Dr. Andrew Thornhill

Dr. Andrew Thornhill

ATH Associate Researcher

PhD, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Masters, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia




My research is in the fields of plant systematics, evolution and phylogenetics, but I also have experience in biogeography, palynology and palaeobotany. My current work involves building large-scale relationship phylogenies using DNA and combining these trees with an array of other data to answer various biological questions. My main research projects are:

Origins of the Wet Tropics flora - a molecular perspective

We are gap-filling published molecular phylogenies with missing Australian taxa, dating these phylogenies, and using them to generate general explanations about tempo and direction of evolution of the tropical rainforest flora. Principal questions are: what elements of the extant rainforest flora are derived from Gondwanan stock (relictual taxa) that have differentiated in situ, what are the invasive elements, and where (and when) have they come from?

Creating a phylogenetic heat map of Australia's flora: A new way to protect biodiversity

Australia has 3500 genera and 30000 native plant species of which around 85% are endemic. A changing environment and the demand for resources will continue to increase with a growing population and knowing where to protect land will become more important. This project aims to advance our knowledge of the genetic spatial distribution of Australia's flora to improve conservation planning. A genus level phylogenetic tree of Australia's flora has been constructed using multiple DNA genes. The spatial information of four million specimen records has been combined to define areas of Australia with the greatest amount of genetic diversity that should be conserved for the future.

Australian Animal/Plant co-speciation

It has been assumed that in an attempt to stay ahead of their host or pest that there has been an evolutionary arms-race between animals and plants with plants evolving defences against folivores and animals adapting to these defences or colonising new hosts in response. If this is true then closely related animals would be more likely to occur or feed on plants that are closely related to each other. The advent of molecular phylogenetic analyses has enabled us to further explore these hypotheses at a whole.

Selected Publications

Thornhill AH, Popple LW, Carter RJ, Ho SYW, Crisp MD (2012) Are pollen fossils useful for calibrating relaxed molecular clock dating of phylogenies? A comparative study using Myrtaceae. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 63, 15-27.

Crisp MD, Burrows GE, Cook LG, Thornhill AH, Bowman DMJS (2011) Flammable biomes dominated by eucalypts originated at the Cretaceous-Palaeogene boundary. Nature Communications 2, 1-8.

Thornhill AH, Macphail M (2012) Fossil myrtaceous pollen as evidence for the evolutionary history of the Myrtaceae: A review of fossil Myrtaceidites species. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 176-177, 1-23.

González-Orozco CE , Thornhill AH, N Knerr N, Laffan S, Miller JT (2014) Biogeographical regions and phytogeography of the eucalypts. Diversity and Distributions 20 (1), 46-58

Gonzalez-Orozco CE , Ebach MC, Laffan S, Thornhill AH, Knerr NJ, Schmidt-Lebuhn AN, Cargil CC, Clements M, Nagalingum NS, Mishler BD, Miller JT (2014) Quantifying Phytogeographical Regions of Australia Using Geospatial Turnover in Species Composition. PloS one. 9 (3), e92558

Mishler BD, Knerr N, González-Orozco CE, Thornhill AH, Laffan S, and Miller JT (accepted) Phylogenetic Measures of Biodiversity and Neo- and Paleo-Endemism. Nature Communications

Full publication list