Current members

IMG_1433Greg Holwell

Associate Professor – Email University webpage

I am a naturalist, zoologist and behavioural ecologist based in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I focus my research attention on terrestrial invertebrates and I am continually astounded by the diversity in their morphology and behaviour. In New Zealand, we are fortunate to have some of the most remarkable arthropods in our backyards and the Holwell lab has explored much of this beautiful country, along with Australia and South-East Asia searching for exciting research topics. Currently, we have a major focus on understanding the evolution of diverse and exaggerated weaponry in harvestmen, spiders and weta along with exploring the evolution of genitalia and the dynamics of scramble competition in arthropods. I do not endorse the feeding of wild birds…….except regent bowerbirds……they’re smart, they know the risks.


 Me and the nepenthes.jpgChrissie Painting

Research fellow WebsiteTwitter – Email

I’m doing a Marsden funded postdoc on weapon evolution in New Zealand harvestmen (Opiliones). For this project we are trying to figure out why there is so much diversity in weapon size and shape among groups of closely related species. The harvestmen are a great group to investigate this problem as males have huge jaws that they use as weapons, and the shape and size of these jaws varies greatly both within and between species.

Before this project I spent a year at the National University of Singapore looking at colour and mimicry in jumping spiders with A/Prof Daiqin Li, as well as various other jaunts looking at coercive mating in fiddler crabs with Prof Pat Backwell and exaggerated trait variation in anthribid weevils. My PhD research was also based in the Holwell lab where I had a lot of fun figuring out the mating and fighting behaviour of the New Zealand giraffe weevil.


12512265_10153604874174331_4361018593314035145_nLeilani Walker

PhD candidate – Website – Twitter – Email

For my PhD I am examining sexual selection in sheet-web spiders (Cambridgea) with a particular focus on weapon evolution. I will combine morphological, behavioural and phylogenetic analyses to answer questions about how male chelicerae vary within and between species and how they relate to individual success. In the course of the project I also hope to characterise behaviours associated with reproduction and competition.
Previously I completed and Honours project at the same university (The University of Auckland) studying sexual cannibalism in the facultatively parthenogenic mantis, Miomantis caffra.


camera setting croppedMurray Fea

PhD candidate – Email
I am currently studying the ecology of New Zealand cave weta. I am interested in the evolution and ecology of terrestrial invertebrates, biosecurity and conservation biology. I began research by looking at the interactions between an invasive and native praying mantis for my MSc project supervised by Dr Greg Holwell and Dr Margaret Stanley. I acquired an interest in reproductive evolution while studying in the Holwell lab and decided to continue here with a doctoral project examining the role of sexual selection in producing extreme animal morphologies. My current work uses the fascinating New Zealand cave weta Pachyrhamma waitomoensis as a study organism.


daveDave Seldon

BSc – MSc – Dip. Grad. Teaching – PhD candidate.

WebsiteEmail

My PhD research focuses on the iconic endemic New Zealand Carabidae genus Mecodema Blanchard 1853. This genus is highly diverse and widely distributed throughout New Zealand, including the Three Kings Islands, Poor Knights Islands, Chatham and Snares Islands. Most of the described species are found in the South Island, and only 25 are known from the North Island.

Currently, I am concentrating on the North Island, describing new species and redescribing existing species. This will result in all species being placed into a modern taxonomic framework (see Seldon & Leschen 2011) and provide a comprehensive key for North Island Mecodema.

I am also interested in the broader biogeography of the tribe Broscini, especially in context of the genera of the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore apart from the morphological taxonomy, my PhD will also include a genetic analysis of broscine genera from Australia, New Caledonia, South America and New Zealand. I am interested in testing hypotheses relating to dispersal of the Gondwanan elements of the tribe as proposed by Roig-Junent (2000) and more recently Liebherr et al. (2011).

My other interests include terrestrial insect/spider conservation and ecology, and a passion for New Zealand forest ecology. I am a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, a member of the New Zealand Entomological Society, and a member of the Coleopterist’s Society (US). I serve as a member of the Science Advisory Team for the Hauturu Trust, and am a member of the Department of Conservation Threatened Coleoptera Advisory Committee.


 

Erin Powell
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PhD candidate.

Email

I’m working on a Marsden funded PhD project looking at the evolution of exaggerated male weaponry in harvestmen (Opiliones). At least one species of NZ harvestmen maintains three weapon morphs, a rare occurrence among animal taxa. I am particularly focused on the behavioral ecology of this group, including the fighting styles of the different weapon morphs, alternative reproductive strategies, and the tradeoffs associated with each morph.

Prior to coming to New Zealand, I completed my MSc at the University of Florida with Dr. Lisa Taylor where I worked on two major projects. The first examined individual foraging specialization within a population of the mud dauber wasp, Sceliphron caementarium. Females build mud cells and provision their offspring with spider prey (between 5 and 25 spiders provisioned per one egg). I found that despite having access to the same resources, females chose different taxa and sizes of spider prey. Furthermore, specialist and generalist individuals coexisted within the population, with some females provisioning offspring with a single species of spider while others took spiders from up to 6 families.

A second set of projects looked at jumping spiders and their interactions with aposematic prey. A small proportion of regal jumping spider, Phidippus regius, individuals will consume chemically-defended milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). This behavior was not explained by factors such as size, sex, body condition, or experience. We also examined differences in red aversion between wild populations of Habronattus brunneus using choice experiments with novel, artificially-colored prey.


Rebecca Le Gricep1030883

PhD candidate.

Email

I have a broad interest in behaviour, ecology, and evolution and enjoy exploring and learning about the natural world and all of its quirks.

My PhD research is focused on developing an understanding of the behavioural ecology of seaweed flies here in New Zealand. My research covers aspects of both their ecology and behaviour, most specifically their (fascinating!) mating behaviour. Seaweed flies display extreme sexual conflict and convenience polyandry, behaviours which have been widely investigated in Northern hemisphere species, however little is known about our far-flung NZ species and how they might fit in. Running alongside this I am taking a broader approach and investigating the ecology and inter- and intraspecific relationships of these seaweed flies and the wrack community they inhabit throughout NZ.

Previously I worked with a wild population of New Zealand giraffe weevil for my Masters project, supervised by Dr Greg Holwell and Dr Chrissie Painting. In this project I investigated the fighting behaviour between males and with a focus on competitive assessment strategies, and ran a mark-recapture study exploring the lifetime mating success of this species in relation to their extreme size dimorphism and alternative reproductive tactics.


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Kathleen Collier

PhD Candidate – Email

I’m currently investigating social interaction and courtship behaviour in the New Zealand short-tailed bat, Mystacina tuberculata, under the joint supervision of Dr Greg Holwell, Dr Stuart Parsons (Queensland University of Technology), and Dr Cory Toth (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute). Mystacina have an unusual breeding system known as an ‘exploded lek’, which is used by various birds, but has only ever been reported in one other bat species. In the summer breeding season, males form loose aggregations where they display to females by singing and scent marking. I am interested in finding out which characteristics of male courtship behaviour are attractive to females and what techniques they use to increase their mating success. I’m also interested in the degree of social connectivity between individuals in the population and the extent to which Mystacina may maintain long-term relationships.

In 2015, I was lucky enough to spend a year in Bruneian Borneo, where I had the opportunity to work in some stunning old-growth rainforest and catch lots of amazing tropical bats. Prior to starting my PhD, I completed an Honours project (also at UoA) in which I used maximum entropy modelling to investigate the distribution patterns of European bats.


parrotchickenNeil Birrell

MSc student – Email

I am currently working towards a Master of Science  with Dr. Holwell as my supervisor. We are looking at various aspects of Hermetia illucens, which is also known as the black soldier fly. I am slightly ecclectic in my interests, which include invertebrates, biotechnology, geography, aquaculture, commercialisation of science and entomophagy. I am currently pursuing a venture which would use insects to convert organic waste into a sustainable source of insect protein and lipids for use as an agricultural feedstock.


ButterflyBeeCassandra Mark

PhD student – Email 

I am currently working as a research assistant investigating the variation of antennal sensory structures across a range of praying mantis species, utilising scanning electron microscopy as my primary means of characterisation. We hope to evaluate this data along with the reconstructed phylogeny of the order to reveal information about the evolution of antennal morphology in this system.

My interest in SEM characterisation and insect sensory architecture was piqued during my MSc project in which I studied the relationship between the antennal morphology and the use of olfaction in host and mate location in the New Zealand Magpie Moth, Nyctemera annulata. Under the supervision of Dr Greg Holwell and Dr Stuart Parsons I was given the opportunity to develop my skills on the SEM and further apply these to examine a range of different insect species. I plan to continue my studies as a PhD student in the Holwell Lab at some point in the near future.

 


Morgane Merien

Honours Student img_0948

Having just completed my Bachelor of Science in 2016, I am now undertaking an Honors project looking at facultative parthenogenesis in the New Zealand common stick insect, Clitarchus hookeri. I am interested in the evolution of sex, and how different mating systems influence population dynamics as well as traits. I enjoy learning about all types of animal ecology, but have taken a special interest to insects as they are so widespread in the environment. This makes them an ideal subject to study and there is still so much to find out and learn!

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