Thomas Guillerme (postdoc)
Thomas develops and implements new methods allowing to use morphological data to answer macroevolutionary questions using both fossil and living taxa. His work ranges from improving models in phylogenetic inference to comparative methods through shape analysis. He is particularly interested in using morphology in modern phylogenetics and macroevolutionary and macroecological methods. You can also visit his website.
Orlin S. Todorov
Orlin is interested in the evolution of brains, cognition and behaviour and how these interact with ecology and life-history. He has background in Cognitive Science (New Bulgarian University) and Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour (Groningen University, The Netherlands). In his PhD study he is investigating the composition and neuronal morphology of the marsupial brain, both between and within species in different developmental stages. He is employing different histological methods, and methods for digital reconstruction of neuronal morphology, in combination with phylogenetically informed comparative statistical methods. His project is in collaboration with the Queensland Brain Institute and the School of Biomedical Sciences and he is co-supervised by Dr. Robert Sullivan (QBI) and Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk (University of Lethbridge, Canada). When he is not in the lab he can be found exploring new routes on his bicycle, playing his guitar or hunting for new craft beers – check out his website, too!
Pietro is doing his PhD on the use of 3D geometric morphometrics in approaching taxonomic and conservation questions at the population/subspecies/”young” species level. He is currently collecting detailed quantitative information on the anatomical variability in cranial 3D shape of two threatened but ecologically diverse marsupial dasyurids-northern quolls and Antechinus. He aims to improve our understanding on the way that different parts of the skull adapt to different environments, allowing a first estimation on how these processes occur at the macroevolutionary level. He also plans to integrate the detailed shape information obtained with genetic data at the population level in order to provide a shape-informed conservation approach.
Ariel is doing her PhD on Australian rodent evolution. Despite being recent arrivals to Australia, native rodents achieve distinction as the continent’s most speciose yet least studied mammalian group. Using 3D geometric morphometrics, she aims to catalogue the diversity of Australian rodents and use this new knowledge to investigate several aspects of rodent evolution since the Pleistocene. She aims to use her findings to improve understanding of mammalian evolution and how developmental traits, environment, geography, and climate interact to produce macro-evolutionary diversity patterns. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, I used GIS to demonstrate that differences in soil type and digging adaptations helped explain the unusual species distribution of North American pocket gophers (genus Thomomys), which I then followed up with a paper on how these gophers adapt to soil conditions through different evolutionary avenues (watch hermovie here!). I am also founder of educational game company, STEAM Galaxy Studios and designed our flagship educational game, Go Extinct! It’s a go-fish style card game that teaches humans 8 and up how land vertebrates are related, the evidence scientists use to classify them, and how to read evolutionary trees.
Past lab members
Cruise undertook an honours project investigating the evolution of mandible (lower jaw) shape within vombatiforms (including wombats and koalas). Wombats and koalas are some of the most iconic fauna of Australia, and also some of the most interesting evolutionarily. Today, vombatiforms are comprised only of four extant species, but represent a far more diverse, now extinct radiation beginning in the late Oligocene (including Diprotodon, the largest marsupial to ever live!). Koalas are browsing specialists on Eucalyptus while wombats are grazers, and extinct vombatiforms are thought to have fallen along this browser-grazer spectrum. In this project, Cruise used landmarking techniques on 3D skull reconstructions of wombats, koalas, and extinct vombatiforms to identify differences in their mandible morphology. From this, he aimed to understand how mandible shape evolved throughout the vombatiforms, and how this relates to the function of the mandible and the ecology of the species. Cruise graduated with a well-deserved 1st class honours!
Laura earned 1st class honours in a honours project investigating the evolution and development of the mammalian middle ear. The delicate sound-conducting middle ear ossicles present in mammals today evolved from load-bearing jaw bone elements in mammalian ancestors. Current theories propose that the development of the middle ear as a marsupial grows from neonate to adult recapitulates the successive stages of middle ear evolution. Laura created comprehensive 3D reconstructions of the bony elements and soft tissue of the mammalian middle ear and jaw adductor muscles using CT scans of marsupial heads at different life stages, to examine if and how these components change throughout development, and if this development recapitulates the evolution of the middle ear. Laura is also investigating the power of a recently developed STABILITY staining protocol used on the specimens, which allows soft tissue to be visible in CT scans with minimal distortion and damage to the specimen itself.
Alison did her honours on fine-tuning a DiceCT staining protocol for brain imaging in CT scans and getting the first quantitative volumetric growth data from marsupial brain partitions, based on virtual 3D reconstruction.
Kate did her honours on bandicoot limb morphology, to try and unravel the evolutionary story of marsupial limbs and why they failed to diversify into structures like that of the placentals (such as hooves, wings and flippers). Kates work suggests that the unusual birth mode of bandicoots at least partially lifts the developmental constraint off the bandicoot forelimbs, permitting them to become more diverse in structure than other marsupials – the paper is accepted and will come out soon, so watch this space!