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 ecosystem interactions in modern and prehistoric Australian landscapes. 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, and how they make foraging decisions and move around their landscape. I am also looking at how biases in radiocarbon dating can affect the results of common analyses techniques used to understand changes in historic human populations over time.

Key interests

  • ecological modelling

  • biomechanics

  • animal behaviour

  • animal performance

  • invasive species

  • game theory

My research history

I am fascinated by how wild animals make the decisions they do when going about their daily lives. This is a pretty broad interest, and I like to integrate ideas from different fields to try to answer questions surrounding it. My previous research has used concepts from ecology, biomechanics, performance, behaviour, and control theory to understand and predict how and why animals make the movement decisions they do.

Prior to joining 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 focused 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 hierarchies.

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).


Wheatley R, Pavlic TP, Levy O & Wilson RS (2020) Habitat features and performance interact to determine the outcomes of terrestrial predator-prey pursuits. Journal of Animal Ecology, Early View. DOI:


Rew-Duffy, M., Cameron, S.F, Freeman, N.J,  Wheatley, R., Latimer, J.M, Wilson, R.S, (2020). Greater agility increases probability of survival in the endangered northern quoll. Journal of Experimental Biology 2020 223: jeb218503

Wilson, R.S, Pavlic, T.P, Wheatley, R., Niehaus, A.C, Levy, O., (2020) Modeling escape success in terrestrial predator–prey interactions, Integrative and Comparative Biology, icaa070,

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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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