Welcome Sophia Lee!

Earlier this month, we were joined in Melbourne by Sophia Lee: A new Honours student from California. Bristling with potential and enthusiasm, Sophia will conduct research into the significance of rest in fiddler rays. Based (mostly) at the Queenscliff Marine Research Station, she will conduct behavioral assays on captive rays to determine when they are asleep. Notably, there is presently no evidence for a homeostatically regulated sleep state in cartilaginous fishes. Sophia will discover when these elasmobranchs sleep and how that sleep is regulated. Welcome Sophia!

2022 Anno Domini

The end of 2022 is nigh – an appropriate time to reflect upon the successes achieved and a glimpse of more to come in 2023.

Firstly, Mr Robin Johnsson became Dr Robin Johnsson after the sterling review of his dissertation entitled, “Cognition and sleep in Australian magpies”. Soon afterwards, Robin relocated to the USA to work with A/Prof Tim Roth on cognition in painted turtles and chickadees. And Mr Adrian Russo became Dr Adrian Russo after the rapid review of his dissertation, “The role of serotonin synthesis in a mouse model of social behaviour, anxiety and sleep”. He has now landed his dream job as a psychologist. Shauni Omond has been hired as a Sleep Scientist at Eastern Health in Box Hill where she will get hands-on experience in human sleep recording, scoring, and disorders. Well done, All!

Secondly, we had a slew of output from everyone; and so, in alphabetical order…

Connelly F, et al. 2022. Urban noise does not affect cognitive performance in wild Australian magpies. Anim Behav 188, 35-44. *While urban noise disrupts sleep in magpies (Connelly et al. 2020), it doesn’t influence subsequent waking cognition (Connelly et al. 2022).

Johnsson RD, et al. 2022a. Homeostatic regulation of NREM sleep, but not REM sleep, in Australian magpies. Sleep 45, zsab218. *Several studies now indicate that REM sleep does not appear to be regulated in Australian magpies (Aulsebrook et al. 2020; Connelly et al. 2020; Johnsson et al. 2022a). This study was also the first to demonstrate that daytime naps reduce nighttime SWA in birds.

Johnsson RD, et al. 2022b. Sleep loss impairs cognitive performance and alters song output in Australian magpies. Sci Rep 12, 6645. *Sleep loss via gentle handling for 12-h impairs cognitive performance in magpies (Johnsson et al. 2022b), unlike that following more modest sleep loss experienced from 6-h sleep loss (Johnsson et al. 2022b) and urban noise (Connell et al. 2022).

Johnsson RD, et al. 2022c. Preliminary evidence of tool use in an Australian magpie? Behaviour 159, 1483-1497. *At least one Australian magpie can use a stick to obtain a food reward. Whether this behaviour is repeatable and commonly-used by wild birds is unclear.

Kelly ML, et al. 2022. Energy conservation characterizes sleep in sharks. Biol Lett 18, 20210259. *Oxygen consumption in sleeping sharks is lower than in sharks sitting quietly awake, providing evidence for an energetic benefit to sleep.

Lesku JA and Schmidt MH. 2022. Energetic costs and benefits of sleep. Curr Biol 32, R656-R661. *Indeed, other animals show energetic benefits (and costs) to sleeping, which suggest a sleep function that relates to energy conservation (or perhaps energy reallocation).

Lesku JA and Rattenborg NC. 2022. The missing cost of ecological sleep loss. Sleep Adv 3, zpac036. *But some animals forgo sleep seemingly without any cost. Here, several recent studies are reviewed with a call for urgent research into animals that tolerate (or endure, or thrive) little sleep.

Omond SET, et al. 2022. Neurotransmitters of sleep and wakefulness in flatworms. Sleep 45, zsac053. *A very comprehensive study into the biochemical regulation of sleep and wake in flatworms. While flatworms sleep (Omond et al. 2017), simple animals have a simplified complements of neurotransmitters that regulate these states; only GABA has a conserved sleep-promoting role across all species studied (Omond et al. 2022).

Rattenborg NC, et al. 2022. Sleep in nonmammalian vertebrates. In: Kryger M, et al. (eds.), Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 7th edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier, 106-120. *Finally! The return of the avian sleep chapter to P&PSM after a 28-year hiatus.

Russo AM, et al. 2022. Acute treatment with 5-hydroxytryptophan increases social approach behaviour but does not activate serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus in juvenile male BALB/c mice: a model of human disorders with deficits of sociability. J Psychopharmacol 36, 806-818. *A serotonin-precursor makes mice more friendly, but the mechanisms involved are unclear.

Zaid E, et al. 2022. Sleep architecture and regulation of male dusky antechinus, an Australian marsupial. Sleep 45, zsac114. *Antechinus are marsupials, yet sleep like birds – falling asleep within seconds after they stop moving and sleeping with hundreds of episodes per 24-h day. Similar to other mammals (and birds), antechinus increase SWA following extended wakefulness – the first demonstration of sleep homeostasis in a marsupial.

Phew! What a slew! And more to come in 2023 with the ‘already-submitted’: Connelly F, et al.; Johnsson RD, et al.; Omond SET and Lesku JA (x2); Tan H, et al.

Lastly, what else to expect in 2023? My crystal ball tells me: *We will be joined by Sophia Lee (USA) in six short weeks who will start her Honours (and hopefully a MSc) looking at sleep in fiddler rays; *Hannah Elmes will publish her first paper on sunning white-capped noddys; *Vincent Knowles will submit his MSc thesis and publish his very cool data on (de)synchronization of activity patterns in paired black swans; *Shauni Omond will submit her fourth paper of her dissertation and submit that dissertation itself for review. Perhaps as early as January!; *Erika Zaid will submit her third manuscript – No spoilers here though. Once accepted, this will be followed by the submission of her dissertation.

Well done, everyone, on what has been a very productive year for each of you. Happy & Safe Holidays!

Introducing Doctor Robin Johnsson, PhD, MSc

Put down what you are doing. Grab a tissue. Settle in. We’ve all known this bittersweet day would arrive. It has and I should explain.

On Tuesday, July 27th, 2017 I received a Swedishly-succinct e-mail from a stranger:

“Hello Dr. Lesku and Prof. Roth, I am writing to apply for the open Phd position in Ecologically relevant sleep-dependent cognition in birds. I have attached my CV, covering letter and transcript of records. Best Regards, Robin Jonsson”

Intrigued! Not only because he spelt his own surname incorrectly (he actually didn’t). Rather for his immense qualifications. A BSc thesis on caching rooks (with The Anders Brodin); a MSc on vision (optokinetic reflex) in chickens (with The Almut Kelber and Mindaugas Mitkus); more research experience with chickens, budgerigars, and zebra finches. After a video call, the decision was an easy one.

And so, in May 2018, I collected a very tired and light-packed Swede from Melbourne airport. Robin quickly showed himself to be wholly and comprehensively smart, capable, thoughtful, but selfless. Intending to work on diverse birds, including great bowerbirds in Queensland (he did a bit), food-caching chickadees in North America (not a chance), perhaps cephalopods in New Zealand (ethics, yes, but plane tickets, no)… all came to a halt in 2020. Country borders closed. State borders closed. What to do? An improvised switch to the common, Australian magpie, along with teaming up with Dr Farley Connelly’s “Lennon” to Robin’s “McCartney” both he and they were off.

Since then, Robin collected original data on the homeostatic regulation of sleep in Australian magpies (Johnsson et al., 2022 Sleep); the cognitive consequences of sleep loss in Australian magpies (Johnsson et al., 2022 Sci Rep); purported tool use (Johnsson et al. 2022 Behaviour) and string pulling (Johnsson et al., in review) in Australian magpies; a lovely review on sleep and performance in birds with our dear friend, Dr Annie Aulsebrook (Aulsebrook, Johnsson, Lesku, 2021 Clocks & Sleep); and co-author on several other papers to boot. It was unsurprising when he secured a post-doctoral position at Franklin and Marshall College with Dr Tim Roth when he was only mid-way through his PhD. And even then – after submitting his PhD – instead of relaxing, he wanted 24 pigeons and planned an extensive and presently-underway project.

It will be a sad day this September 28th, when Dr Robin Johnsson leaves his apartment, boards a plane, and heads to the USA. Best wishes, my friend. Now and always.

Your Series of Successes!

Is today the day we find out about the five accomplishments of the Sleep Ecophysiology Group to unfold in just the last ten days? … … Yes, it is. And so, with great admiration and pride, I introduce:

1. Omond SET, Hale MW and Lesku JA. 2022. Neurotransmitters of sleep and wakefulness in flatworms. Sleep 45, zsac053.

*It is my pleasure to share with you Shauni’s latest magnum opus, now online at Sleep. Shauni had already provided the first evidence for sleep (behaviour) in platyhelminth flatworms (Omond et al. 2017 Sleep). This alone was important given the paucity of comparative data on the mere presence of sleep outside of vertebrates, and a handful of arthropods, mollusks, and few others. Here, using a phenomenally impressive 504 flatworms, Shauni showed that the neurotransmitters dopamine and histamine are wake-promoting in flatworms (similar to flies, fishes and other vertebrates), whereas only GABA has a somnogenic role (similar to Hydra, flies, and vertebrates). She presents evidence that GABA could be the (evolutionarily) first neurotransmitter to regulate sleep. Next, Shauni will extend her behavioural and biochemical dissection of flatworm sleep to the electrophysiological.

2. Connelly F, Hall ML, Johnsson RD, Elliot-Kerr S, Dow BR, Lesku JA and Mulder RA. 2022. Urban noise does not affect cognitive performance in wild Australian magpies. Animal Behaviour, in press.

*Dr Connelly had another publication accepted from his PhD following his hits in Environmental Pollution and Current Biology. Here, Farley compared the cognitive performance of wild magpies exposed to differing levels of urban noise. Despite sleep-disrupting effects of urban noise (Connelly et al. 2020 Env Poll), Farley found no evidence that cognitive performance co-varied with the level of anthropogenic noise across an urban gradient of noise levels. Thus, fortunately, anthropogenic noise does not appear to negatively impact cognitive performance in these urban birds.

3. Russo AM, Payet JM, Kent S, Lesku JA, Lowry CA and Hale MW. 2022. Acute treatment with 5- hydroxytryptophan increases social approach behaviour but does not activate serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus in juvenile male BALB/c mice: a model of human disorders with deficits of sociability. Journal of Psychopharmacology, in press.

*With his second publication this week, Adrian is nearly a newly minted Doctor with that new-Doctor smell. Adrian’s forte focusses on the role of 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor) on mouse behaviour and neurophysiology. Why? A common laboratory mouse strain, BALB/c, has been proposed as a model of human sociability disorders, including autism spectrum disorders. Young BALB/c mice are anxious, anti-social and have reduced brain serotonin synthesis compared to other mouse strains. By treating mice with 5-HTP and augmenting brain serotonin levels, Adrian is able to make the anti-social – social! By increasing serotonin synthesis, he increases social behaviour, suggesting that serotonin synthesis may reduce anxiety and alleviate human sociability disorders.

4. Kelly ML, Collins SP, Lesku JA, Hemmi JM, Collin SP and Radford CA. 2022. Energy conservation characterizes sleep in sharks. Biology Letters 18, 20210259.

*Mike finished his PhD after having reviewed evidence for sleep in sharks (2019), demonstrating exciting diversity in the activity rhythms displayed by sharks (2020), and providing tantalizing evidence that restful sharks are sleeping sharks owing to increased arousal thresholds (2021). In the latter, however, he found no evidence that the sleep state was regulated as sharks forced to swim were not more inactive when allowed to behave freely. Hmm, was his thinking. And so, Mike teamed up with metabolical masterminds in NZ to measure oxygen consumption in draughtsboard sharks. Overall he found that sharks inactive for five minutes had lower metabolic rate and typically adopted a flat body posture; eye closure appeared to poorly reflect sleep. As a result, the conservation of energy appears to be a sleep function (or at least, a consequence) in quiescent sharks. You can hear more about this research, here.

5. Lesku JA and Schmidt MH. 2022. Energetic costs and benefits of sleep. Current Biology, in press.

*In this review, Markus Schmidt and I discuss the energy conservation role of sleep. Sadly, we did so too early to discuss sharks per se, but we were able to talk about garden warblers that save energy sleeping during stop-overs on long-distance migrations, and animals that accept the significant energetic costs to sustained wakefulness and sleep extremely little. We then evaluate three energetically-oriented hypotheses for the function of sleep, including energy conservation, adaptive inactivity, and energy reallocation and find that sleep-wake cycling may have evolved to optimize (rather than conserve) energy reserves.

And while we are at it, I think I missed broadcasting these two others papers from January –

6. Johnsson RD, Connelly F, Vyssotski AL, Roth TC and Lesku JA. 2022. Homeostatic regulation of NREM sleep, but not REM sleep, in Australian magpies. Sleep 45, zsab218.

*As hinted at above, sleep is regulated. You lose sleep, you sleep more to recover that lost sleep. After two papers suggesting that REM sleep was not regulated in magpies (Aulsebrook et al. 2020 Curr Biol; Connelly et al. 2020 Env Poll), Robin and I scratched our heads and thought to tackle the question outright using two durations of night-time sleep loss using a more direct method of sleep deprivation. Here, Robin manipulated the sleep-wake history of magpies: magpies experienced either a full 12-h night awake, or the first 6-h half of the night awake, which were preceded by a 36-h baseline recording and followed by a 24-h recovery period. As expected, Robin’s magpies recovered lost NREM sleep by sleeping more, with increased NREM sleep consolidation, and increased NREM sleep intensity during recovery sleep. For the first time, Robin showed that birds, like humans, show reduced NREM sleep intensity at night following daytime napping, indicating that sleep intensity reflects sleep need or pressure in birds. Unexpectedly however, the magpies did not recover any lost REM sleep. Why? We don’t know. The absence of REM sleep homeostasis has been reported in several bird and mammal species over the last couple years to unknown reason or significance.

7. Rattenborg NC, Lesku JA and Libourel P-A. 2022. Sleep in nonmammalian vertebrates. In: Kryger MH (ed.), Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 7th edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier, in press.

*Finally, comparative aspects of sleep have returned to this seventh edition of the ‘Sleep Bible’ following a 28 year hiatus! Here, comparative colleagues and I review sleep (notably) in avian and non-avian reptiles in what is likely to be the most comprehensive coverage to date. My heart-felt appreciation goes out to colleagues, Drs Niels Rattenborg and Paul-Antoine Libourel.

That’s it! Stay tuned for more announcements in the coming weeks. And in the meantime and going forward, whenever you feel work is bogged down with empty electronic mail, plodding paperwork, and mindless meetings, remember the unending, original, creative, important, and inspiring work you conduct on a daily basis. Focus on that and everything else seems mightily unimportant. Because each of you, here, had the unique and enthralling privilege to learn something – to discover something – first. Before anyone else on the planet. Who cool is that? What a high.

Congratulations to you all on Your Series of Successes. As always, I’m eternally proud.

The End of the Beginning

We find ourselves on the cusp of 2022. As in years past, Australia remains a world leader in greeting the New Year earlier than most nations, owing to our unique combination of eagerness, earnestness, our vigour and vim (and also to rotational advantages afforded by our geographical placement). These traits, exhibited wholly by Australia, is shared in spades by members of the Sleep Ecophysiology Group. And so, I’d like to relive our Greatest Hits from 2021, and glean a glimmer of greatness to come in 2022.

First, we have new members of the SEG family: undergraduates Poppy Veillet & Hannah Elmes, Honours student Monica Klukowski, and Masters student Vincent Knowles (based at UniMelbs with Raoul Mulder). Poppy works ambitiously on wild magpies and captive pigeons. Hannah explores fastidiously thermal images of sunning white-capped noddys. Monica commences punctually* her Honours in February on wild cognition in magpies as a function of time-of-day (*further adjectives pending). Talented Vincent secures and retrieves data loggers from black swans at Albert Park Lake, measuring activity patterns of male/female pairs prior to, and during, incubation. Great things will come from all four of these folks in 2022.

What about the Old Guard?

Adrian has been hired as a clinical psychologist, but continues his PhD part-time to finish two outstanding papers. Notably, (1) Adrian et al., Acute treatment with 5- hydroxytryptophan increases social approach behaviour but does not activate serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus in juvenile male BALB/c mice: a model of human disorders with deficits of sociability, which is in revision (and likely soon accepted) in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, and (2) his sleep EEG paper in which he reveals strain differences in sleep architecture in mice, and curiously underwhelming effects of 5-HTP.

Annie continues her postdoctoral endeavours in Germany. Her two-year Marie Curie postdoc has expanded into a longer stay after her wide-ranging abilities were recognized by the Director of the Max Planck Institute who gave her an extended position that should see her through much of 2023. In Germany, Annie works with ruffs, geese, and datasets! In Alaska, Annie will start work with pectoral sandpipers in May/June, during which time I look forward to being her Sherpa and field tech.

Erika has submitted the first paper of her PhD to Sleep: Sleep architecture and regulation of dusky antechinus, an Australian marsupial. According to the journal’s website, reviews are complete and we await the outcome! Erika will spend 2022 on her sprawling and interdisciplinary dataset on antechinus activity, sleep physiology, endocrinology, and sex. This is an incredibly exciting story of great importance that we can soon tell in detail. More to come!

Farley has taken up a postdoc at UniMelbs with Raoul on the pedagogically-based investigation of teaching effectiveness (I admit to being somewhat vague here). During this time, Farley continues to submit papers: Farley et al., Urban noise does not affect cognitive performance in wild Australian magpies – soon to be accepted at Animal Behaviour. One more is being written up on our captive magpies. Farley departs for California in January, so stay tuned for his next adventure!

Mike has made a new life for himself in Vancouver as a postdoc at Simon Fraser University. You may recall that Mike was faced with a difficult decision at the end of 2020: Take up a Smithsonian Research Fellowship in the USA, or a postdoc in Canada. Mike is a sage man who wisely viewed Canada as the better country. There he works not with winking crocodiles (2015) or restful sharks (2019, 2020AB, 2021), but with wild rats, seeing how predators shape sleep in prey, and on the link between neurodegenerative disease and rodent sleep architecture. We eagerly await news of his discoveries at Simon Fraser. In the meantime, we can soon read his study on metabolic changes in sleeping sharks – in revision at Biology Letters.

Robin has had a very productive 2021. He was involved with a review relevant to his PhD at Clocks & Sleep: Light, sleep and performance in diurnal birds; he published the first data-based paper of his PhD in Sleep (Homeostatic regulation of NREM sleep, but not REM sleep, in Australian magpies); and he has two papers in review, one at Behaviour (Preliminary evidence of tool use in the Australian magpie) and the other at Scientific Reports (Sleep loss impairs cognitive performance and alters song output in Australian magpies). Robin spends much of his time formatting his dissertation for submission in January, and will spearhead multiple studies on pigeons before he departs for a postdoc the United States in May at Franklin & Marshall College.

Shauni has also had a great 2021. She published a PhD student-driven paper in 2021 on how COVID-19 affected the experience of HDR students in Australia in the journal Higher Education Research & Development. She had the first data-based paper of her PhD reviewed at Sleep (Neurotransmitters of sleep and wakefulness in flatworms) – Awaiting Recommendation. This paper was a massive undertaking in which every procedure had to be developed and tested. Using 500 flatworms, Shauni looked at the effect of various neurotransmitters on behaviour in flatworms and found that flatworms are simplified not only in their body plan, but also in their brain physiology. That said, she identified that the neurotransmitter GABA has held an evolutionarily conserved role in the regulation of sleep from Hydra through flatworms and fruit flies to vertebrates. Shauni is presently writing up her second paper on circadian rhythms in decapitated and regenerated flatworms. In 2022, she will collect brain activity recordings of flatworms to see what the flatworm brain does while asleep and awake. All the while she served as the College HDR Rep.

My exciting news consistently pales to that of our SEG members. The 7th edition of Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine is out as of (maybe) today. Fortunately, the editors saw fit to reinstate comparative perspectives into this edition of the ‘Sleep Bible’. As such, you may be keen to read, Sleep in nonmammalian vertebrates, spearheaded by Niels Rattenborg and two smaller spears of myself and Paul-Antoine Libourel.

In 2022, we are moving from the Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution to the Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences to be part of the new Discipline of Animal Physiology & Health. To this end, I will serve as Discipline Lead for the next three years to see how we might elevate animal physiology at the university to collective benefit.

Happy New Years! I hope we see one another in three-dimensions in 2022.

Breaking the One-year Silence, again

I should preface my latest post with recognition that I had intended to be a more regular blogger. Despite the good intention, I haven’t updated the world on our successes since last March. Where did the year go? Twenty-twenty was an absolute blur: Australian bushfires and floods, leading into the ongoing pandemic that caused a global malaise. With all the past and continuing sources for reduced performance and angst, you might well expect our productivity to have declined over this time. Quite the opposite! Below is a brief overview of the many hits from the SEG for 2020 and into the first quarter of 2021. These successes have been fueled by a bittersweet Exodus of Talent arising from fledged PhDs.

Dr Anne Aulsebrook began her Marie Curie Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, in February 2021. Her relocation to Germany was delayed owing to COVID-related border closures. We now eagerly await reading of her success to come as a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

Farley submitted his dissertation (Impacts of anthropogenic pollution on cognition and sleep in an urban bird) for review around Easter 2020. This was approved with minor changes, and his doctorate was conferred by The University of Melbourne in December.

Dr Farley Connelly’s contribution to science has been large and original with implications for urban planning. In a series of experiments on captive magpies implanted with sensors for EEG/EMG recordings, Dr Connelly showed that both sound and light pollution reduce, fragment and lighten sleep. Importantly, he further showed that magpies are less sensitive to amber light at night than white light; counter to findings on pigeons (pigeon data courtesy of Dr Aulsebrook). This result highlights the need for multi-species comparisons, and cautions against across-species generalizations based on data from just one species. Farley also looked at the effects of noise pollution on cognition in wild and captives magpies. For wild magpies, louder noise impaired cognitive performance on one of four cognitive tasks; whereas, the age of the bird had the greatest effect. On captive magpies, the birds showed no difference in cognitive performance in the presence or absence of noise, but rather improved with practice irrespective of treatment.

It has been a great experience working with Farley. He and I first worked together on guillotine-related adventures in the middle of the night under red light. We then worked together doing surgeries on black swan where his steady hands were needed to maintain the thermometer in each swan’s cloaca for hours at a time. After these good times, we decided we should work together properly, and so set up the magpie wing of the lab. Our collaboration has been a great success owing, in large part, to Farley’s creativity and dedication. His ideas are good ones; following them is an easy decision, and undoubtedly is responsible for the high number of papers that have (and continue to) come out of the magpie studies. Dr Connelly is now the Program Officer at EnviroDNA in Melbourne.

Next, mid-year Mike submitted his dissertation entitled, An investigation into sleep in sharks: behavioural and electrophysiological approaches, to The University of Western Australia for external peer-review. This was likewise rapidly approved with minimal effort and he became Dr Mike Kelly in December.

Dr Kelly has made an important contribution to our understanding of sleep and circadian rhythms in sharks, understudied aspects of shark biology and comparative sleep research. I’d like to first draw your attention to our long history with Mike. In 2014, Mike was an Honours student in our group, and worked on arguably the next most exotic group of dangerous animals – crocodiles. Here, Mike investigated the adaptive value of reptiles sitting with one-eye open. In birds and marine mammals, such behaviour corresponds to unihemispheric NREM sleep. In reptiles, the significance of this behaviour has been unclear. Mike studied how young saltwater crocodiles use unilateral eye closure in response to visual stimuli. Overall, like birds and marine mammals engaged in unihemispheric NREM sleep, crocodiles opened one eye more following presentation of either (1) other young crocodiles or (2) a human – Mike himself! Furthermore, the crocodiles oriented their open eye towards the visual stimulus. Whether this means that crocodiles, and other reptiles, can sleep unihemispherically is unknown, but it does provide insight into how these animals use their open eye.

Mike then left the lab for even wetter pastures. Following a world-wide, self-funded tour of shark labs, Mike settled on his home with Shaun Collin and Caroline Kerr, and later Jan Hemmi, at UWA. This power team, that eventually included Craig Radford at Uni Auckland, conducted highly original studies in multiple species of shark. Mike first collaborated on a book chapter reviewing sleep across animals, then a review that focused specifically on the evidence for sleep in sharks. Here, Mike highlighted the conspicuous gaps in our understanding of sharks, which the rest of his PhD addressed. He described profound circadian variation in swimming behaviour in 5 species of sharks, and then tested whether periods of restfulness observed in some of those species reflects sleep. The conclusion that restful sharks are sleeping sharks is reinforced by (yet unpublished) metabolic data. His final chapter, with the now expanded power team to include PA Libourel from France (the world’s best comparative electrophysiologist), Mike conducted the first investigations into brain activity of freely behaving fishes. Dr Kelly has since been offered a Smithsonian Research Fellowship in the U.S. and a postdoc at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. What will Mike do? Stay tuned.

Collectively, the successes of these newly-minted, independent scientists is reflected in seven publications from 2020 and one thus far in 2021, with many more to come from these, and other, members of the Sleep Ecophysiology Group. Accordingly, further updates on the rest of the group will be forthcoming later this year…

Breaking the One-year Silence

I am a poor blogger. I haven’t posted a thing in one year. And what a pity? The lab has done great things in 2019. When viewed individually or collectively, I think you will agree. And so – in surname-reverse-alphabetical-order – in only 2019…

Zaid, Erika completed all data collection for her PhD. She conducted, at the beginning of 2019, a final field season in the Otways to bring antechinus back to La Trobe for an experiment on sleep regulation. Importantly, this was done, despite the hectic time in the final full year of her PhD. Nonetheless, she did it and it is paying off: the new EEG/EMG/ACC data has been scored and analyzed in record time. The figures are complete, and writing has begun! I’ll save details on the results for another time, but this Zaid et al. 2020 will become the first data-based paper of her PhD, and the first on sleep homeostasis in any marsupial. Furthermore, Erika co-wrote a book chapter that came out in 2019, too; appropriately enough, she wrote the section Adaptive Sleeplessness (a topic now dear to her heart as an expecting mum). Amazing work and great results! Plus, Erika had other BIG news (already alluded to)… Baby Enrico! What a year!

Tworkowski, Lauren is the newest member of Team Sleep. Much of her PhD is on hot, presumably awake, penguins, but after co-writing a piece for Current Biology, she decided to fully embrace the profound behavioural shutdown that is sleep with upcoming research into hot, fasting penguins. In 2020, she will look at how sleep changes over the three-week molt, with the expectation that [redacted]. A simple study with big implications.

Russo, Adrian – our friend from Psychology – has been flat out this year. He started 2019 by publishing a paper charactering the behaviour and neurophysiology of two strains of mice that differ greatly in response to novel situations. Moreover, in 2019, he collected the last bits of data for his PhD. After discussing a study looking at sleep electrophysiology in BALB/c and C57B mice for perhaps two years, in 2019, he made it happen. Following surgeries on 16 mice, he collected impressive data that will (likely) show [redacted]. He also enjoyed being bitten by mice while injecting them with drugs. An impressive year!

Omond, Shauni gave her confirmation seminar in 2019, and received unanimous praise from her PhD committee. In fact, the general thought is that she needs to only accomplish half of what she planned: a data-based paper on wild-caught fruit flies, flatworm neurochemistry and electrophysiology. All of these things are moving swiftly forward, and in positive directions. Figures for her first PhD paper (on flies) is coming together, with a little more data collection ongoing. She will be well-placed to submit a paper on fruit fly “sleep” behaviour mid-year. She is also making good progress on her neurochemistry and electrophysiology work. She’s had to overcome setbacks this year (how to feed worms drugs, and fix exceedingly expensive micromanipulators), but handled them well and is moving forward in multiple directions. Shauni also secured $15,000 from the Defense Science Institute. A productive 2019 leading into a promising 2020!

Kelly, Mike has made strides in 2019, and the end is in sight. He contributed to a book chapter this year, providing his insights into sleep in cartilaginous fishes, and followed that up with a first author review in Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. Here, Mike reviewed the evidence (or lack thereof) for sleep in sharks and rays. It is an exhaustive and completely original piece of work, and nicely serves as the first chapter of his dissertation. Moving fast, Mike is nearly ready to submit his second paper, this one on the diversity of activity rhythms in multiple species of shark. And what diversity! [redacted] He will then move quickly onto a third paper describing sleep in benthic sharks. No doubt 2020 will be a solid year for Mike.

Johnsson, Robin joined us from the movie Midsommar, and published a paper soon thereafter based on his MSc work with Anders Brodin on tool use (and lack thereof) in tits. In 2019, Robin, working with Farley, collected so, so, so much data on captive magpies. Robin and Farley made a Lennon+McCartney agreement and have become a powerhouse research team. For Robin’s part, he conducted multiple experiments: (1) the effects of 6-h and 12-h nighttime sleep loss on magpie neurobehavioural performance, and (2) new data showing posture-dependent changes in sleep. He also collected data on circadian variation in cognition in wild magpies, and conducted his first field season on great bowerbirds in Townsville. Currently, Robin spends much time scoring his magpie recordings with an eye towards submitting mid-year. An incredible year for Robin! *Also involved in the captive magpie work is Juliane Mussoi from the University of Auckland who contributed important and original data showing that sleep deprived magpies sing [redacted].

Eastick, Danielle was in the lab for her Honours, and as such, will always be an Honorary Member of SEG. She has since moved onto exciting research questions on non-feathered, yet winged, mammals. Importantly, she published her Honours work in 2019 in Scientific Reports. This work – showing that studies of Australian animals can shed light on dinosaur physiology – garnered much national (The Age, Australian Geographic) and international (NewScientist, National Geographic) attention. What a cool study, especially since Dani demonstrated that cassowaries use their helmet to offload heat during hot, humid days, and restrict heat loss in cooler conditions. By doing so, Dani was also able to solve a mystery – the function of the casque – that has remained enigmatic for 200 years.

John Lennon to Robin’s Paul McCartney is Connelly, Farley. Following whirlwind data collection and analysis in 2019, Farley showed that urban sound pollution reduces, fragments, and lightens sleep in magpies (currently in review). He further found that light pollution from streetlights [redacted] sleep. Overall, these two studies will provide important new insight into how pollution influences sleep in wildlife. Additionally, Farley and Robin provided the first evidence for tool use in magpies – an observation they will publish together. Their work with captive magpies reinforces an easily forgotten aspect of science: that things can work. Starting with the intention of a single study on magpies, owing to Farley and Robin’s creativity and drive, this has ballooned wonderfully into 5, maybe 6 papers. Well done!

The final member of Team Sleep has recently fledged: Aulsebrook, Dr Anne. Do we need to say more? Annie had a busy and productive 2019. She submitted her PhD dissertation; after an assessment by two international reviewers, it was passed with minor (very minor) revision, perhaps best summarized by reviewer two: “I want to emphasize that the two empirical projects are a tour de force in terms of amount of work and quality of data”. Dr Aulsebrook has since been awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship, which will take her to the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, and to Alaska for field work on waders. I couldn’t be more proud. I have no reservation to say that, despite outstanding and original contributions to sleep research during her PhD, Annie will look back at these important and impactful papers as her least important work.

In close, the lab had a busy and productive 2019. Some of that productivity is reflected in field or lab work, data collected or analyzed, figures generated, grants approved, and also papers published. What a year! I remain so humbled to work with each of you as I see the development from PhD student to independent scientist. Yours is a heartwarming journey that I am proud to be a part.

New Publication


Big, enthusiastic Congratulations to Dani Eastick on her first, first-author publication.
Here, Dani provides new insight into the physiology of some helmeted Dinosaurs (bottom left) through…


…the study of helmeted cassowaries (above right)!
Cassowaries, and perhaps some Dinosaurs, used such appendages for
heat exchange with the environment, conserving body heat at low temperatures
and off-loading 8% of all body heat at the highest temperatures. Well done, Dani!

Dinosaur illustration by Zhao Chuang, the Scientific artist of PNSO, China;
the cassowary photo ©Kim Teltscher, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany
(both used with permission)

End of Year Wrap-up

It has been half a year since my last post; unsurprisingly, a lot has happened since mid-year.

Soon-to-be Doctor, Ryan Tisdale, has gone on a publishing spree with three chapters out this year alone:

  1. Spectral properties of brain activity under two anesthetics and their potential for inducing natural sleep in birds. Frontiers in Neuroscience 12, 881.
  2. The low-down on sleeping down low: pigeons shift to lighter forms of sleep when sleeping near the ground. Journal of Experimental Biology 221, 182634.
  3. Bird-like propagating brain activity in anesthetized Nile crocodiles. Sleep 41, zsy105.

And equally important is that Ryan’s dissertation is currently under review at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. An immensely productive year for Ryan, capped by a well-earned vacation!

ICN_afterCloser to home, I had the good fortune to organize a symposium for the International Congress of Neuroethology in Brisbane. Contributing to The Evolution of Sleep and Adaptive Sleeplessness Symposium was Barrett Klein (left) from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse (USA), me, Mike Kelly (third from left) from The University of Western Australia, Perth, and Niels Rattenborg (right) from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen (Germany). After the meeting, we were fortunate to host Barrett back at La Trobe, where he gave two outstanding seminars and met up with the rest of the lab.

More recently, I chaired the Wild Sleep Symposium at the Wild Clocks 2018 meeting, superbly organized by Michaela Hau and Bart Kempenaers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. There, we heard from Paul Manger from the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), David Samson from the University of Toronto (Canada), Anne Aulsebrook at nearby University of Melbourne, and Erica Stuber at Yale University (USA), and me. One of the best meetings I’ve attended and one that reunited old friends and opened new opportunities. A big thank you to Ela and Bart!


Lastly, I’ve taken a stab at writing for popular media. Annie and I teamed up for a piece at The Conversation answering sleepy questions from a very much awake 5-year-old named Lucinda in Canberra. She cleverly asked, Do animals sleep like people? Do snails sleep in their shells? Why doesn’t a whale drown when it sleeps? Great questions, Lucinda! You can read our responses here. I then tried outreach to somewhat older kids in the UK magazine, Science + Nature with The Science of Snooze.

On behalf of the Sleep Ecophysiology Group, have a lovely and safe Christmas and New Years, and a productive 2019!