Professor William Foley
Evolution, Ecology & Genetics, RSB

Lab Website

  Research Interests  

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.

Current topics
  • 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

Selected publications:

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.

Current topics

  • 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.

Selected publications

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.

Current topics

  • General signals of toxicosis
  • Limitations to detoxification
  • Metabolism of plant secondary compounds
  • Evolution of bitter sensitivity

Selected publications

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.

Current topics

  • 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

Selected publications

Other interests
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: