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Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods

Molecular ecology

Research group

Our focus

Mammal image by Sam Banks (RIEL image only)

We study biodiversity in northern Australia and the broader region, applying research approaches in genomics and landscape ecology.

Terrestrial mammals are a focus but we gladly make exceptions for cool species like crocodiles, sharks, turtles etc.

A strong research interest is in the application of molecular, field and computation ecology to questions in applied conservation biology. Major current and recent projects include work on the conservation genomics of threatened mammals across Northern Australia, ARC_funded research on the application of landscape genetics to study mammal population dynamics in fire-prone landscapes on the Tiwi Islands, ARC-funded work with Larrakia Nation, Kakadu National Park, NT Parks and Wildlife, Gumurr-Marthakal Rangers and many others on seascape genetics and movement ecology of turtles and coastal dolphins to inform monitoring and conservation planning, and combining drone-based monitoring with landscape genomics to better understand the distribution and population connectivity of feral pigs for informing management and potential pathogen spread modelling.  

Specialist expertise and tech

  • Newly-established laboratory for generating population genomics data.
  • Trace DNA facilities and equipment.
  • Vertebrate tissue/DNA sample archive from extensive fieldwork across northern Australia.
  • Expertise in empirical and simulation-based research in landscape genetics and population ecology of vertebrates.
  • Strong collaborative links with other research institutions and environmental management stakeholder groups.

Read more

Meet the team

Our group includes, among other contributors:



Research fellows

PhD students

  • Alex Carey
  • Hayley Geyle
  • Natalie Robson
  • Mara Muller
  • Amy Kirke
  • Allyson Malpartida
  • Matthew Hammond
  • Holly Sargent
  • Yusuke Fukuda (ANU)
  • Brittany Brockett (ANU)
  • Georgeanna Story (ANU)

Honours students

  • Ewan Nichol


Former students

(many of whom were co-supervised with other lead supervisors)

  • Erica Smith (Honours)
  • Janine Erica Abecia
  • Shandala Loving (PhD)
  • Kyle Tyler (PhD)
  • Allyson Malpartida (Masters)
  • Brien Roberts (PhD)
  • Elle Bowd (PhD – ANU)
  • Robyn Shaw (PhD – ANU)
  • Michaela Blyton (PhD – ANU)
  • Kelly Dixon (PhD – ANU)
  • Felicia Pereoglou (PhD – ANU)
  • Maldwyn Evans (PhD – ANU)
  • Laurence Berry (PhD – ANU)
  • Joe Salmona (Masters – ANU)
  • Yuzun Guo (Masters – ANU)
  • Kristen Abicair (Honours – ANU)

We contribute molecular expertise to collaborative projects at CDU, NT Government and elsewhere, and current PhD students involved in the group are co-supervised with other researchers including Hamish Campbell, Brett MurphyAlan Andersen, Keller Kopf and Stephen Garnett, as well as many researchers at other institutions.

Why this research is important

The group provides scientific information for better management and conservation of wildlife. This includes new tools for more efficient and informative monitoring of biodiversity, scientific information enabling better fire management for biodiversity and population management and conservation of iconic species like saltwater crocodiles.

Key achievements and impacts

  • We collaborate closely with many academic researchers at other universities and provide PhD students with opportunities to work with scientists, policymakers, and managers in government and non-government environmental organisations.
  • We have a strong track record in the development and application of molecular approaches to research in landscape and movement ecology. In particular, our empirical and computational research has advanced our understanding of disturbance ecology and the impacts of disturbance regimes (e.g. fire) on the genetic diversity of natural populations.
  • More information on the group’s publications, research and fieldwork and Sam Banks's Google Scholar profile

Key projects

Molecular ecology of fire

Fires occur in landscapes around the world and have large effects on ecosystems. However, there is a lot that we don't understand about the effects of fire on populations of animals and plants. For instance, how do populations recover from fires? What are the effects of changing fire frequency, size and intensity on animals and plants? And how does fire influence genetic diversity in natural populations (which is essential for adaptation to future environmental change)?

Our group conducts empirical field and molecular research, and computer simulation-based research, on the population biology and genetics of mammals and plants in response to fire regimes.

This work has provided new insights into fire ecology, as well as helping to understand landscape genetics patterns in dynamic ecosystems driven by spatial and temporal environmental heterogeneity.

This research has been funded by the Australian Research Council, primarily through an ARC Future Fellowship to Sam Banks.


Tracking animal movement through DNA

Much of the work in the group uses genetic and ecological approaches to answer questions about dispersal in natural populations. For instance, Yusuke Fukuda is leading a project as a PhD student and Northern Territory Government scientist, to use DNA and trace element data to track movements of saltwater crocodiles through northern Australia and Oceania.

His work has identified patterns of crocodile movement around the Top End and, with more samples, will be important for improving crocodile conservation and management.

Crocodile research always makes a popular story and this project has been covered in the media in Australia and internationally. To date, this research has been funded by the Northern Territory Government, National Geographic and the Holsworth Wildlife Foundation.

Conservation genomics of northern Australian mammals

A current project led by Dr Brenton von Takach Dukai involves mapping patterns of genomic diversity in threatened north Australian mammals including the northern quoll, brush-tailed rabbit-rat and black-footed tree rat.

This project is supported by the Oz Mammals Genomics (OMG) Initiative and involves working closely with researchers across Australia, from various museums, universities and government agencies.

eDNA monitoring for the north

In partnership with the Northern Territory Government and regional land management organisations, we are developing new approaches for efficient environmental monitoring across vast and remote landscapes.

Our capabilities in environmental DNA (eDNA) enable us to generate high-quality information on metrics of environmental condition including biodiversity assessment, threatened species monitoring and water quality. 

This new initiative enables our partner organisations to deploy new methods that improve the accessibility and quality of environmental data from remote areas. 

Other projects

A collaboration with the NT Government on Holly Sargent’s PhD project, which focusses on landscape planning for optimal threatened species conservation outcomes in developing urban areas in the NT.

Mammal image by Sam Banks (RIEL image only)

Available postgraduate projects

  • Conservation and landscape genomics of northern Australian mammals.
  • Ecology of vertebrates in fire-prone landscapes.
  • Investigating the connection between individual-based movements and population dynamics of grass finches in northern Australia.

Explore what's on offer


Interested in Molecular Ecology?