Thesis: Evolution and diversification of small ground-dwelling mammals of the Australian arid zone
My PhD research aims to discover the processes that drive patterns in species distribution and genetics in arid environments. This includes a traditional morphological approach to investigate and understand the morphological variation in the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), an endangered species, and also a molecular genetics study of the Sminthopsinae (dunnarts and planigales) in the Pilbara region of WA.
The Pilbara region is rich in mineral deposits and the centre of mining activity in WA, it is also an important region for biodiversity due to the ancient and highly structured landscape. Many endemic species occur only in the Pilbara region, but we know little of the genetic differentiation of mammal populations in this area. By sequencing mitochondrial genes of six species of Sminthopsis and Planigale I aim to investigate such patterns. These patterns are further examined using a next-generation sequencing approach to capture highly variable regions (SNPs) throughout the genome.
Why my research is important
This research is important as it will help to clarify morphological differences between the four disjunct populations of the endangered northern quoll, which will have important implications for future conservation management of this species. The molecular side of the project will help to identify areas in the landscape that are hot-spots for genetic diversity in small marsupials and can help to inform which areas should be conserved. It will also help to identify what processes are important for creating genetic differentiation and connectivity in small marsupials.