The incredible diversity of Australian mammals, including the remarkable radiation of marsupials, have been researched for over a century. Yet much of what we know about the basic anatomy of living marsupials is based on rudimentary studies from the late 19th and early 20th century; and advanced studies of the evolutionary biology and adaptive significance of Australian marsupial biology remains unexplored. And sadly, with Australian marsupials rapidly going extinct within our lifetimes, our window for understanding them is rapidly closing. This project takes advantage of the substantial advances in comparative methods and imaging that have occurred in the 21st century that are opening new avenues for measuring and visualising anatomical structures and providing a true renaissance in anatomical research. Here we will apply approaches from CT and MRI guided dissection to contrast-enhanced imagery, Synchrotron-based investigation of microanatomy to 3D assessments of structure and biomechanics, and use the results to explore the incredible diversity of Australia's marsupials. We will explore and integrate data from living species as diverse as koalas to gliders, wombats to bilbies, and kangaroos to possums to understand basic questions (e.g., how are these animals structured and how do they function) to complex issues like whether marsupial development limits the ability for these species to adapt to changing climates and ecosystems. We will also open up new windows into recently extinct marsupials like thylacines, pig-footed bandicoots, and lesser bilbies through novel applications of medical imaging of historic preserved specimens. Ultimately, this project will generate unparalleled data on Australia's living and recently extinct mammalian biodiversity. In doing so, we will provide critical information on the evolutionary history and range of adaptations expressed by this unique radiation of mammals. This new anatomical data on the dietary, locomotory and habitat requirements of our vulnerable and threatened native species will have direct impacts approaches to conservation and ecosystem management in the face of climate change.
Comparative mammalian anatomy, Australian mammal palaeontology and evolution, comparative methods, imaging studies
Masters by research
Top-up scholarship funding available