Our Research

Our ultimate goal is to make discoveries about how the natural world works and then tell the world about them! We combine behavioural ecology, genetics, and physiology to answer questions about the evolution of animals. We aim to directly contribute to conservation, or otherwise, to inspire people to conserve life by highlighting its inherent worth. We are partial to an invertebrate, we like animals with great colour patterns, we enjoy visiting beautiful places, and we’re not scared of diving into research on obscure species (for better or for worse).

We are physically based at Western Sydney University, Hawkesbury, on the edge of Blue Mountains National Park. On the Hawkesbury campus we have extensive grounds and facilities including a patch of endangered Cumberland plain woodland, modern research labs, glasshouses, apiary, orchard, and outdoor animal research facilities. We conduct field work across the country and beyond and we collaborate with researchers at universities across Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Germany, UK and Holland, just to name a few.

For details on our current projects, follow the links below.


Behavioural Ecology

What is Behavioural Ecology? Here is one idea. To us, it's the study of animal behaviour in a natural context, out in the field. It's often a rewarding privilege to see animals as they are. You should try it!

"On the day-long follows that I used to do with mothers and their offspring - these chimp families that I knew so well - there was hardly a day when I didn't learn something new about them."
Dr Jane Goodall

Fighting Australian alpine grasshoppers ( Kosciuscola tristis ). Yep, that male wants to bite the other guy's head off... while the female patiently lays her eggs. Why are these grasshoppers so ferocious? (Photo: Kate Umbers).

Fighting Australian alpine grasshoppers (Kosciuscola tristis). Yep, that male wants to bite the other guy's head off... while the female patiently lays her eggs. Why are these grasshoppers so ferocious? (Photo: Kate Umbers).


Genetics & genomics

The study of genes (genetics) and genomics (whole genomes) has exploded in the last 30 years. We use it to understand genetic connectivity and to search for genes under selection. Get amongst it!

"We wish to discuss a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid, DNA. This structure has novel features which are of considerable biologic interest."
Dr Rosalind Franklin
 

Ooooh! phenotypic variation within a species is so exciting! Is it environmental? Is it genetic? Mountain insects, like these katydids ( Acripeza reticulata ) have some of the largest genomes in the world... why IS that? (Photo: Kate Umbers)

Ooooh! phenotypic variation within a species is so exciting! Is it environmental? Is it genetic? Mountain insects, like these katydids (Acripeza reticulata) have some of the largest genomes in the world... why IS that? (Photo: Kate Umbers)


Physiology

The stuff of which living organisms are comprised can do extraordinary things and allow life to persist in extreme conditions. We search for the super-powered superheroes of the living world. 

"A good physiological experiment … should present anywhere, at any time, under identical conditions, the same certain and unequivocal phenomena that can always be confirmed."
Dr Johannes Peter Müller

This remarkable grasshopper ( Monistria sp. ) has antifreeze in its heamolymph (insect blood). They can overwinter in the Snowy Mountains WITHOUT hot chocolate. This must be seen to be believed. (Photo: Kate Umbers)

This remarkable grasshopper (Monistria sp.) has antifreeze in its heamolymph (insect blood). They can overwinter in the Snowy Mountains WITHOUT hot chocolate. This must be seen to be believed. (Photo: Kate Umbers)