A window into the weird and wonderful

orb-spiderThe web-making strategies of spiders, the sexual proclivities of squid, the effects of human tourism on bottle-nosed dolphins and the fight-back by the iconic Darwin’s finch against a voracious parasite are among the phenomena that will be described at a national conference on animal behaviour at Flinders University from April 11 to 13.

This year the annual conference of the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour brings together a record number of papers from biological scientists specialising in the how and why of animal behaviour, with  115 presenters and more than 160 participants  expected from across Australia and New Zealand, and some coming from as far as Pakistan and Thailand.

Conference organiser and Flinders bird biologist Dr Jeremy Robertson said the three-day conference has been organised with a single stream of 10-minute presentations to enable scientists and students to gain maximum exposure to the latest research findings.

The focus of the papers over the three days will move from the mechanisms of animal behaviour through to the adaptive value of behaviour and finally to evolutionary history.

Several Flinders researchers will report on their work, including Dr Robertson and Professor Sonia Kleindorfer, whose poster presentation will describe the latest developments in the struggle by Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands to survive against an imported parasite, a fly-larva that eats hatchlings alive.

Mortality rates among the chicks reached as high as 90 per cent, but the finches, the pinup species of the theory of evolution, have rallied by evolving new behaviours – revealed in film footage taken by the Flinders researchers – to counter the infestations.

The conference program has caught the eye of the BBC’s Natural History Unit, and a producer for the TV documentary series Survival is travelling to Adelaide to attend the conference.

The full program is available at http://www.assab.org/meetings/information-assab-2011/

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