We have very nearly run out of Masters students in the Lab! This month, Leslie Ng and Richard Bartle handed in their theses on bee cognition and tawny dragon behavioural interactions, respectively. This follows Elizabeth Newton and Tess Mclaren submitting their theses only a few months ago. Elizabeth carried out a comparative study on the relationship between near-infrared reflectance and thermal environment in birds (see her blog post!). Tess also performed a comparative study, though her’s was on the evolutionary drivers of colour change in agamid lizards throughout Asia. Massive efforts, congratulations to each of you! All are working towards publishing their works, and we are very proud of them!
We are well into tawny dragon breeding season! Caroline Dong managed to film almost all of this lady’s epic half-hour lay of a record 8 eggs! This individual had been larger than all the other females which have laid, so we were initially concerned she could be eggbound. An x-ray and ultrasound later, it was revealed she was not, and she laid without intervention the very next day. For updates on breeding season, and other things sciencey, follow Caroline on twitter: @colorfulagamids.
This semester, we have had the pleasure of hosting Michelle Dan, an undergraduate researcher on exchange from Caltech, USA, where she is currently pursuing a degree in Geobiology. While she’s with us, Michelle is investigating how beetle cuticles interact with light to produce colour. Michelle is combining techniques of electron microscopy with spectral measurements and custom photography to examine this interaction in specimens on loan from Museum Victoria. Pictured (right), resident technical photographer, MSc student Josh Munro instructs Michelle on the finer point of illumination testing.
Incredible breadth of animal colouration research featured in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, compiled and edited by Tim Caro, Cassie Stoddard and Devi Stuart-Fox. Follow this link to both the overarching Introduction, and the fabulous articles within!
Sex-mad squids! Catchy title of an article about new work published by Amanda Franklin and Devi. It seems copulation can shorten the lifespan of female southern dumpling squid by 15 days! Find the article here, or on our Media page!
More love for Viviana Cadena and Katie Smith‘s bearded dragon research! This time from none other than Australian Geographic, complete with very cool time-lapse video! Check it out through our Media page!
We are incredibly proud to announce the completion of doctors Maddy Yewers and Luisa Teasdale. Maddy investigated whether male throat colour morphs reflect alternative behavioural strategies and the evolutionary maintenance of polymorphism in the tawny dragon. Luisa delved well into bioinformatics and deep phylogenetic relationships of land snails using next generation sequencing. Both have already published much of their work. Congratulations both!
Congratulations Steven Mesis, newest Master out of the Lab! Steve’s project involved intensive fieldwork in the contact region of the northern and southern lineage of tawny dragon. His research explored the role of intrasexual selection in the hybridisation of the species!
Scoping out potential suitable habitat has become high-tech! Less of a need to hike for miles in search of rocky terrain for dragons, when you can borrow a drone. Caroline’s upcoming field trip for her research was always going to be a success, but may well be unprecedentedly efficient. We clearly befriend the right people!
Field season 2016 is on us! Adam Elliott and Katrina headed to South Australia during a brief break in the weather to catch some of our favourite tawny dragons to bring into captivity for Rick Bartle and Caroline Dong’s Masters and PhD research, respectively.
Elizabeth Newton has had a busy couple of months, having visited the ornithology collections of South Australia Museum and Australian Museum to measure colour and light reflectance of some of their preserved bird specimens in addition to those measured at Museum Victoria. Elizabeth then traveled to the 2016 Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour conference held at Katoomba, NSW, after receiving a Student Research Grant in 2015. She presented a poster (see right) showing how bird feathers reflect light across the full spectrum of sunlight (ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light) and how this appears to relate to their thermal climate, with birds in hotter conditions intercepting and reflecting more energy than birds in cooler conditions. This research is for her Masters degree – stay tuned for upcoming publications, they’re sure to have amazing pictures!
Huge congratulations to Dr. Danielle Klomp who recently completed her PhD on the evolution of social signals in Malaysian gliding lizards (Draco spp.). Danielle’s research involved extensive fieldwork throughout Borneo, peninsular Malaysia and the Philippines, and produced some fascinating publications! Congratulations, Danielle!
Bearded dragon expert and lab alumna Katie Smith spoke with Scientific American about colour change in bearded dragons, so called because they “look like they have a really serious five o’clock shadow.” Listen to the podcast about how and why these amazing dragons change colour!
Masters student Tess McLaren is researching colour change in Asian agamids. To ground her comparative study, Tess spent a month in India, investigating species which display some of the most spectacular and dramatic changes of all dragon lizards. Check out her blog about the impressive Psammophilus dorsalis (pictured here).
Claire McLean will be spending a couple of months at the University of York in the United Kingdom, working with Kanchon Dasmahapatra to investigate methods for identifying genetic differences between colour morphs of the tawny dragon lizard.
PhD student and advocate for mentoring in science, Maddy Yewers recently went on the 3CR radio show, Lost In Science, to talk about tawny dragons and women in science (specifically mentoring school students) for International Women’s Day. Listen to the show here. Excellent points, and well spoken, Maddy!
Claire McLean and Katrina Rankin represented the Lab at the Australian Society of Herpetology‘s annual conference – this year held in Tasmania. Claire presented some exciting preliminary data on the pigments contributing to tawny dragon colour expression, while Katrina presented on the inheritance of the colour morphs.
In hugely exciting news, we were successful in our application for the McCoy Seed Fund linkage grant with Museum Victoria! The grant enables a spectacular collaboration between Devi and Michael Kearney at Melbourne University, Ken Walker at Museum Victoria and Adrian Dyer at RMIT. This project will apply state‐of‐the‐art imaging technology to understand how butterflies have adapted the colour and reflective properties of their wings in response to variable climatic conditions. Using full‐spectrum imaging, we will capture butterfly colouration across the full range of wavelengths of direct sunlight that affect an animal’s temperature (ultraviolet, human‐visible and, excitingly, near‐infrared).
Continuing data collection, and proving himself to be worth his weight in small dragons, Adam Elliott is once again off catching agamids for us. This time on an epic 6 week roadtrip of Western Australia, Adam is teamed up with Dr. Katja Boysen, a molecular parasitologist currently based at Museum Victoria. Katja will also be using some of the data they get for her work on malarial parasites. Originally from Germany, Katja is undoubtedly having a thoroughly unique immersion in outback Australia while becoming a pro at capturing and processing dragons!
Fitting with the newsy theme of fieldwork and Masters, current Masters student Steven Mesis is in South Australia, conducting his field trials to assess the role of throat colouration in competitive interactions in male tawny dragons. Steve was placed in excellent stead, with tawny dragon expert Claire McLean (really; she described a species) teaching him to spot, capture and assess behaviours and territory quality of the little beasties, before leaving him to run his research with the assistance of volunteers.
Big congratulations to new Masters of Science, Anna Lewis and Scarlett Howard! Anna investigated the effects of stress on colour expression in tawny dragons at a structural scale, and Scarlett showed honeybees to be capable of using rules to learn tasks and extrapolate to novel situations. An excellent achievement, we are proud of them both!
After withstanding some of the most persistent flies in the country for four days, Adam and Katrina were rewarded with this handsome gent: a Lake Eyre dragon, Ctenophorus maculosus. Unfortunately, there weren’t nearly as many as we have historically known there to be; it seems they are in quite a bust period.
Katrina teamed up with lizard catching extraordinaire Adam Elliott to start collecting data for research into the evolution of colour signaling in Australian agamid lizards. The pair covered nearly 8,000 km of arid South Australia, looping from Adelaide, through the Flinders Ranges to Lake Eyre, and down the west side of Lake Torrens, through Port Augusta and back home. They met some excellent characters along the way (most notably Tommy in Marree), and are hugely grateful for some generous hospitality shown to them by some wonderful property owners. Lots of analysis lays ahead, but Katrina is delighted she can now (sometimes) spot and catch lizards in the field!
Maggie Haines was recently awarded her PhD. For her PhD, Maggie investigated the evolutionary ecology and conservation genetics of Australian alpine lizards Pseudemoia spp. Congratulations, Dr. Maggie!
Claire McLean starred on the popular children’s science show, Scope, explaining the concept of polymorphism, the function of colour signals and potential of speciation in the tawny dragon! Here is the link (S3, Ep. 43), and head to 18:50.
Claire McLean has started a post-doc investigating the genetic architecture of colour polymorphism in tawny dragons. She will be investigating whether the genes underpinning polymorphism are also important for the process of speciation.
Having completed her Masters with Devi in 2014, Katrina Rankin has taken on the exciting role of Technical Officer in Evolutionary Ecology! She will be very busy giving Devi some much deserved assistance in all things from permitting to husbandry, to microscopy, and anything in between. She is also very keen to head into the field and see where the lizards live!
Third year student Monique Winterhoff is joining the Lab this year, having elected to take a Science Research Project as one of her subjects. Monique will be studying the effects of varying thermal gradients on near-infrared reflectance in mammals and birds, using collection data from Museum Victoria specimens. Monique is using some very cool equipment and techniques – and will pick up hugely useful research skills along the way!
Maddy Yewers has received funding from the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment for the third year running. She has received $3,000 to present her work at the conference for the International Society of Behavioural Ecology in New York August 2014. Congratulations Maddy! The Holsworth Wildlife Research Endownment provides research support in ecology, wildlife management and natural history studies.
Claire McLean was recently awarded her PhD. For her PhD, Claire investigated how biogeographic and demographic histories and environmental factors have shaped the current distribution of colour variation in the polymorphic tawny dragon lizard, Ctenophorus decresii. In doing so she described a new species of lizard from far western New South Wales, the Barrier Range dragon, Ctenophorus mirrityana. Congratulations Claire!
Luisa Teasdale was recently awarded the UNITAS – World Congress of Malacology 2013 student travel grant €800 and an Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) student travel grant $1100 to partially fund her attendance at the 2013 World Congress of Malacology in Portugal. Luisa was also recently selected, based on academic merit, to attend the first EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) PhD course to be held in Australia (Melbourne, June 2013). This two-week residential program introduces early PhD students to frontier research in bioinformatics and molecular biology by Europe’s leading genomic research institution. Luisa received the best student talk award for her speed talk at the Centre for Biodiversity Analysis (CBA) Biodiversity Genomics conference in Canberra (April 2013).
Claire McLean was recently awarded the Alfred Nicholas Award ($18,000) to “support ‘big ideas’ research by a postgraduate student, which will help build their scientific reputation by its novelty and eventual publication in high impact journals” – Go Claire! Claire was also awarded Runner Up for the best PhD student talk at the Australian Society of Herpetologists (ASH) Conference, 2013, Point Wolstoncroft, New South Wales.
Maggie Haines was awarded a continuation of her Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment for her research on The Evolutionary Ecology of Alpine Lizards Threatened by Climate Change ($7,500). Maggie was also awarded the Dame Margaret Blackwood Soroptimist Scholarship 2013 ($6,500).