Project proposal details

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Project title
Sex biases in natural history collections of amphibians and reptiles
Contact name
Natalie Cooper
Project based at
Natural History Museum
Project description

Natural history collections are famously biased in various ways including historically, geographically, and towards larger "more charismatic" species. But there is also often a sex bias, with mammals and birds showing bias towards males especially in species with larger, showier males. We've already found that 40% of birds and 48% of mammal specimens are female when looking at over 2 million records from natural history collections (Cooper et al Proceedings B 2019). This study raised more questions than answers, so there are a series of projects that can be done with this kind of data (I'm happy to discuss other ideas too).

In amphibians and reptiles the bias appears to be more severe than in mammals and birds. A previous masters project looked at this, but a big issue was lack of data as very few specimens were sexed. This study could be improved considerably by adding data from museums other than the five main museums used in the mammal and bird study, and by adding data from Australian museums. Australia has an amazing herpetofauna, but this was mostly lacking from our earlier analysis. We also want to add more information on snakes which mostly were missing from our earlier analyses. Analyses will involve data wrangling using tidyverse packages in R, followed by binomial GLMs (training will be provided on both of these). If things go to plan this will result in a publishable piece of work.

Finally, we found that turtles actually have a female bias, probably due to their collection during egg laying on beaches. If we can find more data on turtles we may be able to test hypotheses about temperature dependent sex determination changing due to changes in climate. This is a stretch goal as it depends on what data we can harvest, but would be an exciting addition to the project for a motivated student.

Our group are broadly interested in sex, gender and diversity, including representation in museum exhibits, so there would also be opportunities to get involved with this work and discussions arising if this is of interest.
Selection and eligibility
You should be happy to use R a lot!
Date uploaded

Project proposal limitations

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Project length limitations
5 months, 9 months
Available date limitations
Winter (January), Spring (April-May)