Eleanor Peirce

Dr Eleanor Peirce

Senior Lecturer

School of Biomedicine

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Dr Eleanor Peirce is a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Anatomy and Pathology, School of Medicine within the Faculty of Health Sciences. She is the coordinator for the Anatomical Sciences major, and the courses Comparative Reproductive Biology of Mammals, Biology and Development of Human Tissues, and Cells and Tissues. She also contributes to coordination of the Honours program in the School of Medicine.

Dr Peirce has previously contributed to the teaching and management of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program, and was Academic Coordinator and Manager for this program from 2000-2011. During this time she coordinated courses in Human Biology and was one of the first staff to apply the "Research Skills Development (RSD)" approach to curriculum development and assessment in her courses.

Dr Peirce completed her PhD in 2000 on the factors influencing male germ cell production in two species of Conilurine rodents from Australia's arid zone, the plains mouse Pseudomys australis and the spinifex hopping mouse, Notomys alexis. Her current research interests include the influences of postcopulatory sexual selection on testis size and architecture, and sperm numbers and morphology.

Reproductive Biology Research Group

Our research group is interested in the comparative morphology and evolution of gametes, gonads and external genitalia of Australian mammals. We have found great diversity in these characteristics across the species investigated and we are now exploring the functional implications of this diversity. We have published extensively in this field with articles in Nature and New Scientist as well as in the more specialist scientific journals. In addition, we are involved in developing reproductive technological procedures for long-term storage of sperm and eggs from some of these species to assist with conservation programs.
In particular our current research interests include studies on:
• Factors determining the efficiency of gamete production across species
• Factors determining sperm shape and size
• Co-evolution of molecules involved in sperm-egg interaction at fertilisation
• Environmental control of reproduction


Project 1

Title: A comparative study of ovarian structure and organisation in marsupial species.

Description: Mammalian ovaries are composed of an outer cortical zone of connective tissue (CT) in which the follicles containing oocytes and the ovulated follicles (=corpora lutea) are located. This zone surrounds a more fibrous medullary region containing the main vasculature of the ovary. The structural appearance of the ovary varies cyclically, with growth and development of follicles, ovulation and formation of corpora lutea controlled by the hypothalamo-pituitary-ovarian axis. A surge in LH from the pituitary gland is responsible for ovulation and the transformation of thecal and granulosa cells of ovulated follicles into the luteinised endocrine tissue of the corpora lutea. In several species of mammals, the cortical interstitial CT contains, in addition to follicles of various developmental stages, large clusters of additional “luteinised” interstitial cells, with a cellular appearance similar to that of corpora lutea, but that are not part of these structures, or of follicles. From where these cells arise, how widely they occur across species, and what role they might play in regulating ovarian function is largely unknown, particularly with respect to marsupial species. This project will analyse and compare the cellular characteristics and proportions of follicular and interstitial tissue within the ovaries of species of various Australian marsupials. It is hypothesised that where many luteinised interstitial cells occur the species has a longer cycle length than in species where these cells are not present.

Number of students: 10

Category: Dry lab - morphometric image analysis of histological slides

Major: Reproductive Health; Medical Sciences


Project 2

Title: Testicular architecture in marsupial species: does it relate to intensity of sperm competition and hence post-copulatory sexual selection?

Description: In many animal groups, females often mate with more than one male in the same oestrous period, leading to the likelihood of competition between the sperm from different males to fertilise the oocytes in the female tract. According to the “raffle” principle, intermale sperm competition will result in increased testis size to maximise sperm numbers. Indeed, a strong positive association between multi-male breeding systems and large relative testis size - RTM (after controlling for body size) has been shown in numerous taxa where multimale mating occurs. However, adaptations of testicular and/or sperm structure to maximise the male’s chances of fertilising the available eggs might also occur. Therefore, the proportion of sperm producing tissue within the testes, and its kinetic capabilities, may reflect the breeding system that has evolved in a particular species. It has also been proposed that investment in larger numbers of small sperm is a selective advantage where intense intermale sperm competition occurs. The associations between RTM, testis structure and organisation, sperm production and sperm morphology have not yet been investigated in Australian marsupials although It is known that testis structure varies markedly across different marsupial groups. However, whether this variation correlates with RTM, and hence intensity of intermale sperm competition, has yet to be explored. This project will determine the relationships between RTM, the structural architecture of the testes, sperm morphology and sperm size across various groups of Australian marsupials. The hypothesis that will be tested is that testis and sperm morphology correlate with predicted levels of intermale sperm competition. 

Number of students: 10

Category: Dry lab - morphometric image analysis of histological slides and sperm smears

Major: Reproductive Health; Medical Sciences

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2012 - ongoing Senior Lecturer University of Adelaide
    1995 - 2011 Lecturer, Level B University of Adelaide
    1992 - 1994 Lecturer, Level A University of Adelaide
    1986 - 1991 Tutor University of Adelaide
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2010 Teaching Award University of Adelaide Excellence in Education Award for Faculty of Health Sciences University of Adelaide Australia -
    2008 Teaching Award Faculty of Health Sciences Executive Dean's Prize For Excellence in Teaching University of Adelaide Australia -
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2000 University of Adelaide Australia PhD
    1982 University of Adelaide Australia BSc(Hons)
    1979 - 1981 University of Adelaide Australia BSc
  • Research Interests

Postgraduate Course Coordination

Year Role
2015 Acting Chair of School of Medical Sciences HDR Committee
2012-2014 Postgraduate Coordinator responsible for oversight of HDR candidate cohort commencing studies in the School of Medical Sciences in 2012

Undergraduate Course Coordination

Date Course Level Program
2016-present Biology and Development of Human Tissues 2 BHlthSc
2016-present Cells and Tissues 2 BSc
2015-present Comparative Reproductive Biology of Mammals 3 BHlthSc, BSc
2010-present Anatomy and Pathology Honours Honours BHlthSc
1993-2014 Human Biology IB 1 BHlthSc
1993-2010 Human Biology IA 1 BHlthSc


  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2007 - 2015 Principal Supervisor Direct and indirect effects of whole body heat exposure on germ cells and spermatozoa. Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mrs Harsha Wechalekar
    2002 - 2008 Co-Supervisor Testis Size, Sperm Pleiomorphism and Extra-Testicular Sperm Maturation in the Spinifex Hopping Mouse, Notomys alexis Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Melissa Bauer
  • Other Supervision Activities

    Date Role Research Topic Location Program Supervision Type Student Load Student Name
    1983 - 1999 Principal Supervisor A Comparative study of germ cell production in two species of native Australian Rodents University of Adelaide - Doctorate - Eleanor Peirce
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2006 - ongoing - Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australia (HERDSA) -
    2000 - ongoing - Australian Mammal Society -
  • Position: Senior Lecturer
  • Phone: 83135191
  • Email: eleanor.peirce@adelaide.edu.au
  • Fax: 83134398
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Helen Mayo North, floor 6
  • Org Unit: Medical Sciences

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