Current and Past Research

CURRENT RESEARCH

The challenge of living a hot environment: My post doctoral work continues working with wild zebra finches, investigating how extreme hot weather impacts their physiology.

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Temperate Estrildid sperm plasticity:  In collaboration with Australian Bird Study Association (ABSA) I am investigate plasticity in sperm production in red-browed and double-barred finches.

 

PAST RESEARCH

Reproductive plasticity in Estrildid finches: For my PhD I investigated how sperm production and usage is impacted by behavioural cues and the environment in captive and wild Australian Estrildid finches. My primary focus was on zebra finches, but I also worked with long-tailed and Gouldian finches. These birds are fascinatingly different in their reproductive plasticity compared to Northern birds. Watch for papers coming from this research!

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Novel anti-depressants and neuroprotectants: Using cell culture and Wistar-Kyoto rat models we investigated the anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, and neuroprotectant properties of nicotine, alcohol, curcumin, resveratrol, and ketamine. Findings: Your brain wants you to go enjoy a glass of red wine with a nice yellow curry, but no smoking.

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Population difference in reproductive physiology: Cassin’s Sparrows breed across a wide expanse of the Central and Southwest United States. Grassland breeding birds in Colorado breed in Spring as expected of North American species, but birds in the arid Southwest do not breed until monsoon rains start, typically in July. This study investigated the control of this breeding flexibility, demonstrating they are likely different populations of birds – not migratory breeders as the northern birds are shutting down reproduction as the southern are ramping up.

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Photoperiodic induced response of Boarder Canaries: Domestication has impacted and brought into question the consistency of seasonal reproductive associated changes in canaries.  This study clearly defined the photoperiodic gonadal, neuroendocrine, circulating hormone, and song nuclei response of Boarder canaries. They were found to demonstrate significant changes in response to shifts in daylength, and exhibit absolute photorefractoriness (i.e., failed to respond to previously stimulating daylengths). The aim was to establish a model to examine how external cues are integrated into the brain to regulate reproduction.

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Regulation of reproduction by Vasoactive intestinal peptide: VIP has been implicated as a regulator of avian reproductive activity as it acts on the hypothalamus and pituitary to regulate prolactin transcription and release. This study investigated VIP expressing neuron activation in response to day length in turkeys, and found activation that maybe start the endocrine cascade towards absolute photorefractoriness (i.e., failed to respond to previously stimulating daylengths).

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Foraging success in different contexts: Groove-bill ani are cooperative breeding birds that forage either alone in the family group or following grazing animals (historically leaf cutter ants, now horses and cows). Type and quantity of prey consumed varied significantly with situation.

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Genetic profiling of Breast Cancer patients: Investigated potential genetic contributions to cause of cancer in breast cancer patients with atypical or high risk presentation.