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Shape-shifting birds

Project Summary
Title of Project Shape-shifting birds

School/Institute School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Campus Burwood

Principal Supervisor Dr Matthew Symonds

Additional Supervision team Prof Marcel Klaassen, Prof Glenn Tattersall (Brock University)

Research Topic

This research forms part of an ARC Discovery Project whose goal is to determine whether changes in body
shape are an evolutionary response to climate change. Endothermic animals (such as birds) have a range of
adaptations for dealing with the temperatures they experience. One such adaptation is body shape: birds in
warmer climates tend to have large extremities (bills and legs), increasing their surface area and enabling loss
of excess heat. Adaptations to climate (and hence climate change) can occur quickly, and there is evidence of
significant increases in bird extremities in recent years – a novel potential consequence of climate change.
Whether this represents an evolutionary response to climate change is unknown, nor do we know what
characteristics make specific bird species liable to respond to climate change in this way, or what the likely
consequences of such responses are.

Project Aim
The student will undertake an extensive comparative analysis of Australian birds, designed to identify a)
which bird species are showing changes in body shape (bill and leg morphology); b) what ecological (life-
history, behaviour, habitat) factors determine such responses; c) whether these changes relate to
fitness/survival and d) whether such changes are linked to long-term populations trends in Australian birds.
The project will involve extensive work in Australian museum collections, measuring bird morphology using
traditional and modern (3D-scanning) techniques. There is also a strong analytical component, involving use
of long-term field data on Australian bird species as well as phylogenetic comparative analysis of large-scale
ecological data sets for Australian birds.

Value and Duration

Value: a stipend of $27,596 per annum tax exempt (2019 rate). Tuition fee waiver. A relocation allowance
from $500 to $1,500 (for single to family) awarded to students who are moving from interstate or overseas in
order to study at Deakin. For international students only: overseas health coverage for the duration of the
tuition fees offset.
Duration: 3 years for stipend and 4 years for the tuition fees offset.
For further details see: DUPR value and duration.

Eligibility criteria
• We welcome both domestic and international applicants. Applicants must meet Deakin's PhD
entry requirements, be enrolling full time and hold an Honours degree (First Class) or an
equivalent standard Master's degree with a substantial research component. Please refer to the
entry pathways to higher degrees by research for further information.
• Desirable: Applicants will preferably have some experience with handling large data sets and
appropriate techniques for analysing them (e.g. phylogenetic comparative analysis, linear
models, model selection). Experience with R would be advantageous.
• Desirable: Previous experience of either of working with museum specimens, or research
experience with birds would be advantageous

Important Dates
Advertisement closing date 7 June 2019

How to Apply

Please send an application letter, together with your CV, to Dr Matthew Symonds

Further Information

Primary contact name Dr Matthew Symonds

Primary contact phone number 9251 7437

Primary contact email

Secondary contact name Prof Marcel Klaassen

Secondary contact phone number 5277 2464

Secondary contact email address