My research falls into three main areas: molecular biology, systematics, and biogeography. Research projects often involve a combination of these areas to investigate morphological change, speciation and macroevolutionary patterns. For published outcomes from projects and collaborations, see full list of publications.

Key projects

Developing advanced diagnostic tools for QX disease in oyster aquaculture

In collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) we are developing advanced diagnostic tools for QX disease in oyster aquaculture, including a reliable qPCR-based assay for the parasite Marteilia sydneyi and a field-friendly point-of-care solution. These tools will enhance our understanding of the parasite and improve disease management, contributing towards sustainable oyster aquaculture and industry.

Using genomics to unravel the increasing aggressiveness of Ascochyta blight disease in chickpea

Ascochyta Blight caused by Ascochyta rabiei is a major biotic threat to chickpea (Cicer arietinum) worldwide and it incurs substantial costs to the Australian multimillion-dollar chickpea industry in disease control expenses and in yield losses. We are integrating advanced molecular biology tools to uncover the genetic factors driving aggressiveness, with the aim of developing molecular tools to rapidly determine an isolate’s potential to cause disease and improve breeding efforts for chickpea growers.

Drivers of colour variation in jellyfish

Colour can play an important role in an organism’s survival, providing camouflage and photoprotection, and influencing sexual selection and social interactions. The goal of this project was to investigate the endogenous and exogenous drivers of colour variation in the blubber jellyfish Catostylus mosaicus. One of the project’s results has been published, while others are in preparation.

Lawley JW et al. 2021. Rhizostomins: A Novel Pigment Family From Rhizostome Jellyfish (Cnidaria, Scyphozoa). Frontiers in Marine Science
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Systematics of the moon jellyfish genus Aurelia

Since the 19th century, taxonomists have puzzled on how to identify moon jellyfish species. In this project, morphological and molecular data were analysed from a wide range of specimens to delimit and describe the cryptic species in the genus.

Lawley JW et al. 2021. The importance of molecular characters when morphological variability hinders diagnosability: systematics of the moon jellyfish genus Aurelia (Cnidaria: Scyphozoa). PeerJ
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Phylogeography of the box jellyfish Alatina alata

Alatina jellyfish are notorious for their sting along beaches where they occur, but it was unclear whether they were distinct or a single species with worldwide distribution. A phylogeographic analyses was reported in this project, which corroborated morphological and behavioural evidence to indicate the presence of a single, pantropically distributed species.

Lawley JW et al. 2016. Box jellyfish Alatina alata has a circumtropical distribution. Biological Bulletin