The 2014 Wales Ecology and Evolution Network (WEEN) inaugural meeting was a storming success this HalloWEEN, uniting postgrads from Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea Universities to share their research under the broad umbrella of ecology and evolution. With a two day packed programme we were enlightened into the exciting research being produced by the four Welsh universities; from parasitology to ecosystem functioning. The keynote speaker, Patrik Nosil, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Sheffield, deserves a particular mention for his presentation on selection and speciation in stick insects (genus Timema), presented in full insect attire!
CRIPES member Rhidian Thomas kicked off the conference presenting experimental tests of competition among non-native crayfish species. Displacement of signal crayfish by a more fecund, aggressive counterpart could intensify the threat of invasive species on native biota.
Mike Reynolds talked about how juvenile guppies that imprinted on ‘sickness’ cues, associated with Gyrodactylus infection, were attracted to infected conspecifics during adulthood. This maladaptive behaviour is likely to increase infection vulnerability for a focal individual, thus compromising health. Continuing with the guppy theme, Jess Stephenson discussed how small, Gyrodactylus infected guppies showed a slower escape response to predatory stimuli than uninfected conspecifics. Females, but not males, shoal as an anti-predatory strategy, however such behaviour also facilitates parasite transmission. Sex-biased shoaling may therefore explain sex-biased parasitism.
Later in the day, Dr. Eleanor Kean summarised how European otters can be identified, using an ‘electronic nose’, from their ‘spraint’; a deposit of faeces mixed with scent material from a pair of anal glands. Alex Stewart, our final CRIPES representative, described how at low temperatures, sticklebacks were more tolerant to the highly virulent Saprolegnia parasitica. This may be due to slower germination and growth of Saprolegnia, or because the innate response of its host is more active at temperatures below 10°C.
A compulsory fancy dress Halloween party really broke the ice, with Aberystwyth Uni taking home the crown for both best dressed and best ecology dance move with their rendition of ‘death of an aphid’. Thank you to Kyle Young, Jess Stephenson, Sarah Perkins and each university representative for organising a fantastic conference and setting the bar high for next year’s event. A special thanks goes to Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) and the Wye and Usk Foundation (WUF), whose generous donations helped defray registration fees, and to Paul Henderson of DCWW, who spent his Friday night giving us a presentation on DCWW’s research activities. WEEN will return to Gregynog Hall 23-25th October 2015. For more information on how to apply, and to keep up to date with WEEN news, please click here.