Ecological, evolutionary and conservation genetics
Dr Neil Murray
Honorary Research Associate, College of Science, Health and Engineering
Although recently retired I remain involved in a number of research projects. Recently this has concentrated on documenting genetic change in response to environmental change, particularly climate change, and on genetic approaches to management of natural populations, both for conservation and fishery management.
Genetic change in response to climate change
Climate change research has built on work carried out on the Common brown butterfly in the 1970s (Pearse and Murray 1981,1982 – see Publication list). This revealed geographic patterns of genetic variation in protein markers and in wing-pattern variation, some of which was associated with temperature and rainfall. Re-visiting this species now, when these climatic variables have changed substantially, allows us to test whether this species has adapted genetically in predictable ways or not. More generally it lets us approach the question of what sort of species can be expected to adapt to change genetically and which ones will require help to track the environments they are adapted to as these shift across the landscape. Most of this work is being carried out by post-graduate students Anna Lister, co-supervised with Dr Nick Murphy, and Vedia Yazgin, co-supervised with Dr Warwick Grant.
Management of natural populations
Using genetic information in managing natural populations is another long-term interest. In particular, managing threatened species and subspecies requires a clear understanding of their gene pools. The amount of variation, whether or not there is genetic exchange amongst subspecies or other genetically distinct populations, and the extent and possible impact of inbreeding are all important questions that need to be addressed. In captive-bred species problems relating to inbreeding, loss of genetic variation and adaptation to captive environments have to be understood and addressed. Currently collaborative research focussing on these questions is being carried out, principally on the Helmeted Honeyeater and the Orange-bellied Parrot.
Other academic activities at the moment are concentrated on contributing as a Conservation Genetics expert consultant to the Helmeted Honeyeater and Orange-bellied Parrot National Recovery Teams.