We regret to inform you that due to an injury, today’s EEB seminar speaker will not be able to make it in. Therefore, the EEB talk will be cancelled, and will be tentatively rescheduled for early April.

We apologize for the short notice, and for any inconvenience this may cause.

We look forward to seeing you all next Thursday, February 16th when EEB seminars will resume.

EEB Seminar – 9 February

This week EEB welcomes Dr. Ivana Schoepf from the Department of Biology, Queens University:

When to live alone and when to live in groups? A field experiment of the habitat saturation hypothesis


Animals display highly diverse social systems ranging from species that live solitarily to species that live in complex social groups, such as cooperative breeding species with helpers at the nest. Several studies have aimed to understand why social groups form and how they are maintained. Theory predicts that group-living can arise as a consequence of ecological constraints, while reproductive competition between group members should lead to increased costs of group-living, and thus promotes solitary-living. Several studies have confirmed the “ecological constraints” model (also known as the Habitat Saturation Hypothesis), but field experimental tests of the reproductive competition hypothesis are lacking. Here I will present the results of a field manipulation experiment performed on a wild African mammal aimed at testing these hypotheses.

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 – 2 February

This week EEB welcomes Dr. Rute Clemente-Carvalho from the Department of Biology, Queen’s University:

What are the implications of miniaturization in amphibian body size – a remarkable example in the genus Brachycephalus


Body size matters in evolution because it contributes to ecological divergence and accompanies adaptive radiations in many clades. Drastic size changes, such as miniaturization, have been documented in all three amphibian Orders, and have evolved independently many times. Although diminutive size makes the amphibians more vulnerable to desiccation and predation, it also enables them to hide more easily, exploit alternate food sources, use physically smaller niches, and attain reproductive maturity at an earlier age. In addition, miniaturization is also followed by morphological novelties.

Toads of the genus Brachycephalus are endemic to the Atlantic rainforests of northeastern, southeastern, and southern Brazil, and are an outstanding example of miniaturization. In fact, one species, B. didactylus, is among the smallest frogs in the world, with a snout-vent length of just 10.2 mm. A remarkable phenotypic feature among Brachycephalus species is a gradient in the degree of mineralization of the skeleton, loss of cranial elements, fingers and toes, and morphological changes in structures such as the pectoral girdle. In my presentation, I will explore Brachycephalus morphological diversity, and its relationship with the phylogenetic hypothesis proposed, using a multilocus approach based on nuclear and mitochondrial genes.

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 January

This week EEB welcomes Dr. Jim Quinn from the Department of Biology, McMaster University:

Cooperation and conflict within groups of joint-nesting cooperative birds


The most common mode of cooperative breeding, “helper-at-the-nest” systems are typically made up of a dominant monogamous pair along with their adult offspring breeding on a traditional territory. Genetic monogamy on limited territories, resulting in adult helpers that are siblings to the offspring they help may be explained by kin selection. Nonetheless, helpers may gain individual fitness benefits by remaining on safe and limited territories, gaining practice at parental care, and inheriting territories.

My students and I study an uncommon system of cooperatively breeding joint-nesting birds that live in groups with multiple male and female breeders sharing a single nest. Pukeko are polygynandrous rails from New Zealand that live in kin groups in much of their range. Smooth-billed anis are socially monogamous cuckoos that live and breed in groups of non-kin. I will examine adaptations for group living, as well as conflicts within groups that lack monogamy or kinship.

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.

Departmental Seminar – 19 January

This week EEB welcomes Dr. Anne Charmantier from the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE) in Montpellier, France:

Testing for local adaptation in wild passerines: from phenotypic to genomic approaches


I will present two projects that have started with the revelation, based on long-term individual monitoring, of phenotypic differences between close populations of Paridae. First, strong phenotypic divergence was measured for many morphological, life history and behavioural characters in blue tits from deciduous versus evergreen habitats in the south of France, with populations as close as 5 km. Second phenotypic differences were described between great tits living in an oak forest versus an urban environment, as well as along an urbanisation gradient. In both case studies, I will show how we have pieced together our knowledge on gene flow, natural selection, quantitative genetic variation and genomic footprints of selection to test whether the strong phenotypic differences witnessed could be attributed to local adaptation, thereby supporting the existence of different ecotypes at a spatial scale smaller than the species dispersal distance.

This seminar will be held on Thursday in the BioSciences Complex, Room 3110, from 12:30-1:30pm. Light refreshments are served starting at 12:15.

EEB Seminar – 12 January

This week EEB welcomes Post-Doctoral Scholar Juliet Lamb from the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation and South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Clemson University:

Evaluating year-round seabird habitat needs in the Gulf of Mexico to improve oil pollution risk assessment and mitigation


In 2010, a blowout on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig released 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into sensitive marine and coastal ecosystems in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The aftermath of the disaster revealed a lack of baseline information on the ecology of sensitive coastal species in the region, particularly the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), one of the most frequent and visible victims of the spill. Data on the species’ habitat requirements, diet, and distribution were unavailable to aid in damage assessment and mitigation following Deepwater Horizon. At the same time, the Brown Pelican’s sensitivity to contaminants, as well as its distribution throughout coastal and marine habitats, make it an ideal umbrella species for understanding habitat needs and risk factors of understudied nearshore seabirds. I will present results from a project aimed to address data gaps and improve spill response by combining individual-based tracking of Brown Pelicans with habitat modeling, pollutants risk assessment, and dietary analysis. I will further discuss development of monitoring tools that can be used to rapidly assess the effects of environmental perturbations on nearshore seabirds.

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 – Dec. 1st

This week EEB welcomes Dr. Amanda Tracey from the Department of Biology, Queens University:

Plant body size: when does it matter?



Identifying functional traits important for fitness is central to the interpretation of the structure and assembly of natural vegetation, and to management goals associated with biodiversity conservation and habitat restoration. Traditional plant competition theory is based on a ’size-advantage’ (SA) hypothesis — i.e. natural selection resulting from strongly contested resources within crowded vegetation generally favours capacity for a relatively large plant body size. In other words, gene transmission into future generations should increase as body size increases. However, smaller species (and smaller resident plants) typically dominate numerically at virtually all scales within vegetation. These patterns have been recently interpreted in terms of a ‘reproductive economy advantage’ (REA); i.e. when resident plants are severely suppressed in size because of intense resource competition, species with a smaller maximum potential body size (MAX) are generally more likely to produce at least some offspring because they tend also to have a smaller minimum reproductive threshold size (MIN). My PhD research has involved empirical investigations of the SA and REA hypotheses within old-field meadows at QUBS. Do bigger species have a greater abundance of seeds in the seed bank? Are they more abundant as resident plants? Are introduced species, under severely crowded conditions, more likely to establish and reproduce if they have a larger body size? Do bigger species contribute more to neighbourhood standing biomass? To explore these and other questions, I have used a combination of multi-season field experiments, greenhouse trials and natural vegetation surveys.

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.