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Raoul Mulder – Principal Investigator

My main area of research is the evolutionary ecology of birds, with a particular focus on understanding the causes and consequences of variability in mating systems, the role of visual and acoustic signals, and the influence of kinship on sociality. My PhD research involved teasing out aspects of the bizarre mating system of superb fairy-wrens (Malarus cyaneus) and was carried out at the Australian National University under the supervision of Professor Andrew Cockburn. I then spent time working and travelling in Madagascar, and studying the Madagascar paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone mutata). Returning to Australia, I held an ARC postdoctoral fellowship at the ANU from 1996-1998. Following this, I took up a lectureship in the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne, with subsequent appointments to Senior Lecturer (2004) and Associate Professor and Reader (2007). In 2015 I was promoted to Professor and took on the role of Head of the newly formed School of BioSciences, an amalgamation of the former departments of Botany, Genetics and Zoology. In addition to evolutionary ecology, I also have a keen interest in peer assisted learning in tertiary education. More information about this can be found on the Teaching page.

Access Raoul’s Google Scholar Profile.


Michelle Hall – Research Fellow

I am a behavioural ecologist with particular interests in animal communication and animal personality. Most of my research is on birds, with a recent focus on the Australian fairy-wrens. Currently, I am investigating consistent individual differences in behaviour in superb fairy-wrens, looking at how genes and early environment help shape individual behavioural differences, and what the consequences of these individual differences are for vocal learning, territorial defence, mating strategies, parental investment etc.

Visit Michelle’s website.

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Taneal Cope – PhD candidate

My main research interests stem from a conservation biology perspective and include: conservation theory, wildlife management, behavioural ecology and conservation genetics. My PhD is focussed on the conservation genetics of the Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) with implications for management of this species. It involves phylogeography/population structure, mating systems and landscape genetics. The project is a large collaboration between many stakeholders and my involvement with community groups has sparked my interest in grass-roots conservation and the power of everyday people in helping endangered species.


Ana Leitão – PhD candidate

My research interests are in behavioural and evolutionary ecology, particularly in animal communication, sexual and social selection related topics. My PhD project will focus on the hypotheses of signalling function of female song and colouration in the Lovely fairy-wren (Malurus amabilis). Using data from natural populations, and behavioural experiments, my project aims to understand which processes are maintaining the expression of female ornamentation and further implication on the species ecology. With this, I expect to contribute to the ongoing discussion on the evolution of elaborate female ornaments. My supervisors are Raoul Mulder and Michelle Hall, and my PhD is funded by the Melbourne International Research Scholarship via the University of Melbourne, the Australia & Pacific Science Foundation, and the Stuart Leslie Bird Research Award from Birdlife Australia.

Anne Aulsebrook – PhD candidate

I recently completed my honours degree at Monash University, majoring in ecology and conservation. One of my research interests is the impact of urbanisation on wildlife. For my PhD, I am studying the impacts of artificial light at night on black swans at Albert Park Lake. In particular, I am investigating how light at night influences circadian rhythms, including circulating melatonin levels, sleep patterns and the timing of activity. I am also interested in whether swans actively avoid bright light at night, and whether they alter their behaviour depending on light intensity.

Kajanka Mathiaparanam – PhD candidate

Having completed my Bachelor’s degree majoring in Zoology at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, I joined the Mulder Lab to pursue my PhD. Broadly, I wish to investigate the effects of Anthropogenic Disturbance on the behaviour of birds. Through my work I wish to contribute to the understanding of the adverse impacts of Urbanization on organisms, to support for better policies, management measures and most importantly, individual decisions in the future.

FarleyFarley Connelly – PhD candidate

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of California Santa Barbara. Following university, I worked as a wildlife biologist in San Francisco’s Bay Area where I developed an interest in ornithology. I joined the Mulder Lab in March of 2016 to pursue a PhD. My research will broadly be focused on animal behavior and its connection with conservation.

Kaya MooreKaya Moore – Masters Student

With a research background ranging from mice to fish, I joined the Mulder lab to pursue my Master’s degree and to gain experience in behavioural ecology research with birds. My focus is on daytime song characteristics and reproductive success in the monomorphic passerine, willie wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys). Specifically, I am looking at the songs and behaviours of both males and females, where I hope to contribute to the understanding of sexual differences in a monomorphic passeirne.

Lab alumni

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Shandiya Balasubramaniam – PhD candidate

Shandiya is interested in animal behaviour and evolutionary ecology. Her research investigated the effects of habitat fragmentation on three endemic avian species, the spotted pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus), striated pardalote (P. striatus) and brown treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), by examining levels of parasite prevalence (avian malaria) and functional genetic diversity at immune system genes (MHC class II ß genes) across landscapes of varying tree cover.


Timon van Asten – PhD candidate

Timon’s main interest is in individual differences in behaviour between animals (also known as ‘animal personality’). Individual variation in personality traits has the potential to be of influence on factors such as the timing and distance of dispersal. For his PhD he combined experimental and observational data to examine whether there is a relationship between personality and dispersal in a cooperatively breeding bird, the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus).

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Ashton Dickerson – MSc candidate

Ashton completed her Bachelor of Science (Zoology) at the University of Melbourne before commencing her Masters with the Mulder lab in 2014. Her interests include mating systems and parenting behaviours. She investigated whether female superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) showed consistent individual differences in maternal behaviours across breeding attempts (maternal styles), discovering that females either invest heavily in nest defence behaviours or caring behaviours, such as brooding or feeding.


Amy LeBlanc – MSc candidate

Amy completed a Masters project on the superb fairy-wren (Malarus cyaneus), studying the properties of the female song. The female superb fairy-wrens sing almost as much as the males; a trait considered rare in song birds (although less so in Australia). Female bird song is not commonly studied and as such there are gaps in our basic knowledge. Amys added to the limited understanding of the specific qualities of individual female songs and how they relate to several factors including age and genetics. This research relates directly to Amy’s main interests, which concern animal communication and cognition in relation to evolutionary factors. The project was supervised by Dr. Michelle Hall and co-supervised by Prof. Raoul Mulder.

Kate Trewin – MSc candidate

Kate’s Masters research was undertaken in partnership with Museum Victoria and comprised of her by building an acoustic database of avian vocalisations. This database was use to create a set of species specific vocalisation ‘recognisers’ capable of identifying Australian parrots in field recordings. Australia has the highest number of endemic parrot species in the world, a large portion of which has recorded declining numbers in recent years. The development of a toolbox for the automated identification of parrot species will make presence/absence surveys cheaper, faster and overall less labour intensive, enabling more economically viable monitoring programmes.

Chris Hartnett – MSc candidate

After completing her Bachelor of Science (Zoology) at the University of Melbourne in 2013, Chris joined the Mulder Lab in 2014 as a Masters candidate. Her interests include animal communication and reproductive behaviour, and her research focused on female mate choice in the endangered Eastern Barred Bandicoot (Perameles gunnii). Through this research and her future work, she hopes to contribute to threatened species conservation.


Christopher McCormack – MSc candidate

Chris’s research investigated the reproductive behaviour of Black Swans, looking at drivers of breeding propensity, an area of fundamental importance to our understanding of the life-histories of long-lived vertebrates. He undertook a study of the long-term breeding trends of the Albert Park population, researching both population and individual level determinants of reproductive effort



Amellia Formby – MSc candidate

Amellia’s main research interests are in animal communication and conservation. For her Masters project, she studied the function of bill colouration in the black swan (Cygnus atratus). Most bill colouration studies have focused on red carotenoid-based traits, overlooking white ornaments that lack pigmentation. Her research was be the first to explore the function of non-pigmented bill ornaments, facilitating comparison of the selection processes favouring different colouration traits.


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Sonia Czebiniak – MSc candidate

Animals and their behaviour, ecology and evolution had always fascinated Sonia since her childhood, and through her teaching career in science. She studied the complex relationships and structure of social networks in the black swan (Cygnus atratus), and the costs and benefits associated with centrality in the network. Her study site was Albert Park Lake.


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Glen Bain – MSc candidate

Glen completed his Masters of Science degree at the University of Melbourne in the Mulder lab and then continued on as a research assistant. The focus of his Masters research project was how forest fragmentation might influence rates of extra-pair paternity in fairy-wrens. During his work as a research assistant he was responsible for extracting DNA from superb fairy-wren blood samples collected in the field as well as sexing and genotyping individuals before paternity analysis.



Kara Joshi – MSc candidate

Kara completed her Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne, majoring in marine biology. She undertook her Masters degree at Museum Victoria in conjunction with the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne. In her project, she developed autonomous digital recordings of bird calls to effectively survey bird communities. Previously, visual surveys have been the most commonly used technique for assessing bird communities, despite their prohibitive and costly limitations. Using autonomous recording units to record bird communities may provide an effective alternative to more traditional surveying techniques, meaning time and funding can be then be reallocated to other conservation management issues.


Andrew Katsis – MSc candidate

After completing undergraduate degrees in Commerce and Science (majoring in Zoology), Andrew joined the Mulder lab and completed his Masters in 2013. His main interest lies in animal personality and its possible influence on vocal learning in songbirds. To study this question, he worked with a population of superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) at Serendip Sanctuary near Lara, Victoria.

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