Sabbatical is Not Just One Big Holiday ...

Robbie's currently on sabbatical - or long study leave. But what is it? And what exactly is Robbie meant to be accomplishing on all these trips to the US and Europe and Sydney and Groote Eylandt?

Well, according to Wikipedia a sabbatical is:
'a ceasing [of] work, or hiatus.' 
But it also says - hidden a paragraph or two later - that in modern times a sabbatical is:
'any extended absence in the career of someone in order to achieve something.'
Uh oh. So there are expectations.

At UQ, a sabbatical is granted every 3 to 5 years - and gives academics 6 months off from administrative and teaching duties. There is an expectation that the academic will use this time wisely - to collaborate with researchers overseas, or undertake extended field trips, or write a book, or punch out half a dozen publications or so. Basically, it's time to catch up on all those things that an academic is supposed to be doing (in between teaching and supervising and sitting on committees).

The academic-on-sabbatical doesn't actually have to leave home - but getting out of town does make it easier to leave office stresses behind and focus.

On his sabbatical, Robbie will attend two overseas conferences; collaborate with researchers in Sydney and France and Phoenix; finish up those 20 or so papers that currently hang in various states of completion/submission/revision; begin writing a book on maximising soccer performance; make two jaunts field trips to Groote Eylandt; and various other duties that will enhance his career and make his life easier when he returns to full-on duties in February.

So there you have it: what a sabbatical is, where you can still get one, and what you might like to do while you're on it. Not bad, hey?

Why Temperature Matters to Geckoes

At the moment, Skye's doing a really cool experiment looking at how Asian house geckoes from different environments handle changes in temperature.

Why is this important? Well,
climates are changing. And scientists want to know how species will handle climate change - will they go extinct? will they do even better?

To answer these questions, we have to know more about how species perform across their natural range. Because animals that are already living close to their thermal limits might be at greater risk if things heat up, or even cool down. And because some animals have a greater capacity to rapidly adjust to temperature change (or acclimate) than others. And because most of the animals on the planet are what we call ectotherms, which (unlike humans) can't warm themselves up internally: their digestion, brainpower, muscle activity - everything - is dependent on the temperature in their environment.

So what's Skye doing? She's collected Asian house geckoes from across their latitudinal range in Australia - from Brisbane all the way up to Cape York. (ahem - more traveling??). Geckoes from all these different populations have grown up in quite different environments - but in general, temperatures get hotter and less variable as you head north from Brisbane.

Which leads us to some fundamental questions in thermal ecology: do animals in these different environments become 'experts' at performing under just those conditions? Or can they perform over a wide range of temperatures - just not very well? Is the pattern changeable (suggesting acclimation) or unchangeable (suggesting adaptation)?

Skye is testing these questions by looking at the running performance of geckoes from different populations  - across a range of temperatures. If you've ever watched a gecko on your window at night, you'll see why running is so important to them - it's how they catch prey, but also how they escape from predators and is a key factor in determining dominance of individuals.

So looking at running performance is a great way to assess how temperature affects the geckoes' ability to survive and make babies.

This is just a teaser, really. Letting you know why *some* people spend hours tending to and running geckoes in all sorts of temperatures. In the next post, I'll talk a bit more about the specifics of Skye's study - including her amazing experimental set-up!