My PhD research focused on the threatened Gouldian Finch (Chloebia gouldiae), which occurs across the monsoonal savannahs of northern Australia. It has two sympatric red and black head-colour morphs. Previous work on captive birds showed these colour morphs are linked to distinct behavioural and physiological strategies, and there is post-zygotic incompatibilities between morphs. My thesis focused on: 1) Using genetic and genomic techniques to assess population size, structure and demographic history of the Gouldian finch. 2) Exploring the degree of post-zygotic isolation between colour morphs in the wild, and the consequences for conservation.
During my most recent postdoc I have been collaborating with Dr Chris Balakrishnan and (now Dr!) Dustin Foote of Sylvan Heights Bird Park, NC on the conservation and immunogenomics of Endangered white-winged ducks (Asarcornis scutulata).
In collaboration with Dr Ben Vernasco and funded by the American Ornithological Society, we recently were the first people to catch and release Wallowa rosy-finches for a project on the genomics of this threatened alpine bird.
I am interested in understanding the how (mechanisms) and the why (evolution and ecology) of animal behaviours. Understanding animal behaviour is also critical in species conservation because it influences population processes, disease transmission, and how a species will respond to management interventions.
I primarily use genetic methods to understand social behaviours at the population level, such as through patterns of paternity and relatedness in social structures.
In my recent postdoc I started to cut my teeth into the neurogenomic mechanisms of behavior, to provide me with skills to understand mechanisms of adaptive traits more broadly.
Most of this recent postdoc has been focused on Manakins. The Neotropical Manakins (Pipridae) are famous for their cute and colourful lekking displays. Lek displays are typically a solo endeavour, but the males of some manakin species perform coordinated lekking displays with other males.
In this space I've been working on the neurogenomic mechanisms underlying testosterone mediated cooperative display behavior in wire-tailed manakins (Pipra filicauda). This work is in collaboration with Drs Chris Balakrishnan, Ros Dakin, Brent Horton and Brandt Ryder.
I've also been lucky to work with Kevin Bennett and Prof Mike Braun at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on hybridsation in Manacus manakins and using camera traps to characterise display variation and mating success.
In 2011, I conducted my Honours year research with Scott Keogh at the Australian National University . The Australian burrowing elapids are an understudied and mysterious group of Australo-Papuan elapids, that live primarily in the Australian arid-zone and wet tropics. They consist of the poorly known genera Simoselaps , Brachyurophis (photo),"Neelaps" and Vermicella. I generated a multilocus phylogeny in order to explore the roles of adaptive divergence and historical climate change in Australia within the burrowing group and the elapids as a whole.
Since then, we have added a lot of new specimens from poorly sampled areas and followed up with some morphology work.
Combining my interests in conservation and climbing, I am collaborating with WorldClimb (insta: @theworldclimb) to assess the effects of rock climbing on cliff vegetation. This National Geographic funded project aims to assess vegetation growing on climbing cliff faces in mediterranean biomes across the world using a novel survey method.
This project is headed by Dr Martí March-Salas, with Dr Indra deCastro-Arrazola, Dr Natasha Robinson and I coordinating the Australian fieldwork.