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Research Interests

I am an ARC DECRA fellow working in the Ecology and Evolution Research Centre (E&ERC) at the University of New South Wales with A/Prof. Shinichi Nakagawa. My research is highly integrative combining observational and experimental work with statistical modelling and molecular genetics to address evolutionary questions. While I mainly use lizards as model systems for testing theoretical frameworks in evolutionary and behavioural ecology, I am also working in other systems that lend themselves well to tackling important empirical questions (e.g. crickets, Daphnia, Drosophila).

While my research interests are broad, I am currently exploring questions in three main research areas:

Understanding the covariance between behaviour, life-history and learning

Recent theoretical developments in behavioural ecology suggest that personality (i.e. repeatable individual differences in behaviour within and across contexts), life-history (growth rates, age at maturity, reproductive output) and learning should covary as a result of differences in the “pace-of life” or differences in the energetic needs of individuals. While we have some support for these ideas there are conceptual and methodological challenges in this area. As part of my fellowship I will be exploring how individual metabolism influences behaviour and learning in a short-lived skink (lizard) species. I’ll be taking a developmental approach to understanding whether these traits covary both within and between individuals.

The role of both maternal and environmental effects in generating phenotypic variability and shaping trait covariance

Maternal and environmental effects interact with genotypes in complex ways to shape developmental trajectories and thus phenotypic variation. I am most interested in understanding how such environmental effects interact and the effects these have on developmental plasticity. Through experimental manipulations of early environments as well as parental environments we can understand the degree to which phenotypic variability is affected and whether such responses are adaptive or not.

Natural selection on function-valued traits

Many traits are not simply static features of the individual phenotype but they develop and are influenced by the environment and as such can be viewed as functions. This is a formal way in which we can incorporate phenotypic plasticity and development into evolutionary theory, yet treating traits as being ‘function-valued’ has important statistical and conceptual challenges. Understanding how natural and sexual selection operate on curves and whether genetic variance exists on the parameters estimates describing these curves is thus important in understanding how developmental trajectories evolve. I am interested in developing and applying statistical models to test the utility of the function-valued approach in helping us understand the phenotypic evolution of plastic traits.

I am working and collaborating with many amazing folks also working in these areas, including:

Shinichi Nakagawa (UNSW)

Martin Whiting (MQ)

Scott Keogh (ANU)

Tobias Uller (Lund)

Lisa Schwanz (UNSW)

Chris Friesen (Sydney)

Geoff While (UTas)