My principal research interests include:

  • Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) & Plant-Pollinator Co-evolution (PPC)
  • Frogs as bio-indicators of environmental quality and change, especially in relation to climate change
  • Bird ecology

I also recognize the importance of:

  • Cross-disciplinary studies

Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) & the theory of Plant-Pollinator Co-evolution (PPC)

OFT attempts to understand foraging behaviour by organisms on the basis that observed foraging behaviour maximises some currency of biological fitness associated with foraging.

The theory of PPC attempts to explain observed relationships, such as the so-called ‘pollination syndromes’, between plants and their pollinators. I propose to combine these approaches, because PPC depends on how pollinators respond to variation in floral traits as they forage for floral resources, and understanding such responses should come from OFT applied to the pollinators. Of course, there will also need to be a corresponding Optimal Plant Theory (OPT).

Working in this area ideally requires confidence and skills in terms of mathematics, statistics and computer simulation on the one hand, and biological observation, through both lab and field work, on the other. Developing theory requires the former; determining biological patterns and testing the theory requires the latter.

Some potential projects within this area include:

  1. Determining optimal rules for movement by foraging organisms, and comparing their predictions with observed patterns of movement (Much recent interest in patterns of movement);
  2. Developing and testing models of optimal morphology and speed of movement for foraging organisms (Incorporating energetics with aspects of physics and engineering);
  3. Quantitative empirical evaluation, across different geographic regions and taxa, of plant-pollinator syndromes, such as the correlation between nectar production rate per flower and pollinator body-size (Similarities across regions and taxa suggest unifying principles);
  4. Development and testing of models that incorporate both OFT and OPT (Thus evaluating the approach)

My recent publications in this area include the following (as per my c.v.) …

D10.    Pyke, G.H.

Optimal Foraging and Plant–Pollinator Co-Evolution. In: Breed M.D. and Moore J., (eds.) Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, volume 2, pp. 596-600 Oxford: Academic Press (2010).        

D11.    Pyke, G.H.

Optimal Foraging Theory: Introduction. In: Breed M.D. and Moore J., (eds.) Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, volume 2, pp. 601-603. Oxford: Academic Press (2010). 

A106.  Pyke, G.H. Floral Nectar: Pollinator Attraction or Manipulation? Trends in Ecology & Evolution  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2016.02.013  (2016)

A107.  Pyke, G.H. Plant-pollinator Co-evolution: It’s time to reconnect with Optimal Foraging Theory and Evolutionarily Stable Strategies. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution & Systematics 19 pp 70-76 (2016) 

Frogs as environmental bio-indicators

The general aim here is to develop an understanding of what factors affect population dynamics of frogs and how these factors operate, within the contexts of environmental pollution, climate change, conservation, and management.

Since 1998 I have been carrying out a program of research on two frog species, the endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog and the widespread and common Striped Marsh Frog, with a view to facilitating conservation of the former species, understanding differences between the two species, understanding the ways in which climatic variables affect them, and hence understanding and predicting possible effects of climate change. I have also been involved in projects attempting to evaluate the extent to which frogs may be considered bio-indicators of environmental quality and change.

X-Rays of frogs with physical abnormalities

Additional potential projects within this area include:

  1. Effects of climate change on urban frogs;
  2. Mining Museum frog collections for information concerning possible effects of environmental stressors;

I have published numerous scientific articles about frog ecology (see my complete c.v.). 

Bird Ecology

My interest in bird ecology arises from a lifetime love of birds and previous studies, spanning over a decade but now 25 or more years ago, that I carried out in relation to the population biology of honeyeaters (major group of Australian nectar-feeding birds).

Some current potential projects within this area are as follows:

  1. Evaluating effects on birds of long-term factors, including habitat alteration, fire history and climate change, through repeating bird surveys that I carried out in about the early 1980s and relating any apparent changes to these factors;
  2. Comparing birds, frogs and other organisms as environmental bio-indicators;
  3. Understanding the ecology and evolution of honeyeaters through a bio-geographical investigation of their foraging behaviour, morphological traits, patterns of species co-existence, etc
  4. Mining existing data, collected over about 20 years, in relation to the Eungella Honeyeater, to assess its ecology and behaviour;
  5. Behaviour and ecology of the Masked Lapwing and other urban birds

I have published numerous articles in the area of avian ecology (see complete c.v.)

Cross-disciplinary Studies

It is obvious, I think, that much of what I describe above would be best, or necessarily, carried out as cross-disciplinary endeavours. Optimal Foraging Theory and related issues would benefit through an obvious combination of biology and mathematics, and a possible combination of physics and biology given the possibility that organisms and inert particles might move in accordance with similar rules.

Understanding frogs as bio-indicators warrants a joint biology and chemistry approach, as does understanding co-evolution between plant pollinators and the concentration/ composition of floral nectar. I am therefore interested in encouraging any such cross-disciplinary study program.

Potential examples include:

  1. What do foraging organisms and Bayesian statisticians have in common, and how well do they cope with needing to estimate conditions? (biology/ mathematical statistics)
  2. What is the contribution of particle physics to the understanding of organismal movement and resulting patterns of distribution and spread? (biology/ physics)
  3. To what extent does fractal analysis help us to understand behaviour and distribution of organisms? (biology/ physics/ mathematics)
  4. How does chemical analysis help us to understand the evolution of floral nectar (biology/ chemistry)