Jan Strugnell investigates the evolution and function of marine organisms using genomic and proteomic techniques.  Her research encompasses both applied and blue skies questions. 

Jan applies next generation sequencing tools to help solve bottlenecks in fisheries and aquaculture industries.  Supported by the ARC, her laboratory group is investigating population differentiation, recruitment and adaptation in a range of commercially important lobster species.  They also work on marine species that are shifting range in response to climate change and are investigating the genetic basis for resilience and susceptibility to temperature stress in abalone.  A/Prof Strugnell also investigates population and species level molecular evolution in Antarctic and deep-sea taxa in the context of past climatic and geological change.

A/Prof Strugnell completed her BSc (hons) at James Cook University before obtaining her DPhil at Oxford University, UK, funded by a Rhodes Scholarship.  During her DPhill she used molecular and fossil evidence to investigate phylogenetic relationship and divergence times within cephalopods (octopus, squids and cuttlefish).  A/Prof Strugnell then worked as a post doctoral research fellow at Queen's University, Belfast, the British Antarctic Survey and Cambridge University, UK, where she investigated evolutionary relationships within and between Antarctic and deep-sea octopods.

PhD, Masters, honours and minor projects are available in my group, as below:

The impact of fisheries on genetic diversity and effective population sizes of lobsters (co-supervised with Catarina Silva)

Overexploitation of marine species can result in population decline and have indirect effects on ecological processes such as larval dispersal and recruitment. Lobsters support valuable fisheries around the world but the potential impacts of fisheries exploitation on their genetic diversity are still not well understood. This project will employ high resolution genetic markers (SNPs - single nucleotide polymorphisms) to examine the genetic changes and historical effective population sizes of exploited populations of lobsters. Historical (1967 and 1991) and contemporary samples (2014 and 2015) from three species Jasus paulensis, J. lalandii and J. edwardsii are available for this project. This research will provide crucial information on the impact of fisheries in long term genetic diversity of lobsters, an important body of knowledge to inform management decisions. 

Population genomics of the South African West Coast rock lobster (co-supervised with Catarina Silva)

The South African West Coast rock lobster (Jasus lalandii) supports valuable fisheries but catches have declined markedly since the 1950s. There is evidence that this resource is heavily depleted but knowledge about its population genetic structure is still limited. The availability of high resolution genomic resources has allowed and increase in power to define fisheries stocks and its adaptive characteristics. This project will evaluate genetic structure and connectivity of J. lalandii populations using both neutral and adaptive markers (SNPs - single nucleotide polymorphisms). Understanding neutral and adaptive differences among populations will provide critical information for stock delimitation and management efforts.


Environmental DNA for the management of aquatic biodiversity of northern Australia (PhD top up available) 

JCU is home to a team of eDNA researchers who are developing rapid and cost-effective technology for monitoring aquatic species in Northern Australia with practical monitoring and assessment applications.  We are looking for enthusiastic, dedicated and passionate PhD candidates to join our team.

To appropriately manage the aquatic biodiversity of northern Australia, especially in the face of pressure for development of water resources, there is a requirement to have a greater understanding of faunal distribution, abundance and occurrence patterns, especially for key species of high conservation status or other special interest (e.g. exotics species, cryptic species).  There is a need for an approach that can rapidly increase data on the occurrence of aquatic fauna to more effectively manage their populations and to further our understanding of key drivers of population vulnerability/resilience. Being able to conduct more frequent and widespread survey/sampling/monitoring of key aquatic species of importance in northern Australia would greatly assist decisions around appropriate development of northern resources and the current discourse about northern development.

This project will take advantage of the rapidly growing field of eDNA.  Organisms constantly shed DNA into their environment (eDNA) and this can be utilised to determine their presence in place of traditional sampling methods. eDNA field sampling can involve as little as collecting water samples and subsequent laboratory analyses. Consequently, the method offers the potential for research and monitoring programs to be conducted rapidly, at lower cost, across a large array of locations, and to involve the participation of non-specialists.  

This PhD project will develop and employ eDNA technology for species of conservation and/or management significance. The project can be shaped to the students interests, but may focus on:

  • Development and validation of probes for species of conservation and/or management importance in Northern Australia.
  • Development of a metabarcoding approach to target a range of species of interest.
  • Investigation of the relationship between water quality parameters, sampling procedures, sample transport time and DNA degradation and detection rates.

The student will be based at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia (under the supervision of Prof. Damien Burrows and Assoc Prof Jan Strugnell). The student will receive expert training in fieldwork and laboratory and bioinformatics skills and work as part of a team of 3 post-docs working on eDNA, and other leading aquatic researchers.

Requirements: The successful applicant will have a First Class Honours (or equivalent) in biological science or a related field and will pick up extra points in the scoring system if they have a first authored paper. Applicants must be eligible for an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA). Preference will be given to those applicants with previous experience in genetics and/or evidence of strong technical and laboratory skills. Journal publications in these fields are desirable but not essential. A top-up ($10,000) per year for three years is available for this project.  Operating funds are also available.

Enquiries are welcome. Please submit a short cover (1 page max.) letter detailing your suitability and interest, academic transcript and a CV with contact details for two referees by email.



  • AQ2002: Aquaculture of Tropical Species (Level 2; TSV)
  • AQ3007: Aquatic Animal Ecophysiology (Level 3; TSV)
  • AQ5007: Aquatic Animal Ecophysiology (Level 5; TSV)
  • AQ5009: Aquaculture of Tropical Species (Level 5; TSV)
  • AQ5807: Aquaculture: Animal Ecophysiology (Level 5; TSV)
  • AQ5809: Aquaculture in the Tropics (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ3450: Ecological and Conservation Genetics (Level 3; TSV)
  • 2010 to 2016 - Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Assoc. Prof., La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia)
  • 2008 to 2009 - Lloyd’s Tercentenary fellow, University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK)
  • 2004 to 2007 - Post doctoral research fellow, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge/Queen’s University (Cambirdge/Belfast, UK)
  • 2000 to 2004 - Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University (Oxford, UK)
  • 1999 to 2000 - Experimental Research Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science (Townsville, Australia)
  • 1998 to 1999 - Bachelor of Science (honours), James Cook University (Townsville, Australia)
  • 1995 to 1997 - Bachelor of Science, James Cook University (Townsville, Australia)
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2010 - James Cook University Outstanding Alumni Award
  • 2015 to 2017 - Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant - Lost at sea? Understanding adaptation and dispersal in spiny lobsters (Jan Strugnell, Bridget Green, Nicholas Murphy, James Bell)
  • 2015 to 2017 - FRDC : Patterns of interaction between habitat & oceanographic variables affecting the connectivity and productivity of invertebrate fisheries (D Ierodiaconou, A Miller, E Treml, S Swearer, N Murphy, J Strugnell, H Gorfine, C Sherman, B Green, M Young).
  • 2016 - One of Impact Design Hub’s “40 under 40” recognizing some of the brightest young minds at work designing for social good.
  • 2011 to 2013 - Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant - Stress transcriptomics: development of tests to reduce the incidence of summer mortality in abalone (Jan Strugnell)
  • 2010 to 2011 - Australia and Pacific Science Foundation grant - Gene flow, adaptation and speciation in Antarctic octopus: consequences of climate change (Jan Strugnell)
  • 2006 to 2009 - Best scientific paper on cephalopod research awarded by the Cephalopod International Advisory Council (CIAC)
  • 2000 to 2004 - Rhodes Scholarship, Oxford University, UK
  • 2008 to 2010 - Lloyd’s Tercentenary Foundation Fellowship. Postdoctoral Research Grant
  • 2005 to 2007 - Antarctic Funding Initiative (NERC). Postdoctoral grant. Did Antarctic octopuses colonise the deep sea?

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU.

Journal Articles
Book Chapters
  • Cooke I, Whitelaw B, Norman M, Caruana N and Strugnell J (2015) Toxicity in cephalopods. In: Evolution of Venomous Animals and Their Toxins. Toxinology. Springer, Leiden, The Netherlands, pp. 1-15

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 48+ research outputs authored by A/Prof Jan Strugnell from 2003 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Department of the Environment and Energy - National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) - Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub

The Northern Australia eDNA Program - Revolutionising Aquatic Monitoring and Field Surveys in Tropical Waters

Indicative Funding
$570,000 over 3 years
All organisms shed DNA into their environment. This is termed environment DNA (eDNA). Capture and analysis of eDNA (in soil or water samples) is a highly efficient and sensitive method to detect the presence of a wide range of species without actually requiring physical capture, or sighting of the organisms themselves. eDNA field sampling can involve as little as collecting water samples and
Damien Burrows, Jan Strugnell, Roger Huerlimann, Richard C Edmunds and Dean Jerry (TropWATER and College of Science & Engineering)
eDNA; Threatened Species; Northern Australia; exotic pest species; aquatic monitoring; Genetics

Australian Academy of Science - Thomas Davies Research Grant for Marine, Soil and Plant Biology

Dating the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet using next generation sequencing of marine invertebrates

Indicative Funding
$24,432 over 3 years
This proposal applies a novel biological approach to address a key question for physical scientists. There is great uncertainty in predictions of future sea level rise and recent modelling suggests that forced displacement of over 180 million people this century is conceivable. Predicting the fate of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is central for accurate sea level predictions The complete collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet would lead to the existence of a trans-Antarctic seaway linking the present day Ross, Weddell and Amundsen Seas. Such a seaway would allow marine animal migration across newly opened straights, and a persistent genetic signature of historical connectivity of such events will remain in bottom dwelling animals.
Jan Strugnell (College of Science & Engineering)
Antarctica; Sea Level Rise

Fisheries Research & Development Corporation - Annual Competitive Round

Genetic diversity audit of farm held stock of greenlip and blacklip abalone

Indicative Funding
Conduct a genetic audit of farm held stocks of greenlip and blacklip abalone to identify current levels of genetic diversity, effective population sizes, and levels of coancestry/relatedness captured within individual farms and the wider industry.
Jan Strugnell (College of Science & Engineering)
Abalone; Genetics

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Lost at sea? Understanding adaptation and dispersal in spiny lobsters

Indicative Funding
$335,100 over 3 years
Continual recruitment of young is fundamental to the replenishment of populations, especially when a stock is fished. Existing theory suggests that species with very long planktonic larval stages disperse widely, ensuring their genes are well mixed. However recently identified genetic differences between populations of rock l;obster challenge this paradigm and demonstrate that despite larvae mixing in the ocean for years, local recruitment and/or adaptation are at play. Recent developments in genomics and bioinformatics will allow this project to understand the ecological processes underpinning these genetic signatures and determine their evolutionary implications. Such findings would direct targeted rebuilding of depleted fisheries stocks.1/1/5
Jan Strugnell, Bridget Green and Nicholas Murphy in collaboration with James Bell (College of Science & Engineering, University of Tasmania, La Trobe University and Victoria University of Wellington)
Recruitment; Evolutionary Genetics; Lobster

Department of the Environment and Energy - Australian Biological Resources Study - Research Grant

Resolving the blue-ringed octopus fauna of Australia: taxonomy, phylogeny and human health

Indicative Funding
$12,000 (administered by Museum Victoria)
Despite renowned toxicity and human fatalates, knowledge of the blue-ringed octopuses (genus Hapalochlaena) remains poor. Their taxonomy requires through revision: four species are currently considered valid, yet preliminary investigations by the applicants identify a total of at least 15 species worldwide, of which over half occur in Australia. This project aims to use taxonomic and molecular tools to: (1) revise the genus; (2) identify and describe Australian species; (3) describe distributions, habitats and biology; (4) investigate phylogeny and biogeography; and (5) provide crucial identification and health hazard information to scientific and wider audiences.
Julian Finn and Jan Strugnell in collaboration with Mark Norman and Chung-Cheng Lu (Museum Victoria, College of Science & Engineering and National Chung Hsing University)
Hapalochlaena (Octopodidae); Taxonomy; Octopus; Species

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Venom Function, Composition and Evolution in the Blue-Ringed Octopus, Genus Hapalochlaena (PhD , Primary Advisor)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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