SEB Brighton 2016 PROGRAMME

Animal Sessions

The following Animal biology sessions will take place at SEB Brighton 2016. Read more details on each session below: 

Developmental biomechanics of motor skills


Prof Johan van Leeuwen (Wageningen University, Netherlands) & Prof Peter Aerts (University of Antwerp, Belgium) 


Dr Nadia Dominici (Vu University, Netherlands), Prof Rob James (Coventry University, UK), Dr Martin Lankheet (Wageningen University, Netherlands) & Dr Robbie Wilson (University of Queensland, Australia)  

Learning to control body movements after hatching, birth, or metamorphosis is a challenging task that is key to the collection of food and the avoidance of predation. Performance at early stages is highly critical and therefore crucial to the survival of species. During such transitions, animals are confronted with sudden changes in their environment that require the acquisition and fine-tuning of new motor skills. In the meantime they may restructure their body, accompanied by dramatic changes in shape and size. This affects the inertia and dynamics of the musculo-skeletal systems and requires a continuous adjustment and recalibration of their motor control. Motor skills may be innate (i.e. pre-programmed before birth or metamorphosis) or may be flexible and adjustable to the environment by means of postnatal training and learning. Motor-learning demands might be facilitated by ‘smart’ tissue mechanics and by optimized overall body architecture, providing inherent stability that reduces the complexity of neurosensory control.

This symposium addresses the development of motor skills with special emphasis on biomechanical aspects. The general topic covers a wide range of questions, such as: How do animals learn to walk and run? How do fish manage to catch moving prey quickly after hatching or birth? How do birds and bats learn to fly? Experimental as well as theoretical contributions to this symposium are invited. 

How does energy constrain ecology?

Session supported by: American Physiological Society


Dr Lewis Halsey (University of Roehampton, UK), Dr Mike Scantlebury (Queen’s University Belfast, UK) & Prof Terrie Williams (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA)


Dr Charles Bishop (Bangor University, UK), Dr Vincent Careau (University of Ottawa, Canada), Dr Jeremy Goldbogen (Stanford University, USA), Prof Kim Hammond (University of California Riverside, USA)  & Dr Ela Krol (University of Aberdeen, UK)

Since all behavioural processes require energy and animals obtain that energy from their environment, energy is considered a fundamental unit of currency in animal ecology. Finite energy availability is believed to be a limiting factor on an animal’s ability to survive and to reproduce. In turn, animals are expected to have adaptations that improve their energy efficiency and optimally allocate energy reserves to competing demands. There seems little doubt that behavioural-physiologies associated with events such as migration and fasting have evolved in response to periodic downturns in energy availability. In contrast, there are many situations where ‘animals experience intrinsic physiological limitations that supersede [environmental] limits to energy supply’ (Speakman and Król 2010). In this case, the relationship between energy and ecology fundamentally changes in that other aspects, in particular the ability to dissipate body heat in the case of endotherms, may limit activity and energy expenditure. In this symposium we seek to ascertain the current state of research into how energetics drives ecology.

We welcome all relevant submissions including those providing insight into mechanisms underlying the energetics-ecology relationship. Linking with a sister symposium on conservation physiology, we also welcome submissions on how measurements of energetics may inform individual survival.

Comparative cardio-respiratory physiology


Dr Michael Berenbrink (University of Liverpool, UK) & Dr Gina Galli (University of Manchester, UK)


Prof Mark Bayley (Aarhus University, Denmark), Prof Kevin Campbell (University of Manitoba, Canada), Prof Stuart Egginton (University of Leeds, UK), Dr Casey Mueller (California State University San Marcos, USA) & Prof Patricia Wright (University of Guelph, Canada)

This session explores cardio-respiratory mechanisms of adaptations to changing environments. This includes short term phenotypic responses of organisms to challenges such as climate warming, ocean acidification, eutrophication and increasing incidences of hypoxic episodes, but also longer term effects, such as developmental programming of cardiovascular function after developmental hypoxia. Finally, the session will also cover long term evolutionary adaptations to the above challenges. In so far as living organisms are the product of past selection forces, a thorough mechanistic understanding of their current physiology, together with the factors that have shaped it, are essential for the understanding of their genetic and phenotype capacity to respond to future environmental change.

The session will cater for the interests of the Animal Respiration Group but also be attractive to delegates interested in both a potential Muscle & Biomechanics Theme (mechanics of breathing and heart function) and a potential Conservation Physiology Theme (oxygen and capacity limited thermal tolerance hypothesis, ocean acidification).

In view of the new session format proposal for the animal section, the overlap with two potential themes may have to be resolved towards just one of the two themes.

The role of individual variation in the behaviour of animal groups


Dr Shaun Killen (University of Glasgow, UK) & Dr Stefano Marras (IAMC-CNR, Italy)


Dr Audrey Dussutour (Universite Paul Sabatier, France), Dr Andrew King (University of Swansea, UK); Dr Steve Portugal (Royal Holloway University of London, UK), Dr Susanne Shultz (University of Manchester, UK) & Dr Ashley Ward (University of Sydney, Australia)

Individuals within species show tremendous variation in physiological and behavioural traits. Over the last decade, there has been a surge of interest in the ecological and evolutionary importance of this diversity but the vast majority of this work has been performed on isolated animals. In reality, however, most animals - from insects to mammals - do not live in a vacuum but instead live within complex social structures. Social influences may override links between traits that exist in solitary animals. Conversely, an individual's standing within a group may be an important factor generating intraspecific variation. Overall, relationships between individual variation and group behaviours will have an important influence on social hierarchies, group migrations, the spatial distribution of phenotypes, and evolutionary trajectories. In particular, the role of individual physiological traits associated with energy metabolism, endocrine status, and sensory physiology are only beginning to be recognised. Without a full understanding of the genetic and mechanistic underpinnings of group behaviours, we cannot possibly predict how animal groups will respond to aspects of environmental change.

The recent research focus on intraspecific variability has revealed important insights into physiological and behavioural ecology, but current work is now extending the paradigm to include the physiology and behaviour of animal groups. This session will bring together researchers in this emerging field to exchange ideas and present work at the frontier of our understanding of the role that individual variation plays in the collective animal behaviour.

Osmoregulation at the extremes: Water and ion balance at environmental highs and lows


Dr Jonathan Wilson (University of Porto, Portugal), Dr Juan Fuentes (University of Algarve, Portugal) & Dr Pedro Guerreiro (University of Algarve, Portugal)


Dr Marian Hu (University of Kiel, Germany); Prof Dietmar Kultz (University of California, Davis, USA); Dr Rod Wilson (University of Exeter, UK) & Prof Adalberto Val (Former Director, The National Institute for Research in the Amazon)

There is salt water in Mars! How much more extreme can it get? Still, there are plenty of osmotically challenging conditions for life on Earth too. Over the years many contributions have exposed the peculiarities of extremophiles as models for comparative physiology. Now global climate change has reinvigorated the interest of how animals perform in extreme environments and the new omic tools may provide insight into the background for the evolution of mechanisms that allow surviving and thriving in such seemingly harsh conditions. 

Many genes, mechanisms, regulatory factors and behaviours must contribute to water and ion balance in habitats ranging from hot deserts to freezing ice caps, from ion-poor acidic rivers to the depths of the oceans and further to the hypersaline alkaline lakes. As these environments are transformed, grasping their inhabitant’s physiological scope can help to predict the conservation status of the species and those that may either thrive or disappear.

This session explores a multitude of natural or man-created extreme conditions that can interact with the osmoregulatory ability of organisms throughout their lifecycles. Although the main focus is the aquatic environment, all submissions relating to osmoregulation in extreme conditions are welcome, and in particular those of young scientists. 

Moving to feeding: Applying muscle mechanics principles from limb to feeding systems


Dr Nicolai Konow (Harvard University, USA) & Dr Nicholas Gidmark (Knox College, USA)


Dr Christopher V. Anderson (Brown University, USA), Dr Ariel Camp (Brown University, USA), Dr Anthony Herrel (Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, France), Dr Christopher Richards (Royal Veterinary College, UK), Prof Callum Ross (University of Chicago, USA) & Dr Andrea Taylor (Duke University, USA)

The performance diversity of vertebrate locomotor and feeding systems is impressive and appears at odds with the narrow physiological constraints on force, length and speed of vertebrate skeletal muscle. However, studies of locomotor systems have successfully bridged this gap by leveraging first-principles in biomechanics and muscle physiology to reveal how muscle contraction modes, shape changes and the action of biological springs might relax sarcomere-level constraints on system performance. Feeding involves equally diverse movements, governed by musculoskeletal systems that rival limb systems in structural and mechanical complexity.

This symposium explores how future feeding studies might be advanced by gleaning lessons from studies of locomotor mechanics and physiology. We have invited muscle physiologists, biomechanists and functional morphologists with expertise in vertebrate feeding as well as locomotion to discuss (a) recent findings and principles that have shaped current thinking about the function of muscle-tendon-skeleton systems, (b) syntheses of general principles that help define the physical and biomechanical performance boundaries of feeding mechanisms, and (c) current topics in vertebrate feeding, from sarcomere-level phenomena, via biomechanical and computational modeling to studies of feeding in natural habitats, that might particularly gain from incorporation of general principles gleaned from locomotor studies. Given the breath of topics and approaches, we anticipate that this symposium will be of relevance not only to biomechanists, functional morphologists and muscle physiologists, but also to ecomorphologists, evolutionary biologists and macroecologists.

Short range visual guidance in birds

Session supported by: The Company of Biologists


Prof Douglas Altshuler (University of British Columbia, Canada), Prof David Lentink (Stanford University, USA) & Prof Srini Srinivasan (University of Queensland, Australia) 


Dr Andrew Biewener (Harvard University, USA), Dr Roslyn Dakin (University of British Columbia, Canada), Dr Benny Goller (University of British Columbia, Canada), Prof David Lee (University of Edinburgh, UK), Prof Graham Martin (University of Birmingham, UK); Prof Graham Taylor (University of Oxford, UK), Prof Niko Troje (Queen's University, Canada) & Prof Doug Wylie (University of Alberta, Canada)

Although there has been considerable interest in long-range navigation and migration in birds, we know relatively little about how birds avoid collisions with obstacles, regulate their flight speed, orchestrate smooth landings, fly rapidly and safely through cluttered environments, and estimate distance flown. New research that makes use of virtual reality and animal tracking at the scale of avian flight, in combination with neural studies that examine responses to flight relevant visual stimuli are starting to provide insight into the mechanisms of visual guidance in birds. The results of such studies should not only illuminate new aspects of avian flight, but also promote the design of more bird-friendly structures (such as wind turbines) as well as inspire novel, biologically inspired designs for visual guidance of UAVs.

General biomechanics


Prof Peter Aerts (University of Antwerp, Belgium) & Prof Rob James (Coventry University, UK)

The 'general biomechanics session' brings scientists (both young and more experienced researchers) together, dealing in their research with the mechanics of the most diverse topics in biology. From insect flight to suspension feeding, from horse locomotion to the mechanics of water transport in plants, from material properties to kinematics of bird flocks, from muscle mechanics to…(e.g. figure), all topics find their place in the session which is traditionally attended by a large and broadly interested audience.  There will also be prizes for the best ‘General biomechanics poster’ and ‘Oral presentation’ (3 for each category).

Open animal biology

The Open Animal Biology session comprises talks and posters on all the aspects of animal biology that are not catered to in the specific Animal Section sessions.  As such, the session is an important element of the scientific programme, with high-quality presentations on a wide spectrum of subjects. The General session has been very successful in recent years, and will take place over 1 day at Brighton in 2016.

The programme of talks is organised (as far as possible) into the subject areas of the special interest groups of the Animal Section, so delegates can attend back-to-back presentations within their general area of interest. We particularly encourage presentations by post-grads, post-docs and early career scientists.