Joshua Amiel

Josh and snake

Position: Research Assistant
Phone: 02 9351 8679
Fax: 02 9351 5609
Location: Room 447, Heydon-Laurence Building A08, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

Current Research

My PhD research examines the interplay between amphibian and reptile ecology, brain development/morphology and behaviour.

Learning is the ability to create or modify behaviours in response to recurring environmental stimuli. Increased learning capacity gives animals the behavioural flexibility to respond to rapidly changing and unstable environmental conditions (e.g., as a result of climate change and translocations). In birds and mammals, a greater ability to learn is correlated with larger relative brain mass. Thus, when dealing with novel environmental challenges, large-brained animals should possess a more diverse suite of behaviours than their small-brained counterparts, potentially resulting in a fitness advantage. Although these benefits suggest that evolution constantly selects for larger brain size, brains are metabolically costly organs and this cost sets the upper limit on brain size. The differential ability of animals to meet the metabolic demands of brain tissue results in the great variation we see in brain morphology and learning ability both among and within species.

The proximate and distal causes of this variation in brain size and thus, learning ability remain poorly understood, especially in amphibians and reptiles. My research aims to identify environmental factors that influence brain morphology and learning behaviour, and the ecological significance of this variation for amphibians and reptiles.

I am currently working on a diverse suite of amphibian and reptile systems including elapid snakes, scincid lizards and of course cane toads.

Bassiana brains

Past Research

Coming from the far reaches of North America (Canada), I am also interested in physiological mechanisms that allow certain reptiles to not only survive temperatures well below their optimal body temperatures but thrive in these conditions. My research in this area has focused on temperature dependent distribution of blood in the bodies of Thamnophis spp. snakes.



# Publication
6. Amiel, J. J., and R. Shine. 2012. Hotter nests produce smarter young lizards. Biology Letters: in press. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.1161 **Read coverage in ABC, Science NOW, COSMOS,, and New Scientist
5. Amiel J., R. Tingley, R. Shine. 2011. Smart moves: effects of relative brain size on establishment success of invasive amphibians and reptiles. PLoS ONE 6:e18277. **Read coverage in Conservation Magazine
4. Amiel, J., B. Chua, R. Wassersug and D. Jones. 2011. Temperature-dependent regulation of blood distribution in snakes. Journal of Experimental Biology 214:1458-1462.
3. Lockhart, J. and J. Amiel. 2011. A case of tail pseudoautotomy in the water snake (Nerodia sipedon). Herpetological Review 42:296-297.
2. Amiel, J. J. and R. Wassersug. 2010. Temperature differentials between the bodies and tails of ribbon snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis): ecological and physiological implications. Amphibia-Reptilia 31:257-263.
1. Todd, J., J. Amiel and R. Wassersug. 2010. Factors influencing the emergence of a northern population of eastern ribbon snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) from artificial hibernacula. Canadian Journal of Zoology 87:1221-1226.

Grants and Awards

Year Award
June 2011 Australian National Imaging Foundation, Subsidy Grant (100% subsidy for MRI scanning)
June 2011 University of Sydney Post Graduate Research Support Scheme, Travel Grant
April 2011 National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Post Graduate Scholarship (Doctoral)
March 2010 National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Post Graduate Scholarship (Masters)
March 2010 National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Alexander Graham Bell Scholarship (Declined)
April 2009 Canada Millennium Scholarship
September 2008 Dalhousie University In-course Scholarship
August 2008 University of British Columbia Rising Stars of Research, Runner-up Discovery Division
May 2008 National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Undergraduate Student Research Award
April 2008 Dalhousie University, Developmental Biology Award
May 2007 National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Undergraduate Student Research Award
April 2007 David Andrew Dougall Bursary


Year Presentation
July 2011 Temperature dependent control of blood distribution in snakes (Oral presentation)
Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Minneapolis, MN, USA
June 2011 Variations in learning behaviour in amphibians and reptiles (Poster presentation)
University of Sydney post-graduate research showcase, Sydney, NSW, Australia
April 2011 Variations in learning behaviour in amphibians and reptiles  (Oral presentation)
University of Sydney introductory post-graduate seminar, Sydney, NSW, Australia
September 2010 Effects of incubation temperature on reptile behaviour and brain development (Oral presentation)
Meeting of the Australian Society of Herpetologists, Adelaide, SA, Australia
August 2010 Herps in the frozen north: Thermoregulatory strategies of cold climate species (Invited seminar)
Royal Zoological Society of Southern Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia
January 2009 Physiological and behavioural adaptations of the ribbon snake (Thamnophis suaritus) to cold climates (Oral presentation)
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Boston, MA, USA