Four PhD positions in our research group

We have four quite different PhD projects in the research group that have been advertised today. These are working across four species and some similar research questions. Three of the projects are based at Fowlers Gap which is an amazing field site in the arid zone near Broken Hill, where we have worked for the past 13 years. Work on the zebra finch in the wild, continues our ongoing into this species, where we have been the only lab in recent years trying to understand the ecology of the species in the wild (more details on that research here). The project with Stephan Leu is a new direction for us, into the behaviour and ecology of sheep in the rangeland. This project will use techniques that we have previously used in both birds and lizards, but use them in an applied context.

montage2

The project on the sleepy lizard is in collaboration with Martin Whiting’s group, also at Macquarie University.   We are hoping to recruit students onto all of these projects in 2017, in order to maximise the outcomes from current Australian Research Council funding to Griffith and Leu. Due to this funding the projects are well supported and will provide great research opportunities. We have a good history in the group of graduating our PhD students with a good number of peer-reviewed papers and a range of different skills that will enhance further career opportunities.

 Further Details

1: Adapting to a foreign climate: the reproductive ecology of the house sparrow in Australia

The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) was introduced into Australia in the 1860’s and has since become well established across a broad range of climates in both countries. This project will take advantage of this ‘experimental’ introduction to focus on behavioural and physiological adaptations to different climates through a field-based comparative approach. This research will complement our existing work on related questions in endemic Australian species and will provide insight into the capacity of avian species to adapt to changing climates. This project will involve periods of field-work in Broken Hill, Armidale and Hobart in Australia, along with a range of behavioural, molecular and physiological assays. The project will involve collaboration with other groups in Australia and the US.

 2: The challenge of growing in a hot climate (in the zebra finch)

In recent years we have characterised the very hot conditions in which zebra finches are raised (with nests often reaching temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius, as well as identifying adverse effects of these conditions on embryonic development, offspring growth, and adult sperm. This project is supported by an ARC funded project and will investigate the adaptations that this iconic and well-studied species has to deal with the extreme climate in which it lives. The project will take a variety of approaches including behavioural work, and assays of metabolism and physiology, and combine fieldwork and laboratory work. The project will be run in collaboration with Dr Christine Cooper (Curtin University, Western Australia), Prof. Pierre Deviche (Arizona State University, US), and Prof. Pat Monaghan (Glasgow, UK).

 3: Social structuring and life-history in free-ranging domestic sheep

In this project we will examine the importance of social structure and collective intelligence to life-history trade-offs and productivity in domestic sheep in the rangelands of Australia. The project will use tools from social network theory and spatial ecology to characterise individual and group behaviour and investigate their effect on individual quality and productivity (lambs and wool) in this challenging, but economically important part of Australia. The project will be based at Fowlers Gap (near Broken Hill in the arid zone) and require field work and well-developed analytical skills. This work will be run in collaboration with partners in the pastoral industry and be jointly supervised by Dr Stephan Leu (also at Macquarie University).

4: Parasite transmission dynamics in an Australian lizard

This project will investigate the relationship between host spatial and social behaviour and bacterial transmission. It combines social network theory, spatial ecology and wildlife epidemiology to determine how different bacterial strains are transmitted through the population and how individual behaviour and consequently population social structure changes as a function of infection status. The project combines the analysis of a very comprehensive (already collected) dataset with scope for the student to develop his/her own ideas and conduct fieldwork. The student should be interested in social networks and disease modelling and have strong analytical skills. This project will be jointly supervised by Dr Stephan Leu and A/Prof Martin Whiting (both at Macquarie University). We also have strong relationships with disease modelling colleagues in the US.

Application

The Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University is a vibrant environment which offers excellent support to postgraduate students. A Macquarie University Excellence in Research Scholarship has already been assigned to one of these projects, but there are other scholarship opportunities available to suitably competitive candidates. International candidates are welcome to apply for any of the projects listed above.

The 2014 MQRES full-time stipend rate is $26,682 pa tax exempt for 3 years (indexed annually). In addition to external grant support for projects, there is additional internal funding (up to $17,000) available to cover direct research expenses and conference travel.

Applicants should ideally have a research-based MSc in a related discipline (with a minimum 50% research component), and additional relevant research experience, qualifications, and details of awards or prizes. For projects 1, 2, and 4 an ability to work in remote and harsh conditions as well as experience in capturing and handling animals is desirable. A driving licence is required for all projects.

Applications should include 1) your CV, 2) a brief statement of your reasons for applying (max. 500 words) and the project you are applying to work on, 3) contact details of two academic referees, 4) your nationality (for scholarship eligibility purposes). Applications should be submitted electronically as a single PDF file.

Applications for these positions (and any initial enquiries) should be emailed by 7th April 2017 to: simon.griffith@mq.edu.au

Prof. Simon Griffith, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia

PDF of advert

Characterising the contact zone of the long-tailed finch

 

longtails
The bill colour variation in the two subspecies of the long-tailed finch, Poephila acuticauda acuticauda (on left ) and P. a. hecki (on the right). Photo S. Griffith

In a paper published today (Griffith & Hooper 2017), we characterise the variation in bill colour across 1800km of the tropical savannah in Australia, clearly identifying the contact zone between the different subspecies (identified by bill colour), and providing evidence for selection against hybrids. This paper is one of the first outcomes from a project that started with fieldwork back in 2009 and required lots of amazing fieldwork on cattle stations across the top end. The full paper can be found here.

Hormonal mechanisms and consequences of divorce in the zebra finch

Our paper focused on the experimental divorce of zebra finch pairs has been published in the January volume of the journal Hormones and Behavior. The link to the paper is hereThe paper was led by Ondi Crino and is based on bidivorcerd work at Macquarie together with hormone assays that she did when she moved to Deakin, to take a new position in Kate Buchanan’s group. The main findings in the study were that new pairs that formed after an experimental divorce took longer to lay their clutch, and their offspring had higher levels of stress than those of their counterparts that stayed together. The study helps us to understand why so many birds remain with their partners from one breeding attempt to the next – serial monogamy.

Lack of clear genetic structuring in wild populations of the endangered Gouldian finch

Peri’s paper characterising the population genetics of the Gouldian finch in the wild was published last week in the open access PLosOne. This paper focuses on birds sampled from across the range of the Gouldian finch including samples from Mornington and Wyndham in the Kimberley, Western Australia; a number of sites in the Northern Territory, and Chidna in Queensland. DNA extracted from blood samples taken from the wild birds was analysed using three molecular approaches and indicates that there is no clear genetic structuring across the sampled areas. This is consistent with a view that Gouldians are quite mobile, and individuals may be found across a wide range. An implication of this molecular work is that the species may be more difficult to reliably census than species which have a higher level of genetic structuring, and are more restricted to particular areas or sites.

gouldiangeneticsfiga
Network connecting mitochondrial control region haplotypes from the different sampling localities (Figures from Bolton et al 2016, in PLosONE)

The rationale for undertaking this work was to help inform management of this species, and this work was part of our submission to the committee responsible for the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, who on the 7th December announced their decision to retain the status of the Gouldian finch as ‘endangered’ which is a great outcome and maintains a good degree of protection for the species and its habitat.

The full paper is open access and can be found here.

Egg diversity

bowerbirdeggs
Bowerbird eggs in the ANWC collection

We’re spending a few days in Canberra at the amazing egg collection in the Australian National Wildlife collection, measuring variation in size, coloration and patterning across the Australian passerines. The data will be analysed as part of our ongoing research into the way that the environment affects nesting and reproductive investment. The collection holds specimens from most species and reveals the stunning diversity across birds in the amount of pigmentation and patterning.

 

eggstogether
Why is there so much variation in colour and patterning?

Drone workshop at Fowlers

img_2460
A UAV working at Gap Hills, one of our long-term study sites at Fowlers Gap

UAV’s or drones are increasingly being used in environmental science, as a great way of gathering imagery and deploying sensors. In mid September, Richard Lucas, from UNSW organised a fantastic meeting, which brought together a range of different UAV’s and sensors for a few days of frenetic data gathering. We were lucky enough to get involved, and helped to set up ‘challenges’ and ground truth some of the data acquired. The data that has now been gathered in Lake Paddock (the central area for the chestnut-crowned babbler project), and Gap Hill (the key area for our work on zebra finches), will provide excellent insight into the link between landscape, vegetation and avian ecology, once it is all processed and analysed.