Melanie Elphick


Position: Senior Research Assistant
Phone: 02 9351 3996
Fax: 02 9351 5609
Location: Lab 210, Heydon-Laurence Building A08, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Website: Elphick Editing - Specialist Scientific Editing Services

Research Background

My association with Professor Shine and his lab began way, way back in 1995 when I undertook an Honours degree in Science, majoring in reptile biology. My Honours project involved an investigation into the long-term effects of incubation temperatures on hatchling skinks (Bassiana duperreyi), from the Brindabella Range near Canberra. Since graduating with First Class Honours, I have been employed as one of Rick's full-time research assistants, where my duties are many and varied.

Bassiana hatching

For 20 years I assisted Rick with his research on the incubation biology of Bassiana duperreyi. A typical season involved monitoring natural nest temperatures using miniature data loggers, collecting eggs from the field, and then incubating them in the laboratory at a variety of temperatures. Once the hatchlings emerged, we assessed their morphology, and various other behavioural characteristics, to investigate the ecological and evolutionary consequences of a female's choice of egg-laying site. All of the hatchling lizards were then released back into the field, at the nests from which they were collected as eggs.

I've been extremely fortunate during my time as a research assistant, having had the opportunity to accompany Rick to far-flung places in search of reptiles. In 1998 I travelled to Manitoba to assist with research on the great gartersnake emergence and breeding frenzy that occurs during the short Canadian spring and summer. It was truly an adventure of a lifetime.

melwork mel


Then in July 2002 I spent a week in New Caledonia helping Rick with his research on the natural history and foraging ecology of the turtle-headed seasnake (Emydocephalus annulatus). Unfortunately we were there on the tail-end of a cyclone, so it wasn't quite the paradise island I had hoped for. But the Emydocephalus more than made up for it - they are truly delightful creatures to work with. We snorkelled morning and afternoon, collecting snakes, taking them back to the lab for processing and then releasing them on the next dive. It was such a thrill to see one and just reach out and grab it! They are very placid animals.

My next research adventure with Rick was a week in September 2003 at his field station near Fogg Dam, in the Northern Territory. My role was to assist Rick and his post-doc Greg Brown with a study on the foraging tactics of Macleay's water snake (Enhydris polylepis). Fogg Dam is an extraordinary and beautiful place, teeming with wildlife - and plenty of bugs when working at night with a spotlight. We also had a 5-m saltie that took up residence in the Dam during the week, which certainly added a new dimension to my experience of reptile research. I quickly became an excellent croc spotter, keeping an eye on "old George" and letting Rick and Greg know if he started coming too close. You really know you're alive at times like that!

croc sign melcroc

Then in 2005 the cane toad invasion front reached Rick's field station at Middle Point - and big changes happened in the lab. Most of the research now focussed on cane toad biology, impact and control, with scores of Honours students, post-grads and post-docs working in concert to investigate all angles of the toad invasion. And thus, Team Bufo was born.

Team Bufo at TERF

Eleven years later, my incredibly talented and wonderful boss was awarded the nation's highest honour for academic research - the Prime Minister's Prize for Science. I was so proud to be there as part of Team Bufo and to share in this great honour for Rick. And for a bunch of biologists, I think we all scrubbed up quite well!

Team Bufo at Parliament House


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# Publication details
1. Shine, R., M. J. Elphick, and P. S. Harlow. 1995. Sisters like it hot (Advantages of temperature-determined sex; Scientific Correspondence). Nature 378:451-452.
2. Shine, R., T. R. L. Madsen, M. J. Elphick, and P. S. Harlow. 1997. The influence of nest temperatures and maternal brooding on hatchling phenotypes of water pythons. Ecology 78:1713-1721.
3. Shine, R., M. J. Elphick, and P. S. Harlow. 1997. The influence of natural incubation environments on the phenotypic traits of hatchling lizards. Ecology 78:2559-2568.
4. Elphick, M. J., and R. Shine. 1998. Longterm effects of incubation temperatures on the morphology and locomotor performance of hatchling lizards (Bassiana duperreyi, Scincidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 63:429-447.
5. Elphick, M., and R. Shine. 1999. Sex differences in optimal incubation temperatures in a scincid lizard species. Oecologia 118:431-437.
6. Shine, R., P. S. Harlow, M. J. Elphick, M. M. Olsson, and R. T. Mason. 2000. Conflicts between courtship and thermoregulation: the thermal ecology of amorous male garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 73:508-516.
7. Shine, R., M. J. Elphick, P. S. Harlow, I. T. Moore, M. P. LeMaster, and R. T. Mason. 2001. Movements, mating and dispersal of red-sided garter snakes from a communal den in Manitoba. Copeia 2001:82-91.
8. Shine, R., and M. J. Elphick. 2001. The effect of short-term weather fluctuations on temperatures inside lizard nests, and on the phenotypic traits of hatchling lizards. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 72:555-565.
9. Shine, R., E. G. Barrott, and M. J. Elphick. 2002. Some like it hot: effects of forest clearing on nest temperatures of montane reptiles. Ecology 83:2808-2815.
10. Shine, R., M. J. Elphick, and S. Donnellan. 2002. Co-occurrence of multiple, supposedly incompatible modes of sex determination in a lizard population. Ecology Letters 5:486-489.
11. Shine, R., M. J. Elphick, and E. G. Barrott. 2003. Sunny side up: lethally high, not low, temperatures may prevent oviparous reptiles from reproducing at high elevations. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 78:325-334.
12. Shine, R., X. Bonnet, M. J. Elphick, and E. Barrott. 2004. A novel foraging mode in snakes: browsing by the sea snake Emydocephalus annulatus (Serpentes, Hydrophiidae).  Functional Ecology 18:16-24.
13. Shine, R., G. P. Brown, and M. J. Elphick. 2004. Field experiments on foraging in free-ranging water snakes Enhydris polylepis (Homalopsinae). Animal Behaviour 68:1313-1324.
14. Elphick, M. J., J. Thomas, and R. Shine. 2006. Courtship and copulation in the southern water skink, Eulamprus heatwolei. Herpetofauna 36:25-26.
15. Radder, R., M. J. Elphick, D. Warner, D. Pike, and R. Shine. 2008. Reproductive modes in lizards: measuring the fitness consequences of prolonged uterine retention of eggs.  Functional Ecology 22:332-339.
16. Telemeco, R., M. J. Elphick, and R. Shine. 2009. Nesting lizards (Bassiana duperreyi) compensate partly, but not completely, for climate change. Ecology 90:17-22.
17. Du, W., M. J. Elphick, and R. Shine. 2010. Thermal regimes during incubation do not affect mean selected temperatures of hatchling lizards (Bassiana duperreyi, Scincidae).  Journal of Thermal Biology 35:47-51.
18. Elphick, M. J., D. A. Pike, C. Bezzina, and R. Shine. 2013. Cues for communal egg-laying in lizards (Bassiana duperreyi, Scincidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 110:839-842.
19. Elphick. M. J., R. Shine, and R. Radder. 2014. An observation of raised tail wag behaviour in a skink. Herpetofauna 42:18-19.
20. Shine, R., G. P. Brown, and M. J. Elphick. 2016. Effects of intense wildfires on the nesting ecology of oviparous montane lizards. Austral Ecology 41:756-767.
21. Li, H., C. E. Hollelely, M. J. Elphick, A. Georges, and R. Shine. 2016. The behavioural consequences of sex reversal in dragons. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283:20160217.
22. Li, H., M. J. Elphick, and R. Shine. 2017. Potential targets for selection during the evolution of viviparity in cold-climate reptiles. Oecologia 183:21-30.
Mel with gartersnakes