The broad aim of our research is to understand the ecology & evolution of interactions between plants and animals in the Australian biota. We span a broad range of disciplines, from physiology and analytical chemistry to molecular and quantitative genetics, from the individual to the landscape scale.
Our work has four broad themes:
Genetics and evolution of defence chemical variation (click here for further info)
A major focus of our current research is the genetic basis of the evolution of chemical defence variation in the Myrtaceae family. We have taken a multidisciplinary approach, including traditional quantitative genetics, marker-based studies in natural populations, QTL mapping and molecular genetics. Current projects include association mapping of terpene and FPC variation in E. globulus and investigating the molecular genetic basis of terpene chemotypes in Melaleuca alternifolia and E. loxophleba.
- Genetic basis of quantitative and qualitative variation in terpenes
- Evolution of genes controlling defence chemical variation
- Biosynthesis of FPCs
- Landscape genetics of leaf chemical traits
- Keszei, A, Brubaker, CL, Köllner, T, Degenhardt, J and Foley WJ (2010) Functional and evolutionary relationships between terpene synthases from Australian Myrtaceae. Phytochemistry 71:844–852
- Külheim C, Yeoh SH, Maintz J Foley WJ Moran GF (2009) Comparative SNP diversity among four Eucalyptus species for genes from secondary metabolite biosynthetic pathways. BMC Genomics 10:452
- Keszei A, Brubaker C Foley WJ (2008) A molecular perspective on terpene formation in Australian Myrtaceae. Australian Journal of Botany 56:197-213
- Henery ML, Moran GF, Foley WJ (2007) Identification of quantitative trait loci influencing foliar concentrations of terpenes and formylated phloroglucinol compounds in Eucalyptus nitens. New Phytologist 176:82-95
- Andrew RL, Peakall R, Wallis IR, Wood JT, Knight EJ, Foley WJ (2005) Can marker-based quantitative genetics in the wild be successful? Heritability and genetic correlation of chemical defences in Eucalyptus. Genetics 171:1989-1998.
Role of poisonous plants in the foraging ecology of marsupials (click here for further info)
We have identified a suite of foliar chemical traits in Eucalyptus that influence herbivory by marsupials, including formylated phloroglucinol compounds (FPCs). Strong progress has been made in understanding the interactions between antifeedant and beneficial chemical components and elucidating the physiological mechanisms in the herbivores that are responsible for their feeding behaviour. Scaling up from captive feeding studies to population and landscape scales has been one of our primary goals.
- Landscape studies of plant-herbivore interactions
- Physiological signals guiding diet selection in marsupials
- Metabolomic studies and bioassay-guided fractionation to identify antifeedant chemicals
- Development of improved methods for assaying the nutritional quality of browse for mammalian herbivores.
- DeGabriel JL, Moore BD, Foley WJ, Johnson CN (2008) The effects of plant defensive chemistry on nutrient availability predict reproductive success in a mammal. Ecology 90:711–719
- Moore BD, Foley WJ (2005) Tree use by koalas in a chemically complex landscape. Nature 435:488-490
- Moore BD, Foley WJ, Wallis IR, Cowling A, Handasyde KA (2005) Eucalyptus foliar chemistry explains selective feeding by koalas. Biology Letters 1:64-67.
- Scrivener NJ, Johnson CN, Wallis IR, Takasaki M, Foley WJ, Krockenberger AK (2003) Which trees do wild common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula ) prefer? Problems and solutions in scaling laboratory findings to diet selection in the field. Evolutionary Ecology Research 6:77-87
How do animals learn about poisonous plants? (click here for further information (coming)
Most of the plants that browsing herbivores eat contain potentially poisonous or noxious compounds. This need not be a problem if animals can recognize impending toxicosis and change their feeding behaviour. To do so they need to monitor the consequences of the meal continuously and then to be able to translate this feedback into changes in feeding behaviour. We have a long interest with Professor Stuart McLean (University of Tasmania) in the nature and consequences of differnet feedback signals and how these shape animal feeding.
- General signals of toxicosis
- Limitations to detoxification
- Metabolism of plant secondary compounds
- Evolution of bitter sensitivity
- Edwards M, Wallis IR, Foley WJ (2010) Acid loads induced by the detoxification of plant secondary metabolites do not limit feeding by common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) Journal of Comparative Physiology B 180:247–257 [pdf]
- Marsh KJ, Wallis, IR, Foley, WJ (2007) Behavioural contributions to the regulated intake of plant secondary metabolites in koalas. Oecologia 154:283-290
- Marsh KJ, Wallis IR, McLean S, Sorensen JS, Foley WJ (2006) Conflicting demands on detoxification pathways influence how common brushtail possums choose their diets. Ecology 87:2103-2112.
- Marsh KJ, Wallis IR, Foley WJ (2005) Detoxification rates constrain feeding in common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Ecology 86:2946-2954.
- Marsh KJ, Wallis IR, Andrew RL, Foley WJ (2006) The detoxification limitation hypothesis: Where did it come from and where is it going? Journal of Chemical Ecology 32: 1247-1266
Pest resistance and sustainable plantation management of eucalypts
Insect pests represent an important cost to eucalypt forestry. Our work aims asses the potential for breeding resistant trees in order to reduce impact of pests on the viability of plantations in a farm forestry context. The first steps are identifying the chemical traits involved and studying their heritability and genetic correlations with other beneficial traits.
- Evaluation of the potential of foliar sideroxylonal as a valuable product from environmental plants of E. loxophleba in Western Australia.
- Insect resistance of clonal eucalypts
- Henery, ML, Henson, M, Wallis IR, Stone C, Foley WJ (2008) Predicting canopy defoliation of Eucalyptus grandis by Paropsis atomaria with direct and indirect measures of leaf composition. Forest Ecology and Management 255:3642-3651
- Henery, ML, Wallis IR, Stone C, Foley WJ (2008) Methyl jasmonate does not induce changes in Eucalyptus grandis leaves that alter the effect of constitutive defnces on larvae of a specialist herbivore. Oecologia 156: 847-859
- Andrew RL, Wallis IR, Harwood CE, Henson M, Foley WJ (2007) Heritable variation in the foliar secondary metabolite sideroxylonal confers cross-resistance in Eucalyptus. Oecologia 153:901-911
We have a range of other research interests some of which are historical and others as a result of projects by students in the lab. The most current of these include:
- Nutrition of free-living primates
- Felton AM, Felton A, Wood JT, Foley WJ, Raubenheimer D, Wallis IR, Lindenmayer DB (2009) Nutritional ecology of spider monkeys (Ateles chamek) in lowland Bolivia: How macro-nutrient balancing influences food choices. International Journal of Primatology 30: 675-696
- Felton AM, Felton A, Raubenheimer D, Simpson S, Foley WJ, Wood J, Wallis IR, Lindenmayer DB (2009) The protein content of food items dictates the total energy intake of a free-ranging primate. Behavioural Ecology 20:685-690
- Felton AM, Felton A, Lindenmayer DB, Foley WJ (2009) Nutritional goals of wild primates. Functional Ecology 23:70-78
- Remote sensing of Eucalyptus canopy chemistry
- Huang Z, Xuping J, Dury SJ, Turner BJ, Wallis IR, Foley WJ (2007) Estimating nitrogen in eucalypt foliage by automatically extracting tree spectra from HyMap(TM) data. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 73:397- 402
- Huang Z, Turner BJ, Dury SJ, Wallis IR, Foley WJ (2004) Estimating foliage nitrogen concentration from HYMAP data using continuum removal analysis. Remote Sensing of the Environment 93:18-29
- Ebbers MJ, Wallis IR, Dury S, Floyd R, Foley WJ (2002) Spectrometric prediction of secondary metabolites and nitrogen in fresh Eucalyptus foliage: Towards remote sensing of the nutritional quality of foliage for leaf-eating marsupials. Australian Journal of Botany 50:761-768
- Nutrition of dugongs and sea turtles