A big “CONGRATULATIONS” to my Honours student, Phoebe McInerney, who today had her final seminar and viva. Honours in the sciences is a rigorous year-long (only 9 months, really) independent research project which usually results in the production of a thesis.
Phoebe’s thesis was entitled “Analysis of Syrinx, Hyoid, and Larynx Morphology in the Southern Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius, (Aves, Palaeognathae) and Implications for Palaeognath Phylogeny.”
Her project was a pretty epic combination of traditional anatomical description, modern scanning methods (diceCT and 3D segmentation) and cladistic analyses, all in the pursuit of resolving Palaeognath evolutionary relationships.
Palaeognaths represent just ~1% of all living birds and includes the large, flightless forms such as ostriches, emus, rheas and the kiwi, and the flighted tinamous. This group also includes extinct forms such as the moa and elephant bird.
The large and flightless birds all share features related to their lifestyle such as reduced wings and strong legs that have likely arisen as a result of “convergent evolution” (called a homoplasy) which can make reconstruction of the evolutionary family tree very difficult.
Instead, Phoebe looked at the syrinx, hyoid and larynx (the vocal organ and its connected parts) in these birds to find characters that would reflect the true evolutionary history of the group.
I co-supervised Phoebe along with the Bird Man himself, Trevor Worthy, and phylogenetic analysis guru, Mike Lee. I’m very happy to have been involved and have great hope for Phoebe’s future academic career. CONGRATS PHOEBE, AWESOME JOB!
Alice, Phoebe and Trevor at the recent FUPS 30th celebrations.