Matthews Lab

Comparative Respiratory Physiology

Phil Matthews


Associate Professor


Phil Matthews completed his PhD at the University of Adelaide in South Australia (2008) before taking up an ARC funded APA and DECRA postdoctoral fellowship in Dr Craig White's lab at the University of Queensland where he studied breathing patterns in insects. He joined the ComPhy group in the Zoology Department at UBC in 2014.


His research focuses on the comparative respiratory physiology of insects. His goal is to understand the adaptations that allow insects to breathe in different environments, as well as how they sense and respond to changes in oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH level.


Courses taught:

Biol 325 - Introduction to Animal Mechanics and Locomotion

Zool 503 - Comparative Animal Physiology Seminar Series

Biol 548Q Advanced topics in Biology - Respirometry

Current Lab Members

Daniel Lee


Ph.D student


Daniel started in the lab on an Undergraduate Student Research Award in 2015, before expanding his summer research project on dragonfly hemolymph (blood) into an Honours thesis. He is now undertaking an PhD in the lab, studying the respiratory adaptations of developmentally amphibious insects, including dragonflies (Odonata, Anisoptera) and stoneflies (Plecoptera).




Evan McKenzie


Ph.D student


Evan started in the lab in 2017 as an MSc but has since transferred into the PhD program. He is currently investigating the unique buoyancy control mechanism used by aquatic Chaoborus midge larvae. Chaoborus larvae are the only animals, other than Teleost fishes, that regulate their buoyancy using flexible, gas-filled hydrostatic organs.



Tormod Rowe


M.Sc. student


Tormod started his MSc in the lab in January 2018. He is working on understanding how insects generate episodic ventilatory rhythms by implanting cockroaches with fiber-optic PO2 and PCO2 probes to monitor how these parameters are regulated during continuous and episodic breathing.

Elisabeth Bergman


M.Sc. student


Elisabeth joined the lab in September 2018. She is working on understanding the mechanics and energetics of xylem feeding in froghoppers and leafhoppers. She is using a range of techniques, including respirometry, histology, and micro-CT imaging, to determine the metabolic cost of extracting xylem under tension, as well as predicting the force production of the insect's cibarial pump.

Ryan Sprenger


Ph.D. student (co-supervised)


Ryan completed his BSc. and MSc. at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. His undergraduate and graduate research, under the direction of Dr. Courtney Kurtz and Dr. Hannah Carey, focused on immune function and adipose accumulation in hibernating ground squirrels.


His current research is directed at the control of breathing in a torpid state, specifically the function of chemoreceptors and the pontine influence on central pattern generators in the brainstem of several hibernating ground squirrel species.


Ryan is co-supervised with Prof. Bill Milsom.



Emma Green


Summer Scholar student


Emma undertook an NSERC USRA in the lab in 2019. She worked with Elisabeth Bergman on the morphology of cibarial pumps, generating 3D renderings of the pump's musculature and morphology from micro-CT scans.



SURE Award (2020)


Lab Alumni

Kephra Beckett


Hons student


Kephra joined the lab in the summer of 2017 as an NSERC USRA scholar, investigating the respiratory physiology of spittlebugs. The paper that resulted from this work was covered by the New York Times and can be seen here. She recently completed her Honours degree in the lab, co-supervised with Michelle Tseng, examining the critical PO2 of damselfly nymphs, and how this alters their predatory interactions with their zooplankton food.



NSERC USRA (2017 and 2018)


Auguste de Pennart


Summer Scholar student


Auguste started in the lab in 2018 on a SURE summer scholarship. He is studying how dragonfly nymphs become bimodal-breathers, accessing atmospheric oxygen using their rectal gill as pre-final instars, before developing functional thoracic spiracles for air-breathing as late final instars.



SURE Award (2018)


Raman Ubhi


Directed studies student


Raman started in the lab in 2016 as an NSERC USRA scholar. He is currently working on understanding the relationship between cockroach activity and gas exchange patterns using respirometry and video activity/behavior analysis.





Anna Robertson


M.Sc. student


After completing her Honours thesis at Mt Allison University, Anna joined the lab as an MSc student in 2015. She completed her thesis entitled "Fluorescent implantable elastomer tags for the measurement of oxygen in insects" in 2017. This work was directed towards developing implantable fluorescent oxygen sensors to non-invasively monitor O2 levels within animals. She is profiled on the UBC Graduate School website here.



Zoology Graduate Fellowship

NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship - Masters

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