Student session: Applying for a postdoc

Not all PhD students want to pursue a career in academia; some definitely do, while others feel that they would like to further their academic training through doing a postdoctoral fellowship before moving into industry or other fields.

But how do you go about getting a postdoc? 

Professors Dustin Marshall and Craig White will be speaking about their experiences as academics looking for postdocs, and we invite students and interested early career researchers to join us armed with questions about how to go about getting a postdoc, what to expect from a postdoc and ‘conversations you should have’ when starting a postdoc.

When: 2 pm, Thursday 23 August 2018

Where: Sanson Room (22 G01/02) Rainforest Walk, Monash University Clayton

Conference updates 2018

Many conferences seem to happen during the Melbourne winter providing a welcome opportunity for researchers to travel to warmer parts of the world to share their research findings.

At the moment Giulia Ghedini is heading towards the University of New England (Maine, USA) to attend a Gordon Research Seminar on unifying ecology across scales. Giulia will be meeting up again with Diego Barneche who has moved on from the Centre for Geometric Biology and is pursuing his interests in ecological theory at The University of Sydney.

Giulia will be talking about her work that tests the idea that individual metabolic rates can predict energy use of populations and communities; a major goal of metabolic approaches to understanding energy flow in ecology. In contrast to predictions Giulia has found that population density reduced individual energy use and that these effects overwhelmed the constraints of body size on metabolism. But she also found that the sum of species-specific individual rates at any point in time was a good predictor of overall community metabolism.

Giulia will be joined in New England by Dustin Marshall who is presenting at the related meeting that is dealing with the “synthesis of information, energy and matter to understand the ecology of a changing world”. Dustin will be talking about offspring size and how developmental costs are affected by temperature.

In the meantime Louise Solveig Nørgaard and Martino Malerba are heading to Montpellier in France for the Evolution 2018 conference. Louise will be talking about her PhD research, supervised by Matt Hall, which suggests that the invasion success and the subsequent intensity of infectious disease can be influenced by the population dynamics of the host population. Louise is interested in exploring how the dynamics of expanding host populations, and the capability of different pathogen genotypes to disperse into new host populations, will likely affect the epidemiology and evolution of infectious disease.

Martino will be presenting his latest work that combines the experimental data from his artificial selection experiments with energy based models. Martino has used this combination of approaches to provide direct evidence on the costs and benefits of different cell sizes. His findings suggest that the current size of a species is the product of context dependent selection pressures in nature.

We wish them all happy and productive travels.

School visit

On Friday 8 June, Belinda Comerford and Liz Morris visited the grade 5/6 students at Windsor Primary School. The students were given a brief introduction to the research going on within the Centre for Geometric Biology before splitting up to examine communities of sessile (non-moving) invertebrate animals.

The students used identification cards and jars of a single celled algae to use as a food source to investigate the following questions:

  • How many different types of animals can you see?
  • Are there more or less than you thought there might be?
  • What do you notice about their size and shape?
  • How do they get their food?
  • How are they all able to live together?

Thanks to the 5/6 teachers Laura O’Meara and Tom Gosling for inviting us into the classroom.

Staff news

Mike Cullen Research Fellow Award

Congratulations to Giulia Ghedini who was recently awarded the Mike Cullen Research Fellow Award. This prize was awarded to Giulia for her Ecology paper Does energy flux predict density-dependence? An empirical field test, which was the subject of a previous post.

Giulia’s work is important because it is the first demonstration of the energetic mechanisms that underpin density-dependence. Up until now reductions in body size in denser populations have been attributed to reduced food intake due to increased competition, but Giulia found that it was not so simple. In her study, she found that population density influences both the energy intake (food consumption) and expenditure (metabolism) of individuals. By reconstructing their energy budgets across population densities, she was able to demonstrate that smaller sizes result from the faster decline of energy intake relative to expenditure as density increases, such that scope for growth is reduced.

New interdisciplinary study 

Martino Malerba will be starting work in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering to measure the metabolism and energy output of individual cells simultaneously.  This cross disciplinary study is funded by the faculties of Science, IT and Engineering and will bring together techniques developed in the two departments and which have never been combined before.

Martino’s algal cells undergoing high throughput phenotypic arrays.

Martino will be using his artificially evolved large and small algal cells described in previous posts to ask the fundamental biological question how much of the total energy (metabolism) of a cell is invested into locomotion, that is, energy output? To do this Martino and Callum Atkinson from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering will first characterize total metabolic energy of individual cells, using the high throughput phenotypic array in the Centre for Geometric Biology.

Then, for the same cells, Martino and Callum will use the techniques developed in Laboratory for Turbulence Research in Aerospace and Combustion (LTRAC) to analyse the power output associated with swimming performance of cells moving through the fluid.

Moving on

Amanda is now officially Dr Pettersen and will be moving to Sweden in a couple of months.  Amanda has been awarded a Postdoctoral scholarship from the Wenner-Gren foundation to undertake research for 1–2 years on maternal affects and climactic adaptation in wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) at Lund University with Tobias Uller. 

Amanda’s new study species, the wall lizard Podarcis muralis. Image credit Philippe Garcelon via Flickr.

While commonly distributed throughout Mediterranean Europe, wall lizards have more recently been introduced north of their natural range to England. Despite experiencing air and soil temperatures 6–10 °C cooler than their native range, introduced populations in England have rapidly adapted to their cooler climate, exhibiting faster embryo growth and developmental rates which allows offspring to complete development before winter. Through the use of experimental approaches, Amanda hopes to identify general mechanisms by which maternal effects facilitate rapid, counter-gradient adaptation.

Getting published: the editors’ perspective

Getting published can seem a daunting prospect and there are no simple formulas for success.

We invite students to come and hear Professors Craig White and Dustin Marshall speak about their roles as editors of influential ecology journals and see what tips they can offer.

When: 4.00 pm, Monday 5 February 2018

Where: Sanson Room (22 G01/02), Rainforest Walk, Monash University.

Discussion group with Professor Troy Day

When: 12.00 noon to 2.00 pm, Wednesday 22 November 2017

Where: Sanson Room (22 G01/02), Rainforest Walk, Monash University.

We are delighted to welcome Professor Troy Day from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada who will be joining our discussion group.

Troy will give a brief presentation about “The evolutionary advantages of haploid versus diploid microbes in nutrient poor environments”. Troy will talk about the nutrient limitation hypothesis and how theoretical predictions compare with empirical observations.

Postdocs Martino Malerba and Giulia Ghedini will also be giving short presentations about their latest research on artificial selection and energy budgets of phytoplankton and invertebrates.

Presentations will be followed by general discussion and we invite you to join us for this discussion.

For further details please contact Liz Morris.

Time to take stock: mini symposium provides research overview

Thank you to everyone who spoke at last week’s mini-symposium here at Monash. It was a great opportunity to hear all the different research programs that are currently underway.

While Centre members are working on a range of different organisms and biological systems including microbes, unicellular algae, invertebrates and fish, the core theme of understanding how size and shape affect energy acquisition and loss was a unifying theme.

The CGB allows all the different areas of research to use energy as a common currency for understanding life histories of individuals and dynamics of populations, communities and even ecosystems.

We are looking forward to further research stories at upcoming monthly meetings.

Conference season

Conference season is in full swing and members from the Centre for Geometric Biology will be presenting their research over the next few weeks in Portland and Hawaii.  For those of us who can’t make it overseas we can hear research updates at the CGB mini-symposium on the 22 August from 1 pm to 5pm at Monash University.

Dustin Marshall and Diego Barneche will be at the XIth International Larval Biology Symposium in Honolulu, Hawaii. Dustin will be giving a plenary talk on the topic of offspring size in relation to temperature and global change. He will be presenting a new theory on why offspring size often declines with temperature and also presenting evidence that offspring sizes are declining globally in marine invertebrates.

Not only is offspring size getting smaller, we also know that animals are getting smaller but surprisingly we don’t yet know how reproductive output scales with body mass – both issues with profound implications for fisheries management. Life history theory and mechanistic models assume that reproductive output of fish scales on a 1:1 ratio with female size (isometric scaling). However fisheries management is often based around the assumption that larger mothers have a disproportionately greater reproductive output (hyper-allometricscaling). Diego Barneche has compiled raw data on female size, fecundity and egg size of marine fish from over a century of research to start addressing the lack of formal assessments of scaling relationships between reproductive output and female body mass across differentspecies.

While her colleagues are immersed in larval biology research, Giulia Ghedini will be attending the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA. Giulia will be talking about her research into the relationship between population densities and the ‘scope for growth’ of an individual within that population. She has measured both the foraging rates (energy intake) and metabolism (energy expenditure) in a model system using sessile invertebrates to determine how the growth of an individual is affected by changing densities of other individuals of the same species’.  Giulia found that feeding and metabolism weredensity-dependent, but energy intake through feeding decreased faster than energy expenditure through metabolism, reducing the ‘scope for growth’ of individuals. These results demonstrate that density-dependent growth occurs because of differential rates of change in energy gains and losses with increasing densities. These effects of population density on individual energy budgets have important implications for predicting the dynamics of populations and their responses to environmental change.

Evolution 2017 conference

Centre members Dustin Marshall, Keyne Monro, Amanda Pettersen and Hayley Cameron are currently attending the Evolution 2017 conference in Portland, Oregon.  This is a joint meeting of the American Naturalist Society, the Society for the Study of Evolution and the Society of Systematic Biologists with over 1,800 delegates expected.

PhD student Amanda Petterson will speak about how competition mediates selection on metabolic rates in the field. Metabolic rates reflect the ‘pace of life’ in every organism and provide a measure of an organism’s capacity for essential maintenance, growth and reproduction – all of which interact to affect fitness. Despite the importance of metabolic rate in shaping processes from the individual to community level, empirical studies have mainly been confined to the laboratory, with very few estimates of selection on metabolic rate under realistic field conditions. Amanda’s research combines laboratory measures of metabolic rate throughout development with field measures of fitness (reproductive output) across three levels of competition (intra-specific, inter-specific, and no competition) for a marine bryozoan. Amanda and supervisors Craig White and Dustin Marshall have found that the strength and direction of selection on metabolic rate depends on both the stage of development, and environment to which individuals are exposed.  Amanda will present data to demonstrate the complex nature of context-dependent selection that likely generated these patterns, and the potential evolutionary and ecological consequences of variation in metabolic rates.

Fellow PhD candidate Hayley Cameron will be presenting her latest research into the underlying causes of unequal maternal provisioning of offspring, which is often attributed to ‘bet hedging’. Hayley’s PhD project (supervised by Dustin Marshall and Keyne Monro) has found that broods that varied more in size had higher mean performance than less variable broods. Hayley will present the surprising results from this experiment along with the possibility that when siblings compete for the same resources, and offspring size affects access to these resources, the production of more variable broods can provide greater fitness returns given the same maternal investment; a process unanticipated by the current theory.

We wish Amanda and Hayley the best of luck with their presentations.