PhD Opportunities in Evolutionary Physiology

We are expanding! In 2020, we have openings for up to four PhD positions to work on projects related to the evolution of physiological traits – particularly body size, metabolic rate, and water loss. Full details are available here.

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Spiralling body mass


In the coming year a group of us from the School of Biological Sciences at Monash Uni will roll out a new course: SCI1200 – Humans, Evolution, and Modern Society. Part of my lecture series in SCI1200 will cover the human obesity epidemic; in those lectures I talk about changes in my own body mass, to make the point that large changes in body mass can arise as a consequences of quite small rates of change (just a few hundred grams a month), and that these small rates of change can lead to obesity if they are sustained over a long period of time.

Inspired by the climate spiral produced by Ed Hawkins (which was itself inspired by a suggestion from Jan Fuglestvedt), I thought it would be fun to convert my fluctuating body mass into a spiral. Continue reading

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Summarising your research impact

When applying for funding, we are given space to convince the grant reader that our research track records are important. We are given the chance to convince the reader that someone, somewhere has cared about our research enough to publish it, read it, cite it, or otherwise take an interest.  There are a number of ways that this can be done, though many are somewhat obvious: Continue reading

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Attention honours students!

The Evolutionary Physiology group is now established at Monash University, and expanding. Prospective students can view potential projects here, or are welcome to discuss their ideas for potential projects with Craig.

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Physiological plasticity increases resilience of ectothermic animals to climate change

Frank Seebacher, Craig R. White, Craig E. Franklin. Nature Climate Change. Understanding how climate change affects natural populations remains one of the greatest challenges for ecology and management of natural resources. Animals can remodel their physiology to compensate for the effects of temperature variation, and this physiological plasticity, or acclimation, can confer resilience to climate change. The current lack of a comprehensive analysis of the capacity for physiological plasticity across taxonomic groups and geographic regions, however, constrains predictions of the impacts of climate change. Here, we assembled the largest database to date to establish the current state of knowledge of physiological plasticity in ectothermic animals. We show that acclimation decreases the sensitivity to temperature and climate change of freshwater and marine animals, but less so in terrestrial animals. Animals from more stable environments have greater capacity for acclimation, and there is a significant trend showing that the capacity for thermal acclimation increases with decreasing latitude. Despite the capacity for acclimation, climate change over the past 20 years has already resulted in increased physiological rates of up to 20%, and we predict further future increases under climate change. The generality of these predictions is limited, however, because much of the world is drastically undersampled in the literature, and these undersampled regions are the areas of greatest need for future research efforts.

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The end of 2013….

2013 has been another big year for the lab!  Five honours students completed, and all received well-deserved Class I grades – Hugh Winwood-Smith and Niky Wu each received the top grade in their cohort; we received ARC Discovery funding for a project led by Professor Dustin Marshall at Monash University – the project will be conducted in collaboration with Michel Loreau from CNRS; Craig was promoted to Associate Professor and received an ARC Future Fellowship; 15 papers were published; Natalie Schimpf received her PhD; Julian Beaman joined the lab to undertake a PhD; and Craig, Lesley, and Taryn all attended the ANZSCPB meeting in Melbourne!

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Hugh and Niky receive the Honours Prize

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The beginning of 2013…

Although this front page has been static, there has been a great deal of activity in the Evolutionary Physiology lab during 2012 and into 2013.  Natalie Schimpf has completed her PhD, Pieter Arnold has commenced a PhD, five new honours students have started, Phil Matthews has returned (but will leave again in 2014 for UBC), and a suite of new publications have appeared. Busy times!

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2012 so far…

The lab has grown significantly in 2012, with the addition of three new honours students as well as the return of Phil Matthews from Adelaide.  Phil will take up an Australian Research Council DECRA in April, and will continue his work on discontinuous gas exchange in insects.  Recent publications from the lab include the first paper from Nat’s PhD showing that cockroaches that breathe discontinuously survivive food and water deprivation better than those that do not.  Other recent publications have examined the mechanistic basis of discontinuous gas exchange in several species of insect, including beetles, grasshoppers, and our ever-popular cockroaches.  We have also documented the scaling of metabolic rate in marine bryozoans, the association between bone vasculature and activity capacity in dinosaurs, the effect of UV-B on metabolic rate in tadpoles, and metabolic cold adaptation in fish.  Full details of recent publications are available here.

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Metabolic rate reveals the demands of an Arctic existence in cormorants

A new paper, just published in Ecology, examines day-to-day variation in the energy expenditure of great cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo at the northern limit of the range, above the Arctic circle.  Using a biologging approach, we measured metabolic rate and diving behaviour every second day for a complete year. We expected these birds to have exceptionally high rates of energy expenditure, because they live in a cold environment, forage in sub-zero water, and have a partially wettable plumage.  However, contrary to this expectation, we show that great cormorants in theArctic are extremely efficient foragers and thereby minimise their foraging time and actually show very low rates of energy expenditure.

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Using light as a lure is an efficient predatory strategy in an Australian glowworm

The results of Robyn Willis’ honours research, supervised by Dave Merritt and Craig White, has shown that bioluminescence is cheap for the Australian glowworm Arachnocampa flava.  Her paper has just appeared online in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B.

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