Invasive species are a global concern due to their negative impacts on the economy and local ecosystems. However, well documented invasions provide a useful system in which to pose biologically interesting questions regarding short time scale evolution of species.
The global pest European starling Sturnus vulgaris, was introduced into Australia’s south-eastern states in the 1860’s and have since greatly expanded their range. Previous research on introduced starling populations has demonstrated that their morphology has undergone subtle shifts following colonisation.
Research is currently ongoing to characterise the genetic change this species has undergone since their initial Australian colonisation through comparison of genetic variation in historical starling samples to contemporary genetic variation across Australia.
Preserved Australian starlings from the 1860’s onwards are located throughout Australia’s museums. In this project their morphology will be measured and compared to modern day Australian starlings. The morphological changes this species has undergone since colonisation can then be interpreted, alongside available genetic data, to characterise the phenotypic evidence of evolution in this species since its introduction to Australia.
This project will involve travel to museums across Australia. In addition, the data will be integrated with existing morphometrics into a database available to the global starling community, enabling the student to forge connections with starling researchers world-wide. All students in our group are encouraged and supported to publish their research in international scientific journals.