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Department of Zoology

 

Biography

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. I stayed on at UQ as a tutor and research assistant for Mark Blows and Katrina McGuigan.  

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.

Research

In my PhD project I will apply my background in evolutionary genomics to the study of Helicoverpa, a genus of highly invasive 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 Old World 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.

PhD Student

Contact Details

Corpus Christi College
Room F08, Department of Zoology
Cambridge
CB2 3EJ