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.

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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.

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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.

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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 www.repdevo.wordpress.com.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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 (gwhile@utas.edu.au) or Martin (martin.whiting@mq.edu.au) 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 https://aesconference2017.wordpress.com.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

PetaAward


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. mandygraduation


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.


HANNAH SUBMITS!

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…

hannahcelebration


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.


BEN SUBMITS!

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.

egerniamating


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.

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