Zoology 2016 – Nature conservation in a changing world

BMC Zoology recently attended the Benelux Congress of Zoology which was held in December 2016 at Antwerp University and Antwerp Zoo under the theme of 'Nature conservation in a changing world'. The conference was broad-scoped with an excellent line-up of keynote speakers and here we summarize the highlights of the conference.

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The keynote lectures

In his keynote, Steven Cooke from Carleton University (Canada) gave an overview of the current state of conservation physiology and how conservation physiologists contribute to the understanding of mechanisms behind declining species populations to inform policy and management practices.

Jodie Rummer from James Cook University (Australia) reviewed the human-induced stressors on coral reefs such as ocean warming, acidification, hypoxia events and altered water quality. Jodie highlighted that whilst fish are adaptable to changes while maintaining oxygen transport and physiological performance, the recent and very rapid habitat changes pose a challenge.

Another very interesting keynote was given by Mike Bruford (Cardiff University, UK) who discussed how the additional information gained from ‘omics data’ can be used by conservation management organizations to commission and implement recommendations.

Scientific session at Zoology 2016.
Scientific session at Zoology 2016 – photo by Jan Scholliers, CC

Hans Van Dyck from the Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium) discussed the importance of an organism-centered and resource-based habitat approach for several conservation issues, demonstrating his point using examples of butterfly studies. Hans finished by touching upon ecological traps which arise from rapid environmental changes and cause problems with the life-cycle regulation of organisms.

The final keynote lecture towards the end of Zoology2016 was given by John Fa from Manchester Metropolitan University (UK). John’s talk was focused on sustainability as he discussed wild animals as food source (bushmeat) in tropical rainforests worldwide. Bushmeat consumption is an important source of protein in central Africa and there is a need for improved governance to ensure food security for people inhabiting rainforests while protecting endangered species and biodiversity.

Highlights from the conference

Apart from excellent keynote lectures, Zoology2016 was also a forum for promising young academics to present their work. Talks covered a wide range of topics from molecular phylogenetics, genomics, animal physiology and morphology to behavioral ecology, marine biodiversity and conservation.

Pubic domain.
Public domain.

The session on animal behavior covered topics such as parent-offspring communication and social relationships and behavior in captive African wild dogs where a rank reversal was observed after pack separation. The session concluded with two talks on primates about the consolidation behavior in chimpanzees and results on how for macaques, the females are wearing the trousers by being in charge of initiating friendships and sexual engagements.

The final day started with interesting presentations on the functional morphology of animals covering bite force in lizards and extinct lemur species, how the middle ear of birds cope with large and sudden pressure changes, a comparative analysis of warning calls in piranhas and an analysis of the teeth digging technique of mole-rats. A parallel series of talks on ecological physiology was concluded by Jodie Rummer with an interesting presentation on how the epaulette shark responds to changes in its environment such as elevated carbon dioxide levels and ocean warming. Another interesting talk focused on the DNA barcoding of rove beetles and its application in forensics. One of the last presentations of the day was given by Maarten Vanhove, about various interesting and impactful conservation projects in Africa that attracted a lot of attention from the audience.

Prize winners

The afternoon of the final day was dedicated to another highlight, the presentations of three prize winners. Maurijn van der Zee from the University of Leiden (Netherlands) won the prize from the Dutch Zoological Society for his work on evolutionary innovation in insect eggs. The serosa, an embryonic tissue of epithelial cells present in most insects, protects the insect egg against desiccation and infection. According to van der Zee, the serosa is one of the reasons that insects are extremely successful in occupying terrestrial habitats.

The Pekwijkstichting prize went to Klaas-Douwe Dijkstra from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden (Netherlands) who published a comment earlier this year in Springer Nature’s flagship journal Nature about human’s motivation for studying biodiversity and the thirst for discovering new species. His talk very much followed on from that theme by giving an overview of his work on dragonflies, stretching from discovering new taxa and high-impact research to conservation, consultancy and public interest.

The final prize winner was Marie-Anne Deprez from KU Leuven (Belgium) who was awarded the Kets prize for her Master thesis on the impact of the monocarboxylate transporter 8 (MCT8) which facilitates neuronal thyroid hormone uptake crucial for brain development in vertebrates. Her results contribute to the understanding of possible mechanisms by which MCT8 deficiency disrupts human corticogenesis.

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