CIE Seminar Series 2018: Connecting social system dynamics, population genetics and symbiotic interactions

SPEAKER: Dr Michaela Blyton, Research Fellow, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University

DATE: Friday, 20th April 2018

TIME: 1:30pm

LOCATION:  Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds – room ka4.207 (green room)

Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Melbourne Campus at Burwood –Burwood Corporate Centre; and Warrnambool Campus, Room J2.22

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External parties may connect to the live seminar via *N SEBE VMP LES Seminars [ID.36958] via the methods listed below:

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ABSTRACT.  In this seminar I will present some choice findings from my work on the social interactions and population genetic structure of mountain brushtail possums as well as from my current research on the koala microbiome. In my research on the mountain brushtail possum, in the central highlands of Victoria, I used proximity logger collars to reveal that the night time foraging interactions of this elusive species reflect the genetic similarity (kinship) between pairs. I also demonstrated that limited natal dispersal has led to the spatial clustering of kin and fine-scale genetic structure between males and females; creating an inbreeding risk. To reduce this risk of inbreeding the mountain brushtail possum appears to actively avoid kin during mate choice. One potential constraint on the social interactions of a species is pathogen transmission. To understand the transmission dynamics associated with mountain brushtail possum behaviour I used commensal E. coli strains as a model system and inferred transmission patterns from strain sharing networks. In the koala microbiome project we are also investigating the transmission dynamics of the entire gastrointestinal microbiome, which plays a crucial role in koala health and nutrition. We are also investigating the developed of the microbiome in joey koalas, tracking the changes in the microbiome during translocation and characterising the extent of microbiome variation across the koala’s geographic range. This work has revealed geographic variation in microbiome structure and that the functional capacity of the microbiome differs with koala diet. These somewhat desperate studies nonetheless highlight how the fundamental ecology of a species is shaped by complex intra and interspecific interactions.

BIO. My research interests span the fields of molecular ecology, population genetics, behavioural ecology, nutritional ecology and microbiology. In particular, I am interested in how host-symbiont interactions influence the genetic structure and population dynamics of both the symbiont and host. I am also interested in how environmental factors, demography and life history traits influence population genetic structure, impact contemporary social interactions and shape the evolution of social systems. I have combined field studies and captive experiments with laboratory techniques, such as bacterial culture, genotyping and next generation sequencing, to gain insights into the ecology of elusive species. I also take advantage of a range of analysis techniques including classical, information and Bayesian statistics, together with bioinformatics, population genetic analyses, mathematical modelling and computer simulations to maximize the value of my empirical data and to explore theoretical questions.

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