27Scientists from Australia and India are collaborating on a joint research project about the behaviours of territorial snakes.

As part of a Key Technology Partnership (KTP) between the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), IISc ecologist and Assistant Professor Maria Thaker visited UTS to look at parallels in her work with the research of Dr Jonathan Webb from the UTS School of the Environment.

“Together, we’re going to look at how broad-headed snakes fight and whether there’s a lasting physiological effect of winning or losing. That idea is old in the literature, but very poorly studied and tricky to test. But through our collaboration, we now have a great study planned,” Thaker said.

Most of Thaker’s research is framed around predator and prey interactions, and involves studying the behaviour and physiology of organisms. Her expertise complements Webb’s in that they both study the behaviour of reptiles, but Thaker adds endocrinology.

“I can look at stress hormones, testosterone and other physiological parameters that mediate animal behaviour, so we can better understand how an organism functions,” Thaker said.

For her, the collaboration is an opportunity to workshop ideas with like-minded colleagues at other intuitions, rather than grapple with it alone.
“What is typical in science is that you publish what works, but you don’t publish what doesn’t work, figuring out what doesn’t work on your own. We all make the same silly mistakes over and over again because we’re not talking to each other.”

In particular the KTP with IISc aims to strengthen collaboration within the sciences as well as interactions between the natural and social sciences at each university. Thaker’s colleague at IISc, Associate Professor KartikShanker, believes that it is this interdisciplinarity that makes the partnership between IISc and UTS so unique.

“It’s not easy to find people across disciplines that are so willing to talk to each other,” he said.

Both Shanker and Thaker are working with UTS academics on complementary research across different disciplines. The collaboration is consistent with a focus on developing sustainable approaches to environmental resource conservation and use, particularly in developing countries.

“There’s ongoing research in both institutions that will benefit from our interaction,” said Shanker. “We have a range of theoretical expertise, as well as access to research and different geographical regions that could really benefit people.”

To date UTS has 13 KTPs with universities in China, India and Europe, which are facilitating important collaboration on global research issues, as well as providing mutually beneficial mobility opportunities for students.

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