Featured Researcher

Dr James Bickerstaff

PhD, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, 2021

MRes, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, 2017

Grad Dip Conservation Biology Macquarie University, 2015

BSc (Biology) Macquarie University, 2014

Current position

CERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian National Insect Collection, CSIRO Australia, 2021

Research interests

Genomics, molecular ecology, symbiosis, evolutionary biology, systematics, Scolytinae, Platypodinae.

From a young age I’ve always been interested in the natural world, having grown up in the beauty of the forests of the Blue Mountain surrounding Sydney, Australia. As a child I began with a keen interest in geology which evolved into marine biology, followed by a detour into astrophysics. However, it was in my undergraduate Bachelor of Science where I fell in love with entomology. 

Somewhat serendipitously during my graduate diploma studies I met Dr Shannon Smith, from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) Western Sydney University, who at the time was working on the ecology of the eusocial ambrosia beetle, Austroplatypus incompertus. She was interested in mentoring a student to develop an identification key and molecular diagnostic resources for the Australian Platypodinae. So, I jumped at the opportunity to pursue my MRes and to develop a strong framework in taxonomic and systematic research in weevils. From here my attention has been solely focussed on the bark and ambrosia beetle fauna. 

I continued my PhD at the HIE, however, with a focus on molecular and evolutionary ecology, and microbial symbioses. My thesis is titled “The phylogoegraphy and microbial ecology of Australian ambrosia beetle taxa (Curculionidae: Platypodinae and Scolytinae)” and is composed of three chapters. The first chapter examined the population genomics and taxonomy of the world’s only eusocial beetle, Austroplatypus incompertus. The second chapter investigated the microbiome of two species of Platypodinae, Platypus omnivorus and Treptoplatypus crenatus, spanning a distance of over 2,200 km across eastern Australia. My last chapter explored the phylogeogrpahy of two Scolytinae species, Cnestus solidus and Cnestus pseudosolidus, their Ambrosiella ambrosia fungal symbionts, interactions with Wolbachia, and the population genetics throughout their range.

I am currently employed as a CERC Postdoc at the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC), CSIRO. My unwavering focus on Scolytinae and Platypodinae has not yet waned, and I am currently working on comparative genomics of invasive and native bark and ambrosia beetles. Throughout this project I have been working on high quality reference genome assemblies for economically important species using third generation sequencing technologies, and draft assemblies with previous generation sequencing technologies. Working on this project within ANIC has allowed me to explore the fantastic diversity of the Scolytinae and Platypodinae, from both a morphological and genomic perspective, and has only increased my fervour to continue working on these subfamilies. While they may be small brown beetles, the wide variation in ecological and life history strategies these species employ endlessly fascinate me. The diversity of these beetles, and their symbionts, make them a magnificent group to study, and having the opportunity to work on these beetles for the better part of a decade has been an honour.

Last updated October 11, 2023