Climate-driven behavioural flexibility in the Pilbara pebble-mound mouse (Western Australia)

Exploring how climate influences behaviour


We will study a native mouse that lives in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and provide new information on the limitations, demographic effects and fitness implications of climate-related behavioural responses. 

Recent research has indicated that as Australia’s great landmass continues to dry on an evolutionary timescale, behavioural adaptations – such as sociality – may be key to survival for some species. However, the quickening pace of contemporary climate change demands that there is an urgent need to understand how species will respond on an ecological timescale. At this scale, immediately observable behavioural shifts are likely to provide early signals of climate stress prior to any detectable changes in demography or distribution. Despite the value of monitoring behaviour(s) as a management tool for quickly detecting species responses to changing climates, research to date has focused on a limited suite of traits, ecological contexts and climatic stimuli.

This project, which studies the enigmatic pebble mound mouse (Pseudomys chapmani) in the Pilbara region of Western Australia (a biodiversity hotspot known for its climatic variability), aims to uncover whether changes in behaviour are effective for dealing with environmental extremes and unpredictable climatic conditions. It will integrate laboratory- and field-based investigations to examine behavioural responses to climatic variability and establish how these responses influence individual fitness and future population resilience. This research will advance knowledge on climate-driven behavioural adaptation and improve understanding of how species will cope with Australia’s changing climate. 

We are looking for two students that are competent, confident and content to work remotely in the field. Ideally, you will come to the project with good experience in trapping and handling small mammals. Experience with genetic data is also desirable

Successful applicants will be responsible for the collection and analysis of data (field and lab work) and the dissemination of results, including the publication of scientific papers.

Suggested readings

  • Firman R.C., Rubenstein D.R., Moran J.M., Rowe K.C., Buzatto B.A. 2020. Extreme and variable conditions drive the evolution of sociality in Australian rodents. Current Biology 30, 691-697. (doi:


Research team leader: Dr Renée Firman

I am an ARC Research Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at UWA. I work in the field of evolutionary and behavioural ecology. I am interested in exploring theories of sociality, sex allocation and sexual selection. I use a number of different approaches to study small furry animals, including rodents and marsupials, in both the field and the lab. I place a strong focus on generating conservation-based outcomes. For example, I am dedicated to understanding how behavioural responses may assist our native rodents in coping with Australia's changing climate.

Funding and Collaborations

Funding - Australian Research Council Discovery Project

External Collaborators:

    • Prof Dustin Rubenstein




How to Apply 

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project - Add here if applicable
Submit enquiry to research team leader 
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact [email protected] to proceed with your application

Fully-funded PhD scholarships available. 

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