AEC Outreach at BBC Gardeners’ Question Time

The BBC Gardeners’ question time event at Ness Botanical Gardens on the 16th of September was a great avenue for Researchers from the Department for Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour to showcase how the nature of gardens is underpinned by ecology and evolution.

Gardens are much more than the plants they contain. Georgia Drew, Jo Griffin & Louise Reynolds introduced visitors to the fascinating world of bees, butterflies, fruit flies and the ecosystem of microbial symbionts that these organisms host. Visitors were fascinated and horrified, in equal measure, at the case of male-killing bacteria in a population of tropical butterflies. Many were eager to know the potential applications of such information, including the fascinating role of symbionts in the control of aphid and other plant pest populations. Jo talked to the BBC producers about the use of symbionts in the prevention of insect-borne disease.

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Meanwhile, Franziska Brunner, Stew Plaistow & David Atkinson gave tours around their newly-renovated experimental ponds at Ness, and introduced visitors to their work on climate change impacts on aquatic ecosystems and pond life. Many were very impressed by the experimental ponds, and the logistics and methods needed to carry out this kind of study. The group’s pond-dipping tour gave visitors a chance to reconnect with their “inner child”, and come face-to-face with the incredible biodiversity concealed just beneath the surface of the garden pond. Catching sticklebacks turned out to be a major attraction during these pond-dipping sessions!

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Last but not least, visitors attended guided tours of an ongoing long-term experiment investigating how grassland plants cope with climate change, given by Raj Whitlock, Christoph Hahn, Di Yang, and George Airey. Visitors learned of the vital importance of grasslands for conservation and for providing crucial services to people, and of the threats posed to grasslands by climate change. The tour introduced a large drought manipulation experiment comprising 1,952 model grasslands, which assessed the potential for climate-driven evolution within plant species. After some hands-on botanical training, almost all of the visitors were able to identify all of the plant species in this experiment (although there were none keen enough to taste the delicious salad burnet [Sanguisorba minor] or sweet vernal grass [Anthoxanthum odoratum] on offer).

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All of us were impressed by the depth of questions that visitors asked, and by their enthusiasm for the underpinning science. It was a rewarding day, and we are looking forward to our next visit to Ness!

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Grasslands at Ness Family Science Fair

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Raj Whitlock and PhD student Di Yang took part in the Ness Family Science Fair for British Science Week in March. They manned a stall with model grassland communities, and talked with members of the public about the importance of plants, how plants work, grasslands, their conservation and threats to plants from climate change. Their installation at the science fair also included a grassland-inspired arts area, which became a popular relaxation point for parents and kids in the hustle and bustle of the event (which was attended by ~1500 people).

The Fascination of Plants

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PhD student Di Yang took part in the Fascination of Plants Day event at Liverpool’s World Museum in May. Di helped inspire visitors of all ages with the fascination of plants, helping them to make recycled pots out of newspaper and to plant sunflowers, runner beans and pak-choi. It was a great day with 856 family visitors to our section of the event.

Harambee! Let’s all work together!

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An exciting part of the activities of the Mara Herbivore Research project is the work we do with the local communities around Talek in Kenya. For more than a decade we have been running a training course for Kenyans working in the tourist sector. Here we develop the knowledge and skills required to work as a professional tourist guide. The main focus is on making up-to-date scientific knowledge about the African ecosystems and their inhabitants accessible locally. It leads to many stimulating discussions when we are comparing research findings with local ideas about nature: sometimes science is merely confirming what has been long known locally, sometimes the two are at odds and we discuss why this may be.

We also teach on the ecology and conservation of African ecosystems at primary and secondary schools in both Kenya and the UK. Here it is encouraging to experience the connection that kids everywhere have with nature and feel their enthusiasm. We are always hoping that we may inspire some to follow a career in science or conservation later on.

As opportunities arise, we moreover give talks to raise the awareness of the general public on the urgent threats facing Africa’s savannas, particularly from encroaching human populations, intensifying livestock production, poaching and climate change. In doing so, we encourage locals to reflect on the sustainability of some current land-use practices, and we seek to convey to people elsewhere that conservation in developing countries is a global responsibility.

For more details about Dr Jakob Bro-Jorgensen‘s work, click on this link: Mara Herbivore Research project

IIB researcher features in award winning documentary on synchronised swimmers

Dr Michael Berenbrink’s research is a major focus of an award winning TV documentary about the world-best synchronised swimmers. The documentary, made by Japan’s public broadcasting company, NHK,  won the first prize in the Sports Activity Category in  the 2017 World Media Festival, with the prize awarded on at festival in Hamburg on the 10th of May.

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The documentary is available on YouTube miracle body documentary. Although in Japanses, the footage of the athletes and their under and over water acrobatics is stunning. Dr Berenbrink was involved in filming in Tokyo, Barcelona and Liverpool, and developed a protocol for measuring changes in the size of the red blood cell storing spleen while the athletes were holding their breath in an MRI scanner, and compares the athletes’ abilities to those of specialised diving mammals, such as otters.

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Mole rats without oxygen, seal necroscopy, and teaching teachers

  1. New Teacher Subject Day, Organised by the Prince’s Teaching Institute, Pimlico Academy, Saturday 14th January 2017

On Saturday, 14th January 2017, IIB researcher Dr Michael Berenbrink has been taking part in the New Teacher Subject Day organised by the Prince’s Teaching Institute (http://www.princes-ti.org.uk/). The event took place at Pimlico Academy School, London, where Dr Berenbrink presented a talk about his work on the diving capacity of marine mammals to 20 newly qualified and trainee school teachers for Biology. The Prince’s Teaching Institute is a charity whose mission includes to ‘invigorate headteachers’ passion for education, re-awaken teachers’ love of their subject, and show the newly qualified how to enhance their impact.’ Providing a wealth of resources, the New Teacher subject days are delivered by experienced teacher leaders in conjunction with leading academics and are designed to improve confidence and bolster ability.

 

  1. Symposium of the Liverpool Veterinary Zoology Student Society

On the weekend of March 25-26th IIB researcher Dr Michael Berenbrink took part in a seal necropsy and presented a 50 min talk on the “Evolution of oxygen stores and mammalian diving capacity –  from water shrew to blue whale” at the Northern Zoological Symposium in Liverpool, a multi university event with the aim to educate about all aspects zoological. This year’s event was organised by the Liverpool University Veterinary Zoological Society and included a series of lectures and practical sessions and a formal gala dinner at the Albert Dock.

 

  1. CNN Digital Commentary of naked mole rat study

On Friday 21st April, IIB researcher Dr Michael Berenbrink was interviewed by the news channel CNN Digital for his professional opinion on a study published in the magazine Science about the extreme ability of naked mole rats to survive without oxygen. The full report about the study including Dr Berenbrink’s comment can be followed here: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/21/health/naked-mole-rats-oxygen-study/

Family Science Fair at Ness Gardens, 11th March 2017

Iain Young and Laurence Anderson were talking to visitors to the Family Science Fair about Aquaponics today.

Laurence’s PhD springs from our partnership with Farm Urban www.farmurban.co.uk: an SME founded by two University of Liverpool PhD Graduates: Paul Myers and Jens Thomas. Paul Myers (winner of the 2016 Duke of York Young Entrepreneur prize) said: “Farm Urban take science fresh from the lab and implements it in aquaponics systems in the heart of Liverpool”. “The partnership between Farm Urban and the University of Liverpool helps us to develop and test the most efficient ways to grow food in urban environments”.

Aquaponics provides a focus for inspiration and a narrative for healthy eating and environmentally sensitive food production, which we have used to engage schools, residents’ associations, hospitals and other universities and to develop education and research around sustainable urban living.

Laurence Anderson brings aquaculture and plant growth trial experience from the recent BiFFiO (testing the potential of aquaculture and agriculture waste streams for biogas production and fertilizer: www.BiFFiO.com) and RAZONE (using ozone to improve aquaculture water quality: www.Razone.no) projects.

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