People

Mark Elgar – Principal Investigator


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My first degree was completed in the School of Australian Environmental Studies, Griffith University, and I completed my PhD at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Nick Davies. My thesis research involved field experiments that evaluated the costs, benefits and role of communication among group foraging house sparrows. I was awarded an SERC Postdoctoral Fellowship to work on comparative studies at the University of Oxford with Paul Harvey, during which time I initiated research into the evolution of unusual mating behaviour in terrestrial invertebrates. I pursued this interest while holding a University Fellowship and then a QEII Fellowship at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I joined the School of BioSciences (formerly Department of Zoology) at Melbourne in 1991 and was promoted to my current position in 2005. I continue to be fascinated by unusual animal behaviour, and more recently in the underlying role of chemical communication.  Of particular interest is the evolution of the diversity of insect antennae morphology. Other activities include membership of the College of Experts of the Australian Research Council; Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution; Speciality Chief Editor of Social Evolution | Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution; and member of the Editorial Board of Journal of Ethology.  Former roles include Editor-in-Chief of the journals Behavioral Ecology and Australian Journal of Zoology; Associate Editor of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology; Associate Dean (Graduate Programs) and Assistant Dean (Equity) of the Faculty of Science (University of Melbourne); and non-Professorial and Professorial Member of the University Council of the University of Melbourne.

Collaborators

Andrew Barron (Macquarie University) – Evolutionary significance of pheromones
Danielle Clode (Flinders University) – Evaluating conservation management practice
Graeme Coulson (University of Melbourne) – Macropod foraging strategies
Jason Goodger (University of Melbourne) – Chemical analysis of invertebrate chemical signals
Therésa Jones (University of Melbourne) – Evolution of invertebrate mating systems
Sarah Kocher (Princeton University) – Evolution of antennal diversity in stingless bees

Matjaž Kuntner (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) – Sexual size dimorphism in Nephiliid spiders
Simona Kralj-Fišer (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) – Animal personalities and sexual cannibalism

Daiqin Li (National University of Singapore) – Chemical defense by spiders of ants
Michael Magrath (Zoos Victoria) – Maintaining and re-introducing endangered species - Lord Howe Island stick insect
Naomi Pierce (Harvard University) – Evolution of cooperative communication: lycaenid butterflies and ants
Matthew Symonds (Deakin University) – Evolution of chemical communication
Ken Walker (Museum Victoria) – Evolution of diversity of insect antennae
André Walter (Aarhus University) – Evolution and maintenance of silk web decorations of Argiope spiders
Ellen van Wilgenburg (Fordham University) – Role of chemical signals in nestmate recognition in ants
Dong Zhang (Beijing Forestry University) – Evolution of antennae diversity in flies


Current Members

Bernadette WittwerPo PengQike WangSebastian PohlGareth HopkinsLisa HodgkinDany ZemeitatTamara JohnsonHieu PhamEunice TanYasaman AlaviMegha MajoeMark ElgarPerniPippiElgar lab photo map

Post docs

Gareth Hopkins


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I am an evolutionary ecologist broadly interested in understanding the evolutionary responses of organisms to stressful environments, particularly those impacted by anthropogenic change. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Biology and Natural Resources Management at the University of Northern British Columbia (Canada), and my PhD in Ecology at Utah State University (USA). Throughout this time I have worked on the behaviour, ecology, evolution, and conservation of a variety of insect and amphibian species, ranging from weevils and dragonflies to frogs and newts. Most recently, my dissertation research examined the evolutionary and physiological ecology of salt tolerance in a North American amphibian, focusing on understanding the ability of populations to adapt to naturally and anthropogenically saline habitats. I am primarily associated with the Jones lab, where I am investigating the impact of light pollution on invertebrate life-history and ecology.

Project: 

The effects of artificial light at night on the evolutionary and behavioral ecology of Australian black field crickets (Teleogryllus commodus),

PhD candidates

Yasaman Alavi


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I grew up in Tehran, Iran, where I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology at the Shahid Beheshti University in 2007. I moved to Sweden soon afterward, to enrol in the Master’s of Evolutionary Biology program at Uppsala University.  For my Masters's thesis, I studied the mating behavior of honey locust seed beetles in Göran Arnqvist's lab.  I spent some time at the Max Planck Institute for evolutionary biology in Plön, Germany, before moving to Melbourne for my PhD.

For more information, please see my website

Project: 

The evolutionary significance of parthenogenesis and sexual reproduction in Macleay's spectre, Extatosoma tiaratum

Jessica Henneken


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I have always been a nature lover but it wasn't until the final year of my Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne that I was drawn to research. I knew that I wanted to ask questions about animal behaviour, ecology and evolution. I first joined Mark's lab as a Masters student investigating the use of chemical cues in male mate choice in an orb-weaving spider. My PhD follows on from the research I conducted as part of my Masters degree and I am grateful to be able to continue my research with such an enjoyable and supportive lab group.

Project: 

The use of chemicals cues in the mating and foraging strategies of Argiope spiders

Po Peng


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Originally from Taiwan, where I completed a Masters degree in I-Min Tso's lab, I decided to persue a career in ecological and evolutionary research, focusing on investigating the adaptations of behavioural traits and their evolutionary implications on interspecific interactions. These include the mechanisms and behaviours contributing to population structures, as well as how these structures are altered by living symbiotically with partner species over a spatiotemporal scale.

Project:  The Symbiosis Between Arthropod Predators

Hieu Pham


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I have been a teaching assistant at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture since 2007. I earned a BS in Plant Protection in Vietnam and MSc in Entomology (Bioresource and Bioenviroment) from Kyushu University, Japan with a focus on the ecology and behaviour of Hymenoptera parasitoids. Currently, I am interested in the behavioural ecology of Australian glasswing butterfly Acraea andromacha.

Project: 

Evolution of larval aggregation and paternity protection in Acraea andromacha (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)

Qike Wang


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I have always had a broad interest in how insects perceive the world using antennae. Insect antennae are so diverse, exquisite and efficient, and we always take them for granted. I have a long-time interest of the “design” of antennal sensilla, for example, the distribution, arrangement, and all the adaptations of structures that comes with them, whose function remain largely unknown. I will also enjoy exploring the role of antennae and chemical signals play, to organise the complex society in social insects, especially ants.

Project: 

Deconstruct the soup: sources and functions of uneven distributed cuticular hydrocarbons in Australian meat ants

Bernadette Wittwer


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I grew up in Brisbane, Australia and completed undergrad at the University of Queensland. My honours research was conducted in the Salisbury Lab, on a fascinating ninety million year old crocodilian from western Queensland. After honours I moved to the University of Melbourne and joined the Elgar Lab. I am interested in broad evolutionary questions, and switched to the world of invertebrates at this point as they provide an excellent opportunity for answering questions over evolutionary time.

For more information please see my website.

Project: 

The role of communication in the evolution of sociality

Dany Zemeitat


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Growing up in a small village in the far north of Germany I spent my childhood outdoors, either with horse riding, or somewhere in the nearby forest collecting mushrooms with my dad. Fascinated by all those creatures nature had to offer, I decided to study Biology at the University of Rostock at the Baltic Sea where I developed a growing passion for the ecology, morphology, evolution and behaviour of invertebrates, especially arthropods. Conducting research in Stefan Richter's (University of Rostock) and Andreas Wanninger's (former University of Copenhagen, now University of Vienna) lab allowed me to become familiar with a variety of techniques, including immunohistochemistry, confocal laser scanning microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and molecular methods. After graduating with a German Diploma in Biology, I joined Mark Elgar’s lab in 2013 to focus on signalling, communication and behaviour in Australian arthropods.  

For more information, please see my website

Project: 

Evolution of cooperative behaviour in Australian lycaenid butterflies and ants

MSc candidates

Christopher Freeelance


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I undertook my Bachelor of Science at The University of Melbourne from 2011 to mid-2014, majoring in zoology and neuroscience.  This included a short research project with Mark Elgar analysing performance in team sports at the London 2012 Olympics from an animal contest perspective.  In mid-2014, I started a Master of Science (Zoology) with Therésa Jones and Mark Elgar.  My main academic interests are in evolution, neuroscience and behavioural ecology.  When I’m not in the lab, I’m a keen road cyclist and wildlife/landscape photographer. 

Project: 

The impact of artificial light at night on melatonin, oxidative stress and pigmentation in Australian black field crickets

Megha Majoe


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I am a Masters candidate. I completed my BSc. from Mumbai, India. My interests in the natural world were awakened at a relatively young age and I set out to pursue an education in the sciences to understand life, the prerequisites for it and its ramifications. I am particularly interested in social interactions and their evolution in different taxa.

I’m an avid reader and can argue about the superiority of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, Roald Dahl’s dark humour and Asimov’s imagination to anyone who might even feign the slightest interest. My love for learning extends into understanding cultures, people and how individuals perceive other people’s perception of them. I also try, mostly in vain to blog about the perils of being immensely curious while being socially awkward.

Project: 

Thermoregulatory strategies in the heat: worker behaviour in response to shade and exposure in meat ants Iridomyrmex purpureus

Steven Tobin


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I completed my Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne in 2015. I’m now working towards my Masters of Science with the Elgar and Cousens Labs. I’ve always lived in country Victoria, which kindled my fascination with Australia’s native plants and animals. I get a buzz when I recognise a species and or a biological process in my everyday life. I get an even bigger buzz when I see a weird plant species or an animal performing a strange behaviour and have to figure out what it is. 

Project: 

Impact of invasive plant density on the foraging behaviour of bees

Nik Willmott


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I have always loved to understand what things are made of and how they work. While as a child this meant pulling flowers apart and sorting their different components into piles, my interests eventually turned towards how predators interact with their environment, and how these interactions influence the impacts of predators on their communities. For my Masters project, I am investigating how the behaviour and physiology of an orb-weaving spider is affected by a growing ecological concern, the presence of artificial light at night. 

Project: 

The impact of artificial light at night on the physiology and behaviour of orb-weaving spiders

Group Alumni

Post-docs

Sebastian Pohl


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Project:      Evolution and phylogeography of an ant – lycaenid butterfly mutualism
Currently:     National University of Singapore

Yujie Wang


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Project:      Anti-predatorial effects of propolis from the nests of stingless bees
Currently:     Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences

Eunice Tan


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Project:      Evolution of colour patterns in Australian chrysomeline leaf beetles
Currently:     National University of Singapore

 

Dr André Walter – DFG Research Fellowship (2009 – 2013), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
Dr Ellen van Wilgenburg – ARC Research Associate (2008 – 2011), Fordham University
Dr Matthew Symonds – Royal Society Research Fellowship (2002 – 2003), ARC Postdoctoral Fellow (2005 – 2008), Deakin University
Dr Bob Wong – ARC Postdoctoral Fellow (2005), Monash University
Dr Melanie Archer – ARC Research Associate (2002 – 2005), Victorian Institute of Forensic Science
Dr Therésa Jones – Royal Society Research Fellowship, ARC Research Associate (2001 – 2008), University of Melbourne
Dr Marie Herberstein – Schrödinger Stipendium, ARC Research Associate (1997 – 2001), Macquarie University
Dr Jutta Schneider – ARC Research Associate (1997 – 1998), Universität Hamburg
Dr Tom Tregenza – Royal Society Research Fellowship (1997 – 1998), University of Exeter
Dr Nina Wedell – Swedish Natural Science Research Council (1997 – 1998), University of Exeter

Doctoral graduates

Eunice Tan (MSc, National University of Singapore) —  "Evolution of Colour Patterns in Chrysomelines" (2015)
Lisa Hodgkin (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  "Leadership behaviour in larval aggregations of the social sawfly Perga affinis" (2015)
Rebecca Featherston (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  "Trait Evolution as a Consequence of Sexual Conflict over Sex Allocation" (2015)
Sarah Garnick (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  "Niche separation among a guild of macropods" (2014)
Emile van Lieshout (BSc, University of Amsterdam) —  “Causes and consequences of sexual conflict in earwigs” (2009)
Anna Cutler (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  “Arachnid predators in agricultural systems” (2008)
Kathryn McNamara (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) — “Causes and consequences of polyandry in moths” (2008)
David Semmens (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) — “Life-history evolution in fish” (2008)
Ellen van Wilgenburg (BSc, University of Amsterdam) —  “Polydomy in ants” (2006)
Melissa Thomas (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  “Colony size variation in ants” (2002)
Melanie Archer (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) — “Forensic entomology of carrion flies” (2002)
Elizabeth Dalgleish (BSc Hons, University of Queensland) —  “Bi-parental care in beetles” (2002)
Volker Framenau (BS, Universität Marburg) —  “Life-histories of riparian spiders” (2001)
Michael Weston (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  “Human disturbance of shorebirds” (2000)
Rachael Allan (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  “Chemical mimicry of ants by spiders” (1998)
Michael Magrath (BSc Hons, Australian National University —  “Parental care in fairy martins” (1997)
Sally Troy (BSc Hons, University of Melbourne) —  “Male reproductive strategies in fur seals” (1997)
Theodore Evans (BSc Hons, University of Western Australia) —  “Parental care in crab spiders” (1995)

MSc graduates

Chris Freelance – (2014 – 2016): "Artificial light at night, melatonin, oxidative stress and pigmentation in crickets"
Penny Orbell – (2013–2015): "Ritualised displays as honest signalling in meat ants Iridomyrmex purpureus"
Sarah Mcgrath – (2013–2015): "Food plant selection in Lord Howe Island stick insects"
Xue Bain – (2012–2014): "Motion masquerade in stick insects"
John Sharp (2012 – 2013): “Anti-predator and parasite foraging strategies in red-necked wallaby”
Jessica Henneken – (2011 – 2013): “Male mating strategies in cannibalistic spiders”
Haley Lambert – (2011 – 2012): “Mate choice and captive breeding in Lord Howe Island stick insects”
Jessica Potter – (2009 – 2011): “Evolutionary significance of ritualised displays in Iridomyrmex purpureus
Katherine Gill – (2009 – 2010): “Nestmate recognition in green tree ants”

BSc (Honours) graduates

       2008         Lauren Davie: Sexual selection in diamondback moths
                         Jemma Cripps: Life-history strategies in eastern grey kangaroos
                         Lisa Hodgkin: Mites and reproductive success in bark beetles
       2007         Krystina Mossop): Kleptoparasitism in zeus bugs
                         Sarah Garnick: Foraging and parasite transmission trade-offs in eastern grey kangaroos
       2006         Leila Brook: Olfactory cues in eastern grey kangaroos
                         Elizabeth Sim: Social behaviour in geckos
                         Tamara Johnson: Receiver-signal coevolution in chemical communication systems
       2005         Rachael Brown: Evidence for ‘Theory of Mind’ in non-human animals
                         John Deutscher: Ecological physiology of painted grasshoppers
                         Clare Kinnear: Evolution of virulence in influenza
       2004         Angela Schneider: Evolution of sex in leaf insects
                         Sandra South: Chemical signalling in moths
       2003         Helen Bishop: Effects of predation on kangaroo foraging behaviour
                         Bojun Bjorkman-Chiswell: Nestmate recognition in Argentine ants
                         Paul Colvin: Sperm competition in waterstriders
                         Clare D’Alberto: Predator-prey interactions in necrophagous flies
       2002         Kate Chmiel: Heritability of male mating traits in Drosophila
                         Lisa Evans: Foraging decisions in swamp wallabies
                         Adrian Rakimov:  Mating decisions in social spiders
       2001         Anna Cutler: Mechanisms of mate choice in lycosid spiders
                         Kathryn McNamara: Patterns of sperm competition in dermestid beetles
                         Rachael Pearce: Mechanisms determining signal quality of male finches
       2000         Ann Gaskett: Mate detection and choice in orb-web spiders
                         Eve McDonald-Madden: Reproductive ecology of possums
       1999         Mathew Bruce: Foraging behaviour in orb-web spiders
       1998         Julianne Hailey: Foraging behaviour in ants
                         Fleur de Crespigny: Foraging behaviour in orb-web spiders
                         Patrick Maiden: Web-site choice in riparian spiders
       1997         Melanie Archer: Female multiple mating in dermestid beetles
                         Melissa Thomas: Genetic and geograpH1c effects on nest-mate recognition in ants
       1996         Lucy Rogers: Mechanisms of plant growth suppression in termites
                         Robert Henderson: Costs and benefits of burrows for house spiders
       1995         Deborah Cole: Ecological associations between pseudoscorpions and ants
                         Natalie Lloyd: Costs and benefits of facultative aggregating in Gasteracantha minax
       1994         Sharon Downes: Corridor use by small mammals in remnant habitats
                         Bianca Webb-Pullman: Foraging strategies in wagtails
       1993         Lindall Bromham: Effects of grazing on ground invertebrate fauna
                         Jane Jackson Effects of food availability on home range in possums
       1992         Rachel Allan Specialised ant-predation by a zodarid spider
                         Mathew Brett: Genetical advantages of multiple mating in Drosophila simulans
                         Babette Fahey: Male and female reproductive strategies in leaf-curling spiders
       1991         James Radford: Foraging tactics in house sparrows Passer domesticus
                         Michael Weston: Foraging strategies of Pied Oystercatchers, Haematopus longirostris
       1990         Marie Herberstein: Foraging strategies in orb-weaving spiders