Featured Speakers


Maydianne Andrade

Widows as Windows on Adaptive Plasticity

Thursday, June 24 7:00 pm EDT - Recording

Biography: Maydianne Andrade has a BSc from Simon Fraser University, an MSc from the University of Toronto Mississauga, and a PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior from Cornell University. She is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, where her leadership roles have included Special Advisor to the Dean on Inclusive Recruitment and Equity Education, Vice Dean Faculty Affairs, Equity and Success, and Acting Vice Principal Academic & Dean. Professor Andrade’s fundamental research primarily uses widow spiders (genus Latrodectus) as models for understanding links between ecology, evolution, and behaviour, particularly as these processes are related to sexual selection, plasticity, and the evolution of variation among closely related species. An award-winning researcher, Professor Andrade started her career as an University Faculty Award recipient (Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada), was named a Canada Research Chair in Integrative Behavioural Ecology, is a Fellow of the Animal Behaviour society, and an elected honorary member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.  A strong advocate for equity and inclusion, she is a co-founder and inaugural President of the Canadian Black Scientists Network, and is founder and co-Chair of the Toronto Initiative for Diversity and Excellence, a group dedicated to making Universities more inclusive and equitable through peer-to-peer education and leadership advising. In 2019 she was awarded the Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize by the University of Toronto's Alumni Association in recognition of the impact of her equity work. Professor Andrade values outreach to encourage public engagement in science and equity. Her most recent efforts include hosting an episode of The Nature of Things (First Animals), and partnering with University of Toronto Communications to create and host the podcast The New Normal, which examines how the disruption of the pandemic may catalyse a more equitable society.


Mercedes Burns

Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

The 8-legged flowers of Chūbu: Genome and cytotypic distribution of a facultatively parthenogenetic Opiliones species

Monday, June 28 11:15 am EDT - Recording

Abstract: Third generation sequencing techniques have allowed for the in-house development of previously inaccessible genome resources. We recently utilized several approaches to ascertain the size and sequence of the genome of Leiobunum manubriatum, a facultatively parthenogenetic harvester (Opiliones: Sclerosomatidae) species endemic to Japan. The species was previously described to consist of two cytotypes: a diploid (2n=24) and a tetraploid (2n=48) race. Unlike in plants, where interpopulation differences in ploidy are common and often associated with morphological variability, the cytotypes are indistinguishable. However, they appear to correspond to particular geographic regions of the Japanese Alps, which we identified using flow cytometry of samples from this region. Mixed-ploidy populations were also found. Using diploid individuals from Toyama Prefecture, we sequenced the completed genome of L. manubriatum with the Oxford Nanopore MinION. We discovered unique insertions supporting a long history of meiotic instability leading to frequent mitochondrial sequence transfer. Ultimately, the genomic resources of L. manubriatum are poised to provide insight into a number of future studies, focused on the nature of their reproductive mode plasticity and potential for genomic conflict over mitochondrial inheritance.   

Lauren Esposito

Curator and Schlinger Chair of Arachnology, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California, USA

Advancements in Scorpion Biology in the 21st Century

Wednesday, June 30 11:15 am EDT - Recording

Abstract: We are in the midst of a renaissance in scorpion research. In the last century the number of scientifically documented scorpion species has increased by an entire order of magnitude. We are beginning to understand the diversity of venoms through proteomics and transcriptomics, we are learning about internal anatomical systems through CT-Scanning, and because we now have phylogenomic hypotheses of relationships we have a comparative framework with which to interpret their 400+ million year evolutionary history. The story of scorpions is the story of evolutionary success, and perhaps also the lessons for survival in the face of global change. We will explore the advancements that have been made in scorpion research and our understanding of their biology over the past two decades.

Ivan Magalhães

Postdoctoral Fellow, Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales "Bernardino Rivadavia", Buenos Aires, Argentina

Spider diversity and biogeography in deep evolutionary time

Tuesday, June 29 11:15 am EDT - Recording

Abstract: Spiders are one of the most diverse groups of animals, and thus understanding their evolutionary and biogeographic history is paramount to reveal general patterns in biodiversity. I will start this talk by briefly outlining the current and past diversity of the group to demonstrate that there have been significant changes in spider diversity through time. In particular, I will show that those ancient spider lineages with simple genitalia (“haplogyne” spiders) were the dominant group during the Mesozoic. Because the evolutionary history of haplogyne spiders extends well into ancient times, I will argue that they are particularly suitable to test biogeographic hypotheses on a global scale. To demonstrate this, I will discuss the phylogeny and biogeographic history of sand spiders (Sicarius) and crevice weavers (Filistatidae). These two spider groups occupy habitats with similar climates, and yet they present some contrasting biogeographic patterns. I will discuss possible explanations for this observation, and suggest that we need more basic information on spider natural history and dispersal to further refine biogeographic studies.

Public lecture

Jillian Cowles

Clinical microbiologist, naturalist, and photographer.
Author of Amazing Arachnids

The Thief in the Web and Other Stories

Sunday, June 27 11:00 am EDT - Recording

A puzzle, a murder mystery, and a story with a surprise plot twist at the end…are these the stuff of Hollywood? Not necessarily. You can find these stories, and many others, if you take a look at the lives of arachnids in your home, your yard, or your neighborhood. Anyone with good powers of observation and an open mind can be a detective, solving puzzles in arachnology. This is where the amateur scientist can step in.

In this presentation, you will hear the stories of tiny thief spiders, courageous mother spiders, and the hidden lives of vinegaroons. A few smaller puzzles are thrown in along the way. Solving these mysteries was basically detective work: long nights spent staking out the scene of the crime, looking at microscopic evidence, asking questions, and keeping an open mind. Sometimes a puzzle is simple and can be solved quickly, but many times the path becomes complicated, and you are left with more questions than answers. Please join me in this story of mystery and discovery.