Our People


Principal Investigators


David Bryant
Professor of Mathematical Biology, University of Otago, Dunedin

David’s research interests involve mathematical, statistical and computational aspects of evolutionary biology. His current work includes developing methods to bring together phylogenetics, population genetics and geography.

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Thomas Buckley
Research Leader for Invertebrate Systematics & Director of the New Zealand Arthropod Collection, Landcare Research & Associate Professor, University of Auckland

Thomas’ research focuses on the systematics, conservation genetics and genomics of New Zealand terrestrial invertebrates. Current study organisms include stick insects, cicadas, fungus-feeding beetles, tortricid moths, earthworms, wetas, onychophorans and terrestrial molluscs.

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Alexei Drummond
Professor of Computational Biology, University of Auckland

Alexei’s work involves the development of methods for the application of probabilistic models of molecular evolution and population genetics, with a focus on the integration of modelling approaches in a Bayesian framework. Other interests include exploring the interface between phylogeography, niche modelling and community ecology in the context of developing a “model ecosystem.”

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Nigel French
Professor of Veterinary Public Health and Director, Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory (mEpiLab), Massey University, Palmerston North

Nigel’s work focuses on molecular epidemiology and pathogen evolution. He leads a large multidisciplinary research group at Massey University that aims to increase our understanding of the molecular epidemiology, evolution and control of agents of infectious disease.

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Neil Gemmell
Professor, AgResearch Chair and Director of the Centre for Reproduction and Genomics, University of Otago, Dunedin

A recurring theme in Neil’s research is that of reproduction, with past and current projects spanning mating systems and mate choice, sperm function, sex determination, sex allocation, and inter-sexual genomic conflict. Neil also has interests in several congruent fields of research, particularly the evolution of the mitochondrial genome and microsatellite DNA, and the processes that lead to speciation.

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Russell Gray
FRSNZ, Research Professor of Psychology, University of Auckland

Russell’s research has pioneered the application of computational evolutionary methods to questions about linguistic prehistory including the origin of the Indo-European languages and the sequence and timing of the peopling of the Pacific. His work on New Caledonian crows has revealed that their remarkable tool manufacturing skills are the product of a lengthy learning period and are underpinned by brains with large associative regions and the ability to make causal inferences. 

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Lisa Matisoo-Smith
FRSNZ, Professor of Biological Anthropology, University of Otago, Dunedin

Lisa’s research group uses both ancient and modern DNA methods to answer a range of anthropological questions regarding population histories, dispersals and interactions and understanding the impacts that human arrival had on the islands of the Pacific and elsewhere. A founding member of the AWC, Lisa is also a Principal Investigator in National Geographic’s Genographic project, where she heads the research working with Pacific Island communities.

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Craig Millar
Associate Professor in Evolutionary Genetics, University of Auckland

Craig’s research interests involve the application of genetic data to studying issues in evolutionary and conservation biology. His work includes ancient DNA analyses of the extinct Moa, and DNA barcoding of the birds of New Zealand and the Antarctic.

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Nicola Nelson
Associate Professor of Conservation Biology, Victoria University of Wellington

Nicola’s primary research interests include ecophysiology, sex determination in reptiles and herpetology. Examples of research undertaken by Nicola and members of her group are investigations of wildlife disease issues, and determining how climate change will affect the distribution and survival of reptiles.

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Richard Newcomb
Chief Scientist, Plant & Food Research, & Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, University of Auckland

Richard’s research interests focus on chemosensory science, and the role chemical sensing plays in evolution and speciation. His group investigates the mechanisms and genetics influencing smell in insects for the development of novel pest control methods, and the molecular basis of chemical sensing.

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Paul Rainey
FRSNZ and Member, Max Planck Society, Distinguished Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Massey University, Auckland

Paul is a former Director of the Centre, and has broad interests in evolutionary genetics. Members of his research group focus on a wide range of topics ranging from experimental evolution, parasitology and infectious disease, to the evolution of individuality.

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Charles Semple
FRSNZ, Professor of Mathematics, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

Charles’ research interests centre on combinatorial, algorithmic, and probabilistic aspects of phylogenetics. Recent studies have included quantifying the extent of lateral gene transfer and optimising measures of biological diversity and dissimilarity.

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Hamish Spencer
Director
FRSNZ, Professor of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin

Hamish is a founding member of the AWC whose research encompasses mathematical modelling of genetic phenomena and the evolutionary relationships of diverse groups of organisms (birds, molluscs, algae), to the history of genetics and evolutionary medicine. He has been Director since August 2012.

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Mike Steel
Deputy Director
FRSNZ, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics & Statistics, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

Mike’s primary research interests include phylogenetics, mathematical modelling in evolution and ecology, molecular evolution, and biodiversity conservation. He is a founding member of the AWC and has been Deputy Director since 2008.

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Jon Waters
Professor of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin

Jon has research interests in biogeography, molecular ecology and conservation biology. Broadly, Jon is interested in how biological communities respond to environmental change, including historical climate fluctuations and more recent anthropogenic impacts. A current focus is on the role competitive exclusion plays in constraining the biogeography of dispersive species, and also the impact of historical contingency (e.g. extinction events) in ecology and evolution.

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Associate Investigators


Marti Anderson
FRSNZ, Professor of Statistics, New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study, Massey University, Albany

Marti is an ecological statistician who develops novel multivariate statistical methods and software for the analysis of ecological communities. These methods allow large numbers of species to be examined and modelled simultaneously. Her core research is in quantifying biodiversity, multivariate analysis, experimental design, resampling methods and environmental assessment. She uses an inter-disciplinary approach in applied statistics and field-based ecology to model and elucidate fundamental patterns and processes of complex ecosystems.

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Murray Cox
Associate Professor of Computational Biology, Massey University, Palmerston North

Murray’s work addresses fundamental questions at the interface of genomics, computer science and statistics. He is particularly interested in modeling genome dynamics – establishing how genetic variation is distributed within and between individuals, and determining how this diversity changes over evolutionary time.

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Anthony "Ant" Poole
Associate Professor in Genetics, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

Ant's research focuses on how the basic machinery of cells has evolved. His group use a mix of genomics, bioinformatics and experimental evolution to address this. His lab is also building up capabilities in transcriptomics and metagenomics as tools to study microbial diversity and communities.

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Peter Ritchie
Senior Lecturer in Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

Peter’s research is focused on developing genome-wide markers to promote new high value aquaculture species and detecting adaptive genetic variation for improved fisheries management. The overall goal of his research is to bring an evolutionary perspective into the science that drives economic and sustainability gains in the New Zealand seafood sector.Members of Peter’s research group are involved in projects on New Zealand's commercial and recreational fishery species, such as kingfish, hapuku, snapper, mullet, blue cod, orange roughy and hoki. 

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Howard A. Ross
Senior Lecturer in Bioinformatics, University of Auckland

Howard and members of his group apply computational and phylogenetic analyses to a wide range of problems, including the evolution of bird song, the timing and path of human settlement of the Pacific, species identification and estimation of adaptive evolution in viral genomes.

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Howard A. Ross Profile

Jason Tylianakis
Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

Jason’s research concentrates on the effects of human changes to the environment on biodiversity, species interactions and ecological networks. He is particularly interested in how species traits and the local environment jointly shape the structure of interaction networks such as food webs, and how this structure affects processes at the entire community level. He also studies the conditions under which biodiversity is most important for maintaining ecosystem functioning and services, and how best to manage the functional capability of ecosystems.

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James Russell
Senior Lecturer in Island Conservation, University of Auckland

James is well known internationally for his work on the ecology and genetics of invading rat populations on islands. This research is helping to keep endangered species safe and strengthening New Zealand’s reputation as a world leader in island conservation. In 2012 James won the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize, which rewards an outstanding scientist (within five years of completion of their PhD) for leading-edge work. 

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Emeritus Investigator


Charles Daugherty
ONZM, FRSNZ, Professor of Ecology, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Research),Victoria University of Wellington

Charles is a founding member of the AWC, and former Director. His research interests include the evolutionary and population biology of vertebrates, conservation genetics, and ecological restoration. The conservation of tuatara and their re-establishment in nature has been a particular focus for Charles and his research group.

Ian Jamieson
Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin

Ian’s research interests include the effects of inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity in threatened species, particularly in translocated island bird populations. Using both pedigree data and microsatellite markers, his group has also begun to focus on variation of immunity genes such as Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) and Toll-like Receptors (TLR), and how they are affected by population bottlenecks and changes in fitness.

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