2014 Research Opportunities - Wildlife


Impacts of toxicants in the marine ecosystem on the health of Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus): spatial variation in heavy metals and investigations of endrocrine disruption

Synopsis:

The Australian fur seal colony at Lady Julia Percy Island, Victoria comprises approximately 25% of this species' population and is being impacted by an emerging, recently identified alopecia (hair loss) syndrome. The syndrome afflicts up to 50% of juvenile females, reducing body condition thereby increasing juvenile mortality risk; given the prevalence of this syndrome, it could potentially result in population decline. A population census in the summer of 2013/14 showed a 50% decrease in pup production at the colony since the previous census in 2007; the role of the alopecia syndrome in contributing to this decline is unknown.
This ecotoxicological study will compare heavy metal, dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs and PBDE concentrations in the Lady Julia Percy population with other colony sites. This will establish the spatial variation of toxicants across the species range and enable comparison with seal species elsewhere and inform the interpretation of the likely significance of toxicant concentrations found in the Lady Julia Percy colony in relation to the alopecia syndrome.
Demonstration of an anthropogenic impact associated with environmental contaminants will inform mitigation strategies, thereby aiding species and ecosystem conservation.

Further Information:
This project is a collaboration between The University of Sydney, Dr Michael Lynch (Zoos Victoria), Dr Roger Kirkwood (IMARES - Wageningen University Research, The Netherlands), and Dr Julie Mondon (Deakin University, Victoria). Funding for sample analysis has been secured; funding will be sought to support field work for additional sample collection for the project.

This project would suit either a Masters by Research or PhD candidature. The successful applicant will have an Honours 1 degree or equivalent. A degree in Veterinary Science or Animal and Veterinary Bioscience is preferred due to the nature of the project.
A student scholarship is not available for this project. The successful applicant must apply for and be awarded a scholarship (stipend) for example, an Australian Postgraduate Award APA/UPA for Australian and New Zealand residents.

Supervisor:
Dr Rachael Gray


Significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and traditional practices for wildlife conservation and management

Synopsis:
This project aims to investigate the contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and traditional practices, past and present, have made to the conservation management of wildlife.
There is scope to focus on a single or a range of species and a multidisciplinary perspective, including genetics, will be developed. The main focus will be valuing the significance traditional practices/knowledge have in maintaining genetic diversity and viable populations. Once the specific aims have been agreed, this will be subject to discussion with and approval by the traditional owners and park authorities related to areas in which this project will take place.

Supervisor:
Dr Jaime Gongora

Further Information:
The successful applicant must apply for and be awarded a scholarship (stipend) for example, an Australian Postgraduate Award APA/UPA for Australian and New Zealand residents.

International students interested in this project could apply for IPRS scholarships which are available for eligble students. Students must have a scholarship which covers full tuition fees and a living allowance.


Diversity and evolution of endogenous retroviruses in crocodilians

Synopsis:
This project focuses on the evolution, distribution, diversity and expression of ERVs in crocodilians. This project aims to characterise ERVs from crocodilian genome data and investigate the distribution and expression of ERVs in crocodiles, caimans, alligator and gharials. There is also the scope to investigate ERVs and disease association of relevance to the crocodile industry. This project will involve computational biology analyses of next generation sequencing from genome and RNA data.

Supervisor:
Dr Jaime Gongora

Further Information:
The successful applicant must apply for and be awarded a scholarship (stipend) for example, an Australian Postgraduate Award APA/UPA for Australian and New Zealand residents.

International students interested in this project could apply for IPRS scholarships which are available for eligble students. Students must have a scholarship which covers full tuition fees and a living allowance.


Genome-wide SNP and population genetics of platypuses from across Australia

Synopsis:
This project will focus on population genomics and the demographic history of the platypus. Theaim is to analyse ~50 genomes from platypuses representing the four evolutionary lineages from the Australian mainland and Tasmania/King Island. This data will be used to investigate genome-wide diversity, population structure, gene flow and signatures of selection among platypus from across Australia. This project will involve analyses of next generation sequencing data and computational biology.

Supervisor:
Dr Jaime Gongora

Further Information:
The successful applicant must apply for and be awarded a scholarship (stipend) for example, an Australian Postgraduate Award APA/UPA for Australian and New Zealand residents.

International students interested in this project could apply for IPRS scholarships which are available for eligble students. Students must have a scholarship which covers full tuition fees and a living allowance.


Elucidating the evolution and diversity of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) among wild pigs and peccaries

Synopsis:
This project will focus on the evolution and diversity of class I and class II loci in twelve species of Suidae from Africa, Europe and Asia and three species of Tayassuidae from the Americas. This project aims to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution that have been shaping the diversity of wild pigs and peccaries since they diverged from the common ancestor ~35 million years ago. There is also the scope within this project to investigate MHC disease association including local adaptation of some of these species to some pathogens. This project will involve analyses of next generation sequencing data already available and validation using RNA-Seq, deep amplicon sequencing and traditional molecular genetic approaches.

Supervisor:
Dr Jaime Gongora

Further Information:
The successful applicant must apply for and be awarded a scholarship (stipend) for example, an Australian Postgraduate Award APA/UPA for Australian and New Zealand residents.

International students interested in this project could apply for IPRS scholarships which are available for eligble students. Students must have a scholarship which covers full tuition fees and a living allowance.


Elucidating the evolutionary history and genetic diversity of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) and disease association in crocodilians

Synopsis:
This project will focus on the evolution and diversity of the MHC among twenty-three species of crocodilians to identify the rearrangements and gain and/or loss of genes. Also within the scope of the project is MHC diversity among populations of saltwater crocodiles and disease association studies of relevance to the crocodile industry. This project will involve analyses of genome sequence and RNA-Seq data and use of deep amplicon sequencing, DNA capture and traditional molecular genetic approaches.

Supervisor:
Dr Jaime Gongora

Further Information:
The successful applicant must apply for and be awarded a scholarship (stipend) for example, an Australian Postgraduate Award APA/UPA for Australian and New Zealand residents.

International students interested in this project could apply for IPRS scholarships which are available for eligble students. Students must have a scholarship which covers full tuition fees and a living allowance.


Investigation into the pharmacokinetics and efficacy of antibiotics in koalas

Synopsis:
Our groundbreaking and innovative research shows that many therapeutic drugs administered to koalas do not reach therapeutic plasma concentrations. This project investigates whether this is also the case with many ‘first-line’ antibiotics. This project will work out the best dose rates for antibiotics for koalas

Koalas are frequently medicated with antibiotics to treat trauma (as a result of burns, feral animal attacks, car accidents) and infectious disease. The koala’s diet has a high proportion of plant secondary metabolites (PSMs), consequently the koala is presumed to have physiological adaptations to minimise oral absorption and maximize elimination of these PSMs and a side effect is that they absorb some medicines poorly and eliminate them quickly. We suspect this is probably the case with the first-line antibacterial drugs. We will select two or three commonly used antibacterial drugs used in koalas and will work up the liquid chromatography assays for each of these drugs to detect their concentration in biological fluids. Then, we will test these agents with in vitro models to ascertain the extent of oral absorption (an everted sac model) and extent of metabolism (by the microsome assay which is a model of phase 1 hepatic metabolism). Finally we will investigate the in vivo pharmacokinetics of these agents in koalas to formulate a more effective dose rate of these drugs in this species.

Supervisor:
A/Prof Merran Govendir

Further Information:
We are looking for an enthusiastic veterinarian or an animal/biological science graduate with interests in wildlife health and pharmacology with a first class honours (Hons I) or equivalent. Graduates with Hons I degree an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) for Australian and New Zealand residents. Full-time award holders receive a stipend of $24,653 p.a. (2013 rate) which is currently exempt from taxation. The stipend rate is indexed on the anniversary of the commencement date of the award Scholarships.

For a candidate to be successful for an APA for semester 1, 2014, applications for an APA must be submitted to The University of Sydney Research Office by October 31st 2013. Candidates will have their travel and accommodation expenses covered to attend koala facilities to obtain and collect samples at the Koala Preservation Society at Port Macquarie NSW and Australia Zoo, Beerwah QLD.