New Biology Society at Stirling

Quick to spot a gap that needed filling in Stirling’s list of societies (I was going to try to make an ecological niche pun before realising that I’d probably need to read a bunch of papers first so as to make sure I didn’t make a scientifically inaccurate joke), Claudia has been helping to set up the new Stirling University Biology Society:


The Stirling University Biology Society was set up this year in order to increase each and every individual student’s chances of getting the job they deserve when they graduate. As well as this, some other Society aims are to have students helping each other with study sessions, to meet new people in the University (integrating both students and lecturers) and, of course, to have some top class fun!

We meet weekly to discuss any problem with our courses and to update on new Science. On top of this, we provide events such as trips to parks, conferences and expositions. We also invite special guest speakers to talk about their profession and perhaps give advice on how to get there yourself.

Finally, we offer students the opportunity to enhance their involvement in the subject of biology by registering with the national Society of Biology.

Head over to to the Stirling University Biology Society website to find out more!

Research group meeting Oct 1, 2013

Tonight was just the second official research group meeting of the semester (we alternate meetings within the group with “Science Drinks”, a biweekly session we’ll start reporting on next week). I can summarize our meeting as composed of four main topics:

  1. Naturally, we discussed the brand new website, and one of our conclusions (along with many suggestions for cosmetic improvements, which will be implemented asap) was that we should provide brief summaries of our lab meetings for the purpose of archiving our activities, providing convenient links to papers we discussed, dealing with follow-up issues, and allowing some of our far-afield members (busy being in Hawaii or being Mom) to keep up with happenings. Since I’m the editor-in-chief, it falls to me to provide the first summary. Trust the quality of these to pick up once I hand over the reins starting next week.
  2. In addition to discussing web issues, Tom advertised Susan Johnston‘s seminar in the Stirling BES seminar series next Monday. Susan has promised to discuss her recent work, including the Nature paper showing exciting fluctuating selection on horn size in Soay sheep. I anticipate we’ll have more to say on this next week after her visit, so I’ll avoid saying more just now.
  3. I briefly presented some analyses of data collected by Eilidh Macleod, a recent hons student whose excellent thesis we have yet to publish. Eilidh studied the relationships between mating status, fecundity, and ornamentation of females in a Scottish dance fly, Rhamphomyia longipes. Because she was making her observations on specimens collected from Malaise traps, the alternative causal mechanisms for covariation between these measures is unclear, and we’re struggling with a number of approaches to disentangling them. One of the techniques I’ve been toying with for a couple of years now is Structural Equation Modelling (SEM), but my progress has been slowed in part by the peculiarities of our data. Tom mentioned that Michael Morrissey (from the University of St. Andrews) gave an excellent talk on measuring selection using SEM at the recent ESEB meeting in Lisbon, and that there may soon be Youtube videos of these talks available? I’ll edit this with a link if Tom or I can find one….
  4. Finally, we had an extra round of beer and a few laughs. Tom and Lilly agreed to give talks for the Biology Society, I think. And maybe there’s a game of PowerPoint roulette on the horizon?

Hot off the press!

After a long slog, my colleague Claudia Buser (now in New Zealand) and I (along with our late supervisor from Zurich, Paul Ward) have gone to press at Functional Ecology with her (I think I am allowed to say so) excellent work on maternal plasticity in yellow dung flies.

As yet non-copy-edited pdf here.

Lay summary here.


This photo (by an old mate from Zurich, Roland Gautier) shows yellow males perched above ovipositing olive-coloured females on a dung pat. We experimentally studied whether female perceptions of the conditions their larvae would encounter affected larval fitness. I won’t spoil the punchline, but females are very clever, obviously. Nevertheless, we found no evidence that they are doing anything funny via sperm choice….