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!

New Publication

RSocOpenSciA BIG Congratulations to soon-to-be-Dr Alynn Martin from the University of Tasmania on her latest article! Here, Alynn provides a comprehensive investigation into the effects of mange on wombats in Narawntapu National Park.

Infrared thermographic analyses to measure heat loss from living animals, doubly labelled water to quantify field metabolic rates, accelerometry data logging to show changes in prominent behaviours, and fatty acid composition in various tissues. Wow!

How do wombats respond to increasing severity of mange? Read it to find out!

New Publication


Here, Linh and I give an invited review on the recent characterization of sleep in jellyfish by Nath et al. (2017) Current Biology.  Speaking of Linh…



Congratulations on graduating and for the next big steps in your life.  I still wish you were staying around for a PhD, but am excited to hear of your adventures to come.  You’re amazing!

New Publication

PTRSBPart of a Special Issue on “Wild Clocks”, we outline the methodologies involved for measuring “Wild Sleep“:

Niels Rattenborg, Horacio de la Iglesia, Bart Kempenaers, John Lesku, Peter Meerlo and Madeleine Scriba, “Sleep research goes wild: new methods and approaches to investigate the ecology, evolution and functions of sleep”.

This makes for an excellent companion piece to our 2016 article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution on the need to ‘go wild’.