Student Project Description


Insect Ecology Lab – University of New England



Project 1


Phasmids are renowned for their morphological convergence with plants. Their striking resemblance to leaves and twigs has gained them notoriety as charismatic invertebrates and classic examples of the evolution of mimicry. Not only do the adults resemble twigs and leaves, but their eggs also resemble tree seeds and are dispersed by ants.



This research project investigates how phasmids utilise chemical signals to attract ants to their eggs, and how ants behave towards these chemicals. This project will involve carrying out experiments investigating ant behaviour and conducting laboratory sampling for chemical analyses. This project provides an opportunity to learn about insect husbandry, data collection, experimental design and sampling protocols.


 For more information contact James



Project 2


Masters/PhD project


Insect Ecology Lab – University of New England






Australia is a global hotpot for a biological phenomenon known as myrmecochory – a mutualistic adaptation where plants rely on foraging ants to disperse their seeds. The seeds of many plant species contain a fleshy appendage (elaiosome) that acts as a food reward for ants that carry the seed into their nests and away from the parent plant. A lesser-known fact is that certain stick and leaf insects (Phasmatodea) use a convergent dispersal strategy for their eggs. A fleshy appendage on the eggs of certain stick insects, termed a capitulum, functions analogously to the plant seed elaiosome. Ants will disperse these stick insect eggs and feed of the rewarding capitulum.




Given that over 40% of stick insects lay eggs that contain capitula this is likely to be a much more widespread and significant phenomenon than is currently appreciated. This research project will investigate the functional benefits of egg dispersal in stick insects. It will include investigating the interactions between ants, stick insects, and the parasitoids of stick insect eggs. This project will suit a candidate with a background in behavioural ecology or invertebrate zoology. Interested candidates will need to apply for a postgraduate scholarship through the University of New England.




For more information contact James




Insect Ecology Lab

Natural History Museum (W77)

University of New England

Armidale NSW 2031


61 (0)2 6773 2937