Molecular ecology and evolution

Murphy lab

Lab head

Nick MurphyDr Nick Murphy

Lecturer, College of Science, Health and Engineering

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We a use range of genetic and genomic tools to study terrestrial and aquatic species. Our research ranges from addressing important population-level process such as genetic diversity, dispersal, kinship and population structure to deeper level evolutionary processes responsible for shaping present day biodiversity. We also use genomic methods to investigate elusive and hard to identify species from environmental DNA and to study species diets. Our research addresses a range of critical management questions including the conservation of threatened species, invasive species management and biodiversity monitoring. Our research is highly collaborative, with many industry and academic partners across Australia.

Current Research

Freshwater Fish

Australian freshwater systems are under pressure from a multitude of stressors, including changes to flow regimes. To promote the genetic health of vulnerable Victorian fish species, we use highly resolving single nucleotide polymorphism markers (SNPs) and genome sequencing, to investigate the relationship between critical demographic factors (breeding dynamics and dispersal) with environmental watering and fish stocking programs. Our research across diverse species over multiple years is informing water management strategies to develop the best methods for promoting genetic diversity within the Murray Darling Basin.

Invasive Deer

Our research is undertaken in collaboration with ongoing government partnerships aimed at improving deer management, mainly through detection of deer species and assessment of deer connectivity and density across Australia. We use genetic tools to identify deer hybridisation, population size, identify distinct management units, track dispersal and assess deer control methods. We study  deer diets to identify effects on native flora and the potential to spread invasive weeds.

Conservation Genetics

Many Australian species are threatened with extinction, and rapid declines can negatively impact the genetic diversity and fitness within the remaining populations. We directly inform endangered and threatened species managers on conservation strategies. We focus on genetic diversity patterns to define species management units and assist with genetic management plans. We have shown there are fitness costs associated with inbreeding in threatened species which can be addressed by incorporating genetics into species management plans (e.g. the helmeted honeyeater - Lichenostomus melanops cassidix).

Trace DNA

We study trace DNA for conservation and management of species and ecosystems. We use eDNA techniques to detect single species of conservation importance or species of management interest. We also use DNA metabarcoding to characterize entire communities from both unique aquatic environments for biomonitoring, and from dung samples to characterize diet and food webs to better understand species interactions.

Short Range Endemics

Vulnerable short range endemic species act as bioindicators for the overall health of their ecosystems. We study groundwater dependent and forest litter ecosystems to identify the biodiversity present and understand the ecological and evolutionary impacts of long-term environmental changes and short-term events on dispersal limited species.