I am interested in the evolution and speciation of bees, particularly stingless bees (Apidae: Meliponini), which are native to Australia and are important ecological and agricultural pollinators. In my honours project (2022) and now my PhD (started July 2023) with the BEE lab, I am investigating whether the theory of mitonuclear coevolution can help explain patterns of speciation and genetic divergence of stingless bees that we see in Australia and globally.

In short, the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) is an organelle that is critically important for energy production in all eukaryotes; it contains proteins produced by both its own genome and the nuclear genome, and these proteins must coevolve to remain compatible. Separation between populations and/or adaptation to different conditions can lead to different evolutionary trajectories of these mitonuclear genes in different populations, leading to incompatibility and eventually speciation, or so the theory goes.

Through analysis of hybridisation, divergence, and evolution of the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes, I hope to establish whether this relatively novel evolutionary theory can be applied to natural systems through my focus on the stingless bees.