Current members

IMG_1433Greg Holwell

Associate Professor – Email University webpage

I am a naturalist, zoologist and behavioural ecologist in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I focus my research on terrestrial invertebrates and I am continually astounded by the diversity in their morphology and behaviour. In New Zealand, we are fortunate to have some of the most remarkable arthropods in our backyards and the Holwell lab has explored much of this beautiful country, along with Australia and South-East Asia searching for exciting research topics. Currently, we have a major focus on understanding the evolution of diverse and exaggerated weaponry in harvestmen, spiders and weta along with exploring the evolution of genitalia and the dynamics of scramble competition in arthropods. Another focus is camouflage, investigating the extraordinary adaptations insects and spiders have for concealing themselves from predators and prey. We also enjoy a longstanding collaboration with Plant & Food Research NZ where a number of our shared postgraduate students are based working on insect biological control agents.

Nathan Burke

Postdoctoral Research Fellow – Email Nathan_in_Goblin_Forest_Mt_Taranaki_2020

I am a postdoctoral research fellow in Greg Holwell’s lab at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. My research investigates why costly sexual reproduction is so common in the animal kingdom. I am particularly interested in understanding how interactions between the sexes—involving, for example, mate rejection, sexual conflict, and mate scarcity—contribute to the maintenance of sex.

To test these ideas empirically, I mostly work on facultative parthenogens—species that engage in both sexual and asexual reproduction— including the charismatic Australian spiny leaf stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum), the Hurricane Larry stick insect (Sipyloidea larryi), and the Peppermint stick insect (Megacrania batesii). I also use individual-based models to generate new theory. More recently, I have been interested in the relationship between sexual cannibalism and parthenogenesis in the facultatively parthenogenetic Springbok mantis (Miomantis caffra), a recent arrival to New Zealand and one of the most cannibalistic species in the world. My current interests also include transgenerational plasticity and the role that sexual conflict plays in generating the enormous diversity of such effects in nature.

Rebecca Le Gricep1030883

PhD candidate.


I have a broad interest in behaviour, ecology, and evolution and enjoy exploring and learning about the natural world and all of its quirks.

My PhD research is focused on developing an understanding of the behavioural ecology of seaweed flies here in New Zealand. My research covers aspects of both their ecology and behaviour, most specifically their (fascinating!) mating behaviour. Seaweed flies display extreme sexual conflict and convenience polyandry, behaviours which have been widely investigated in Northern hemisphere species, however little is known about our far-flung NZ species and how they might fit in. Running alongside this I am taking a broader approach and investigating the ecology and inter- and intraspecific relationships of these seaweed flies and the wrack community they inhabit throughout NZ.

Previously I worked with a wild population of New Zealand giraffe weevil for my Masters project, supervised by Dr Greg Holwell and Dr Chrissie Painting. In this project I investigated the fighting behaviour between males and with a focus on competitive assessment strategies, and ran a mark-recapture study exploring the lifetime mating success of this species in relation to their extreme size dimorphism and alternative reproductive tactics.

ButterflyBeeCassandra Mark

PhD candidateEmail 

I am currently at the beginning of my PhD working on camouflage and masquerade in the Lichen moth Declana postvittana, whose larvae look like bird droppings and adults look like lichen. Previously I worked as a research assistant investigating antennae  of praying mantis species, utilising scanning electron microscopy

My interest in SEM characterisation and insect sensory architecture was piqued during my MSc project in which I studied the relationship between the antennal morphology and the use of olfaction in host and mate location in the New Zealand Magpie Moth, Nyctemera annulata. Under the supervision of Dr Greg Holwell and Dr Stuart Parsons I was given the opportunity to develop my skills on the SEM and further apply these to examine a range of different insect species. I plan to continue my studies as a PhD student in the Holwell Lab at some point in the near future.

Tom SaundersPhD candidate Website | Twitter

Tom-SaundersI’m interested in the behaviour, taxonomy, and human uses of insects, particularly parasitoid wasps.

My PhD project, co-supervised by Dr Gonzalo Avila at Plant & Food Research, is part of the B3 collaboration between New Zealand’s top research organisations and MPI. The primary focus of my research is to improve the way that biological control agents are screened before release. Classical biological control makes a massive contribution to pest management, but we need to understand the risks of non-target impacts before releasing biocontrol agents. In New Zealand, the Environmental Protection Authority decides whether or not to release new organisms, against a legislative backdrop that emphasises the preservation of New Zealand’s unique taonga.

My project aims to test the suitability of releasing the samurai wasp, Trissolcus japonicus, against the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys. This pre-emptive approach aims to find a reliable biocontrol agent before BMSB establishes in New Zealand, potentially causing massive damage to our primary industries and effecting the livelihoods of many New Zealanders.

parrotchickenNeil Birrell

PhD candidate – Email

I am currently working towards a PhD in the Holwell lab. We are looking at various aspects of Hermetia illucens, which is also known as the black soldier fly. I am slightly ecclectic in my interests, which include invertebrates, biotechnology, geography, aquaculture, commercialisation of science and entomophagy. I am currently pursuing a venture which would use insects to convert organic waste into a sustainable source of insect protein and lipids for use as an agricultural feedstock.

Morgane Merien

PhD Candidate – Website img_0948| EmailTwitter

I completed my Bachelor of Science at the University of Auckland in 2016, majoring in biological sciences and biological anthropology. Then in 2017, I completed my BSc Honours degree under the supervision of A/P Dr Greg Holwell, looking at facultative parthenogenesis in the New Zealand common stick insect, Clitarchus hookeri. During this project, I noticed that many of stick insects species display a range of colours, from bright green to tan, right down to dark brown. From there my PhD was born. I started in 2018 and am supervised by A/P Dr Greg Holwell (stick to what works best right?) and A/P Dr Thomas Buckley.

My PhD research pretty much boils down to one big question: “Why and how such arrays of colour?” The appearance of an animal plays an important part in its reproduction and survival. Camouflage has a long and illustrious history within scientific academia and many examples of cryptically coloured organisms have been used as models to test several evolutionary theories. Phasmids display some of the most obvious types of camouflage and are widely known for these adaptations (the name kinda gives it away, right?). Furthermore, many camouflaged organisms display colour polymorphism between individuals in a population, and at different life stages. Camouflage and colour polymorphism has been observed in many species of New Zealand phasmids. However, very little research has been conducted on them. I’m aiming to look at how and why this variation in colour is produced, and how this influences their camouflage, and hence their interaction with the environment (or vice-versa), and ultimately their survival.


Inoka Suwandharathne

PhD Candidate – EmailPic2

My research focuses on biological control of pests. There is a growing concern on how climatic change will affect biological pest control in the future. I intend to assess the efficacy and likelihood of changes in classical biological control system under future climate change scenarios with special reference to the high/extreme temperatures and unexpected heat waves that are predicted to occur more frequently in the future.  For this study, I will use the invasive pest, Tomato potato psyllid, Bactericera cockerelli and its introduced parasitoids Tamarixia triozae as a model biocontrol system in New Zealand. I expect to determine the temperature dependence of development traits and the rate of parasitism of T. triozae under elevated temperatures and simulated heatwaves. Evaluation of behavioural changes of parasitoids in response to higher temperature is also part of this study. Finally, a climatic model will determine the potential geographic distribution for T. triozae. This PhD project is supervised by Associate Professor Greg Holwell at the University of Auckland and co-supervised by Dr Gonzalo Avila at the Plant & Food Research, New Zealand.

I completed my BSc in Agriculture (2004) from the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka and MPhil in Entomology (2014) from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. I am a research scientist in the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka and have worked on integrated pest management, biological control, insect ecology, plant-insect interactions, and insect pheromones. Disseminating knowledge and helping stakeholders to manage insect pests using eco-friendly methods are the most enjoyable part of my job. I would love to continue my research on climate-smart pest management with given emphasis to eco-friendly strategies in future.