2019 - 2024: The race for new space: disentangling the processes that shape global patterns of biodiversity
Rutherford Discovery Fellowship (March 2019 - February 2024)
Kicking off in early 2019 and running for five years, this exciting, broad project will look at how dispersal, disturbance and density-dependent processes interact to drive spatial patterns of biodiversity (particularly genetic diversity). The project picks up where my Future Fellowship (cut short by my move to New Zealand) left off, and will use a range of approaches from empirical molecular analyses, natural experiments of disturbance impact, and modelling / simulations, to better-understand the drivers of global biodiversity structure. Project will range across marine and terrestrial systems, with plant, animal and microbial model organisms. Enquiries from potential students and postdoctoral fellows interested in contributing to this research are welcome.
2019 - 2022: Founder takes all: tracking the recolonisation of New Zealand's earthquake-uplifted shores
Marsden Fund project, Associate Investigator
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study, in real time, the genetic impacts of massive earthquake uplift on coastal communities was created by the 2016 quakes in North Canterbury, New Zealand, which lifted parts of the shore by up to 6 m. The uplift decimated the coastline, wiping out many intertidal species that could not rapidly move to the new intertidal zones. We visited the sites in the days after the earthquake, taking samples of intertidal kelp species left stranded by the uplift. We predict that this major disturbance will create opportunities for change, releasing the establishment blocks that existing populations exerted, and potentially allowing new lineages to establish. We will compare our 'before' samples to samples collected from recolonising organisms, and use high-resolution genomic (GBS) analyses to determine if turnover has occurred, and where the new colonists came from. We will also use ancient DNA approaches to test for signatures of historic turnover at old (100s to 1000s of years ago) uplift sites in New Zealand and Chile. This project is in collaboration with Prof Jon Waters and Prof Dave Craw (Otago), and Dr Erasmo Macaya (University of Concepcion, Chile). For blogs on early parts of this work, click here and here.
2018 - 2021: How isolated is Antarctica? Assessing past and present plant colonisations
ARC Discovery, DP180100113 (June 2018 - June 2021)
This project aims to assess how biologically isolated Antarctica is by discovering how, when and where natural colonisations of the continent have occurred. The research will focus on mosses, the dominant plant group in the Antarctic. Cutting-edge genomic tools will be combined with environmental, spatial, and ecological data to assess mechanisms and directions of dispersal to and around Antarctica, and to predict areas most likely to be colonised in the future. The research will help us to understand i) the processes underpinning the evolution and diversity of Antarctic species, and ii) the vulnerability and adaptability of Antarctic ecosystems. Such knowledge is critical for Antarctic conservation in the face of rapid environmental change. The results of this project will also help us to understand the processes that allow some species to successfully disperse across oceans without human assistance.
Collaborators on this project include Prof Sharon Robinson and Dr Melinda Waterman (University of Wollongong), Dr Aleks Terauds (Australian Antarctic Division), and Prof Peter Convey (British Antarctic Survey).
Enquiries from potential students and postdoctoral fellows interested in contributing to this research are welcome.
2014 - 2017: Volcanoes as safe-havens for Antarctic species during ice ages
ARC DECRA, DE140101715 (January 2014 - May 2017)
Genetic evidence shows that many Antarctic species have been isolated on the continent for millions of years, but during the last Ice Age Antarctica was blanketed in glaciers; how could species have survived such extreme conditions, and how did they respond to past global warming? This project is using genetic diversity patterns to test whether Antarctic species survived ice ages on ice-free land near volcanoes and, capitalising on the unique setting of Antarctica, is giving insights into the role of volcanoes in promoting biodiversity in cold regions. Although the project officially ended in late May 2017, a number of exciting research outcomes and papers are still in the pipeline from this work.
A few of the lab group's other current projects / research themes are listed below.
Evolution in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic: Our group has a strong interest in the processes driving the evolution of organisms in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic, and we have a wide range of small projects addressing questions within this theme. These projects include assessing the capacity of intertidal organisms to disperse long-distances in the Southern Ocean, the biological permeability of the Antarctic Polar Front, and the impacts of past climate change on marine and terrestrial biota in high-latitude regions. Within this theme, for example, PhD student Rachel Downey is examining the diversity and biogeography of sponges and their associated communities around the high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere.
Marine parasites and pathogens: The long-distance dispersal of pathogens and parasites is an ongoing focus of our research group and several recent projects have addressed this topic. For example, PhD student Katie Moon is assessing whether terrestrial parasites can travel with aquatically-dispersing hosts, by testing the physiological limits and phylogeographic structure of penguin ticks, and a recent Honours student (Callum Blake) looked at long-distance dispersal and infection intensities of protistan pathogens (Maullinia sp.) of southern bull-kelp.
Polychaete population connectivity: in collaboration with Dr Rowan Chick (NSW Fisheries) and Dr Pat Hutchings (Australian Museum), this project, supported by the Recreational Fishing Trust project 'Bait Security - Ensuring sustainable and productive NSW invertebrate bait resources', will use high-throughput genetic data to assess connectivity and sustainability of economically-important onuphid worms in NSW, Australia.