The UVic Torch · University of Victoria Alumni Magazine · Autumn 1998

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Wolves by Numbers

by Mike McNeney

Want to predict where wolves will stake out territory, hunt or interact with other packs? Just do the math, says UVic alumnus Mark Lewis who is developing unique numerical models to help wildlife officials monitor wolves in the wild.

"It's a challenge. It's a daunting task," says Lewis, an associate professor of biology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "The key is finding out which factors are crucial to the formation and maintenance of territories and which are less important. Mathematics can be used to do this."

Moving in packs of five to 15 members, wolves tend to remain in a territory of 160 km or less. When a wolf detects scent markings from another pack, it will mark that scent and is likely to retreat to its own territory.

A key feature of Lewis' model is that the seemingly complex formation of wolf territories can be reduced to a relatively simple set of formulae involving scent marking and movement. "This model doesn't simply describe the data, but can predict how territories form or change under new conditions."

The model, while still in its infancy, could eventually be applied to cases where wolves are reintroduced to geographic regions.

Lewis' interest in mathematical biology began at an early age and blossomed during his undergraduate days at UVic. "It has been my interest since I was young, and is now the field that I teach and do research in."

His main influences at UVic were math professors Reinhard Illner and Pauline van den Driessche, who encouraged him to continue his studies at Oxford University. Lewis graduated from Oxford with a PhD in math biology in 1990.T

With files from the University of Utah News Service



RacerGirl Geared for Girls & Women

With a snappy logo and a new web site (www.racergirl.com), UVic science graduate and Canadian national mountain bike team member Melanie McQuaid has launched the RacerGirl Foundation.

It's to promote the sport but also to build "positive life values for girls and women" across the country and in all walks of life. McQuaid based the idea on personal development workshops at Victoria's Commonwealth Centre for Sport Development, her training facility.

"I know how much sport in general and mountain biking in particular has helped to shape my life and inspire me to pursue excellence and quality in everything I do," explained McQuaid, a 25-year-old who grew up in Nanaimo. "With all of the distractions young people are dealing with these days, I believe many other girls and women could benefit from sport."

McQuaid is donating 10 per cent of her earnings from cycling to the foundations, with programs expected to be off the ground in 1999.


Airports and Airwaves

John Wensveen (BA '96) sends this report from Cardiff, Wales where he is conducting research on international airport planning and hosts a popular BBC radio program :

I completed my degree with the UVic Department of Geography, concentrating on urban development and transportation planning and using any excuse to include aviation in my course studies. If not for Dr. Larry McCann and Dr. Colin Wood, who let me be creative with few boundaries, I probably would not be where I am today. Perhaps the most important skill I learned at UVic was how to analyse situations from a central position and be able to comment from any angle.

Near the end of my studies at UVic, I was approached by the Department of Maritime Studies and International Transport at the University of Wales Cardiff to undertake a PhD in international air transport. In September, 1996, one month after the offer, I was on my way to the UK.

I expect to submit my PhD theses (ahead of schedule in 1999) on my research on establishing the optimal location for a "megahub" airport to serve Europe in light of full-scale economic liberalisation. Europe's major airports are congested with little or no room to expand. By 2010, 38 major airports will be operating at full capacity. My study reveals that a "Golden Runway Zone" exists and I will design the optimal European airline route network based on this location.

Besides my research I am heavily involved in radio broadcasting. What started as a brief telephone call to a Welsh radio station for an "on-air" competition, has led to a permanent DJ position on three weekly time slots with Cardiff-based Xpress FM.

The shows are very popular and concentrate on European top 40 music with a hint of Canadian content. I was awarded "Best Male Presenter 1997" and I've been nominated for the BBC Radio 1 awards in November, 1998.

I owe special thanks to my family, friends and staff at UVic for all their support. A very special thank you to the Department of Geography for promoting creativity and the exploration of ideas.

McQuaid is donating 10 per cent of her earnings from cycling to the foundations, with programs expected to be off the ground in 1999.


In Vitro Fertilization of Conifers

     
 A conifer is conceived
images provided by the UVic Centre for Forest Biology show the first successful in vitro fertilization of a Douglas fir: image 1 (top) shows the pollen tube entering the egg-bearing structure; image 7 shows actual fertilization; and image 9 the early proembryo stages of development.

UVic forest biologists have developed the first successful method of in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Douglas fir trees opening "a new area of experimental reproductive biology."

Drs. Danny Fernando, John Owens and Patrick von Aderkas of UVic's Centre for Forest Biology reported the breakthrough in the July issue of the journal, Theoretical & Applied Genetics.

The experiment was done in two steps. First, the UVic team placed 1 mg of pollen in petri dishes containing a base medium mixed with salts, distilled water and sugars. The cultures were wrapped in aluminum foil and incubated at 24 degrees C for two weeks, allowing pollen tubes to develop.

Next, they were brought into contact with the egg-bearing structure of the Douglas fir and put back in incubation.

One week later-following pollen tube penetration, sperm release and fusion of the sperm and egg nucleus-proembryos started developing normally in their controlled environment.

But sustaining growth of Douglas fir pollen tubes and eggs in the petri dish culture remains a challenge and no mature embryo has been produced yet. Better results might be achieved with other conifer species, the researchers say.

The research team used the Douglas fir for their experiment because of its economic importance, the large volume of basic information available, and access to specimens. Cones were collected in the field and from the BC Ministry of Forests Glyn Road Research Station in Victoria.

The IVF process promises a novel breeding approach that could be coupled with hybridization or genetic transformation.

"This opens a new area of experimental reproductive biology," says von Aderkas. "We can develop new hybrids of trees which may be adaptable to different habitats. They may also be pest and disease resistant or they may grow faster."

IVF has been successfully achieved in flowering plants such as maize, wheat and tobacco, but not in conifers.

Complexities associated with the new technique kept the success of the study in doubt right to the end of the project.

"The males and females were very fussy about their conditions and took some time to prove that fertilization had actually taken place," says Fernando, the post-doctoral fellow who produced the conclusive evidence of the experiment's success.

The researchers hope to explore fertilization and early embryo development further. Currently, they are attempting to hybridize various conifers.

Funding for the three-year project was provided by Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.


Quasar Quest

An ultra-luminous quasar-brighter than any object previously observed in the universe-has been discovered by UVic astronomer, Dr. Geraint Lewis and three colleagues in Europe and the U.K.

The quasar is estimated to be at least four million-billion times brighter than the Sun outshining the brightest galaxy by more than 100 times.

The quasar's light is like a skewer stretching from the distant Universe to Earth, bringing with it a wealth of new information-and that's what excites astronomers about the discovery.

"There is a lot of matter being thrown out of this quasar at very high velocities, tens of thousands of kilometres a second," Lewis said. "It has a lot which we feel astronomers will want to get their hands on. It will touch on several areas of extra-galactic astronomy."

Lewis and collaborators at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the European Southern Observatory in Munich and Queen's University in Belfast-found the quasar without really trying. Looking for carbon stars, they noticed what seemed to be an unusually bright quasar.

"It was actually a serendipitous discovery, as the best discoveries often are," said Lewis, who also conducts postdoctoral research at the University of Washington.

The team will make further observations with ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm whether the quasar is as it appears or if the image is being distorted by gravity from another object, an effect known as gravitational lensing.

"The big question is, how can you feed in enough matter to generate enough energy to make this thing glow so brightly? The amount of energy that's released tells you something about how stars in galaxies like our own arose, their evolution and their history," Lewis said.

The quasar is about 11 billion light years away, so the light now reaching Earth emanated when the universe was only 10 per cent of its present age.

Quasars are among the most energetic objects observed in the Universe. Each quasar generates more energy than the rest of a galaxy's stars combined. The light comes from gravity generated by a black hole and from thick dust heated by radiation from the quasar's core.


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