PhD students

Dr Melissa Griffin


Melissa is a proud kiwi (are there any other sorts?), who came from doing undergraduate at Massey University via Plant and Food Research, NZ, to do a project looking at the ecological drivers of ‘harem’ polygyny in insects. Co-supervised with Greg Holwell (University of Auckland), her ambitious research involved both field and laboratory studies of mating aggregation behaviour in two study systems: Ips grandicollis bark beetles in Australia, and Auckland tree weta, Hemideina thoracica in New Zealand. In 2020, she moved back to New Zealand, completing her PhD in the process, to take up a frankly dream job as a Senior Ranger for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand, working in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

Dr Udayangani Mawalagedera


Uday moved from the University of Peredeniya in Sri Lanka, to do her PhD with me, co-supervised by Damien Callahan (a chemist at Deakin), Nina Rønsted (now at the Botanic Gardens in Hawaii) and Anne Gaskett (from the University of Auckland). Her research focussed combining metabolomics and molecular networking of plant secondary metabolites with phylogeny to understand how evolutionary relationships might be used to predict medicinal potential in Australasian magnoliids. Uday has a cat called Dennis and cooks a mean Sri Lankan dessert or two. She has recently started a new job working as a research scientist with CSIRO in Canberra.

Dr Tamara Johnson


Tamara was my first PhD student, originally taken on after having done honours with me, when I was a post-doc at the University of Melbourne, and co-supervised with Prof Mark Elgar. Her project examined the role of sexual selection on shaping the evolution of male moth antennae, using a combination of field behavioural experiments, phylogenetic comparative analysis and morphological studies. She’s produced elegant papers in Proceedings of the Royal Society and The Science of Nature, plus contributed to several others with Mark and I. Much of her thesis was written whilst she was working effectively full time, which is testament to her perseverance and hard work. She is now working as a restaurant manager.

Dr Lisa Hodgkin

Lisa was my student at University of Melbourne, co-supervised with Prof Mark Elgar. She worked on leadership behaviour in social sawflies and showed fascinating results associated with how the structure of leaders and followers can be crucial even to the most simple of animal societies. By doing elegant manipulate experiments she was able to demonstrate the fitness and behavioural consequences of destroying societal fabric by removing leaders (or followers) from these social groups. The first of the papers from her PhD was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and the second in Animal Behaviour. After a few years working at the research office at the University of Melbourne, and raising her daughter, she is now working as a research fellow in the School of Primary and Allied Health Care at Monash University.

Honours and Masters students

Ryan Barnaby


A mad keen birder, Ryan came to use from University of Melbourne, to do his Honours project, co-supervised with Alex McQueen, on the control of thermoregulation through appendages in Australian birds, and exploring relative rates of heat loss through the bills and legs across multiple species. He is currently writing up the research.

Rob Moore


Rob did his project, co-supervised with Scarlett Howard, looking at how social media images can be used incorporated data from established databases (Atlas of Living Australia) to creating a better understanding of Australian native bee species and their environmental niche distributions. While writing up this work, Rob is shortly due to start a PhD at Monash University (again supervised by Scarlett and myself, with Vanessa Kellermann) on effects or urbanisation and climate change on bee morphology.

Jake Tyers

Jake’s project investigated the evolution of sex pheromones in moths, in relation to phylogeny, differences in pheromone structure and composition, and geographical distribution. Using a number of data-bases and published literature, he examined patterns of difference in pheromone composition across moths as a whole and within specific genera. He’s currently writing this up as a paper, and is working in hospitality while considering PhD options.

Christine May

Christine carried out a comparative analysis of the links between Allen’s rule and hibernation in mammals. Her research will be written up as a paper. While working for JB Hi-Fi she is considering her further graduate possibilities.

Lauren Daw


Lauren’s project focussed on Australian hoverflies, which are wasp mimics. Virtually nothing was known about what specific species these flies are mimicking, and Lauren attempted to round this down, and also quantify how well the species were mimicking their models. It was a highly ambitious project(!), but Lauren did an excellent job and now probably knows more about Australian hoverflies than most in the country. After completing Honours she got a job working for the Victorian Government in Agricultural Research.

Lilly Taylor


Lilly completed her honours doing a phylogenetic comparative analysis looking at ecological predictors of medicinal potential in Australian plants. The research is going to be written up. After spending time travelling the world and getting married she is now working as a biomedical research assistant.

Isabelle Onley


Isabelle’s honours project sought to determine whether there is a relationship between rising temperatures and increased size of bird bills, by comparing the beak surface area of museum specimens from the Australian whistlers (family Pachycephalidae) with climate data from the corresponding years. The project was therefore structurally similar to Dan Campbell-Tennant’s honours from a few years previously (see below). She is currently working on publishing the results. She achieved success in her honours by getting a very high mark, but also winning the Chadcombe Bird Research award from Birds Australia. She started a PhD at the University of Adelaide in 2019.

Siobhan Ward

Siobhan’s project involved examining whether dietary quality influences pheromone output and female attractiveness in pantry moths. She had the unenviable task of rearing thousands of the blighters and carrying out behavioural and chemical assays to determine this. Since completing her honours, Siobhan has been working for the Salvation Army (in an administrative, not religious, role).

Sam Weedon


Sam’s project examined the size of (male) moth antennae in relation to other body parts, such as their wings, testes, and other sensory organs, such as eyes. He was looking at whether moths trade off between their ability to find mates, and how many offspring they can produce when they do find them, and whether they compensate for any potential costs associated with either strategy by investing in any other structures. He did this by collecting lots and lots of moths and analysing these patterns both across species and within species. He’s currently working as the IT specialist for a building and is doing a Masters Degree in Data Science at Monash University.

Gabrielle Pavlovic


Gabby’s project continued from where Julia Ryeland’s honours left off (see below). She was interested in thermoregulatory behaviour in birds such as back-rest (the tendency for birds to place their bills among the plumage when at rest) and standing on one leg. Specifically what are the evolutionary correlates of the presence and absence of these behaviours across bird species. Because absence of behaviour seldom gets reported in the literature this involved extensive elicitation of expert opinion from ornithologists worldwide – collating together information from hundreds of bird species, and analysing the results in a phylogenetic comparative analysis, published in Functional Ecology. She is now a qualified naturopath.

Dr Kita Ashman


Kita’s research looked at the potentially evolutionary effects of population density on the female pheromonal calling behaviour and male response and morphology in pantry moths that had been experimentally ‘evolved’ over 35 generations by Kathryn McNamara at University of Western Australia. Intriguingly, Kita found no such evolutionary effect. While some might call this ‘a negative result’ – it’s actually really surprising and unexpected. These kind of long term experimental evolution projects are few and far between, and yet really important to carry out to test long-held assumptions about adaptation. She wrote up her project as a paper in Evolutionary Ecology. After travelling in Asia for a while, Kita returned to Deakin to do a PhD (alas not in the Symonds lab!), and is now working as a threatened species ecologists with the World Wildlife Fund.

Alison Orchard


Alison investigated chemical variation (both in aggregation pheromone composition and cuticular hydrocarbon composition) among populations of an invasive bark beetle, Ips grandicollis, in Australia. She found that there was significant difference in CHC composition with WA and Qld populations, compared to those found in SA, NSW and Victoria. After her honours she went travelling and working in Central America, she is now doing a PhD at Deakin (alas not in the Symonds lab either!)

Hannah Verhellen

First class students, Hannah and Alison

Hannah used infrared thermography to examine difference between populations of invasive sparrows in Australia in their capacity to deal with heat loss through their beaks. She wanted to see whether populations adapted to warmer climates had better control of heat loss in hot conditions. She didn’t find population differences, but did find seasonal differences in the capacity of birds to control heat loss. She has been travelling in Europe and is now back in Melbourne working for a pathology lab and for Scienceworks, the main science museum here).

Aimee Barling

Lab members1

Aimee’s research focused on chemical communication in silk moths (Bombyx mori), specifically how different levels of calling effort (how much an adult female raises her abdomen to emit a sex pheromone) benefit the female in terms of male response (time taken to respond, number of males responding, time taken to reach female, length of copulation). Together with Laura Cheah, she put in enormous hours in the lab rearing and then making videos of silk moths mating, and finding interesting correlations between calling effort, fertility and life-history in females.

Laura Cheah

Lab members2

The second half of ‘team silk moth’ Laura’s project investigated whether there was a energetic and physiological cost to signalling in female silk moths. She monitored the adult female moths while they were calling (emitting sex pheromone) and measured their metabolic output. She also looked at any loss of condition (weight loss) that may occur over their adult lifespan.

Rebecca Readhead

profile 22

Rebecca’s research was focussed on the scary but iconic Australian insects known as bulldog ants (Myrmecia). Through analysis of their cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and aggressive behaviour, she ascertained that their were clear differences in levels of aggression between different nests, but that this was also related to amount of chemical profile differences (and also associated with amount of overlap in host tree use between nests. Her study will provide a more comprehensive understanding of CHCs within Myrmecia and the evolution of CHC diversity at the species level. She is now a very talented visual artist as a quick check of her website will testify.

Dr Julia Ryeland

Lab members3

Julia’s research examined shorebird roosting behaviour and to assess whether behavioural mechanisms (i.e. sleeping with the beak under the wing or roosting on one leg) were used as a means of thermoregulation. Furthermore, she wanted to assess whether bird species with bigger beaks have different behavioural thermoregulatory responses to changes in temperature (hint: yes). She has published not one but two papers from her honours research. She recently completed her PhD at the University of Western Sydney into emu behaviour.

Daniel Campbell-Tennant


Dan’s honours project concerned parrot beaks and whether there was evidence for climate-related variation in beak size, in both a geographical context (do parrots in warmer environments have bigger beaks) and a temporal context (is there any evidence of increases in beak size over the past century, concomittant with global warming). This involved him visiting museum collections in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane and measuring as many parrot specimens as he could get hold of. His results indicate that there has indeed been a noticeable increase in beak size in parrots, and that there is climate-related variation in these species. The paper from this research was published in Journal of Biogeography. He currently works at Monash University as a laboratory research assistant.

Dr Brett Shiel


Brett did his honours on the painted apple moth (Teia anartoides), a species with flightless females and males that have elaborate feathery antennae. He was interested in investigating whether antennal size reflected male reproductive quality (as measures through testis size), or whether there were trade-offs in investment between antennae and other structures. What he found was a bit more complex, and suggests that there might be other phenotypic characters that actually better reflect male quality. The research from his honours was published in Ecology and Evolution. Brett subsequently completed his PhD at LaTrobe University.

I-Ping Chen

IPing Chenvitti 2c

I-Ping did her Master of Philosophy degree at the University of Melbourne co-supervised with Devi Stuart-Fox. She was interested in the evolution of colour patterns in Australian dragon lizards – how do they relate to the environment, and how does complexity in colour patterns reflect natural and sexual selective processes. She devoted enormous effort to her research, analysing museum specimens, categorising colour patterns, performing heroically complicated analyses. Her work was subsequently published in two excellent papers in Evolution and Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. She is currently working in hotel management in the ski-fields of Taiwan.


7 responses »

  1. […] Authors: Daniel J. E. Campbell-Tennant, Janet L. Gardner, Michael R. Kearney and Matthew R. E. Symonds […]

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