Research in my lab is broadly focused on behavioural and evolutionary ecology, for which we use lizards as a model system. We work on the following general themes: (1) sensory ecology; (2) visual and chemical signals in lizards and their interaction; (3) colour signals and constraints (hormones, immunocompetence) to signalling; (4) whole organism maximal performance (bite force, sprint speed, endurance, metabolic rate) and performance-based signals; and (5) social organisation and sexual selection, mating systems and alternate reproductive tactics. More recently, a major focus is testing the social intelligence hypothesis for the evolution of large brain size and intelligence using the lizard genus Egernia as a model system.
To a lesser degree we also work on reptile life history and ecology. We use lizards and occasionally, snakes, to answer questions related to these themes although previous work in the lab has used frogs, mole rats, and Malawi cichlids.
(1) Parasite-mediated sexual selection. This work involves taking an integrative approach using genetics (with collaborator S. Keogh), physiology and behavioural studies, to examine the evolution of parasite resistance and pheromonal signalling in the Australian water skink Eulamprus quoyii.We are testing whether chemical odours act as honest signals of disease resistance and condition, examining the costs of parasitism, and whether immunocompetence features in female mate choice. Ultimately, we hope to examine the relationship between Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes and parasite resistance. Part of this work involves examining how social interactions, use of space, and activity levels influence fitness.
(2) Sexual selection and signalling in water dragons. We have a long-term project on social organisation and mating system in water dragons at Lane Cove National Park.
(3) Testing the social intelligence hypothesis for the evolution of large brain size. This is a large-scale project taking a comparative approach to testing whether social factors have driven brain size evolution in the the lizard genus Egernia. Egernia are a novel system for examining how sociality may have acted on brain size because they live in multi-generational family groups and represent an alternative to previously studied mammal and bird models. As a starting point, we are focusing on Cunningham’s skinks, a system for which we already have detailed data on sociality thanks to Adam Stow‘s pioneering work.
(4) Signal evolution in dragons. We are studying the influence of habitat, predation and social factors on signal design.
(5) Evolution and constraints to conspicuous signals in African flat lizards (Platysaurus) and chameleons.
I convene and teach an upper level course called "Conceptual issues in brain, behaviour and evolution". In 2011 I also will be covening the practicals for an undergraduate course (BBE100).
McConnachie, S.M., G.J. Alexander, and M.J. Whiting. 2010. Selected body temperature and thermoregulatory behaviour in the sit-and-wait foraging lizard Pseudocordylus melanotus melanotus. Herpetological Monographs in press
Whiting, M.J., J.K. Webb, and J.S. Keogh. 2009. Flat lizard female mimics use sexual deception in visual but not chemical signals. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1822. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 276: 1585-1591 first published online 25 February 2009.
Byrne, P.G., and M.J. Whiting. 2008. Simultaneous polyandry increases fertilization success in an African foam-nesting tree frog. Animal Behaviour 76:1157-1164.
Cooper, W. E., Jr., M. J. Whiting. 2007. Universal optimization of flight initiation distance and habitat-driven variation in escape tactics in a Namibian lizard assemblage. Ethology 113: 661-672.
Whiting, M.J. 2007. Foraging mode in the African cordylids and plasticity of foraging behavior in Platysaurus broadleyi. Pp 405-426. In S.M. Reilly, L.B. McBrayer, and D.B. Miles (eds.), Lizard Ecology: The Evolutionary Consequences of Foraging Mode. Cambridge University Press.
Stuart-Fox, D.M., A. Moussalli, and M.J. Whiting. 2007. Natural selection on social signals: signal efficacy and the evolution of chameleon display coloration. The American Naturalist 170:916-930.
Hibbitts, T.J., M.J. Whiting, and D.M. Stuart-Fox. 2007. Shouting the odds: vocalization signals status in a lizard. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61:1169-1176.
Whiting, M.J., D.M. Stuart-Fox, D. O’Connor, D. Firth, N.C. Bennett, and S.P. Blomberg. 2006. Ultraviolet signals ultra-aggression in a lizard. Animal Behaviour 72:353-363.
Stapley, J., and M.J. Whiting. 2006. Ultraviolet signals fighting ability in a lizard. Biology Letters 2:169-172.
Stuart-Fox, D.M., M.J. Whiting, and A. Moussalli. 2006. Camouflage and colour change: antipredator responses to bird and snake predators across multiple populations in a dwarf chameleon. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 88:437-446.
Stuart-Fox, D.M. and M.J. Whiting. 2005. Male dwarf chameleons assess risk of courting large, aggressive females. Biology Letters 1:231-234.
Webb, J.K., and M.J. Whiting. 2005. Why don’t small snakes bask? Juvenile broad-headed snakes trade thermal benefits for safety. Oikos 110:515-522.
Whiting, M.J., K.A. Nagy, and P.W. Bateman. 2003. Evolution and maintenance of social status signalling badges: experimental manipulations in lizards, Pp 47-82. In S.F. Fox, J.K. McCoy, and T.A. Baird (eds.), Lizard Social Behavior. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lailvaux, S.P., G.J. Alexander, and M.J.Whiting. 2003. Sex-Based Differences and Similarities in Locomotor Performance, Thermal Preferences, and Escape Behaviour in the Lizard Platysaurus intermedius wilhelmi. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 76:511-521.
Whiting, M.J., and J.M. Greeff. 1999. Use of heterospecific cues by the lizard Platysaurus broadleyi for food location. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 45:420-423. (Also see New Scientist 19/26 December 1998 – 2 January 1999, page 22.)
Whiting, M.J. 1999. When to be neighbourly: differential agonistic responses in the lizard Platysaurus broadleyi. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 46:210-214.