PhD students

 Harry Suter — PhD student, July 2019-

Harry Suter

I am a co-tutelle PhD student registered at both the University of Bristol and Macquarie University. My supervisors are Andy Radford, Ben Ashton, Ines Braga Goncalves and Martin Whiting

I am interested in understanding how sociality influences the evolution of cognition. Sociality has long been seen as a major driver of cognitive evolution, with leading hypotheses suggesting that an increase in the complexity of an organism’s social life requires an increase in cognitive investment. However, research has typically focused on the importance of just within-group interactions, overlooking a second major axis of sociality: interactions with conspecific outsiders. Out-group interactions likely present novel cognitive challenges and increase the complexity of within-group interactions.

The aim of my PhD is to investigate how these interactions with outsiders drive cognitive evolution. To do so, I am quantifying the cognitive performance of the cooperatively breeding cichlid fish, Neolamprologus pulcher, and the territorial bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps, in response to social treatments of differing social complexity. I am also using meta-analytical and theoretical approaches to investigate interspecific differences in neuroanatomy and cognitive performance in relation to variation in social life history traits.”

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Jai Lake — PhD student, April 2022-

Jai Lake

PhD project: How to be social: understanding the mechanisms underpinning complex sociality

I’ve wanted to work with animals for as long as I can remember, likely due to a childhood spent watching David Attenborough and Steve Irwin. I followed this passion and completed an integrated Masters’s degree in Zoology at the University of Bristol, UK, during which time I became increasingly interested in animal behaviour and social systems. After my degree, I worked on a variety of projects looking at aspects of sociality, including social learning in chickens, cooperation in molerats, and communication in chimpanzees.

I am now a PhD student with the Lizard Lab working under the supervision of Martin Whiting and Geoff While. The aim of my project will be to understand how social systems are formed and maintained, using a combination of behavioral ecology and neuroscience techniques. I will be specifically looking at the Egernia group of skinks, which display a wide range of social systems and are therefore an ideal model for investigating the evolution of sociality. I’m excited to begin working on a system that is new to me, and to live in a country with some sunshine.

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Yorick Lambreghts — PhD student, November 2019-

Yorick Lambreghts

PhD project: Unraveling the co-evolutionary dynamics between kin recognition and social complexity

I completed my MSc in Behavioural and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) in 2017. I have always been especially interested in animal behaviour, which led me to mainly participate in projects on personality related behavioural traits in birds and lizards. While I liked working with birds, I have come to prefer lizards because they cannot fly away.

For my PhD I will investigate the early evolution of social groups with a particular interest in the role of kin recognition. As a model system I will use reproductively bimodal species (females of the same species are either egg-laying or live-bearing depending on the population) such as Saiphos equalis and Lerista bougainvillii in addition to family-living lizards of the Egernia group. Specifically, I will look at the evolution of kin recognition itself, its importance in the early evolution of sociality and how it becomes refined as social systems become increasingly complex. My PhD will be undertaken in collaboration with Martin and also, Geoff While (University of Tasmania), and Camilla Whittington (University of Sydney). Technically, my PhD is through UTAS!

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Maddi Holmes — PhD student, February 2021-

Maddi Holmes

I completed my Bachelor of Science (Zoology) at Deakin University in 2018, and my Master of Agricultural Sciences (Animal Science) at the University of Melbourne in 2019, studying the impacts of zoo visitors on seahorse behaviour at Melbourne Zoo. I’ve always been fascinated by what animals are getting up to, and decided to shift my focus towards lizards because I like their small hands.

My PhD will build on prior research in birds and primates to explore social cognition and cultural transmission in lizards, using the world’s most popular pet reptile, bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps), as a model!

I am co-supervised by Martin and Ben Ashton.

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Victoria Russell — PhD student, 2019-

Victoria Russell

PhD project: The Evolutionary Origins of Family Living

I am a PhD student registered at the University of Tasmania. I am co-supervised by Geoff While (UTAS) and Martin. I completed my undergraduate degree and BSc Hons year at the University of Tasmania looking at how genetic and environmental factors influence developmental stability in the wall lizard.

I am interested broadly in understanding the factors that mediated the early origins and maintenance of social structures. For my PhD I am working on the Egernia group, in particular focusing on the three types of social structures found within the group: solitary species, facultative social species and obligate social species. My focal topic will ask how key social traits, such as maternal aggression, social learning and kin recognition have been refined in social species relative to closely related solitary species.

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