EEB SEMINAR – 11 February

This week EEB features graduate students of the Queen’s University Department of Biology who will present:

A student perspective on PhD training in Biology at Queen’s

On average, students take almost 5 years to complete a PhD, and of those who do successfully complete their program, fewer than 50% stay in academia. Unfortunately, most PhD programs do not currently recognize these realities. In this EEB seminar, we hope to begin anew the discussion about the ever changing nature of the PhD program and how students can be successful during and after their time in Queen’s Biology. We begin by highlighting a general lack of clarity about expectations, finances, and communication among accepted and new students. We discuss training opportunities (or the lack thereof) and why few students finish in the allotted time. We present striking data on the discrepancies between the number of trained PhDs and available jobs in academia and demonstrate a potential lack of preparedness for positions within and outside academia. We conclude by discussing steps we can take as a department to improve the prospects of current and future graduate students.

HOST: Joint EEB / Limno

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. Light refreshments are served starting at 12:15.

EEB SEMINAR – 4 February

This week EEB welcomes back Queen’s alumna (PhD) Dr. Nicole Mideo of the University of Toronto who will present:

Causes and consequences of variation in malaria infections


Despite a wealth of biomedical research into the pathogenesis of infectious diseases, little is known about the basic biology of their etiological agents. For many parasites, we lack satisfying answers to questions such as: what is it specifically about the interaction between hosts and parasites that results in disease symptoms? What explains variation in disease severity across parasites species or strains? And, which factors have shaped parasite traits that determine harm to host and infectiousness? Using a combination of theory and experiments, my work has revealed processes that underlie within-host dynamics of experimental rodent malaria infections and how differences in these processes give rise to the variation observed in patterns of disease across parasite genotypes. I will present results that demonstrate the importance of resource availability and competition and show that such ‘bottom-up’ mechanisms can explain phenomena that are often attributed to immune-mediated processes. I will show that the ubiquity of multi-genotype infections can drive selection on parasites to invest in host exploitation at the expense of transmission. Finally, I will demonstrate that genetic variation within infections can hamper efforts to detect drug resistance, a growing problem in the fight against malaria.

HOST: Eckert / Bartkowska

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. Light refreshments are served starting at 12:15.

EEB Seminar – 28 January

This week EEB welcomes Dr. Emily Austen of the University of Ottawa who will present:

Better to be young, early, or big? Disentangling the causes of selection on flowering time.

Jan 28

Timing matters. In annual plants, for example, flowering time not only affects age at flowering, but also size at reproduction, and the quality of environment experienced (i.e. exposure to pollinators, herbivores, and abiotic stresses). Age, size, and environment can all conceivably affect seed production (female fitness) or seed siring (male fitness), but the intrinsic correlations between these factors impede our understanding of their independent fitness effects. Through a novel experimental manipulation, I teased apart the three factors to uncover the causes of selection on flowering time. This work revealed that the the causes of selection can differ through male and female fitness, and it prompted new hypotheses regarding the maintenance of variation in male fertility. Flowering time is implicated in climate change response, species invasion, reproductive isolation, and other processes of current interest. Manipulative experiments, such as that described here, will be critical to moving from asking how selection acts on this key life history trait to understanding why.

HOST: Eckert

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. Light refreshments are served starting at 12:15.

EEB Seminar – 21 January

This week EEB welcomes Dr. Gregory J Robertson of Environment Canada’s Wildlife Research Division in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, who will present:

Research in support of the conservation and management of murres in the Northwest Atlantic

Cabot12Thick-billed and Common Murres are highly colonial seabirds that have a long relationship with humans throughout their circumpolar range. In the Northwest Atlantic they are victims of oil pollution, hunted in Canada and Greenland, and highly susceptible to being captured in gill nets. Previous work identified issues with mortality from chronic ship-source oil pollution and excessive harvest levels in Canada. Recent data suggest that both harvest and oiling mortality levels have declined considerably and should be within sustainable limits. However, previous impact assessments have assumed a homogenous population with all colonies equally vulnerable to oiling and harvest. Recent telemetry studies are showing significant structure in murre non-breeding distributions. To account for this population structure, multi-site population projections were conducted allowing for these differing vulnerabilities. Even at these reduced mortality levels, the models indicate that populations in Labrador and Greenland may be subject to heavy harvest pressure from Canada, while the Greenland harvest may be having some role in the declines seen in Icelandic and other European populations.

Bio: Greg Robertson is a Research Scientist with the Wildlife Research Division of Environment Canada working on coastal and marine ecosystems and birds from the Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador office. He completed his Bachelor’s degree at Queen’s in 1992 and then moved west with Fred Cooke in 1993 to complete his PhD at Simon Fraser University in 1997. He then headed back east to work with Tony Diamond as a post-doc at the University of New Brunswick and finally moved to Newfoundland in 2000 to his current position. Greg’s research focuses on applied issues, working closely with marine industries and resource use planners to provide information needed to make informed decisions and mitigate negative effects on coastal and marine ecosystems and birds.

HOST: Friesen

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the  BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. Light refreshments are served starting at 12:15.

EEB Seminar – 14 January

This week, EEB welcomes PhD candidate Casper Christiansen of the Queen’s Department of Biology and graduate of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who will present:

How do seasonal climatic changes affect litter and soil carbon and nutrient cycling in arctic tundra ecosystems?

Climate change is leading to warmer temperatures and greater snowfall in Arctic regions. Microbial decomposition activities are strongly regulated by temperature, and climate warming is therefore projected to enhance decay of the vast tundra soil organic matter pool, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and nutrients into the soil solution. By contrast, increased soil nutrient availability promotes plant growth and changes in vegetation, both of which may enhance plant uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere. Consequently, depending on the net balance between these increases in CO2 release and uptake, tundra ecosystems may end up contributing globally significant feedbacks to a changing climate, further exacerbating environmental change.

Cover Pic

In my thesis work, I investigated how short- (1 year) and longer-term (up to 9 years) experimentally deepened winter snow and summer warming may impact tundra biogeochemical cycling (i.e. litter decomposition rates, plant and soil carbon storage, and microbial communities) using experimental plots located in distinct ecosystems across the Canadian, Greenlandic, and Norwegian arctic.

Here, I will primarily – but not exclusively – focus on some of the surprising results from our long-term deepened snow manipulation plots near Daring Lake, NWT, most of which contrast with observations from short-term studies. Our results suggest that despite extremely cold temperatures, changes in winter climate are likely to have significant immediate and legacy effects in tundra ecosystems, and that climatic changes in winter may have much greater impact on annual carbon balance in mesic tundra than otherwise thought.

Host: Grogan

 This EEB Seminar, will run at a special time on Thursday from 11:30-12:30pm, in the EEB Lounge of the
BioSciences Complex, Room 4338. Light refreshments are served starting at 11:15.

EEB Seminar – 3 December

This week, EEB presents Dr. Mick Smith of the Queen’s Departments of Philosophy and Environmental Studies. Dr. Smith will present:

Beatrix Potter and Ecological Community

What if our understandings of ecological community are not, and never have been just a matter of biology? What might it mean to think of ecological community as a term, a place, where scientific and philosophical, ethical, and socio-political understandings continually come into play, where the materiality of human history and the materiality of evolutionary history, and their various interpretations, are ineradicably entwined? Would such an understanding undermine ecology as a science? Would we just fall into a kind of curious admixture of the social and the natural better suited to Beatrix Potter’s stories?


Mick is jointly appointed between the Philosophy Department and the School of Environmental Studies here at Queen’s. He has a degree in Ecology from the University of York UK, where (many years ago) he was taught by, amongst others, John Lawton, Alistair Fitter and Mark Williamson – who, he would like to add, bear no responsibility for his turn to the philosophical dark side or his current state of ecological ignorance. He has a Master’s for work on the ecology of an obscure group of soil fungi and also one in Modern European Thought. He mis(spent) 4 years selling antiquarian books before completing a PhD at the University of Stirling, Scotland with the alluring title of “Humanism and Anti-humanism in Environmental Values”. He has since published lots of bizarre stuff at the intersection of ethics, politics, and the environment including papers in Environmental Ethics, Environmental Politics, The Trumpeter, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers etc. Among other books his favorites are An Ethics of Place: Radical Ecology, Postmodernity and Social Theory, (2001) SUNY and Against Ecological Sovereignty: Ethics, Biopolitics, and Saving the Natural World (2011) University of Minnesota Press. The material he will deliver today is part of work on an ongoing SSHRC Insight Grant entitled ‘Ethics, Politics, and Ecological Community’.

Host: Grogan

 The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the  BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. Light refreshments are served starting at 12:15.

EEB Seminar – 26 November

This week EEB welcomes Queen’s Alumna (BSc, MSc) and current Queen’s Post-Doc, Dr. Sarah Yakimowski, who will present:

Ecology and evolutionary genetics of gender polymorphisms

Plants exhibit a variety of reproductive strategies, providing exciting opportunities to study the evolution of gender. The clonal aquatic plant Sagittaria latifolia is widespread in wetlands of North America, where it exhibits three gender morphs – female, hermaphrodite and male. These gender morphs coexist within populations in different combinations to form diverse sexual systems. This talk will explore how, and why, sex ratios vary geographically and test alternative origins for the coexistence of all three sex phenotypes within this single species.


Sarah completed her BSc and MSc at Queen’s Biology and has recently returned as a postdoc. The work in this talk was completed for her PhD at the University of Toronto, which was followed by a postdoc at UBC to study the role of hybridization on speciation.


The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the  BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. Light refreshments are served starting at 12:15.