My research is both field- and laboratory-based, covering the broad areas of evolution and ecology, with a focus on animal adaptation, natural and sexual selection, and speciation.

In particular, I am interested in how new species arise, and how species interactions and selection on mate choice may contribute. Who animals choose to mate with is a central feature of what defines a species, so any changes in mate choice can potentially result in speciation. If species interactions cause the interacting parties to change who they chose as mates this can result in the formation of new species.

I have potential Honours, Masters, and PhD research projects on a broad range of evolutionary-based questions in the general areas of speciation, selection (natural, sexual, or artificial), mating behaviour, and species interactions. I also strongly encourage potential DECRA applicants to get in touch if you are interested in similar research questions and/or biological systems. Please see 'Interests' below for the biological systems I am currently researching.

  • BS2470: Evolution (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • BS5470: Evolution (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • BZ3450: Ecological and Conservation Genetics (Level 3; TSV)
  • BZ5450: Ecological and Conservation Genetics (Level 5; TSV)
  • SC5202: Quantitative Methods in Science (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • Reproductive isolation in the Green-eyed Tree frog complex: Two deeply-divergent genetic lineages of Green-eyed tree frog meet in two places in the Wet Tropics behind Cairns. At one contact there has been rapid and strong evolution of prezygotic isolation between the two lineages. One question we are answering is - what were the genomic changes that allowed the rapid evolution of prezygotic isolation at this contact? On the other, at the other contact the two lineages still mate freely, with no hint of prezygotic isolation between the lineages. However, these hybrid matings leave almost no offspring - so why doesn't prezygotic isolation evolve? This is another of the questions we are working on in this system.
  • Evolution of female preference and male mating signals (pheromones) due to species interactions in a native rainforest Drosophila community: Along the east coast of Australia is a species of fly, Drosophila serrata, which overlaps over some of its geographic distribution with the closely-related species D. birchii and D. bunnanda. We have direct experimental evidence that co-existence with D. birchii causes the evolution of D. serrata male mating signals (pheromones). There is also some evidence that co-existence with D. birchii causes the evolution of female preferences. This makes the D. serrata species complex perfectly placed to study how male signals and female preferences are expressed and evolve in the presence of closely-related species. To do this, the following questions will be answered in the D. serrata system: Does co-existence with other species change the phenotypic expression and evolution of male mating pheromones? Does co-existence with other species cause evolution of female preferences for male pheromones? Are female preferences expressed differently depending on presence/absence of other species? To answer these questions we are using a combination of wild flies and lab-based experimental evolution to measure the evolution of male pheromones and female preferences for those pheromones in different combinations of Drosophila communities.
  • Species interactions between Frog-biting flies and their frog hosts: In humans and birds, the major vectors of disease-causing parasites are blood-feeding flies; therefore it stands to reason that these may also be a major vector of parasites in frogs. Australian frogs are known to host a diversity of blood parasites, including protozoans, nematodes, and trematodes. However, the diversity of species and habits of frog-biting flies in the tropical rainforest of north Queensland, which has had major declines in frog populations in the recent past, is poorly known. We have recently carried out surveys of stream frogs of the Wet Tropics and found a diverse community of at least 12 species of frog-biting flies. We are currently investigating the host specificity of these frog-biting flies, and whether they are vectors for protozoan (e.g., Trypanosomes), nematode, and trematode parasites in Wet Tropics frog communities.
  • Pheromones as a mating trait in cryptic skinks and geckos: Australia has a number of lizard groups in which genetics shows there is high cryptic diversity. Traditional morphology (body size, shape, and colour) cannot distinguish these groups, and we do not yet know their mating traits (e.g., male mating calls in frogs). The mating traits in these cryptic lizard groups are likely to be pheromones. We are focussing on two cryptic lizard groups in north-eastern Queensland: Lampropholis skinks and Heteronotia geckoes. In both these lizard groups genetics has revealed many highly divergent genetic lineages (often species level divergence). These lineages appear morphologically indistinguishable, but in the few cases where hybrid zones are known, there appears to be little interbreeding. Finding and characterizing these pheromones will help us understand the evolution of these groups and resolve their taxonomy.
  • 2011 to present - Lecturer, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • 2013 to 2016 - ARC DECRA Fellow, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • 2011 to 2012 - ARC Australian Postdoctoral (APD) Fellow, James Cook University (Townsville)
  • 2009 to 2011 - ARC Australian Postdoctoral (APD) Fellow, The Australian National University (Canberra, Australia)
Research Disciplines
  • 2012 - Young Tall Poppy Science Award (Queensland)
  • 2009 - R. A. Fisher Award (Society for the Study of Evolution)
  • 2013 to 2016 - ARC DECRA Research Fellowship (2013-2016)
  • 2009 to 2012 - ARC Australian Postdoctoral (APD) Research Fellowship (2009-2012)
  • 2003 - American Society of Naturalists (2003-present)
  • 2001 - Australasian Evolution Society (2001-present)
  • 2009 - OzReader - Australian Research Council (2009-present)
  • 2012 to 2014 - Reviewing Editor - Journal of Evolutionary Biology (2012-2016)
  • 2011 to 2013 - Vice-President - Australasian Evolution Society
  • 2009 to 2011 - Treasurer - Australasian Evolution Society

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 23+ research outputs authored by Dr Megan Higgie from 2000 onwards.

Current Funding

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

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Predicting genetic exchange between species under climate change

Indicative Funding
$73,912 over 3 years (administered by ANU)
This project aims to resolve the factors that lead to the mixing of species? gene pools, with a focus on whether climate change will increase such mixing, possibly leading to extinction by genetic swamping. The significance is that the project would improve our understanding of speciation and species? vulnerability to rapid climate change through genetic mixing; a largely overlooked process. Key outcomes would be to generate new knowledge of a fundamental evolutionary process and extend the toolbox of biodiversity managers facing rapid environmental change. The project would benefit Australia by highlighting our unique biodiversity and scientific capability, and by training early career researchers in advanced evolutionary biology.
Craig Moritz, Megan Higgie, Conrad Hoskin and Stephen Zozaya (Australian National University and College of Science & Engineering)
Climate Change; Introgression; Genetic swamping; Pheromones; Heteronotia geckos (Family Gekkonidae); Gehyra geckos (Family Gekkonidae)

QLD Department of Environment and Science - Advance Queensland Women's Academic Fund

Research Assistant salary while on maternity leave

Indicative Funding
$15,600 over 1 year
This grant is for a casual research assistant to continue my existing research experiments and assist with running my lab while I am on maternity leave. The projects the research assistant will be assisting on are: - Can species interactions drive rapid niche adaptation? This project examines how the temperature niche of a rainforest fly evolves when it has intense competition from a closely related species with a very similar temperature niche. - Species interactions and the evolution of mating displays and preferences. This project examines how male mating display and female preference are expressed when closely related species are present, with a view to examining whether they can rapidly change their signal and preference to minimise detrimental hybridisation.
Megan Higgie (College of Science & Engineering)
adaptation; speciation; niche evolution; biodiversity; species interactions; Mate Choice

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.

  • Using Pheromones to Understand Cryptic Lizard Diversity in Native Australian Gehyra Geckoes (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Species interactions and the evolution of plasticity in mating traits (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Characterizing the Genomic Signal of Speciation by Reinforcement (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • The effect of the pasasite Waddycephalus on native reptile communities and the role of the invasive Asian House Gecko (Masters , 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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  • 28.224, Marine & Tropical Biology 2 (Townsville campus)
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