Anna Santure is a Senior Lecturer in Genetics in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. Anna completed a BSc (Honours) in Genetics and Mathematics and a PhD in Genetics at the University of Otago, Dunedin, with Prof Hamish Spencer. In 2006 she moved to London to start a postdoctoral position with Dr Jinliang Wang at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London. She did a second postdoc in the Molecular Ecology Lab at the University of Sheffield with Prof Jon Slate.

Anna is interested in the genetic basis of quantitative traits, such as body size, which are usually influenced by many genes as well as environmental influences. Most of the traits linked to survival and reproduction, and hence the overall fitness of individuals in a population, are complex and quantitative. Gaining an understanding of the genetic basis of these important traits in wild populations allows us to explore ‘evolution in action’ by taking into account complex, multivariate, real world scenarios to help explain and predict the adaptive potential of populations.


Postdoctoral fellow


Alexis Rutschmann is a Research Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences interested in the transmission of extra-genetic elements from parents to their progeny. He is also very interested in studying different environmental characteristics that can shape the evolution of phenotypic plasticity.

He completed his BSc in Biology, Physiology and ecology in Strasbourg (Université de Strasbourg, France) and Montreal (Université de Montréal, Canada). During his Masters degree (Université de Montpellier, France) and under the supervision of Dr Isabelle Chuine and Dr Anne Duputié, he studied the adaptive potential of phenotypic plasticity under different climate change scenarios, using a process-based species distribution model. Then, he performed his PhD in the Station d’ Ecologie Théorique et Expérimentale (Moulis, France) under the supervision of Dr Jean Clobert, Dr Murielle Richard and Prof Don Miles. His work was mainly focused on the environmental determinants that shape plastic responses and life history trade-offs in the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara).

He is now working on the influence of both genetic and spatial relationships between individuals on the heritability of life-history traits. He attempts to use the pedigree developed by the team to modify existing quantitative genetic models by allowing them to take into account for genetic, social and spatial relationships between hihi (Notiomystis cincta) on Tiritiri Matangi island and Zealandia Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.


Postgraduate students


Kate D. Lee is a bioinformatician with a background in laboratory genetics. She completed both a BSc in Plant Genetic Engineering and a Masters by Research in Plant Genetics in University College Dublin focusing mainly on plant sphingolipid research. She went on to study bioinformatics in Dublin City University, working in Dr Mary O’Connell’s molecular evolution lab ( There she carried out positive-selection analysis looking at genes for tissue development and their associated microRNAs. Kate has also worked as a research assistant in the Bioinformatics and Biostatistics Support Hub in Leicester, where she organised bioinformatics training for staff and students at the University and supported a wide variety of projects (

For her PhD, Kate is currently working on developing a genomic toolkit for the hihi (Notiomystis cincta), an endemic New Zealand forest-dwelling bird, which were last seen on the mainland in 1883. A hihi recovery program has been operating since the 1980’s, and the birds have been translocated to predator-free islands and fenced wildlife parks with increasing success. In particular the birds on Tiritiri Matangi island have been monitored through every breeding season since they were translocated there in 1995 and their pedigree has been established by a microsatellite genetics study. By looking at the genomic variation in the population we hope to predict the adaptive potential of the birds for future conservation work.

Kate is supervised by Dr Anna Santure, and co-supervised by Dr Patricia Brekke, Dr John Ewen and Assoc Prof Craig Millar.

Photo of me

Alex Knight is a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland. He received a BSc and MSc first class with Honours from the University of Canterbury. His Masters research investigated the population genetics of West African chimpanzees in Eastern Nigeria under the supervision of Dr Hazel Chapman and Dr Marie Hale. This project examined gene flow and sex biased dispersal in communities of chimpanzees inhabiting the region and included a population viability analysis of a small and potentially isolated community in a forest fragment.

For his PhD Alex is investigating the genetics, immunology and epidemiology of diseases inflicting the threatened hihi (Notiomystis cincta), with particular focus on the population on Tiritiri Matangi Island, near Auckland. The goal of the work is to identify the factors that increase transmission and prevalence of diseases and identify which individuals are more susceptible to disease related mortality.

Alex is supervised by Dr Anna Santure, Dr John Ewen, Dr Patricia Brekke and Assoc Prof Craig Millar.


Stephanie Galla is a PhD candidate at the University of Canterbury under the supervision of Dr Tammy Steeves (senior supervisor), Marie Hale (associate supervisor), and Anna Santure (associate supervisor). Before arriving to New Zealand, Stephanie earned her BSc degree in Wildlife Biology at Murray State University and her MSc degree at the University of North Texas, where she studied the phylogenetics of North American prairie grouse (Genus: Tympanuchus). Stephanie’s broad research interests include the application of genetic and genomic data to inform the management of critically-endangered species.

At the University of Canterbury, Stephanie is working on a PhD evaluating relatedness estimates in the critically-endangered kakī/black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) using pedigrees, microsatellites, and high-throughput sequencing techniques (i.e., genotyping-by-sequencing and low/high coverage genome sequencing). By evaluating these approaches, Stephanie hopes to better inform captive management efforts for kakī and other captive breeding programmes worldwide.


Priscila M Salloum is a PhD candidate at The University of Auckland, supervised by Dr Shane Lavery and co-supervised by Anna Santure and Pierre de Villemereuil. Priscila completed a Bachelors and Teaching Degree in Biological Sciences and a Masters Degree in Genetics and Evolution at the State University of Campinas (Brazil). In her Masters Degree, she was supervised by Professor Vera Solferini and studied factors affecting the genetic variability and population structure of marine invertebrates, with a project focused on the Brazilian smallest seashore winkles (Echinolittorina lineolata) and the genetic patterns exhibited by them in two neighbouring locations. Priscila is also interested in education, having worked as a biology and science teacher in two Brazilian secondary schools.

For her PhD, Priscila is assessing the connectivity and local adaptation of the chiton Onithochiton neglectus, a marine invertebrate that has reduced mobility and invests high amounts of energy in brooding their eggs. Priscila is trying to understand the role of neutral and adaptive factors in shaping their population structure across the New Zealand latitudinal gradient.


Phoebe Scherer completed her Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and Biological Anthropology at the University of Auckland. She is now an Honours candidate at the University of Auckland, working with the hihi (Notiomystis cincta). She is constructing a linkage map of the hihi genome, which will order genetic markers across the genome. Phoebe hopes to uncover insights into the recombination landscape of the hihi genome and detect differences in the recombination rates of males and females, which are predicted to have arisen due to the sexual conflict within the species.

Past group members


Pierre de Villemereuil was a Research Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences from 2016 – 2017 and is interested in the study of adaptive phenomenons on a micro-evolutionary scale in wild populations. To do so, he combines approaches from evolutionary ecology, quantitative genetics and population genomics.

He completed his B.Sc. in Biology and Masters in Evolutionary Ecology at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (France). In 2012, he started a Ph.D. in the University of Grenoble – Alpes (France) with Irène Till-Bottraud and Oscar Gaggiotti on the study of local adaptation in the Alpine plant Arabis alpina. During this Ph.D., he performed methodological developments as well as empirical studies (see more).

While in Auckland, Pierre was working on measuring the adaptive potential of the hihi, Notiomystis cincta, as well as the evolutionary constraints on this species, especially on the Tiritiri Matangi island population, by combining the pedigree and phenotypic data available over 20 years from the population.

photo portait

Agustín L. Santos – PhD student, completed 2018

Heterotaxy in Caenorhabditis elegans: Defects in embryo gut organogenesis underlie natural variation in hermaphrodite left/right organ arrangement

Supervised by Prof Joel Rothman (Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara) and co-supervised by Anna Santure

During his PhD, Agustín examined the molecular and genetic basis of, and evolutionary variation in, handedness reversal, using the model system Caenorhabditis elegans. He  described a novel phenotype of incomplete handedness reversal (i.e. partial or complete swap of gut and gonad arms to the opposite side than normal) in C. elegans hermaphrodites, including measuring the temperature sensitivity of reversal, the natural variation in rates of reversal between wild strains, variation in rates of reversal in a RIL (recombinant inbred lines) collection, and the impact of reversal on fertility and survival. He also established a correlation between a very early event, a defect in the twist of the intestinal primordium, and later handedness reversal in a collection of RILs, suggesting a mechanism for the establishment of handedness reversal. Finally, Agustin explored the genetic basis of variation in handedness reversal, using QTL mapping and GWAS on the RIL collection and on the wild strains.

Agustín is now an embryologist at the Oak Clinic, a fertility clinic in Osaka, Japan.

Edwardo Reynolds – Honours student in Bioinformatics, 2016
Investigation of an imprinting effect in the bovine genome while accounting for high levels of population structure in linear and mixed models
Co-supervised by Dr Matt Littlejohn, Livestock Improvement Corporation

Edwardo is now a PhD student at Massey University

Sian Glazier – Honours student in Biology, 2015
Acoustic ecology for seabird conservation: Common Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix) and Fluttering Shearwaters
Supervised by Dr Anne Gaskett and co-supervised by Anna Santure and Megan Friesen

Sian is now a PhD student at Murdoch University



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