The research focus in the Climatic and Metabolic Ecology Lab is on 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.
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 will only take students who can obtain a scholarship (more about scholarships for Australian students and for international students). If you are interested in doing a PhD research in our lab please contact me by email, including your CV.
Potential MSc/PhD Projects
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 grasshoppers of the genus Austroicetes: revisiting a classic study in the distribution and abundance of animals
This project is focused on the thermal ecology of different stages of the life cycle of Austroicetes grasshopers. One member of this genus, A. cruciata or the ‘small plague grasshopper’, was the subject of extensive studies by Andrewartha and Birch because of its status as a pest. They mainly focused on the requirements of the eggs from a temperature and moisture perspective. However, there are eight other species in the genus that vary in distribution, phenology and habitat requirements.
This project would involve delving further into the thermal ecology of this group with the broad goal of understanding why their distributions and phenology differ. It could combine field work on habitat use and phenology, laboratory work on thermal and water requirements at different life stages, and modelling work to predict what we see in the field.
Nutritional ecology of matchstick grasshoppers
This project aims to explore some preliminary aspects of the nutritional ecology of matchstick grasshoppers, with a particular focus on the two species we are working on at the moment, Keyacris scurra and Vandiemenella viatica. They appear to be polyphagous, accepting a wide range of different plants as food. However, little is known beyond this.
This project could 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 their habitat requirements. The work would be put into the theoretical context of the geometric framework of nutrition.
A mechanistic niche model of the wolf spider Tasmanicosa godefroyii: predicting the dynamics of an abundant predator
This project aims to build a mechanistic niche model of a widespread spider and use it to predict fluctuations in their populations. This species was studied extensively by Bill Humphreys in the 1970s and 1980s and most of the information needed to construct such a model is contained within his papers. These spiders are extremely easy to survey due to their eye-shine at night. The project would involve a combination model development and field work to test the models. It would be highly quantitative in nature. The spiders dig burrows that are used by other organisms and are one of the most common invertebrate predators in many ecosystems in southern Australia. Thus a predictive understanding of their dynamics would contribute to an understanding of important community dynamics.