Research fellows  ·  PhD candidates

Dr Carla Sgrò

Senior Lecturer and Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow

CarlaSgro300x300I am an evolutionary biologist, interested in understanding the genetic basis of adaptation to environmental change. I am also interested in exploring how evolutionary processes can be explicitly incorporated into biodiversity conservation and management.

I use a combination of techniques including clinal (field) studies of phenotypic divergence, experimental evolution, quantitative genetics and genomics to examine how organisms adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Dr Marina Telonis-Scott

Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow

MarinaTelonisScott300x300I am an early-career researcher leading a novel research program in the fields of adaption genetics and genomics.

My work aims to bridge the missing links between species’ responses to their current and future habitats by capturing the genetic, plastic and adaptive signatures of natural organisms at their upper limits.

My distinctive genetics skillset coupled with access to cutting edge genomics technology and analyses places my work at the forefront of Australian research to provide an integrative framework of the molecular, cellular and organismal responses to high temperature.

My research vision is to better understand how organisms counter thermal extremes under climate change, and to more accurately characterise species likely to be under adaptive constraints. Specifically, I am focused on identifying the genomic mechanisms underlying both genetic and plastic responses to temperature extremes.

By capturing the genetic, plastic and adaptive signatures of organisms at their upper thermal limits, I aim to provide crucial, but currently lacking, connections between species’ responses to their current and future habitats.

My experimental approach uses cutting-edge sequencing technology to deeply probe the transcriptome (the ‘expressed’ portion of genes) to understand how cells activate gene-expression strategies to enable whole organism survival under stress.

My approach is novel in that I focus on the significance of the RNA-mediated stress response in buffering thermal extremes. Specifically, I focus on RNA processing events such as alternative splicing (AS), where multiple, functionally distinct transcripts can be derived from a single locus. Many genes possess an array of AS modules that may provide novel avenues for survival to environmental stress via increasing transcriptome plasticity. However, AS remains largely ignored in animal stress and climate change studies. Linking directly to my interest in understanding the genomic basis of plasticity, AS mechanisms may also regulate phenotypic plasticity through the modulation of gene expression in response to the environment, as well as providing an expansive mechanistic repertoire from single genes in times of environmental flux.

In eukaryotes, AS is a fundamental process in generating phenotypic diversity. As such, my research program has implications that reach far beyond my current focus on ectotherms. For example, disruption of alternative splicing plays a key role in human disease and may act as a modifier of human disease. Many alternatively spliced loci are homologous in Drosophila and humans, and disruption results in shared disease phenotypes. The more we understand about these processes in response to the environment the better equipped we are to tackle complex problems such as climate change, biodiversity and human health.

Dr Vanessa Kellermann

Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow

Unprecedented climate change will have significant impacts on species abundance, distribution and persistence.

For ectothermic species, temperature is one of the most important variables dictating a species distribution.

Species’ responses to climate change will be dictated by the potential for species to respond via evolution (genetic change) and/or phenotypic plasticity.

As an evolutionary biologist I am interested in examining the processes that underlie the evolution of thermal tolerances and species distributions. Using quantitative genetic and comparative methods my work has focused on examining climate related traits in tropical and temperate Drosophila species, with a focus on traits that may pose as a limit to species distributions.

Using this system, I have demonstrated both at the intra- and inter-specific level, low evolutionary potential in ecologically important traits cold and desiccation resistance.

I am also interested in how evolutionary history (phylogenetic relatedness) shapes species distributions. Examining thermal tolerances in over 90 species of Drosophila, I have dissected the role of evolutionary history and environmental selection in shaping thermal responses.

My work to date has primarily focused on evolutionary process (genetic) that shape thermal responses. In addition I plan to extend my current work to examine the role of phenotypic plasticity in shaping current species distributions.

Dr Belinda van Heerwaarden

Australian Research Council (ARC) Postdoctoral Fellow

BelinaHeerwaarden300x300I am interested in understanding evolutionary responses to environmental change, with a particular focus on evolutionary limits to species distributions and adaptive responses climate change. I am also interested in the role of changing environments on adaptive potential.

The ‘big’ questions my research aims to address are:

  • What limits the distribution of restricted species?
  • Do rainforest restricted species have a reduced adaptive potential to respond to climate change?
  • How will changing environments from climate change itself influence evolutionary and plastic responses?

Sandra Hangartner

Postdoctoral Research Associate

sandrahangartner300x300I am using quantitative genetics and theoretical population genetic approaches to examine how genetic variances and covariances between sexes and across populations change, and to understand how this influences sex-specific adaptation.


Fiona Cockerall

PhD student and lab manager

FionaCockerall300x300During my PhD I have been interested in understanding the genes and mechanisms organisms use to adapt to environmental change.

Given all that we know about the heat shock response and that various genes are up- or down-regulated during heat stress I was interested in whether total protein synthesis rate was linked to geographical patterns of heat tolerance. I further looked at transcript expression of the hsr-omega gene as this gene has strong links to climatic adaptation and is associated with controlling protein synthesis rate.

I used geographically divergent populations from climatically diverse regions to see whether differences in transcript expression of this gene, or rate of protein synthesis contribute to the differences observed between these populations in heat tolerance.

In my current role as a researcher in Carla’s lab I have broadened my interests from asking questions about genes and mechanisms to using quantitative genetic experiments to ask questions about heritability of stress traits within diverse species of Drosophila and Scaptodrosophila.

Allannah Clemson

PhD student

I’m interested in understanding the genomic basis of phenotypic plasticity in response to environmental stress.

My main focus is on thermotolerance and desiccation resistance and the importance phenotypic plasticity plays in variation between climatically divergent populations.

I’m using next-generation sequencing to identify alternative splice patterns and expression variability that might explain intra-specific differences in stress resistance. Questions I hope to answer during my PhD include:

  • How does exposure to sub-lethal stress affect the whole genome during a subsequent lethal stress?
  • Is the whole genome response to stress universal, or does it differ between locally adapted populations?

Clémentine Lasne

PhD student
clementinelasne300x300The focus of my PhD is to understand the role of sex-specific adaptation to changing environmental conditions.

I am using a studies of populations of D. melanogaster collected from along the east coast of Australia and theoretical population genetics to do so.