I am offering quite a range of honours projects for 2020. Alternatively, I’m always open to you proposing an idea for a project if it’s evolutionary ecology-related. Contact me if you would like to know more/join the group.

 

Project 1

Title: Condition dependence of female attractiveness in moths

Principal Supervisor: Dr Matthew Symonds

Contact details: matthew.symonds@deakin.edu.au, Tel: 9251 7437

Associate Supervisors: Dr Kathryn McNamara (University of Melbourne)

Contact details: mcnamara@unimelb.edu.au

Start: Semester 1 or Semester 2 2020

 

Moths are well-known for having a mating system where females produce a tiny amount of pheromone which can attract males over long distances. Because the amounts of pheromone produced are so small, it is typically assumed that there is no cost to females of such signaling. If that is so, females body condition should play little role in determining how attractive they are to males. However, there is increasing evidence that the costs of pheromone production are not, in fact, small. This project will examine this issue by manipulating the body condition of female moths and examining how this affects the production of their pheromone. The project will involve insect culturing and laboratory assays.

 

Project 2

Title: Evolution of pheromone composition in moths

Principal Supervisor: Dr Matthew Symonds

Contact details: matthew.symonds@deakin.edu.au, Tel: 9251 7437

Start: Semester 1 or Semester 2 2020

 

Female moths famously produce sex pheromones which attract males for mating. However, the composition of these pheromones varies enormously across species. What are the evolutionary forces driving the composition of these pheromones. This project will use published data and online databases to extract information about cross-species variation in moth sex pheromones, and relate this to their evolutionary history and ecology. The project is largely data-analysis based, but attempts to answer a really fundamental question in the evolution of chemical communication.

 

Project 3

Title: Using 3D imaging to understand the evolution of bird bill size.

Principal Supervisor: Dr Matthew Symonds

Contact details: matthew.symonds@deakin.edu.au, Tel: 9251 7437

Start: Semester 1 or Semester 2 2020

Description: In addition to their vital role in foraging, bird bills are important areas of heat loss for birds. As such their size is thought to vary in relation to climate, with birds found in cooler climates having small bills (in order to mitigate heat loss). However, tests of this hypothesis (known as Allen’s rule) are often related to crude measure of bill size, like bill length, which may not accurately reflect the actual surface area of the bill available for heat loss. 3D imaging provides an opportunity to accurately estimate the surface area of the bill across a diverse range of birds with very different bill shapes. In this project, you will analyse these images to estimate whether Allen’s rule holds across a wide range of bird species, and more generally investigate the relative influence of diet, life-history and climate on the evolution of bird bill size.

 

Project 4

Title: Comparative analyses of the evolution of key animal traits

Principal Supervisor: Dr Matthew Symonds

Contact details: matthew.symonds@deakin.edu.au, Tel: 9251 7437

Start: Semester 1 or Semester 2 2020

 

Description: Phylogenetic comparative analyses, where the evolution of key traits is examined across species, are a powerful tool in evolutionary biology. I have a number of ideas for projects that involve analyses of large cross-species datasets – be they on insects (e.g. evolution of host breadth in parasitoid wasps), mammals (e.g. influence of hibernation on mammalian life-history evolution) or other vertebrates. I’m also open to suggestions! Feel free to contact me to ask me more about these.

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