2015 School of Biological Sciences Seminar Series

All are welcome to attend.
For further information please contact biolhospa@uq.edu.au


23 October l Dr Daniel Lauglin l University of Waikato 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Daniel LaughlinIntegrating functional and community ecology to restore biodiversity
The restoration of degraded ecosystems is one of the most important challenges facing ecologists, yet our limited ability to accurately predict ecological responses to changing environmental conditions constrains our ability to do our job well.

The integration of comparative functional ecology with community ecology offers a way to achieve predictive generality to foster the maturation of theory-driven ecological restoration. In this talk, I will describe results from three research programs within my lab group that move us closer to achieving that end. First, I will address the importance of considering the multidimensional phenotype for understanding plant strategies. Second, I will demonstrate that soil-climate interactions drive functional trait distributions at biogeographical scales, indicating that the adaptive value of traits within a given climate depends strongly on the fertility of the soil. Third, I will describe a new model that can be used to predict community assembly and achieve restoration objectives


16 October l Dr Olin Silander l Massey University 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Olin SilanderSelection on Gene Expression Noise
Gene expression varies from cell to cell in clonal populations, a phenomenon called expression noise. Certain cellular functions are enriched for genes whose promoters confer high or low noise levels. However, it is not known whether promoters have high noise due to selection or drift.

We evolved synthetic E. coli promoters in the lab, and compared their noise levels to native E. coli promoters. Many native E. coli promoters exhibit higher noise than laboratory evolved promoters, suggesting that selection has increased noise in these promoters. I discuss the implications of this finding.


9 October l Dr Andy Eamens l University of Newcastle 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Andy EamensCharacterising additional and novel roles for DOUBLE-STRANDED RNA BINDING2 (DRB2) in the parallel RNA silencing pathways of Arabidopsis thaliana
DOUBLE-STRANDED RNA BINDING (DRB) proteins are essential cofactors of DICER-LIKE (DCL) proteins for small RNA (sRNA) production from double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) substrates. Arabidopsis thaliana (Arabidopsis) encodes 5 DRB and 4 DCL proteins and the DRB1/DCL1 and DRB4/DCL4 functional partnerships are required for microRNA (miRNA) and small-interfering RNA (siRNA) production respectively. Recently, we demonstrated that DRB2 is also required for production of specific miRNA and siRNA subsets in developmentally important tissues.

Here, I will describe additional roles for DRB2 in the miRNA pathway of Arabidopsis flowers and go onto outline novel roles for DRB2 in the floral siRNA pathways, the trans-acting siRNA (tasiRNAs) and natural antisense transcript siRNA (natsiRNA) pathways


18 September l Dr David Suggett l University of Technology, Sydney 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr David SuggettSymbiodinium phenomics as a platform to predict reef health
Genetic diversity (“speciation”) amongst corals’ symbiotic algae (Symbiodinium) is now known to be immense, and appears to be a major factor in determining coral fitness. However, how diversity of the key functional traits defining Symbiodinium fitness map onto their genetic diversity remains unknown, thereby entirely confounding our ability to reconcile the increasingly complex ecological patterns of Symbiodinium that exist in nature. Physiologists are entering a new era by using “high throughput” technologies to characterise phenotypic variability and identify functional types of interest amongst genetic variants. This talk will explore how “phenomics” provides a new trait-based approach to define Symbiodinium diversity and consistent signatures of reef health over space and time. Real-time measurements of photosynthetic traits appear particularly attractive where these traits not only act to sustain reef growth but also as the physiological bottleneck to stressors.


11 September l Dr Kirk Moloney l Iowa State University
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Elissa Cameron Novel fire regimes induced by invasive species in the desert Southwest, USA?
Historically, shrublands in the desert Southwest of the United States have been fire free. The primary reason has been the lack of fuel in open areas between shrubs due to harsh growing conditions. An increase in exotic, annual species growing in the open, however, may be increasing fire risk, as indicated by a widespread outbreak of fires in 2005 after an unusually wet year. Observational and experimental studies were conducted from 2010 to 2014 at two sites in this region to explore the role of exotic species in increasing fire risk under conditions of climate change. The results of this work are being used to develop a spatially explicit model of fire spread in desert shrubland systems. Results from the study and their implications will be presented.


4 September l Dr Elissa Cameron l University of Tasmania
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Elissa Cameron Individual variation and mammalian conservation
Individual animals behave differently, and individual variation can have profound impacts on a range of life history characteristics, including survival and reproduction. However, we are only just beginning to understand how such behaviours may impact the success of conservation efforts, and may also be influenced by the conservation measures themselves. I use examples relating to maternal effects and social bonding to demonstrate the importance of considering causes and consequences of individual differences when planning conservation management actions.


 28 August l Dr Milos Tanurdzic l The University of Queensland 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Milos Tanurdzic Large genomes and small RNA: Transcriptome reprogramming by plant hormone signaling in plant development
We are exploring how plants execute and fine-tune their developmental programs in response to internal and external cues relying on plant hormone signaling. In particular we are interested in the transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation during early developmental decisions, such as giberellic acid (GA)-regulated sex determination in a 1-3-cell fern gametophyte, or strigolactone (SL)-induced repression of branching via arrest of axillary meristems. Our experimental approaches rely on next generation sequencing to identify and quantify coding and non-coding transcripts in plants without reference genome sequence (but otherwise excellent model organisms). I will illustrate how plant hormones can have very different effects on gene expression throughout development. In fern gametophytes GA induces extensive transcriptome reprogramming, where we discovered over 1100 genes affected by GA, mostly up-regulated, including signatures of extensive chromatin remodeling, activation of several hormone signaling cascades, and extensive changes in non-coding RNA, including microRNA. In contrast, we found that SL induces small but very fast and specific transcriptional responses in garden pea axillary buds, including several key transcription factors, implicating other hormone signaling pathways, as well as post-transcriptional and post-translational control.


21 August l Dr Emma Sherratt l University of New England 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Emma Sherratt Macroevolution in High-Dimensional Morphospaces
Macroevolutionary studies, those concerned with evolution above the species level, are important to understand how the diversity of organisms we see around us came to be. My research focusses on the evolution of morphological variation across wide-scale taxonomic groups, such as Caecilian amphibians, Rabbits & Hares, and Bivalved Scallops. With these examples, I will discuss the statistical tools I use to study complex morphological structures, which result in very high-dimensional morphospaces, and the challenges this creates.


14 August l Dr Craig Moritz l Australian National University 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Craig Moritz Discovering our evolutionary heritage: hyperendemism of lizards across the north
Australia hosts a diverse and unique biota. This results from our Gondwanan ancestry, long-term isolation, and then invasion from Asia and adaptive radiation, the latter in the context of dramatic climatic oscillations that shaped current biomes. As a developed nation we think that prominent groups like vertebrates are now well known. Yet recent large-scale application of phylogenomics to widespread “species” demonstrates that we have much to learn. Results for tropical reptiles point to vast underestimation of diversity, with implications for taxonomy, speciation biology and conservation. Further, I will highlight the potential benefits for indigenous owners of much of this country.


7 August l Dr Renee Firman l University of Western Australia 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Renee Firman A mouse tale of sex, sperm, and evolution
When females mate with multiple males, the sperm from those males must compete for fertilisations, and selection is expected to favour traits in males that maximize their fertilisation success. The outcome of sperm competition is typically determined by ejaculate characteristics that provide a fertilisation advantage, or biased use of sperm by the female. I will examine the evolutionary consequences of sperm competition for both male and female reproductive physiology in mice, at the whole organism and gametic levels, I will detail how I have combined a field based population approach with experimental evolution in the laboratory, and used novel in vitro fertilisation technologies to explore the hypothesis that sperm competition generates sexual conflict over fertilisation.


31 July l Dr Lewis Halsey l University of Roehampton, London 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Lewis Halsey In the pursuit of understanding animal movement costs: the tractable human model
Food can be scarce, and searching for it can cost an animal precious energy from its dwindling reserves. In such instances, animals must be judicious with the energy they expend on moving, and in turn these costs are a key facet of their ecology. Focussing on humans as a tractable model species, my talk will discuss work I have been involved in to quantify the costs for an animal to move within its landscape, and in turn how these energy values can be synthesised to provide an understanding of the broad fundamentals that underlie movement energetics ecology.


3 July l Dr Scott P Carroll l University of California, Davis 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Scott P Carroll Applying evolutionary biology to address global challenges
Two sorts of evolutionary challenge result from human impact on the planet. The first arises from cancers, pathogens, and pests that evolve too quickly, and the second from the inability of many valued species to adapt quickly enough. I will discuss prescriptive evolutionary methods that use genetic, developmental, and environmental manipulations to either target the rate and direction of evolution or reduce the mismatch between organisms and human-altered environments. Applied evolutionary biology provides a unifying framework that integrates both familiar and novel solutions in human health, food security, and biodiversity. As a field it is vital for meeting current and future targets in sustainable development.


5 June l Dr Matt Hall l Monash University  
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Matt Hall The genetics of infectious disease susceptibility: has the evidence for epistasis been overestimated?
It has been suggested that the genetic basis of the infectious disease susceptibility may be fundamentally different to that of other complex traits. Whereas the basic expectation for a quantitative trait is that many alleles of small effect will contribute to the patterns of genetic variation, studies of resistance often reveal that infection depends on strong interactions amongst alleles of major effect. Using the water-flea, Daphnia magna, as an example, I will discuss the debate surrounding the evolutionary importance of interactions between resistance loci, and argue that its role in explaining overall variance in disease outcomes may have been overestimated.


29 May l Dr Kay Hodgins l Monash University  
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Kay Hodgins The genetic basis of adaptation in human altered environments
Understanding the genetic basis of adaptation and the evolutionary causes and consequences of genomic variation represents an important challenge. Here I present findings from invasive annual weeds and long-lived conifers to explore the nature of adaptation in a changing world. Introduced species represent opportunities to observe evolution over contemporary timescales. Using a combination of common gardens, gene expression analysis and transcriptome data, I find evidence for rapid local adaptation and expression divergence during invasion. However, despite similarities in phenotypic evolution, there is little evidence for common genomic responses in invasive taxa of the Asteraceae. In conifers I investigate factors that impact evolutionary rate and the genetic architecture of adaptation to local climate. The ultimate goal for these data is to better predict how local populations of these species will fare under future climates.


22 May l Dr Rod Fensham l Biological Sciences, UQ & Queensland Herbarium  
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Rod Fensham Impacts of coal and coal seam gas on spring ecosystems
The English word ‘oasis’ describes an island of life in a barren landscape, and was initially applied to desert spring ecosystems fed by groundwater. These mythological ecosystems are most intact in Australia where they contain many organisms known from nowhere else on the planet. The expansion of coal-seam gas development and the proposal to develop the Galilee Basin coal deposits presents a new threat to spring ecosystems. I will be explaining the nature of the springs, the fossil resources and the groundwater with which they are associated, and how impacts can be predicted.


15 May l Dr Euan Ritchie l Deakin University  
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Euan Ritchie Predator-prey interactions, from Romania to the Mallee
Why are feral animals running rampant? Why are some of our native species causing environmental headaches too? And why are other species declining towards extinction? One reason is the lack of balance that now characterises many ecosystems. A clear way to improve this situation would be to return native top predators, in particular dingoes and Tasmanian devils, to landscapes where they once occurred. This would allow these species to resume their important ecological roles. Meanwhile, in other parts of the globe apex predators are making a resurgence, such as wolves, bears, and lynx in Europe. In my talk I will describe the complex interactions that occur between predators and their prey, using examples stretching from Romania to Australia’s Mallee.


8 May l Dr Loren McClenachan l Colby College, Maine  
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Loren McClenachan Turning back the clock on ocean declines: Using historical ecology to guide conservation
Human impacts on marine ecosystems often began centuries before the beginning of ecological data collection. The use of historical data taken from non-traditional data sources has revealed long-term, and previously unknown, changes to populations of historically exploited species, providing information vital for managing and conserving marine resources. This talk will use examples from around the word and diverse taxonomic groups to demonstrate the insights gained by using historical data to assess long-term population change, and the ways in which historical data can improve management, particularly for species in the early stages of population recovery.


1 May l Dr Janine Deakin l University of Canberra  
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Janine Deakin Do devil chromosomes hold the key to understanding the plight of the Tasmanian Devil?
Tasmanian devils have experienced a turbulent history, having gone extinct on mainland Australia and surviving previous population crashes in Tasmania. Now, a contagious cancer, devil facial tumour disease, is threatening their existence. Does the key to understanding their precarious existence lie in how their DNA is packaged? In this seminar, I will discuss some of the unexpected findings that have come from studying devil chromosomes. I will explore the potential impact these bizarre chromosomal features may have had on the development of the original facial tumour, and the important insight gained by tracking tumour evolution at the chromosome level.


24 April l Dr Alexandre Mendoza Soler l University of Western Australia 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Alexandre Mendoza Soler Genomics of the unicellular prehistory of animals
The transition from a unicellular species towards a multicellular animal is one of the major evolutionary transitions in the history of eukaryotes. Comparative genomic analyses have revealed a common molecular toolkit responsible for animal multicellularity, shared from sponges to humans. To understand how the evolution of this toolkit correlated with the origins of multicellularity, we shifted our focus to the unicellular lineages closely related to animals.Integrating data from comparative genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics of several of those unicellular lineages, we have revealed that not only a big part of the multicellular toolkit pre-dates animal origins, but also many layers of complex genome regulation. This data blurs the gap between protists and animals, as key building blocks of animal multicellularity originated during our lineage’s unicellular prehistory.


17 April l Associate Professor Stephen Johnston l The University of Queensland, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Associate professor Steve Jonston Wild sex downunder
Reproductive zoology can provide a wealth of information that not only enlightens our understanding of behavioural ecology and evolution but which can also form the framework of captive breeding technology for ex situ conservation biology. Associate Prof Johnston of the School of Agriculture and Food Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton, will present exemplars of how a research paradigm that explores fundamental aspects of Australian wildlife reproductive biology (anatomy, physiology and behaviour) can result in practical outcomes that benefit both wildlife conservation and production animal industries. Ass Prof Johnston will also introduce opportunities for collaborative teaching in the area of 3D anatomical teaching and projects within the science faculty and UQ more broadly.


27 March l Dr Bruce Robertson l University of Otago, New Zealand 
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Bruce Robertson Genetic management of New Zealand’s critically endangered parrot, the kakapo
Like so many of New Zealand’s birds, the kakapo has been heavily impacted by introduced mammalian predators and habitat clearance, being reduced to just 51 individuals by 1995. Fortunately, kakapo managers have reversed this decline and there are now 124 birds. With successful management techniques in place, managers are now focusing on factors associated with small population size that further erode genetic variation and can impact population persistence. I will discuss how genetics has contributed to the kakapo recovery program, from devising a strategy to overcome sex allocation and testing for inbreeding depression, to guiding choice of sperm donors in artificial inseminations.


13 March l Dr Einar Nielsen l Technical University of Denmark
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Einar Nielsen The history of cod in Greenland: A major fishery collapse explained by archive DNA
Fishing and climate variability are known as important factors impacting the demography of marine fish species. However, it has been generally ignored that species, and in many cases the management units “the fish stocks”, are made up of genetically distinct locally adapted populations that may show idiosyncratic responses to environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Employing long term archived DNA based fisheries monitoring (1932 –2012) and high-resolution SNP analysis, we demonstrate that the proportions of different genetic populations in the historical cod fishery in west Greenland underwent dramatic spatiotemporal changes which can be linked to intensive fishing and climate change.


6 March l Dr Eric Taylor l University of British Columbia
Room 139 Goddard Building (8) 3pm

Dr Eric Taylor Contact zones in fishes: evolutionary inferences and conservation implications
Contact zones are areas where genetically distinct populations come into contact and may interact ecologically and genetically. Owing to their dynamic geographical history, particularly with respect to repeated glaciations, Northern Hemisphere environments provide numerous opportunities to study the origin and consequences of contact zones. Here, I describe three systems in fishes that provide contrasting genetic and ecological patterns of contact and together suggest the importance of habitat heterogeneity as a driver of diversification with real-time implications for conservation.