Plenary Speakers

This year, we have excellent plenary speakers whose interests range from climate change to evolutionary ecology to disease, all with consequences for conservation. Be sure to hear each talk. Plenary talks will begin each morning of the conference at 8 a.m. in the Hilton Hotel Ballroom.

Robert C. Fleischer

Robert C. Fleischer

Dr. Robert Fleischer is Head of the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, National Zoological Park and National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.  He received a B.A. at University of California-Santa Barbara in 1978 and a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1983.  His primary fields of interest are evolutionary and conservation biology.  He conducts individual and collaborative research in population and evolutionary genetics, systematics, and molecular and behavioral ecology, mostly on free-ranging bird and mammal species.  Dr. Fleischer is author or co-author of more than 160 peer-reviewed contributions to the scientific literature and has funded his research with more than six million dollars in research grants.  Much of Dr. Fleischer’s current research involves application of DNA analyses to studies in conservation, evolution and animal behavior.  He has particular interests in (1) the use of ancient DNA methods to document changes in genetic variation through time and phylogenetic relationships of extinct or endangered organisms; (2) the use of highly variable genetic markers to measure genetic structure and relatedness, and to ascertain mating systems, in natural populations, and (3) the use of genetics to study the evolutionary interactions between hosts, vectors and infectious disease organisms (e.g., a major project on avian malaria in native Hawaiian birds).

Dr. Fleischer will present his plenary lecture entitled “Trouble in Paradise:  Genetics, Disease, and Conservation of Hawaiian Birds” on Tuesday 5 August at 8 a.m. in the Hilton Ballroom. His abstract is as follows:

The Hawaiian avifauna is primarily depauperate by isolation, and secondarily enriched by adaptive radiation, with the famous honeycreepers and large, flightless waterfowl perhaps the best examples of the latter.  Hawaii is also a paradigm of extinction and endangerment, and thus serves as a site for the study and application of the principles of conservation biology.  Primary causes of the current crisis of endangerment include introduced predators, introduced disease, and habitat destruction.  I review these threats, and discuss how genetic analyses can contribute to our understanding of them and assist in conservation management.  I first illustrate how DNA analysis, including ancient DNA from museum specimens and subfossils, can be used to identify units and uniqueness for conservation, reveal changes in populations over time, and assist in development of recovery programs.  I then address introduced disease, focusing on interactions of avian malaria, its introduced mosquito vector, and introduced and native birds.  I believe that genetic data have improved our understanding of this complex system, from inferring the evolutionary and geographic histories of the parasite and vector, to being able to understand how, and perhaps why, populations of particular native species have become resistant and recovered.  I conclude by encouraging the application of diverse, perhaps even risky, approaches to conservation of the Hawaiian avifauna, by any researchers who are able to help, as we appear to be running out of time for many species and face grim prospects for their survival.

B. Rosemary Grant

B. Rosemary Grant

Professor Rosemary Grant was educated at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and received a B.Sc. Honors degree in 1960.  Her training was primarily in genetics. For the next five years she was a lecturer and research associate in embryology, first at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and then at Yale University.  When Dr. Grant and her husband Peter moved to McGill University in Montreal in 1965, she took a break from her professional life to devote her energies full-time to caring for their two daughters.  She then taught at a high school for three years.  During this time (~1973), she returned to research as she and her husband began their legendary long-term studies of Darwin’s finches on the Galápagos islands.  Her eleven-year study of the ecology and evolution of the Large Cactus Finch, Geospiza conirostris, on the island of Genovesa earned her a Ph.D. degree from the University of Uppsala in 1985.  Since then, the Grants have continued working on several Galapagos islands, most intensively on Daphne Major. She has published two books from this research: Evolutionary Dynamics of a Natural Population. The large cactus finch of the Galápagos (Univ. Chicago Press, 1979), and How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches (Princeton Univ. Press, 2008), both co-authored with Peter.

Professor Grant will present her plenary lecture entitled “Why Species Multiply” on Wednesday, August 6th at 8 a.m. in the Hilton Ballroom.  Her abstract is as follows:

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the “Origin of Species” in which Darwin established the scientific basis for understanding how evolution occurs by natural selection. Darwin was less clear about the actual process of species formation. Nevertheless he envisioned a three-step process: colonization, involving the expansion of a population into a new environment; divergence, when populations become adapted to novel environmental conditions through natural selection; and finally, the formation of a barrier to interbreeding between divergent lineages.  He showed characteristic insight by suggesting that investigations of what we now call, “very young adaptive radiations” might provide windows through which we can view the processes involved.

Since Darwin’s time insights from the fields of genetics, behavior and ecology have continued to illuminate how and why species evolve. In this talk I will discuss the progress that has been made in our understanding of speciation with special reference to the young radiation of Darwin’s Finches.

Dr. Terry Root

Terry Root

Dr. Root did her Bachelors degree in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New Mexico, after which she worked as a scientific programmer at Bell Laboratory and on NASAs Voyager Project. Returning to school, she obtained her Masters degree in Biology at the University of Colorado in 1982 and her Ph.D. in Biology from Princeton University in 1987. She was on the faculty as an Assistant and Associate Professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at The University of Michigan from 1987 to 2001. She then moved to Stanford University where she is a Senior Fellow in the Center for Environmental Science and Policy Institute for International Studies.  She has served on the National Research Council Committee on Environmental Indicators. In 1989 she became an Elective Member of the American Ornithologists Union (AOU). She was elected to the Governing Council of the AOU in 1993 and she became a Fellow of AOU in 1995. She was a Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group 2 Third Assessment Report, with responsibility for the impacts of climate change on wildlife. Dr. Root has taught courses in conservation biology, wildlife biology, ecology and ornithology.

Professor Root will present her plenary talk entitled ”Climate Change and Extinctions: Time for Triage?” on Thursday, 7 August at 8 a.m. in the Hilton Ballroom.  Her abstract is as follows:

Over the last 100 years our globe has warmed ~0.8oC and the warming continues to escalate.  Depending on policies and new technologies we implement, global average temperature at the later part of 21st Century could be only a degree or 2 hotter than today, or up 6o to 10oC. Because of time lags that are expected with implementing different policies and distributing new technologies, these two temperature-trajectory extremes are predicted to have roughly similar temperatures around 2050. Therefore, plants and animals at mid-century will quite likely be facing anywhere from 2o to 4oC rise in global temperatures.  The most recent Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change states that if the temperature rises another 2oC, 20% of the known species could be marked for extinction, and 40% if the temperature increases 4oC.  Saving as many species as possible in this crisis may require borrowing a technique used in medical crises, such as wars, when the need is much larger than the available resources.  Triage requires a lot of advanced planning.  Should we start now?

Dr. Peter Arcese

Peter Arcese

Dr. Peter Arcese is Professor, FRBC Chair of Conservation Biology, and Director of the Centre for Applied Conservation Research, University of British Columbia.  He has published over 80 papers on the ecology, genetics and conservation of animals and plants focusing on the persistence of populations, behavior of individual animals, and design and management of nature reserves.  In 1981, Peter joined Jamie Smith on Mandarte Island to continue Jamie’s 7-yr study of the Song Sparrow population resident there.  Peter completed M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees with Jamie, focusing on intrasexual competition, territoriality, dispersal and the regulation of population size.  After 1987, Peter conducted long-term studies of antelope and illegal hunting in the Serengeti, until returning to again conduct full-time research on Mandarte Island in 1991, when he also joined the Department of Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Since 1999, Peter has taught at the Department of Forest Sciences, UBC.  Peter is a Fellow and ex-Councilor of the American Ornithologists Union.  Current work in his lab focuses on the behavior, demography, and genetics of small populations, and on land use and recovery planning for conservation.

Professor Arcese will present his plenary lecture entitled “Rapid Evolution and Demographic Decline in Response to Cowbird Invasion: Lessons at the Interface of Ecology, Evolution, and “Conservation” on Friday 7 August at 8 a.m. in the Hilton Ballroom. His abstract is as follows:

In 1974 Jamie Smith arrived at UBC convinced of the value of island populations after his work in Galapagos. Interested in the consequences of variation in behavior for individual fitness, Jamie re-kindled Frank Tompa’s study of Song Sparrows on Mandarte Island and set out to monitor the life histories of all individuals in this highly sedentary population. Jamie’s critical examination of hypotheses related to the evolution of individual performance and effect of brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds, a recent invader in sw BC, drew wide attention to the Mandarte study.  I summarize this work and describe recent discoveries on the effects of cowbirds on the ecology, performance and evolution of host populations to illustrate the value of long-term studies. Specifically, I show how cowbirds have reduced reproductive rate and contributed to regional declines in sparrow numbers in sw BC, describe the micro-evolutionary response of the Mandarte population to cowbird parasitism, and suggest how this response may affect adaptation to long-term climate warming and periodic cooling related to the El Niño Southern Oscillation. I also show how land use policies can reduce the negative effects of cowbirds on host populations. Jamie’s leadership on Mandarte facilitated over 100 papers on birds, which together offer a roadmap to those interested in research at the interface of ecology, evolution and conservation.