My name is Morgane Merien. I am a PhD student in entomology at the University of Auckland. Like many biologists, I like all kinds of animals but I am particularly interested and fascinated by the ones on the smaller side of the spectrum. New Zealand is incredibly fortunate to hosts a huge range of diversity in its flora and fauna due to its history of long geological isolation. As such, New Zealand is home to a very high number of unique and endemic species (a.k.a, biologists get to play in a very cool and exclusive playground). Insects are so widespread in our environment and have a huge impact on their ecosystem, whether we humans notice it or not. We also rely on them as a resource and for a range services; from agriculture, to medicine and technological innovation, etc. This makes them an ideal and important subject to study. Furthermore, due to the sheer number and diversity of species (of which many are still unknown), we have much to find out and learn!
I completed my Bachelor of Science at the University of Auckland in 2016, majoring in biological sciences and biological anthropology. Then in 2017, I completed my BSc Honours degree under the supervision of A/P Dr Greg Holwell, looking at facultative parthenogenesis in the New Zealand common stick insect, Clitarchus hookeri. During this project, I noticed that many of stick insects species display a range of colours, from bright green to tan, right down to dark brown. From there my PhD was born. I started in 2018 and am supervised by A/P Dr Greg Holwell (stick to what works best right?) and A/P Dr Thomas Buckley.
My PhD research pretty much boils down to one big question: “Why and how such arrays of colour?” The appearance of an animal plays an important part in its reproduction and survival. Camouflage has a long and illustrious history within scientific academia and many examples of cryptically coloured organisms have been used as models to test several evolutionary theories. Phasmids display some of the most obvious types of camouflage and are widely known for these adaptations (the name kinda gives it away, right?). Furthermore, many camouflaged organisms display colour polymorphism between individuals in a population, and at different life stages. Camouflage and colour polymorphism has been observed in many species of New Zealand phasmids. However, very little research has been conducted on them. I’m aiming to look at how and why this variation in colour is produced, and how this influences their camouflage, and hence their interaction with the environment (or vice-versa), and ultimately their survival. I want to compare between populations of different areas, but also between different species living in the same locality.
All photos are taken myself unless otherwise stated. Please get in contact if you want to use any of them!