I am an insect systematist and Director of the Australian National Insect Collection. I hold an adjunct Professorship at the Australian National University and am also the Schlinger Curator of Diptera at ANIC. After a stint as Roosevelt Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I returned to Australia teaching systematic entomology at the University of Queensland. Not long after the Department of Entomology was amalgamated into a larger department at UQ I moved to Canberra to begin work as a research scientist at the Australian National Insect Collection. I became the Director of ANIC in 2012.
My main interests are in the systematics and taxonomy of insects in general, and flies (Diptera) in particular, with special interest in Australian flies. I have always had a strong interest in teaching and outreach, and promoting the importance of the work that taxonomists do. Way back in my career I worked with Kevin Thiele to develop the Lucid system of interactive keys. My current work includes molecular phylogenetics of insects, flies and various families of flies including the Bombyliidae (bee flies), Therevidae (stiletto flies), Stratiomyidae (soldier flies), Fergusoninidae, Tachinidae (bristle flies) and Tabanidae (horse flies), all done in collaboration with PhD students and postdocs. I also teach undergraduate entomology at the Australian National University.
Australia is an amazing place to be an invertebrate systematist. With most of the fauna undocumented there are major discoveries to be made just outside every laboratory. Because of the deep time history of Australia, and its preservation of habitats that have disappeared elsewhere on earth, very old lineages still find a home here. In addition, due to the dramatic climatic changes in Australia through the last 60 million years, many groups have responded by radiating rapidly into new habitats. This combination of arks and cradles of diversification create compelling foci for taxonomic, systematic and evolutionary studies.
My research career has seen the advent of single gene molecular systematics, then through the dark days of multilocus molecular systematics using Sanger sequencing, and am now very pleased to have emerged into the light of high throughput sequencing (HTS). Now various approaches can be used to assemble datasets that contain a very large portion of the genome through transcriptome sequencing and genome reduction techniques such as hybrid enrichment. I am very excited about the promise of HTS for extracting large chunks of the genome from museum specimens, adding another important dimension to the value of biological collections.
Systematic entomology has an important role to platy in biosecurity within the broad scope of food security. Because of its isolation, and strong biosecurity processes, Australia is free of many of the world's most devastating pests and diseases. This has multiple benefits for our industries in terms of lower production costs, and access to premium markets overseas. In order for these benefits to continue, Australia needs to build and maintain capability in diagnosing the groups that pose a biosecurity threat. We also need to be able to quickly distinguish the threats from the native fauna. In many cases this is not trivial - Australia is home to large numbers of species that are very often challenging to distinguish from invasives. This brings an important economic dimension to entomological systematics.
I have written a couple of pieces for the Conversation relevant to this blog site: