Upcoming Meetings

PROGRAMME for 2019

See here for details of the venue and time


Monday 18 November 2019 – 6.30 pm – Tim Birkhead – The wonderful Mr Willughby – the start of scientific ornithology

Professor Tim Birkhead

Abstract: The first scientific bird book was The ornithology of Francis Willughby, named in Willughby’s honour by his friend John Ray after Willughby’s death at the age of just 36 in 1672. These two men were pioneers of the scientific revolution and changed the way we think about birds. Until recently it was widely assumed that Ray was the brains and Willughby a mere ‘talented amateur’, but after a decade of research I have been able to show that Willughby was every bit as brilliant as his co-author and friend John Ray. In this talk I will tell the story of Willughby’s short but spectacularly productive life—a story every ornithologist ought to know.

Biography: Tim Birkhead is emeritus professor of behavioural ecology at the Univ. of Sheffield. He completed a D.Phil. at Oxford on guillemots (Alcidae) in 1976, before taking a lectureship at Sheffield in 1976 where he has been ever since. Tim is a Fellow of the Royal Society—the UK’s most prestigious scientific society. His main research is on promiscuity in birds, but he is also interested in the history of science. He has maintained a long-term study of Common Guillemots Uria aalge on Skomer Island, Wales, for the last 47 years and raised UK£150,000 through crowd funding to keep the study going. Tim has won several awards for his undergraduate teaching. He is also an award-winning author and has written 15 books, including several popular science works. He has featured on BBC Radio 4’s Life Scientific, The Infinite Monkey Cage and Inside Science, and his book The most perfect thing: the inside (and outside) of a bird’s egg was made into a TV programme with David Attenborough, who referred to the book as “Magnificent”.

Monday 23 March 2020 – 6.30 pm – Beth OkamuraHow birds shape freshwater biodiversity

Statoblasts, the dispersive phase of bryozoans, attached to the feather of their dispersal agent, a waterbird.

Abstract: 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 avian 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. This talk will consider how our understanding of dispersal of freshwater invertebrates has improved since Darwin’s era. I will particularly focus 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 (‘slime animals’). I will illustrate how these unappealingly-named 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 water supply 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 Prof. in Aquatic Biology at the Univ. of Reading. Her Ph.D. from the Univ. 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 is now beginning address in new ways by analysing DNA contained in faeces of ducks, geese and godwits (Limosa spp.)