The opening session of the Biology Symposium 2017
The Annual Biology Symposium was organized recently by the Department of Biology of the University of Malta in collaboration with the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The Symposium featured presentations by this year's graduands on a number of research projects which constituted their degree dissertations. During the opening session the audience was addressed by Head of Department, Prof. Joseph A. Borg, Prof. Charles Sammut, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof. Joseph Cacciottolo, Pro-Rector for Academic Affairs and Dr José Herrera, Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change.
The first series of presentations, chaired by Dr Julian Evans, featured four research projects by B. Sc. graduates, starting with a study of the effect of elevated temperature on the growth of seaweeds, a very topical subject in view of the global rise in sea surface temperature. The study concluded that temperature, as well as other environmental factors, were affecting the survival and growth of seaweeds. The second presentation focused on the comparative biology of two marine snails which occur on Maltese shores and investigated the factors which enable these two closely-related species to co-exist in the same ecological niche. On a completely different note, the next project considered the effect on cancer cells of some novel organic compounds, recently synthesized by the Chemistry Department of chemistry, concluding that the chemicals had a cytotoxic effect on the cancer cells. The session was brought to a close by an investigation of the parasitoids of Maltese butterflies and moths. These insects lay their eggs on the lepidopteran host and develop at its expense. As a result of this research, the checklist of parasitoid species recorded in the Maltese Island was increased from thirty-three to sixty-five species.
Following a break for refreshments, the second session, chaired by Dr Joseph Buhagiar got under way with three B.Sc. and two M.Sc. research projects. The first two B.Sc. presentations were concerned with the conservation status of two important Maltese habitats: Wied Qirda and the Is-Salini Natura 2000 site. The effects of human activities on the biodiversity of these two localities were studied, and it was concluded that these activities may pose serious risks to the long term sustainability of both sites. Focusing on a single species of flowering plant, the wild rocket, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, the third project delved into the reasons leading to the successful growth and survival of this species in harsh conditions.
The postgraduate presentations dealt with two completely different topics: the colonisation of selected sites in the Maltese Islands by alien flora and the removal of salt from treated sewage effluent by some locally occurring plants. The introduction of alien invasive plants in the local environment is having a deleterious effect on the indigenous flora and it is therefore important to determine the way in which these intruders are becoming established. In the last presentation it was concluded that the suitability of treated sewage effluent for crop irrigation could be improved through phytoextraction, although further studies are required before successful implementation.
As in previous years a booklet was published containing Abstracts of all of this year's dissertations, including those which could not be presented at the Symposium, a total of 38 abstracts. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy can contact the Department of Biology on 2340 2272. The Symposium and the Abstracts booklet were generously supported by the Environment and Resources Authority.