I have a broad range of research interests, all connected by the overall aim to tell the story of land vertebrate evolution. I am focused on questions rather than methods (although virtual reconstruction methods are a particular favourite), and enjoy borrowing approaches from different disciplines (including embryology, cellular neurobiology, physiology, biostatistics, palaeontology, and anatomy) to answer my specific questions. My research background is mainly on mammals, particularly marsupials and monotremes.
Marsupials (pouched animals such as kangaroos, wombats, possums and opossums) are fascinating due to their homogenous mode of reproduction: for at least the last 60 million years, they are all born at minute sizes after only a few weeks (rarely more than 4 weeks, and as little as 12 days!), all have to actively move into the pouch, and their mother’s milk is fairly similar across all clades. This uniform development is like a “controlled experiment”, in which impacts of reproduction on morphological development and evolution are taken out of the equation.
Monotremes (platypuses and echidnas) are even more interesting – they are only the mammals that retain the ancestral egg-laying reprodcution and they have a lot of traits in common with the earliest mammalian ancestors, but they are also extremely derived in other ways (for example, platypuses are the only electro-sensitive mammals). Comparing monotreme reproductive, developmental, and morphological traits to that of marsupials and placentals is extremely interesting as it can give us an idea about how the ancestors of mammals lived and how the very unique mammalian radiation emerged from the 320-million-year-old lineage of synapsids (sometimes called “mammal-like reptiles”).
Australia is also home to a staggering diversity of “reptiles” and frogs, which represent a comparatively little researched field of comparative developmental studies. I am currently developing a research programme to quantify developmental diversity in selected lizard and frog groups. My focus is on developmentally or morphologically divergent species such as metamorphosing vs. non-metamorphosing frogs, under-vs.hyperossified lizards, and cataloguing development of the main “reptilian” lineages such as crocodylians, scincids, agamids, and gekkonids.