Past Postgrad Students

These are some of our recently graduated PhD students. Read about what they are up to now, and what they were studying while they were at La Trobe.

Kevin Farnier

After a short stint in the UK, working on the development of lures for the spotted wing Drosophila, I have recently joined the invertebrate and weed science group at AgriBio. My role consists of developing new lures for the monitoring and control of Tephritid flies in orchards. Using an integrative approach including insect behaviour (wind tunnel, olfactometers), chemical analysis (GC-MS), electrophysiology (GC-EAD) and field studies, my aim is to mitigate the chemical ecology underpinning interactions between insects, microbes (especially yeasts) and host plants in view of implementing more efficient and sustainable pest monitoring and management strategies and; at the same time; provide an insight into the adaptations of insects’ olfactory systems in the context of the evolution of their association and utilization of their host plants.

PhD Project: Behavioural responses of psyllids (Hemiptera: Aphalaridae) to olfactory and visual cues of their eucalypt hosts

Insects use chemical, visual and tactile cues to identify host plants from non-hosts and to assess their suitability for eating and supporting the development of their offspring. Eucalyptus-feeding psyllids span species that only feed on one host (sometimes only a specific morphological leaf type) to species that use a range of hosts. My PhD focused on how different cues mediate these interactions. I wanted to understand how the composition of eucalypt secondary metabolites influenced the sensory capabilities of psyllids and how their responses enable them to exhibit different preferences for a genus of tree whose members produce many identical compounds.

Supervisor: Assoc. Prof. Martin Steinbauer

Umar Lubanga

I am currently employed as a Research Scientist by Agriculture Victoria and work at AgriBio, Centre for AgriBioscience in Melbourne. I am part of a team researching insect biological control of Wandering Trad (Tradescantia fluminensis) which is an environmental weed of national significance.

PhD Project:  Reproductive biology, signalling and sexual selection in the She-oak psyllid Aacanthocnema dobsoni (Froggatt) (Hemiptera: Triozidae)

Mating in insects is preceded by a series of highly synchronised, complex courtship behaviours between males and females. The signals used by different taxa reflect aspects of that insect’s habitat as well as the phylogenetic constraints and adaptive syndromes of the species. Insect sex pheromones (long-range signals), vibrational/acoustic signals (short-range signals) and visual signals may be used either in isolation or in combination to facilitate mating. I studied the vibrational and chemical signals and cues used in courtship and mating of the She-oak psyllid, Aacanthocnema dobsoni.