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Theoretical Phylogenetics Group


Phylogenetics is concerned with the problem of reconstructing the past evolutionary history of extant organisms from present day molecular data such as DNA. There is ongoing interest in further development of the mathematics that underlies computational phylogenetic methods. Hidden from view, in the software packages used by biologists, are algorithms performing statistical inference using Markov models on binary trees. The mathematics involved represents a wonderful confluence of stochastic methods and probability theory (Markov chain models), discrete mathematics (combinatorics of tree space), statistical inference (maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods) and, more recently, methods taken from algebraic geometry and the representation theory of finite and infinite (Lie) groups. There are many important theoretical problems that arise, such as statistical identifiability of models, consistency and convergence of methods. These problems can only be solved using a multi-disciplinary approach.

Research Projects

  • Reconstructing the evolution of climatic tolerances in conifers (2016-2018: ARC Discovery, Jordan, Holland)
  • Algebraically informed models of biological sequence evolution (2015-2017: ARC Discovery, Holland, Sumner, Jarvis, Liberles)
  • Group theory and Phylogenetics: Using symmetry to uncover evolutionary history (2012-2015: ARC DECRA Fellowship, Sumner)
  • Developing new mathematical phylogenetic methods to model hybrid evolution (ARC Future Fellowship, Holland)
  • Mathematical modelling of microsatellite evolution (Human Frontier Science Programme, Lambert and Holland)
  • Markov invariants and phylogenetic tree reconstruction (2009-2011: ARC Discovery project, Sumner, Jarvis and Jarman)


We run a weekly seminar series on Mondays @1pm in room 328 of Maths and Physics. Anyone with phylogenetics interests - be they zoological, botanical, ecological or mathematical - is very welcome to attend. To get on the mailing list for seminar announcements email



Past Students

  • Jonathan Mitchell, PhD
  • Julia Shore, Hons
  • Tristan Stark, Hons
  • Bodie Kaine, Hons
  • Duncan Berry, Hons
  • John Hewson, Hons

Overseas Collaborators


  • Ruth Davidson, Oct-Dec 2017
  • Arndt von Haeseler, Oct-Dec 2017
  • David Liberles, 2016
  • Amelia Taylor, 2014
  • Tom Nye, Nov 2011
  • Sandra Meid, Nov-Feb 2010-11
  • Elizabeth Allman and John Rhodes, Nov-Dec 2010.
  • Josh Collins, July-Dec 2010.
  • Jesus Fernandez-Sanchez, Mar-Jul 2010.

For prospective students

Honours level lecture units on mathematical phylogenetics and bioinformatics are available. We also have plenty of ideas for thesis projects.
At MSc and PhD level, research projects are typically available in one of the current fields of interest. The phylogenetics group has a well-established international reputation and can offer supervision of interesting research programs in these subjects and in related areas of mathematical biology. Typically, students become conversant with the required groundwork in their first few months by informal study and by attending occasional lecture series offered by members of the group, before focussing fully on their own topic.
If you are interested in post-graduate study within the theoretical phylogenetics group, feel free to contact anyone in the group to discuss possibilities.

Posters and talks

SMBE 2016, Goldcoast (Michael Woodhams presenting)