My research aims to uncover general patterns in the evolutionary dance between flowering plants and the animals and fungi that they depend on. This work contributes to a basic understanding of how plant biodiversity is both generated and maintained. My current focus employs a confluence of genetic and behavioural methods to tackle exciting questions exploring the crossover of animal behaviour and plant evolution.
I was awarded my PhD in 2013 from The Australian National University (Canberra), where I investigated how the bizarre pollination system of “sexual deception” benefits the plants that have evolved to use it. This work blended animal behaviour with plant evolutionary ecology and resulted in discoveries about how sexually-attracted wasps drive pollen movement, and can promote the formation of new orchid species.
Following this, I took on postdoctoral research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). Here I investigated the ways in which the colour of flowers influences learning and behaviour in an important and charismatic pollinator: the long-tongue fly.
While I spent Summers in South Africa, my research in Australia continued, where I carried out a project uncovering the hidden diversity of fungi in the soils of south west Western Australia.
Most recently I have received two prestigious fellowships to work on evolution of animal pollination. In 2016 I spent six months at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (USA) doing a study on worldwide patterns in plant mating. Most recently, I have taken up a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellowship with the University of Melbourne where I am discovering how different animal pollinators affect our native plants.
Key research achievements
- 17 peer-reviewed scientific papers published
- Competitive grant awards totalling approximately $423,000
- Cover story of Evolution for article demonstrating strongest known case of pollinator driven reproductive isolation
- Developed novel method for tracking small pollinators
- Demonstrated that “sexual deception” systems are likely an adaptation to avoid inbreeding
- Discovered new species of invisible soil fungi important for orchid biodiversity