Research

Biodiversity Informatics

What are the best quantitative methods for evaluating biodiversity across different types of data (ecological, genetic, and trait)? What methods would most benefit Australia by being made publicly accessible?

In my current position, I am working with biodiversity information aggregators to identify the best methods for connecting and analysing Australia's vast information on flora and fauna. These methods will be incorporated into biodiversity analysis engines, to improve public access to information. As part of this project, I am developing exemplar datasets in terrestrial flora and fauna, to demostrate how new tools can improve our understanding of Australia's biodiversity and biosecurity needs.

Ecological niche model of Uperoleia crassa (Fat Toadlet)

Phylogenetics

How is everything related to everything else? Building a good evolutionary hypothesis (i.e. a phylogeny) requires understanding the many different assumptions that apply to your data. For the past couple years I have worked with mathematical biologists to test how our assumptions influence the topology of a phylogenetic tree with my emprical data. Very often, assumptions matter. Improving our ability to detect and manage these assumptions is the topic of a current grant application on which I am a collaborator.

Biosecurity risk pest species

How do pest flies move between populations? Under what conditions do pest flies from SE Asia move into Australia?

I'm working with a large number of collaborators from CSIRO and beyond to understand if there are regions of Australia where pest species could be reasonably eradicated. I'm also leading a very collaborative project looking at historical invasion pathways into Northern Australia for pest Bactrocera fly species.

The Q-Fly (Bactrocera tryoni). Photo by James Niland

Speciation and biogeography of Australian frogs

Since my PhD on frogs, I've been unable to stop myself from standing in swamps at night, getting annihilated by mosquitos and avoiding crocs. We still have a lot of undescribed frog species on the Australo-Papuan continent, and, with colleagues and students, we will describe them all! I'm very interested in how frogs have evolved into the super interesting and diverse species we have today.

To identify potential new species of frogs, I generally start with genetic assessments of groups we think may harbour unknown diversity. This is followed by assessments of morphological, acoustic, and ecological differences to determine if there are new species. I use population genetics techniques to understand how genetic diversity is distributed, and the the biogeographical processes that lead to these patterns, particularly across Northern Australia.

Finally, I'm also working with a number of researchers across Australia on the population genetics of threatened Uperoleia species. These studies are also investigating whether threatened frog species use the landscape differently from non-threatened frogs. I'm particularly interested in whether the legislation around land clearing is appropriate for the biology of threatened frogs.

This is an active area of research, so students interested in frogs, swamps, genetics, and remote areas of Australia or Papua New Guinea are welcome to get in touch.