Credit: Marie Attard

Resolving the mystery of eggshell surfaces

In recent years, there has been a flurry of important discoveries relating to the evolution, characterisation and development of different egg morphologies – including egg shape, size, colouration, pattern and shell surface structure. For my current postdoc, I am investigating the evolution and function of avian eggshell structures sampled across the phylogeny, with a focus on surface properties.

Credit: Marie Attard

Avian eggshell conductance varies with life-history

Why do bird eggs of some species have high water vapour and gas exchange across the shell, while others do not? Here, we proposed that variation in eggshell conductance across birds is strongly linked to species-specific differences in nest environment and parent incubation strategies.

Devil whiskers: The biological time machine

Monitoring the behaviour of Tasmanian devils in pre-existing and translocated wild populations is essential for conservation management. Here, we investigate how well stable isotopes analysed from plucked facial whiskers are able to track temporal shifts in individual diet and movement.

Tasmanian tiger’s jaws linked to their extinction

Australia’s iconic Tasmanian tiger, was hunted to extinction for allegedly killing sheep; however, we discovered that their narrow, long snout was poorly equipped to tackle relatively large prey. Our findings suggest that they hunted small to medium sized animals such as bandicoots and possums.

Did Neanderthals speak?

The anatomy of the throat of a modern human is essential for speech. In this study, we compared the shape and biomechanical performance of the Neanderthal’s fossilised hyoid bone – a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck – to modern humans. Their astonishing similarities suggest that our distant relatives were capable of speech.

Egg shape mimicry in parasitic cuckoos

Parasitic cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of hosts. We found that rejection of cuckoo eggs by hosts has led to the evolution of egg mimicry by cuckoos, whereby their eggs mimic the colour and pattern of their host eggs to avoid egg recognition and rejection.

Moa diet fits the bill

The moa are large to gigantic extinct terrestrial birds of New Zealand. Here we apply 3D finite-element analysis to compare the biomechanical performance of skulls from five moa genera. We found they use a broad range of feeding strategies, highlighting significant ecological diversity.

The evolution of pointed eggs in cliff-breeding seabirds

Why do some cliff-breeding birds lay extremely pointed eggs? Here, we used a comparative biomechanics approach using real and 3D digitised eggs to test whether the unusual pear-shaped eggs of common guillemots are stronger.

Credit: Jamie Thompson

Geospatial information and 3D modelling of spatially-complex cliff ledges used by breeding seabirds

Do females select nest microhabitats based on the shape of their egg? We used digital elevation models of breeding ledges to test whether egg shape influenced where females choose to oviposit their eggs.

Mate guarding Australian sea lions are more aggressive towards familiar males

Armed with a loud speaker and a microphone, we recorded and played back aggressive barking calls to mate-guarding male Australian sea lions to see if they could tell the difference between friend and foe.

Credit: BombDog

Raptor talon shape and biomechanical performance determines prey size

In this study we used biomechanics, geometric morphometrics and phylogenetic comparative analysis to see if talon shape and biomechanical performance can be used to predict relative preys size among birds of prey.

Credit: peasap

Hunter of scavenger? Predatory behaviour of the extinct Haast’s eagle

The Haast’s eagle was the largest eagle to have ever existed, but it is unknown whether they were scavengers or active hunters. Based on features of its skull, it likely they engaged in hunting behaviours that involved tearing and pulling of the tissues of large food items.

Could extinct giant short-faced kangaroos hop?

In collaboration with colleagues from the University of New England, we are on a mission to discover whether the largest kangaroos to ever exist could hop.