Staff Profile: Nigel R. Andrew

Staff Profile: Nigel R. Andrew

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Nigel Andrew is the unit coordinator of Entomology (ZOOL220, Trimester 1) and Insect-Plant Interactions (ZOOL328/528, Trimester 2), both offered on- and off-campus this year. He also contributes to teaching first-year Biology (BIOL110, Trimester 1).

Nigel is UNE’s resident entomologist, though he says he never actually planned to be an expert on insects as a student. Finishing school at age 17, and unsure what he wanted to be, he started a combined Arts/Science degree at the University of Wollongong studying the history and philosophy of science. In a class of around 60 students, Nigel claims he was fairly average in his grades, but in his third year of study several opportunities came up that changed his career.

As an undergraduate, Nigel enrolled in a third-year science project that involved working with university academics to conduct field work to answer his own research questions (much like UNE’s flexible Science Report unit, SCI395). He also spent his holidays volunteering for lecturers conducting biological surveys on the NSW mid-north coast, collecting and sorting plant and animal samples, an experience which he not only found he enjoyed but which eventually lead to him building up enough skills to be paid to work on the surveys. Through his involvement, he began to discover the amazing microscopic world around us, and for his Honours project Nigel spent 2 weeks exploring the wilds of Tasmania and sampling microscopic critters living in the moss, in order to study their distribution along latitudinal gradients. In turn, shortly after finishing his Honours, his supervisor offered him a chance to work at the Casey Research Station in Antarctica looking at the distribution of invertebrates in the moss growing there.

Nigel switched to Macquarie University to carry out his PhD on ‘The Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Insect Herbivores and Herbivory Along a Latitudinal Gradient’, spending two years travelling up and down the east coast from Batemans Bay in southern NSW to Cairns in tropical north QLD to collect his data. By studying latitudinal gradients (i.e. the changes in insects from north to south) he began to model the impacts that warmer climates could have on insect communities. Understanding this issue is hugely important as the millions of insect species in the world play essential roles in pollination, breaking down leaf litter, predating on plants, feeding birds and other predators, etc – all of which are essential for the environment and for agriculture.

He came to UNE in 2005 to lecture, the year after finishing his PhD. As well as teaching units he was Convenor of Zoology at UNE in 2008 and 2010, and is currently a member of a number a number of committees and societies. In 2011 he was promoted to an Associate Professor, aged in his mid thirties. Presenting talks at conferences takes him all over the world including recent trips to New Zealand and the USA. He also continues to investigate the impact of climate change on insect physiology, heading the UNE Insect Ecology research lab and its cohort of students and assistants. This lab currently has a number of potential projects for any students willing to get involved and see where their initiative takes them.

Nigel Andrew and his companions in the Insect Ecology lab have recently published work in the first volume of the open source (i.e. free!) journal PeerJ, available at https://peerj.com/articles/11/

Those interested in studying insects and zoology at UNE can study a Bachelor of Science and major in Zoology, or can study a Bachelor of Zoology – just check out the course unit catalogue.

Kelly Fuller on ABC New England North West has a ‘Creepy but Curious’ segment at 9:30 every Tuesday with Nigel and his fellow UNE lecturers Dr Tommy Leung (ZOOL329 Evolutionary Parasitology) and Dr Paul McDonald (ZOOL100 Principles of Zoology and ZOOL326 Animal Behaviour): http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/02/26/3698534.htm

- Yinika Perston

 

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