PhD students

Dr Tamara Johnson

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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. When she isn’t indulging her dog, she is working for the research office at the University of Melbourne.

Honours and Masters students

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.

Lilly Taylor

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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. Lilly has spent part of 2019 travelling the world.

Isabelle Onley

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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 will be starting 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

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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 supplies company, but is intending to travel overseas to do a PhD in biological science.

Gabrielle Pavlovic

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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 training to be a naturopath.

Kita Ashman

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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 has returned to Deakin to do a PhD (alas not in the Symonds lab!).

Alison Orchard

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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

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

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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

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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

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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.

Julia Ryeland

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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 is now doing a PhD at the University of Western Sydney into emu behaviour.

Daniel Campbell-Tennant

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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.

Brett Shiel

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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 is now a PhD student in the Molecular Biodiversity group at LaTrobe University.

I-Ping Chen

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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.

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