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.