Friday Philosophicals

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Eva Visscher: Establishing dietary niches and maternal investment in colonial waterbirds on the Laurentian Great Lakes using stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) analysis of chick blood and temporal trends in egg volume and Tian Yang: The role of root architecture in driving tradeoffs or shared benefits for nutrient acquisition, water acquisition and resistance to soil frost.

Friday Philosophicals

A weekly seminar series run by the Ecology & Evolution group, allowing graduate students and others to present their research in a collegial environment. All talks are 10-30 minutes in length, followed by up to 5 minutes of questions, with open discussion from the floor. Typically, two speakers will present on a given day. The Friday Philosophicals is an excellent opportunity to learn the rough and tumble of giving scientific talks, gain feedback from faculty and peers – give feedback to your fellow presenters – and, above all, learn about science, biology and effective science communication.

Friday Philosophicals run most Fridays in Kresge Building K106 (check the schedule). Seminars start at 3:30 pm and are expected to end by 4:20 pm.

For incoming students, the Friday Phils provides an excellent forum to present your proposed research in the form of hypotheses, experimental design and intended use of a field, lab or analytical techniques. For outgoing students, the forum is ideal for summarizing your key findings and explaining their broader significance.

Attendance is required of graduate students in the E&E stream, and guests are welcome, including visitors to the department and aspiring undergraduates. The seminar series represents Part 2 (Communication) of BIO 9100y/9150y. Although occasional absences are expected, consistent absence is considered poor form and may result in a grade of ‘Unsatisfactory’ with implications for funding eligibility. Should you go? Yes! Your fellow grad students will appreciate your support – as you will theirs. Besides, it's just fun!


2023-2024 Organizer

Dr. Tim Hain

December 8, 2023

Eva Visscher: Establishing dietary niches and maternal investment in colonial waterbirds on the Laurentian Great Lakes using stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) analysis of chick blood and temporal trends in egg volume

Eva Visscher photo Supervisor: Dr. CG

The Laurentian Great Lakes face numerous threats such as increases in contaminant loads, invasive species, overfishing, loss of habitat, and climate change, which has led to changes in food webs and detrimental impacts on the health of many species. Stable isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N) of consumer tissues and their prey provide a valuable tool to examine diet, relative trophic position, and the contribution of benthic vs. pelagic nutrients. Egg volume, indicative of energy content and maternal investment in each offspring, has important fitness implications and has been previously correlated with stable isotope dietary markers. This information can be used to better evaluate the effects of current and predicted environmental perturbations. My project will examine the sources of nutrients, trophic ecology, and egg volume trends of two colonial waterbirds, the double-crested cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) and ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis), from data collected across the Great Lakes in 2022 and 2023.

Tian Yang:The role of root architecture in driving tradeoffs or shared benefits for nutrient acquisition, water acquisition and resistance to soil frost

Tian Yang photo Supervisor: Dr. Hugh Henry

Plants can modulate their root architecture to maximize soil water and nutrient capture in different environments. The two main root architecture categories, taproot and adventitious root systems, are characterized by contrasting patterns in root branching and distribution, which influence resource acquisition. For over-wintering plants, variation in root architecture can have important implications for frost exposure and sensitivity to frost. I will first examine the differences of these root architectures within Plantago lanceolata, a model tap-rooted species, in driving trade-offs or shared benefits for responses to nutrient limitation, water limitation and soil frost using a novel root injury technique that can produce an adventitious rooted phenotype. I will examine the responses of this species both alone in pots and in competition with other species in the field. Thereafter, I will extend the root injury technique and analyses to a greater range of species to expand the generality of my findings.

December 1, 2023

Sarah Santos: Genomic insights into the evolution of North American wild sheep (Ovis spp.)

Sarah Santos photo Supervisor: Dr. David Coltman

The sheer amount of whole-genome sequences (WGS) becoming available allows us to better understand the evolution of different wild species. Here, we sequenced high-quality long-read assemblies of three wild sheep (bighorn, Ovis canadensis; thinhorn: Dall, O. dalli dalli and Stone, O. d. stonei) and short-read sequences of sheep-like fossils. We analyzed the demographic history of extant bighorn and thinhorn individuals by mapping WGS to these high-quality assemblies. The demographic histories of Dall and Stone presented differences, and distinguishing between these subspecies is crucial as Stone also shares ancient hybridization patterns with bighorn. Moreover, we also mapped extant and extinct sheep WGS to the domestic sheep reference genome. We observed a striking result: a fossil from the Natural Trap Cave/USA presents similarities to both extant bighorn and thinhorn sheep. Our findings illustrate the power of WGS in detecting ancient genomic signatures and unravelling the evolutionary history of North American wild sheep.

Will Van Hemessen: Macrofungi of Norfolk County, Brant County, and Waterloo Region, Ontario

Will Van Hemessen photo Supervisor: Dr. Greg Thorn

The largest and most conspicuous fungi, the macrofungi, include many species of ecological and human significance because of their roles in nutrient cycling, mycorrhizal associations with plants, and medicinal and culinary values. Despite their global significance, relatively little is known about the biogeography and conservation needs of macrofungi compared to vascular plants and wildlife. This lack of knowledge is particularly striking in Ontario’s Carolinian Zone, which is one of the most biologically diverse and densely populated regions in Canada. To address this knowledge gap, Dr. Greg Thorn’s lab is undertaking a study of the systematics and biogeography of the Carolinian mushroom fungi (Agaricomycetes). My project focuses on the composition of the macrofungus communities of three municipalities in this region using a combination of historical collection data, field collections, and citizen science. The objectives are to prepare inventories of the macrofungi of each municipality and begin to assess their conservation needs.

Novemeber 24, 2023

Tommy Galfano: Genomic consequences of genetic rescue in a small, inbred population of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis)

Tommy Galfano photo Supervisor: Dr. David Coltman

Introducing outbred individuals into smaller, inbred populations, termed genetic rescue, is a commonly proposed method for alleviating populations of the stresses associated with inbreeding depression. An inbred population of bighorn sheep that was isolated for over 60 years underwent a series of three introductions aiming to relieve the population of inbreeding depression. These admixture events led to the development of a robust herd in good health with increased genetic diversity, relative to diversity measures before the translocations, as well as a 2-week shift in breeding dates. But, in 2016, an outbreak of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae swept through the population, causing an 85% decrease in population size in less than one year. Despite good health and high levels of genetic diversity in this population, it experienced severe mortality from this outbreak. This project will investigate the long-term genomic effects of this genetic rescue, specifically on phenology and epizootic pneumonia survival.

Cailyn McKay: Heat stress experienced during metamorphosis: Impacts on subsequent pheromone-mediated mating in the true armyworm (Mythimna unipuncta)

Cailyn McKay photo Supervisor: Dr. Jeremy McNeil

The sedentary stages (i.e., egg and pupa) of insects may suffer more negative effects following heatwaves, and previously I showed that heat stress during pupal development reduces mating frequency in the true armyworm (Mythimna unipuncta). This suggests the pheromone-mediated communication system was affected. I compared the calling behaviour of females heat stressed during pupal development with controls but found no significant differences. I also compared the content of male hairpencils using gas chromatography and found that heat stress increased the average fluctuating asymmetry of male hairpencils. Future experiments will quantify female pheromone production, as well as the ability of the antennae of both sexes to detect conspecific pheromone using electroantennography. The findings will add to our understanding of the impacts of climate change on pheromone-mediated communication, which could have considerable importance with respect to the use of pheromone traps in pest management programs.

Schedule for 2023-2024

Scheduled speakers
Date First Speaker Degree Second Speaker Degree Third Speaker Degree
08-Dec-23 Eva Visscher MSc entry Tian Yang PhD entry    
12-Jan-24 Alexander Niski MSc entry Amedeo Cortese MSc entry    
19-Jan-24 Kevin Adeli MSc entry Joseph Obi MSc entry    
26-Jan-24 Liam Carter MSc entry Natalie Tateishi MSc entry Tessa Fortnum MSc entry
02-Feb-24 Pilar Caicedo PhD exit Julia Lacika MSc entry    
09-Feb-24 Corrine Genier PhD exit Parker VanBelleghem MSc entry    
16-Feb-24 Brendon Samuels PhD exit Emad Hazboun MSc entry    
23-Feb-24 Reading Week          
01-Mar-24 Makayla Lloyd MSc exit Cristina Turcu MSc exit    
08-Mar-24 Pedro Conceicao MSc exit Julien Koga MSc exit    
15-Mar-24 Aaya Aboulnaga MSc exit Samantha Hopkins MSc exit  Melina Kuerschner  MSc exit
22-Mar-24 Richard Nguyen MSc exit Justin To MSc exit  Eric Grimm  MSc exit
29-Mar-24 Good Friday          
05-Apr-24 Ryan Conklin MSc exit Sophie Killam MSc exit    
12-Apr-24 Matheus Sanita Lima PhD entry William Laur PhD exit    

The Philosophicals:
As part of your degree, you are asked to give seminars on your research (this is the second part of Bio 9100y/9150y: Communications). Giving seminars is a good thing. The idea here is to get feedback from a wide range of people to help you along in your research, and to get you feeling comfortable with public speaking. The environment is friendly, thus this is the perfect place to practice that very important Proposal Assessment talk, or the talk you plan to give at an upcoming conference.

A brief outline of what is expected: 
MSc students give one 10-20 minute talk in the first year of their degree, and a 20 minute talk in their second year. PhD students give one 20 minute talk during the second year of their degree and then a 30 minute talk near the end of their degree. A ‘before’ and ‘after’, if you will.

When it is your turn to present: 
Please send an e-mail by 5 pm of the Friday prior to your talk. Your email should include:

1. Your name
2. Your supervisor's name
3. Degree being sought
4. The title of your talk
5. A single-spaced abstract of up to 150 words. 
6. One digital photo as a jpg file, for posting on the website.

Here is an example of a title and abstract for your seminar:

The identification of genes differentially expressed in sterile and reproductive honey bee workers (Apis mellifera)

A fundamental issue of sociobiology is to understand how social insect females regulate their individual reproduction to maximize inclusive fitness. In general, honey bee (Apis mellifera) workers remain sterile throughout their short lives, while they function as helpers to the queen, who is the sole egg-layer of the colony. The environmental cues controlling this behaviour are understood, but the underlying gene regulatory networks are not. In this study, we have manipulated the pheromonal cues that regulate reproduction and have analyzed the gene expression differences between sterile and reproductive workers using oligonucleotide microarrays. Preliminary analysis shows two distinct sets of co-regulated genes: one set associated with sterility, and a second set associated with egg-laying. I interpret these gene expression patterns in the context of social theory.

What to do before your talk:

Talks will be presented in Kresge Building 106. Please consult with the coordinator ( one week in advance to discuss some presentation tips.

A Brief History of Friday Philosophicals

by Paul Handford and Jack Millar

The origins of today’s Ecology-Evolution “Friday Philosophicals” stretch back at least to the early-mid 1970s; maybe there was something even before that, but nearly forty years is as far back as Jack Millar can remember.

Back then, there were two weekly Collip events, which have since become crunched into the one that now happens on Fridays. The Friday event (the “Philosophical”) was simply an end-of-week beer-in-the-fridge session; it originally took place in Collip 104 (since migrating to 208, then to 112 – where we also had a dart board!), with supply duties rotating weekly among the lab groups. Anyone wanting a beer and a chat on a Friday afternoon was welcome, and the custodians were among the regulars. Eventually, it had to become more secretive as the university tightened up its campus beer policy.

Then there were the “Wednesday-Niters”; these were sessions permitting the informal discussion of grad students’ research projects, and they took place in the homes of faculty, around the town. The grad-of-the-day arrived with notes, overheads, a stand-up screen and a two-four or two and made a presentation of their ideas, data, conclusions etc., as appropriate to their stage. The discussions were spirited and great fun, often lasting well into the night: presenters learned the rough & tumble business of presenting and defending their views on their feet, and the rest honed their thinking & questioning skills. All agreed they were a grand institution, and they formed a truly distinctive part of Western’s E&E group experience. On top of being an excellent tool in professional and intellectual development, they comprised a very important piece of the group's social furniture, generating great esprit de corps. But eventually, faculty retired and/or moved out of town until by the later 80s-early 90s we had only 2 locations for most of the winter, early fall and late spring sessions being held at out of town locations.

Eventually it was suggested that the two weekly events be merged. Thus was born the modern Friday Phils format: seminars plus weekly brews in a single Collip location starting off in Collip 208, since migrating to 112, where the last sessions took place in spring 2010. Our swelling graduate ranks have since forced a move from the Collip spaces, so Fall 2010 sees the Friday Phils take their next steps. Let’s hope that its future unrolling will continue to generate a fruitful and fun experience for all.