Vicki Thomson


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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?).

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.



Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Ancient DNA in the Australian context: Investigating evolutionary and ecological responses to environmental change, University of Adelaide

Jan 2008Dec 2012

Award Date: 31 Dec 2012

Bachelor, BSc Honours, University of Queensland

Jul 2006Jun 2007

Award Date: 30 Jun 2007

Bachelor, BA/BSc, University of Queensland

Feb 2001Nov 2005

Award Date: 31 Dec 2005


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