Kara Yopak

Dr, BA Boston, PhD Auck.

  • The University of Western Australia (M085), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


  • 302 Citations
  • 10 h-Index
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Personal profile


I'm an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Australia and an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where my lab is based. My 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 (the cartilaginous fishes). My lab focuses on comparative neuroanatomy within this clade and how the development of major brain areas between species in conjunction with the adaptive evolution of their sensory and motor systems. Our data suggest that brain organization and the relative development of major brain structures reflect an animal’s ecology and a range of life history characteristics, a pattern similarly documented in other vertebrate groups.  

We utilize a variety of traditional and novel techniques to explore questions related to brain evolution of sharks and their relatives, including histology and immunohistochemistry, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and flow cytometry. As a perfect ‘bioindicator,’ variation in brain development can allow us to make predictions about sensory and behavioral specialization across species, highlight transitions in life-history stages within a single species, and predict the fitness consequences of anthropogenic disturbances and environmental change. These data pave the way for predicting cognitive function and/or more complex behavioral repertoires in fishes, with implications for how “intelligence” has evolved across vertebrates.

Want to know more? Feel free to check out our lab website: http://yopaklab.com

Roles and responsibilities


Victoria Camilieri-Asch
Lucille Chapuis
Carlos Salas
Christopher Mull

Matthew Fraser-grant
Sian Coggin

Funding overview

2003-2006: Kara E. Yopak, ‘Brain Organisation in Chondrichthyans: Ecological Correlations and Functional Implications”, University of Auckland International Doctoral Fees Scholarship

2011: Kara E. Yopak, ‘Comparative Neurobiology of Sharks, Skates, and Rays’, Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship, American Australian Association

2011-2012: SP Collin, RG Northcutt, KE Yopak Shaw, K Heel, 'Developing Quantitative Measures of Brain Evolution in Early Vertebrates', UWA Research Collaboration Awards

2012 - 2014: SP Collin, NS Hart, E Garza-Gisholt, KE Yopak. Vision and Light Detection in Chondrichthyans. Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Inc.

2012 - 2013: KE Yopak, SP Colin. '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, University of Western Australia

2014: KE Yopak, SP Collin. UWA Professional Development Award. Aspire Program, Perth Convention Bureau

2015: SP Collin, KE Yopak, AN Iwaniuk, DR Wylie, K Heel. Anatomical proxies for cognitive abilities in vertebrates. University of Western Australia, School of Animal Biology. UWA Research Collaboration Award. $15,000

Teaching overview



Cartilaginous fish (shark, skates, rays, & holocephalans) behavior, ecology, sensory biology, neuroethology, comparative brain morphology, neuroanatomy, allometry

External positions

Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Wilmington

1 Jan 2017 → …


  • Comparative neuroanatomy
  • Sensory biology
  • Cartilaginous fishes
  • Marine ecology
  • Phylogenetic comparative analyses

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Research Output 2009 2019

A Small Brain and a Big Nose: Comparative Brain Morphology of the Greenland and Pacific Sleeper Sharks

Yopak, K. E., Mcmeans, B. C., Feindel, K. W., Kovacs, K. M., Lydersen, C., Fisk, A. T. & Collin, S. P., Mar 2019, In : Integrative and Comparative Biology. 59, p. E257-E257 1 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalAbstract/Meeting Abstract

Not all electric shark deterrents are made equal: Effects of a commercial electric anklet deterrent on white shark behaviour

Egeberg, C. A., Kempster, R. M., Hart, N. S., Ryan, L., Chapuis, L., Kerr, C. C., Schmidt, C., Gennari, E., Yopak, K. E. & Collin, S. P., 1 Mar 2019, In : PLoS One. 14, 3, e0212851.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Carcharodon carcharias
3 Citations (Scopus)

Breakdown of brain–body allometry and the encephalization of birds and mammals

Tsuboi, M., van der Bijl, W., Kopperud, B. T., Erritzøe, J., Voje, K. L., Kotrschal, A., Yopak, K. E., Collin, S. P., Iwaniuk, A. N. & Kolm, N., 1 Sep 2018, In : Nature Ecology and Evolution. 2, 9, p. 1492-1500 9 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)

Effects of auditory and visual stimuli on shark feeding behaviour: the disco effect

Ryan, L. A., Chapuis, L., Hemmi, J. M., Collin, S. P., McCauley, R. D., Yopak, K. E., Gennari, E., Huveneers, C., Kempster, R. M., Kerr, C. C., Schmidt, C., Egeberg, C. A. & Hart, N. S., 1 Jan 2018, In : Marine Biology. 165, 1, 11.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Carcharodon carcharias
visual cue
feeding behavior
4 Citations (Scopus)
Olfactory Bulb

Projects 2012 2016