I’m a biologist working in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. My work focusses on how animals respond to environmental change. I do a lot of field-based research, but usually resort to genetic methods to study the things that animals don't tell us in other ways.
I'm currently funded by the ARC as a Future Fellow to conduct research on how ecological disturbance (fires, volcanoes, footsteps...) affects the genetic diversity of natural populations. We know that disturbance is a major driver of biodiversity patterns at the species and community levels, but comparatively little work has gone into understanding how it influences genetic diversity.
Recent papers and other things
Social interactions and E. coli transfer in possums. It's good to be social, unless you end up catching a horrible disease from someone else. Michaela Blyton's most recent paper from her PhD (in press in Ecology Letters) shows how social interactions between mountain brushtail possums explain E. coli strain sharing better than spatial proximity (i.e. it's how often you interact, not how close you live), but that nocturnal foraging interactions were more strongly associated with strain sharing than regular den-sharing associations. Michaela used proximity-logger radio-collars to collect interaction data from this difficult-to-observe species. If you want more info, check out the story through the ANU website here, or even read the paper!
ABC interview on wildlife survival of bushfire. If you're keen on possums, have a listen to this recent interview that Laurence Berry, David Lindenmayer and I did with the Ann Jones from ABC Radio National.
The current state of play in dispersal research. Don Driscoll led a systematic review that was just published in PLoS ONE, in which we looked at how dispersal research is used for conservation and how it has changed in recent decades. The paper identified some exciting advances in methods for studying dispersal, but found that the application of new dispersal research methods to conservation research, and the nature of the dispersal questions we are asking, is changing rather slowly.
How does ecological disturbance influence genetic diversity? Ecologists have long recognised the importance of disturbance in driving the dynamics of ecological communities, but less attention has been paid to how disturbance shapes patterns of genetic diversity in natural populations. A few of us wrote a review in TREE on how disturbance can influence neutral and selection-driven genetic diversity.
Functional genetic variation influences community diversity in possum bum ecosystems. Michaela Blyton led a paper in Molecular Ecology based on her PhD work that shows how variation in E. coli virulence genes affects the distribution and abundance of strains in the host (mountain brushtail possum) population. Even if you're not that into the gastrointestinal symbionts of marsupials, the paper is interesting in showing strong links between functional genetic variation and community composition.
How do animals choose where (or whether) to move? A paper that David Lindenmayer and I published in the Journal of Animal Ecology shows that male agile antechinus (a small and cool furry Australian carnivore) choose not only whether or not to disperse, but where to settle, based on their relatedness to local females. There's no point picking a home where the resident females will avoid you like the plague, due to the risk of inbreeding. Also, where individuals moved was shaped strongly by the permeability of the landscape to dispersal, which differed between land cover types like forestry plantation, farmland and roads.
How does the matrix affect populations in fragmented habitat? Don Driscoll led a paper that we published in TREE that provides a conceptual framework for understanding how the matrix (the bit in between the patches of habitat) affects how populations persist in fragmented landscapes. Don has put together a great animation showing how it all works. Check it out here.