I am a conservation biologist at Charles Darwin University. Research in my group uses genetic and ecological information to understand how animal populations work and how they respond to environmental change.
A core research focus is how populations persist in the context of fire, which is one of the most important drivers of ecological and evolutionary patterns in many ecosystems worldwide. My group does fundamental research into population ecology and genetics in fire-prone ecosystems, as well as practical research for improving wildlife conservation and management.
Another core theme is the use of genetics and field-based methods to understand animal movement across the landscape (or riverscape and seascape in the case of crocodiles!). We have developed and evaluated methods for understanding dispersal patterns from genetic data and use these approaches for ecological and conservation-focussed research.
I started at CDU in 2018 and am keen to recruit and support new research students in molecular ecology and conservation biology in northern Australia. So, if you're interested in conservation biology, landscape ecology and molecular ecology research opportunities in Australia's Top End, please get in touch.
Recent papers and other things
Can genetic monitoring of effective population size indicate demographic population trends?
Jenny Pierson led a new paper just published in Evolutionary Applications, in which we used long-term empirical data on abundance and genetically-estimated effective population size (Ne) to determine whether Ne can be used as an indicator of population size changes. There is a lot of excellent theoretical work in this space and our interest was to see how the patterns play out with empirical monitoring on mammals including bears, possums and antechinus. The answer was "Yes, but...".
Sex, dispersal and genetic structure in mammals
Robyn Shaw's fantastic paper on how mammalian mating systems and dispersal behaviour influence spatial genetic patterns at genetic markers with different inheritance modes is now online in Molecular Ecology.
Using quadratic entropy to estimate genetic diversity within and among populations
I was lucky enough to work with Peter Smouse and Rod Peakall on a recent paper in PLoS ONE describing the use of Rao's quadratic entropy to develop metrics of diversity within and among populations from genetic distance data. Since equations don't make for an appealing website image (sorry Peter) I've added a pic of the case study species, the rather cool brown antechinus (pic by Stephen Mahony).
Incorporating fire-driven environmental variability in landscape genetics
Landscape genetics has led to many discoveries about patterns of connectivity of populations. Geoff Cary, Ian Davies and I recently published a paper in Molecular Ecology in which we used simulation models to understand how variation in long-term fire regimes across the landscape can influence neutral and adaptive genetic diversity. Where predictable fire regimes (e.g. refuges or fire-prone 'hotspots') occurred due to environmental factors like topography, there was strong spatial variability in genetic diversity. This research shows how refuges can be important for maintaining genetic diversity in landscape characterised by heterogeneous fire regimes, and demonstrates how processes other than population connectivity can influence landscape genetics patterns.
How do animal populations recover from fire?
Understanding whether animals recover from fires by recolonising from unburnt areas, or by repopulating from local survivors, can tell us about the long-term effects of changing fire regimes for population persistence and genetic diversity. Our recent paper in Ecography shows how small mammal populations recover from severe wildfire from local survivors, and that large intense fire events can have remarkably little effect on genetic variation and abundance of some species after only a couple of years after the fire.