Big honours for little marsupial

Published 19 November 2008

Lisa Wernecke with dunnartA talk on the deep “sleep” habits of a tiny marsupial mouse has landed a UNE postgraduate student a prestigious award at a recent national research conference.

Lisa Warnecke, a PhD candidate in Zoology at the School of Rural and Environmental Science at UNE, received the Bolliger Award for best student presentation at the 54th Scientific Meeting of the Australian Mammal Society in Darwin last month. Her talk, entitled “Basking Behaviour and Torpor Use in Planigales”, beat 30 others given by students from around the country.

The planigale was one of the smallest marsupials on Earth, Ms Warnecke said, and needed to eat almost constantly to survive.

“My talk was on those aspects of my PhD thesis that deal with the planigale’s torpor use,” Ms Warnecke said. “Basically, the planigale is so small , it’s constantly losing heat to its environment. Hence they go into torpor [a state of reduced body temperature and slowed metabolism] every day for several hours in order to conserve energy.”

Ms Warnecke, who hails from Germany, said that although the talk was given in front of what she termed a “friendly audience” of 100, she still got nervous speaking in front of so many people.

“I’ve been to about half a dozen conferences now, so I’m getting used to it, but it’s still nerve-wracking, especially when I’m talking in what is to me a foreign language.”

Ms Warnecke recently handed in her thesis and, pending some minor corrections, she will shortly be returning to Germany. She said she had thoroughly enjoyed her three-and-a-half years in Armidale and that she had chosen to come to UNE specifically to work with Prof Fritz Geiser, the supervisor of her PhD thesis and a world-renowned expert in the field of marsupial physiology.

Ms Warnecke said her PhD had afforded her plenty of opportunities for fieldwork and to get up close and personal with the subject of her research.

“I have always been fascinated by marsupial physiology, and that is what drew me to undertake a PhD on the subject,” she said. “Of course, it helps that they are really cute, too.”

Ms Warnecke is pictured here with a dunnart, another marsupial she is studying.

More information, contact Lisa Warnecke on 6773 2885 or Leon Braun (UNE public relations) on 6773 3771. A photograph is available to accompany this story.