Click on names for personal pages and more information on our research, study animals and all sorts of other interesting facts.

Sarah Pryke

Principal Investigator

I grew up in South Africa and completed my undergrad and honours degrees there in 2000 (University of Natal). I then migrated far north to Sweden to undertake a PhD at Göteborg University with Staffan Andersson looking at sexual selection in the amazing African widowbirds. After completing my PhD in 2003 I had a bit of time off from academia before moving to Australia to take up a New South Global Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of New South Wales (Sydney) in 2005 with Simon Griffith. Here I started working on the intriguing and gaudy Gouldian finch. I then moved to Macquarie University (Sydney) in 2007 with an ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship (APD) and in 2010 took up a Macquarie Vice-Chancellor Innovation Research Fellowship. Finally, after nearly 7 years of postdocing I was lucky enough to land a job at ANU in mid 2012.

Nina Svedin

Research Officer

Nina is originally from Sweden but is definitely an Aussie at heart – she has spent much of the last seven years here in Australia working on various finch projects (including a postdoc on long-tailed finches). Nina is an invaluable member of the lab – she keeps everyone properly organised (including all the birds), and helps out with all the fieldwork, captive work and our consultancy work.



Kristal Cain

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 looking at 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 the Pryke lab 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.

Thomas Merkling

Thomas Merkling

Postdoctoral Fellow

Thomas did his Masters and PhD at the University of Toulouse (France) looking at sex allocation and sibling competition in black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) in Alaska, USA. He is now doing a postdoc on a totally different taxa, the iconic frillneck lizard – and in particular looking at temperature-dependent sex determination, as well as the function and evolution of different colour forms of the lizards in tropical Australia.

Catherine Young

PhD student

Cat did her Honours on co‐operation in social babblers at UNSW in 2007. Following this she has worked on a diverse range of research projects (and study systems) around the world, including South Africa, UK and Australia. She has recently started a PhD (2012) and will be combining field and laboratory experiments to explore the proximate and ultimate costs and fitness benefits of aggression in a highly colonial-nesting bird, the crimson finch.

Madelaine Yewers

PhD student

Maddy completed her Masters on animal personality differences in the superb fairy-wren in 2010 at Melbourne University. She is now doing her PhD also at Melbourne University with Devi Stuart-Fox and co-supervised by Sarah. She is looking at the function and evolution of male colour morphs in the tawny dragon lizard Ctenophorus decresii found in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

Anna Weier

PhD student

Anna did her Honours looking at the swimming performance of juvenile bass at the University of Queensland. She has recently started (2013) a PhD at Charles Darwin University, supervised by Michael Lawes and co-supervised by Sarah and Ian Radford (DEC). Anna will be looking at the effects of wildfire on the availability, phenology and nutritional content of seeding grasses, and their consequent effect on the behaviour, habitat use and distribution of Gouldian finches.


Louise Hatton

Honours student

Lou completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Wollongong in 2011. She majored in both Biological Science and Human Geography, but is choosing to follow her passion for evolutionary biology. Her honours project will examine some of the evolutionary costs of the Gouldian finch’s striking colouration, with particular regard to the role of predation.


Bori Cser

Honours student

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.

Honorary Lab Members

We have had substantial help over the last few years from many wonderful volunteers, many of which can be found on our volunteer page. However, a few have either never left the lab or keep returning each year to help out. These honorary lab members include:


Kathi Hehn

Bird carer and cuddler

Kathi finished her post grad degree in Germany (Freiburg University) in 2011. With a background on the planty side of Biology, looking at a fungal disease in grapevine for her thesis, she took the long way to Mauritius to realize her passion for conservation. Volunteering there for a project on the endangered pink pigeon she discovered her love for feathered friends, which also brought her to Australia (Canberra) to work on the superb fairywren. Kathi is a vital part of the lab as she feeds, cuddles and cares for all our captive finches.

Bruce Lavender

Nest-box-maker extraordinaire

Bruce lives in Melbourne but each year travels up to the Kimberley region of Western Australia where he does lots of bush walking and volunteers on a range of community and conservation projects. Each year Bruce spends a few weeks (or often many months) helping us make nest boxes and find fallen logs – and has single-handedly made hundreds (if not thousands!) of nest-boxes for the Gouldian finches.

Jade Pryke

Expert Gouldian finch finder

Jade was rescued during a field trip in 2005. Growing up surrounded by Gouldian finches (in captivity and the wild) she has become super tuned to them – and is now a professional Gouldian finch finder (and nest-box locator) in the field!