Erin awarded Australian Flora Foundation grant

Aug 24, 2021

Big news this week with Erin being awarded an Australian Flora Foundation grant for her PhD work. This grant, worth $19,272, will allow Erin to collect vital field and laboratory data focused on disentangling the genetic and environmental drivers of Eucalyptus viminalis manna quality and then explore its consequences for native ecosystem function. This grant caps off a wonderful month for Erin who was also awarded the Professor Allan Keast Research Award from Birdlife Australia to link her understanding of what drives variation in manna quality with its impact of the behaviour and reproductive success of one of Tasmania’s most iconic bird species, the Forty Spotted Pardalote. Well done Erin!

Professor Erik

Aug 12, 2021

Huge congratulations to Erik who was promoted to full Professor recently. This is a significant achievement that reflects a phenomenal contribution to the research, teaching and leadership landscape at UTAS over the past 20+ years! Looking forward to many more years ahead.


How does temperature mediate social evolution?

July 27, 2021

Social behaviour and climate have often been considered close evolutionary bedfellows. Indeed, climate is implicated as one of the foremost ecological factors that underpins evolutionary transitions in social organisation. Despite this, we are only beginning to unravel the mechanisms by which specific climatic variables mediate social evolution. Temperature is particularly important in this context, not only because it is perhaps the most important abiotic factor for determining the the distribution of organisms and their behaviour, but also because temperature regimes are predicted to change drastically over the coming decades.

In a new paper, just out in Biological Reviews, Jen and Geoff develop a framework for understanding the role that temperature may have played in the evolution of social organisation. They argue that variation in the thermal environment can trigger behavioural, physiology and neuroendocrinological responses that, along with thermally mediate changes in the abiotic and biotic environment, can strongly influence how individuals interact with one another. They then implement this framework to show that such responses can have both constructive and destructive effects on social grouping across three major stages of social evolution; group formation, group maintenance, and group elaboration. They hope that this provides a conceptual foundation from which new, targeted, research can be undertaken that will enhance our understanding of how climate may have shaped the diversity of social life across historical time scales but also how such social life may be impacted by changes in climate over the coming decades. Check out the full story below – or if you are visually orientated – check out the neat conceptual diagram!

Moss, J. B. and While, G. M. (2021) The thermal environment as a moderator of social evolution. Biological Reviews

Conceptual framework illustrating pathways through which temperature-mediated shifts in social interactions could scale to affect social evolutionary processes.

Climate underpins the geographic distribution of Lizard colouration

June 2, 2021

New paper just out in the American Naturalist. This paper, the first from Mara’s PhD, explores why Wall Lizards vary so much in their colouration. To test this, Mara combined our extensive sampling of colouration from 114 wall lizard populations spread across Italy with fine scale climatic data and the latest spatial analyses. Mara shows that colour ornamentation closely tracks climatic regimes, both within the lineage that the ornamentation originated as well as during its introgression into neighboring Wall Lizard lineages. Specifically, lizards from locations that are hot and dry are more likely to express the green-black colouration compared to populations that are cool and wet. Crucially, these environments allow for prolonged reproductive season and high and reliable opportunities for lizard activity, conditions that should be consistent with heightened sexual selection. Combined these results contribute significantly to our understanding of the extraordinary colour variation in Wall Lizards across the Italian landscape, something that has puzzled naturalists for well over a century. Great work Mara!

Minano, M.R., While, G.M., Yang, W., Burridge, C. P., Sacchi, R., Zuffi, M., Scali, S., Salvi, D. and Uller, T. (2021) Climate shapes the geographic distribution and introgressive spread of color ornamentation in Common Wall LizardsAmerican Naturalist.

Climate variation across central Italy and the corresponding distribution of the green-black colouration.

Lu submits

June 29, 2021

Two in a week! Equally massive congratulations to Lu Fitzpatrick for submitting her PhD. Lu’s PhD, supervised by Erik and Geoff in collaboration with Mats Olsson in Gothenburg, focused on examining the factors responsible for actual and cellular aging in Snow Skinks. To achieve this Lu took a highly integrative approach. She utilized our long-term longitudinal data set to explore how an individual’s key life history events – investment into growth and reproduction – impacted their cellular aging (e.g., telomere dynamics). She linked this with targeted experimental approaches to explore the potential mechanisms underpinning cellular aging. Finally, she examined aging more broadly – once again using our long-term data to explore patterns of actual and reproductive aging. Throughout, Lu explored how these patterns varied between climatic contexts. Combined this led to an outstanding thesis that will contribute significantly to our understanding of how organisms age. Three papers are already published with a final chapter currently in development. If you want to know more check out the BEER Group News page for updates on Lu’s previous papers or the new Telomeres and Senescence page for a summary. In the meantime, we wish Lu all the best for what we are sure will be a rewarding career!

Mara submits

June 24, 2021

Huge congratulations to Mara Ruiz Miñano who submitted her PhD thesis this week! Mara’s PhD, supervised by Geoff, Tobias and Chris, focused on unravelling the climatic signatures of phenotypic and genetic differentiation that we observe in the Wall Lizard. To achieve this, Mara split her time between UTAS, Lund and the hills of central Italy where she conducted the majority of her field work. Mara’s PhD involved integrating a huge data set on variation in sexual colour ornamentation across climatic regions in Italy, sophisticated spatial analyses, high level molecular data and targeted thermophysiology experiments. The combination of these approaches resulted in an outstanding thesis which promises to provide several novel insights into our understanding of how climate mediates evolutionary processes. First, that variation in sexual colour ornamentation across the region is likely caused by selection mosaics resulting from broad and fine-scale variation in climate. Second, that such climate-driven selection is sufficiently strong to cause genetic differentiation across the genome. Most of the papers from Maras’s thesis are currently in submission so expect to hear more on this front soon! In the meantime, Mara plans to take a well-deserved break before making her next move. Well done Mara!

Will finishes Honours

June 11, 2021

structured the distribution of the species within Tasmania. This involved a lot of field work across the state, the leveraging of genetic material from the mainland and also some time in the Molecular Laboratory. Will’s project provided some surprising results. First there is a clear east/west divide within Tasmania with populations on the North West coast genetically divergent from those on the East coast. Furthermore, the North West populations appear more closely related to populations from South Australia and the Western part of Victoria than they do to Eastern Tasmanian populations – suggesting that these two lineages had two different connections to the mainland. Second, Will found limited evidence that the large lineage in the east of the state exhibits any further genetic structure. This is in contrast to several other reptile species who appear to occur in multiple genetically independent clades across this region. This suggests that perhaps that the ecology of Liopholis whitii creates greater opportunities for gene flow within this region or that they were perhaps less impacted by the historical process that generated genetic structure in the other species reducing the extent of genetic structure. Some fantastic results that are sure to form the basis of much more research in the near future. Well done Will!

Fine scale genetic structure of L whitii across South East of Australia. Two major lineages distributed in the Western and Eastern parts of the the distribution. The two lineages that occur within Tasmania (the Northwestern – yellow dots, the Eastern – blue dots) are associated with each of those major lineages. The east coast of Tasmania shows relatively limited genetic structure – which is contrast to what is seen for other reptile species such as the snow skinks.

Climate and lifestyle drive cellular ageing in snow skinks

May 31, 2021

Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your dna from getting damaged. In many organisms these protective caps get eroded away throughout life (cellular aging) resulting in declines in organism function that can ultimately contribute to an increase in mortality. Identifying the factors that influence the nature and extent of this cellular aging is a key challenge in evolutionary biology. A new paper by Lu just out in Proceedings of the Royal Society sheds considerable light on these factors. Lu, in collaboration with Mats Olsson and Angela Pauliny in Gothenburg, generated data on telomere lengths for females from our two snow skink populations and examined how changes in telomere length throughout life were associated with key life events – who its parents were, how much it invested in growth, how much it invested in reproduction. Lu found strong differences between our two snow skink populations in overall telomere length and the extent to which telomeres change across life. In contrast to many endotherms, snow skinks from both populations showed no evidence of telomere erosion but instead individuals extended their telomeres – and this was particularly evident in the cool highlights. Lu found that the key determinant of adult telomere length across populations was telomere length at birth, with population-specific effects of age and growth on adult telomere length but no effect of reproductive effort. You can listen to Lu talk about these results on ABC radio here and fast forwarding to 2:50 mins or read the UTAS press release here. Alternatively, if you want the complete story, check out the link below.

Fitzpatrick, L. J., Olsson, M., Pauliny, A., While, G. M. and E Wapstra (2021) Individual telomere dynamics and their links to life history in a viviparous lizard. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London. 288: 20210271.

Unpacking the ridiculously tangled web of Wall Lizard evolution.

May 21, 2021

Huge new paper just out in Nature Communications. This paper, led by Yang, Nathalie and Tobias in Lund and involving collaborators across Europe, sequenced the genomes of all 34 major lineages lineages from the 26 currently recognized wall lizard species to reconstruct their evolutionary history. The results uncovered a remarkedly reticulated evolution. Specifically, wall lizard lineages that have been separated for millions of years have come back into contact and exchanged genes. This has resulted in genomes that represent a mosaic of contributions from different species. In some cases, such hybridization events have resulted in the formation of totally new species – such as those found in the Balearic islands. This represents an outstanding example of the role that hybridization and genetic exchange can play in mediating animal evolution. The results also provide insights into the major geological and climatic events that may have contributed to this process, specifically the Messinian Salinity Crises. Lots more to explore with respect to this amazing system in the near future. In the mealtime, check out the full story in the below link or a popular summary here.

Yang, Y., Feiner, N., Pinho, C., While, G. M., Kaliontzopoulou, A., Harris, D. J., Salvi, D. and Uller, T. (2021) Extensive introgression and mosaic genomes of Mediterranean endemic lizards. Nature Communications. 12:2762.

Paul joins the group

May 19, 2021

The BEER group welcomes Paul Saunders to the group this week. Paul is a post-doc working with Erik and Chris as well as Tariq Ezaz (UCanberra) and Oleg Simakov (UAustria), on the genomics of sex determination and sex chromosomes in the snow skinks. Paul originally hails from France and has spent the last few years working on a range of different projects focused on understanding the early steps of sex chromosome evolution and forces involved in transitions among sex chromosome systems. These projects have spanned a range of different systems (frogs, mice) and taken Paul to a range of different countries (France, Switzerland, UK). Paul will bring is substantial expertise in the generation and use of genomic data and mathematical modelling to the snow skink project. Unfortunately, we will have to wait a little longer to have Paul actually here in person – as the current global pandemic means he is currently working remotely in France. We look forward to welcoming Paul properly in the near future.

Conservation of the worlds skink species assessed

April 23, 2021

Big paper just out in Conservation Biology. This paper evaluates the conservation status of the worlds 1700+ species of skink. Skinks represent a huge component of the worlds herpetofauna. Furthermore, a great number of skink species are outstanding model systems for addressing key questions in ecology and evolution (including social evolution, live birth and the evolution of sex determination; topics that form the basis of much of the research carried out within the BEER Group). The paper reports that over 20% of skink species are currently under the threat of extinction with a further 25% of species currently with insufficient data or unassessed. Furthermore, a whopping 60% of skink species have ranges that do not currently overlap with areas of the globe that are protected leaving them exposed to the key threats to survival (habitat loss due to agriculture, invasive species, and biological resource use). The paper represented a huge collaborative effort coordinated via the IUCN skink specialist group (of which Erik and Geoff are members) led by Dave Chapple (Monash), Shai Meiri (Tel Aviv) and Reid Tingly (Monash). It is hoped that this paper will prompt a more complete assessment of all skinks providing a starting point for more coordinated conservation management and ongoing collaborative research. Check out the full paper below.

Chapple et al. (2021) Conservation status of the world’s skinks (Scincidae): taxonomic and geographic patterns in extinction risk. Biological Conservation. 257: 109101.

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The information required for each species to facilitate ongoing assessment and management of the worlds skink species

Erin, Deirdre, Yorick and Victoria awarded Holsworth Wildlife Research Grants

April 15, 2021

Big day for the BEER group today with Erin, Deirdre, Yorick and Victoria all being awarded Holsworth Wildlife Research Grants from the Ecological Society of Australia. This funding will be utilised to address three very different research questions. Erin’s grant will allow her to explore the genetic and environmental factors that underpin variation in white gum manna production providing the foundation for future research exploring the consequence of this variation for the forty spotted pardalote behaviour and through this ecological communities more broadly. Deirdre’s grant will allow her to collect data on variation in birthing asynchrony patterns across the Egernia group providing a powerful comparative context for exploring how the mechanisms underpinning variation in timing of birth have evolved across the group. Yorick’s grant will allow him to explore how live birth (compared to egg laying) mediates the development of kin recognition mechanisms in non-social lizard species. This will provide the foundation from which Yorick can then explore how these recognition mechanisms have become refined in more social lizard species. Victoria’s funding was renewed for a second year allowing her to continue to explore the role that plasticity plays in mediating the each evolution of social behaviour. We are really excited about the potential of all these projects for providing insights into key areas within ecology and evolutionary biology and this funding will go a long way to ensuring that potential is met. As always we are immensely grateful to the Ecological Society of Australia and to Dr Bill Hosworth for continuing to support our students and their research.

Sex determination and population divergence in snow skinks.

April 4, 2021

Another great new paper from Peta just out in Ecology and Evolution! In this paper Peta explores the extent of genetic isolation between our two snow skink populations that differ in their sex determination system. These populations are part of the same mitochondrial clade that occurs within southern Tasmania and have spent several periods in sympatry during their recent evolutionary history. Despite this, Petas molecular data suggests that these populations have diverged with little evidence of gene flow. This raises the intriguing possibility that the differences in sex determination may have acted as a reproductive isolating mechanism preventing gene flow between populations with different sex determining mechanisms. More experimental work is required to test this – but this suggests that the snow skinks might be an outstanding model system for exploring the role sex determination systems play in mediating broader evolutionary processes. Read all about the paper by clicking the link below.

Hill, P., Wapstra, E., Ezaz, T. and Burridge, C. P. (In Press) Pleistocene divergence in the absence of gene flow among populations of a viviparous reptile with intraspecific variation in sex determination. Ecology and Evolution.

Differences in sex chromosomes provides insights into evolutionary divergence in sex determination

February 13, 2021

Peta had the second paper from her PhD published this week in Cells. Peta’s paper used a range of karyotyping and molecular techniques to explore evidence for sex chromosome evolution between lowland and highland populations of snow skink – populations that are known to differ in their sex determination mechanisms. The results showed clear evidence of structural changes (heterochromatinisation, repeat accumulation) in the sex chromosomes of highland snow skinks compared to lowland snow skinks, changes consistent with a transition toward a system of genetic sex determination. Peta’s work also confirmed strong conservatism in Y-linked sequences between snow skinks and other skinks that they diverged from approximately 80 million years ago – suggesting deep conservatism. Interesting, there was limited evidence of such conservatism with a more closely related skink group, the Egernia group. This may suggest an independent evolution of sex chromosomes in the Egernia. Like all good research this leaves lots of new questions that need to be answered. Check out the full story below.

Hill, P., Shams, F., Burridge, C. P., Wapstra, E. and Ezaz, T. (in press) Differences in homomorphic sex chromosomes are associated with population divergence in sex determination in Carinascincus ocellatus(Scincidae: Lygosominae). Cells.

Chromosomal locations of Carinascincus ocellatus Y-linked FISH probe set (red) in GSD+EE (low elevation) C. ocellatus male (a) and females (b)

Peta Submits

December 23, 2020

Huge congratulations to Peta Hill who submitted her PhD thesis last week! Peta’s PhD, supervised by Erik, Chris Burridge and Tariq Ezaz, focused on unravelling the molecular mechanisms underpinning the unique intra-specific variation in sex determination we see in the snow skinks. To achieve this, Peta split her time between UTAS and the University of Canberra and used a range of approach’s linking field and experimental studies with a neat molecular techniques (from karyotyping to next generation sequencing). This resulted in an outstanding thesis which has provided a number of novel insights with respect to nature of divergence in sex determination within the snow skinks – insights that will make a significant contribution to the snow skink system now and into the future and the field of sex determination more broadly. Peta has celebrated the completion of her thesis by heading straight back into the field to help Erik with this seasons snow skink field collection – no doubt with a glass of champagne in hand! Well done Peta!

BEER group welcomes new PhD student: Erin Bok

December 9, 2020

Big welcome to Erin Bok who joins the BEER group this week as a PhD student. Erin comes to us from the dark side – Plant Science… She did her honours under Tim Brodribb using moss as a model system to understand the early evolution of water transfer. She will be bringing her considerable botanical expertise to her PhD project which aims to uncover the factors underpinning variation in Eucalypt manna quality and the implications that this has for the Forty Spotted Pardalote. This will involve lots of experimental work, field work, chemistry and some modelling. Erin will be supervised by Geoff, Julianne and Peter. We cant wait to see what Erin finds out.

Egernia project awarded an ARC Discovery Grant

November 19, 2020

Huge news this week with the Egernia project being awarded a Discovery Grant from the Australian Research Council. The project led by Martin at Macquarie and Geoff will explore how simple molecular mechanisms in the brain – such as those associated with the nonapeptides oxytocin and vasotocin – mediate transitions from solitary living to simple family life. The project involves exciting new collaborations with two world leaders in social evolution, Dustin Rubenstein (Columbia University) and Alex Ophir (Cornell University). These collaborations promise to bring a range of neat and novel techniques to the Egernia system that will enhance its reputation as a model system for research into both the proximate and ultimate mechanisms underpinning transitions in complex sociality.

Alex awarded Swedish Funding

November 17, 2020

Huge congratulations to Alex who was recently awarded not one but two grants for his PhD work exploring developmental plasticity and telomeres. Alex was awarded a Helge Axsson Johnsons Stiftelse grant worth $9500 and a Milsson-Ehle Endowment worth $10.500. These grants will be hugely important to Alex, allowing him to generate the telomere data crucial to his PhD. Well done Alex and a huge thanks to both funding body’s for supporting this research.

Post Doc Opportunity with the BEER Group

September 23, 2020

The BEER Group is excited to announced that we have a 3 year post-doc available to study the molecular mechanisms underpinning transitions in sex determining systems. This post-doc is associated with a large ARC grant awarded to Erik and Chris Burridge (along with Tariq Ezaz in Canberra and Oleg Simakov in Vienna) last year. The project aims to reveal the genomic changes required to transition between modes of sex determination, using one of only two known lizard species exhibiting both genetic and temperature control of sex, our very own Carinascincus ocellatus. The project will integrate a bunch of field work across Tasmania with advanced genomic and transcriptomic sequencing. If this sounds like it might be the post-doc for you please check out the full advertisement on the EvoDir website (available here) or contact Chris Burridge for more information. Applications close 16th of October!

Will starts Honours!

August 17, 2020

The BEER group welcomes new honours student, Will Jose, to the group! Will is going to work with Geoff and Chris on a project examining the fine scale phylogenetic structure in Liopholis whitii populations across Tasmania (and beyond). This will not only add to our understanding of Liopholis whitii but, by combining data with that from similar species across this range, Will also hopes to identify broad patterns of phylogenetic congruence across species. This will provide Will with significant power to identify the historical and contemporary processes responsible for these patterns. We can’t wait for Will to get started.

Will BEER Photo

Special issue celebrating the work of Mike Bull out in Austral Ecology

May 30, 2020

This week heralded the publication of a special issue in Austral Ecology celebrating the life and work of eminent Australian Ecologist and Herpetologist Mike Bull. Mike sadly passed away in 2016 and this theme issue represents a culmination of many of the projects that Mike was working on at the time of his passing. These papers as well as those that came before them promise to leave a research legacy that will continue to impact a number of aspects of Australian Ecology well into the future. The BEER group is particularly indebted to Mike for his work in the 1980’s , with long-time collaborator Dale Buzzacott, on sleepy lizards which first introduced the world to the crazy family lives of lizards. This research paved the way for substantial research programs across multiple institutes trying to quantify and understand why lizards, particularly within the Egernia group, exhibit complex forms social behaviour based around a family unit, research that underpins much of what we do today. However, Mikes research stretched well beyond social behaviour, making significant contributions to host-parasite interactions, conservation biology, and animal personality.  The theme issue touches on all these topics. Another key aspect of the legacy that Mike left behind is the dedication that he showed to the younger generation of ecologists – both his own students and any student that was luckily enough to pass his way. He was always free for a friendly chat and some advice no matter what the topic. So it is fitting that so many of the contributions to the theme issue come from Mikes most recent students. All in all this represents a wonderful way to celebrate Mikes life work. And if you get through the special issue and are left feeling like you still need to find out more – then you are in luck – because it comes associated with a broader virtual special issue that contains much of Mikes previous research. So head over here and start reading.

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New Wall Lizard paper reveals causes of reproductive isolation and asymmetric introgression

May 26, 2020

Great new Wall lizard paper just out in Evolution. This paper continues the ever expanding story of introgression of sexually selected colours in the Wall lizards. We left this story with strong and consistent evidence that where individuals of one lineage exhibit the sexually selected colours (bright green backs and black bellies), then introgression is highly asymmetric – with the sexual traits and associated regions of the genome moving from one lineage into the other (but not vice versa). In this paper, lead by Yang and Nathalie, we show that this introgression is only asymmetric when one of the lineages exhibits these sexually selected colours – when both lineages are dull, they exchange genes in equal amounts. This provides neat evidence that sexual selection plays a key role in mediating gene flow in zones of secondary contact. We also used this data to explore for signatures of reproductive isolation (e.g., barrier loci) in the genome more broadly. We found that barrier loci were found in genomic regions that were highly differentiated between the two lineages but that the specific regions differed between the two transects. The one exception to this was a gene that has previously been shown to be involved in social behaviour. This leads to the tantalizing suggestion that this gene may contribute to the male mate preferences that are known to cause lineage-assortative mating in this species. Lots to unpack in this paper so do yourself a favour and check out the full story here

Yang, W., Feiner, N., Laakkonen, H., Sacchi, R., Zuffi, M. A. L., Scali, S., While, G. M. and Uller, T. (In press) Spatial variation in gene flow across a hybrid zone reveals causes of asymmetric introgression and reproductive isolation in wall lizards. Evolution.

Figure 1_Yangetal2020
Location of our two target transects across a zone of secondary contact between wall lizard lineages in Northern Italy. In the northern transect both the Southern Alps and Italian lineage exhibit the ancestral brown pehnotype (top photo) where as in the southern transect the Italian lineage exhibits an exaggerated phenotype (bottom photo). This results in substantial differences in patterns of gene flow between the two transects.

Zach and Amy finish honours

May 20, 2020

Huge congratulations to Zach and Amy who finished up their honours with the BEER group this week. Zach and Amy both produced excellent theses on two quite different research questions. Zach, who was co-supervised by Jen Moss, carried out a huge experiment utilising our semi-natural enclosures to examine how the thermal environment mediates male and female encounter rates and through this the opportunity and targets of sexual selection. Amy, who was co-supervised by Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra and Peter Harrison, examined the factors that mediate variation in the quality of White gum manna. This project examined variation in manna quality across both natural stands of White gum on Bruny Island and in common garden trails planted across different environments. More information on what they discovered head across to the beer group blog. But for now, we hope they are both experiencing some rest and relaxation as we look forward to see what is in store next for both of them!

BEER group awarded Hermon Slade Foundation Funding to study how mothers control the timing of birth.

May 14, 2020

Exciting news with the BEER group being awarded a Hermon Slade Foundation Grant to study how mothers control the timing of birth. This grant, was a huge collaborative effort involving Geoff and Deirdre from the BEER group as well as long term collaborators Camilla Whittington (Usyd), Martin Whiting (Macquarie), James van Dyke (Latrobe) and Laura Parsley (IMAS). The project will utilize members of the Egernia group, which have the unique ability to spread the delivery of fully developed offspring over an extended period of time (up to weeks). That is females can give birth to one offspring, wait, then give birth to another. What is perhaps even more amazing is that they can do this for offspring sitting within the same uteri. This level of fine scale control of birth is unmatched across amniotic vertebrates and offers us a fantastic opportunity to try and understand how mothers are actually achieving this. This will involve a range of different techniques, from contraction assays that measure different uterine responses to key birth hormones to a detailed molecular examination of the genes that are switched on and off during birth. Combined we believe that this project will provide us with novel insights into how females control the timing of birth and, as a consequence, the evolution of live birth itself. More broadly, we hope that the outcomes of this study will be relevant to a several key areas of biology including evolutionary biology, conservation biology, agricultural science and even human health. We cant wait to get started on this project. If you want more information please head across to the research themes tab where we will add a full description of the project.


Where did those skinks in my garden come from?

April 23, 2020

Snow skinks are the most commonly encountered skinks in Tasmania. Anyone who spent time outside as a child would be familiar with them. They seem to be everywhere. But it has not always been this way. A new paper, led by BEER group honours student Kaley Kreger under the supervision of Erik and Chris Burridge, shows that populations of at least two snow skink species (Carinascincus ocellatus and Carinascincus metallicus) have been hugely dynamic in the past, contracting and expanding their distribution as climates in Tasmania changed during the Plio‐Pleistocene period. This has resulted in the two species exhibiting strong evidence of genetic structure across their current day distribution. Interestingly, both species exhibit remarkably similar geographic patterns of genetic structure suggesting that glacial cold and aridity forced these species into similar areas of lowland refugia, before warmer temperatures allowed to expand into their current day range. Such an understanding of the mechanisms underpinning historical distributional changes is a crucial step towards generating robust predictions of species responses to future environmental change. Read the whole story here. 

Kreger, K. M., Shaban, B., Wapstra, E. and Burridge, C. P. (In press) Phylogeographic parallelism: Concordant patterns in closely related species illuminate underlying mechanisms in the historically glaciated Tasmanian landscapeJournal of Biogeography.


Victoria and Peta Awarded Holsworth Funding.

March 23, 2020

Huge congratulations to Victoria and Peta who were awarded funding from the Hoslworth Wildlife Research Fund recently. Victoria’s project examining the origins of family life across the Egernia group was funded for the first time, while Peta’s project examining the mechanisms underpinning transitions in sex determining systems was re-funded. We are hugely grateful to Bill Holsworth and the Ecological Society of Australia for their continued support of our projects and cant wait to see what it allows Victoria and Peta to achieve.

Goodbye Jen, Kirsty and Alex

March 21, 2020

The BEER Group recently said goodbye to Jen, Kirsty and Alex. All three have been working in the BEER Group over the past summer as part of their Post-Doc/PhD projects. Jen powered through a huge amount of work examining how variation in climate mediates lizard mating behavior and sexual selection. She leaves us to take up a Post-Doc  position with Allen Moore at the University of Georgia. Kirsty left us temporarily after generating a ton of data examining how the post-natal social environment mediates maternal stress effects in the Liopholis whitii. Kirsty returns to Lund, via Scotland, but will hopefully be back at UTAS in the near future. Alex also left temporarily after a summer running the ocellatus natural population data collection. Alex will return next summer as part of his joint PhD between the Universities of Gothenburg and Tasmania. All three left a huge mark on the BEER group and will be hugely missed if, albeit, temporarily.


Leigh Simmons visiting

Jan 20, 2020

We are very fortunate to have Professor Leigh Simmons visiting us for the next 6 weeks all the way from the University of Western Australia. Leigh is here on a mini sabbatical for six weeks which we hope will be plenty of time for him to regale the BEER group with tales of sperm competition and sexual selection as well as the many other things that Leigh works on. We wish Leigh all the best for a successful and fruitful time here in Tassie and look forward to many interesting chats over coffee or a beer.

Amy wins funding for her Forty-Spotted Pardalote project

Dec 10, 2019

More good news for the BEER group with Amy Wing being awarded the 2020 Bird Conservation Scholarship from the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. Amy’s project will use a sophisticated plant breeding design as well as White Gum populations spread across the Forty-Spotted Pardalote distribution to tease apart the role of the environment vs genetics in mediating variation in the quantity and quality of the White Gum manna that is so important for the Pardalotes. This has the potential to have substantial implications for the ongoing conservation of this endangered species by informing restoration projects and providing information useful for the establishment of artificial diets. The award comes with $3,000 to cover research costs that will be crucial for generating key aspects of Amy’s data. We are hugely grateful for the TLC for choosing Amy and her project for this award. If you want to know more about this fantastic organisation, the wonderful work they do or the scholarship itself, please click here.

BEER Group ARC Success

Dec 3, 2019

Huge congratulations to Erik who was awarded ARC Discovery Projection funding this week. Erik’s project will use the snow skink system, one of a limited number of systems in the world with intra-specific variation in sex determination, to examine the molecular basis of transitions in sex determining systems. This project will mobilize an impressive collaborative team, including close BEER group collaborators Chris Burridge (UTAS) and Tariq Ezaz (University of Canberra) as well as Oleg Simakov (University of Vienna). The project promises to bring a whole range of novel techniques to the BEER group that will further enhance the snow skinks reputation as a model system for research into the hows and whys of vertebrate sex determination. Well done Erik!


Welcome Yorick!

Dec 2, 2019

The BEER group welcomes a new member this week with the arrival of Yorick Lambreghts. Yorick comes to us all the way from Belgium where he undertook his Masters degree with Marcel Eens on a variety of projects from nest defense in birds to measuring risk taking and neophobic behaviour in lizards. Yorick will be undertaking a PhD with Geoff, Martin Whiting and Camilla Whittington examining the the co-evolutionary dynamics between social evolution and kin recognition. Specifically, Yorick will examine how kin recognition evolves, what role kin recognition plays in the early emergence of social complexity and ultimately how kin recognition becomes refined as systems evolve even more complex sociality. We cannot wait to see what comes of Yoricks PhD and wish him all the best for the next three and a half years.


Temperature and telomeres – its complicated…

Oct 21, 2019

New snow skink telomere paper just out in Oecologia from Lu! This is the second paper of Lus’ PhD and stemmed from the BEER Groups long standing collaboration with Mats Olssons’ lab in Gothenburg. The paper explored how experimental manipulation of temperature influenced telomere dynamics across populations at the climatic extremes of the species distribution. The results – lets just say they are complicated. Thermal conditions had relatively straight forward effects on telomere length itself, with telomere length increasing in individuals held for three months under warm thermal conditions across all populations. However, when we examined the potential mechanisms (concordant effects of thermal conditions on oxidative stress) treatment had an effect but only in populations from one climatic extreme… and in the opposite direction to those predicted… Clearly more work needs to be done to tease out the potentially complicated relationship between temperature, metabolism, ROS and telomere dynamics. Luckily Lu has a few more chapters of her thesis left to achieve just this! Check out the full story here.

Fitzpatrick, L. J., Olsson, M., Parsley, L., Pauliny, A., Pinfold, T., Pirtle, T., While, G. M. and Wapstra, E. (in press) Temperature and telomeres: Thermal treatment influences telomere dynamics through a complex interplay of cellular processes in a cold-climate skinkOecologia.

Lu presenting her final PhD seminar to the School

A new field season begins

Sep 25, 2019

A new field season is upon us and we have started a fantastic new experiment out at the Cambridge enclosures. This experiment is examining how climate mediates the level of interactions between males and females, the consequences of this for patterns of multiple paternity and ultimately how this might mediate levels of family conflict. Lots of hard work by Jen and Zach to get this project up and running but the enclosures look great and the lizards have adapted well to their new surrounds and are already interacting. A busy season awaits.

Tom in UTAS 3MT final

Sept 6, 2019

Tom represented the BEER group this week in the UTAS final of the 3 minute thesis competition. This competition aims to get students at the tail end of their candidature to explain their work in 3 minutes with only a single static power-point slide for support. Tom won through to the finals after a scintillating performance in the college level heats. While Tom unfortunately did not bring home the bacon in the final his talk on food, sex and sociality certainly had a lot of people talking. Well done Tom!


Amy and Zach start honours

Aug 10, 2019

We welcome two wonderful new honours students to the group this week. Amy Wing will be working with Geoff, Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra and Peter Harrison trying to work out what makes White gum manna so damn tasty… This will combine extracting manna from white gums from provenances from a range of environments that have been planted in either wet or dry sites and examining the relative role of genetics and the environment in mediating manna composition. Zach Borthwick will be working with Geoff, Jen and Erik on the Egernia system, examining how small changes in climate might mediate how individuals interact with one another in ways that might mediate social stability. We wish both Zach and Amy all the best for the next 9 months and we look forward to hearing about what they come up with. In the meantime check our more about their projects here.

Welcome Jen Moss

Aug 1, 2019

Great week for the BEER group this week as we welcome Jen Moss to the group. Jen is joining the group as an endevour post-doctoral fellow all the way from Mississippi State University in the US. Jen has a long history in herpetological research with a strong focus on behavioural ecology following her PhD work on the Sister Island Rock Iguana. Jens’ post doc project will examine the extent to which climate mediated changes in how individuals interact with one another may have implications for the stability of social systems under predicted climate change. While Jen has chosen rather cooler climes to those that she is used to from her PhD work she is settling in well and we look forward to all that she finds out of the next year. Read more about what Jen has been up to on our current members page.


Tail regeneration limits telomere repair

July 13, 2019

Great new paper just out in Biology Letters exploring the consequences of tail loss and regeneration for telomere dynamics in the snow skink. This is the first paper from Lu’s PhD and was completed in close collaboration with Mats Olssons’ lab at the University of Gothenburg. Lu’s paper shows that when lizards suffer tail loss this limits their ability to regenerate telomeres (compared to a control group). The mechanisms underlying these effects are potentially complicated but Lu’s results suggest that they may be associated with the effects that tail loss and tail regeneration have on metabolic processes and ultimately oxidative stress (suggested key mediators of telomere dynamics). Indeed, Lu found that increases in telomere length were associated with decreases in the level of reaction oxygen species. However, the effects of tail loss on the level of oxidative stress itself were not so clear cut suggesting that more work needs to be undertaken to fully unpick the nature of these results. You can read the full paper by clicking on the below link or check out some neat press on Lu’s results here

Fitzpatrick, L., Olsson, M., Parsley, L. M., Pauliny, A., Pirtle, T., While, G. M. and Wapstra, E. (In press) Tail loss and telomeres; consequences of large-scale tissue regeneration in a terrestrial ectotherm. Biology Letters.


Tom Submits!

June 30, 2019

Huge congratulations to Tom Botterill-James who submitted his PhD thesis last week. Tom completed a hugely impressive PhD that explored the causes and consequences of conflict and cooperation between family members during the early evolution of family life. This involved quantifying the extent of conflict between different family members (e.g., sexual, parent-offspring and sibling conflict) and experimentally testing whether conflict is mediated, both directly and indirectly, by female mating patterns and resource availability. Tom tackled these questions by integrating a variety of experimental and analytical techniques (manipulative experiments, meta-analyses, comparative analyses) across a wide range of model systems, from Burying Beetles, to Egernia lizards and birds. This involved some wonderful collaborations with close friends of the BEER group Dan Noble (ANU) and Per Smiseth (University of Edinburgh). Combined, Toms thesis has already resulted in a number of important contributions to our understanding of the factors that mediate the maintenance of social associations between family members and the consequences of this for the early evolution of family life. We are sure there will be much more to come. Fantastic work Tom!!

Mary and Beck complete Honours

May 26, 2019

Huge congratulations to Mary and Beck who finished up their honours with the BEER group last week. Mary and Beck both produced excellent theses on two quite different research questions. Mary, who was co-supervised by Kirke and Erik, carried out a huge experiment in which she examined how the thermal environment an offspring experienced during development influences its cognitive performance following birth. Beck, in contrast, combined species distribution models and lots of field work to try and identify the causes and consequences of the decline of the endangered forty-spotted pardalote. More information on what they discovered will be up on the beer group blog post in the next couple of days. But for now, we hope they are both experiencing some rest and relaxation as we look forward to see what is in store next for both of them!

Honours awards for Deirdre and Heather

May 20, 2019

Huge congratulations to recent BEER group honours students Deirdre Merry and Heather Bryan who were recently (jointly) awarded the Ralston Trust Prize for best honours thesis in zoology. This prize is awarded annually by the School of Biological Sciences. This is a huge recognition of the significant efforts that both Heather and Deirdre made during their honours and the wonderful theses that they put together. For those of you who need a recap – Deirdre’s thesis explored the mechanisms underpinning asynchronous birth in the Egernia group while Heathers project used species distribution models and long-term demographic data to predict the distribution and population dynamics of Tasmania’s snow skink species. You can read all about what they found in the BEER group blog posts page. Really well done to both of you!

Why do we find Island giants?

May 15, 2019

Why are species on islands often bigger than their mainland counterparts? The standard explanation for this is that ecological factors, including dietary shifts, increased
intraspecific competition and reduced predation, are responsible. However,
evidence that these factors are sufficient to cause an increase or decrease in body size remains equivocal. One possible reason for this is that the evolutionary history
of island populations plays an important role in this divergence but is rarely considered. To test this, we compared 9 island and adjacent mainland populations of the common wall lizard in Western France. We found that although island lizards were larger than their mainland counterparts the extent of gigantism varied substantially between islands. Interestingly, this variation was predicted primarily by the extent of genetic divergence between island and mainland populations. This suggests that even if the ecological conditions are right, body size might fail to diverge on islands that were only recently isolated or that still maintain gene flow with the mainland. Combined this nicely articulates the importance of combining studies of ecology with reliable estimates of the timing of divergence and the extent of gene flow when trying to identify the causes of island gigantism. Click on the link below for the full story.

Uller, T., Laakkonnenn, H., Michaelides, S., While, G. M., Coulon, A. and Aubret, F. (In press). Genetic differentiation predicts body size divergence between island and mainland populations of common wall lizardsBiological Journal of the Linnean Society.


Do behavioural observations of pairing correlate with paternity data?

Mar 13, 2019

Behavioural ecologists often use a range of measures to estimate male reproductive success. The most accurate, obviously, is to measure reproductive success directly, through paternity analysis. However, this is not always possible and often we use alternative measures such as the numbers of copulation’s a male undertakes or the number of females with whom a male is seen in close proximity to. However, for these measures to be used meaningfully for making inferences about the consequences of variation in male reproductive success they need to correlate closely with actual male reproductive success. This assumption is rarely tested. A new paper by Erik, Mats Olsson, Tonia Schwatrz and Rick Shine just out in Biology Letters address this limitation using their sand lizard data. Their paper shows that the more females a male was seen with does correlate with his actual reproductive success measured via paternity acquisition. This has important implications our confidence in utilising behavioural observations to infer the causes and consequences of variance in male reproductive success, where paternity data is not available. Check out the full story here.

Olsson, M., Schwartz, T., Wapstra, E. and Shine, R. (In press) How accurately do behavioural observations predict reproductive success in free-ranging lizardsBiology Letters.

Jen Moss awarded an Endeavour Fellowship

Mar 11, 2019

Exciting news today with Jen Moss being awarded and Endeavour Fellowship to come work with the BEER Group as a post-doc. Jen’s project will examine how climate may mediate family life via influencing the underlying social interactions between family members. Jen is currently in the Cayman islands visiting old field sites where she did her PhD (at Mississippi State University) on the social life and conservation of the endangered Sister Isles Rock Iguana. She will head down to Australia later on in the year to begin her fellowship. Huge congrats Jen and we look forward to welcoming you to the group.


Wall Lizard Genome Published!

Mar 03, 2019

Amazing News with the wall lizard genome published this week in PNAS. The paper, lead by Pedro Andrade and Miguel Carneiro at CIBIO in Portugal and Leif Andersson at Uppsala, uses the genome to explore the molecular basis of colour polymorphims. Colour polymorphisms are common across thousands of animal species and can be associated with striking differences in behaviour. The paper reveals that the colour morphs we observe in wall lizards are caused by regulatory changes in a very small number of genes, namely pterin and carotenoid genes. The paper also show that the DNA sequences associated with coloration are most likely millions of years old and that they have been exchanged between species via hybridization. But what is perhaps most exciting is the number of doors that having a genome opens for the wide range of research questions we use the wall lizard to explore. Click on the link to the paper below or check out some press for the paper here.

Andrade, P., Pinho, C., Pérez i de Lanuza, G., Afonso, S., Brejcha, J., Rubin, C-J., Wallerman, O., Pereira, P., Sabatino, S., Bellati, A., Pellitteri-Rosa, D., Bosakova, Z., Bunikis, I., Carretero, M. A., Feiner, N., Marsik, P., Paupério, F., Salvi, D., Soler, L., While, G. M., Uller, T., Font, E., Andersson, L. and Carneiro, M. (in press) Regulatory changes in pterin and carotenoid genes underlie balanced color polymorphisms in the wall lizard. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.


New paper on snow skink thermal biology out

Feb 27, 2019

Check out this fantastic new paper on snow skink thermal biology just published in the Australian Journal of Zoology. This paper, led by BEER group alumni Yuni, examined altitudinal and seasonal variation in field active and preferred body temperatures of Niveoscincus ocellatus. This information will be of fundamental importance when trying to model and understand how this species will respond to changing climates across its range. Check out the full details below.

Yuni, L.P.E.K, Jones, S. M. and Wapstra, E. (In press) Thermal biology of the spotted snow skink, Niveoscincus ocellatus, along an altitudinal gradient. Australian Journal of Zoology


New book chapter on Social Evolution in Lizards out!

Feb 24, 2019

Fantastic news with a new book just out on the Evolutionary Ecology of Behaviour in Lizards. This book, published by CRC Press and edited by Vincent Bels and Anthony Russell, provides an overview of current work exploring the mechanisms underlying the evolution and adaptation of lizard behavior.  Importantly, it contains a chapter on lizard social evolution contributed by Geoff, Martin Whiting at Macquarie, Dave Chapple at Monash and Mike Gardner at Flinders. This chapter provides an overview of the current state of play regarding our understanding of stable social groupings in lizards with a specific focus on explaining how such social groups might have emerged, become stabilised and diversified. Hopefully it is of interest not just to those of us interested in lizard social behaviour but those interested in social evolution more generally. Click here and get yourself a copy of the book!


What are we measuring?

Feb 19, 2019

Check out this new paper by Kirke just out in Ethology. This paper emerged out of Kirke’s honours project that she completed with David Sinn and Erik. Kirke examined how agreeable observers were in their collection of key behavioural data on working dogs. Kirke found that novice observers agreed upon the measurement of a wide range of behavioural traits but that they did not necessarily agree with observers with far more experience (e.g., experts). This was particularly true when dogs were older. These results have fundamental implications for thinking about exactly what we are measuring in animal behaviour research programs, especially given the wide range of observers that are typically used in such programs to collect behavioural data.  Great to see this finally come out. Well done Kirke.

Munch K.L., Wapstra E., Thomas S., Fisher M., Sinn D. L. (In press) What are we measuring? Novices agree amongst themselves (but not always with experts) in their assessment of dog behaviourEthology.

Low food availability during gestation influences offspring growth and survival

Feb 9, 2019

Great new paper from Tom out in Oecologia. Tom’s paper examined how resource availability both during gestation and during the first 6 weeks following birth influenced offspring growth and survival in our Liopholis whitii system. Tom shows that the amount of resources that a mother is provided with during gestation influences how well her offspring grow in the first six weeks of life. In what might seem somewhat counter-intuitive, offspring from females who were provided with poor resource conditions grew better following birth than offspring from females provided with good resource conditions. This suggests there may be some form of priming of offspring by mothers to cope with an anticipated poor environment after birth. However, these benefits came with a cost because those same offspring also suffered increased risk of mortality. Combined this adds important experimental evidence to the various mechanisms by which maternal effects can mediate offspring fitness in natural systems. Read the full story here!!

Botterill-James, T., Munch, K.L., Halliwell, B., Chapple, D.G., Gardner, M.G., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M. (in press) Low food availability during gestation enhances offspring post‑natal growth, but reduces survival, in a viviparous lizard. Oecologia.


Understanding how species respond to environmental change

Jan 17, 2019

Great new paper just out in Ecology Letters! This paper, led by Fernando Colchero of the University of Southern Denmark, collated data from 24 long-term vertebrate studies, including our snow skinks, to examine variation in age-specific demographic rates (how individuals in a population reproduce and how long each animal survives). This data was then used to model how environmental perturbations determine population growth rates. The results show that species differ markedly in their age specific demographic rates – which is in contrast to the general assumption that survival and reproduction are constant with age across species. Importantly, populations with diverse demographic rates respond to variable environments in very different ways and accounting for these differences makes models predicting population size more accurate This has obvious and fundamental implications for our understanding of how populations might respond to environmental change. Check out the full paper below!

Colchero, F., Jones, O. R., Conde, D. A., Hodgson, D., Zajitschek, F., Schmidt, B. R., Malo, A. F., Alberts, S. C., Becker, P. H., Bouwhuis, S., Bronikowski, A. M., De Vleeschouwer, K. M., Delahay, R., Dummermuth, S., Fexrnández-Duque, E., Flatt, T., Frisenvænge, J., Hesselsøe, M., Larson, S., Lemaître, J-F., McDonald,  J., Miller, D. A. W., O’Donnell, C., Packer, C., Raboy, B. E., Reading, C. J., Wapstra, E., Weimerskirch, H., While, G.M., Baudisch, A., Coulson, T. and Gaillard, J-M. (2019) The diversity of population responses to environmental changeEcology Letters. 22: 342-353

A New Year and three new BEER Group members

Jan 14, 2019

The BEER group has been fortunate enough to welcome three new PhD students to its ranks over the past couple of months. First, Alexander Hansson joined the group working with Erik and Mats Olsson on a project examining paternal and maternal effects on telomere dynamics. Next we welcomed (back) Deirdre Merry and Victorial Russell. Deirdre will be extending her honours work with Geoff and Camilla Whittington examining the mechanisms underpinning birthing asynchrony. Victoria will be working with Geoff, Martin Whiting and members of the broader Egernia team on a project examining the origins of social living and specifically how social traits become refined during social evolution. We are all extremely excited to have three new fresh faces in the lab group and cant wait to see how their projects develop over the next three years!

Heather finishes honours

Dec 20, 2018

Congratulations to Heather Bryan who recently finished her honours. Heather’s project, jointly supervised by Erik and Barry Brook of the Dynamics of Eco-Evolutionary Patterns (DEEP) group, utilised a range of modelling approaches to predict how snow skink species distribution and abundance will change under projected climate change. Heather found that while lowland snow skink species are predicted to do quite well out of climate change there will be some dire consequences for highland species, with potential extinction predicted in the next century. This raises interesting questions regarding what could and should be done to mitigate these effects. Head over the the blog posts page for a more detailed run down of Heather’s project. In the meantime we wish Heather all the best for the future.

Tasmania’s unique snow skinks; Niveoscincus metallicus (top left), N. ocellatus (top right), N. greeni (bottom left), N. microlepidotus (bottom right)

Mary wins ASH Grant

Dec 17, 2018

Huge congratulations to Mary McVarish who was the recipient of an Australian Society of Herpetologists honours grant. The grant, worth $1000, was awarded at the recent ASH conference held in Qld. The money will provide valuable support towards Mary’s project focusing on understanding the role that the thermal environment plays in mediating cognitive development in the ocellatus. Well done Mary and thanks to ASH for the support!


BEER Group research featured on Herpetological Highlights podcast

Dec 14, 2018

Check out the latest Herpetological Highlights podcast which features some of Kirke’s and the BEER groups recent research on maternal effects and cognition. The podcast covers Kirke’s paper, a similar paper by Martin on social learning on the tree skinks as well as plenty of general information on social skinks. Really entertaining and informative listen! Plenty of other interesting episodes to browse through. You can access the podcast here and the paper they discuss here.


Deirdre awarded presentation prize

Dec 9, 2018

Huge congratulations to Deirdre who was awarded the runner up prize for best presentation at the recent Australian and New Zealand Society of Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry (ANZSCPB) meeting in Melbourne. What was even more impressive was that this award was for both honours AND PhD student presentations. Well done Deirdre!

Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics book review

Dec 5, 2018

Check out this review of Andrew Hendry’s book Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics just published in Austral Ecology. Eco-evolutionary dynamics is a field that has emerged in the last 10 years out of the growing realisation that ecological and evolutionary processes can impact one another over very short time scales. Andrew Hendry’s book provides a wonderful  introduction to this topic. It covers many of the more well studied aspects of eco-evolutionary dynamics – how ecological change influences evolutionary change – while also providing novel insights into the ways in which evolutionary change can feedback to mediate population, community and ecosystem dynamics. In doing so the book has a huge appeal – it provides a wonderful introduction to many aspects of evolutionary ecology that will be appealing to any undergraduate or PhD student while also being detailed and novel enough to provide valuable insights and ideas for initiated readers. We strongly recommend it. If you want more information – check out the review in Austral Ecology here or head to the BEER Group blog posts page for a slightly extended version.


Deirdre and Barnaby complete honours

Nov 12, 2018

Huge congratulations to Deirdre and Barnaby who finished up their honours with the BEER group this week. Deirdre and Barnaby both produced excellent theses that have contributed to our understanding of the Egernia system. Deirdre’s thesis, in collaboration with Dr Camilla Whittington at the University of Sydney, examined the physiological and molecular mechanisms underpinning birthing asynchrony. Barnaby’s thesis examined the causes of individual variation in burrowing behaviour. More information on what they discovered can be found on the beer group blog post. We hope they are both experiencing some rest and relaxation as we look forward to see what is in store next for both of them!


Kirsty MacLeod joins the group.

Oct 21, 2018

We have a fantastic new addition to the BEER group – Dr Kirsty MacLeod. Kirsty joins us all the way from Scotland via a PhD at Cambridge and post-docs at Cambridge and Penn State. Kirsty is only here briefly this year on a Company of Biologists travelling fellowship to collect data on how maternal stress mediates offspring cognition. But she will be back in earnest next year as part a Marie Curie postdoc in collaboration with Geoff, Tobias and Tony Williams (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver) that will utilise the Egernia system to examine how the post-natal social environment influences the outcome of maternal stress effects. Despite Tasmania welcoming Kirsty with some Scottish weather, she has already put her considerable lizard catching skills to the test. We hope there this plenty more of that to come. Welcome Kirsty!!!


Indiana Yang and the Origin of the Tuscans pt 1 – out now!!

Oct 14, 2018

Great new paper just out in Molecular Ecology. This paper, the first from Yang’s Post-Doc in Lund, used genome wide markers to infer the demographic history of gene flow between the different wall lizard lineages. The paper shows that about 3% of the genome has moved from the Tuscan lineage into the Southern Alps lineage. Interestingly, this asymmetric gene flow is more recent than the secondary contact itself. Indeed, the sexually selected characters appear to have originated within the Italian lineage quite recently and then spread northwards, eventually reaching the Ligurian coast and the contact zone with the lizards from western Europe, where they continued to give males a competitive advantage. The next steps are to figure out how this suite of characters arose in the first place, how the characters are kept together as they introgress, and what – if anything – that limits their spread across the landscape. Check out the full paper below and a more detailed description on our work on this topic to date on the blog post page.

Yang, W., While, G.M., Laakkonen, H., Sacchi, R., Zuffi, M., Scali, S., Salvi, D. and Uller, T. (in press) Genomic evidence for asymmetric introgression by sexual selection in the common wall lizardMolecular Ecology.


Developmental plasticity in reptiles theme issue is out with Wall Lizards on the cover

Oct 9, 2018

The special issue of Journal of Experimental Zoology focusing on developmental plasticity in reptiles is out! The theme issue, edited by Dan Warner, Wei-Gu Du and Arthur Georges, features three different research articles from members of the BEER group. You can read in detail about those research articles in our blog post here.  These papers are just the tip of the iceberg with many other contributions to the theme issue by world leaders in this field making this one of the most comprehensive and wide ranging examinations of thermal developmental plasticity to date. As an added bonus the second part of the theme issue features one of Nathalie’s fantastic wall lizard embryo photos on the cover. Check out the full list of papers and contributors part one and part two.


Behavioural plasticity and the origins of parental care

Sep 30, 2018

Great new paper from Kirke just out in Behavioral Ecology! This paper was a joint collaboration with BEER group alumni Luke Budd and Aryana Row and Dan Noble from UNSW. This paper examined the effect that simple parent-offspring associations during the early stages of life can have on offspring behaviour and cognition. It shows that offspring are more bold, active, and exploratory when with their mother compared with offspring who were alone. Offspring who were raised with their mother also learn quicker. Combined these results suggest that even relatively simple forms of parental care can have significant impacts on offspring traits early in life. Importantly, such effects may be crucial for refining and stabilizing parent–offspring associations early in their evolution, setting the stage for the further elaboration of both parent and offspring behaviors. Check out the full story here!

Munch, K.L., Nobel, D.W.A., Budd, L., Row, A., Wapstra, E. and While, G. M. (In press) Maternal presence facilitates plasticity in behaviour and learning: insights into the early evolution of parental careBehavioral Ecology.


Beck and Mary begin honours!

Aug 23, 2018

We welcome two fantastic new additions to the BEER group. Beck Schober and Mary McVarish both started their honours journey last week. Beck is working with Geoff, exploring what predicts the population distribution of the endangered Forty-Spotted Pardalote. Beck will also explore the consequences of Pardalote distribution for broader community structure. Mary is working with Geoff and Kirke examining the role that the maternal thermal environment plays in mediating cognitive development in Niveoscincus ocellatus offspringBoth projects promise lots of exciting results and we cant wait to see what they find out over the next 9 months. For more information on their projects please check out their profiles here.

The RepDevo database is here!

July 20, 2018

Great news this week with the official release of the Reptile Development Database (RepDevo). This database represents a comprehensive dataset on the role of the early thermal environments (i.e., incubation temperatures) on phenotypic traits across reptiles. It contains nearly 10,000 estimates of trait means across a range of trait types, along with their associated error and sample size, from nearly 155 species. We hope that this provides an outstanding resource for researchers who want to address fundamental, global scale impacts of developmental environments on reptile phenotypes. The release of the data base corresponds with a data descriptor paper published this week in Scientific Data. Check out the paper below or head straight to the source at

Noble, D. W. A., Stenhouse, V., Riley, J. E., Warner, D. A., While, G.M., Du, W-G., Uller, T. and Schwanz, L E.. (2018) A comprehensive database of thermal developmental plasticity in reptilesScientific Data. 5:180138.


Alix starts her PhD!

July 2, 2018

Great news for the BEER group this week with Alix Bouffet-Halle beginning her PhD. Alix comes to us all the way from France where she completed her masters degree in Paris. Alix will be undertaking a PhD with Geoff and Erik aimed at examining the multifaceted links between sex allocation and social evolution in the Egernia group. This will make the most of sex specific markers recently developed by Yang in Tobias Lab in Lund. There are so many potential avenues of research that Alix can undertake and we cannot wait to see where she takes her PhD. Welcome Alix.


Kirke SUBMITS!!!

May 31, 2018

Huge congratulations to Kirke who submitted her PhD today! Kirks PhD examined a whole range of questions related to the micro and macro evolutionary consequences of phenotypic plasticity. Much of her thesis focused on these questions in relation to cognition and learning but her results have wide ranging implications for the evolution of sociality as well as how plasticity shapes organismal form and function more generally. Importantly, we hope this work will form the foundation for a range of future work that examines the causes and consequences of cognition and learning in non-model systems such as lizards. It really is a wonderful read and we look forward to seeing what the reviewers think of it. Well done Kirke on a fantastic 4 years!


Not one, not two, but three papers on thermal developmental plasticity in reptiles!

May 29, 2018

Great week for the BEER group this week as we had three papers published on thermal developmental plasticity. These papers are part of a theme issue that is about to come out in the Journal of Experimental Zoology.  This issue, edited by Dan Warner, Wei-Gu Du and Arthur Georges, aims to provide a comprehensive overview of all aspects of thermal developmental plasticity in reptiles. Each of the papers that we were fortunate enough to contribute tackles a slightly different topic in this large and ever growing field. First Geoff, Dan Noble and colleagues review the state of the field, focusing on the huge amount of empirical work that has been collated as part of the, soon to be published, RepDevo Database. Second, Nathalie examines how gene expression profiles of embryos differ when exposed to cold and warm temperatures during development. Third, George and Lu, examine the fitness consequences of the phenotypic variation that emerges as a result of the thermal developmental environment. Overall this theme issue promises to make a substantial contribution to synthesising the current state of the field. We were honoured to be able to make a small contribution to this pursuit and hope that our research and that of our colleagues promotes a new wave of interest in exploring the multifaceted nature of thermal developmental plasticity and its ecological and evolutionary consequences. If you want a more detailed run down of the papers please check out the BEER group blog posts page. If you want to read the papers in full please click on the below links!

While, G.M., Noble, D.W.A., Uller, T., Warner, D.A., Riley, J.E., Du, W.G. and Schwanz, L.E. (in press) Patterns of developmental plasticity in response to the thermal incubation environment in reptilesJournal of Experimental Zoology, Part A.

Feiner, N., Rago, A., While, G.M. and Uller, T. (In press) Developmental plasticity in reptiles: Insights from temperature-dependent gene expression in wall lizardsJournal of Experimental Zoology, Part A.

Cunningham, G.D., Fitzpatrick, L.J., While, G.M. and Wapstra, E. (In press) Plastic rates of development and the effect of thermal extremes on offspring fitness in a cold-climate viviparous lizardJournal of Experimental Zoology, Part A.

Mate familiarity mediates social learning

May 08, 2018

Fantastic new paper from Kirke just out in Oecologia! For this paper Kirke ran a range of sophisticated behavioural trials to examine a) whether female Liopholis whitii use social information to solve tasks and b) whether they are selective about who they learn from. She found that lizards rely on their own trial-and-error learning when executing simple tasks but switch to social learning when tasks become more difficult and personal information becomes unreliable. She also found that when using social information, lizards tended to learn more quickly from their social partners. Combined these results provide some neat evidence for context-dependent learning – with lizards differentiating between when they utilise social learning and also whom they learnt from. Check out the full story here!

Munch, K.L., Noble, D.W.A., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M. (In press) Mate familiarity and social learning in a monogamous lizardOecologia.


George SUBMITS!!!

May 02, 2018

Momentous day for the BEER group today as George Cunningham submitted his PhD thesis. George’s thesis, entitled “Degrees of change: effects of climate on the evolutionary ecology of phenology and sex determination in a viviparous lizard” took a multifaceted approach to understanding the ecological and evolutionary consequences of plasticity in two key phenotypic traits; phenology and sex. This included a huge amount of field work, lab experiments, molecular work and sophisticated statistical and theoretical models. George already has three chapters from this thesis published with two more super high quality papers in the final stages of preparation. George is going to spend his new found freedom bringing another kind of baby into the world and we wait with baited breath to find out which one causes him the most trouble. But for now HUGE congratulations George on a fantastic thesis and a wonderful four years spent in the lab. Below is the photo Georges choose to mark this occasion…


Unravelling the mechanisms of sex determination.

Apr 19, 2018

More congratulations! This time to Peta Hill, who published the first paper from her PhD this week in Genome Biology and Evolution. Peta’s paper describes the similarities and differences in sex-linked genetic sequence that occur between two populations of snow skink that exhibit divergence in their sex determining systems. Peta’s results show that, despite this divergence, both populations possess sex-linked genetic sequence and XY (male) heterogamety. In addition, analysis of the linkage between these loci suggests sex chromosomes at differing stages of progressive degeneration in each population. Combined Peta’s results suggest that transitions between sex determination systems can be facilitated by relatively subtle genetic differences. Read all about it here.

Hill, P., Burridge, C.P., Ezaz, T. and Wapstra, E. (2018) Conservation of sex-linked markers among conspecific populations of a viviparous skink, Niveoscincus ocellatus, exhibiting genetic and temperature dependent sex determinationGenome Biology and Evolution. 10: 1079-1087.

Food for thought! Maternal food availability influences offspring decision making.

Apr 11, 2018

Huge congratulations to Kirke Munch who had the first paper from her PhD published in Biology Letters today. This paper, a collaborative venture with Dan Noble at the University of New South Wales, examined how the food available to female Liopholis whitii during pregnancy impacted her offspring’s ability to make decisions. Kirke found that offspring from mothers who experienced low food availability during pregnancy were better able to solve a predatory-based task; whereas, offspring from mothers who experienced high food availability were better able to solve a foraging-based task. Combined these findings suggest that stressors experienced in early life can evoke trade-offs in the developing offspring – potentially enhancing one cognitive domain at the expense of another. Click on the link below for the full story. Expect to hear a lot more from Kirke in the near future!!!

Munch, K.L., Noble, D.W.A., Botterill-James, T., Koolhof, I., Halliwell, B., Wapstra, E. and While, G. M. (2018) Maternal effects impact decision making in a viviparous lizard. 14: 20170556 Biology Letters.

Munch_et_al_Cover Image

Deirdre and Barnaby start Honours!

Feb 13, 2018

We welcome to fantastic new additions to the BEER group. Deirdre Merry and Barnaby Freeman both started their honours journey last week. Deirdre is working with Geoff, Camilla Whittington (University of Sydney) and Laura Parsley examining the mechanisms underpinning the unique asynchronous birth observed in the Egernia group. Barnaby is working with Geoff and Erik examining burrowing behaviour in Egernia and the consequences of variation in burrowing behaviour for morphological and social diversity. We cant wait to see what they find out over the next 9 months. For more information on their projects please check out their profiles here.


Two PhD Scholarships available on the Evolutionary Origins of Family Living

Feb 8, 2018

Are you an honours or masters student and keen on joining the BEER Group? Well you are in luck. We, along with The Lizard Lab at Macquarie University, have two exciting, fully funded, PhD projects available. The projects are linked to an ARC Discovery Project recently awarded to Geoff and Martin Whiting (in collaboration with Tobias Uller and Charlie Cornwallis in Lund) aimed at revealing the evolutionary origins of social living in lizards. If you are an enthusiastic and passionate student who is interested in understanding why animals live together and enjoys being part of a vibrant research environment then please get in contact with either Geoff ( or Martin ( with an expression of interest and your CV. Expressions of interest for these scholarships close on the 31st of March. For more information on the projects click here!

Everything you wanted to know about ectothermic telomeres but were afraid to ask…

Jan 16, 2018

Fantastic new paper by Erik just out in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. This paper, written in collaboration with Mats Olsson and Chris Friesen, provides a comprehensive synthesis of telomere dynamics across ectotherms. Importantly, this forms the basis of a range of research currently being carried out within the group with the aim of addressing some of the key areas suggested for future research (specifically links between telomere dynamics and life history traits). The paper is part of an exciting theme issue aimed at understanding the origins and diversity of telomere dynamics across organisms. For access to the paper see below. To get a broader understanding of telomere dynamics check out the theme issue here.

Olsson, M., Wapstra, E. and Friesen, C. (2018) Ectothermic telomers: it’s time they came in from the coldPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 373:20160449.

Shruti starts her PhD

Jan 12, 2018

A new year dawns and we welcome a new member to the BEER group – Shruti Sengupta. Shruti joins us from the Indian institute of Science via a Masters Degree at the University of Calcatta. Shruti will be undertaking a PhD with Erik and Geoff aimed at examining physiological adaptations to extreme temperatures in the snow skink (Niveoscincusspp.). Shruti has already been integrating herself into Tassie life including spending time over the Xmas break in the field. We welcome Shurti to the group and wish her all the best for the next three years.


No effect of resource availability on sex allocation in snow skinks

Dec 27, 2017

A festive treat for all of you interested in sex allocation. A new paper, just out in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, by George and BEER group honours alumni Jodie Gruber, takes a multi-factorial approach to examining sex allocation in the spotted snow skink. This paper used laboratory and field data to explore how resource availability, both independently or in interaction with temperature, influences female sex allocation decisions. The results show that while temperature has strong and predictable effects no such effects were found for resource availability. These results are consistent with a lack of an effect of resource availability on any of the life history traits that may mediate the benefits of differential sex allocation, suggesting that selection for sex allocation in response to resource availability may be relatively weak. A great contribution to our continued understanding of sex allocation in this system. Well done George and Jodie!

Gruber, J., Cunningham, G. D, While, G. M. and Wapstra, E. (in press) Disentangling sex allocation in a viviparous reptile with temperature-dependent sex determination: a multifactorial approachJournal of Evolutionary Biology.


Science paper recognised in years end list

Dec 21, 2017

Exciting news for Erik as the Science paper he was involved in earlier in the year was recognised as one of the highest ranking papers addressing questions related to global sustainability. The list, published by Future Earth Media, listed the top 30 papers of 2017 ranked by their altmetric score. This is fantastic recognition for the global impact that paper has had since its release. Read the full list of papers here.

Live birth promotes the evolution of family life

Dec 11, 2017

Fantastic new paper just out in Nature Communications! This paper, the final paper from Ben’s PhD, uses a phylogenetic comparative analysis of over 1000 species of lizards and snakes to show that the evolution of social grouping between parents and offspring in these species is fundamentally linked to live birth. There are a number of reasons to explain this, the most obvious being that giving birth to live young makes interactions between parents and offspring more likely to occur than in species that lay eggs. Importantly, the paper also shows that by promoting increased interactions between parents and offspring, live birth also sets the stage for a gradual evolution towards more stable forms of family life, similar to that seen in birds and mammals. Read the full story below!

Halliwell, B., Uller, T., Holland, B. and While, G. M. (2017) Live bearing promotes the evolution of sociality in reptilesNature Communications. 8:2030.

Inter-generational social grouping occurs in a diverse range of squamate reptiles. For example, social grouping occurs in a) the viper, Crotalus horridus (photo: J. Williams), b) the scincid, Liopholis whitii (G While), c) the agamid, Phrynocephalus vlangalii (Y. Qi) and d) the xantusid, Xantusia vigilis (A. Davis Rabosky).

Unravelling the mechanisms underpinning evolutionary adaptation to cool climate

Nov 29, 2017

Great new paper on wall lizards just out in Evolution. This paper, headed by Nathalie in Lund, examined the molecular mechanisms underpinning the rapid adaptation to cool climates we observe in wall lizards introduced to the UK. We show that embryos from lizards in the UK exhibit gene expression profiles consistent with directional selection following introduction. Interestingly, while different genes are affected in lizards introduced from France vs Italy, the biological function of those genes are quite similar and consistent with mechanisms that should speed up development. This suggests that French and Italian lizards have found slightly different means to solve the same problem of adapting to the cool developmental temperatures, potentially as a result of founder effects and other sources of genetic drift.

Feiner, N., Rago, A., While, G.M. and Uller, T. (In press) Signatures of selection in embryonic transcriptomes of lizards adapting in parallel to cool climateEvolution.


Peta wins Holsworth Funding

Nov 14, 2017

More good news for the BEER group as Peta was the lucky recipient of a $6,000 grant from the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment today. The grant will go towards funding vital components of Petas PhD which is aimed at examining the ecology of transitions in sex-determination across the distribution of Niveoscincus ocellatus. A big congratulations to Peta and a huge thank you once again to Dr Holsworth and the ANZ charitable trusts.

BEER Group ARC success!

Nov 10, 2017

Great news today as the BEER Group was awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant worth $300,000 over three years. The grant, led by Geoff along with close BEER group collaborators Martin Whiting, Tobias Uller and Charlie Cornwallis, will use the Egernia group to unearth the evolutionary origins of family living. Specifically, it will explore how simple responses to environmental change may have driven the initial evolution of family life and set the stage from which more complex forms of social organisation emerged, In doing so it will provide key insights into the fundamental processes underlying the evolution of family units and the helping behaviour that characterise cooperative societies across animals. Viva la Egernia.


Ben and Tom win Endeavour fellowships

Nov 8, 2017

Huge congratulations to Ben and Tom, who were both awarded prestigious Endeavour fellowships this week. Ben was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship to spend six months at the University of Lund with close BEER group collaborator Charlie Cornwallis. As part of this fellowship, Ben will continue to develop his comparative analytical skills working on a project examining the key predictors of the incidence of cancer across the tree of life. Tom was awarded a PhD scholarship to return to the University of Edinburgh for six moths with Per Smiseth. Tom will work on a large comparative project examining the global patterns of hatching asynchrony.

Geoff completes social lizard pilgrimage

Oct 20, 2017

Geoff recently undertook what can only be described as a pilgrimage for those who work on lizard social behaviour, visiting Bundey Bore in South Australia, site of Mike Bulls long-term sleepy lizard work. Geoff spent several days out at the field station radio tracking Sleepys with BEER group alumni David Sinn as well as Andy Sih, Orr Speigel and Eric Payne from UC Davis. Geoff, Dave, Andy, Orr and Eric as well as many of Mikes students and collaborators then attended a symposium at Flinders in honour of Mikes seminal contribution to ecological research. It was a fantastic few days and a full report is up on the blog posts page!

More congratulations to Hannah and Ben

Oct 2, 2017

Huge congratulations to both Hannah and Ben who were recognised for their research excellence during the recent Science Engineering and Technology Faculty awards night. This follows up similar success at the School awards night a few months back. Specifically, both Hannah and Ben were nominated for the Deans award for Exceptional Performance by a Higher Degree Research Graduate with Hannah being awarded the prize and Ben also receiving specific recognition from the Dean for for his outstanding achievements. This is fantastic recognition for all their hard work over the past 5 years and for the extremely high quality research that was contained within their respective theses. Well done!

Dana starts honours!

Oct 1, 2017

The BEER group welcomes a new honours student to the fold, Dana Maxwell. Dana has worked in the BEER group previously as part of her undergrad but joins us on a more full time basis. Dana’s project will use the Liopholis system and our large outdoor enclosures to explore the interplay between a females social environment, her physiology during gestation and the consequences of this for her offspring’s social behaviour. This will hopefully shed light on the ways in which maternal effects can mediate the development of key social traits and ultimately shape the social trajectory of a population. We look forward to see what Dana finds out!

Plasticity in basking behaviour differs within and between snow-skink species

Sept 18, 2017

Fantastic new paper from Mandy just out in Animal Behaviour. This paper examines population and species specific patterns of thermoregulatory behaviour in snow skinks. Mandy found substantial plasticity in thermoregulatory behaviour in lowland snow skinks whereas the highland species maintained high levels of basking independent of basking opportunity. These differences in basking behaviour were concordant with the differences in body temperature across all populations, species and treatments. Combined, this suggests the intriguing possibility that divergence in thermoregulatory behaviour and thermophysiology between populations and species may have been facilitated by adaptive behavioural plasticity within populations. Great work Mandy!

Caldwell, A., While, G. M. and Wapstra, E. (2017) Plasticity of thermoregulatory behaviour in response to the thermal environment by widespread and highland reptile speciesAnimal Behaviour. 132: 217-227.

Niveoscincus microlepidotus, Hartz Peak 16.12.2010

Australasian Evolution Society Meeting in Hobart 2017!

Sept 18, 2017

The BEER group, along with the Theoretical Phylogenetics group,  is hosting this years Australasian Evolution Society Meeting! The meeting will be held in Hobart from the 4th to the 6th of December, 2017 and will be run in conjunction with the annual Phylomania conference (6th to the 8th of December). There will be an exciting line up of talks, including plenary’s from Professor Craig Mortiz, Associate Professor Carla Sgro and BEER group associate Professor Tobias Uller! We cant wait to welcome the cream of Australia’s Evolutionary Biologists to Hobart and show them all the city has to offer. In the mean time check out the conferences website here

Discordance in patterns of introgression between different sexual signals

Aug 8, 2017

Hannah has just published the final paper from her PhD in Evolution! This paper, in collaboration with BEER group honours alumni Rachel Lewandowsky, examines the composition of chemical secretions of male wall lizards from France and Italy and explores their potential role in facilitating asymmetric introgression in regions of secondary contact. We found strong evidence of divergence between Italian and French lizards in the chemical composition of their secretions. However, chemical profiles correlated only weakly with male secondary sexual characters and there was little evidence that a males chemical composition was linked to his reproductive success. In accordance with these results, we found an overall neutral pattern of introgression of chemical profiles across the hybrid zone, which is in contrast to the strong patterns of selective introgression we observed for visual traits. On the whole, these results are bad news for the hypothesis that chemical communication is sexually selected in wall lizards. Instead, they suggest that femoral secretions probably function as signature mixtures; that is, they help lizards to keep track of who’s who and to resolve territorial disputes. To find out more about our wall lizard work click here or click on the link to Hannah’s paper below.

MacGregor, H.E.A., Lewandowsky, R.A.M., D’Ettore, P., Leroy, C., While, G.M. and Uller, T. (2017) Chemical communication, sexual selection and introgression in wall lizardsEvolution. In press.


Conflict, conflict everywhere…

Jun 15, 2017

Tom returned to organisms with a backbone for the third paper from his PhD just out in Scientific Reports. In this paper Tom, along with Ben and BEER group honours alumni Jaz Sillince and Simon McKeown, collected data on aggressive interactions between parents and offspring and between siblings to examine patterns of conflict within Liopholis whitii families. Tom found huge amounts of aggression towards offspring by their dads and between siblings. In contrast, mothers were almost never aggressive towards their offspring. These results suggest that ecological and social conditions that reduce conflict between siblings and between males and offspring, such as high relatedness and high resource availability, will be fundamental for the evolutionary maintenance of family living in these lizards. Now its just a matter of testing these ideas experimentally… Nice work Tom, Ben, Jaz and Simon!

Botterill-James, T., Halliwell, B., McKeown, S., Sillince, J., Uller, T., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M. (2017) Family aggression in a social lizard. Scientific Reports, 7:3502.


Snow skinks exhibit population specific sex ratio responses to temperature!

Jun 1, 2017

Hugh congratulations to George for having his first PhD paper published in Biology Letters today! Georges paper uses data from a long-term study of two climatically distinct populations of the spotted snow skink to examine how female sex ratio responses to temperature differ between populations. George found strong population-specific effects of temperature on offspring sex, with female offspring more common in warmer years at the lowland site but no effect of temperature on sex ratios at the highland site. In contrast, date of birth advanced similarly in response to temperature at both sites, suggesting the strong population- specific effects of temperature on offspring sex that are independent of climatic effects on other physiological processes. These results have clear implications for our understanding of the ecological and evolutionary consequences of variation in sex ratios under climate change. Well done George!

Cunningham, G.D., While, G.M. and Wapstra, E. (2017) Climate and sex ratio variation in a viviparous lizard. Biology Letters. In press.


Resources, not polyandry, influence conflict in Beetle broods… Did you say Beetles?

May 29, 2017

Yes, that is right Beetles! The BEER group has expanded its taxonomic breadth following Toms recent trip to Edinburgh to work on Burying Beetles with our good friends Per Smiseth and Lucy Ford. Burying Beetles are remarkable creatures who live out much of their lives on the carcasses of dead mice. The carcass acts as a beetle nursery and both male and female beetles prepare the carcass for the arrival of their offspring and then provision their offspring from the rotting meat. Tom examined the effect that variation in female polyandry and size influenced how much beetle larvae competed over female provisioning . Tom found no effect of polyandry on sibling competition, but did find that sibling competition was influenced by resource availability. Specifically, larvae spent more time competing for food on smaller carcasses, but only when they came from smaller clutches. This research contributes to our understanding of what mediates family dynamics, the central theme of Toms PhD. You can read more this work below and admire the ridiculously good photo that Tom managed to get of Beetle parental care in action.

Botterill-James, T., Ford, L., While, G.M., and Smiseth, P.T. (2017) Resource availability, not polyandry, influences sibling conflict in a burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. Behavioral Ecology. In press.

A female Burying Beetle provisioning her offspring

Inala finishes Honours!

May 19, 2017

Huge congratulations to Inala who just handed in her Honours thesis. Inalas project examined the foraging behaviour of the endangered Forty-spotted pardalote. Specifically, Inala was interested in the species unique manna ‘mining’ behaviour in which they extract a sugary exudate from white gums. This is a key resource not only for pardalotes but for a whole range of other woodland species. Only the pardalotes have beaks that can access the manna, and thus the pardalotes have the potential to act as ecosystem engineers. Inalas project focused on trying to understand what components of the manna influenced pardalote foraging behaviour. Inala found some really interesting results, which you can read about in detail here. We wish Inala all the best for the future.

Erik wins Asia Pacific Foundation funding

May 15, 2017

Fantastic news for Erik, Chris Burridge (UTAS) and Tariq Ezaz (University of Canberra) today as the Asian Pacific Science Foundation agreed to fund their research to the tune of $44,000 over the next three years. This funding will go towards trying to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning the population divergence we see in sex determining systems in Niveoscincus ocellatus. This fantastic news for the ocellatus system but also for Peta, whose PhD project is tightly linked to this grant. We are excited to see how this research progresses. Congratulations Erik, Chris and Tariq!

Sex differences in adaptive potential upon introduction

May 9, 2017

The third paper from Hannah’s PhD has just come out in Oikos. In this paper Hannah examined differences in male and female reproductive investment between native and non-native wall lizard populations. Lizards introduced to England experience a cool, seasonal climate that effectively restricts recruitment to the first clutch of the season, compared to their native range, where up to three clutches per season recruit. Hannah’s data shows that non-native females have responded to this by shifting their reproductive investment towards their first clutch, producing larger and heavier first clutches and smaller and lighter second clutches compared to native females. In contrast, non-native males invested as much in their territorial and sexual behaviour later in the season as their native counterparts, despite that such investment will not have any realised fitness gains. Combined these results raise the intriguing possibility that males and females differ in their potential to adapt to novel climatic conditions which has important implications for understanding how populations might respond to rapid environmental change. Well done Hannah.

MacGregor, H.E.A., While, G.M. and Uller, T. (2017) Comparison of reproductive investment in native and non-native populations of common wall lizards reveals sex differences in adaptive potential. Oikos. In press.

Male and female wall lizard making the most of the limited basking opportunities in England

Comparative Social Evolution Book OUT!

Arp 17, 2017

Exciting news with the publication of a new book from Cambridge University Press on Social Evolution. This book, edited by Dustin Rubenstein and Patrick Abbott, sets out to provide detail on key social traits across all social taxa with the explicit aim of providing a framework from which we can explain the diversity we observe in animal social systems. Perhaps most importantly it includes a chapter on lizard social behaviour and evolution authored by Geoff and Martin Whiting (Macquarie University). Hopefully, this will help place lizards firmly alongside other more traditional model taxa (birds, mammals and social insects) as great systems for understanding when, where and why animals live together. The book has already received some excellent reviews from leaders in the field including Tim Clutton-Brock, Andrew Bourke, Joan Strassmann and Mark Elgar and we look forward to hearing what others think of it. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy now!!


Polyandry, but not mate familiarity, influences pair harmony

Apr 14, 2017

Tom’s first PhD paper and Jaz’s first honours paper has just come out in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. It tests one of the key hypotheses for the maintenance of stable social monogamy; that males and females in long term pair bonds are better at coordinating their reproductive behaviour and as a result have greater reproductive success. To test this, Tom and Jaz manipulated mate familiarity in our Liopholis whitii system and examined the consequences of this manipulation for the level of conflict between males and females and also female reproductive output. They found that familiar pairs did not exhibit greater levels or conflict or perform better than unfamiliar pairs. However, they did find that males whose female partner had been given access to another male were more aggressive towards their female partner than those who were not. Combined this paper provides more intriguing insights into the dynamics of family living within Liopholis whitii. 

Botterill-James, T., Sillince, J., Chapple, D.G., Gardner, M., Uller, T., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M. (2017) Experimental manipulation suggests effect of polyandry but not mate familiarity on within-pair aggression in the social skink, Liopholis whitii. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 71:71

New climate change paper in SCIENCE!

Apr 3, 2017

Hugely exciting news for Erik and the BEER group. As a result of last years species on the move conference held here in Hobart, Erik was part of a consortium of researchers keen on exploring the consequences of changes in species distributions (as a result of changing climates) for ecosystem function, climate change feedback’s and ultimately human well-being. The resulting review of these impacts was published in Science this week. This work was led by Gretta Pecl from IMAS and involved climate scientists from across the globe. The outcomes of this review have already been picked up by a number of major news outlets and we are looking forward to seeing the impact this paper has in the coming weeks, months and years. Well done Erik.

Pecl, G.T., Araújo, M.B., Bell, J.D., Blanchard, J., Bonebrake, T.C., Chen, C., Clark, T.D., Colwell, R.K., Danielsen, F., Evengård, B., Falconi, L., Ferrier, S., Frusher, S., Garcia, R.A., Griffis, R.B., Hobday, A.J., Janion-Scheepers, C., Jarzyna, M.A., Jennings, S., Lenoir, J., Linnetved, H.I., Martin, V.Y., McCormack, P.C., McDonald, J., Mitchell, N.J., Mustonen, T., Pandolfi, J.P., Pettorelli, N., Popova, E., Robinson, S.A., Scheffers, B.A., Shaw, J.D., Sorte, C.J.B., Strugnell, J.M., Sunday, J.M., Tuanmu, M-N., Vergés, A., Villanueva, C., Wernberg, T., Wapstra, E., Williams, S.E. (2017) Biodiversity redistribution under climate change: Impacts on ecosystems and human well-being. Science, 355: eaai9214.

Ben, Hannah and Peta awarded

Mar 29, 2017

Congratulations to Ben, Hannah and Peta who were all recognised at this weeks School of Biological Sciences annual awards night. Peta was awarded the prize for “Best Honours Thesis in Zoology” for 2016 for her thesis entitled “Intraspecific differences in sex determination in a temperate reptile – a molecular investigation”. Ben and Hannah were both recognised for their contribution to PhD research over the past 12 months with Hannah awarded the schools “Award for Outstanding Postgraduate Performance”.  Hannah and Ben were unable to attend the awards ceremony but Peta was there to collect her award from Vice Chancellor, Peter Rathjen.


Peta and Mara start their PhDs

Mar 27, 2017

The BEER group welcomed two new PhD students over the summer; Peta Hill and Mara Minano. Peta joined the group in January after completing honours with the BEER group in 2016. Peta will be working with Erik, Chris Burridge and Tariq Aziz (University of Canberra) trying to understand the mechanisms underlying divergence in sex determining systems in the snow skinks. Mara joined the group in March after completing her Masters in the Netherlands. Mara will be working with Geoff and Tobias Uller trying to understand the processes driving geographic patterns of introgression in the European wall lizard. Peta is busy catching lizards for her first experiment whereas Mara is currently at the University of Lund preparing for her first field season in Italy. Check out more information about their projects here.

Mandy Graduates

Jan 12, 2017


Congratulations to Dr Mandy Caldwell, who was awarded her PhD in the December graduation round. Mandy submitted her PhD early last year. Her thesis took an integrated and multi-faceted approach to understand how physiology, behaviour, life-history and species interactions will influence the persistence and distribution of Tasmania’s snow skink species under projected climate change. This involved the combination of detailed experiments on thermo-physiology and thermo-regulatory behaviour with demographic and mechanistic modelling. The first few chapters of Mandy’s thesis have been published with more to come in the near future. 

Habitat saturation promotes family life

Jan 03, 2017

The fourth chapter from Ben’s PhD thesis has just been published in Behavioral Ecology. This paper experimentally tested the role that environmental constraints play in mediating when and where Liopholis whitii offspring disperse. Ben’s paper shows that limited habitat availability promotes delayed offspring dispersal, resulting in increase in the extent of parent-offspring associations. Furthermore, this appears to be the result of high mortality costs associated with dispersal when available habitat is saturated. These results have fundamental importance for understanding the evolution of family life because they suggest that relatively simple environmental constraints may increase the likelihood that parents and offspring associate with one another setting the stage for the evolution of more complex forms of parental behaviour and ultimately sociality.

Halliwell, B., Uller, T., Chapple, D.C., Gardner, M.G., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M.  (2017) Habitat saturation promotes delayed dispersal in a social reptile. Behavioral Ecology, in press.


Dec 19, 2016

A HUGE congratulations to Hannah MacGregor who submitted her PhD thesis last week. Hannah’s PhD examined how sexual selection mediates evolutionary responses in two contemporary contexts: first when species come back into secondary contact and second when species find themselves in novel climatic conditions as a result of human mediated introductions. To achieve this Hannah split her time between Oxford, Lund and UTas and used a range of approaches including experimental manipulations in large outdoor enclosures, detailed molecular and chemical analyses and of course a fair bit of field work in north eastern Italy. This has all resulted in an outstanding thesis which we hope will make a significant contribution to a number of fields. Hannah is currently resting up before heading off to Trinidad to work with Rob Heathcote on his Guppie Project. When asked for a photo of Hannah celebrating, she sent the following, which you will notice has Hannah on the wrong side of the camera…


Lu Speaks…

Nov 17, 2016

Lu has been in the news and on the airwaves recently as a result of receiving her endeavour fellowship. Lu spoke to 936 ABC Hobart’s Ryk Goddard on Monday about skinks, telomeres and ageing and followed this up with a news article on the ABC’s website. You can read about Lu’s research here or listen to Lu’s interview here.


Nov 9, 2016

A HUGE congratulations to Ben Halliwell who submitted his PhD thesis on Thursday. Ben’s thesis combined detailed experimental work with sophisticated comparative approaches to address fundamental questions regarding the evolutionary origins of sociality. Ben somehow managed to have all the papers associated with the thesis (7!) published or submitted prior to thesis submission. We cant wait to hear what the reviewers have to say about it. Ben will be remaining within the BEER group for the immediate future as a post doc. Well done Ben!

Kirke and George receive Holsworth Funding

Nov 4, 2016

Congratulations to Kirke and George who both received Holsworth Wildlife Research Fund grants. This funding will provide crucial support for Kirkes ongoing work examining cognition in the Liopholis whitii system and Georges ongoing work collecting data to paramertise theoretical models examining spatial and temporal transitions in sex determination systems in Niveoscincus ocellatus. Congratulations to both and a big thank you again to Dr Holsworth and the ANZ charitable trusts.

Lu is going to Gothenburg

Oct 21, 2016

Fantastic news today as Luisa Fitzpatrick was the lucky recipient of a prestigious endeavour scholarship worth $24,000 to travel to the University of Gothenburg in Sweden to work with Professor Mats Olsson on telomere biology. This forms a fundamental component of Lu’s PhD in which she is looking at the causes of biological ageing using Eriks snow skink system. Specifically, Lu is interested in the extent to which senescence and other age-related declines are underpinned by processes that occur at the cellular level, through declines in telomere length. As part of this scholarship, Lu will spend 4 months in Gothenburg learning state-of-the-art molecular techniques that will allow her to assess telomere length to examine links between telomere decline, age and reproductive output.

Egernia choose more related partners

Oct 8, 2016

A new paper that we just published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology shows that male and female Liopholis whitii preferentially associate with more related potential mates when given a choice between more and less related partners. These results are consistent with patterns from our long-term field population that has shown that lizard pairs are more closely related to one another than expected by chance. Combined this research adds to a growing body of literature which suggests that partner choice with respect to relatedness may be thresult of an active preference for more related individuals (because of potential kin selected benefits) rather than a result of constraints on optimal partner choice. This paper was a collaborative effort between members of the BEER group and previous honours student Genevieve Bordogna. 

Bordogna, G., Cunningham, G., Fitzpatrick, L.J., Halliwell, B., MacGregor, H.E.A, Munch, K.L., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M. (2016) An experimental test of relatedness-based mate discrimination in a social lizard. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, in press.


Heather and Inala start Honours

Oct 5, 2016

The BEER group welcomes two new honours students, Heather Bryan and Inala Swart. Heather is working with Erik and Barry Brook on modelling the response of Tasmania’s snow skinks to climate change. Inala is working with Geoff, Sally Bryant (Tasmanian Land Conservancy) and Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra on how behaviour of the endangered forty-spotted pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) influences community and ecosystem dynamics in the woodlands of south eastern Tasmania. You can find out more about Heather and Inala’s projects here.

New papers from Hannah and Ben

Oct 3, 2016

Congratulations to Hannah MacGregor and Ben Halliwell who recently had papers published from their PhDs on the Wall Lizard and Egernia systems respectively. Hannah’s paper in Functional Ecology showed differences in the traits that predict within vs. between lineage (e.g., hybridisation) reproductive success in zones of secondary contact. Thus, the highly directional hybridization we observe arises because some Italian males are out-competed within their own lineage but remain competitive relative to males of the other lineage. Bens paper in Behavioral Ecology experimentally tested classic mating system theory, showing that structure of available habitat mediates the ability of male Egernia to access females and ultimately the strength of sexual selection. This provides fantastic experimental support for hypotheses regarding the ecological context-dependence of social and mating systems across the Egernia group more broadly.

MacGregor, H.E.A., While, G. M., Barret, J., Perez l de Lanuza, G., Carazo, P., Michaelides, S., and Uller T. (2016) Experimental contact zones reveal causes and targets of sexual selection in hybridizing lizardsFunctional Ecology, in press.

Halliwell, B., Uller, T., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M. (2016) Resource distribution mediates social and mating behavior in a family living lizardBehavioral Ecology, in press.

New paper from Tom

Oct 2, 2016

Congratulations to Tom Botterill-James who recently had his honours paper published in Frontiers in Social Evolution. Toms paper, in collaboration with Ben Halliwell and Emily Barnes, used our large outdoor enclosures to show that parent-offspring associations are more likely to occur when quality habitat is clumped together. Furthermore, Tom showed that associating with you parents is beneficial for offspring, because they gain increased growth benefits, but does not appear to disadvantage parents. Combined this work provides plenty of insights into the conditions which may have favoured the early evolution of parental care.

Botterill-James, T., Halliwell, B., Cooper-Scott, E., Uller, T., Wapstra, E. and While, G.M. (2016) Habitat structure influences parent-offspring association in a social lizard: implications for understanding the origins of parental care. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, section Social Evolution, 4:96.