School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Technology
I am an evolutionary biologist who uses DNA to investigate how Australasian animals have adapted / will adapt to changing environments. An animal's DNA sequence can tell us about how many of them there were in the past (did they decline almost to the point of extinction?) and about how low their genetic diversity got (did they lose individuals with important versions of genes that would otherwise have allowed them to adapt, for example, to aridity via increased desiccation resistance?).
- My Research
- Grants and Funding
- Professional Activities
I am interested in how animals have adapted to different environments over time. This means that I use tools from a range of disciplines depending on when and at what scale the adaptation occurred (i.e. epigenetics for detecting very recent adaptation; population genetics and phylogeography for population-level adaptation, evolutionary genetics and ancient DNA for very old adaptation).
I was recently awarded an ARC DECRA to study the role of epigenetic modifications in tiger snake adaptation. I will investigate the mechanisms underlying animal adaptation to future environmental change by examining the molecular basis for phenotypic plasticity in snakes. I will specifically examine variation in genetic/epigenetic profiles and compare against important fitness traits, such as variable head size, bite force and swallowing performance to identify relationships between molecular change and physiology. Such research is a critical first step in improving our knowledge of the mechanisms whereby animal populations may adapt to environmental change, allowing us to facilitate such processes or concentrate conservation effort where species are unable to adapt via epigenetic modification.
I was awarded my PhD in 2013 on ‘Using ancient DNA as an essential tool to explore past Australian biodiversity’ utilizing modern and ancient DNA (at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide) to answer phylogenetic, phylogeographic, population and conservation genetic questions. I investigated issues in archaeology and ancient human migration using commensal chicken phylogeography (Thomson, Lebrasseur, Austin, et al. 2014 PNAS), phylogeography of commensal rodents (Thomson, Aplin, Cooper et al. 2014 PLoS One), conservation of a declining rodent species (Thomson, Ford, Rowe et al. in prep.), evolutionary history of Emu species, population genetics of a declining bat species (Thomson, Armstrong, Medlin, & Cooper in prep.), and phylogenetics of rare rodents (Thomson, Aplin, Donnellan et al. in prep). This research has allowed me to conduct fieldwork in outback Australia, learn morphological identification and morphometric skills, gain ancient DNA laboratory skills, develop relationships with collaborators, museum staff, and other researchers internationally, and learn many cutting-edge analysis methods. I have also recently developed skills in the extraction of high molecular weight genomic DNA for RAD sequencing and exome capture, and in R and bash scripting.
Date Position Institution name 2018 - ongoing ARC DECRA Fellowship University of Adelaide 2016 - 2017 ARC Post-doctoral Research Associate University of Adelaide 2013 - 2016 ARC Post-doctoral Research Associate University of Adelaide 2012 - 2013 Research Assistant Australian National University
Awards and Achievements
Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount 2017 Distinction Edith Dornwell Medal for Female Early Career Researcher Excellence University of Adelaide Australia $1000 2015 Award University of Adelaide's Environment Institute small grant award University of Adelaide Australia $10,670 2015 Invitation Presentation to Birds SA - Australia - 2014 Invitation E-science magazine article University of Adelaide Australia - 2014 Invitation Presentation to Royal Society of South Australia - Australia - 2014 Award Asia Pacific Science Foundation grant Asia Pacific Science Foundation - $43,672 2014 Invitation Radio interview with Radio Adelaide University of Adelaide Australia - 2014 Invitation Radio interview with Radio New Zealand - Australia - 2013 Award Sir Mark Mitchell Research Foundation grant Sir Mark Mitchell Research Foundation Australia $6,200
Date Institution name Country Title 2008 - 2012 University of Adelaide Australia PhD 2006 - 2007 University of Queensland Australia BSc(Hons) 2001 - 2005 University of Queensland Australia BSc 2001 - 2005 University of Queensland Australia BA
Year Citation 2022 The Prehistory of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) (2022). . Springer International Publishing.
Year Citation 2022 Thomson, V. A., Herrera, M., & Austin, J. J. (2022). Commensals/Domesticates on Rapa Nui: What Can Their Phylogeographic Patterns Tell Us About the Discovery and Settlement of the Island?. In The Prehistory of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) (pp. 41-62). Springer International Publishing.
Year Citation 2017 Rodriguez Lopez, C. M., Konate, M., Sanders, K., & Thomson, V. A. (2017). Epigenetic divergence contributes to tiger snake adaptation to island environments. Poster session presented at the meeting of ComBio 2017. Adelaide, SA.
ARC DECRA ($365,058) - The role of epigenetic modifications in tiger snake adaptation.
ARC Linkage grant ($164,427) - Testing co-evolutionary processes driving venom diversity in tiger snakes.
Environment Institute small grant award ($10,670) - Tiger snake venom: evolution in response to prey type.
Environment Institute travel grant award ($2,500) to present at the International Council on Archaeozoology (ICAZ) conference in San Rafael, Argentina - Using ancient DNA to study the origins and dispersal of ancestral Polynesian chickens across the Pacific.
Australia Pacific Science Foundation grant ($43,672) - New Guinean Long-beaked Echidnas in the Kimberley, Western Australia: using ancient DNA analysis of skins and scats to confirm their presence and corroborate outstanding biodiversity discovery.
Sir Mark Mitchell Foundation grant ($6,200) - The status of New Guinean Long-beaked Echidnas in Australia's north west: survey by DNA analysis of scats.
In recent years I have supervised two 3rd year undergraduate research projects (ENVBIOL3550: Evolution of the Australian Biota III in 2016; ENVBIOL3123: Issues in Evolutionary Biology in 2014), presented a guest lecture on epigenetics (ENVBIOL3123 in 2015) and lectured/tutored on phylogenetic methods (ENVBIOL3550 in 2016).
Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)
Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name 2013 - 2015 Co-Supervisor Genetic studies on prehistoric translocations of chickens in the Indo-Pacific Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Michael James Herrera
Other Supervision Activities
Date Role Research Topic Location Program Supervision Type Student Load Student Name 2017 - 2018 Principal Supervisor The impacts of prey type on expression profiles of venom gland genes in island and mainland populations of the Australian tiger snake, Notechis scutatus The University of Adelaide Bachelor of Science (Honours) Honours Full Time Monique Ahrens
Date Role Membership Country 2014 - ongoing Treasurer Postgraduate Association of the School of Biological Sciences Australia 2014 - ongoing Representative Biological Society of South Australia Australia 2014 - ongoing Co-Founder Statistical Solutions Australia 2013 - ongoing - Australian Mammal Society Australia
Date Engagement Type Partner Name 2016 - ongoing Consultant Museum Victoria 2016 - ongoing Consultant South Australian Museum 2016 - ongoing Consultant Venom Supplies Pty Ltd
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