Do you have your own project idea? Come and talk to us about it!
If you are interested in applying for an honours, postgraduate or post doctoral position with the FEAR lab please forward a copy of your university transcript along with your CV to Stephen Wroe (firstname.lastname@example.org). Below are some project ideas, if you are thinking of doing some research with our lab. Most projects involve collaborating with ecologists and palaeontologists working at UNE or elsewhere, using modern methods to address important research questions arising in functional anatomy, ecology and evolution. No prior experience in ecology is required—just a willingness to learn!
Biomechanics of giant short-faced kangaroos
The extraordinarily extinct short-faced kangaroo subfamily (Sthenurinae) includes the largest hopping species ever to have lived, the 250 kg Procoptodon goliah. Procoptodon and its close relatives were key components of Australian 'Ice Age' ecosystems and improved understanding of their feeding ecology will contribute to the study of past terrestrial ecology in Australia. Interpretations of sthenurine diet have played a major role in the ongoing debate over the extinction of Australian megafauna.
Although short-faced kangaroo feeding behaviour has received considerable attention, few studies to date have focused on the functional morphology of the unusual sthenurine skull, or how their skull mechanics might inform us on the question of diet and why these and other gigantic species went extinct.
We are seeking a motivated student with an interest in vertebrate feeding ecology of functional morphology to work with our biomechanics team on reconstruction and analysis of the short-faced kangaroo skull.
The project will involve the building and analysis of three-dimensional computer models of skulls from CT (serial x-ray data) using the latest techniques in computer imaging and model generation. Students will be based at UNE and work with internationally recognised experts in vertebrate palaeontology, ecology and form-function studies.
Functional morphology of the 'giant killer rat-kangaroo'
Giant extinct rat-kangaroos have a long history in Australian terrestrial ecosystems and survived until relatively recent times. Although some grew to be as large as the biggest of the living kangaroo species, their anatomy suggests a very different lifestyle and is thought that some may have included a considerable proportion of meat in their diets. Most giant extinct rat—kangaroos are known from very fragmentary fossil material, but one, the Powerful-toothed giant rat-kangaroo is represented by two beautifully preserved near complete skulls from 15-20 million year old deposits in Riversleigh, northern Australia. We seek a student with an interest in functional morphology and/or vertebrate palaeontolgoy to assist in the reconstruction and analysis of 3D computer models of the Powerful-toothed giant rat-kangaroo and its living relatives. Models will be compared in order to shed light on the controversial question of diet in this unusual species. The student will be based at UNE and work with an internationally recognised team in vertebrate form/function studies. Some fieldwork in the world heritage listed fossil deposits of Riversleigh is anticipated.
Giants and dwarfs: Skull form and function in Irish Elk and Mediterranean island deer
Whether considered in absolute or relative terms the gigantic Irish 'Elk' had the largest antlers of any known deer species. This Ice Age giant was once widespread and lived until surprisingly recent times. Interestingly, some closely related species that were restricted to Mediterranean island habitats exhibited pronounced insular dwarfism. Because they are closely related species, a better understanding of the shape and function of the skull and antlers in these superficially very different species is likely to yield important information on the way in which vertebrate shape changes with body size, as well as improved insight into the diet and feeding ecology of living and extinct deer. We seek a student with an interest in functional morphology to work on 3D computer-based reconstruction and analysis of skulls of the Irish Elk, fossil dwarf and living deer species. The project will involve the assembly of state of the art computer models from CT scan serial x-ray data. The student will be based at the University of New England working with an internationally recognised team in vertebrate palaeontology, ecology and form-function studies.
Reconstructing the skull of the giant Haast's eagle
The Haast's eagle of New Zealand was the largest true raptor that ever lived. Surviving to around 1400 AD it is thought to have been driven to extinction through the decimation of its major prey (giant flightless birds) by Maori hunters. Interesting its closet living relative is the Australian Little Eagle.
How was the lightweight skull of this bird able to sustain the forces required to kill and eat prey up to 15 times its own body size? And more broadly, how do the skulls of living raptorial birds balance the requirements for strength and strong selective pressure to minimise mass in a kinetic, 'jointed' skull?
We are seeking a student with an interest in avian functional morphology to work on 3D computer-based reconstruction and analysis of skulls of Haast's eagle and its living relatives.
The project will involve the assembly of state of the art computer models from CT scan (serial x-ray) data. The student will be based at the University of New England working with an internationally recognised team in vertebrate palaeontology, ecology and form-function studies. Collection of information from living eagles will be desirable.
Scale related effects on the vertebrate skeleton
Allometry, the way in which different aspects of an organisms anatomy change with increasing size, is a fundamental concept in biology and understanding allometry is key to understanding the form and function of all living things. Scale-related effects on bony structures in particular depend on the properties and distribution of materials of bone, as well as their shape. There is an inherent requirement to optimise the use of materials and avoid failure over the animal's lifetime. In comparative biomechanical studies, to metrics are often used to compare performance: stress and strain energy density. While stress is commonly used as a predictor of material failure, strain energy density is a measure of work expended in deforming the structure. Size has a profound impact on the biomechanical performance (such as locomotion and feeding) of organisms. If performance between species of very different sizes is to be compared, then it is important that adequate methods are developed to control for size related differences. We seek a student with an interest in functional morphology to assist in the development of scaling protocols for the comparison of biological structures. The project will help in establishing protocols to examine the respective roles of shape, size and distribution of material properties in biological systems. The student will be based at the University of New England and work with an internationally recognised team in vertebrate form function studies.
Toward a more accurate computer model of bone
Understanding the mechanical behaviour of bone is of fundamental importance to researchers in medicine and comparative biomechanics. The ability to generate accurate computer models that can predict the behaviour of bone could have major implications in biomedicine and comparative biology. However, bone is a complex material with a hierarchical structure that has proven difficult to model with precision. Recent advances in computer technology and the approaches needed to model bone at micro scales, as well as the ability to validate modeling results, have brought us to an exciting point where it is now feasible to produce accurate models that capture bone in micro detail. We are looking for a student with an interest in biomechanics, mechanical engineering or form/function studies to help with the generation and analysis of computer models of bone that capture very fine geometric detail. The student will be based at UNE working with internationally recognised team in biomechanics and form-function studies.