Technical Officer

  • $69,522 – $79,857 pa, plus 9.5% employer superannuation (HEW level 5)
  • Full-time
  • 12-month fixed-term appointment
  • Monash University, Clayton campus

The Centre for Geometric Biology and the Marine Evolutionary Ecology Group within the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University are seeking a Technical Officer to assist in a variety of research and administration tasks within these groups.

As the successful candidate you will be responsible for ensuring the smooth running of the lab including the maintenance of two long-term evolution experiments. You will have experience in maintaining aquatic organisms in laboratory settings while experience with phytoplankton cultures will be an advantage. Experience in running field ecology experiments in aquatic environments will also be highly regarded as travel to field sites and monitoring and maintaining field experiments will be required. Data mining projects will require familiarity with systematic literature review protocols coupled with a high level of computer literacy, including demonstrated experience in learning and adopting new software packages as required.

You will be required to take an active role in problem solving during research projects and for that reason we strongly encourage BSc Honours graduates in Ecology or Evolutionary Biology to apply.

Key selection criteria

  1. a tertiary qualification in ecology; or substantial relevant skills and work experience; or an equivalent combination of relevant experience and/or education/training
  2. Experience in maintaining aquatic organisms in laboratory settings and experience in aquatic fieldwork
  3. Sound analytical, technical and data analysis skills and a demonstrated capacity to apply effective technical methods, processes and systems
  4. Strong organisational skills, including the ability to set priorities, manage time and plan work to meet deadlines
  5. Ability to develop basic operating procedures and provide oversight, guidance and training in relation to technical processes and use of specialised equipment
  6. Ability to work as an effective member of a team as well as independently under general supervision
  7. Strong attention to detail and accuracy and ability to adhere to protocols, standards and guidelines, including ethical research principles as required
  8. Well-developed communication skills, including the ability to draft a range of documentation
  9. Experience with research or laboratory technology including equipment and software or a demonstrated ability to quickly adapt to and learn new systems

Enquiries to Professor Dustin Marshall on +61 3 9902 4449

Closing date: 11:55 pm AEST, Tuesday 1 June 2021

For more information, or to apply, refer to the Monash University website.

Geographical bias in physiological data limits predictions of global change impacts

Authors: Craig R White, Dustin J Marshall, Steven L Chown, Susana Clusella‐Trullas, Steven J Portugal, Craig E Franklin and Frank Seebacher

Published in: Functional Ecology

Abstract

Climate affects all aspects of biology. Physiological traits play a key role in mediating these effects, because they define the fundamental niche of each organism.

Climate change is likely to shift environmental conditions away from physiological optima. The consequences for species are significant: they must alter their physiology through plasticity or adaptation, move, or decline to extinction. The ability to understand and predict such organismal responses to global change is, however, only as good as the geographical coverage of the data on which these predictions are based.

Geographical biases in the state of physiological knowledge have been identified, but it has not been determined if these geographical biases are likely to limit our capacity to predict the outcomes of global change. We show that current knowledge of physiological traits is representative of only a limited range of the climates in which terrestrial animals will be required to operate, because data for animals from only a limited range of global climates have been incorporated in existing compilations.

We conclude that geographical bias in existing datasets limits our capacity to predict organismal responses in the vast areas of the planet that are unstudied, and that this geographical bias is a much greater source of uncertainty than the difference between the current climate and the projected future climate. Addressing this bias is urgent to understand where impacts will be most profound, and where the need for intervention is most pressing.

White CR, Marshall DJ, Chown SL, Clusella‐Trullas S, Portugal SJ, Franklin CE, Seebacher F (2021) Geographical bias in physiological data limits predictions of global change impacts. Functional Ecology PDF DOI

Plastic but not adaptive: habitat‐driven differences in metabolic rate despite no differences in selection between habitats

Authors: Lukas Schuster, Craig R White, and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Oikos

Abstract

Metabolic plasticity in response to different environmental conditions is widespread across taxa. It is reasonable to expect that such plasticity should be adaptive, but only few studies have determined the adaptive significance of metabolic plasticity by formally estimating selection on metabolic rate under different environmental conditions.

We used a model marine colonial invertebrate, Bugula neritina to examine selection on metabolic rate in a harsh and a benign environment in the field, then tested whether these environments induced the expression of different metabolic phenotypes. We conducted two experimental runs and found evidence for positive correlational selection on the combination of metabolic rate and colony size in both environments in one run, whereas we could not detect any selection on metabolic rate in the second run.

Even though there was no evidence for different selection regimes in the different environments, colonies expressed different metabolic phenotypes depending on the environment they experienced. Furthermore, there was no relationship between the degree of plasticity expressed by an individual and their subsequent fitness.

In other words, we found evidence for phenotypic plasticity in metabolic rate, but there was no evidence that this plasticity was adaptive. In the absence of estimates of performance, changes in metabolic rate should not be assumed to be adaptive.

Schuster L, White CR, Marshall DJ (2021) Plastic but not adaptive: habitat‐driven differences in metabolic rate despite no differences in selection between habitats. Oikos PDF DOI

Multilevel selection on offspring size and the maintenance of variation

Authors: Hayley Cameron, Darren W Johnson, Keyne Monro, and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: The American Naturalist

Abstract

Multilevel selection on offspring size occurs when offspring fitness depends on both absolute size (hard selection) and size relative to neighbors (soft selection).

We examined multilevel selection on egg size at two biological scales — within clutches and among clutches from different females — using an external fertilizing tube worm. We exposed clutches of eggs to two sperm environments (limiting and saturating) and measured their fertilization success. We then modeled environmental (sperm-dependent) differences in hard and soft selection on individual eggs as well as selection on clutch-level traits (means and variances).

Hard and soft selection differed in strength and form depending on sperm availability—hard selection was consistently stabilizing; soft selection was directional and favored eggs relatively larger (sperm limitation) or smaller (sperm saturation) than the clutch mean. At the clutch level, selection on mean egg size was largely concave, while selection on within-clutch variance was weak but generally negative—although some correlational selection occurred between these two traits. Importantly, we found that the optimal clutch mean egg size differed for mothers and offspring, suggesting some antagonism between the levels of selection.

We thus identify several pathways that may maintain offspring size variation: environmentally (sperm-) dependent soft selection, antagonistic multilevel selection, and correlational selection on clutch means and variances.

Multilevel approaches are powerful but seldom-used tools for studies of offspring size, and we encourage their future use.

Cameron H, Johnson DW, Monro K, Marshall DJ (2021) Multilevel selection on offspring size and the maintenance of variation. The American Naturalist PDF DOI

Cell size influences inorganic carbon acquisition in artificially selected phytoplankton

Authors: Martino E Malerba, Dustin J Marshall, Maria M Palacios, John A Raven, and John Beardall

Published in: New Phytologist

Summary

Cell size influences the rate at which phytoplankton assimilate dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), but it is unclear whether volume‐specific carbon uptake should be greater in smaller or larger cells. On the one hand, Fick’s Law predicts smaller cells to have a superior diffusive CO2 supply. On the other, larger cells may have greater scope to invest metabolic energy to upregulate active transport per unit area through CO2‐concentrating mechanisms (CCMs).

Previous studies have focused on among‐species comparisons, which complicates disentangling the role of cell size from other covarying traits. In this study, we investigated the DIC assimilation of the green alga Dunaliella tertiolecta after using artificial selection to evolve a 9.3‐fold difference in cell volume. We compared CO2affinity, external carbonic anhydrase (CAext), isotopic signatures (δ13C) and growth among size‐selected lineages.

Evolving cells to larger sizes led to an upregulation of CCMs that improved the DIC uptake of this species, with higher CO2 affinity, higher CAext and higher δ13C. Larger cells also achieved faster growth and higher maximum biovolume densities.

We showed that evolutionary shifts in cell size can alter the efficiency of DIC uptake systems to influence the fitness of a phytoplankton species.

Malerba ME, Marshall DJ, Palacios MM, Raven JA, Beardall J (2020) Cell size influences inorganic carbon acquisition in artificially selected phytoplankton. New Phytologist PDF DOI

Projecting marine developmental diversity and connectivity in future oceans

Authors: Dustin J Marshall and Mariana Álvarez-Noriega

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Abstract

Global change will alter the distribution of organisms around the planet. While many studies have explored how different species, groups and traits might be re-arranged, few have explored how dispersal is likely to change under future conditions.

Dispersal drives ecological and evolutionary dynamics of populations, determining resilience, persistence and spread. In marine systems, dispersal shows clear biogeographical patterns and is extremely dependent on temperature, so simple projections can be made regarding how dispersal potentials are likely to change owing to global warming under future thermal regimes.

We use two proxies for dispersal — developmental mode and developmental duration. Species with a larval phase are more dispersive than those that lack a larval phase, and species that spend longer developing in the plankton are more dispersive than those that spend less time in the plankton.

Here, we explore how the distribution of different development modes is likely to change based on current distributions. Next, we estimate how the temperature-dependence of development itself depends on the temperature in which the species lives, and use this estimate to project how developmental durations are likely to change in the future.

We find that species with feeding larvae are likely to become more prevalent, extending their distribution poleward at the expense of species with aplanktonic development. We predict that developmental durations are likely to decrease, particularly in high latitudes where durations may decline by more than 90%. Overall, we anticipate significant changes to dispersal in marine environments, with species in the polar seas experiencing the greatest change.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Integrative research perspectives on marine conservation’.

Marshall DJ, Álvarez-Noriega M (2020) Projecting marine developmental diversity and connectivity in future oceans. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences PDF DOI

Differential resource use in filter-feeding marine invertebrates

Authors: Belinda Comerford, Mariana Álvarez-Noriega, and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Oecologia

Abstract

Coexistence theory predicts that, in general, increases in the number of limiting resources shared among competitors should facilitate coexistence.

Heterotrophic sessile marine invertebrate communities are extremely diverse but traditionally, space was viewed as the sole limiting resource. Recently planktonic food was recognized as an additional limiting resource, but the degree to which planktonic food acts as a single resource or is utilized differentially remains unclear. In other words, whether planktonic food represents a single resource niche or multiple resource niches has not been established.

We estimated the rate at which 11 species of marine invertebrates consumed three phytoplankton species, each different in shape and size.

Rates of consumption varied by a 240-fold difference among the species considered and, while there was overlap in the consumer diets, we found evidence for differential resource usage (i.e. consumption rates of phytoplankton differed among consumers). No consumer ingested all phytoplankton species at equivalent rates, instead most species tended to consume one of the species much more than others.

Our results suggest that utilization of the phytoplankton niche by filter feeders is more subdivided than previously thought, and resource specialization may facilitate coexistence in this system. Our results provide a putative mechanism for why diversity affects community function and invasion in a classic system for studying competition.

Comerford B, Álvarez-Noriega M, Marshall D (2020) Differential resource use in filter-feeding marine invertebrates. Oecologia. PDF DOI

Facultative feeding in a marine copepod: effects of larval food and temperature on performance

Authors: Alexander N Gangur, and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Marine Ecology Progress Series

Abstract

Most marine invertebrate larvae either feed or rely on reserves provisioned by parents to fuel development, but facultative feeders can do both.

Food availability and temperature are key environmental drivers of larval performance, but the effects of larval experience on performance later in life are poorly understood in facultative feeders. In particular, the functional relevance of facultative feeding is unclear. One feature to be tested is whether starved larvae can survive to adulthood and reproduce.

We evaluated effects of larval temperature and food abundance on performance in a marine harpacticoid copepod, Tisbe sp. In doing so, we report the first example of facultative feeding across the entire larval stage for a copepod.

In a series of experiments, larvae were reared with ad libitum food or with no food, and at 2 different temperatures (20 vs 24 °C). We found that higher temperatures shortened development time, and larvae reared at higher temperature tended to be smaller. Larval food consistently improved early performance (survival, development rate and size) in larvae, while starvation consistently decreased survival, increased development time and decreased size at metamorphosis. Nonetheless, a small proportion (3–9.5%, or 30–42.7% with antibiotics) of larvae survived to metamorphosis, could recover from a foodless larval environment, reach maturity and successfully reproduce.

We recommend that future studies of facultative feeding consider the impact of larval environments on adult performance and ability to reproduce.

Gangur A, Marshall D (2020) Facultative feeding in a marine copepod: effects of larval food and temperature on performance. Marine Ecology Progress Series PDF DOI

Conspecific chemical cues drive density-dependent metabolic suppression independently of resource intake

Authors: Melanie K Lovass, Dustin J Marshall, and Giulia Ghedini

Published in: Journal of Experimental Biology

Abstract

Within species, individuals of the same size can vary substantially in their metabolic rate. One source of variation in metabolism is conspecific density – individuals in denser populations may have lower metabolism than those in sparser populations. However, the mechanisms through which conspecifics drive metabolic suppression remain unclear. Although food competition is a potential driver, other density-mediated factors could act independently or in combination to drive metabolic suppression, but these drivers have rarely been investigated.

We used sessile marine invertebrates to test how food availability interacts with oxygen availability, water flow and chemical cues to affect metabolism.

We show that conspecific chemical cues induce metabolic suppression independently of food and this metabolic reduction is associated with the downregulation of physiological processes rather than feeding activity.

Conspecific cues should be considered when predicting metabolic variation and competitive outcomes as they are an important, but underexplored, source of variation in metabolic traits.

Lovass MK, Marshall DJ, Ghedini G (2020) Conspecific chemical cues drive density-dependent metabolic suppression independently of resource intake. Journal of Experimental Biology PDF DOI

Genome size affects fitness in the eukaryotic alga Dunaliella tertiolecta

Authors: Martino E Malerba, Giulia Ghedini, and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Current Biology

Abstract

Genome size is tightly coupled to morphology, ecology, and evolution among species, with one of the best-known patterns being the relationship between cell size and genome size.

Classic theories, such as the ‘selfish DNA hypothesis,’ posit that accumulating redundant DNA has fitness costs but that larger cells can tolerate larger genomes, leading to a positive relationship between cell size and genome size. Yet the evidence for fitness costs associated with relatively larger genomes remains circumstantial.

Here, we estimated the relationships between genome size, cell size, energy fluxes, and fitness across 72 independent lineages in a eukaryotic phytoplankton. Lineages with relatively smaller genomes had higher fitness, in terms of both maximum growth rate and total biovolume reached at carrying capacity, but paradoxically, they also had lower energy fluxes than lineages with relative larger genomes. We then explored the evolutionary trajectories of absolute genome size over 100 generations and across a 10-fold change in cell size.

Despite consistent directional selection across all lineages, genome size decreased by 11% in lineages with absolutely larger genomes but showed little evolution in lineages with absolutely smaller genomes, implying a lower absolute limit in genome size.

Our results suggest that the positive relationship between cell size and genome size in nature may be the product of conflicting evolutionary pressures, on the one hand, to minimize redundant DNA and maximize performance — as theory predicts — but also to maintain a minimum level of essential function.

Malerba ME, Ghedini G, Marshall DJ (2020) Genome size affects fitness in the eukaryotic alga Dunaliella tertiolecta. Current Biology PDF DOI