Largely ignored as a lowly ‘drain fish’ in its native land, many Trinidadians are surprised to discover that the common guppy forms the basis of entire careers for hundreds of international biologists. However, as ‘the home of the guppy’, Trinidad provided the ideal venue for the 5th International Conference of Poeciliid Biologists, which took place at The University of the West Indies in June 2012.
This conference was chaired by Professor Indar Ramnarine and co-chaired by Dr Amy Deacon of the Behaviour and Biodiversity Research Group with additional help from former BBRG member Dr Dawn Phillip and BioTIME assistant Raj Mahabir.
Academics from throughout the world were brought together on this beautiful island to share their passion for all aspects of the biology of poeciliid fish.
The Behaviour and Biodiversity Research group was well-represented, with the attendance of many past and present members. Amy described her work on the invasive spread and colonisation ability of the guppy, Mora spoke about behavioural responses to novel environments in guppies, Al explained how guppies acclimate to different thermal regimes and Alfredo presented his work on transgenerational effects of fatty acid nutrition in mosquitofish.
BBRG’s own Anne Magurran was one of three keynote speakers. She opened the first session with an historical overview of guppy science in Trinidad, beginning with its supposed ‘discovery’ by Robert John Lechmere Guppy in 1866 and the subsequent use of the Northern Range as a natural laboratory which continues into the present day.
The second keynote speaker was another frequent visitor to Trinidad, Professor David Reznick of the University of California, Riverside, who theorised about the origin of the poeciliid ability to give birth to live young, offering a fascinating evolutionary genetics perspective.
On the final day, the audience was wowed by Professor Jens Krause of Humboldt University in Berlin, and his use of guppies and robotic fish to explain swarm behaviour and intelligence in a whole range of species – including humans.
The conference concluded with a series of exciting fieldtrips designed to give delegates a true taste of Trinidad – including leatherback turtle watching, a trip to the world famous Asa Wright Nature Centre and an afternoon swim at the beach, followed by the Trinidadian version of fish and chips – ‘bake and shark’ (although being ecologically responsible fish biologists, bake and kingfish was the preferred choice!)
Finally, delegates enjoyed a spectacular hike up the Turure river, which ended at a series of beautiful waterfalls… It was a real treat to snorkel with wild guppies in the pools, watching the famous courtship behaviours that many of the visiting academics had only ever seen in laboratory fish tanks.
The 6th International Conference of Poeciliid Biologists will take place in 2014, and will be chaired by Dr Darren Croft and Dr Safi Darden at the University of Exeter.