Past members


Me and the nepenthes.jpgChrissie Painting

Research fellow WebsiteTwitter – Email

After her PhD in the Holwell lab and a Postdoc with Daiqin Li at National University of Singapore, Chrissie returned here for a Marsden funded postdoc on weapon evolution in New Zealand harvestmen (Opiliones). For this project we investigated why there is so much diversity in weapon size and shape among groups of closely related species. The harvestmen are a great group to investigate this problem as males have huge jaws that they use as weapons, and the shape and size of these jaws varies greatly both within and between species.

Chrissie now has a Faculty position at the University of Waikato and you can find out more about some amazing research opportunities to work with her here:


Jaimi GrayJaimi Gray

Research fellow Website Twitter 

Jaimi spent a short postdoc here in the Holwell lab using her geometric morphometric wizardry to reconstruct 3D models of heaps of neopilionid harvestmen as part of our Marsden-funded project aiming to understand the evolution and diversity of exaggerated weaponry in this fabulous group. She is now at Oklahoma State University working on neuroanatomy of seasnakes. Wow! You can find out more about Jaimi here

PhD students

12512265_10153604874174331_4361018593314035145_nLeilani Walker

PhD  – Website – Twitter – Email

For my PhD I am examining sexual selection in sheet-web spiders (Cambridgea) with a particular focus on weapon evolution. I will combine morphological, behavioural and phylogenetic analyses to answer questions about how male chelicerae vary within and between species and how they relate to individual success. In the course of the project I also hope to characterise behaviours associated with reproduction and competition.
Previously I completed and Honours project at the same university (The University of Auckland) studying sexual cannibalism in the facultatively parthenogenic mantis, Miomantis caffra.

Leilani is now a postdoc at AUT

camera setting croppedMurray Fea

PhD – Email
I am currently studying the ecology of New Zealand cave weta. I am interested in the evolution and ecology of terrestrial invertebrates, biosecurity and conservation biology. I began research by looking at the interactions between an invasive and native praying mantis for my MSc project supervised by Dr Greg Holwell and Dr Margaret Stanley. I acquired an interest in reproductive evolution while studying in the Holwell lab and decided to continue here with a doctoral project examining the role of sexual selection in producing extreme animal morphologies. My current work uses the fascinating New Zealand cave weta Pachyrhamma waitomoensis as a study organism. Murray now works as a biosecurity scientist with Auckland Council

daveDave Seldon

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


Dave’s PhD research focused 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. Dave revised the genus and described many new species from the North Island.


Erin Powell

PhD candidate

Email | Website | Twitter

Erin worked on a Marsden funded PhD project looking at the evolution of exaggerated male weaponry in harvestmen (Opiliones). Many NZ harvestmen maintain three weapon morphs, a rare occurrence among animal taxa. Erin focused on costs associated with the different weapon morphs of Forsteropsalis pureora

Kathleen Collier

PhD Candidate – Email

Kat investigated the social interactions and courtship behaviour of the New Zealand short-tailed bat, Mystacina tuberculata.  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.

DSC00084Gonzalo Avila – Email –  I am a Forest Entomologist with a particular interest in biological control of forestry and crop pests. I completed a BSc Hons in Forestry at University of Chile (2007) and an MSc in Biosecurity and Conservation at the University of Auckland (2012). I conducted my MSc research in the biological control program against the gum leaf skeletoniser (GLS) Uraba lugens which is a forestry pest causing serious damage to Eucalyptus species in New Zealand. I completed my PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland in early 2016, and my thesis examined the behavioural ecology and host-parasitoid interactions of the recently introduced parasitoid biocontrol agent Cotesia urabae.  My research interests revolve around biological control of insect pests and integrated management of economically important pests in agriculture and forestry. The location, release and evaluation of natural enemies for the control insect pests features strongly in my research.

I am now a Biological Control Specialist at Plant and Food Research Limited.


Shelley Myers – Shelley did her PhD with Greg & Thomas Buckley where she looked at population genetics, morphology and behaviour of Clitarchus stick insects. Her current research aims to understand species diversity and maintenance in changing environments. Currently she is a postdoctoral researcher at Clemson University. At Clemson Shelley is working on comparative phylogenetics of litter dwelling beetles in the Southern Appalachians. This project uses both next generation sequencing and traditional COI markers to compare population genetic diversity between old growth and secondary growth forests. Population genetics reveal patterns of survival and recolonization to help understand how species respond to anthropogenic environmental change.


Rebecca Bennik

For her PhD, Rebecca investigated genital evolution, sexual conflict and sexually antagonistic coevolution in two genera of New Zealand moths – Izatha and Glaucocharis.
She is currently working for Auckland council as a Pollution Investigator within the Resource Consent and Compliance department.



WebsiteJosephine McCambridge

Masters student – Email

I completed a Master of Science in 2017 looking at male contest behaviour and exaggerated weaponry of the endemic New Zealand sheetweb spider Cambridgea plagiata. My interests lie in sexual selection and mating systems, as well as the broader evolutionary questions of the traits produced, such as weapons and flashy ornaments. Although I am fascinated by studying these questions in all groups of animals, I enjoy exploring insects and arachnids due to their accessibility and often extreme nature in terms of mating systems and sexual selection.



Stacey Lamont

I completed my MSc in the Holwell Lab where I investigated the diversity and ecology of spider communities in native New Zealand forest fragments.  I have a broad interest in entomology and biosecurity, and I now work as a senior technician at the Ministry for Primary Industries



Maria SaavedraI am a Forest Entomologist with a particular interest in surveillance and detection of invasive forestry pests. I completed a BSc Hons in Forestry at University of Chile and an MSc in Biosecurity and Conservation at the University of Auckland, where I looked at the ecology of Thaumastocoris peregrinus, which is a recently established Eucalyptus pest in New Zealand.

Currently I am working at AsureQuality as a Forestry Assessor and also as the High Risk Site Surveillance (HRSS) programme coordinator working closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). The HRSS programme aims to detect new plant pests and diseases that pose a biosecurity risk or may impact on trees and shrubs.



Zac Wylde
I did my MSc with Greg Holwell looking a the community ecology, behaviour and biology of New Zealand carrion flies. I’m now doing my PhD with Russell Bondurianksy and Angela Crean at UNSW where I am examining the context-dependence of sexual selection. How does the physical and ecological environment affect life history traits such as aggressive and sexual behaviours, competitive fertilisation and the expression of pheromones? What can this tell us about the mechanics of sexual selection and how we perceive and gauge this dynamic process? I am looking at these questions and a number of others by conducting a number of laboratory experiments using the Neriid fly Telostylinus angusticollis (Diptera). This species has been developed in the Bonduriansky lab for the study of condition-dependent effects on life history traits. Currently I am examining a number of aspects of post-copulatory sexual selection and its possible links to male condition through a series of experiments that track competing sperm through the female reproductive tract and storage organs using confocal microscopy and microsatellite analysis.



Catalina Amaya-Perilla – Catalina’s masters looked at the behaviour of redcoast damelflies. She is now a telemetry consultant at Sirtrack Ltd.






Me insect


Anna Probert – Anna did her Honours project with Greg & Chrissie looking at the ecology and weapon variation in New Zealand harvestmen. Anna is now doing her PhD at UoA on assessing risk to native ecosystems using ants as a model system with Margaret Stanley, Darren Ward and Jacqueline Beggs.




Dan Townsend – Dan worked on sexual selection and allometry of New Zealand harvestmen for his honours project with Greg & Chrissie.