Tue 02 Nov 2010: 2pm – Vojtech Novotny on “Rainforest conservation in Papua New Guinea and why indigenous people do not like it”

Department of Biological Sciences (BEJC) Seminar Announcement
20101102-vojtech.pdf (1 page)“Rainforest conservation in Papua New Guinea and why indigenous people do not like it”

By Professor Vojtech Novotny
Biology Center,
Czech Academy of Sciences
& Faculty of Science,
University of South Bohemia,
Czech Republic

Tue 02 Nov 2010: 2.00pm
DBS Conference Room [map]
Block S3, Level 5
National University of Singapore

Host: Richard Corlett

About the talk – In Papua New Guinea, the fate of forests is governed by forest-dwelling tribal societies. A rapidly increasing pace of logging compels us to ask why tribal communities prefer logging to conservation. In the absence of feasible development opportunities, remote communities become quickly enthusiastic about conservation projects, but once an area is opened up to logging few such projects survive.

Direct payments to forest owners to cover the costs of missed opportunities for economic development are advocated here to make conservation competitive. A conservation royalty scheme would deliver a higher proportion of the conservation funds to the resource owners than the management-intensive community development projects currently favored.

Such an approach requires a profound cultural change within conservation organizations from a ‘development aid’ approach to one more oriented toward business.

About the speaker – “Vojtech Novotny is a tropical biologist. He is Professor of Ecology at the University of South Bohemia and the Head of the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at the Biology Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic. He is leading an international team of researchers studying relationships between plants and insects in tropical rainforests. This work has provided, among other results, the currently accepted estimate of the number of insects living on our planet. Novotny is directing the New Guinea Binatang Research Center, a research station in Papua New Guinea, recognized for its ecological research, which successfully unites western scientists and the tribal peoples of the New Guinea rainforests.” – from the Google Books entry for “Notebooks from New Guinea: field notes of a tropical biologist” (available at Amazon.com).


Thu 28 Oct 2010: 3pm – Huang Danwei on “Cleaning up the ‘Bigmessidae’”

Department of Biological Sciences (BEJC) Seminar Announcement

“Cleaning up the ‘Bigmessidae’ (reef-building corals from four families) and other marine taxonomic disorders: A small contribution to uncover marine biodiversity”

By Huang Danwei
NUS-Overseas Graduate Scholar
PhD candidate
Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Thu 28 October 2010: 3pm
DBS Conference Room, S3-05 – map

Hosted by Prof Chou Loke Ming

About the talk – “Marine ecosystems are experiencing unprecedented rates of biodiversity loss around the world. Habitat areas are prioritised for conservation on the basis of the species they possess, and conservation programmes are assessed on the species preserved. However, without an appropriate classification scheme grounded on evolutionary history, errors in estimates of diversity are inevitable.

Recent phylogenetic studies on scleractinian corals demonstrate precisely that. Based principally on gross morphology, traditional taxonomy suffers from the lack of well-defined homologous characters that can sufficiently describe scleractinian diversity. One of the most challenging clades recovered by recent analyses is ‘Bigmessidae’, an informal grouping that comprises four conventional coral families, Faviidae, Merulinidae, Pectiniidae and Trachyphylliidae, interspersed among one another in a big mess.

I will describe part of my PhD study aimed at reconstructing the evolutionary history of this clade. I present a robust molecular phylogeny based on five DNA sequence markers gathered from 76 of the 132 currently recognized species collected from five reef regions around the world.

As expected, nested within ‘Bigmessidae’ are four conventional families as listed above, and relationships among them generally corroborate previous molecular work. This more resolved phylogeny supports several groupings that cannot be explained using macro-morphology, but are reconciled by subcorallite features of the skeleton. Wide geographic sampling in this study has also revealed more instances of possible cryptic taxa confused by evolutionary convergence of gross coral morphology. Results therefore support the assertion that diversity estimates of scleractinian corals are erroneous. Fortunately, the recovery of most genera with only minor degrees of paraphyly offers some hope for impending taxonomic amendments. Subclades are well defined and supported by subcorallite morphology, providing a robust framework for further systematic work.

I will also present results from my study of two historically understudied marine taxa–insects in the genus Pontomyia and fanworms in the family Fabriciidae. Respectively, they span the range between the discovery of unexpected diversity to the formal description of taxa that completes the process of documenting biodiversity, an undertaking that is fundamental to, yet lagging behind, research on ecology and conservation.”

Wed 27 Oct 2010: 4.30pm – Lanna Cheng on “Marine insects – diversity and habitat conservation”

Department of Biological Sciences (BEJC) Seminar Announcement
“Marine insects – diversity and habitat conservation”

Dr. Lanna Cheng
Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
University of California,
San Diego, USA

Wed 27 October 2010: 4.30pm
Seminar Room 1 (S2 04-10 – map)

Hosted by Prof Peter Ng

About the talk – Insects, with an estimated 10 to 30 million species, are the commonest organisms on land. Although they were assumed to be absent in the sea they can actually be found in a wide variety of marine habitats, including the open ocean. Some 1,500 species of marine insects belonging to more than 10 Orders have now been listed in the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) database.

I will introduce some of the commonest or most unusual species and briefly discuss their biology, distribution and habitat requirements. Their most important habitats are the intertidal and mangrove which are heavily impacted by coastal development and global warming. At least 2 coastal sea skaters have been officially listed as endangered species in Japan. More are either threatened or likely to face extinction.

Although we are not aware of any economic importance for any marine insects, some are of potential use as indicators of climate change or environmental pollution. Conservation of mangroves will serve many important functions besides preserving the most important habitat for many marine insects.

About the speaker – Dr. Lanna Cheng obtained her D. Phil in insect ecology from Oxford University after graduating from the University of Singapore. She became interested in marine insects when she joined the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), University of California, San Diego and edited the book “Marine Insects” which remained the only scientific reference on the subject. She is a Full Research biologist at SIO and is actively engaged in several research projects on Halobates, the only known insect living in the open ocean.

Temporary job offer for undergraduate students: sorting arthropods

I am a postgraduate student from the Terrestrial Ecology Lab working on fig-fig-wasp mutualism.

Right now, I am looking for an undergraduate student to start work immediately to sort fig wasps from other arthropods such as ants, flies and spiders. You will be taught to differentiate fig wasps from other arthropods, so no worries there.

  • Job: Sort fig wasps from other insects and clean them (they are covered in glue)
  • Hours: Flexible
  • Location: Terra Lab (S2-01-02)
  • Wages: Standard hourly wages for part-time students assistants.

If you are interested, do drop me an email at g0700563@nus.edu.sg.

Nanthinee J.
Terra Lab, NUS

Amrita makes it into the prestigious NUS-Imperial College London Joint PhD Programme

This year NUS started a new Joint Degree PhD Programme with Imperial College London. Amrita Srivathsan from the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory is one of the five students from NUS selected for this prestigious programme. Congratulations, Amrita!

This joint initiative allows students to benefit from the ‘expertise of two academic research groups with complementary strengths or engaged in an inter-disciplinary collaboration’. Under this programme, students will spend time studying in labs from both NUS and Imperial College London. A joint PhD degree is then awarded by both institutions to the student.

Amrita’s PhD project will be a synergistic fusion of high-tech sleuthwork and good ol’ fieldwork. She aims to determine whether next-generation sequencing can help with conserving tropical biodiversity. This is important for Singapore’s natural heritage, especially when such tools could potentially be used to study the feeding ecology and other biological information of threatened species such as Banded Leaf Monkeys.

Her study will involve a combination of molecular work and computational tools from both the institutions, as well as trundling through our forests collecting samples. She will be supervised by A/P Rudolf Meier in NUS and Prof. Alfried Vogler in Imperial College London. So lets wish her the best!

TEDxNUS talks by Biod Crew will be online


TEDxNUS was incredibly successful thanks to some wonderful organisers and an enthusiastic, supportive and appreciative audience.

If you missed it, don’t worry, the whole event was recorded by some of their brilliant tech guys and will be coming to YouTube eventually.

Three speakers from DBS graced the stage to talk about their passions and ideas.:

Sivasothi aka Otterman talked about conservation in Singapore and featured quite a few of our budding undergrad biologists doing their part to better understand Singapore’s wild fauna. Siva will reprise this talk (albeit in 15 mins) for Green Drinks Singapore in January.

John van Wyhe, a Bye-Fellow Christ’s College, Cambridge, and now Senior Lecturer for the depts of Biological Sciences and History is also the director for The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. He talked about common misconceptions about Darwin and his work.

PhD student Ang Yuchen discussed how sexual selection has given rise to such a wonderful array of sexual dimorphism. As well as the dunking of still-mating flies into liquid nitrogen. Yu Chen will be giving a similar talk this Wednesday evening at Bl!nk BL-NK @ the Blu Jazz Cafe. Details can be found here.

Do check out ALL the talks when they are online once again (they were on ustream temporarily), they’re all excellent., e.g. Don Favareau talks about biosemiotics and how it helps pave a bridge between the visually and aurally impaired people and us. Another by John Miksic on archaeology and the lost history of Singapore is another eye opener.

“NUS to launch ‘green’ degree” (Straits Times, 12 Oct 2010)

“NUS to launch ‘green’ degree,” by Leow Si Wan. The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2010.Environmental Studies course starts next year; talks to set up research institute in Suzhou

IN A sign that environmental issues are gaining importance here, a new undergraduate programme in environmental studies will be launched by the National University of Singapore (NUS) in the latter half of next year.

Fifty to 100 students will get to enrol in this four-year direct honours programme – the first new undergraduate course to be introduced by NUS in five years – and graduate with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies degree.

The programme, which aims to produce what are called ‘green-collar workers’, will comprise two years of a broad-based curriculum with modules in subjects such as law, chemistry and geography, before offering specialisations in the final two years. The two available options are currently Environmental Biology and Environmental Geography.

Speaking to about 360 NUS staff, students and other invited guests at the school’s annual State of the University address held yesterday, NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan said the new programme is an example of how the 105-year-old institution is creating ‘highly multi-disciplinary courses’ to make its education offerings more flexible.

Besides the new course, Professor Tan also announced that the university is ‘in advanced discussions’ to set up an NUS research institute in Suzhou Industrial Park.

The institute, which will pursue research in areas such as finance, water and environmental sustainability, will also support NUS and Singapore start-ups in the Chinese market and offer some training opportunities for Chinese students.

Staying relevant and responsive to a competitive landscape was a key theme in Prof Tan’s speech.

Drawing from analogies about how Manaus in Brazil – the original centre of the rubber boom – failed to compete against rubber plantations in South-east Asia, Prof Tan added that NUS’ strategy has to be ‘distinctly anti-potoo’. The potoo is a bird found in north Brazil known to stay absolutely still as a response to the external environment.

‘The best way for us to respond to the educational challenges of the future is to drive ourselves forward, to stay well ahead of the curve,’ he said.

Over the past 10 years, he added, the university had carried out ‘transformative measures’ to broaden its education, initiated curricular reforms and forged global education programmes.

Professor Tan Eng Chye, deputy president (academic affairs) and provost of NUS, also provided updates on University Town (UTown) in his address. He said the building of these residential colleges and accompanying facilities, such as an educational resource centre, was on track.

Meanwhile, industry players are looking forward to NUS’ new degree programme.

The executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, Mr Howard Shaw, said: ‘There is a growing demand for what we call green-collar workers, who are specialists in the environment field and who are responsible for putting policies into practice throughout business operations.

‘NUS’ new programme will definitely help to meet this demand.'”


Life Sciences Specilisation talk, 12 Oct 2010

The Life Science Society (LSS) will hold their annual Life Science Specialization Talk on Thursday 14 Oct 2010 at LT27 from 6.00pm to 8.00pm.

Th talk will feature senior students and the following staff:

  • Chew Fook Tim – tentative changes in Life Sciences curriculum for AY11/12 and the Biomedical Science specilisation
  • Maxey Chung – specialisation in Molecular and Cell Biology
  • N Sivasothi – specialisation in Environmental Biology

The Environmental Biology students who will be speaking are:

  • Goh Kaiying (honours student in Marine Biology Lab)
  • Lee Gang (3rd year UROPS student with Terrestrial Biology Lab)

For the Environmental Biology specilisation, I will explain how the various modules are linked, career prospects and what biology students actually end up doing. I’ll be thinking about it and put it together after listening to Fook Tim’s overall presentation at 6.25pm. I go on at 7.45pm, so there will be plenty of time to hammer something out. Xu Weiting will be there to field questions about the modules from her recent student-perspective.

Click the poster for the link to the Life Science Society website


Two Members of the Biodiversity Crew to Speak at TEDxNUS

Siva a.k.a. Otterman and Ang Yuchen will be speakers at the upcoming TEDxNUS event this weekend.

Siva is a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences focused on education, research and conservation and is coordinator of the Raffles Museum Toddycats! and International Coastal Cleanup Singapore. Yuchen (better known as YC) is a Phd candidate from the Evolutionary Biology Lab of the department studying sexual selection and morphology of sepsid flies. Both will have interesting stories to tell, injected with their brand of wit and humour.

TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is a set of global conferences devoted to ideas worth spreading. TEDx is a programme that allows local communities such as schools or organisations to host independent TED-like events.