Current members

IMG_1433Greg Holwell

Associate Professor – Email University webpage

I am a naturalist, zoologist and behavioural ecologist based in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I focus my research attention 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. I do not endorse the feeding of wild birds…….except regent bowerbirds……they’re smart, they know the risks.

daveDave Seldon

BSc – MSc – Dip. Grad. Teaching – PhD candidate.


My PhD research focuses on the iconic endemic New Zealand Carabidae genus Mecodema Blanchard 1853. This genus is highly diverse and widely distributed throughout New Zealand, including the Three Kings Islands, Poor Knights Islands, Chatham and Snares Islands. Most of the described species are found in the South Island, and only 25 are known from the North Island.

Currently, I am concentrating on the North Island, describing new species and redescribing existing species. This will result in all species being placed into a modern taxonomic framework (see Seldon & Leschen 2011) and provide a comprehensive key for North Island Mecodema.

I am also interested in the broader biogeography of the tribe Broscini, especially in context of the genera of the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore apart from the morphological taxonomy, my PhD will also include a genetic analysis of broscine genera from Australia, New Caledonia, South America and New Zealand. I am interested in testing hypotheses relating to dispersal of the Gondwanan elements of the tribe as proposed by Roig-Junent (2000) and more recently Liebherr et al. (2011).

My other interests include terrestrial insect/spider conservation and ecology, and a passion for New Zealand forest ecology. I am a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, a member of the New Zealand Entomological Society, and a member of the Coleopterist’s Society (US). I serve as a member of the Science Advisory Team for the Hauturu Trust, and am a member of the Department of Conservation Threatened Coleoptera Advisory Committee.


Erin Powell

PhD candidate

Email | Website | Twitter

I’m working on a Marsden funded PhD project looking at the evolution of exaggerated male weaponry in harvestmen (Opiliones). At least one species of NZ harvestmen maintains three weapon morphs, a rare occurrence among animal taxa. I am particularly focused on the behavioral ecology of this group, including the fighting styles of the different weapon morphs, alternative reproductive strategies, and the tradeoffs associated with each morph.

Prior to coming to New Zealand, I completed my MSc at the University of Florida with Dr. Lisa Taylor where I worked on two major projects. The first examined individual foraging specialization within a population of the mud dauber wasp, Sceliphron caementarium. Females build mud cells and provision their offspring with spider prey (between 5 and 25 spiders provisioned per one egg). I found that despite having access to the same resources, females chose different taxa and sizes of spider prey. Furthermore, specialist and generalist individuals coexisted within the population, with some females provisioning offspring with a single species of spider while others took spiders from up to 6 families.

A second set of projects looked at jumping spiders and their interactions with aposematic prey. A small proportion of regal jumping spider, Phidippus regius, individuals will consume chemically-defended milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). This behavior was not explained by factors such as size, sex, body condition, or experience. We also examined differences in red aversion between wild populations of Habronattus brunneus using choice experiments with novel, artificially-colored prey.

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.

Kathleen Collier

PhD Candidate – Email

I’m currently investigating social interaction and courtship behaviour in the New Zealand short-tailed bat, Mystacina tuberculata, under the joint supervision of Dr Greg Holwell, Dr Stuart Parsons (Queensland University of Technology), and Dr Cory Toth (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute). Mystacina have an unusual breeding system known as an ‘exploded lek’, which is used by various birds, but has only ever been reported in one other bat species. In the summer breeding season, males form loose aggregations where they display to females by singing and scent marking. I am interested in finding out which characteristics of male courtship behaviour are attractive to females and what techniques they use to increase their mating success. I’m also interested in the degree of social connectivity between individuals in the population and the extent to which Mystacina may maintain long-term relationships.

In 2015, I was lucky enough to spend a year in Bruneian Borneo, where I had the opportunity to work in some stunning old-growth rainforest and catch lots of amazing tropical bats. Prior to starting my PhD, I completed an Honours project (also at UoA) in which I used maximum entropy modelling to investigate the distribution patterns of European bats.

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 adtuls 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.