Bori wins University Medal!

Bori1 Bori has just received a University Medal for Biology for her Honours thesis, entitled ‘Hot under the collar: colour and contest resolution in frillneck lizards (Chlamydosaurus kingii)’.


ANU awards University medals to recognise outstanding candidates for the degree of bachelor in the ANU Colleges, provided they obtain first class honours of sufficient distinction supported by a distinguished academic record.


Well done Bori!

Kristal Cain joins the lab!

kristal1 Kristal has just joined the lab as a new Postdoctoral Fellow!

Kristal grew-up chasing critters around the deep woods of East Texas. She got a BSc in Wildlife Biology from Texas A&M and then worked as a wildlife biologist for a time before returning to academia. She completed her PhD with Ellen Ketterson at Indiana University. Her dissertation focused on understanding why females in some species are ornamented or aggressive, and how hormones like testosterone control these traits. She moved to Australia to take-up a postdoctoral fellowship with Naomi Langmore and Andrew Cockburn working on the role of ecology in shaping female aggression and song in the superb fairy-wren. She’s now joined us and will be investigating the evolution of colors, hormones and behavior using a quantitative genetics approach in Gouldian finches as part of a collaboration with Loeske Kruuk.

First wild chicks of the season!

The wild Gouldian finch breeding season is underway… the first eggs are in the nest-boxes!


Thomas Merkling joins the lab

Thomas Merkling Thomas Merkling has just joined the lab!

Thomas did his Masters and PhD at the University of Toulouse (France) looking at sex allocation and sibling competition in black-legged kittiwake in Alaska, USA. He is now doing a postdoc (funded by the Fyssen foundation) on a totally different taxa, the iconic Australian frillneck lizard.  Thomas will be spending many months in the hot, humid tropics of northern Australia looking at temperature-dependent sex determination, as well as the function and significance of the different colour forms of these lizards.

Stress and sex ratios

male-feeding-chicks A new paper out this week in Functional Ecology shows that experimentally elevating stress levels (using coricosterone implants) and experimentally reducing stress levels (using metrypone implants) in egg-laying females is responsible for extreme sex ratio biases in the Gouldian finch.

Full details and the PDF can be found on the Publications page.

New research facility at ANU

Our long awaited and much anticipated new facility at ANU is finally finished! Extending over 60m in length, it’s huge!


The facility contains well over a hundred custom-built cages and flights (for the very fussy Gouldian finches and other finches), which are climate controlled for tropical conditions (a great place to work in winter). There are also many large, outdoor aviaries connected to each of the flights for population-type work. We can’t wait to get started working in this new facility….

inside outside aviaru

Further details can be found on the Facilities page

Congratulations to Louise Hatton!

A BIG congratulations to Louise on achieving a first class Honours!

lou thesis party

Louise has been working hard over the last year looking at the relative importance of predation in maintaining the red and black head colours of the Gouldian finch. By examining behavioral differences between the morphs (at waterholes, when highly susceptible to attack), by measuring their conspicuousness (to avian predators) using visual modelling, as well as experimentally exposing red and black models (freeze-dried naturally deceased birds) to avian predators, she found stong evidence for disruptive selection. Red birds were most conspicuous on natural grey (rock and sand) backgrounds, while black birds where highly conspicuous on red backgrounds (sand and rocks), and predators selectively targeted black models on red backgrounds (but not grey) and red birds on grey backgrounds (but not red).

Field Assistant Needed for Frillneck Lizard Study in the Kimberley (WA)

A frilly showing hsi lovely frill


An enthusiastic and capable volunteer field assistant is required for a research project on frillneck lizards (Chlamydosaurus kingii) in the eastern Kimberley, Western Australia. The project forms part of a study on sex allocation and colour communication in these iconic lizards, and specific duties include locating and monitoring lizards, radio-tracking, finding nests and measuring lizards.

The fieldwork requires spending 7-8 hrs per day (6 or 7 days/week) working in hot, humid conditions. The study areas are located near a small town, where a field station with basic facilities is located.

The position requires commitment to the full field season, which will run from mid January to March/April 2014. Travel to and from the field site will be covered, as will accommodation for the duration of the field season.

Ideally, applicants should have some field experience, good observational skills, be reliable, be able to work independently, have a drivers licence and be physically fit. Previous reptile handling experience would also be preferable. This is an excellent opportunity for recent science graduates to gain valuable field experience of in-depth behavioural and evolutionary research in amazing part of Australia!

Application deadline: 20 November 2013

For more information, and to apply, please contact Sarah Pryke (

Bori Cser joins the lab

Bori1 Bori has just started her Honours project in the lab!

Bori completed a Bachelor of Science at the Australian National University in 2013, double majoring in biology. She is passionate about behavioural ecology, and has a particular fondness for animals with scales – so she will be combining both of these in her study! Her honours project will investigate the role of frill colour in male conflict resolution in the red and yellow forms of the frillneck lizard.

Fiery Frills in Frillneck Lizards

Some of the media reports on our recently published paper in Behavioral Ecology, which experimentally demonstrated that the carotenoid-based frill of frillneck lizards is used to signal fighting ability.

Nature News – Frill Color Linked with Fighting Abilities for Australia’s Iconic Lizard

PhysOrg – Researchers find lizards’ frilled neck is more than just for show

Reptile Channel – The Brighter the Frilled Lizard’s Frill, the More Likely it Wins a Battle

Photo by Bori Cser

Photo by Bori Cser

Fiery frills win more contests in the Australian frillneck lizard

Photo by Dave Hamilton

Here’s our first paper on a reptile – the iconic Frillneck Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii). Both males and females have frills and until now, the consensus has always been that frills play a role in anti-predator behaviour. Not only does the frill startle a would-be predator, but it may also bluff them into thinking that their potential dinner might be dangerous and risky to catch. While this hypothesis still remains to be tested, together . . . → Read More: Fiery frills win more contests in the Australian frillneck lizard

New papers on wild Gouldian finches

Two new papers on the wild Gouldian finches are out this week – both led by past PhD student, James Brazill-Boast.One paper, published in Evolutionary Ecology, shows that wild red males defend higher-quality nest sites and suffered higher competition from both conspecifics and heterospecifics, but they also reared more fledglings than black males. Another long-term study, published in Austral Ecology, shows that reproduction in wild Gouldian finches is limited by the availability of nest-sites, and that using artificial . . . → Read More: New papers on wild Gouldian finches

The Kimberley Echo – Climbing croc takes a dam dive


While heading out early to one of the finch sites, a 2m freshwater crocodile was sighted by Cat Young (PhD student) and Fiona Finch (volunteer – and, yes, that is her real surname!) jumping from the division dam bridge in Kununurra into the lake. The photo (taken by Fi) made the front pages of the local newspaper, The Kimberley Echo. . . . → Read More: The Kimberley Echo – Climbing croc takes a dam dive

New project – Aggression in crimson finches

Photo by Cat Young

Catherine Young has recently started a PhD looking at the relative costs and fitness benefits of aggression in a highly aggressive colonial-nesting bird – the crimson finch (also know as ‘red devils’ and ‘blood finches’ – and not just because of their fiery red coloration!).

Photo by Cat Young

. . . → Read More: New project – Aggression in crimson finches

First wild chicks of the season!

First wild Gouldian finch babies for this year’s breeding season! Hopefully the first of many for this season…

Photo by Sarah Pryke

Birdlife – honourable mention in Conservation Category

Birdlife – Best Photos Announced

Gouldian Guardians – by Adrian Martins

Our large-scale nest-box project for Gouldian finches (with photo featuring new PhD student Cat Young) got an honorable mention in the Conservation Category of the Australian Birdlife Photo competition. Thanks to Adrian Martins for taking some great photos!

Is it possible to develop fear in the womb?

ZIYOLOGY, Discovery Channel – Is it possible to develop fear in the womb?

Here’s a video by the Discovery Channel for their programme Ziyalogy, which illustrates (with some very cool animations!) that fear can be innate. It features some of our recent work on Gouldian finches showing that juveniles have innate fear of red. It’s pretty entertaining…. . . . → Read More: Is it possible to develop fear in the womb?

Pet Projects – the Gouldian Finch

Pet Projects – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Photo by Sarah Pryke

Here is an article published this week in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by Hugh Powell about our work with wild Gouldian finches.

Gouldian breeding soars thanks to artificial nests

Gouldian breeding soars thanks to artificial nests – Science Network

Photo by Sarah Pryke

Here is an article published this week on the Science Network by Geoff Vivian about our recently published work on how nest-boxes have increased endangered populations of the Gouldian finch.

Beauty is in the (right) eye of the beholder

Photo by Sarah Pryke

Some of the media reports on our recently published paper in Biology Letters, which experimentally demonstrated visual lateralization in mate choice. Gouldian finches appear to only use their right eye in selecting mates; when their right eye is covered (with a patch), birds are no longer able to reliably choose mates.

Right eye required for finding Mrs. Right – Science News

One-eyed wooing – The Guardian

Beauty is in one eye of the . . . → Read More: Beauty is in the (right) eye of the beholder