Evolutionary Biology Lab

Evolution & Ecology Research Centre and School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales


Russell Bonduriansky - Principal Investigator

● Evolutionary theory

● Phenotypic plasticity

● Non-mendelian and nongenetic inheritance

● Sexual selection and conflict

● Ageing

Interested in PhD/Masters/Honours?

Some potential projects

A PhD scholarship is currently available.

 Lab News

Welcome to new Honours students Kumudika Gunaratne and Claire Santhaseelan.


Congratulations to Erin and Ange, whose paper on imaging of sperm movement has been published in the journal Microscopy and Microanalysis.


Congratulations to Nathan, whose first paper has been published in Animal Behaviour, and featured in NewScientist.


Lab dinner 2014


Congratulations to Ronda, Erin and Amy on their great talks at the recent Postgraduate Research Forum.


Congratulations to Nathan Burke on winning the Crispin Rice Prize for Outreach and Communication in Evolution and Ecology!


Research led by Angela Crean has shown for the first time that individuals can 'inherit' features from a previous mate of their mother who is not their genetic father. Featured by National Geographic, BBC, CBS, Time, Newsweek, The Guardian,The Telegraph, The Washington Post, Science Daily, Esquire.


Amy and Foteini are setting up an experiment on male reproductive ageing in neriid flies.


Nathan Burke's short film The Edge won first prize at the Footprints Eco-Film Festival.


Lab Discussion Group (a.k.a. Cake Eating Group), 14/08/2014


Congratulations to Erin Macartney and Angela Crean on their highly-acclaimed presentations at ISBE2014 in New York City.


Margo Adler's paper on dietary restriction and ageing in BioEssays has been featured on UNSW News, ABC News, ScienceDaily, Medical News Today, Scientific American, and many other media.


Thanks to Margo for the wonderful tie, which features spines on a beetle penis (dissected by Luis Cayetano). Finally, Russell owns a tie and can look respectable at special occasions.


6/11/2013: Congratulations to Oscar, Nathan and Aidan on their fantastic Honours exit seminars!


Lab dinner 2013


30/10/2013: We celebrated the (near-) completion of Honours projects at our lab picnic above Coogee beach. It was a very hard day.


2/10/2013:  Most of the lab attended the Australasian Evolution Society meeting in Geelong, Vic. Nathan, Angela, Lára, Erin, Oscar and Aidan all gave excellent talks. We also encountered some of the local wildlife. Congratulations to Nathan on being chosen as runner-up for the Best Student Talk award!


13/09/2013: Russell gave a talk at the National University of Singapore.


After their careers in research, some of Nathan Burke's stick insects retired to a good home at Tigger's Childcare. Apparently, they're very happy there.


Angela Crean, Lára Hallsson and Margo Adler presented their work at the recent European Society for Evolutionary Biology meeting in Lisbon. Russell gave a talk at this year's Queenstown Research Week meeting on epigenetics in Queenstown, New Zealand.


Welcome to visiting student Tsai-Ming Lu from the OIST Graduate School in Okinawa, Japan. On his first visit to the lab, Tsai-Ming was treated to Nathan's fabulous mealworm cookies.


Congratulations to Angela Crean on being a National Finalist in Fresh Science 2013! After winning in the state finals, Ange headed to Melbourne to participate in the finals on 22 July.


Ever wanted to know how to sniff a spiny leaf insect? Here's how it's done (all part of serious research by Nathan Burke on sexual conflict in facultatively asexual animals).


Congratulations to Ange on her wedding!


Congratulations to Margo Adler on winning the Outstanding Evolution and Ecology Thesis of 2012 award and the Crispin Rice Prize for Outreach and Communication in Evolution and Ecology! Margo received her awards at the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre awards ceremony on Friday, 8th of March.


Welcome to new students Chris Allister, Nathan Burke, Oscar Lee, Erin Macartney and Aidan Runagall-McNaull.


Congratulations to Elizabeth Cassidy on submission of her Masters thesis, and her excellent Exit Seminar


Congratulations to Margo Adler on submission of her PhD thesis, and her highly successful Exit Seminar


Russell has received an ARC Future Fellowship for 2012-2016


Elizabeth Cassidy and Russell gave talks at the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Ottawa (July 6-11, 2012)


Russell attended a meeting on the evolution of genomic imprinting at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, USA


Angela Crean has received an ARC DECRA fellowship and grant  for 2012-14


Eleanor Bath won the 2012 Rhodes Scholarship for PhD studies at Oxford University


Margo Adler won the Best Talk award at a recent Postgraduate Research Forum


Elizabeth Cassidy gave a talk at the 2011 meeting of the Australasian Evolution Society in Townsville

Some current research projects

● The ecology of nongenetic inheritance

We have discovered that some environmental effects are transmitted across generations in the neriid fly Telostylinus angusticollis, resulting in an inheritance of acquired traits (link). Most intriguingly, we have found that a male's larval diet affects the body size of his offspring, and can even affect the body size of offspring sired by another male that subsequently mates with the same female. Such patterns of nongenetic inheritance have interesting implications for sexual coevolution (link).

Margo Adler's work has shown that such effects can depend on the parental social environment (link). Aidan Runagall-McNaull is currently applying the powerful "nutritional geometry" framework to investigate such effects.

In collaboration with Troy Day (Queen's University), we are developing theory on the potential for nongenetic inheritance to influence adaptation (link) and sexual coevolution  (link).


Male (left) and female neriid flies interacting on a tree trunk.




Offspring inherit an acquired characteristic of their mother's previous mate

A study led by Angela Crean reveals a new type of non-parental transgenerational effect. Experiments on neriid flies show that individuals can acquire their body size from a male who mated with their mother but is not their father. This intriguing effect seems to be mediated by the effects of seminal fluid on egg development.

Crean, A. J., Kopps, A. and Bonduriansky, R. 2014. Revisiting telegony: Offspring inherit an acquired characteristic of their mother's previous mate. Ecology Letters 17: 1545-1552.

National Geographic, BBC, Time, Science Daily


We are also using the cosmopolitan bruchid beetle Callosobruchus maculatus to investigate nongenetic inheritance of body size and life history. We have found that both maternal and paternal nongenetic effects influence body size in this species but, intriguingly, such effects can act in opposite ways on male and female offspring (link).

● Dietary ecology and developmental plasticity

We are broadly interested in how the environment (particularly the larval nutritional environment) shapes development, and the role that such effects play in evolution.

We have found that, in the Australian neriid fly Telostylinus angusticollis, sexual dimorphism in body size and shape is largely determined by larval nutrition (link). In a study by Alex Sentinella and DECRA research fellow Angela Crean, we have recently shown that the exaggeration of the male head and antenna (which are used as weapons and signals in sexual competition) depends on the amount of dietary protein available to larvae (link).

Research led by Margo Adler has shown that both larval and adult nutrition (link) as well as the social environment (link) also affect life history traits such as lifespan and ageing.

Elizabeth Cassidy has investigated the diversification of reaction norms for body shape in the Australian neriid flies (Telostylinus angusticollis and T. lineolatus). Her work has revealed interesting differences between the sexes in the patterns of morphological diversification.

Research by Erin Macartney and Angela Crean is extending this work to the effects of larval diet on sperm traits and reproductive ageing in males.


Neriid males feeding on acacia bark.



The head and midpiece of a T. angusticollis spermatozoon.


Watch the video abstract of the new paper on dietary restriction by Margo Adler and Russell Bonduriansky in BioEssays:


Adler, M.I. and Bonduriansky, R. 2014. Why do the well-fed appear to die young? A new evolutionary hypothesis for the effect of dietary restriction on lifespan. BioEssays 36: 439-450.

A comment on this article by Éric Le Bourg

UNSW News   ABC News   ScienceDaily   Medical News Today   Scientific American



● Sexual conflict and the evolution of facultative sex

Nathan Burke is exploring the potential for sexual conflict to maintain an unusual  mode of reproduction in the Australian Giant Spiny Leaf Insect Extatosoma tiaratum. Females of this species can reproduce asexually (producing all-female broods), or mate and produce offspring of both sexes. Does sexual conflict contribute to the maintenance of this remarkable reproductive flexibility?


Spiny leaf insect female.


● Diet and fitness in wild antler flies

In collaboration with Howard Rundle (University of Ottawa) and postdoc Brian Mautz, we are investigating the effects of diet on male performance in wild antler flies -- a tiny Canadian piophilid fly that breeds exclusively on discarded antlers of moose and deer. Although antler flies are only 2 mm long, their remarkable site fidelity males it possible to mark flies with individual codes, observe them throughout their lives in the wild, and construct individual biographies for them. This species has provided the first evidence of ageing in wild insects (link), and has revealed that ageing can affect sexual selection (link). 














   Marked antler fly males competing for a female.


● The genetic and environmental basis of condition

In collaboration with Howard Rundle (University of Ottawa) and postdocs Devin Arbuthnott and Martin Mallet, we are investigating the nature of condition dependence. We are using a powerful experimental design to unravel the relation between the genetic basis of condition (which is the focus of much theory) and the environmental effects on condition that are the focus of most empirical research. This work is being carried out on Drosophila melanogaster.












          Drosophila melanogaster mating.