Dr Vera Weisbecker
I use quantitative analysis of large-scale datasets to develop and test hypotheses regarding the historical and developmental rules under which vertebrate morphological diversity evolves. My current main interests are:
The role that skeletal development plays in restricting mammalian (and general vertebrate) skeletal diversity and
Linking developmental regularities of brain growth with the evolution of the tremendous size of the mammalian brain.
Australia is the only continent whose mammal fauna is dominated by marsupials (e.g. kangaroos and koalas) and monotremes (platypus and echidnas). Unlike placentals, these two groups are born at a highly immature stage, a difference that is known to fundamentally impact on the evolutionary trajectories of morphological diversity. To understand the details of this interaction, I am taking advantage of the easy availability of marsupials and monotremes in Australia to collect large-scale data on their development and diversity. I employ a wide range of data collection methods, including CT scanning, dissection, morphometrics, histology, and chemical staining. I then quantitatively analyse and interpret these data using perspectives gained from embryology, life history, physiology, ecology and palaeontology.
Weisbecker, V 2011: Monotreme ossification sequences and the riddle of mammalian skeletal development. Evolution 65: 1323-1335
Weisbecker, V, Goswami, A 2011: Neonatal maturity as the key to understanding brain size evolution in homeothermic vertebrates. BioEssays 33: 155-158
Weisbecker, V, Goswami, A, 2010: Brain size, life history, and metabolism at the marsupial/placental dichotomy: Placentals take the fast lane. PNAS 107: 16216-16221
Weisbecker, V 2009: Why "large equals late" does not work. Neuroscience, 164: 1648-1652
Weisbecker, V, Nilsson, M 2008: Integration, heterochrony, and adaptation in pedal digits of naturally syndactylous marsupials. BMC Evolutionary Biology 8:160 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-160
How did mammals evolve large brains? A multidisciplinary view from the pouch.
Grant body: ARC
Grant period: 2012-2015
Grant amount: $375000
Evolutionary developmental biology of the mammalian middle ear: using virtual reconstruction to integrate development and biomechanics.
Grant body: Hermon Slade Foundation
Grant period: 2012-2015
Grant amount: $65000
Using an Australian endemic lizard family to understand processes of developmental change in the vertebrate body.
Grant body: UQ
Grant period: 2012-2013
Grant amount: $12000