Tag Archives: School of Biological Sciences

Opportunity for doctoral student, Flanagan Lab – Biological Sciences

An opportunity is available for a doctoral student to work on sexual selection and evolution in pipefish in the School of Biological Sciences.

The student will be fully funded for three years, and will have the opportunity to conduct field, laboratory, and computational research.

My group studies how and why complex traits and behaviours evolve, with a focus on sexually selected traits. We use a number of different methods to address these broad questions: studies of relevant traits and selection on those traits; genomic studies of signatures of selection; and theoretical simulation studies. 

The immediate focus of the lab concerns uncovering the evolutionary processes that have shaped the sexually dimorphic traits in the wide-bodied pipefish, a native species to New Zealand.

This position offers the flexibility for the doctoral student to decide on the direction of their studies within the framework of my research programme.

See here for more information.

Dr Sarah Flanagan, PhD
Lecturer School of Biological Sciences

UC a partner in bioprotection

UC has become a partner in the Bioprotection Research Centre.

The Bioprotection Research Centre is focused on novel research to develop sustainable solutions for controlling plant pests, weeds and diseases. It is a partnership between several Aotearoa New Zealand universities and Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), with numerous international linkages.

UC becoming a partner recognises the University’s contribution in writing the successful bid and key role in four out of the CoRE’s seven projects. UC’s involvement includes modelling the resistance of pests to biological control agents, developing genomic tools to predict virulence, and understanding how complex networks of interactions among species above and below ground determine the success of plant invasions. This work contributes to the Centre’s broader aims of supporting the exclusion, eradication and effective management of threats to plant species, in order to enhance the economy, environment and human health and wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We officially became partners on April, following a formal invitation from the chair of the governing board, Dr John Hay.

Professor Matthew Turnbull
Head of School | Tumuaki Kura
School of Biological Sciences

Native birds more abundant on UC Campus

Bellbird and chicks. Photo credit Jim Briskie.
Bellbird and chicks. Photo credit Jim Briskie.

A recent survey of the UC campus shows that in the last 26 years, both the range and abundance of all native bird species have increased.

Last year, as part of a lab exercise for Biology 273 (New Zealand Biodiversity and Biosecurity), a group of UC students created a bird atlas of the UC campus and compared it to a similar atlas from 1990 (by Krystyna Dodunski, a former Zoology student).

The results of the survey indicate that in the 26 years that have passed, all native species increased in range and abundance, with an increase of almost 500 percent in the total number of native birds observed. One species, the bellbird, is now in the early stages of colonising campus. And fantails, grey warblers and silvereyes have all become significantly more abundant on campus.

The greatest diversity of native birds occurred along the campus waterways. Professor Jim Briskie (School of Biological Sciences) says it is likely that the changes are a product of increased plantings of native trees (favoured by native birds) and decreased open space (habitat favoured by many introduced species). Maintaining and expanding native plantings at UC could also help to further increase the range of native birds, like the native pigeon or kererū.

Song Thrush. Photo credit Jim Briskie.
Song Thrush. Photo credit Jim Briskie.

Given the dependence of bellbirds on flowering and fruiting trees, Professor Briskie suggests it is worth considering plantings that provide this resource, and to ensure that the current small population of bellbirds does not disappear. Restoring species that formerly occurred in the Christchurch area but are now locally extinct could be a long-term goal for the management of the campus green spaces.

This message was brought to you by the UC Sustainability Office. Connect with us through Facebook or Instagram. Or email us: sustainability@canterbury.ac.nz

Life, the Universe and Everything

Professor George Ellis, a renowned cosmologist visiting on an Erskine Fellowship from the University of Cape Town, will present a series of eight lectures on big questions aimed at a broad audience, including cosmology, causality, life, aliens and the physics of the mind.

The lectures are open to everyone. The first will be held as a public lecture in C1, 8pm, Monday 8 August.

George has had a remarkable career. In addition to a string of academic honours, he also played a role in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. (He was later awarded the Order of the Star of South Africa by Nelson Mandela.)

I got to know George on my first postdoc in Trieste, Italy, in 1988 at a time when things had got a bit too difficult for him in South Africa. For a few years George was based there at SISSA, an Institute directed then by Dennis Sciama, who in the 1960s had supervised George Ellis, Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, and a whole generation of experts in general relativity.

George and Stephen co-wrote one of the classic texts of the field, published in 1973. (George appears as fellow student in the film dramatisations of Stephen’s life, including the 2014 movie “Theory of Everything”.)

George is truly a deep thinker, always tackling the most fundamental questions. His lectures (full list available here) will be a fascinating journey crossing the boundaries of physics, biology and philosophy.

The lectures are largely self-contained, so that students and staff can choose ones that interest them without worrying about missing others.

Astrobiology topics will be hosted by Biological Sciences (August 11, 18); cosmology by Philosophy (August 10) and Physics and Astronomy (August 12, 19) and causality and complex systems by Philosophy (August 15, 17). The last topics are discussed in George’s new book How Can Physics Underlie the Mind?: Top-Down Causation in the Human Context.

David Wiltshire

Remembering Henry Connor

We note with sadness that Henry Connor died on Tuesday 26 July at Rannerdale Veterans Home in Christchurch.

Henry made a huge contribution to botany in New Zealand. He was Director of the Botany Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (forerunner of Landcare Research) until his retirement in 1982. After that he took up an honorary position at UC in Geography and continued working actively.

Among the notable achievements of this later period are his comprehensive revision of speces in the genus Chionochloa (snow tussocks) in the New Zealand Journal of Botany in 1991, and co-authorship with Elizabeth Edagar in 2000 of Volume 5 of the Flora of New Zealand, covering all native and exotic grasses.

He was also the New Zealand expert on poisonous plants, publishing “Poisonous Plants in New Zealand” in 1951, revised in 1977, and in 2009 co-authoring “Plants that Poison: a New Zealand Guide” with John Fountain from the Otago National Poisons Centre. This work helped forge medical response policies: http://www.mwpress.co.nz/plants/plants-that-poison-a-new-zealand-guide

In 2002, he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his services to botany.

Professor David Kelly

School of Biological Sciences