Visual Communication in Space and Time


Colour in nature is a central channel of communication, though its study has progressed without consideration of the inherent fluidity of information exchange.  This project seeks to inform how dynamic colour signals have evolved to effectively broker the exchange of information by connecting behaviour, ecology and perception using tropical butterflies.


Dr Thomas White

Research Location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program Type



Visual communication in nature is inherently dynamic, yet its study has progressed with little regard for the fluidity of information exchange.  Most studies focus on 'snapshots' of the colour patterns of animals and plants, with little consideration of how these features are continuously modified by behavioural, environmental, and perceptual processes.  The broad goal of this project is to develop a research program that integrates the spatial and temporal dimensions of colour signalling.  Particular aims may include one of more of:

  1. Identifying the physiological basis of colour sensation through space and time, using micro-spectrophotometry and electrophysiology.
  2. Defining how flashing colour stimuli, movement, and dynamic viewing environments enable effective communication using manipulative behavioural experiments.
  3. Using comparative methods to test evolutionary hypotheses for whether and how visual systems and dynamic signals co-vary across species.
  4. Developing and testing temporally-explicit models of colour sensation.
  5. Unravelling the coevolutionary dynamics of signals, sensory systems, and environments 'in action' using experimental evolution.

Additional Information

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

Want to find out more?

Contact us to find out what’s involved in applying for a PhD. Domestic students and International students

Contact Research Expert to find out more about participating in this opportunity.

Browse for other opportunities within the School of Life and Environmental Sciences .


Evolution; Behaviour; Ecology; Vision; Communication; Colour

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2446