Understanding Evolution in Natural Systems Using Models

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Understanding Evolution in Natural Systems Using Models


Applications can be submitted to the Office of Research until 4pm on 06 January 2019

Our research focuses on the relationship between form, function and ecology of living and extinct animals. One fundamental goal in evolutionary biology is to understand how size can constrain the evolution of morphological traits and limit the ability to exploit ecological niches. Size influences all
biological functions from cellular respiration, up to how fast an animals can run or climb. We will study this using computational musculo-skeletal modelling in OpenSim.

The PhD project will contribute to research that investigates the neuromuscular and biomechanical mechanisms associated with changes in body size using varanid lizards as a model. We have collected an extensive morphological dataset for this group including the muscle architecture of varanid lizards ranging from the smallest (7.6 g Varanus brevicauda) to the largest extant species (40 kg Varanus komodoensis), as well as their maximum speeds. We will use musculoskeletal models of varanid lizards in OpenSim to predict higher level biological parameters (e.g. running speed) in both living and extinct species. We will be able to scale our model up or down, exploring size, or change its shape (e.g. limb length). This will allow us to understand what the limitations to size are, in biological systems, and at what size certain structures no longer work. This research will have direct implications for understanding evolution as a process of optimisation.

For more information please contact Dr Clemente - cclement@usc.edu.au 

  • Domestic student or International HDR student at USC
  • Bachelors Degree with First Class Honours or equivalent previous study, relevant work experience, research publications, or other research experience
Selection criteria:
  • Academic qualifications
  • Record of research publications
  • Professional research experience
  • Strong computational and analytical skills in biomechanics
  • Experience using biomechanical assessment tools (e.g. high speed video, force plates)
Other preferred qualities include,
  • Interpersonal skills to work effectively with patients, research subjects, team members, and project collaborators
  • Excellent critical thinking skills, ability to work independently
  • Research experience and practical knowledge of research principles 
  • Interest or previous experience in musculo-skeletal modelling (e.g. SIMM/ OpenSim)
  • Interest in evolutionary theory
Eligible programs:
Number available:
Annual stipend of $26,300. If successful applicant is an International student, the scholarship will cover tuition fees and Overseas Student Health Cover for the standard duration of the HDR program.
To apply:
  1. If not a current USC PhD student, complete an application for admission to the PhD program following the directions on the HDR Applicants page.
  2. Apply for the scholarship:
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