The University of Western Australia

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Kara Yopak

Dr Kara Yopak

Adjunct Senior Lecturer
Biological Sciences, School of

Contact details
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Western Australia (M085)
35 Stirling Highway

Adjunct Senior Lecturer
UWA Oceans Institute

Contact details
UWA Oceans Institute
The University of Western Australia (M085)
35 Stirling Highway
BA Boston, PhD Auck.
Dr. Kara E. Yopak’s (née) research focuses on the evolution of neural systems, particularly how brains have diversified within some of the earliest vertebrate groups, namely sharks, skates, rays, and chimaerids, a group collectively referred to as chondrichthyans. Dr. Yopak received her B.A. in Biology (with a specialisation in marine science) from Boston University in 2002 and completed her PhD at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in 2007. For her PhD and beyond, Dr. Yopak’s research has focused on comparative neuroanatomy within the clade of cartilaginous fishes, and how the development of major brain areas vary between species in conjunction with the adaptive evolution of their sensory and motor systems. She has explored a variety of traditional and novel techniques to explore questions related to brain evolution of sharks and their relatives, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Her data suggest that brain organization and the relative development of major brain structures reflect an animal’s ecology, even in phylogenetically unrelated species that share certain lifestyle characteristics, a pattern similarly documented in other vertebrate groups.

She is currently working within the Neuroecology Group, within the School of Animal Biology at UWA. Here she is exploring a multitude of questions relating to brain development, including how the brain, major brain components, and cell classes within these brain components scale across this unique group of animals. This work will potentially highlight a developmental plan that originated at least as early as cartilaginous fishes and may have been carried through evolutionary time to mammals. In addition, she is investigating whether alterations during early development in these animals can lead to changes in brain development, and by extension cognitive capabilities. This work could have far reaching implications for preservation of Australia’s biodiversity, particularly for improving survival strategies for captively-reared endangered species.
Key research
Cartilaginous fish (shark, skates, rays, & holocephalans) behavior, ecology, sensory biology, neuroethology, comparative brain morphology, neuroanatomy, allometry
Yopak KE (ed) 2012. The Nervous System of Cartilaginous Fishes. Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Karger Workshop. Karger Publishing Company: Brain Behavior and Evolution. 94 pp. ISBN 978-3-318-02216-2.

Kajiura, S.M., Cornett, A.D., and Yopak, K.E. 2010. Sensory adaptations to the environment: Electroreceptors as a case study. In Biology of Sharks and Their Relatives: Biodiversity Vol II: Adaptive Physiology, and Conservation. J.C. Carrier, J.A. Musick, M.R. Heithaus, eds. New York: CRC Press.

Moore BA, Kamilar JM, Collin SP, Bininda-Emonds ORP, Dominy NJ, Hall MI, Heesy CP, Johnsen S, Lisney TJ, Loew ER, Moritz G, Nava SS, Warrant E, Yopak KE, and Fernández-Juricic E. 2012. A novel method for comparative analysis of retinal specialization traits from topographic maps. Journal of Vision. 12: 1-24

Yopak KE and Lisney TJ. 2012. Allometric scaling of the optic tectum in cartilaginous fishes. Brain Behavior and Evolution. 80: 108-126. (Cover Story)

Montgomery JC, Bodznick D, and Yopak KE. 2012. The cerebellum and cerebellum-like structures of cartilaginous fishes. Brain Behavior and Evolution. 80: 152-165. (Cover Story)

Yopak KE. 2012. The nervous system of cartilaginous fishes. Preface. Brain Behavior and Evolution Special Issue. 80: 77-79

Yopak KE. 2012. Neuroecology of cartilaginous fishes: The functional implications of brain scaling. Journal of Fish Biology, Special Issue “The Current Status of Elasmobranchs: Biology, Fisheries, and Conservation”. 80: 1968-2023

Berquist RM, Gledhill K, Peterson MW, Doan AH, Baxter G, Yopak KE, Kang N, Walker HJ, Hastings PA, and Frank LR. 2012. The Digital Fish Library: Digitizing, databasing, and documenting the morphological diversity of fishes with MRI. PLoS One. 7: e34499.

Mull, C. Yopak, K., and Dulvy, N. 2011. Does more material investment mean a larger brain? Evolutionary relationship between reproductive mode and brain size in chondrichthyans. Marine and Freshwater Research. 62: 567-575

Yopak, K.E., Ainsley, S., Ebert, D.A., and Frank, L.R. 2010. Exploring Adaptive Evolution in the Brains of Bathyal Skates (Family: Rajidae): Phylogenetic and Ecological Perspectives. Published Abstract. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 75: 316

Yopak, K.E., Lisney, T.J., Darlington, R.B., Collin, S.P., Montgomery, J.C., and Finlay, B.L. 2010. Brain scaling from sharks to primates: A highly conserved vertebrate pattern. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 107: 12946-12951.

Yopak, K.E. and Frank, L.R. 2010. New Approaches to the Study of Comparative Neuroanatomy in Marine Vertebrates using MRI: The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, as a case study. Published Abstract. Proceedings of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. 18(2010): 2321

Yopak, K.E. and Frank, L.R. 2009. Brain size and brain organization of the whale shark, Rhincodon typus, using magnetic resonance imaging. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 74(2): 121-142. (Cover Story)

Yopak, K.E., Balls, G., and Frank, LR. 2009. Cortical Surface Structure Analysis in Sharks using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Published Abstract. Proceedings of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM). 17(2009): 2925.

Lisney, T.J.*, Yopak, K.E.* 2008. Montgomery, J.C., and Collin, S.P. Variation in Brain Organization and Cerebellar Foliation in Chondrichthyans: Batoids. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 72: 262-282 (Cover Story)

Yopak, K.E. and Montgomery, J.C. 2008 Brain Organization and Specialization in Deep-Sea Chondrichthyans. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 71: 287-304

Yopak, K.E.*, Lisney, T.J.*, Collin, S.P., and Montgomery, J.C. 2007. Variation in Brain Organization and Cerebellar Foliation in Chondrichthyans: Sharks and Holocephalans. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 69: 280-300. (Cover Story)

Yopak, K.E., Frank, L.R, and Montgomery, J.C. 2007. Variation in Cerebellar Foliation in Cartilaginous Fishes: Ecological and Behavioral Considerations. Published Abstract. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution. 70: 210

Kozlowski, C.*, Yopak, K.*, Voigt, R., and Atema, J. 2001. Initial study on the effects of signal intermittency on the odor plume tracking behavior of the American lobster, Homarus americanus. Biological Bulletin. 201: 274-276
Funding received
2003-2006: KE Yopak, ‘Brain Organisation in Chondrichthyans: Ecological Correlations and Functional Implications”, University of Auckland International Doctoral Fees Scholarship ($94,500)
2011-2012: KE Yopak, ‘Comparative Neurobiology of Sharks, Skates, and Rays’, Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship, American Australian Association ($25,000)
2012: SP Collin, RG Northcutt, KE Yopak Shaw, K Heel, 'Developing Quantitative Measures of Brain Evolution in Early Vertebrates', UWA Research Collaboration Awards ($20,000)
2012 - 2013: KE Yopak. 'In Search of a Magnetoreceptor in the Shark CNS'. National Imaging Facility (NIF), University of Queensland. NIF Subsidised Access Grant.
2013: KE Yopak, SP Collin, G Cowin, J Ullmann, J Anderson. 'In Search of a Magnetoreceptor in the Shark CNS'. UWA-UQ Bilateral Research Collaboration Award.
Society for Neuroscience
Australian Neuroscience Society
International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine
J.B. Johnston Society (organization for comparative and evolutionary neurobiology)
Oceania Chondrichthyan Society
American Elasmobranch Society
Research profile
Research profile and publications

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Last updated:
Tuesday, 3 November, 2015 2:39 PM