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Department of Zoology



I completed my Bachelor of Science (Genetics) at the University of Queensland, Australia. There I studied adaptation and speciation in the wildflower Senecio lautus with Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos. An EMJMD scholarship allowed me to gain further experience in speciation genetics. I undertook a series of research projects with Carole Smadja (Université de Montpellier), Robin Hopkins (Harvard University) and Chris Jiggins, here in Cambridge. I am continuing my work with Chris as the John Stanley Gardiner doctoral student.


In my PhD I am applying my background in evolutionary genomics to the study of Helicoverpa, a genus of highly invasive noctuid moths responsible for more than USD$5 billion in crop loss annually, affecting nearly 200 plant species. Broadly, I have two equally important aims:

  1. To develop population genomic data-driven approaches for modelling, monitoring and managing the spread of invasive species that threaten ecosystems and agro-economies
  2. To characterise poorly understood evolutionary phenomena by studying invasive species as mass-scale and otherwise impossible ecological experiments 

I am particularly interested in the recent incursions of the Afro-Eurasian species Helicoverpa armigera into Brazil, where it hybridizes with native H. zea despite the two species being textbook examples of reproductive incompatibility. We have shown that this hybridization event introduced foreign alleles encoding pesticide resistance into the local gene pool. The resulting hybrids – locally adapted but resistant to pesticides – caused major crop damage. Shortly after their detection, a state of disaster declared in the agricultural states of Mato Grosso and Bahia. If these hybrids were to spread into North America, the financial toll is estimated to exceed USD$70 billion.

The ongoing evolution of Helicoverpa in Latin America presents a major agricultural challenge. Devastating nonetheless, it is also a natural laboratory for the study of rapid evolution.


Key publications: 


North, H. L., Fu, Z., Metz, R., Stull, M. A., Johnson, C. D., Shirley, X., ... Jigins, C. & Sword, G. (2023). Rapid evolution of pesticide resistance via adaptation and interspecific introgression in a major North American crop pest. bioRxiv, 2023-10. 

Jin, M., North, H. L., Peng, Y., Liu, H., Pan, R., Zhou, Y., ... & Xiao, Y. (2023). Adaptive evolution to the natural and anthropogenic environment in a global invasive crop pest, the cotton bollworm. The Innovation.

North, H. L., McGaughran, A., & Jiggins, C. (2021). Insights into invasive species from whole‐genome resequencing. Molecular Ecology.

North, H. L., Caminade, P., Severac, D., Belkhir, K., & Smadja, C. M. (2020). The role of copy-number variation in the reinforcement of sexual isolation between the two European subspecies of the house mouse. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 375(1806), 20190540.

Valencia-Montoya, W. A., Elfekih, S., North, H. L., Meier, J. I., Warren, I. A., Tay, W. T., ... & Jiggins, C. D. (2020). Adaptive introgression across semipermeable species boundaries between local Helicoverpa zea and invasive Helicoverpa armigera moths. Molecular biology and evolution, 37(9), 2568-2583.

McGaughran, A., ... North, H.L., et al. (2024). Genomic tools in biological invasions: current state and future frontiers. Genome biology and evolution, 16(1), evad230.

Ålund, M., ... North, H. L., et al. (2023). Anthropogenic Change and the Process of Speciation. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology, a041455. 

Other publications: 

Wilkinson, M.J., Roda, F., Walter, G.M., James, M.E., Nipper, R., Walsh, J., Allen, S.L., North, H.L., Beveridge, C.A. and Ortiz-Barrientos, D., 2021. Adaptive divergence in shoot gravitropism creates hybrid sterility in an Australian wildflower. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118 (47) e2004901118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2004901118

James, M.E., Wilkinson, M.J., Bernal, D.M., Liu, H., North, H.L., Engelstädter, J. and Ortiz‐Barrientos, D., 2021. Phenotypic and genotypic parallel evolution in parapatric ecotypes of Senecio. Evolution.

PhD Candidate

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