Mathematical Biology Workshop

The ANZIAM Mathematical Biology Special Interest Group is organising a workshop on Friday 10th Feb, after the main conference. It will take place at the School of Mathematical Sciences at The University of Adelaide. The workshop aims to bring together researchers from across Australia and New Zealand with an interest in Mathematical Biology.

The Program has been arranged to hear from leading experts around two themes: genetics in population and disease control, and collective movement and behaviour. There will be two keynote talks on these topics as well as a number of invited talks. There will also be plenty of time for networking and discussion.


The workshop will take place in the level 7 conference room in the Ingkarni Wardli Building, North Terrace Campus.

Click the title of a talk to display the abstract.

9:30Alun Lloyd — Modeling novel strategies for controlling mosquito-borne diseases

Transgenic mosquitoes and related biocontrol approaches—such as Wolbachia—offer new options for controling infections such as dengue and malaria and have been suggested as a means to help contain the current outbreak of Zika. Mathematical models are being, and have been, used to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of a number of these approaches at various stages of their development. In this talk, I shall discuss the biological bases of some of these novel strategies and the accompanying modeling work, illustrating the use of a number of different models as the projects move along the path from theoretical proposals, through lab-based studies to field deployment.
10:30Morning tea
11:00Jeremy Sumner — The running of the giraffes: the importance of model closure for phylogenetic models

Phylogenetics is the suite of mathematical, computational, and statistical methods used by biologists to infer the evolutionary history of present-day biological entities. In the modern setting, typical input data for these methods are molecular sequences for the species under consideration (most commonly DNA). Current best practice rests upon the calculation of the likelihood of these data under the assumption of a Markov process on a proposed evolutionary tree. Recently, the UTAS Theoretical Phylogenetics Group has explored the algebraic properties underlying the families of Markov models commonly used. In particular, we have identified the importance of closure under the operation of multiplication of the Markov matrices drawn from a given model. This naturally leads into the theory of (matrix) Lie groups and has led to our publication of an alternative hierarchy of phylogenetic models enjoying the closure property.

I will provide sufficient background on phylogenetic models to motivate these mathematical developments. I will also present "the running of the giraffes" — a collection of simulations which show that assuming a closed Markov model improves the chances of correctly inferring evolutionary history.
11:30Thomas Prowse — Dodging silver bullets: good gene-drive design is critical for eradicating exotic vertebrates from islands

Synthetic gene drives have been promoted as an innovative technology (or ‘silver bullet’) for controlling invasive alien species. Self-replicating gene drives that disrupt the sex ratio, fertility or viability of progeny could theoretically be spread rapidly through a target pest population, but the optimal gene-drive strategy remains unclear. Further, often neglected threats to the viability of this approach include inherent polymorphic resistance and selection favouring resistance alleles that can never acquire the drive. We used stochastic individual-based models to identify gene-drive strategies capable of eradicating vertebrate pest populations on islands. One popular strategy, a sex-reversing drive that converts heterozygous females into sterile males, failed to spread and required the ongoing deployment of gene-drive carriers to achieve eradication. Strategies permitting heterozygous individuals of both sexes to reproduce could eradicate simulated pest populations. Gene-drive strategies that caused homozygotic embryonic non-viability or homozygotic female sterility produced high probabilities of eradication and also purged the gene drive when eradication failed, therefore posing lower long-term risk should animals be transported beyond target islands.
12:00Discussion session — SMB2018 and future special interest group meetings.
2:00Claire Postlethwaite — Why did the pigeon cross the road? Mathematical models of animal navigation

Many animals can perform amazing feats of intelligence and ingenuity. Rats can navigate complicated mazes, whales communicate with song over thousands of kilometers, and the bar-tailed godwit migrates non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand: a direct flight of over 11,000km.

There is still no consensus in the research community as to how animals are able to navigate over such long distances, even after many decades of research. Animals are believed to navigate using environmental signals such as light, sound, odours and magnetic fields - although again there is little consensus as to which signals particular animals are using. Most animals rarely navigate directly to their target location, but instead make a series of navigational errors, which are usually corrected during transit. Geometric modeling of systematic differences between an animal’s `cognitive map' of the environmental signals used for navigation and the actual physical arrangement of the fields can predict patterns of orientation errors when navigation begins.

In this talk, I will first discuss the use of this sort of modeling as applied to pigeon navigation, and the implications for designing experiments. I will also talk about navigation using visual cues in seabirds, as well as some other modelling examples from behavioural ecology.
3:00Catherine Penington — Modelling at a micro-scale: ocean-borne bacteria and their viruses

This presentation will explore different models used to study the interactions between bacteria and bacteriophages, viruses which infect bacteria. I will discuss the implications of spatial dynamics, and the similarities and differences between probabilistic, individual-based models and deterministic PDE models. Finally, I will present recently published research on the effects of spatial dynamics on coinfection.
3:30Afternoon Tea
4:00Jerome Buhl — From individuals to mass migration: adapting the collective behaviour framework to locust field studies

Wingless locust nymphs form some of the most impressive mass moving groups known as marching or hopper bands, containing up to millions of individuals and stretching for up to kilometres. This spectacular phenomenon doesn’t only provide us with a unique opportunity to study the mechanisms underlying insect collective behaviour, it is also a key to improving locust control methods by optimising barrier spraying according to predicted band movement. But adapting the framework of animal collective behaviour, usually applied to laboratory experiments, to the true scale of this phenomenon in natural conditions remains a daunting challenge that requires innovative solutions drawing from techniques such as field robotics, insect harmonic radar tracking and simulations relying on parallel computation.

Here we review and discuss available and future methods to tackle this challenge together with results from field studies in the Australian Plague locust, Chortoceites terminifera and simulations at the scale of millions of individuals using parallel computation on graphic cards (GPGPU). Our model predictions combined with our field studies suggest that the frontal patterns observed in C. terminifera may result from an interplay between collective movement and intermittency in marching activity. Future field studies using UAV (also known as “drones”) for aerial surveys and transponders to track individual locusts will help validating locust band models and extend this toolset to other locust species, as well as using the resulting data to optimise barrier spraying placement during control operations.

Keynote Speakers

Alun Lloyd

Alun Lloyd is a professor in the Department of Mathematics at North Carolina State University. His main research is in mathematical biology and in particular mosquito-borne infections.

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Claire Postlethwaite

Claire Postlethwaite is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. Her current research is in dynamical systems and models of animal behaviour.

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Jerome Buhl

Jerome Buhl is a Senior Lecturer and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide. He combines lab and field experiments with computational biology and field robotics to study insect collective behaviour and its application to agriculture and pest control

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Jeremy Sumner

Jeremy Sumner is a Lecturer and ARC Discovery Early Career Fellow in the School of Physical Sciences and a member of the UTAS Theoretical Phylogenetics Research Group. His research interests revolve around applications of algebraic methods to phylogenetic models.

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Thomas Prowse

Thomas Prowse is a Research Associate at the University of Adelaide. His research focuses on developing new flexible methods for solving problems in mixed human-wildlife system.

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Catherine Penington

Chatherine is an Associate Lecture at the School of Mathematical Sciences, QUT.

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Registration for this event is $30. Please register at the same time as the main ANZIAM conference.

All lunches, tea/coffee are included in the registration costs.

Please send any enquiries to


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