Effects of climate change on an egg-laying reptile
Describe your research project
I am examining how incubation temperature affects lizard phenotypes. Climate change is predicted to cause increases in nest temperatures, and I will find out how the predicted increases in natural nest temperatures will affect phenotypes and survival of hatchling velvet geckos, Oedura lesueurii.
What is the aim of your project?
The impacts of climate warming on organisms are already apparent. One challenge for scientists is to identify species at risk from climate change. Reptiles are sensitive to climate warming because their eggs are sensitive to small increases in temperature. However, some species will adapt to warming by digging deeper nests, or choosing shadier or cooler nests sites. But what about communal nesting species where females from a local population lay their eggs inside the same nest? What happens to species in which all females lay their eggs in one basket? How will they cope under climate warming? This is the focus of my research.
This information will increase our understanding of the ecological impacts of climate change on reptile populations. The research findings will benefit wildlife managers by providing data necessary to model and mitigate the impacts of climate change on reptiles. The study species, the velvet gecko, is the major prey of the endangered broad-headed snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides, so understanding how climate change affects the prey species is crucial for conserving snake populations in the future.
Why did you choose to pursue a research degree as opposed to going into the work force? Why this area of research?
Prior to my PhD, I worked in several local and international organisations, and I always knew I wanted to pursue a PhD one day. Climate change is a major threat for biodiversity and assessing the impact of climate change on species is an enormous challenge for wildlife managers and ecologists. Climate change is predicted to alter the distribution and abundance of species, and coupled with increases in habitat fragmentation, may lead to species extinctions. Hence, I decided to study the impact of climate change on reptiles, as my main interests are the conservation of herpetofauna.
What is your daily activity?
In this project, I will investigate how increases in nest temperatures affect the offspring of a communally nesting species, the velvet gecko Oedura lesueurii. To determine how hotter nests will affect velvet geckos, I will incubate eggs in cycling incubators to mimic current and predicted future nest temperatures. Incubation temperature is an important environmental factor that affects the phenotype of reptiles during embryogenesis. I am using a combination of modelling, laboratory experiments, and field mark-recapture studies to determine how increases in temperature will affect populations of rock-dwelling reptiles.
What attracted you to research at UTS Science?
I contacted Dr Jonathan Webb to see if there was an opportunity for a graduate student to work on reptiles in Australia. Fortunately, he was very positive and helped to make my dream of working on Australian wildlife a reality. I chose a research project I have dreamed about working on wildlife in Australia, and I really wanted to work on a conservation project where I could help solve an important problem, which I really interested in. I am very excited to be working in Australia on a project where I can make a positive contribution to conservation biology. UTS has a friendly and helpful environment and opportunities for research, along with the quality of research staff. So I strongly believe that working with my primary supervisor and co-supervisor will help me grow as an independent researcher.
What is your future?
I would like to pursue further research, and I am seeking to advance my skills further through active collaboration and learning in a supportive and applied environment, perhaps a postdoctoral fellowship.