Professor Dustin Marshall


dustin2016Professor Dustin Marshall is head of the Marine Evolutionary Ecology Group in the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University.

Prior to working at Monash University, Dustin was at the University of Queensland, after a post-doctorate at the University of New South Wales and brief research stints at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

Dustin is also the Director and founder of the Centre for Geometric Biology; an interdisciplinary research team changing the way we study, understand and manage natural systems.

Dustin is an editor of three journals — Ecology Letters, Functional Ecology and Evolution — and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Oikos.

Dustin has published more than 130 scientific publications.

Research interests

I am interested in variation, be it genetic or phenotypic, and how that variation affects the evolution and ecology of marine organisms.

My original research focus was on marine life-histories, specifically how phenotypic links among life-history stages affect the population dynamics of marine populations.

Since then, my interests have spread to include using quantitative genetics approaches to understand the limits of adaptation in marine organisms and the evolution of life histories.

I’ve become interested in how evolutionary processes affect the dynamics of marine communities as well how marine communities function more generally.

I think there are some unifying themes in our apparently disparate research programs, but I think it will take a few years for these threads to be drawn together. One thing that does unify the program already however is the study system — we focus almost entirely in sessile marine invertebrates. Specifically, we work on ‘fouling’ organisms, a term that covers the critters that grow on man-made structures in temperate coastal regions. This system is not particularly glamorous but is extremely tractable for asking ecological and evolutionary questions.

If you are interested in joining the lab, please email me.

Monash University researcher profile – Prof Dustin Marshall

Google Scholar profile — Dustin Marshall


Dr Robin Svensson (post-doctoral research fellow)

RobinThumbnail600x600pxMy main research interests are invasion biology, ecological disturbance and chemical ecology.

Much of my work has focused on tests of well-known hypotheses in these areas, such as the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis, the Dynamic Equilibrium Model and the Novel Weapons Hypothesis.

I primarily conduct manipulative field experiments in marine sessile systems, but I have also worked with bacterial communities and mathematical modelling.

 Google Scholar profile — J Robin Svennson

Rolanda Lange (post-doctoral research fellow)

RolandaLangeThumbnail2015_300x300pxEnvironmental predictability, local adaptation, and phenotypic plasticity regulate connectivity in marine environments, which are often dominated by sessile organisms which propagate by planktonic larvae.

Both local adaptation and trans-generational plasticity can reduce an organisms ability to conquer novel habitats it is maladapted to.

I aim to understand the interplay of mechanisms that enable or hinder organisms to conquer new environments.

Diego Barneche (post-doctoral research fellow)

DiegoBarneche600x600pxMy focus lies in experimental and quantitative approaches that scale up energetics from individuals to populations, communities and ecosystems.

My research is focused on understanding how the relative importance of abiotic variables (temperature), properties of individuals (body size) and species (density) interplay to determine community energy flux.

I am combining a suite of mathematical and statistical models to test predictions of metabolic theories, which will be evaluated via lab experiments using sessile marine invertebrates.


Martino Malerba (post-doctoral research fellow)

MartinoMalerba2016_600x600pxI am interested in species interactions, especially the mechanisms promoting coexistence in natural ecosystems.

In my experiments, I mostly grow phytoplankton species in laboratory conditions to test ecological and evolutionary theories. I have also worked with ecological modelling, bacteria, and reef fish.

My current project uses experiment evolution processes with phytoplankton species to test hypotheses about their physiological adaptation.

In my PhD, I used process-based quota models to investigate nitrogen utilisation in phytoplankton populations.

Giulia Ghedini (post-doctoral research fellow)

GiuliaGhediniMy broad interest as a community ecologist centres in understanding how processes that operate across scales of biological organisation contribute to determine community dynamics.

Currently, I am using communities of marine sessile invertebrates as model systems to test for the influence of individual size, population density and the abiotic environment in determining community use of resources.

In my PhD, I explored how individual responses to varying abiotic conditions can aggregate to generate compensatory dynamics that buffer community change and the extent to which such processes contribute to stability.

 Google Scholar profile — Giulia Ghedini


Amanda Pettersen (PhD candidate)


I am interested in life-history theory, particularly the evolution of offspring size.

The allocation of maternal energy reserves towards different reproductive strategies can pose significant consequences for the fitness of both mother and offspring.

My project integrates life-history theory with metabolic theory and tests previously unexplored mechanisms in order to explain common patterns observed regards to offspring size.

Karin Svanfeldt (PhD candidate)

KarinThumbnail600x600pxPartial mortality is common in many colonial organisms.  The question is when and why some modules of a colony die while others prosper.

Known for modular plants is that they use partial mortality as a way of recycling nutrients from less effective leaves (modules) to more profitable ones, which makes leaf lifespan possible to predetermine. Is a similar scenario also true for colonial marine invertebrates? In that case, can we predict at what time a particular zooid in a colony will die based on simple life history and environmental cues?

To answer these questions, I am estimating the isolated life history traits of the colonial marine bryozoan Watersipora subtorquata during laboratory trials, as well as monitoring the life spans of zooids planted in the field manipulated to various environments.

Hayley Cameron (PhD candidate)

Broadly, I am interested in the evolution of life-history strategies in marine invertebrates and seaweeds.

In particular, I am interested in the links between maternal phenotype, offspring size and offspring fitness.

The primary aim of my PhD research program is to investigate correlations between maternal size and offspring size, focusing on two specific questions:

  1. Why larger mothers might produce larger offspring
  2. Whether larger mothers produce higher quality offspring

Colin Olito (PhD candidate)

ColinThumbnail600x600pxI study the metabolic costs of reproduction and the evolution of spawning strategies in externally fertilizing marine invertebrates with an emphasis on the the challenges associated with sperm dispersal in the sea.

Evatt Chirgwin (PhD candidate)

EvattChirgwin600x600pxI am  interested in how natural populations adapt to environmental change.

My PhD intends to investigate how marine invertebrate populations may respond to the predicted effects of future climate change through adaptive evolution and phenotypic plasticity.

Lukas Schuster (PhD candidate)

lukasschuster600x600My main interests are the evolution and ecology of physiological traits in marine invertebrates. In particular, I am focusing on the resting metabolism of the arborescent marine bryozoan Bugula neritina.

It is well known that different species differ in their metabolic rate, but this variation in metabolism has also been repeatedly reported for individuals within the same species. The primary aim of my PhD research program is to investigate the eco-evolutionary consequences of such an intra-specific variation in metabolic rate, focusing on two specific questions:

  1. How does selection act on resting metabolic rate in different environments?
  2. How do intra-specific differences in resting metabolic rate affect population dynamics?

James Matcott (PhD candidate)

I am interested in how various differences over the course of an organism’s life have subsequent physical, behavioural, and ecological effects, when compared with other organisms.

Subtle differences during development can have lasting impacts on adults, thereby affecting the populations that adults inhabit. Of these differences, my PhD explores how various life history modes affect adult mass-specific metabolic rates across a diversity of marine invertebrate species. I hope to determine whether or not there is a lasting metabolic cost or benefit associated with particular developmental modes.

Alex Gangur

I am broadly interested in how natural populations and communities respond to change using both experimental and modelling approaches, and extracting actionable insights from this work for policy.

Harpacticoid copepods play an important role in the food webs of many semiaquatic, freshwater, and marine habitats. The Harpacticoid copepod Tisbe sp. is also used as high quality live feed in the aquaculture industry. In my PhD, I will be experimentally evolving Tisbe sp. to evaluate the eco-evolutionary response to food-rich and food-poor environments. I will couple this experimental work with integral projection models (IPMs) to predict future population dynamics.

Lucy Chapman (Research Assistant)

I am primarily interested in invasion ecology and how natural populations are able to adapt, both behaviourally and morphologically to species introduction.

For my honours, I assessed the southern commercial scallop Pecten fumatus within Port Phillip Bay to determine whether the population had successfully adapted to the newly established predator, the invasive Northern Pacific sea star Asterias amurensis.

I am currently assisting with a diverse range of projects with the Marine Evolutionary Ecology Group including field and laboratory studies, and data bank collaborations.

Belinda Comerford (Research Assistant)

I am interested in exploring community dynamics.

My honours project focused on quantifying the degree of niche overlap occurring between sessile marine invertebrates by investigating their consumption rates of different sized phytoplankton.

Within the Marine Evolutionary Ecology Group, I am currently working on two main projects. The first examines the eco-evolutionary consequences of evolutionary shifts in body size, while the second focuses on the correlation between egg size and survival.