-African varanids, co-evolved with toads, are resistant to toad toxin which targets the a1 subunit of sodium-potassium-ATPase enzyme. Sequencing of the H1-H2 domain, coding for the a1 subunit, revealed a four base-pair mutation (resulting in three amino acid changes) between the two varanid groups. The phenotypic effect of the mutations was investigated in Human Embryonic Kidney 293 (HEK293) cells stably transfected with the Australian and the Asian-African variants of the H1-H2 domain. The transfection experiment revealed a 3000-fold reduction in resistance to toad toxin in the HEK293 cells containing the Australian varanid sequence. Asian varanids are estimated to have colonized Australia 10-15 million years ago, and hence the first migrants were most likely resistant to toad toxin. Bufonid anurans are, however, not native to Australia, and the high susceptibility of Australian varanids suggest that they have lost their resistance to toad toxins. Our study provides a clear link between genotype and phenotype, a critical step in understanding the evolution of phenotypic diversity.

Responses of a montane fauna to 100 years of climate change   View Summary
31 August 2012

Prof. Craig Moritz, Research School of Biology, ANU. Hosts: Shine/Thompson labs.

In the early 20th Century, Joseph Grinnell and colleagues in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley had the foresight to establish a rich and specimen-backed database of distributions of small mammals and birds throughout California, including transects spanning the steep environmental gradients of the Sierra Nevada. Some 80-100 years later, the MVZ has completed resurveys of these transects to document range dynamics in response to environmental change. After applyingrigorous occupancy-based models to control for differences in detectability, we observed a preponderance of upwards shifts of small mammals, consistent with response to increased minimum temperatures. For some formally high elevation species, this has resulted in severe range contractions. By comparison, birds are as likely to have moved down as up; this heterogeneity appears to reflect response to local change in either temperature or precipitation or to both. The challenge now is to understand heterogeneity of species' responses. To that end current studies are integrating genomic, isotopic, physiological and ecological approaches, including novel uses of museum specimens.

SIMS Harbour Hike 2012   View Summary
2 September 2012

Support the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) and raise funds to help protect and preserve Sydney Harbour by signing up for the SIMS Harbour Hike this Father's Day, Sunday 2 September, 2012.

SIMS Harbour Hike is a community walking event
SIMS Harbour Hike is a community walking event

The SIMS Harbour Hike is an 11km easy to moderate walk from under the Sydney Harbour Bridge at Kirribilli, around the breathtaking foreshore paths on the lower north shore to Clifton Gardens Reserve, Chowder Bay, Mosman.

Enter a team

Enter a team with Dad, family, friends, or work mates and join this fun, healthy community event. Teams will answer questions about Sydney Harbour's marine life and history at ten checkpoints along the course. The teams with the most accurate answers will go in the draw to win great prizes!

Register your team at the Harbour Hike website:


Not participating but still want to support the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and be part of the Harbour Hike fun? Why not volunteer to join the SIMS Harbour Hike volunteer team? University of Sydney students are especially encouraged to volunteer.

For more information on how to volunteer contact SIMS on 9969 2664 or

After the Hike

The fun will continue at the finish line at Clifton Gardens Reserve with a marine-themed festival featuring sustainable and organic fresh food stalls and live entertainment as well as marine displays hosted by SIMS Scientists. Children's activities include face painting, sea kayaking by Land's Edge and indigenous tours hosted by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The event is open to the first 4,000 people to register - each participant receives an event passport and a free ferry ticket to take you from the finish line at Clifton Gardens Reserve, back to the start line at Kirribilli.

For more information and to register now visitwww.harbourhike.comor join the Facebook page at

SIMS is a collaborative research institute between Sydney's four main universities Macquarie University, University of NSW, University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney.

Climate-driven population divergence in sex-determining systems   View Summary
7 September 2012

Presented by Dr Eric Wapstra, School of Zoology, The University of Tasmania. Host: Shine lab.

Sex determination is a fundamental biological process, yet its mechanisms are remarkably diverse. In vertebrates, sex can be determined byinherited genetic factors or by the temperature experienced during embryonic development. However, the evolutionary causes of this diversity remain unknown. Here we show that live-bearing lizards (Niveoscincus ocellatus) at different climatic extremes of the species' distribution differ in their sex-determining mechanisms, with temperature-dependent sex determination in lowlands and genotypic sex determination in highlands. A theoretical model parameterized with field data accurately predicts this divergence in sex-determining systems and the consequence thereof for variation in cohort sex ratios among years. We show that divergent natural selection on sex determination across altitudes is caused by climatic effects on lizard life history and variation in the magnitude of between-year temperature fluctuations. Our results establish an adaptive explanation for intra-specific divergence in sex-determining systems driven by phenotypic plasticity and ecological selection, thereby providing a unifying framework for integrating the developmental, ecological and evolutionary basis for variation in vertebrate sex determination. New directions for this research will be provided.

Eucalypt genetic influences   View Summary
14 September 2012
Eucalypt genetic influences: biotic interactions, extended effects and stability in variable environments

Dr Julianne O'Reilly Wapstra, School of Plant Science, The University of Tasmania. Host: A/Prof. Clare McArthur.

Genetic variation in traits of dominant tree species can influence biotic interactions and have extended community and ecosystem effects. This talk will bring together research on plant/herbivore interactions, quantitative and molecular genetics, community ecology and foliar secondary chemistry to examine the effects of genetic variation in eucalypts on associated biota. The persistent stability of these genetic effects under variable environmental conditions will also be discussed.

Semester 1 Honours Final Seminar   View Summary
20 September 2012

2:10pm, 20 September 2012

2.10-2.25pm Tracey Wright - N. Firth
Detecting the proteins that interact with replication initiator DnaA in Staphylococcus aureus

2.25-2.40pm Deborah Romero- P. Banks
Reinvasion of black rats across the urban/bushland interface: A test of the ideal-free distribution

2.40-2.55pm Daniel McLoughlin- N. Firth/ S Kwong
Prevalence and Stability of the CRISPRs in Staphylococcus

2.55-3.10pm Melanie Laird -M. Thompson / C. Murphy / B. McAllan
Uterine changes in marsupial dunnarts throughout pregnancy

3.10-3.25pm Ryan Keith- D. Hochuli / R. Coleman
Wrack and ruin? Impacts of coastal remodelling on arthropods at the land-sea interface

3.25-3.45pm Afternoon Tea

3.45-4.00pmStephanie Garside- W. Figuera / F. Seebacher
The physiological and behavioural responses of Tropical Damselfish to the temperate Sydney environment

4.00-4.15pm Andrew Daly- P. Banks
The role of olfactory cues in predator-prey interactions

4.15-4.30pm Elyce Coluccio- C. McArthur / P. Banks
Frugivory by rodents in a temperate eucalyptus woodland

4.30-4.45pm Heather Clarksen- M. Crowther / M. Fillios
Answering archaeological questions through modern ecological modeling: exposing the effect of the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) on Holocene human subsistence

Refreshments provided

Life, sex, songs, scrat and the sponge: Australia's Guinness book of evolutionary records   View Summary
21 September 2012

Presented by Prof. Mike Archer, Biological, Environmental, & Earth Sciences, UNSW. Host: MEEP lab.

Reflecting the inappropriate cultural cringe Australians have endured since Europeans arrived, the natural productions of Australia for too long have also been regarded as somehow less remarkable than those that evolved in other lands. In reality, many if not most of the major events in the history of life on Earth took place in Australia. Steadily accumulating discoveries in the fossil record and in the living world make it increasingly clear that a surprising number of the world's first, biggest and most extraordinary creatures evolved here. Far from being the evolutionary backwater some northerners have presumed, this place records the first traces of life, the first sex, the first animal, the first tetrapod, the biggest dinosaur, the biggest bird, the first songbird, the most ferocious mammalian carnivore and many other awesome creatures that demonstrate that Australia has punched well above its weight in churning out record-breakingbeasts that should humble the rest of Creation.

Do spiders age? Tales from a rather enjoyable field study   View Summary
5 October 2012

A/Prof. Mariella Herberstein, Dept of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University. Host: Beelab.

Patterns of senescence and its mechanisms are best understood for vertebrates and a limited number of other model species but actual observations of senescence in invertebrates in the field are rare. We conducted controlled field observations where we released marked adult orb web spiders of known age into a field site and monitored them until they disappeared. On a weekly basis we monitored several performance parameters such as web size and quality as well as attack behaviour. We also collected any egg sacks the spiders produced during our observations. We were able to follow some individuals up to three months in the field. We will discuss if there is any evidence of ageing in the field.

Constraints on locomotor performance in animals: implications for behaviour and fitness   View Summary
12 October 2012

Presented by A/Prof. Frank Seebacher, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney.

Locomotor performance is essential for activity and behavioural interactions, so thatconstraints on locomotor performance can affect ecology and fitness. Constraints on locomotor performance reside principally in muscle calcium handling dynamics, as well as in metabolic capacities that support muscle function. I will present recent work on the mechanisms that modulate muscle function and metabolism, and I give examples on how these may influence behavioural interactions and fitness.

Invasive fire ants get a helping hand from little sugary friends   View Summary
19 October 2012

Presented by Dr Shawn Wilder, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney

Mutualisms strongly influence the structure and function of ecosystems. Recent evidence also suggests that mutualisms may contribute to the success of introduced species. In a series of laboratory and field experiments spanning two continents, I tested the role of mutualist-provided carbohydrates for the success of introduced populations of red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta, in the USA. My results show that fire ants have greater access to mutualisms in their introduced range, that mutualist-provided carbohydrates are valuable resources for colony growth, and that monopolization of mutualisms by fire ants may have negative effects on native ants.

Celebrate Biology: Your Natural Selection   View Summary
19 October 2012

The School of Biological Sciences turns 50 and you are invited to the party!

Celebrate with former classmates and staff over some nibbles and a glass of bubbly.

The Macleay Museum will be opened exclusively forpartygoersso that you can take your friends and family on a trip down memory lane at the Meaning of Life: 50 years of biological sciences exhibition.

Family-friendly activities include a jumping castle,bush band,balloons and birthday cake.

This is a free event but it is ticketed.Register and print out your ticket now to avoid disappointment.

Bring your ticket to the registration table on the night for your chance to win a retro artefact.

Light and photosynthesis   View Summary
24 October 2012

Join us for this special lecture by Dr Min Chen as part of the 50th birthday celebrations for the School of Biological Sciences.

Dr Min Chen
Dr Min Chen

Sunlight is a free energy source and photosynthesis is the most important chemical reaction on Earth. Sunlight has proved inexhaustible over geological time and the amount radiating onto the earth's surface vastly surpasses the biological energy needs of all life forms on earth, including man, animals and plants.

Photosynthesis is the biological process that uses solar energy to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and convert them into energy-rich organic carbon, to provide the energy for most life forms on earth, and to generate the oxygen (O2) we breathe.

Harvesting the sun is, increasingly, becoming an option for sustainable energy for mankind's needs: directly by improving biomass production of photosynthetic organisms, indirectly by coupling it to the production of hydrogen fuel or, conceptually, by using photosynthetic strategies for technological solutions based on non-biological or hybrid materials.

In the lecture, I will discuss the natural photosynthetic processes and the varieties and modifications to this process which enable the maximal use of sunlight. Including the implications for technological development arising from novel photopigments that extend the usable spectral range.

Antimicrobials in Social Insect Evolution   View Summary
26 October 2012

Presented by Prof. Andrew Beattie, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University. Host: Dr Adrienne Grant.

Fungi specialised to attack insects were already present in the environments in which social insects first evolved and we hypothesised that antifungal defences were obligatory and became stronger with group size and increasing social complexity. We compared the activity of antifungal compounds against the entomopathogen Cordyceps bassiana in several social insect groups representing gradients of increasing group size and social complexity. The results were consistent with this hypothesis and suggest a new and fundamental role for microbial pathogens in the evolution of socialinsects.

Life on the edge: the evolutionary biology of viruses   View Summary
2 November 2012

Presented by Prof. Eddie Holmes, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney

RNA viruses are of great biological importance because of their role as agents of human disease and their presumed similarity to some of the earliest replicating molecules. I will first present an overview of the 'rules' of evolutionary change in RNA viruses. The central concept here is that the major aspects of RNA evolution and life-history - from the way they organize their genomes to their ability to jump species boundaries - reflect an intrinsically high rate of mutation. For example, I will show that the process of genome evolution in RNA viruses is in a large part determined by a remarkably high rate of deleterious mutation, which acts to put a cap on maximum genome size. In the second part of my seminar I will examine how viruses emerge in new hosts and how virulence might evolve following a host jump. The key question here is what can we predict about viral emerge? Mathematical models suggest that when viruses like HIV or avian influenza jump into human populations, evolution in the subsequent epidemic(s) can make the disease more harmful or less harmful depending on the biological particulars. I will examine the canonical case study of the evolution of virulence - the attenuation of myxoma virus following its introduction as a biological control into the European rabbit populations of Australia and Europe. I will use comparative genomics on archived isolates to determine the molecular changes that underpin the virulence evolution seen in the two epidemics, in turn making general conclusions about the evolution of pathogen emergence and virulence.

Postgraduate Research Showcase   View Summary
8 November 2012

Join us for this important event on the School's calendar, which showcases the abundant talent of the School's postgraduates. This is a great opportunity for you to interact with our Postgraduate students and learn about the wide range of projects they are researching.

Abstracts: Download

Co-Chairs TBA


1.15pm - 1.30pm Registration

1.30pm Welcome by the Chair of the Postgraduate Research Committee
Associate Professor Peter Banks

Winner of the 2012 Postgraduate Excellence Prize announced
Presented by Head of School, Professor Robyn Overall

Oliver Paul
Molecular Systematic and Biogeography of Polyosma (Escalloniaceae) in Australia and Papua New Guinea

Alicia Burns
The functions and mechanisms of behavioural syndromes: How individual personality affects the behaviour of a group

Ensiyeh Ghanizadeh Kazerouni
Do UV radiation and temperature interact to determine animal performance?

Sarsha Gorissen
Conserving the endangered fauna of highland swamps

3.10pm Afternoon Tea

Oliver Griffith
Function and evolution of placentation in reptiles

Siti Nurfadhlina Mohd Noor
Characterisation of transport proteins on the symbiosome membrane of soybean (Glycine max)

Mang Shi
Patterns and Determinants of Cross-Species Virus Transmission and Emergence

4.30pm 2nd Year Poster Presentations

5.15pm Refreshments

Turning back the tide of American mink invasion   View Summary
19 November 2012

Turning back the tide of American mink invasion at unprecedented scales in partnership with communities: benefits and limitations of volunteer-based invasive management

Presented by: Professor Xavier Lambin, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen

Successful eradications of harmful invasive species have been mostly confined to islands while control programs in mainland areas remain small, uncoordinated and vulnerable to recolonisation. We took an adaptive approach to achieve large scale eradication of invasive American mink in a mainland area in North East Scotland where this species has devastating impacts on native biodiversity. Capitalising on the convergent interests of a diverse range of local stakeholders, we created a coordinated coalition of trained volunteers to detect and trap established and recolonising mink. Volunteers adopted rafts, floating platforms with a footprint-recording plate made of moist clay and sand under a wooden tunnel. Mink rafts are designed to act both as a monitoring device and as a trapping site for American mink. Raft monitoring also provides feedback on the impact of trapping, which helps to motivate project partners.

Starting in montane headwaters, we systematically moved down river catchments, deploying mink rafts, an effective detection and trapping platform. Within 3 years, most breeding mink had been removed from 10,570km2. The project expanded further and aims to cover 20,000 kim2 by end of 2013. The partnership is now led by Scotland's Federation of Rivers and Fisheries trusts, a natural economic stakeholder with increasing interest for biosecurity issues.

Throughout the project, we took an adaptive approach and explored both ecological and sociological components of the project by considering both mink and volunteer demography. Volunteers took increasing responsibility for raft monitoring and mink trapping as the project progressed and monitor > 85% of all rafts and account for most mink captures. The overall probability that a volunteer remained actively involved in the project was analysed as a survival process and varied according to profession. Fisheries staff had the highest retention, game keepers had the lowest and the retention rates of wildlife conservation professionals, local residents and land managers varied over time with evidence of gradual improvement.

In order to understand spatial heterogeneity in mink productivity and overcoming compensation through dispersal from adjacent uncontrolled areas we use genetic, age and reproductive data to construct pedigree relationships between American mink removed. These data are used to demonstrate: 1) large scale connectedness through dispersal between geographically distinct management units (river catchments); 2) differential rates of reinvasion in areas with different histories of control; 3) 'hotspots' that contribute disproportionately to spatial dynamics and represent significant management targets; 4) that relative increases in immigration following control are not sufficient to overcome reductions in density through culling. These findings have been used to define the appropriate spatial scale of control; allocate resources required to achieve specific goals for the conservation of native biodiversity; and have been instrumental in expanding the range of the mink-free area in Scotland.

Followed by lunch at the Grandstand. Please RSVP to Peter Banks

Futurescapes: urban ecology in a changing world   View Summary
21 November 2012

Join us for this special lecture by Associate ProfessorDieter Hochuli as part of the 50th birthday celebrations for the School of Biological Sciences.

Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli
Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli

In a rapidly urbanising world, the conservation of natural systems and the services they provide is often dismissed as a hopeless cause. Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli examines the ecology of Sydney past, present and future to tackle one of the big questions of our time: Is biodiversity in cities doomed?