Research

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Research themes

My research focuses on the interactions between flowering plants and the animals and fungi that they depend on. This work contributes to a basic understanding of how the world’s plant biodiversity is generated and maintained. Through blending genetic and behavioural methods, I tackle exciting questions exploring the crossover of animal behaviour and plant evolution. In applied research, my work contributes genetic and quantitative analyses that inform decisions in revegetation, translocation, and conservation.

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Research biography

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.

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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.

In 2016, I received two prestigious fellowships to work on the evolution of animal pollination. I spent six months on an Endeavour Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (USA) performing a study on worldwide patterns in plant mating. Soon after, I took up a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellowship with the University of Melbourne studying how different animal pollinators affect gene flow and evolution in our native plants.

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Most recently I worked with the University of Queensland, on a project to understand which methods result in success of plant translocations for conservation.

Key research achievements

  • 20 peer-reviewed scientific papers published
  • Competitive grant awards totaling approximately $401,000
  • 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