Prospective PhD students

I am always happy to receive enquiries from prospective PhD students who would like to study within any of the research strengths of the group, in particular those who would like to take the research on the ecology, genetics/genomics and conservation of the purple-crowned fairy-wren to the next level. Details of projects will be determined in consultation. We already have a substantial dataset available, starting in 2005, including behavioural observations, detailed life-history records and a pedigree. All birds are genotyped for several 1000 SNPs and we have available hundreds of samples (e.g. faecal samples, plasma samples, blood in RNA-later for gene expression studies) from individually marked birds, and this could be expanded with fieldwork (in the Kimberleys, NW-Australia).

PhD position to Study Climate Adaptation & Conservation in purple-crowned fairy-wrens.

Currently, I am looking for a motivated PhD student to study climate adaptation, ecology and conservation in purple-crowned fairy-wrens, but I am happy to consider students interested in studying other topics that fit our research program. To join us as a PhD student, you should have a passion for studying wild animals in their natural environment, a strong work ethic and a creative and quantitative mindset; experience with avian fieldwork and/or bird handling and/or relevant quantitative skills are highly desirable, a full driver’s licence is generally needed. For admission to the doctoral program, applicants must have excellent grades (equivalent GPA>3.6 on scale of 4.0), at least a 4-year bachelor degree with a substantial research component (MSc preferred). Applicants from non-English speaking backgrounds need evidence of English abilities. Successful students will be accepted into the world class Monash Doctoral Program; they will be offered a scholarship ($30,000 tax free) for three years, with a six-month extension; tuition fees are covered for the duration of candidature. Highly competitive Australian or New Zealand students will be offered an additional $10k p.a. Monash Excellence top-up scholarship. Research costs and conference attendance are covered.

Check here for how to apply

Honours project currently available

Climatic effects on colours of Australian birds (S1 or S2 start)

With Dr Kaspar Delhey, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Germany)

Background. Animal size, shape and appearance often vary geographically along climatic gradients and –when consistent and general– these patterns have been formalised as ecogeographical rules. Interest in these rules has experienced a recent revival, since they can reveal how animals have adapted to climatic variation in the past, and how they may react to future changes. Animal coloration is one of the traits that varies predictably with climate as described by Gloger’s rule (darker coloration in wet and warm regions, presumably for camouflage), and Bogert’s rule (darker coloration in colder regions, for thermoregulation).

Recent comparative analyses indicate that birds may follow aspects of both rules, since species that live in wet and cold regions are darker coloured than those in dry and warm areas. However, these effects do vary between regions and taxonomic groups, and sometimes temperature effects prevail over precipitation or vice versa. Whether this heterogeneity indicates that the rules are not generally valid and/or that they apply depending on the specific ecological/environmental circumstances, can only be determined by comprehensive large-scale analyses.

Project aim/s: This project will quantify how climatic effects shape intra-specific geographic variation in plumage coloration in a large sample of bird species. Specifically, the aim is: (1) establishing the generality of climatic effects on bird coloration, and (2) determining whether intrinsic (phylogeny, body mass, life history, etc) or extrinsic factors (strength and type of climatic gradient, habitat) explain why some species follow the rules more closely than others. This will be the first large-scale quantitative assessment of climatic effects on intra-specific colour variation in any group of animals and its outcomes will have implications for our understanding of patterns of diversification, climatic adaptation and potential climate change impacts.

Techniques: the project will involve measuring plumage coloration of museum specimens across 50-100 species of Australian birds using reflectance spectrometry. These specimens will be sourced from the ornithological collections at Melbourne Museum and possibly ANWC (Canberra) and/or Australian Museum (Sydney). The project will involve complex statistical analyses.

Most relevant publications from our previous Honours student, Audrey:

Prasetya AM, Peters A, Delhey K. 2020. Carotenoid‐based plumage colour saturation increases with temperature in Australian passerines. J Biogeogr. 47(12):2671–2683. doi:10.1111/jbi.13968. doi:10.1111/jbi.13968. 

Delhey K, Dale J, Valcu M, Kempenaers B. 2019. Reconciling ecogeographical rules: rainfall and temperature predict global colour variation in the largest bird radiation. Ecology Letters. 108:230–11. doi:10.1111/ele.13233. 

Delhey K. 2019. A review of Gloger’s rule, an ecogeographical rule of colour: definitions, interpretations and evidence. Biol Rev. 94(4):1294–1316. doi:10.1111/brv.12503. 

Delhey K. 2017. Darker where cold and wet: Australian birds follow their own version of Gloger’s rule. Ecography. 40:1–10. doi:10.1111/ecog.03040.

Delhey K. 2017. Gloger’s rule. Current Biology. 27(14):R689–R691. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.04.031. 

Honours project by negotiation are always possible – contact Anne if you would like to discuss your ideas and interests.