Does nature reward good architects? 

About the pitch 

If I asked you to build a nest using only your mouth and materials found in nature, I am sure that most of us would fail. But that’s what birds do every spring in our backyards. They build these incredible structures that are critical to the survival of their eggs and chicks. Each bird species has their own building design, that has worked well for millions of years, but now, these tiny architects are facing a new challenge.


Temperatures are increasing inside birds’ nests, and this is a big problem for many species. Bird embryos are incredibly sensitive to heat and develop within a narrow range of temperatures. Just a couple of degrees above their optimal range could mean the end for many. The increased frequency of heatwaves and extreme conditions in the last decade means that many species are now facing unprecedented high temperatures inside their nests. My research wants to understand what birds can do to cope with this new challenge. Nest building is one of the most amazing behaviours in nature and could be critical in helping birds face extreme temperatures. I want to know to what extent birds can modify this behaviour, and what difference it can make to the survival of eggs and chicks. 


Meet the Speaker


Iliana Medina 

I was born in the midst of the Andes mountains in Colombia, but I have lived in Australia for almost a third of my life. I am an evolutionary biologist and I’m continuously fascinated by nature. From all the fascinating outcomes of nature and evolution, the one that blows my mind is animal behaviour. Most of my scientific career has been devoted to understanding how non-human animals behave and why.


Working with animal behaviour has taken me to incredible places and has given me the chance to interact with amazing creatures. I have done research on South American poison dart frogs, Caribbean lizards, North American birds and Australian birds and insects. I did my PhD at the Australian National University where I studied how birds can defend from brood parasites like cuckoos. In 2017 I joined the University of Melbourne as a McKenzie postdoctoral fellow and in 2020 I started a position as Lecturer. My growing research team and I investigate how animal behaviour is linked to the diversity of structures, colours and species that we observe in nature. When I’m not looking for nests, animals or thinking about them, you can find me listening to music and dreaming about travelling places.

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