PhD Scholarship: Sensory ecology of a resilient ancient deceiver, the Splachnaceae dung mosses

University of Auckland
New Zealand
Apply By (date): 
Monday, July 31, 2017 - 00:00

PhD Scholarship available: Sensory ecology of a resilient ancient deceiver, the Splachnaceae dung mosses (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

The extraordinary Splachnaceae mosses often grow on animal carcasses and dung, and use bright colours and rotten odours to lure flies into acting as spore dispersers. Splachnaceae are generally hosted by the remains of native mammals - in Australia, they grow on dung from wombats, wallabies and Tasmanian Devils. Splachnaceae have also been found with preserved mammal remains, e.g. giant Irish deer and Canadian caribou. In New Zealand/Aotearoa, the biota is bird dominated with no native land mammals – the Splachnaceae mosses are now hosted by introduced mammals like deer and dogs. Could Aotearoa Splachnaceae’s original hosts be extinct moa  or other herbivorous birds like takahē or putakitaki? Or seal or seabird colonies? We aim to use behavioural ecology, chemical ecology, spectral modelling, paleoecology and ancient DNA to discover how these mosses mimic the scents and odours of dung to deceive spore-dispersing flies and dung beetles, and how they switch between bird, mammal, native, and introduced hosts. More broadly, we’ll explore how networks can respond to introduced species and megafaunal extinctions.

This exciting and unique project will be supervised by behavioural ecologist Dr Anne Gaskett (Auckland Uni) and paleoecologist Dr Jamie Wood (Landcare/Manaaki Whenua) and involves considerable fieldwork in New Zealand (and optionally, Australia) and lab techniques including spectral modelling of insect colour vision, GC-MS of moss odours and ancient DNA analyses. More info and essential criteria are here: