Research Projects

Mountain animals have wonderful stories to tell. They often exhibit bizarre, extreme, or simply new adaptations that are not seen in animals on the flats. In the Umbers Lab we focus on three main areas of research - behavioural ecology, genetics and genomics, and physiology. Mountain animals have interesting genetics. Populations are sometimes separated by insurmountable geographic barriers, while other times, barriers to gene flow are seemingly invisible and require a deeper look. Mountain animals are subjected to extremes in weather and climate, in UV, water availability, and temperature. To persist in these highly stochastic mountain environments animals have developed some extraordinary physiology. The behaviour of mountain animals must compensate for, or supersede their environmental constraints as they go about gathering food, finding mates, taking shelter and being awesome.

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 (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 (Photo: Kate Umbers).
 

Behavioural Ecology

What is Behavioural Ecology? Here is one idea. To us, it's the study of animal behaviour in their 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
 

Ooooh! phenotypic variation within a species is so exciting! Is it environmental? Is it genetic? Mountain insects, like these mountain katydids (Acripeza reticulata) have 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 mountain katydids (Acripeza reticulata) have the largest genomes in the world... why IS that? (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 across the alps 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

 

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

Physiology

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

"A good physiological experiment like a good physical one requires that it should present anywhere, at any time, under identical conditions, the same certain and unequivocal phenomena that can always be confirmed."
- Dr Johannes Peter Müller