Fall '23 / Winter '24 Departmental Seminar Series

trees through the seasons

Seminars are held Thursdays  from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m, in SSC 2315. All interested are welcome to attend.

Fall 2023

September 28, 2023 - Elena Choleris, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Guelph

Topic: Neuroendocrinology of social cognition in male and female mice

October 5, 2023 -  Kiyoko Gotanda Assistant Professor, Gotanda Lab,  Brock University 

Topic:Adaptation in a changing world: human influences on evolution

Abstract: Evolutionary biology studies the origins of biodiversity, how it evolved and, importantly, how it is maintained. In today's world, patterns of selection (and therefore evolution) are being altered by humans, strongly influencing the generation and maintenance of biodiversity. Humans can alter evolution and adaptation through a variety of mechanisms. For example, the increase in urbanization (development of villages, towns, and cities) has a strong effect on ecological and evolutionary processes. Another example is the introduction of non-native predators, an impact known to be closely correlated with local extinction events. Here, I present examples of humans altering selective pressures, and what the consequences of this are.

October 12, 2023 - Kathleen Clark Assistant ProfessorFaculty of Education, University of Laurier


October 19, 2023 - Dr. Kaia Tombak Rothman Laboratory, Hunter College of the City University of New York

Topic: Cracking the code of conduct: understanding the many selection forces driving social behaviour and examining some long-held assumptions in evolutionary biology

Abstract: The striking diversity in animal societies – from pair- to group-living, from egalitarian to hierarchical, from monogamous to polygamous – has captivated naturalists for centuries. Still, fundamental questions like ‘what determines group size?’ and ‘what structures relationships in a group?’ remain largely unanswered. The multiple selection forces acting on the scale and structure of a society must be studied together to understand social diversity, and this is what I aim to do, with a focus on mammals. I will describe my doctoral work on a large-scale natural experiment to uncover how group size responds to four key selection forces in zebras in Kenya. I will then detail my comparative literature-based studies on intra- and intersexual relationships and sexual size dimorphism, probing how sexual selection operates in mammals. Throughout, I have discovered that strong assumptions in animal behavior research have not been supported by the data, opening up new questions and points of emphasis in how we explore the fundamental rules governing animal societies.

October 26, 2023 - Dr. Joanna Rifkin LSA Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan

Topic: Function, Form, and Content in Plant Genome Evolution

Abstract: The evolution of plant traits interacts complexly with the structure of plant genomes. How traits are localized in the genome can affect their evolutionary trajectories, and selection can impact the structure and arrangement of the genome itself. This talk will explore the interaction between natural selection, plant traits, and genomic structure across three species with diverse reproductive systems.

November 2 , 2023 - Philip Greenspoon University of Edinburgh 

Topic:  Evolution with epigenetics and parasites: models of non-genetic transmission

Abstract: Evidence that traits can be transmitted to future generations through non-genetic means has generated interest in epigenetic inheritance. Yet evidence for epigenetic changes, such as methylation states, being both adaptive and heritable is scarce. What conditions would make a species most likely to evolve a system of adaptive epigenetic inheritance? In the first part of my talk, I will present a theoretical model investigating this question. Next, I will turn to the consequences of having adaptive epigenetic inheritance on the rate of speciation. Finally, I will shift my attention to a different form of non-genetic transmission, familial transmission of parasites, such as from parent to offspring. I will present on a model of the evolutionary consequences of parasites being transmitted preferentially within families, focusing on Red Queen dynamics.  

November 9, 2023 - Jess Clausen Lakehead University

Topic: Context in Learning

An award-winning educator and scholar, Dr. Jess Clausen has produced community-based action research studies and resources that provide practical guidance and support for educators and presented her work at national and international forums. Since working as an Outdoor Education Program Specialist with the Toronto District School Board, she has earned a Masters degree in Education from Nipissing University, and a PhD from the Social Justice Education Department at OISE University of Toronto. Claussen has worked as a Curriculum/Public Engagement Specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation where she created a national curriculum for connecting youth with nature from kindergarten to grade 8. Her SSHRC funded post-doctoral fellowship allowed her to work with a Northern First Nations community to develop a land-based school, and most recently, Clausen participated in the development of a field school in IIkalutuuttiaq (Cambridge Bay, Nunavut), focused on experiential learning, with Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs and Dr. Tad MacIlwraith of the University of Guelph. Clausen has over 20 years of experience in education and she is currently an Adjunct Professor with the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University in Orillia, and a Lecturer at the University of Waterloo. She is also actively teaching within the Upper Grand District school board. Clausen’s work investigates contextually-based learning experiences, which this talk will address.

November 16, 2023 - Matt Barbour  Universite` de Sherbrooke 

Topic: Eco-evolutionary dynamics in plant-insect food webs

Abstract: Global change is reshaping biodiversity across scales — from the genetic makeup of populations to the composition of species in ecological communities. These cross-­scale changes often unleash an array of indirect effects that make it difficult to predict ensuing ecological and evolutionary responses due to the complex network of interactions species are usually embedded in. In this seminar, I will share a series of field and lab experiments with plant-insect food webs that seek to better understand the interconnected nature of biodiversity across scales. I will begin by showing how genetic variation within species can scale up to influence food-web structure and species coexistence. I will then discuss how the diversity of species in a community can feedback to shape genetic and phenotypic variation in interacting populations. Throughout, I will argue that understanding these eco-evolutionary processes is critical for predicting how biodiversity will be reorganized by environmental change. 


November 23, 2023- Liam McGuire  University of Waterloo

Topic: Migration Ecophysiology: The Influence of Heterothermy in Migratory Bats and Birds.

Abstract: Migration has long fascinated biologists and the public alike. There are many examples of small-bodied bats and birds that make amazing migratory journeys each year, leading to the inevitable question- How do they do it? As a graduate student studying bat migration, there was little literature that I could rely on and instead I used migratory birds as a model. I published a review titled “What can birds tell us about the migration physiology of bats?” in which I outlined the many aspects of migration that I hypothesized would be similar in the two groups, and a few key differences. As I continued to study bat migration, it quickly became clear that the ability to use daily torpor to reduce energetic costs during non-flight periods has a dramatic effect on nearly all aspects of bat migration, from body composition, to stopover duration, landscape scale movement patterns, and possibly even survival likelihood. I continue to study bat migration, but I’ve started to turn the question around, asking “What can bats tell us about the migration physiology of birds?”. We are now studying heterothermic migration strategies in birds, which may be more common than previously appreciated.


November 30, 2023-  Dr. Douglas Fudge Comparative Biomaterials Lab, Chapman University 

Topic: Hagfish Biophysics, Biomimetics, and Biodiversity

Hagfishes are an ancient group of jawless fishes that are best known for their heroic defensive sliming abilities, which make them essentially immune to predation from fishes, including sharks. I will provide an update on our understanding of how hagfishes create liters of fiber-reinforced slime in a fraction of second, the genes involved in the biogenesis of the slime, how slime components scale with body size, and how the slime likely evolved from modification of epidermal cells. I will also discuss current collaborations with engineers to produce bio-inspired materials that mimic the properties of hagfish slime. Burrowing is known to be an important part of the hagfish lifestyle, but until now, it has been impossible to observe how the submerged parts of a hagfish behave during a bout of burrowing. I will discuss new research on burrowing in hagfishes and the biomechanical strategies they appear to be using to move through sediments. I will end with a discussion of new research on hagfish biodiversity, with a focus on hagfishes of the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.


December 7, 2023-  Dr. Andrew Crump  Royal Veterinary College University of London

Topic: Evidence for sentience in insects

He will talk broadly about the possibility of sentience in invertebrates, before presenting evidence that insects may have the capacity for pain and similar states. (But what actually counts as good evidence? That, as ever, will be the knottiest question!)

Winter 2024

January 25, 2024 - Lauren Sullivan


February 1, 2024 - Emily Standen

Topic: How the brain, the senses and the world influence locomotor control.

Abstract: Locomotor control is something all animals do, is remarkably robust even when an organism is injured, and unbelievably difficult to emulate in robotic systems. Simply speaking, locomotion involves signals from the brain, sensory feedback from the environment and groups of neurons in the spinal column that produce rhythmic patterns that help regulate cyclical behaviours. How these three inputs work together to elicit the wide range of locomotor performance we see across all animals is complex and somewhat mysterious. For this talk I will discuss two data sets, one on inverts and one on vertebrates to try to shed light on how brain, senses and central pattern generation make biological systems so robust in diverse locomotor settings.


February 8, 2024  - Aaron Shafer

Topic: Population and quantitative genomics of deer. 

Abstract: Genomic data has allowed for reconstructing speciation history and characterizing the genetic health of small populations.  Summary statistics derived from the genome, however, are fraught with nuance and impacted by the demographic history of focal population. Using North American deer (Odocoileus), I present their dynamic history that shows no ancestral gene flow despite contemporary history.  I then show the apparent impact of human intervention and overharvest on deer genomic diversity. Using white-tailed deer mainland and Island population samples, I show how Tajima’s D, mutational load, and FROH metrics collectively shed light on historical and contemporary processes reflective of population health. We also use the unique sampling design to identify patterns recessive deleterious mutations underlying key traits in deer.

February 15, 2024 - Rosalind Murray

Topic: Environmental influences on sex differences in insects.

Abstract: The environmental stresses and conditions that species experience drive the evolution of their morphology, life history and behaviour. These responses often vary between males and females as each seeks to optimise their own fitness. Using multiple insect systems, we show that sexually dimorphic responses to the environment can also feedback to influence ecology.  I will share recent work from my lab regarding (1) shifts in mosquito (Culicidae) sex ratios in response to pollution, (2) the effect of environmental change on prey item (nuptial gift) availability and mating system responses in dance flies (Empididae), and (3) how early life history sexual dimorphism can carry-over to affect adult dragonflies (Libellulidae).

February 29, 2024 - Julie Messier

Julie is an Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo. She studies the causes and consequences of trait variation and integration across biological scales, from within individuals to among communities. She is interested in questions at the intersection of plant physiology, ecology and evolution. An empiricist, she uses observational and experimental studies (field and lab) to uncover general principles governing patterns of phenotypic diversity. Her current work centers on trait variation and co-variation within species, phenotypic integration, selection and climate change.

March 7, 2024 -  Christopher G. Guglielmo

Topic: The physiology of ultra-endurance flight in migratory birds.

Abstract: Historically, predictions from flight aerodynamic theory and known maximal fuel loads (mainly fat) of extreme long-distance migrant birds suggested that maximal flight distances attainable by birds flying in still air should be 4000 – 5000 km. However, new tracking technologies have revealed the spectacular non-stop, long-distance flights of some bird species that can last up to 11 days and cover over 10,000 km. This has forced a reckoning between theory and empirical data. I will discuss these issues, as well as the physiological and biochemical tricks that these extreme long fliers may use to meet their needs for energy, nutrients, water, and oxygen during these extremely long flights.

March 14, 2024 -Jackie Goodial

Topic: Left out in the cold: the microbial ecology of cryophilic life.

Abstract: Though considered to be “extremophiles”, microorganisms that are metabolically active and that can replicate at sub-zero temperatures exist in cryoenvironments nearly ubiquitously on our planet. Cryoenvironments on Earth represent a natural laboratory in which we can observe the natural constraints to microbial activity and survival at low temperature, understanding where life can, and cannot, persist under conditions known to be harsh to life. This talk will present recent work in both Arctic and Antarctic permafrost settings. I will discuss Canadian Arctic permafrost where cold-adapted microbiota are thriving, with potential implications for our entire planet. I will also discuss arid, Antarctic permafrost settings, where the limits of active microbial life are being encroached upon. Finally, I will touch on how an increased understanding of cryophilic lifestyles on Earth will also help inform how (and where) we look for potential microbial life on cold planetary bodies in our solar system such as Mars, Europa, and Enceladus. 

March 21, 2024 - Julie Lee Yaw

Topic: Impacts of a severe wildfire on sensitive wildlife populations.

Julie is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa. She uses a variety of approaches and tools to address questions at the intersection of evolutionary ecology and conservation biology, with an emphasis on understanding the past, present, and future of species' geographic distributions. Some of the main themes she explores are: the structure and history of species' geographic distributions, ecological and evolutionary explanations for range limits, the impact of global change on species' distributions, and the use of genomic and spatial data to inform conservation translocations.

March 28, 2024 - Santiago Claramunt, Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology and Biology, University of Toronto (Graduate Invited Speaker)

Topic: Santiago Claramunt is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution from the University of Toronto who’s interested in the processes that generated avian diversity. His research leverages the rich knowledge of avian biology and diversity, in combination with phylogenetic and comparative analytical methods, to investigate the mechanisms that drove the evolution and diversification of birds. Santiago’s goal is to understand how speciation, extinction, phenotypic evolution, and dispersal interact during diversification, and how they are affected by geographic and ecological factors. He’s working on improving the estimation of divergence times, which are essential for accurate macroevolutionary modelling. He’s also studying how dispersal plays a role in the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of birds and he is pioneering the use of proxies of flight performance based on flight aerodynamics to estimate dispersal ability in birds.

April 4, 2024 - Cosima Porteus

Topic: The effects of ocean acidification on olfaction in marine animals: Evidence from multiple animal taxa.

April 11, 2024 - Kristy Ferraro

Topic: Because Animals Matter: Zoogeochemistry of North American Ungulates

Abstract: Biogeochemical theory and models have traditionally operated under the assumption that abiotic characteristics, microbial activity, and plant productivity control nutrient cycling in ecosystems. However, the emerging field of zoogeochemistry – the study of how animals both affect and are affected by the biogeochemical cycles – is challenging this core assumption. Research increasingly indicates that animals of all sizes exert control over biogeochemical cycles through their trophic interactions, nutrient translocation and deposition, and physical disturbances to landscapes. This new and exciting line of work has shown that by overlooking animal impacts, we have missed understanding an important control of biogeochemical processes in ecosystems. At the same time, animals rely on nutrients for individual and population growth. Focusing on caribou, this presentation will explore several of the mechanisms by which large mammals impact nitrogen cycling, carbon storage, and plant growth, as well as how those impacts may ultimately support ecosystems and animals alike.