Metabolic processes are an essential and universal feature of life; they provide all the available energy organisms have to invest in growth, reproduction and survival. It therefore comes as no surprise that understanding the factors affecting energy production is of major interest to biologists – energetic costs and gains form the foundation of theory across a diversity of research fields, from sexual selection to behavioural, population and community ecology. Rates of energy turnover and investment by individuals provide powerful explanations for diverse biological patterns including why larger fish are important for population sustainability, patterns of ageing and why animals behave and look so different.
My research group explores how early developmental experiences impact physiology and metabolic function using targeted experimental manipulations of early life stages in ectotherms combined with large-scale meta-analytic and comparative approaches. We explore how physiological changes brought about by developmental responses cascade to affect life-history and fitness – insights that are critical to ascertain the long-term consequences of such changes. My team is currently exploring how thermal and resource environment interact to impact metabolism, and subsequently life-history, using a few widespread model lizards species that vary in ecology. We are using integrative, interdisciplinary tools to elucidate answers to proximate and ultimate questions in this area. The few cores areas my group is currently working on include:
Understanding the covariance between metabolism, behaviour, life-history and learning
Recent theoretical developments in behavioural ecology suggest that personality (i.e. repeatable individual differences in behaviour within and across contexts), life-history (growth rates, age at maturity, reproductive output) and learning should covary as a result of differences in the “pace-of life” or differences in the energetic needs of individuals. While we have some support for these ideas there are conceptual and methodological challenges in this area. My group explores how individual metabolism influences behaviour and learning in a short-lived skink (lizard) species, Lampropholis delicata. These are an excellet model system to explore such questions because of the ease with which early environments (e.g., egg temperature) can be manipulated and our ability to follow these in the lab and in semi-natural mesocosms, which we have available here at the ANU for experiments.
Interacting maternal and environmental effects in impacting metabolism, generating phenotypic variability and shaping trait covariance
Maternal and environmental effects interact with genotypes in complex ways to shape developmental trajectories and thus phenotypic variation. We are most interested in understanding how such environmental effects interact and the effects these have on developmental plasticity. Through experimental manipulations of early environments as well as parental environments we can understand the degree to which phenotypic variability is affected and whether such responses are adaptive or not. We also make use of meta-analytic approches to understand the widespread impact and magnitude of interacting environmental effects – asking questions about whether such effects vary across an individuals life, taxa, environmental manipulation (e.g., food restruction, temperature, stress hormones) and with different life-history traits of species.
Developing new statistical approaches and software for meta-analysis and experimental design
My group is intersted in developing new tools that can be used by researchers to deal with challenges in how data is collected and analysed. We are currently interested in the use of missing data methods and planned-missing data design to overcome challenges in collecting large amounts of data, and are involved in the development of new tools and analytical approaches, such as teh R package metaDigitise for collecting data from figures for meta-analysis and new meta-analytic effect sizes to deal with matrix based data.
For more details on potential honours, P.h.D and M.Sc. projects please see the projects page.
Special Project Student
Noble, D.W.A., Radersma, R., Uller, T. (2019) Plastic responses to novel environments are biased towards phenotype dimensions with high additive genetic variation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA,116:13452–1346.
Nakagawa, S., Samarasinghe, G., Haddaway, N.R, Westgate, M.J., O’Dea, R.E., Noble, D.W.A., Lagisz, M. (2019) Research weaving: visualizing the future of research synthesis. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 34: 224-238
Pick, J. L., Nakagawa, S., Noble, D.W.A. (2019) Reproducible, flexible and high throughput data extraction from primary literature: The metaDigitise R package. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 10: 426-431.
Munch, K., D.W.A. Noble, L. Budd, A. Row, E. Wapstra, G. M. While (2018) Maternal presence facilitates plasticity in offspring behavior: insights into the evolution of care. Behavioral Ecology, 29:1298–1306
Tarka, M., Guenther, A., Niemelä, P. T., Nakagawa, S., Noble, D.W A. (2018) Sex differences in life-history, behavior and physiology along a slow-fast continuum: a meta-analysis. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 72: 132–145