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Rebecca Wheatley

About me

As a joint postdoc with DEEP and the CABAH node at UTas, my research is using mathematical modelling to explore questions about how big herbivores, plants, fire, and water interact in both modern and prehistoric Australian ecosystems. This involves modelling some extant feral herbivores (like camels) as well as some of our unique marsupial megafauna that went extinct tens of thousands of years ago. I’m also hoping to use the models I develop for large herbivores to answer some questions about ecosystem interactions involving Australia’s small, native, extant herbivores.

Key interests

  • ecological modelling

  • biomechanics

  • animal behaviour

  • animal performance

  • invasive species

  • game theory

Publications

Clemente CJ, Dick TJM, Wheatley R, Gaschk J, Amir Abdul Nasir AF, Cameron SF & Wilson RS (2019) Moving in complex environments: a biomechanical analysis of locomotion on inclined and narrow substrates. Journal of Experimental Biology, 222, jeb189654. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.189654

 

Wheatley R, Clemente CJ, Niehaus AC, Fisher DO and Wilson RS (2018) Surface friction alters the agility of a small Australian marsupial. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221, jeb.172544. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.172544

 

Wheatley R, Niehaus AC, Fisher DO & Wilson RS (2017) Ecological context and the probability of mistakes underlie speed choice. Functional Ecology, 32, 990-1000. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13036

 

Cameron SF, Wheatley R and Wilson RS (2018) Sex-specific thermal sensitivities of performance and activity in the Asian house gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus. Journal of Comparative Physiology B, 188, 635-647. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-018-1149-2

 

Wheatley R, Angilletta Jr. MJ, Niehaus AC & Wilson RS. (2015) How fast should an animal run when escaping? An optimality model based on the trade-off between speed and accuracy. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 55, 1166-1175. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icv091

 

Kesselring H, Wheatley R & Marshall DJ. (2012). Initial offspring size mediates trade-off between fecundity and longevity in the field. Marine Ecology Progression Series, 465,129-136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps09865

My research history

I have broad research interests and I like to integrate ideas from different fields to answer questions about the natural world. My previous research has used concepts from ecology, biomechanics, performance, behaviour, and control theory to understand and predict how and why wild animals make the movement decisions they do.

Prior to my move to Tassie and DEEP/CABAH, I did a year-long postdoc at the University of Queensland where I built a mathematical model to predict prey survival against predators in different habitats. The goal of this model was to determine how particular prey species fare against different kinds of predators in habitats of varying complexity; in particular, how threatened Australian mammals do against invasive predators like cats and foxes. My postdoc at UQ followed on directly from my PhD, where I looked at how ecological context and habitat structure interact with biomechanical trade-offs in performance to determine why animals choose the movement speeds they do in nature. My PhD thesis used theoretical modelling and empirical experiments on the buff-footed antechinus, a small and adorable semelparous marsupial with ninja-like performance skills.

Before my PhD, I worked as a research assistant in the Wilson Performance Lab at UQ. I used an optimality model and real-life data to predict the best serve speeds for professional tennis players. I also helped out with a range of other performance-based research, including optimal escape behaviour in the endangered northern quoll, coercive mating strategies in the invasive eastern mosquitofish, and optimal scoring speed in soccer players. Prior to that, my honours research focussed on identifying fighting strategies in Asian house geckos and determining whether maximum sprint speed, bite force, basal metabolic rate, and boldness contributed to their dominance heirarchies.

Other interests 

 

Despite my research increasingly taking place in the virtual realm of simulation modelling, I love getting out with my hiking boots and binoculars to look for feathered and scaly beasts (and the occasional native orchid). I’m a bookworm, a bit of a sci-fi buff, a wannabe gardener (when possums don’t eat all my plants), and an amateur chef (also with mixed results).

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