The University of Western Australia

UWA Staff Profile

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Kara Shaw

Dr Kara Yopak

Research Fellow
UWA Oceans Institute

Contact details
UWA Oceans Institute
The University of Western Australia (M317)
35 Stirling Highway
+61 8 6488 4509
+61 8 6488 7527
PhD Auck.
Dr. Kara E. Yopak’s (née) research focuses on the evolution of neural systems, particularly how brains have diversified within some of the earliest vertebrate groups, namely sharks, skates, rays, and chimaerids, a group collectively referred to as Chondrichthyans. Dr. Yopak received her B.A. in Biology (with a specialization in marine science) from Boston University in 2002 and completed her PhD at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in 2007. For her PhD and beyond, Dr. Yopak’s research has focused on comparative neuroanatomy within the clade of cartilaginous fishes, and how the development of major brain areas vary between species in conjunction with the adaptive evolution of their sensory and motor systems. She has explored a variety of traditional and novel techniques to explore questions related to brain evolution of sharks and their relatives, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Her data suggest that brain organization and the relative development of major brain structures reflect an animal’s ecology, even in phylogenetically unrelated species that share certain lifestyle characteristics, a pattern similarly documented in other vertebrate groups.

She is currently working within the Neuroecology Group, within the School of Animal Biology at UWA. Here she is exploring a multitude of questions relating to brain development, including how the brain, major brain components, and cell classes within these brain components scale across this unique group of animals. This work will potentially highlight a developmental plan that originated at least as early as cartilaginous fishes and may have been carried through evolutionary time to mammals. In addition, she is investigating whether alterations during early development in these animals can lead to changes in brain development, and by extension cognitive capabilities. This work could have far reaching implications for preservation of Australia’s biodiversity, particularly for improving survival strategies for captively-reared endangered species.

For your consideration, my married name is Kara E. Y. Shaw.
All publications and professional affiliations continue under my maiden name, Kara Erin Yopak
Key research
Cartilaginous fish (shark, skates, rays, & holocephalans) behavior, ecology, sensory biology, neuroethology, comparative brain morphology, neuroanatomy, allometry
1.Yopak KE (ed) 2012. The Nervous System of Cartilaginous Fishes. Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Karger Workshop. Karger Publishing Company: Brain Behavior and Evolution. 94 pp. ISBN 978-3-318-02216-2.

2.Kajiura, S.M., Cornett, A.D., and Yopak, K.E. 2010. Sensory adaptations to the environment: Electroreceptors as a case study. In Biology of Sharks and Their Relatives: Biodiversity Vol II: Adaptive Physiology, and Conservation. J.C. Carrier, J.A. Musick, M.R. Heithaus, eds. New York: CRC Press.

3.Yopak KE. 2014. The Ecology of Leadership. In: Leading the Way: The First 20 Years of LDW. C Webb, L Tessens, eds. Perth: UWA Publishing.

4.Collin SP, Kempster R, Yopak KE. 2015. Sensing the Environment. In Fish Physiology: Physiology of Elasmobranch Fishes. Vol 34A. RE Shadwick, AP Farrell, CJ Brauner, (volume eds). AP Farrell, CJ Brauner (series eds). New York: Elsevier. in press

5.Salas CS, Yopak KE, Potter I, Collin SP. 2014. Brain scaling and allometric variation of sensory brain regions during the ontogeny of the southern hemisphere lamprey, Geotria australis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, Special Issue “From ecology to brain development: Bridging separate evolutionary paradigms”. (eds. F Aboitiz, ML Concha, C Gonzalez-Billault and J Mpodozis). in press (IF = 3.7)

6.Yopak KE, Lisney TJ, Collin SP. 2015. Not all sharks are “swimming noses”: Variation in olfactory bulb size in cartilaginous fishes. Brain Structure and Function. 220: 1127-1143 (Citations: 5; IF = 4.567)

7.Yopak KE, Heel K, Goh GS, Northcutt RLG, Collin SP. 2014. Is bigger always better? Developing quantitative measures of cognitive ability in early vertebrates. Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 84: 74 (IF = 4.288)

8.Salas, CAS, Yopak, KE, Hart NS, Nazari H, Dominguez-Dominguez O, Gill HS, Potter IA, Collin S.P. 2014. Brain scaling and allometric variation of sensory brain regions in lampreys (Petromyzontiformes). Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 84: 72 (IF = 4.288)

9.Moore BA, Kamilar JM, Collin SP, Bininda-Emonds ORP, Dominy NJ, Hall MI, Heesy CP, Johnsen S, Lisney TJ, Loew ER, Moritz G, Nava SS, Warrant E, Yopak KE, and Fernández-Juricic E. 2012. A novel method for comparative analysis of retinal specialization traits from topographic maps. Journal of Vision. 12: 1-24 (Citations: 8; IF = 2.727)

10.Yopak KE and Lisney TJ. 2012. Allometric scaling of the optic tectum in cartilaginous fishes. Brain Behavior and Evolution. 80: 108-126. (Citations: 4; IF = 4.288)

11.Montgomery JC, Bodznick D, and Yopak KE. 2012. The cerebellum and cerebellum-like structures of cartilaginous fishes. Brain Behavior and Evolution. 80: 152-165. (Citations: 15; IF = 4.288)

12.Yopak KE. 2012. The nervous system of cartilaginous fishes. Brain Behavior and Evolution Special Issue. 80: 77-79 (Citations: 3; IF = 4.288)

13.Yopak KE. 2012. Neuroecology of cartilaginous fishes: The functional implications of brain scaling. Journal of Fish Biology, Special Issue “The Current Status of Elasmobranchs: Biology, Fisheries, and Conservation”. 80: 1968-2023 (Citations: 17: IF = 1.734)

14.Berquist RM, Gledhill K, Peterson MW, Doan AH, Baxter G, Yopak KE, Kang N, Walker HJ, Hastings PA, and Frank LR. 2012. The Digital Fish Library: Digitizing, databasing, and documenting the morphological diversity of fishes with MRI. PLoS One. 7: e34499. (Citations: 11; IF = 3.534)

15.Mull CS, Yopak KE, and Dulvy N. 2011. Does more material investment mean a larger brain? Evolutionary relationship between reproductive mode and brain size in chondrichthyans. Marine and Freshwater Research. 62: 567-575 (Citations: 8; IF = 2.191)

16.Yopak KE, Lisney TJ, Darlington RB, Collin SP, Montgomery JC, and Finlay BL. 2010. A conserved pattern of brain scaling from sharks to primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 107: 12946-12951. (Citations: 42; IF = 9.809)

17.Yopak KE, Ainsley S, Ebert DA, and Frank LR. 2010. Exploring adaptive evolution in the brains of bathyal skates (Family: Rajidae): Phylogenetic and ecological perspectives. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 75: 316 (Citations: 3; IF = 4.288)

18.Yopak KE and Frank LR. 2009. Brain size and brain organization of the whale shark, Rhincodon typus, using magnetic resonance imaging. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 74(2): 121-142. (Citations: 25; IF = 4.288)

19.Lisney TJ, Yopak KE, Montgomery JC, and Collin SP. 2008. Variation in brain organization and cerebellar foliation in chondrichthyans: Batoids. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 72: 262-282. (Citations: 21; IF = 4.288)

20.Yopak KE and Montgomery JC. 2008 Brain organization and specialization in deep-sea chondrichthyans. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 71: 287-304. (Citations: 26; IF = 4.288)

21.Yopak KE, Frank LR, and Montgomery JC. 2007. Variation in cerebellar foliation in cartilaginous fishes: Ecological and behavioral considerations. Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 70: 210. (Citations: 8; IF = 4.288)

22.Yopak KE, Lisney TJ, Collin SP, and Montgomery JC. 2007. Variation in brain organization and cerebellar foliation in chondrichthyans: Sharks and holocephalans. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 69: 280-300. (Citations: 65; IF = 4.288)

23.Kozlowski C, Yopak K, Voigt R, and Atema J. 2001. Initial study on the effects of signal intermittency on the odor plume tracking behavior of the American lobster, Homarus americanus. Biological Bulletin. 201: 274-276. (Citations: 9; IF = 1.567)

24.Yopak KE, Goh GS, Heel K, Wassell RS, Northcutt RLG, Collin SP. 2013. Are sharks “smart”. Developing quantitative measures of cognitive ability in fishes. Proceedings of the Australasian Neuroscience Society. in press

25.Yopak KE and Frank LR. 2010. New approaches to the study of comparative neuroanatomy in marine vertebrates using MRI: The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, as a case study. Proceedings of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. 18(2010): 2321 (Citations: 0)

26.Yopak KE, Balls G, and Frank LR. 2009. Cortical surface structure analysis in sharks using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Proceedings of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM). 17(2009): 2925. (Citations: 3)

Roles, responsibilities and expertise

Victoria Camilieri-Asch
Lucille Chapuis
Carlos Salas
Christopher Mull

Matthew Fraser-grant
Sian Coggin
Funding received
2003-2006: Kara E. Yopak, ‘Brain Organisation in Chondrichthyans: Ecological Correlations and Functional Implications”, University of Auckland International Doctoral Fees Scholarship

2011: Kara E. Yopak, ‘Comparative Neurobiology of Sharks, Skates, and Rays’, Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship, American Australian Association

2011-2012: SP Collin, RG Northcutt, KE Yopak Shaw, K Heel, 'Developing Quantitative Measures of Brain Evolution in Early Vertebrates', UWA Research Collaboration Awards

2012 - 2014: SP Collin, NS Hart, E Garza-Gisholt, KE Yopak. Vision and Light Detection in Chondrichthyans. Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Inc.

2012 - 2013: KE Yopak, SP Colin. 'In Search of a Magnetoreceptor in the Shark CNS'. National Imaging Facility (NIF), University of Queensland. NIF Subsidised Access Grant.

2013: KE Yopak, SP Collin, G Cowin, J Ullmann, J Anderson. In Search of a Magnetoreceptor in the Shark CNS. UWA-UQ Bilateral Research Collaboration Award, University of Western Australia

2014: KE Yopak, SP Collin. UWA Professional Development Award. Aspire Program, Perth Convention Bureau

2015: SP Collin, KE Yopak, AN Iwaniuk, DR Wylie, K Heel. Anatomical proxies for cognitive abilities in vertebrates. University of Western Australia, School of Animal Biology. UWA Research Collaboration Award. $15,000
Association for Women in Science
Society for Neuroscience
Australasian Neuroscience Society
International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine
J.B. Johnston Club for Evolutionary Neuroscience
Oceania Chondrichthyan Society
American Elasmobranch Society
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Last updated:
Tuesday, 3 November, 2015 2:39 PM