Annual Carmody Lecture

The Annual George R. Carmody Lecture was established in 2013. This lecture series is named in memory of Dr. George Carmody – a wonderful member of our Biology Department for 42 years (from 1969 until his sudden death in 2011). George had two parts to his career. In the first part of his career, he did research in evolutionary and population genetics. Later, he became interested in forensic science and developed an international reputation in the statistical analysis of human population DNA data. Indeed, George was a DNA forensics consultant for numerous government agencies including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Home Office of the United Kingdom. He was also an expert advisor in victim identification for various prominent disasters including the Swiss Air crash off Nova Scotia and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. As George became prominent in the forensics community, he donated honoraria from his many speaking engagements to endow a graduate student travel fund that has helped hundreds of students attend conferences over the years. We thank George and the Carmody family for their generous support in making this lecture series and the graduate student travel fund possible.

Building a Superorganism: Integrative Insights into the Evolution and Regulation of Insect Sociality

April 16, 2021

Dr. Amy L. Toth, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology/Dept. of Entomology, Iowa State University

The evolution of superorganisms, such as eusocial insect colonies composed of highly cooperative individuals working together as a single whole, has been described as a major transition in the history of life.  The question of “why?” has this extreme form of cooperation evolved has been of intense interest to biologists since Darwin.  Now, armed with new tools and technologies, animal behaviorists have turned to ask “how” has this revolutionary change in life history evolved?  Wasps and bees are excellent comparative study systems for addressing such questions, because they are extremely diverse taxonomically and socially; with multiple independent origins of sociality.  Using an integrative approach that blends behavior, physiology, and genomics, our studies on bees and wasps are providing new insights into the mechanisms and evolution of cooperative societies.  I will discuss some of these, including: 1) elements of maternal behavior and reproductive physiology becoming “retooled” by evolution for new social purposes, 2) the role of resource limitation and nutritional inequalities in the regulation of cooperative behaviors, 3) roles for both deeply conserved “toolkits” as well as newly evolved genes in the evolution of social traits, and 4) how “being social” may feed back on how genomes evolve.  These studies contribute to a developing picture of the molecular, organismal, and ecological processes that have enabled the evolution of biological complexity. 

The Triumph…. and Downfall of the Canada Jay

January 30, 2019

Dan Strickland from Algonquin Provincial Park

The Canada Jay, the iconic “whiskeyjack” of the north woods, has been studied in Algonquin Park for over fifty years. Almost miraculously, this bird dispenses with migration and lives its entire life on year-round territories in the boreal and subalpine forests of North America including in every province and territory in Canada and right up to tree line from Alaska to Newfoundland. What’s more, it does so with astonishing ease, even surviving the long, cold, and apparently foodless boreal winters actually better than it does in summer. And to top off everything else it actually raises its young—again with remarkable success—in late winter, often fledgling its young while the snow is still deep in the bush, the lakes are still frozen, and most of the migratory songbirds in the boreal forest have not even returned, let alone started to nest themselves. In this year’s Carmody Lecture retired Algonquin Chief Park Naturalist, Dan Strickland, will relate how he and others have unravelled the secrets of these successes. And then, with some sadness, he will say why the ecological triumph of the Canada Jay has a fatal flaw and why our beloved whiskeyjacks are heading for serious trouble.

Getting by with a little help: Friends, social networks, and fitness

December 7, 2017

Dr. Lauren Brent, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, University of Exeter, UK

People who lack inter-personal relationships experience poorer health and reduced survival, with social isolation carrying a greater mortality risk than smoking and problem drinking. Perhaps even more unexpected is the fact that friendly relationships are by no means unusual in the animal kingdom – many other group-living species form similar bonds that may have similar fitness consequences. Uncovering just how deeply rooted the association between sociality and fitness is in our evolutionary past, along with the selective pressures that have shaped that association, therefore requires a cross-species approach. To begin, we need an in-depth understanding of the association between sociality and fitness, including a list of species in which this association exists, whether it is consistent across an individual’s life course, and whether it extends to the polyadic, ‘friend of a friend’, connections that make up most social networks. In this talk, I describe what is currently known about social networks and fitness in a range of taxa including a detailed description in one of our closest living primate relatives. Although the biology of friendship is a relatively new field of inquiry, results to date suggest the evolution of inter-personal relationships runs deep in mammalian systems, and ultimately bring us closer to understanding what it means to be human.

Epidemiology and evolution of zoonotic schistosomiasis in a changing world

March 17, 2017

Dr. Joanne P. Webster from Royal Veterinary College, University of London

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease of profound medical and veterinary importance, which has attracted increased focus and funding for control since the Millennium. However, despite shifts in global health policy towards the implementation of mass chemotherapeutic control programmes (aimed at school-aged children) at the national scale in sub-Saharan Africa, including those expanding out from morbidity control to potential ‘elimination as a public health problem’ in selected countries or regions, challenges remain and novel challenges have emerged.  Knowledge on how the phenotype and genotype of Schistosoma spp. populations change in response to praziquantel pressure has important implications for the success of control programmes wherever mass chemotherapy is implemented. A major concern is the potential for reduced drug efficacy and/or the evolution of praziquantel resistance.  However, changes in drug efficacy may not be the only explanation for apparent treatment failures and ongoing high transmission in areas of high drug coverage.  Here I present data from a series of field and laboratory research on schistosomes of humans, livestock and wildlife across Africa and Asia under contrasting treatment histories and habitat selection pressures. Such research incorporates cutting edge developments in parasitological diagnostic tools and statistical analyses, and from parasite population genetics to genomics.  I discuss the results to date in terms of their theoretical and applied implications and applications.

The Tree of Life, from all sides now

September 25, 2015

Dr. W. Ford Doolittle, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University

For 30 years, gene sequences were used to construct phylogenetic trees without serious concern that different genes might actually have different evolutionary histories because of transfer “across species lines” (Lateral Gene Transfer, or LGT). But now comparative genomic data show LGT to be so frequent on an evolutionary time scale that a maximum of 5%, and possibly 0%, of the genes in any bacterial genome are likely to have the same history back to any last common bacterial ancestor. LGT is also not an insignificant force in the evolution of microbial eukaryotes. The effort to construct a universal Tree of Life (TOL) may thus be rendered futile, and we need to rethink what we want the TOL to do for us – underwrite systematics, prove the Theory of Evolution or recreate a history of speciation events and cell divisions back to the beginning of Life. Conflict among evolutionary biologists shows they have conflated these goals. My purpose in this talk will be to disentangle them.

Behavioral syndromes: Implications for sexual selection, ecological invasions and host-parasite dynamics

September 19, 2014

Dr. Andrew Sih, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California at Davis

The past decade has seen an explosion of interest in consistent differences among individuals within species in behavioral type (BT); e.g., in boldness, aggressiveness or sociability. In particular, numerous studies have quantified behavioral syndromes, behavioral correlations across contexts; e.g., a positive correlation between boldness when predators are present and aggressiveness with competitors. Here, I present results of recent work in my lab on three frontiers in the study of these behavioral syndromes: 1) how individual differences in male behavioral tendencies (his BT, and his social skill) interact with his social environment to influence variation in mating success; 2) how BT-dependent ecological performance and dispersal might play an important role in ecological invasions; and 3) how behavioral syndromes affect parasite loads and in turn, how parasites might affect behavioral syndromes.

Travels with a Licenologist: Stories Lichens Tell Us

September 27, 2013

Dr. Irwin Brodo, Canadian Museum of Nature

Irwin Brodo will comment on some of the interesting lichens he’s encountered over his career of over 50 years and why they were worth the study. We will travel from Long Island, New York to the misty islands of Haida Gwaii, from the barrens of Labrador to the tropics of Costa Rica, among the many places with fascinating lichenological stories.