Thursday, April 26, 2012

Greetings from Austin (Texas)

Posted by Erik Svensson

After about two weeks in Texas, around its capital Austin, I am heading home to Sweden again, after a very nice visit to my colleagues at Section for Integrative Biology at University of Texas. This department is certainly one of the strongest in ecology, evolution and behaviour in the US, and I can strongly recommend a visit here. Interestingly, they do not have any bird research at all, but most empirical work is on fish on insects, and the department is particularly strong in animal behaviour, sexual selection, neurobiology and evolutionary population genetics. This is the second time I visit, and I gave a talk already in spring 2003, nine years ago. Remarkably, almost all who attended my talk then were here this time as well, including Mark Kirkpatrick, Mike Ryan and legendary lizard evolutionary ecologist Eric Pianka.

I also met with some new folks, which have arrived since 2003, including PhD student Eben Gehring who works in the lab of Molly Cummings, and who does research on Ischnura-damselflies and evolutionary ecology professor Dan Bolnick, with whom I share many research interests, including the evolution of assortative mating and its consequences. Tonight, I am going to dinner with Scott Edwards, who is also visiting from Harvard this same week as I am here, and who will be the opponent of PhD-student Anna Runemark in our lab on May 25 next month.

Apart from Monday, this week, when I gave my talk, I have spent most time in the field, looking for and researching on Texas odonates. You can see one particularly stunning species that I saw here. Texas is especially species-rich, as half of North America's species occur here, more than 250 species, and several tropical elements from Mexico and Central America. As a comparision, Sweden has about 55 species, less than a fifth of Texas (although it should be said that Texas is slightly bigger than Sweden - everything is bigger in Texas, actually!). It is good to keep in mind that biodiversity is quite low in Europe, mainly due to the effects of past ice ages, and perhaps our faunas have not yet even been saturated, as re-colonziation from the last Ice Age might still be ongoing?

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