Doctor Elle McDonald


Graduated PhD 2019

Thesis Title

The Biological Importance of Individual Variation in Metabolic Responses to Environmental Conditions

Research Project

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is used by comparative physiologists and ecologists alike as the 'gold standard' for measuring an animal's minimum energetic cost of living as it provides a standardised measure of metabolism for comparison among all endothermic species. In fact the importance of BMR can be highlighted by the fact that it has been recorded in over 1000 species. Measuring BMR, however, does not take into consideration the different challenges that animals face in their natural habitat or the strategies that they employ to cope with such situations. It is likely that BMR actually provides a poor representation of an animal's actual metabolic capacity in the wild. The standardised measure of BMR fails to account for the adaptive thermoregulatory mechanisms, such as hibernation and/or torpor, employed by a wide range of mammals to adjust resting energy expenditure (REE) in response to changes in their intrinsic state (i.e. pregnancy or pathogen infection) and, environmental conditions. A small reduction in body temperature can drastically reduce resting energy costs thereby generating large energy savings which can be directed into other functions, e.g. increase the energy available for growth and reproduction. My current research aims to investigate correlations between various physiological and behavioural traits and REE among a population of diversity outbred laboratory mice and determine the ecological consequences of variation in REE. I aim to:

  1. Determine how physiological, morphological, behavioural, and life-history traits contribute to variation in REE in mice.
  2. Explain the impacts that thermoregulatory mechanisms have on total daily energy expenditure in response to variation in air temperature (Ta) and food restriction among individuals.
  3. Investigate the ecological consequences (e.g. reproductive output) of variation in REE.

Research Images

MouseMouse and babies


  • Awarded the prestigious University Medal in recognition of her achievements in her University studies, including her Honours thesis 'Telomere dynamics as an index of oxidative damage in mice' – 2013


Russino D, McDonald E, Hejazi L, Hanson GR, Jones CE, (2013) 'The Tachykinin Peptide Neurokinin B Binds Copper Forming an Unusual [CuII(NKB)2] Complex and Inhibits Copper Uptake into 1321N1 Astrocytoma Cells', ACS Chemical Neuroscience, vol.4, no.10, pp.1371-1381


Dr Chris Turbill and Dr Paul Rymer