The research focus in the Climate and Metabolic Ecology Lab is how physical constraints on heat, water and nutritional balances limit the behaviour, distribution and abundance of species. We tackle these issues with a combination of modelling, laboratory and field work. Most projects will involve some combination of these three approaches, all of which require strong quantitative skills in their implementation.
Projects can have different emphases – e.g. field observation, collecting laboratory data, or modelling. However, to find a place in the lab you must demonstrate that you have some enthusiasm for, and ability with, numbers and data! (the enthusiasm can be restricted to what we can learn about biology from the numbers – you don’t have to love maths for its own sake).
Also, empirically, the lab is focusing on invertebrate models, specifically grasshoppers and spiders. There are a number of systems (morabines grasshoppers, the Austroicetes grasshopper genus, and wolf spiders) that we will focus on due to the substantial background information available on their taxonomy, ecology and genetics.
I deliberately avoid running too big a group, to ensure I can provide quality supervision. Thus I normally only take on one new graduate and MSc student a year, depending on when others are finishing. In deciding upon student supervisions, I look for high communication skills (both written and oral), high enthusiasm, strong quantitative skills and the ability to work independently.
Prospective Masters (MSc) Students
The University of Melbourne now has a 2-year MSc Research Scheme in place of the previous Honours year. If you are interested in joining our lab as a MSc student and feel you fit the description above, please get in touch via email and include your CV and undergraduate marks. I am open to students proposing their own research projects, as long as they fit within the general area described above and are logistically and financially feasible. In addition, some possible projects on offer are listed below.
- Thermal ecology of morabine grasshoppers of the genus Vandiemenella
This masters project is focused on the thermoregulatory behaviour of a wingless grasshopper famous for early studies on the process of speciation. This grasshopper lives near the ground on a wide range of shrubs and is winter active. It has distinctive habitat requirements and its distribution has become increasingly fragmented by agriculture. Our preliminary observations of it in the field suggest that it is an active thermoregulator, seeking warm sun-lit places when not feeding. The project involves applying the Hertz, Huey and Stevenson (1993) indices for thermoregulation to quantify the extent to which it thermoregulates. This information will the be used to better understand its habitat requirements.
- Nutritional ecology and captive maintenance of the genus Vandiemenella
This project aims to explore some preliminary aspects of the nutritional ecology of the grasshopper mentioned in the project above. The genus includes two species and a number of chromosome races, with different distributions and apparently different ecological requirements. They appear to be polyphagous, accepting a wide range of different plants as food. This project will involve field observations of foraging behaviour of this grasshopper together with laboratory experiments applying different diets. This information will be used to derive better protocols for maintaining captive populations as well as enhancing our understanding of its habitat requirements.
I will only take students who can obtain a scholarship (for within Australia see http://studyassist.gov.au/sites/studyassist/scholarshipsandawards/pages/australian-postgraduate-awards, for overseas students see http://services.unimelb.edu.au/scholarships/research/international/available). If you are interested in doing a PhD research in our lab please contact me by email, including your CV.