Project: The evolution of harem polygyny in insects

Co-supervisor: Dr Greg Holwell (The University of Auckland)

Harem polygyny is a mating system whereby males monopolise two or more females. This is can be through defending a resource that is an essential food source or habitat for the female to reproduce, or by defending a group of females which often involves male-male contact. Harem polygyny is common in vertebrates, for example, seals, deer, zebra and some species of birds. It is less common insects but it is still represented in most Orders including some species of flies, ants, dragonflies, beetles and crickets. I will be investigating questions around why this mating system has evolved in some lineages of insects and whether there are certain environments that drive this behaviour. Another important area is the costs and benefits associated with harem polygyny, males can increase their reproductive success by mating with multiple females but the benefits to females may not always be as obvious. The two case study species that will be experimentally focussed on are a bark beetle species, Ips grandicollis, present in Australian pine forests and a New Zealand endemic species, the Auckland tree weta, Hemideina thoracica. Both species are harem polygynous but show differing behaviours associated with this mating system.


Describe yourself in three words

Caring, energetic, fun-loving


What is your earliest memory?

Probably when I was five and we were getting family photos taken. I remember being excited to have half a day off school then making the biggest fuss when we had to have a photo taken with two calves. I grew up on a dairy farm and was scared of the cows for a year or so…


What (or who) inspired your interest in biology?

David Attenborough – I still learn so much fascinating information from watching his shows.


What was your favourite book as a child?

Anne of Green Gables


Name your three favourite films

Generally don’t have favourite films, more a favourite genre. I enjoy comedies a lot. But three films that I would watch over and over again are The Lion King, Pride and Prejudice and Love Actually


Which do you prefer – Cheese or chocolate?



Who would play you in a film about your life?

Emily Blunt – her movies are great, she does comedies plus really awesome action movies


Which three people would you invite to your dream dinner party?

David Attenborough – his knowledge about the natural world would make for great dinner conversation, could also discuss what his succession plans are…

Dave Grohl – he seems like the nicest guy, he has to have great stories and he can play us all some great music!

Miranda Hart – for the laughs


What is your fancy dress costume of choice?


Because I have a great costume and it’s so much fun, everyone always gets into a 1920s party!


What would your super power be?

Talking to animals


What is your number one interest outside of science?

Hiking – combines my love of the outdoors with a good walk and exploring new places.


If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would it be?

Moa, although that could make bush walks extra exciting!