For my PhD I am using the two subspecies of long-tailed finch Poephila acuticouda to address fundamental questions regarding reproductive isolation and hybridisation as components of the speciation process, primarily supervised by Simon Griffith, co-supervised by Melissah Rowe and Daniel Hooper.
I have developed a particular interest into whether hybrid dysfunction is limiting gene flow between the long-tailed finch subspecies. Specifically, I am testing for incompatibility between the mismatched nuclear and mitochondrial genomes that come together in hybrids, that may cause reduced hybrid mitochondrial performance and fitness. To test this I am combining shallow whole-genome sequencing of hundreds of individuals across the wild hybrid zone and physiological measures (cellular respiration) from captive crosses.
I am pursuing additional research interests during this time, including the role of behaviour on colour introgression, the role of song as a pre-mating reproductive barrier, and a number of questions related to the ecology and evolution of sperm.
In 2015-2016 I did my honours project on pre- and post-copulatory sexual selection in the painted dragon Ctenophorus pictus, supervised by Mats Olsson and Chris Friesen at the University of Sydney. This was incredible and got me hooked on evolutionary ecology.
Male painted dragons are polymorphic for head colour - red, orange, yellow or 'blue' (no colour) - and these have previously been found to be associated with different reproductive strategies. For my thesis I performed mate-preference and intra-sexual contest trials to test for possible signalling functions for their second (!) colour polymorphic trait - the presence or absence a yellow throat patch ('bib').
I also used Computer Assisted Sperm Analysis (CASA) software to assess sperm motility parameters, to see whether these traits also varied between the different bib morphs. See the resulting paper in JEB on my Publications page.
After honours I took a year off study to work on a range of research projects in Australia and North America, aiming to diversify my exposure to researchers, their questions and their biological systems. This included working with Chris Friesen and Bob Mason (from Oregon State University) on the red-sided garter snakes Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis during their spring emergence in Manitoba, Canada - one of the biggest aggregation of snakes on the planet!