11th September 2017 – Nicholas Pilfold, San Diego Zoo Global

Nicholas PilfoldDr. Nicholas Pilfold is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Institute of Conservation Research for San Diego Zoo Global. Nicholas is a large carnivore biologist focused mainly on bear species, but his research also extends to large cats.

Nicholas leads and collaborates on projects for four large carnivore species: polar bears, African leopards, Andean bears, and giant pandas. Nicholas’ research is focused on several themes within spatial and population ecology. His work includes assessment of diet and foraging patterns, reproductive and mating behavior, human-carnivore conflict resolution, as well as understanding the role a changing climate has on large carnivore persistence. Nicholas is interested in identifying broad ecological patterns useful to the conservation of all large carnivores.

Nicholas earned his bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from the University of British Columbia and his doctorate in Ecology at the University of Alberta. His interest in large carnivore research was initially spurred while volunteering on small wildlife reserves in South Africa. Prior to joining San Diego Zoo Global, Nicholas worked with researchers at the University of Alberta and Environment and Climate Change Canada.



21st August – Rachael Bonoan, Tufts University

Rachel BonoanHi! My name is Rachael and I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Starks Lab at Tufts University in Medford, MA. As a lab, we study behavioral ecology to understand how animals deal with environmental pressures. My research focuses on how seasonal changes in honey bee diet (i.e. flowers!) affects honey bee health and behavior.

When we go to the grocery store, we have a lot of choices. While our choices do change with season (try to find pumpkins in the summer, or berries in the winter), those choices tend to remain diverse. The “grocery store” for honey bees is our lawns, our gardens, etc., and the choices aren’t always diverse. In the early New England spring, honey bees only have dandelions or clovers to choose from. The summer brings a more diverse choice of flower foods and in the fall, the main choices are goldenrod and aster. How might honey bees change their foraging habitats to cope with the lack of choices? How could the lack of choices alter the honey bee gut microbiome? How does a lack of diet diversity affect the honey bee’s immune system?

These are just the broad questions I am interested in answering during my Ph.D. One of the first studies I did as a Ph.D. student was on honey bees drinking dirty water—you can read about what I found here. Also, check out my personal website to follow my adventures in field biology and beekeeping!

Outside of my research, I enjoy communicating science to the public and am the President of the Boston Area Beekeepers Association. I can also be found playing middle infield for the Tufts Biology Department softball team (Base Pairs), kickboxing at a nearby gym, baking (especially brownies and cookies), crawling on the ground photographing insects, or visiting my waterside hometown in Rhode Island.

7th August 2017 – Shandiya Balasubramaniam, Museums Victoria

Shandiya BalasubramaniamHi Biotweeps!

I’m an evolutionary ecologist working on avian systems. In a nutshell, I like to know what birds do, and why, where, and how they do it.

I completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne on the evolution and ecology of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes in south-eastern Australian passerines (songbirds). MHC genes are a vital component of the vertebrate immune system, and I wanted to know more about the evolutionary processes underpinning variation in these genes. I was also interested in how MHC variation was influenced by ecological variables, such as dispersal behaviour and habitat configuration. To answer these questions, I mist-netted over a thousand birds across two years, resulting in a love/hate relationship with early mornings. Somewhere along the winding PhD journey I developed an interest in wildlife disease, and ended up doing a survey of avian malaria in woodland birds as well.

I’m currently a research fellow at Museums Victoria in Australia, where I’m working on a few different projects. My main focus at the moment is on the ecological ramifications of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) on threatened parrots. BFDV is thought to be infectious to all parrots, but can it also infect other birds? And if so, what does that mean for the transmission of BFDV across species? If you’re interested in knowing more about any of my research, get in contact!

When I’m not science-ing, I’m either baking bread or accumulating cats. I can be found on Twitter @ShandiyaB.

3rd July 2017 – Lauren Diepenbrock, North Carolina State University, Entomological Society of America

Lauren DiepenbrockI am an insect ecologist working in integrated pest management as a postdoctoral research scholar at North Carolina State University. This basically means that I study the ecology of insect pests and incorporate that into management programs to help growers produce healthy crops. At NC State, I study a challenging invasive vinegar fly, spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), a nearly worldwide pest that impacts small fruit crops (cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, etc.). I also manage a multi-institutional Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant working with researchers all over the United States on coordinated research addressing the management of spotted wing drosophila.

Prior to my postdoc position, I did a Master’s at Florida State University where I studied the seasonal natural history of trap-jaw ants (Odontomachus brunneus) in North Florida with Dr. Walter Tschinkel. I consider myself very fortunate for this opportunity to observe these organisms and learn about their unique behaviors. The observational skills that I learned during this work have been helpful both in my PhD and postdoctoral research.

I did my doctoral research with Dr. Deborah Finke at the University of Missouri. For my dissertation, I looked at the impacts of resources, historical land use, and invasive species on native lady beetle communities in tallgrass habitats in Missouri. Tallgrass prairie was once the predominant land cover for much of this region and has, over time, been converted to agricultural land. I wanted to understand how changes in land use and the restoration of some lands to tallgrass prairie impacted insect communities, and I chose to focus on lady beetles because of recent studies documenting negative impacts of invasive lady beetles (e.g. Harmonia axyridis, Coccinella septempunctata) on native species. One of our major findings is that grasslands (native or agricultural) are really important for promoting the persistence of native lady beetles.

During my week on BioTweeps, I’ll talk about natural history, insect ecology, beneficial and pest insects, integrated pest management, and ongoing research.  There will likely be random cat pictures, discussion of experiences from grad school and beyond, how to make the most out of interesting opportunities along the way, the hunt for a faculty position… and anything else that is of interest at the time. I’m happy to answer whatever insect questions that I can and refer those that I cannot answer to people who can.

12th June 2017 – Angela Watkins, Welsh Government

Angela WatkinsHi Biotweeps!

I’m currently a civil servant with the Welsh Government, working as Biodiversity Policy Officer in our Land, Nature and Forestry team. I’ve been a civil servant for the last nearly 3 years after having completed my PhD at the University of Southampton in 2014. My role mainly involves developing and delivering biodiversity and nature policy and evidence across Wales and supporting others to do the same.  I’ll hopefully be able to share a bit of insight into what this means during my week ‘(wo)manning’ the Biotweeps account.

A bit of background about me: My PhD was in the field of computational ecology, but I actually completed an integrated PhD as part of the Institute of Complex Systems Simulation, so I don’t have an easy answer when people ask me what my PhD is in! Normally depending on the questioner I’ll either say ecology, or complexity and ecology. In a nutshell, my research involved using complex systems theory to develop a model(s) that could test questions about the relationship between landscape ecology (i.e. connectivity) and species persistence and movement in that landscape. To make this sound cooler, I essentially studied the way that jaguars moved around a fragmented habitat in central Belize. I’ll explain a bit more about this too if you are interested!

My main research interests lie in landscape ecology and resilience, (but will broaden to agent-based modelling, conservation, population ecology) but I am keen to link this with real, direct, on the ground policy decisions and implementation. How can we use our theoretical knowledge to deliver real change in terms of conserving and enhancing our biodiversity?

I’m also a wife and mother of two young girls aged (almost) 5 and 15 months, a passionate feminist and promoter of #womeninscience, naturally. Normally I can be found on twitter @ecologywatkins.

22nd May 2017 – Seth Barribeau, University of Liverpool

I’m an evolutionary ecologist who largely works on understanding how insects are able to do complicated things with what is generally considered a ‘simple’ immune system. Spoiler: it’s not that simple. I am fond of most animals, with the noticeable exceptions of ostriches (they have cruel, dead, eyes) and locusts (a childhood incident). I started out studying the what predisposes tadpoles to infection as a graduate student in New Zealand, and after a brief stint catching snakes, teaching English, and proof reading medical articles in Japan, moved on to studying aphids and fungus-growing ants at Emory University, and then bumblebees at the ETH in Zürich. After studying and postdoc-ing in several countries I recently started a position as the lecturer for eco-immunology at the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool.
My recent research has explored why aphids have a pretty rubbish immune system, why the costs of mounting an immune response differ among individuals, how diet influences the expression of immunity, how bumblebees respond differently to different genotypes of a common parasite, what makes immune memory, what does sociality do to the evolution of the immune system, and, most importantly, was Marvin Gaye right? Is there such a thing as sexual healing?

24th April 2017 – Danielle Gilroy, Operation Wallacea

Danielle GilroyI am a terrestrial research and operations officer at Operation Wallacea, based in the UK with offices worldwide, and carrying out conservation research in 15 different countries. I oversee of all the forest-based research and am also the Senior Scientist for our largest forest site, Cusuco National Park in Honduras. My main research interests are centred in evolutionary biology and using a combination of molecular and ecological tools to investigate how evolution shapes diversity in populations. I have always strived to carry out research with real conservation applications and I am helping Operation Wallacea’s sister charity, the Operation Wallacea Trust, to make use of our large spatial and temporal datasets from sites around the world to lever funds to best establish conservation practice and work towards protecting particularly vulnerable and highly biodiverse ecosystems.

My PhD at the University of East Anglia focussed on a particular conservation success story, the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). This endemic island passerine was once down to just 25 individuals on a single island in the Seychelles archipelago in the 1980s, but has since recovered due to a combination of science research integrated with effective island management. There are now over 3000 birds across five islands, 115 times what it was over three decades ago and importantly, we have learnt a lot by using this species as a model of evolutionary study. My thesis looked at the causes and consequences of functional variation within the bottlenecked source population of Seychelles warbler. I investigated how variation at genes critical in innate immune defence could influence individual fitness and a bird’s ability to fight disease, mainly avian malaria, and considered the long-term viability of the species by assessing its genetic health and predicting future changes under natural selection.

During my week, I will focus on our work at Operation Wallacea and present to you our ongoing conservation research across our many terrestrial and marine sites. I will also talk about the importance of molecular ecology as a relatively new and quickly-growing field and as an ornithologist, will no doubt mention birds at every opportunity I can. On a similar note, I will no doubt mention my rescue staffy dog Tia who often accompanies me on my birding adventures.