If you would like to do a postgraduate project with me, or you would are keen to get some volunteer experience, then please get in touch. I’m open to ideas if you have something you would like to work on that fits into my research interests, but also have some projects in mind.

Here’s a couple of ideas for postgrad projects:

1. Variation in the strength of selection between giraffe weevil populations

NZ giraffe weevil males use their enormously elongated heads as weapons during contests for access to females. I previously found an interesting latitudinal decline in weapon size among male giraffe weevils, meaning that males found in northern NZ had relatively bigger weapons than those found further south. This contrasted with body size which showed an opposite trend of increasing size with increasing latitude. Several mechanisms could be driving this pattern such as variation in sexual or viability selection among populations. Or it could be due to Allen’s rule, where animals in cooler places are under selection to reduce areas of the body where they lose heat (i.e. the giraffe weevil’s very long rostrum!). I’m keen to first look at whether the strength of selection on male weapon size varies among populations. Figuring this out would require observations of male mating success and size-related survival across multiple sites around the North Island of NZ, so this project would suit an independent person keen on doing lots of field work, and comfortable working in remote areas.


Photo: Dr Kate Umbers

2.  Trade-offs in pre- and post-copulatory structures in NZ giraffe weevils

Many animals use weapons to increase mating opportunities. However, competition among males often continues after mating as the sperm from different males vie for access to female eggs. This project will investigate sperm competition in the New Zealand giraffe weevil, using both field and lab based experiments. A primary aim would be to set up mating experiments in the lab to look for possible differences in ejaculate allocation by sneaking versus fighting males. Field observations of mating strategies by males of different sizes would help to figure out too if large males use retalitory copulations when they notice sneaking males. It would also be useful to look at morphological differences in male genitalia, which would require doing lots of dissections in the lab. Again this project would  suit someone who enjoys field work and would be ok sitting around in the bush/lab watching beetles mate!

Sneaky male with pair 2

Sneaking versus guarding male giraffe weevils


Volunteer work

PhD student Erin Powell is keen for help out in the field doing night observations of harvestmen. Her field season will kick back off towards the end of 2018, so please get in touch if you are keen to help out. I can promise that harvestmen are not at all as creepy as they may look, and they can’t bite! Also, her field site is on a beautiful farm in Waitomo with fantastic cave systems – it’s a fun place to be. I will also have students working on the giraffe weevils this summer who would also love some help.

I’m also processing a huge number of harvestmen in the lab from previous collection periods and could do with some help measuring them. If you’re a keen undergrad that wants more experience in the lab (with preserved specimens) then please get in touch!

Finally, I have been investigating ant mimicry in a very charismatic little jumping spider from SE Asia and have lots of data on colour that need processing. If you are based in Auckland and would like to get some experience working on colour analysis using a neat new toolbox in ImageJ then I’d be very happy to have your help.

It is also worth checking out the Holwell lab page for other opportunities from members of our lab

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