What influences ageing in an ectotherm?

Parental and environmental influences on telomere length at birth and their effects on lifelong fitness and survival in wild reptile populations

Degree type


Closing date

1 July 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

A fundamental question in biology is how and why animals age. Patterns of senescence vary greatly between species, populations, and individuals. Understanding the factors that underpin divergent patterns of senescence both within and between populations has fundamental implications for our ability to predict how populations and species will respond to environmental variation, including climate change, as well as for informing evolutionary theories of ageing.

A common factor linking early life stress, ageing and time of death are telomeres, the protective regions at the end of each chromosome. However, we have a relatively poor understanding of how early life telomere dynamics mediate fitness later in life. This project aims to explicitly link an understanding of telomere dynamics in free-living ectotherm populations with experimental approaches to advance our understanding of parental and environmental effects on offspring telomeres and their effects later in life. This project will take advantage of one of the world's longest datasets on ectotherm responses to climate to provide new knowledge of how telomeres affect fitness and the role that the environment plays.

The candidate will model how evolution has shaped reptile climate-driven variation in life history and telomere dynamics through contemporary ecological timeframes. With experimental approaches, telomere dynamics will be explicitly linked to fitness by examining how parental and environmental effects influence telomere length at birth and the consequences of this for offspring fitness throughout life. This will contribute to a large ARC funded research project investigating the complex dynamics of ageing in ectotherms.

The project will involve seasonal fieldwork capturing skinks at sites around Tasmania and targeted laboratory experiments. The project will also involve the construction and analysis of a large pedigree dataset derived from 20 years of longitudinal samples. The candidate will develop skills in critical thinking, project management, fieldwork, data analysis, writing and communication.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Erik Wapstra


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Ensure your eligibility for the scholarship round by referring to our Key Dates.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First class honours degree or equivalent in a relevant field with evidence of strong skills in research

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • We are looking for applicants with a deep interest in projects that integrate field and laboratory techniques
  • The ideal applicant will have experience conducting field work, preferably with reptile systems, laboratory skills such as DNA extraction and/or genetic analysis, and analytical skills using r or similar software
  • Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong research background in evolutionary biology, ecology or similar fields through a publication record or a high-quality thesis

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact A/Prof Erik Wapstra to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. In your application:
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • Submit a signed supervisory support form, a CV including contact details of 2 referees and your project research proposal.
  4. Apply prior to 1 July 2023.

Full details of the application process can be found under the 'How to apply' section of the Research Degrees website.

Following the closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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