Dr Rebecca Wheatley
Using performance to predict survival of threatened mammals
BSc majors Ecology & Zoology (2009-2011), University of Queensland
BSc (Honours) Ecology (2012), University of Queensland
PhD Ecology (2014-2018), University of Queensland
As a kid, I spent nearly all my free time fishing for tadpoles with my dad, monitoring python nests hidden between bales of hay, and chasing birds around the paddock with my camera. So, nobody was particularly surprised when I ended up studying Ecology and Zoology at the University of Queensland. During my undergraduate, I was lucky enough to score some volunteer work with a few different labs, and my passion for research was born.
Following my natural herping tendencies, I completed my Honours research project in the Wilson Performance Lab looking at fighting ability in Asian house geckos. This study, which involved testing game theoretic models of fighting strategy, gave me an inkling that I’d like to learn more about mathematical modelling. In the year post-honours, I was given a position as a part-time research assistant, where I got to explore how ecologists can use modelling in novel, interesting ways (and collect a ton of data to look at optimal serve speed in tennis players!).
After that, I dove headfirst into a PhD on predicting the movement speeds of animals in natural environments. My thesis was evenly divided between theoretical modelling and empirical experiments on the buff-footed antechinus, a small semelparous marsupial with ninja-like performance skills. I looked at how ecological context and habitat structure interact with biomechanical trade-offs in performance and individual performance capacities to determine how and why animals choose the movement speeds they do in nature.
I am currently employed as a postdoctoral researcher, building a mathematical model to predict prey survival against predators in different habitats. Ultimately, the goal of this model is to determine how particular prey species fare against different kinds of predators in habitats of varying complexity. We aim to produce a globally customisable model, which will also assist with conservation efforts of native Australian species threatened by introduced predators. My postdoc also involves running the statistics for our Dust & Health projects, and generally being the Wilson lab stats person. You can read all about my research adventures here.
Most of my favourite things involve escaping off into the wilderness with my hiking boots, tent, and binoculars. I’m also a bit of a bookworm, and I love cooking (and baking, and coconut icecream making!). I’m also keen on travelling, road trips, checking out local bands, watching awful but hilarious b‑grade movies, and hanging out with my fantastic friends and family.
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 (in press). DOI: 10.1242/jeb.172544 Link to paper
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 (In Press).
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: 10.1111/1365-2435.13036
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, pp. 1166-1175. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icv091
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, pp. 129-136. DOI: 10.3354/meps09865