Travel grants to go - Nico Alioravainen

01 October 2018 - By: Nico Alioravainen

Travel grants to go - Nico Alioravainen

Nico Alioravainen
Nico Alioravainen. Photo: Maria Rajakallio


Nico travelled on a research trip to Associate Professor Pete Biro’s lab at Deakin University, Australia to carry out research on “Evolution of individual-level trait covariation and personality-driven dispersal syndrome”.

“Scientifically the whole organism level syndromes, i.e. genetic correlations among multiple traits, most often referred as paceof- life-syndromes (POLS), are currently among the most intensively studied subjects in behavioural ecology. It is well known that certain behavioural traits such as dispersal tendency in fish, are individually consistent and repeatable in time and space. Despite the increasing numbers of studies of POLS, it is still unclear how behaviour associates with other traits such as morphology, physiology or life history traits. Predictions suggest that boldness or high activity in behaviour should positively correlate with high basal metabolic and growth rates and thus performing a fast life pace syndrome (e.g. earlier maturation), but so far, the straight evidence of genetic background about this is lacking”, explains Nico.

“During the research visit to assoc. prof. Peter Biro’s laboratory at Deakin University in Australia, I intended to study the role of predation in the evolution of individuallevel syndromes among multiple traits (e.g. behaviour and metabolism) in guppies” says Nico. “Biro’s lab has a unique set up for the studies of experimental evolution. They have reared guppies (Poecilia reticulata) over multiple generations in replicated populations with and without predator presence. Unfortunately, our ethical licence to study maximum metabolic rate (MMR) in guppy was rejected at first, and our revised application was not able to be issued within the time frame that I was going to be in Deakin University. We therefore shifted to a second plan - measuring only standard metabolic rate - but we had to cancel our experiment due to problems of fish well-being. Free-living bacterium Mycobacterium marinum was diagnosed in some of the fish and it caused high mortality when the fish were taken into individual tanks with recirculation systems. As a result, I was unable to carry out the planned experiments for almost two months, as the veterinarian needed to examine the aquaria and fish populations.

During this time, we designed a study where we aimed to investigate associations between the brain size and social learning and how predation potentially affects these associations. Although we only managed to complete the pilot testing stage of the study due to the short time frame available, I am hoping to be able to continue this project after I have completed my PhD.

I have however managed to collect morphological data to study sexual selection and predation effects on male ornamentation, and we hope to present the results for this study next year.

Even though my studies did not go as planned I feel that because of this I gained a lot of knowledge and experience during my time at Deakin University. I learnt a lot about scientific standards and study planning. I learnt how to work with different equipment and apply new techniques including using a respirometer to study fish metabolism, using video tracking software to analyse fish movements in tank and performing a brain dissection to measure brain mass. The experience I gained has definitely prepared me for the next stage of my career and I feel more ready now for the challenges that the post doc phase of my career will bring. In addition all the experiments we designed during my stay will still be feasible and I will most likely utilize these plans when applying for research funding for new projects.

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