Current and Past Team Members


Like to join us? Prospective students and research assistants, please check out the opportunities page and contact Kate with a description of what you're interested in and a 1 page CV if you think you would like to work with us (it will be fun, there will be laughs but mostly at Kate's expense). Also please feel free to contact us if you're not sure what you're interested in and you'd just like to chat about ideas.


Kate on Ram's Head Range, Kosciuszko National Park.

Kate on Ram's Head Range, Kosciuszko National Park.

Dr Kate Umbers [@quasicoherent] - Principle Investigator

Lecturer in Zoology 
School of Science & Health | Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment
Western Sydney University, Hawkesbury (Richmond NSW)

Building: M15, Room: G64 | E-mail: k.umbers@westernsydney.edu.au
Phone: +61 2 4570 1603 | Post: Locked Bag 1797 Penrith NSW 2751
Research MetricsGoogle Scholar

Biography

Kate completed her BSc at Macquarie University in Sydney and stayed at Macquarie for her honours project and PhD. During her undergraduate degree Kate worked with Adam Stow, David Briscoe and Andy Beattie on sociality in Australian native bees. Kate's honours project was supervised by Gregory Holwell & Marie Herberstein looking at paternity in Ciulfina praying mantis. Kate's PhD focused on the adaptive significance of temperature-dependent colour change (thermochromy) in an Australian alpine grasshopper (Kosciuscola tristis), supervised primarily by Marie Herberstein. After graduating from her PhD in 2011, Kate accepted a one-year Postdoctoral position shared between Scott Keogh's Lab and Hanna Kokko's Lab at The Australian National University. With Scott, Kate worked on publishing lizard communication papers and began thinking about frog coloration; in Hanna's lab, in collaboration with Matthew Symonds, Kate moved into the world of chemical signalling in moths focusing on female strategies. In 2013 Kate was awarded a Vice Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Wollongong to work on frog defences with Phillip Byrne. This continuing work focuses on the Vulnerable red-crowned toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) and the Critically Endangered southern corroboree frog (P. corroboree). Complementary to her focus on frog conservation and sensory ecology, Kate is looking at the defensive displays of blue-tongue skinks with Martin Whiting at Macquarie University. Kate's real passion, however, is for bugs. As such her main focus is on two alpine Orthoptera projects: the conservation genomics and deimatic (startle) display of the mountain katydid (Acripeza reticulata) with Johanna Mappes and the conservation genomics, thermal physiology and behaviour of the alpine Kosciuscola grasshopper genus with Rachael Dudaniec, Nikolai Tatarnic, Rachel Slatyer and Hojun Song. Since Feb 2015 Kate has been a Lecturer in Zoology at Western Sydney University, Hawkesbury.

Teaching: Principles of Zoology, Invertebrate Zoology, Biological Adaptations to Climate Change.


Tom wearing a hat!

Tom wearing a hat!

Tom White [@tomedwhite]

Part-time Postdoctoral Researcher 2016 - present
Western Sydney University

Tom is on board for a katydid bonanza. The endless exciting questions, experiments and data on mountain katydids will keep him busy over the summer in addition to his main role at Macquarie working on butterfly schmutterflies.

 

 


Sonu in the field!

Sonu in the field!

Sonu Yadav

PhD Student 2016 - present
Macquarie University
co-supervisor: Dr Rachael Dudaniec

Drivers of landscape genetic patterns and environmental adaptation in Australian grasshoppers'
Sonu commenced her PhD in August 2016 and is investigating the role of genetic adaptation, landscape connectivity and environmental variables in determining species’ ranges and phenotypic traits along latitudinal and elevational gradients using genomic data.


Julia with Acripeza reticulata (mountain katydid) her favourite animal in the world beside emus.

Julia with Acripeza reticulata (mountain katydid) her favourite animal in the world beside emus.

Julia Ryeland [@JuliaRyeland]

PhD Student 2016 - present
Western Sydney University
co-supervisor: Dr Ricky Spencer

Julia's PhD project will be looking predominately at the mating system of the humble emu, potentially delving into questions on the evolutionary significance of stripy patterns of the chicks and the colouration of the emu egg. In addition, Julia is helping attempt to answer some of the many questions on the relatively unstudied, Mountain Katydid. This fascinating species has an unusual defence of remaining cryptic until attacked and only revealing its warning colours once physically contacted by a perceived predator. Based in Kosciusko National Park, Julia conducted field experiments to determine how predators respond to the Mountain Katydid.

Visit Julia's website: http://juliaryeland.weebly.com


Griffin when he's not making coffee at Richmond Records

Griffin when he's not making coffee at Richmond Records

Griffin Taylor-Dalton

Research Intern 2015 - present
Western Sydney University

In addition to being involved in the corroboree frog model project looking coloration of the frogs and how this correlates with their likelihood of being attacked by predators, Griffin is working on several aspects of red-crowned toadlet colouration and genetics.


Tonya looking at pickled specimens 10 years ago (from here) 

Tonya looking at pickled specimens 10 years ago (from here

Dr Tonya Haff

Part-time Postdoctoral Researcher-  2014 - present
Western Sydney University

Tonya joins a project lead by Kate and Prof Johanna Mappes to work on he survival value of the mountain katydid's defensive display. Tonya's extensive expertise in avian biology makes her a critical collaborator on the project. Tonya is well-known for her research on white-browed scrub wren communication, championing and editing the second edition of The Natural History of UC Santa Cruz Campus, and her awesome taxidermy skills. 


ALUMNI


Niki wearing a bee suit, not her usual attire for taking photos of lizards

Niki wearing a bee suit, not her usual attire for taking photos of lizards

Niki McCarthy

Research Intern 2015 - present
Western Sydney University & UNSW Sydney
co-supervisor: Dr Lisa Schwanz

Niki likes all creatures great and small. Combining the two, Niki is working with Kate and Dr Lisa Schwanz from UNSW researching inheritance patterns and colouration in Jacky Dragon lizards. This has thus far involved taking hundreds of photos of baby lizards, hopefully getting their good side each time!


Michael wearing his favourite shirt

Michael wearing his favourite shirt

Michael Kelly [@MBJKelly]

Research Intern 2015 - present
Western Sydney University

The visually spectacular Southern corroboree frog (Pseudophryne corroboree) is currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Our project is focused on the predator behaviour and learning processes associated with the function of the corroboree frog's colour pattern. Models of different colour patterns are being used to record predator preference.


Jordyn enjoying pipetting katydid regurgitate

Jordyn enjoying pipetting katydid regurgitate

Jordyn Crossley

Summer Research Scholar 2016
Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment - Western Sydney University
co-supervisor: Dr Ben Moore

Jordyn's project investigated the relationship between Senecio pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) and their sequestration in the mountain katydid, a brightly coloured insect that preferentially eats Senecio. It is assumed that the katydid's colouration warns potential predators of their unprofitability, but whether and to what extent the katydids sequester PAs is unknown. To get to the bottom of this, Jordyn analyses the composition of the plants, the katydids and the katydids' defensive secretions (katydid vomit!).


Giselle with Tachyglossus aculeatus (short-beaked echidna) near Jindabyne, NSW

Giselle with Tachyglossus aculeatus (short-beaked echidna) near Jindabyne, NSW

Giselle Muschett [@gisellemuchett]

PhD Student 2013 - 2016
Macquarie University
co-supervisor: Prof Marie Herberstein

Giselle's project is on the Kosciuscola alpine grasshoppers at Macquarie University in the Herberstein Lab, co-supervised by Kate. Giselle is working on the evolution of fighting behaviour in this strange genus of orthopteroids using comparative behavioural methods to unravel what these grasshoppers are fighting for. Giselle, Marie and Kate are collaborating with Hojun Song at University of Central Florida, Nikolai Tatarnic at the Western Australian Museum. Giselle's masters research investigated manatee distribution and habitat use via aerial surveys and is well-known in central America for her book: An illustrated field guide to the birds of Panama.


Eleanor as a fierce butterfly hunter

Eleanor as a fierce butterfly hunter

Eleanor Drinkwater [@E_Drinkwater]

Research Assistant 2016
University of Cambridge
co-supervisor: Dr Hannah Rowland

Eleanor loves investigating the big questions of behavioural defence from the physically small but brilliantly complex level of invertebrate behaviour. Currently helped get to the bottom of the of the predator response of the mountain katydid. Based in Kosciuszko National Park, she worked with Julia Ryeland to investigate how the colouration and display of the mountain katydid may provide protection from predators. To do this they studied the interaction between the katydid display and the predatory response of wild Australian magpies. In addition to invertebrate defence, Eleanor is also fascinated by network analysis and is about to start a PhD on collective personality in ant colonies at the University of York.


JP's epic selfie

JP's epic selfie

JP Lawrence [@JPLawrencePhoto]

2016 Endeavour Research Fellow
University of Mississippi

Project Description: Bright coloration of highly toxic animals is a classic problem in evolutionary biology. Neotropical poison frogs have propelled our understanding of the conspicuous coloration evolution and provided textbook examples. The Australian poison frogs (Pseudophryne), however, have received little research attention. Pseudophryne are all toxic, often brightly colored, and endemic to the coastal Australia. This conspicuous coloration is thought to signal would-be predators warning them of toxicity. Pseudophryne are unique among frogs for synthesizing their own toxins and sequestering toxins from invertebrate prey. Although limited, evidence suggests that Pseudophryne can counterbalance these sources. Smith et al. (2002) found that P. semimarmorata are capable of producing and up-regulating toxins when dietary sources of toxins are lacking. This suggests that Pseudophryne maintain their toxicity level, which has implications for whether predators can predict toxicity risk associated with coloration.


Seba chillin' on the steps of the Colosseum, thinking about katydids

Seba chillin' on the steps of the Colosseum, thinking about katydids

Sebastiano De Bona [@sebadebona]

Visiting Field Assistant 2015
University of Jyväskylä, Finland

As an expert on deimatic displays, Sebastiano (Seba), visited us to conduct experiments on mountain katydid project. Seba and Kate spent many many hours in the Snowy Mountains and emerged with some wonderful datasets. Seba's clever experimental design and wonderful skills in the kitchen makes him an awesome field buddy. After his epic Australian adventure, Seba returned to central Finland to begin his PhD on Trinidadian guppies with Andres Lopez-Sepulcre, and hopes one day to revisit the mountain katydids to continue to uncover their secrets.


Brighton with Ailurus fulgens (red panda)!

Brighton with Ailurus fulgens (red panda)!

Brighton Downing

Honours Student 2015
University of Western Australia
co-supervisor: Dr Nicki Mitchell

Project Description: It is generally assumed that the conspicuous acoustic signals made by anuran males are their primary mode of communication. However, acoustic signals carry many costs. Additionally, some species call from cryptic locations and thus, localisation of mates may be aided by chemical cues. Among anurans, evidence of chemical communication for mate choice is scarce, but preliminary evidence suggests that chemical cues regulate reproductive behaviours. Thus, Brighton is working to determine whether female Crawling Frogs (Pseudophryne guentheri) are capable of assessing male qualities via acoustic as well as chemical cues in addition to whether females preferentially utilise acoustic or chemical cue to localise preferred mates.


James measuring spectral reflectance from ultraviolet to near infrared

James measuring spectral reflectance from ultraviolet to near infrared

Dr James O'Hanlon [@jamohanlon]

Part Time Research Associate 2014 - 2015
Macquarie University & University of Wollongong

James' model making prowess is second to none and he joined the team looking at defensive colouration in Australia's poison frogs (Pseudophryne). James' beautiful frog models are used in large scale experiments to delve further into the behavioural ecology of these toxic little toadlets.

James was part of the team working on the function of colour change in Kosciuscola. James visited Devi Stuart-Fox at the University of Melbourne to make spectral reflectance measures  of grasshoppers across the visual and near infrared spectrum and together we're building these data into a thermal tolerance model for Kosciucola. James is better known for his awesome work on the orchid mantis and other mantises to boot. Find out more about James' research here.


The front of Ainsley's head

The front of Ainsley's head

Dr Ainsley Seago [@americanbeetles]

Part Time Research Associate 2014
Macquarie University & University of Melbourne

Ainsley joined team grasshopper as an expert in lucid key construction. Her mission was to work up a lucid key for the Praxibulini (Acrididae) using the power of computers. Ainsley is best known for her taxonomic work on beetles, her fascination with how they produce their colours and her illustrative genius. Find out more about her here on her blog: trufflebeetles.com, here for drawing: beetlesink, and here for her life as a new mom: operationbabyhave.


Steph preparing for some time in the microscopy lab

Steph preparing for some time in the microscopy lab

Stephanie Wilson

Part Time Research Associate 2014
Macquarie University

Steph was working in the Macquarie University Microscopy Facility to image temperature-dependent colour change across the Kosciuscola genus. With James' Irish heritage,  Scott's red hair and Steph visiting from Scotland, this project has become a genuinely celtic affair. Steph has picked up where Scott left off (to start a postdoc in Brasillia), continuing with ultramicrotome slicing and dicing for TEM.


Scott preparing grasshoppers for transmission electron microscopy 

Scott preparing grasshoppers for transmission electron microscopy 

Dr Scott Fabricant [@safabric]

Part Time Research Associate 2014
Macquarie University


Scott was the microscopy contingent of the Kosciuscola colour change team and carried out some SEM and TEM analysis. Scott worked in the Macquarie University Microscopy Facility to image temperature-dependent colour change across the genus. As of 2014, Scott is best known for his research on coloration and aposematism in the harlequin bug, especially regarding the role iridescence in deterring predators.

 


Brianne at Lake Cootapatamba, Kosciuszko National Park

Brianne at Lake Cootapatamba, Kosciuszko National Park

Brianne Messer

Biological Sciences Summer Scholar 2012 - 2014
Macquarie University

2013 / 2014 project - The alpine katydid (Acripeza reticulata) has a remarkable anti-predator display. Brianne helped quantify the toxicity of A. reticulata in relation to the intensity of its colourful display. 

2012 / 2013 project - Animals of the blue layer live in oceanic surface waters and wash up on beaches all over the world. They wash up onto Sydney beaches after a few days of prevailing easterlies. Brianne and I were describing the colour of the many hydrozoan and molluscan members of blue layer and thinking about why they are all blue.


Peter collecting data in Kosciuszko National Park

Peter collecting data in Kosciuszko National Park

Peter Mahoney

Honours Student 2012
Macquarie University
co-supervisor: Prof Marie Herberstein

Peter's project investigated the role of thermochromy (temperature controlled colour change) in signalling fighting ability in the male chameleon grasshopper (Kosciuscola tristis). He measured the colour and temperature of grasshoppers in the field (near Thredbo, NSW) and compared it to the maximum brightness grasshoppers could achieve when warmed up to 30°C. He then fought matched and unmatched pairs of grasshoppers testing classical hypotheses in antagonistic escalation.