Dr Leo Joseph ‘News from the Front: An update on bird research at the Australian National Wildlife Collection (ANWC) and around the world’

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Thursday, 19 April 2018 - 12:30pm

"Lately, the pace of interesting developments in our understanding of relationships among the world’s birds generally and among Australian and New Guinean birds specifically has been hard to keep up with. The talk will walk gently through examples of all of this. Globally, the publication of two major genome-wide studies of the world’s birds made big splashes. Here in Australia we have continued to chip away at some thorny taxonomic problems in our birds and I will give some examples of how we are slowly but, I think, surely reaching the “higher hanging taxonomic fruit” of Australian birds. The Chestnut Quail-thrush is an example of where we think we now have a solid case to recognize two species not just one whereas in the White-eared Honeyeater things are looking interesting but we wouldn’t advocate a change yet. We are also getting into some interesting areas related to natural selection in birds. The humble Eastern Yellow Robin is a star in this area. We have been working in the savannas of Papua New Guinea and that promises to open up some interesting work. Finally, we are taking our first steps into the world of trying to use genomes to understand adaptation in birds. For that, we are using Australian finches and the different climates in which they live."

Leo has been the Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection at CSIRO since 2005.

Originally from Adelaide, he became interested in birds and how they have evolved, especially here in Australia and New Guinea, at an early age. His interests focus on how birds of Australia and New Guinea have evolved against the geological and environmental histories of the region, and how present-day communities been assembled over time.  Hooked early on working in a museum environment, he likes to integrate what we can learn from DNA with what we can learn from seeing birds in their natural habitats. After undergrad and Honours at the University of Adelaide, he completed a PhD at the University of Queensland in 1994. From 1994-97 he lived in Uruguay where he held a joint postdoctoral-Visiting Professor position at the Universidad de la Republica in Montevideo.  On moving to the USA in 1997, he was curator and eventually Chair of the Department of Ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia until returning to Australia in 2005.