Unravelling the mysteries of the ocean… with 3D scanning

Real_CoralKyle Zawada’s Ph.D. work on 3D scanning corals has been highlighted in a press release by Creaform. Kyle has spent much of the last two months at the Natural History Museum in London scanning coral skeletons from the collection there. His Ph.D. (co-supervised by Maria Dornelas and Joshua Madin) is focusing on better ways to quantify morphological traits of corals, and then investigating relationships between morphological traits and demographic processes.

Unravelling the extinction risk of poorly-known groupers

_MG_7385The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classifies species into categories of risk of extinction. Assessments are mostly based on quantitative data and evaluate if the population of a given species is either declining or stable. Species for which insufficient data are available to make an assessment of extinction risk are termed ‘Data Deficient’. The groupers are commercially important marine fishes for which approximately one-third of species are data deficient. However, since species in the Data Deficient category could fall into any of the other Red List categories of risk, conservation programs may neglect genuinely threatened species due to their uncertain conservation status. In a new paper published in Conservation Letters, the Quantitative Ecology and Evolution Group analyzed the biological traits of grouper species that were classified into a risk category and generated a statistical model to predict in which category each of the Data Deficient species is most likely to be classified. Among 50 Data Deficient grouper species, seven stand out either as vulnerable to extinction or as endangered. This model provides a way to prioritize the so often limited resources available for the conservation of poorly-known species.

Photography by J.P. Krajewski

John Templeton Foundation grant awarded

outer_reef_1Josh is part of a new £5.7m John Templeton Foundation grant for The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis research initiative led by Professor Kevin Laland (University of St. Andrews). The large grant includes funding for our project, “Niche construction, plasticity and the diversity of coral reef fauna”, led by Maria Dornelas (St. Andrews) and in collaboration with Joshua Madin (Macquarie), Mia Hoogenboom (James Cook University) and Stefan Williams (University of Sydney).


‘Twilight zone’ fish swim silently with forked tails

forkTailAn international team of researchers has identified a way to predict which reef fish can live across a greater range of depths, increasing their chances of surviving natural disasters such as cyclones and coral bleaching. Study lead author, Dr Tom Bridge from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, says the research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that tail shape can help predict if a fish is likely to exist across a range of water depths.

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Large orb-webs adapted to maximise total biomass not rare, large prey

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 2.31.14 PMSpider orb-webs are the ultimate anti-ballistic devices, capable of dissipating the relatively massive kinetic energy of flying prey. Increased web size and prey stopping capacity have co-evolved in a number orb-web taxa, but the selective forces driving web size and performance increases are under debate. The rare, large prey hypothesis maintains that the energetic benefits of rare, very large prey are so much greater than the gains from smaller, more common prey that smaller prey are irrelevant for reproduction.

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