Staff profile - Matthew Symonds

Staff image

Dr Matthew Symonds

Position: Senior Lecturer in Ecology
Faculty or Division: Faculty of Science Engineering & Built Environment
Department: School of Life and Environmental Sciences
Campus: Melbourne Burwood Campus
Phone: +61 3 92517437 +61 3 92517437



I graduated as a zoologist with a BA(Hons) in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge in 1994. I briefly dabbled in the world of population genetics, doing a masters degree with Prof Bryan Clarke at the University of Nottingham on the maintenance of prey polymorphisms due to frequency dependent selection by avian predators. Heading back to Cambridge, I obtained my PhD under the supervision of Dr Adrian Friday, looking at the effect of phylogenetic accuracy on comparative studies, concentrating on life-history evolution in mammals and, in particular, the order Insectivora. After graduating in 2000 I worked as Science Co-ordinator for The Charles Darwin Trust, before returning to research in 2002. I initially came to the University of Melbourne for a year to work with Prof Mark Elgar on a Royal Society Travelling Research Fellowship, looking at pheromone evolution in bark beetles. I then spent two years (2003-2005) at James Cook University in Townsville as an ARC Research Associate with Prof Chris Johnson, looking at the macroecology of Australian land birds and in particular explaining patterns of abundance and range size. I returned to the University of Melbourne in 2005 to take up a ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship on pheromone evolution in insects, and stayed there as a research fellow and lecturer until November 2010 when I joined Deakin University as a Lecturer in Ecology

For more about me and my research visit

Biography summary

2015 - Senior Lecturer, Deakin University, School of Life and Environmental Sciences

2010 - 2014 Lecturer, Deakin University, School of Life and Environmental Sciences

2005-2010 Research Fellow and Lecturer, University of Melbourne

2003-2005 Research Associate, James Cook University

2002 Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

2000-2001 Science Co-Ordinator, The Charles Darwin Trust

1996-2000 PhD, University of Cambridge

1995 MPhil, University of Nottingham

1991-1994 BA (Hons) Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge


  • Graduate Certificate of Higher Education, Deakin University, 2012
  • Bachelor of Arts, 1994
  • Doctor of Philosophy, 2000

Career highlights

President of the Australasian Evolution Society 2013-2015

Deakin University Teaching Awards 2012, 2013, 2014

ARC Discovery Project (with Mark Elgar) 2009

ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship 2005

Royal Society Travelling Research Fellow 2002


Deputy Director, Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin University

Member: Australasian Evolution Society, Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour, Australian Entomological Society, International Society for Behavioural Ecology, European Society for Evolutionary Biology

Honorary Fellow, University of Melbourne

Fellow, Cambridge Philosophical Society

Professional activities

President, Australasian Evolution Society 2013-2015

Council member, Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour 2009-2013

Subject Editor, Oikos

Review Editor, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution: Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology

Editorial Board: Axios Review

Personal website


Teaching Interests

Evolutionary biology, Ecology, Animal Behaviour

Subjects and units currently teaching

SLE 370 Evolution (unit chair)

SLE 251 Research Methods and Data Analysis (unit chair)

plus contribution towards

SLE 151 Biodiversity

SLE 307 Behavioural Ecology

SLE 390 Professional Practice in Bioscience

SLE 314 Research Project

Expertise categories

Expertise summary

Evolutionary biology Pheromones Bird Ecology Insect behaviour Publication and gender issues in science

Knowledge areas

Evolutionary biology

Chemical communication

Bird Macroecology

Insect behavioural ecology

Student supervision


Tamara Johnson (U. Melbourne) Evolution of elaborate antennae in moths - ongoing

Lisa Hodgkin (U. Melbourne) Behavioural ecology of pergine sawflies - ongoing


I-Ping Chen (U. Melbourne) Colour pattern evolution in Australian dragon lizards (Agamidae). Completed 2011


Kita Ashman: Environmental effects on investment in pheromone signalling and reception in the pantry moth, Plodia interpucntella. Current.

Alison Orchard: Geographic variation in pheromone chemstry in Ips grandicollis bark beetles. Current

Hannah Verhellen: Thermoregulation and bird morphology in birds. Current

Rebecca Readhead: Chemical ecology, phylogeny and behavioural interactions in Myrmecia ants. Completed 2014 - 1st Class

Julia Ryeland: Shorebird roosting behaviour in relation to temperature and beak size and shape. Completed 2014 - 1st Class

Laura Cheah: The costs of pheromone signalling (calling) in female silk moths (Bombyx mori). Completed 2014 - 1st Class

Aimee Barling: Benefits of female signalling effort in relation to male response in silk moths (Bombyx mori). Completed 2014 - 1st Class

Daniel Campbell-Tennant: Geographical and temporal variation in Australian parrot beaks. Completed 2012 - 1st Class

Brett Shiel: Antennal size and male quality in painted apple moths. Completed 2012 - 1st class

Lisa Hodgkin: The effect of multiple phoretic mite species on reproductive output in the bark beetle, Ips grandicollis. Completed 2008 - 1st class

Tamara Johnson: Evolution of elaborate antennal morphology in male painted apple moths, Teia anartoides. Completed 2007 - 1st class

Conferences and seminars


Plenary speaker: 2012 Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour, Geelong

Plenary speaker: 2012 New Zealand Entomological Society Conference, Whangarei

Organiser: 2013 Australasian Evolution Society Conference, Geelong

Speaker: 2014 Australian Entomological Society Conference, Canberra

Speaker: 2014 Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour Conference, Katoomba

Speaker: 2013 International Chemical Ecology Conference, Melbourne

Speaker: 2012 Australian Entomological Society Conference, Hobart

Speaker: 2011 Australasian Evolution Society Conference, Townsville

Speaker: 2011 Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour Conference, Adelaide

Speaker: 2011 International Society for Behavioural Ecology Congress, Perth

Media appearances

Scientific American, August 2012 - Beak Heat: Evolutionary Theory of Bird Bills May Need Revision 

The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, September 2010 - Peak beak or chill bill? It's a climate thing

New York Times, March 2008 - For Scientists, a Beer Test Shows Results as a Litmus Test

New Scientist - July 2007 - Why women lose out in the lab


Research projects

The evolution of pheromones and antennal diversity in insects

The evolution of harem polygyny in insects

Using phylogeny to predict medicinal utility of basal angiosperms (the ancient spice clades) in Australasia

Climate, Allen’s rule and the evolution of bird beaks – a global perspective

Research interests

Using phylogenies to explain patterns of chemical diversity in insects (pheromones) and plants (medicinal compounds) 

Evolution of elaborate antennal structures in insects

Phylogenetic comparative analyses of behaviour (including signalling), morphology and physiology in animals. 

Insect behavioural ecology

Bird macroecology and explaining geographic variation in morphology, abundance and species richness

Statistical methods in behavioural ecology

Research grants

2013 A$ 15,000 Central Research Grant, Deakin University

2013 A$ 24,000 Teaching equipment grant, Deakin University

2012 A$ 2,000 International collaboration grant, Deakin University

2009 A$ 160,000  ARC Discovery Project (co-authored with and awarded to M. Elgar – M. Symonds named as Senior Research Associate)

2007 A$  2,000  University of Melbourne Internal Research Grant

2005 A$  236,500  ARC Discovery Project and Postdoctoral Fellowship (APD)

2004    Honorary Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

2002 A$  37,000  Royal Society of London Travelling Research Fellowship

1999 A$  7,250  Cambridge Philosophical Society Fellowship

1996 A$  43,000  BBSRC Research Studentship



since 2012:

Campbell-Tennant, D.J.E., Gardner, J.L., Kearney, M.R. & Symonds M.R.E. (in press) Climate-related spatial and temporal variation in bill morphology over the past century in Australian parrots. Journal of Biogeography

Grace, O.M., Buerki, S., Symonds, M.R.E., Forest, F., Van Wyk, A.E., Smith, G.F., Klopper, R.R., Bjora, C.S., Neale, S., Simmonds, M.S.J. & Rønsted, N. (in press) Evolutionary history and leaf succulence as explanations for medicinal use in aloes and the global popularity of Aloe vera. BMC Evolutionary Biology

Umbers, K.D.L., Symonds, M.R.E. & Kokko H. (in press) The mothematics of female pheromone signalling: strategies for ageing virgins. American Naturalist

Symonds, M.R.E. (2014) Lecturing and other face-to-face teaching - too much or too little? An assessment based on student feedback and fail rates. Higher Education Research and Development 33: 1221-1231

Jones, T.M., Fanson, K.V., Lanfear, R., Symonds, M.R.E. & Higgie, M. (2014) Gender differences in conference presentations: a consequence of self-selection? PeerJ 2:e627

Hodgkin, L.K., Symonds, M.R.E. & Elgar, M.A. (2014) Leaders benefit followers in the collective movement of a social sawfly. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 281: 20141700

Symonds, M.R.E. & Blomberg, S.P. (2014) A primer on phylogenetic generalised least squares (PGLS). In: Modern Phylogenetic Comparative Methods and their Application in Evolutionary Biology: Concepts and Practice (ed. LZ Garamszegi), Chapter 5, pp. 105-130. Springer, Berlin.

Symonds, M.R.E, Weston, M.A., Robinson, R.W. & Guay, P-J. (2014) Comparative analysis of classic brain component sizes in relation to flightiness in birds. PLoS ONE 9: e91960

Symonds, M.R.E & Elgar, M.A. (2013) The evolution of body size, antennal size and host use in parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea): a phylogenetic comparative analysis. PLoS ONE 8: e78297

Jessop, T.J., Woodford, R. & Symonds, M.R.E. (2013) Macrostress: Do large-scale ecological patterns exist in the glucocorticoid stress response of vertebrates? Functional Ecology 27: 120-130

Guay, P-J., Weston, M.A., Symonds, M.R.E. & Glover, H.K. (2013) Brains and bravery: Little evidence of a relationship between brain size and flightiness in shorebirds. Austral Ecology 38: 516-522

Guay, P-J, Lorenz, R.B.A., Robinson, R.W., Symonds, M.R.E & Weston M.A. (2013) Distance from Water, Sex and Approach Direction Influence Flight Distances Among Habituated Black Swans. Ethology 119: 552-558

Chen, I-P., Symonds, M.R.E., Melville, J. & Stuart-Fox, D. (2013) Factors shaping the evolution of colour patterns in Australian agamid lizards (Agamidae): a comparative study. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 109: 101-112

Rønsted, N., Symonds, M.R.E., Birkholm, T., Christensen, S.B., Meerow, A.W., Molander, M., Mølgaard, P., Petersen, G., Rasmussen, R., Van Staden, J. Stafford, G.I. & Jäger, A.K. (2012) Can phylogeny predict chemical diversity and potential medicinal activity in plants? A case study of Amaryllidaceae. BMC Evolutionary Biology 12: 182

Chen, I-P. Stuart-Fox, D., Hugall, A.F. & Symonds, M.R.E. (2012) Sexual selection and the evolution of colour patterns in male dragon lizards. Evolution 66: 3605-3614

Symonds M.R.E., Johnson, T.L. & Elgar, M.A. (2012) Pheromone production, male abundance, body size and the evolution of elaborate antennae in moths. Ecology and Evolution 2: 227-246

Symonds, M.R.E., Magrath, M.J.L & Latty, T.M. (2012) Reproductive consequences of male arrival order in the bark beetle Ips grandicollis. Journal of Insect Behavior 25: 401-407

Link to publications

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