Monday 21 September 2020
Dr Beth Okamura gave a presentation on How Birds Shape Freshwater Biodiversity, illustrating the profound effect of waterbird movements on the development and dynamics of freshwater communities and consequent impacts on aquaculture and emerging fish diseases. This first BOC online talk was given via via Zoom video-conferencing and was free and open to anyone who registered for it. If you have ever wondered how volcanic islands, garden ponds and gravel pits develop a rich biota or why rowan trees grow near pines, the answers in part involve patterns of bird visitations. Darwin appreciated that such bird activities might help to explain the widespread distributions of taxa that live in disjunct habitats. This conundrum famously led him to examine the attachment and survival of recently hatched snails on ducks’ feet. Dr Okamura’s talk considered how our understanding of dispersal of freshwater invertebrates has improved since Darwin’s time. She focused particularly on evidence for waterbird-mediated dispersal of freshwater animals that are poorly known but that have substantial ecological and practical impacts – colonial invertebrates called bryozoans (or ‘moss animals’) and their myxozoan parasites (or ‘slime animals’). She showed how these animals serve as ‘model systems’ that demonstrate the profound effect of waterbird movements on the development and dynamics of freshwater communities and consequent impacts on aquaculture and emerging fish diseases.
Biography: Beth Okamura is a Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London. Prior to this she held positions at the Universities of Oxford and Bristol, before becoming a Professor in Aquatic Biology at the University of Reading. Her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, focused on the ecology and evolution of marine invertebrates, but her move to Oxford led to her long term interests in how animals that live in isolated lakes and ponds manage to disperse and persist across the landscape. She has particular interests in the role of waterbirds as vectors of dispersal – a question that she and her colleagues are now beginning address in new ways by analysing DNA contained in faeces of ducks, geese and godwits.