BTCon17 – Day 1

7:00 Introduction
Anthony Caravaggi
, University College Cork
Katherine James
, Newcastle University

Over the last three years, the Biotweeps project has grown in popularity and played host to a wide range of biologists. The organisers of #BtCon17 provide a background to the Biotweeps project and welcome you to this, the first Biotweeps Twitter Conference.

8:00 Mark D. Scherz
Zoologische Staatssammlung, München (ZSM)
Micro-CT, Microhylids, and Madagascar: from taxonomy to evolution on the backs of bones

Madagascar’s frogs are hugely diverse. We have been working to shed light on some that have escaped the lime-light until now. This research has heavy reliance on micro-CT. In this presentation, I will talk about the ways we are using micro-CT to address questions at in alpha-taxonomy and at more general biological levels with large sample sizes.

9:00 Sridhar Gutam
Phenology of selected fruit tree crops growing under Eastern Plateau and Hills region of India

As per the IPCC 2007 prediction, the rise of temperature globally affects the life and ecosystems on the earth in various ways. And it was also reported that this global warming would have a significant effect on the phenology of growth and flowering of fruit tree crops. The shifts in phenology of flowering would affect the pollination as the flowering phenology of trees  and pollinators may not coincide. This demands the study of the fruit tree crops phenology to make efforts for their availability in the markets. At this backdrop, a study was proposed to monitor phenological states of selected fruit tree crops viz., Bael (Aegle marmelos), Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) Jamun (Syzygium cumini) and Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) under the Chota Nagpur plateau climatic conditions (Eastern Plateau and Hills Region) in India. These fruit tree species are important due to their nutritional, economic and ecological aspects. The proposed presentation is about the stages which were observed and how those stages could be used to develop the BBCH scale for the study of phenology with an ultimate goal of documentation of how the stages of the tree’s annual cycle are influenced by the environment and how these stages could be affected by climate change in the future and how we can manipulate the tree environment by management practices for better tree growth and development (leafing, flowering and fruiting) and fruit yield.

10:00 Lauren Robinson
Happiness is positive welfare in brown capuchins

We tested the reliability of questionnaire measure of brown capuchin welfare. We found that staff ratings were consistent; happiness and welfare were highly correlated. Ratings were associated with personality and stereotypic behaviour. These results suggest that questionnaires are a reliable, valid tool for assessing brown capuchin welfare.

11:00 Timothée Poisot
Who should I eat? The variability of species interactions

Most species need to interact to survive. Yet the way they establish interactions is highly variable, both in time and across space. By discussing results from host and parasite communities, I will show how we need to account for this variability in order to understand community structure, and how it can lead to new finding on the rules that govern the assembly of ecological communities.

12:00 John R Hutchinson
Detailed soft tissue preservation in a Cretaceous bird and what it means for avian evolution

The hindlimbs of theropod dinosaurs changed appreciably in the line leading to living birds, becoming more crouched along with changes to body shape and gait. This postural evolution included anatomical changes of the foot and ankle, altering the leverages and control of the muscles involved, but the timing of these changes is unknown. We discovered cellular-level preservation of tendon- and cartilage-like tissues from the lower hindlimb of a specimen of the Early Cretaceous bird Confuciusornis. The digital flexor tendons passed through cartilages, cartilaginous crests and ridges on the back of the distal tibiotarsus (shank) and proximal tarsometatarsus (sole bones), as in extant birds. In particular, fibrocartilaginous and cartilaginous structures on the plantar surface of the ankle joint of Confuciusornis may indicate a more crouched hindlimb posture; not evident from just bones. Recognition of these specialized soft tissues in Confuciusornis is enabled by our combination of imaging and chemical analyses applied to an exceptionally preserved fossil. Reciprocally, our findings reinforce prevailing evidence for the gradual nature of the extensive transformations of musculoskeletal form, function and behaviour from early dinosaurs to modern birds. Moreover, some soft tissues missing from most fossils formed transitional states that later mineralized in birds, so gaps evident from bones alone may sometimes be less morphologically drastic than it seems.

13:00 Katey Duffey
Connecting the spots between the health of snow leopards and herders

One Health is a global, interdisciplinary strategy that involves collaborations from human health professionals, veterinarians, and ecologists in order to investigate and mitigate conflicts or diseases caused by environmental factors. The One Health approach recognizes that the wellbeing of humans and animals are connected. Due to an increase in anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems causing habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, disease ecology between humans and animals has been negatively altered. There is virtually no research on infectious diseases within wild snow leopard populations. Information on diseases the endangered big cats can obtain from their environment or livestock they feed on is an important factor when considering long-term conservation efforts. My current research is examining possible zoonoses that can be transmitted from livestock to snow leopards. The pilot study is underway in collaboration with Green Initiative NGO, and Dr. Jan Janecka, Duquesne University.

14:00 Lucy Eland
Microbes solving the pollution of the sexual revolution

Estrogens have been shown to cause feminisation of aquatic animals, and are on the EU water framework directive’s watch list for emerging water pollutants. Bacteria that live in wastewater treatment plants are able to breakdown estrogen compounds, but the way they do this is not fully understood. As a synthetic biology team working on a wider wastewater treatment modelling project (@FrontiersNCL) we wanted to tackle this issue and see if we can improve how bacteria carry out estrogen removal. We sequenced the genomes of bacteria known to breakdown these compounds. The data was then used to identify possible enzymes involved in degradation of estrogens. We are currently testing the function of the enzymes we identified, to confirm whether or not they play a role in degradation. This work is being carried out as a collaboration between the school of Computing Sciences and the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University.

15:00 Michelle Rodrigues
Female spider monkeys cope with anthropogenic disturbance through fission-fusion dynamics

Most primates live in habitats with some level of anthropogenic disturbance, and those disturbances can have a larger impact on frugivorous primates. I examined how fruit abundance, subgroup size, and activity budgets affect stress hormones in spider monkeys living at El Zota Biological Field Station, Costa Rica. I found that subgroup sizes were significantly larger during periods of high fruit abundance, but stress hormones did not vary between periods of high and low fruit abundances. Only resting time and reproductive state predicted stess hormone concentration, and individuals with the highest resting percentages had the lowest stress hormones. Spider monkeys also periodically foraged in banana plantation. This results suggest that spider monkeys can cope with mild anthropogenic disturbance through flexible grouping patterns and foraging on anthropogenic food sources.

16:00 Dani Rabaiotti 
Hot and bothered: Impacts of high temperatures on the behaviour of endotherms

How does temperature affect animal behaviour? What are the potential impacts of this? What is the significance of behaviour change in the context of today’s warming climate? All this will be answered, plus gifs, photos, and more in this one of a kind Twitter presentation.

‘Five stars’ – My mum and dad
‘That sounds quite interesting’ – A colleague
‘Can you stop talking about animals for one minute I’m trying to watch Netflix’ – My boyfriend

17:00 Solomon David
Winter is coming: Adaptations of a fish in the North

Peripheral populations occupy the edge of a species’ range and are considered to be important in terms of a species’ ecology, biogeography, evolution, and conservation.  Further, peripheral populations often persist under different environmental conditions from the species’ core populations, and may exhibit adaptations to potentially “harsher” marginal environments. The peripheral population of the Spotted Gar Lepisosteus oculatus in the Great Lakes basin represents the northern edge of the species’ range and is completely disjunct from the core Mississippi River basin population. In this study we used common garden experiments, life history analyses, and phylogeography (based on mitochondrial DNA) to address the overall hypothesis that Spotted Gars from peripheral, Great Lakes Basin populations exhibit distinct life history characteristics and patterns of genetic diversity in comparison to Spotted Gars from core populations.

18:00 Sofía Martínez-Villalpando
Biological control and insect mass rearing

Biological control is a method of reducing or mitigating pests through the use of natural enemies. It relies on predation, parasitism and other natural mechanisms, but typically also involves an active human management role. Natural enemies of insect pests, also known as biological control agents, include predators, parasitoids, pathogens, and competitors.  There are three basic types of biological pest control strategies, importation (the classical biological control), augmentation and conservation. Some of these strategies involves the release of natural enemies of insect pests. Mass rearing of insects is a key component of several integrated pest management strategies. The goal of insect mass rearing is to provide reliable, affordable sources of high quality insects and it relies in rear thousands of insect species through multiple generations and many more for part of their life cycles.  Some of most common species mass reared in laboratory includes the green lacewing Chrysoperla carnea, micro-wasp Trichogramma pretiosum and parasitoid wasps Diadegma insulare and Diaeretiella rapae.

19:00 Kathy Zeller
Planning for puma conservation in southern California

Pumas in the Santa Ana Mountains population of southern California have the lowest reported genetic diversity of any puma population in the United States with the exception of the Florida panther. This population, isolated by freeways and human development, is not only showing signs of inbreeding, but also has a low adult survival rate mostly due to vehicle collisions and deaths from depredation events. Over the last 15 years, three male pumas have successfully immigrated into the Santa Ana Mountains from more genetically diverse populations to the east. Of these, only one survived long enough to establish a territory and breed, introducing new genetic material into the population. This one male produced 11 offspring and was shown to significantly increase genetic heterozygosity, but only two of his offspring are still alive. Given low genetic diversity and low survival rates, targeted conservation efforts are needed to aid in the long-term survival of this puma population. Using puma genetic and GPS collar data, we designed a multi-level, multi-scale conservation network for pumas from the Santa Ana Mountains to the Eastern Peninsular Mountains. We identified resource use patches and landscape corridors as well as road crossing locations where wildlife mitigation efforts might ease the passage of pumas between these two populations. Currently, only about 50% of this proposed conservation network is protected. This research is a collaborative effort with Drs. Winston Vickers and Walter Boyce at the University of California – Davis and Dr. Holly Ernest at the University of Wyoming.

20:00 Lisa Buckley
Best foot forward: the congruence between tarsometatarsus osteology and track morphology in extant shorebirds, and implications for Cretaceous bird track systematics

Tracks are often the best record of the presence of Cretaceous shore- and wading bird analogs in many formations. Diversity of known Cretaceous bird tracks is growing, and our knowledge of natural variation in bird tracks is increasing. However, it is still unclear how the morphology of the pelvic limbs, particularly the tarsometatarsus, influences the morphology of avian tracks and trackways. Extant Charadriiformes provide a test group for determining the link between osteology and track morphology in Cretaceous shore- and wading bird analogs.

Analyses on tracks and trackways of extant shorebirds show that, at the familial level, tracks of Charadriidae (plovers) and Scolopacidae (sandpipers, yellowlegs, snipe) are significantly different. However, the tracks and trackways of Charadrius were not significantly different from Calidris, but was significantly different from and that tracks of Actitis, Tringa, Gallinago, and Recurvirostra. The variables along which taxa separated are digit splay I–II, digit splay II–III, and footprint rotation. In the skeletal analyses, linear and torsion data for tarsometatarsi trochlea for Charadriidae are significantly different from those of both short-legged and long-legged Scolopacidae. This difference is not observed when pelvic, femur, and tibia data are included in the analyses. At the generic and specific levels, the differences are more ambiguous, where genera and species of Charadriidae are significantly different from Tringa but not Calidris. The variables along which taxa separated were those related to the torsion and displacement of the trochlea of metatarsal II.

As in previous cladistic analyses using extant using extant avian osteology, a preliminary cladistic analysis using pelvic limb characters suggest a systematic signal in the morphology of the distal tarsometatarsus of extant shorebirds: the displacement and torsion of metatarsals II is a synapomorphy for examined species of Charadriidae. This synapomorphy, together with the significantly larger trochlear torsion in metatarsal II of Charadriidae and larger digit II-III divarication in the tracks of Charadriidae, indicates that track morphology has the potential to contain systematic signals, even in morphologically conservative feet of small Charadriiformes. Shorebird track morophology, as influenced by distal tarsometatarsus morphology, may contain systematic as well as ecological data. Digit splay and proportion differences in the tracks may offer clues to potential paleobiologic diversity in Cretaceous shorebirds.