Melissa Thomas  from Murdoch University in Perth Australia.

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    Associate Professor Melissa Thomas

    Biosecurity Scientist

    About me

    Melissa Thomas is a Biosecurity Scientist with the Harry Butler Institute at Murdoch University.  She leads projects that translate novel research findings into management solutions to reduce biosecurity risk from entering Australia, and to improve and automate detection of non-indigenous species already established in Australia.  Melissa works predominantly on terrestrial invertebrates, but also has a range of research projects that investigate new detection or repellent methodologies for vertebrates pests. Her projects are founded on strong links with industry

    Professional Experience

    2020-current: Biosecurity Research Scientist, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University – Translational research focused on biosecurity science and environmental science; Strong research partnerships with industry stakeholders; High quality technical advice to industry partners.

    2011-2020: Biosecurity Scientist, Gorgon Project, Chevron Australia – Engage with a network of scientists to develop innovative solutions to Biosecurity issues; Develop, manage and implement the outcomes of translational scientific research projects; Manage the non-indigenous species surveillance programs for terrestrial fauna and flora on Barrow Island; Provide scientific advice for the mitigation of non-indigenous species, including the development of Quarantine Response Plans and Species Action Plans; Liaise with multiple stakeholders to investigate biosecurity breaches and submit reports to government regulators; Submit funding applications and manage budgets for scientific research projects and surveillance programs.

    2017-2019: Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University – Provide linkage to industry; Engage and collaborate with a network of scientists; Provide expert advice to post-graduate student projects.

    2011-2016: Adjunct Research Fellow, School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia – Make a significant contribution to the research activities of the School; Publish manuscripts in high-impact national and international journals; Engage and collaborate with a network of scientists.

    2006-2011: Research Fellow, School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia – Investigate evolutionary divergence in introduced species; Test the predictions and assumptions of theoretical models of sexual selection and life history evolution.

    2005: Program Manager, Parks Australia North, Christmas Island – Manage the Yellow Crazy Ant control program, including the supervision of multiple field crews; Initiate, manage and implement research projects relating to the control of the Yellow Crazy Ant; Provide technical advice and recommendations relating to the Christmas Island fauna and flora as a member of the Christmas Island advisory committee.

    2002-2004: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Division of Biology, University of California, San Diego – Undertake research investigating the causes and consequences of ant invasions.

    2002: Research Assistant, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne – Animal husbandry of laboratory reared experimental animals (spiders); Provide assistance to researchers undertaking experiments.

    1998: Research Assistant, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne (6 months) (0.6 FTE) – Animal husbandry of laboratory reared experimental animals (spiders); Provide assistance to researchers undertaking experiments.

    1997: Volunteer Research Assistant, Frontier Expeditions, England (4 months) – Provide assistance in the collection and cataloguing of the fauna and flora found on the Sesse Islands, Lake Victoria, Uganda.

    1995-1996: Volunteer Research Assistant, Keith Turnbull Research Institute (NRE), Vertebrate Pest Group, Victoria – Provide assistance to researchers undertaking experiments pertaining to the control of feral cats and foxes.

    Research areas

    • Biosecurity – protecting Australia from introduced species
    • Development of innovative surveillance tools for detecting and deterring introduced species using artificial intelligence, molecular biology and chemistry
    • Evolution and Ecology of invertebrates

    Current projects

    • Invasion Alert – A machine learning based platform for invasive ant detection and recognition.
    • Development of a repellent for rodents, geckos and toads.
    • Development of a shipping container ethyl formate assurance tool.
    • To catch a cat – an automated platform to identify and trap feral cats.
    • Biosecurity Surveillance – surveillance program on Barrow Island for the detection of non-indigenous species.
    • Molecular and morphological identification of terrestrial invertebrates on Barrow Island, Western Australia

    Awards and grants


    2021-2023: Invasion Alert – A machine learning-based platform for invasive ant detection and recognition – Established Pest Animals and Weeds Management Pipeline Program – Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) – $791,882

    2021: Development of a repellent for vertebrate pests – Chevron Australia funded - $116,000

    2021: Development of a fumigation assurance tool for Ethyl Formate plus Nitrogen – Chevron Australia funded $110,509

    2021: Non-indigenous species surveillance on Barrow Island (Marine, vertebrate and invertebrate) – Chevron Australia funded – $1,045,115

    2020: Chemical analysis of a long-life lure for vertebrate pests – New Zealand Predator Free funding - $12,415.18

    2020: Marine infrastructure survey – Chevron Australia funded – $17,169

    2020: Introduced marine pests bioinformatics – Chevron Australia funded -$17,860

    2020: Determination of the jumping spider, Menemerus nigli, status in Australia – Chevron Australia funded – $7,583

    Team Awards

    2015: Australian Biosecurity Awards 2015 – Industry: This award recognizes organizations that have demonstrated a significant contribution to maintaining Australia’s biosecurity integrity. The Biosecurity team at Chevron won this award for our Quarantine Management System for Barrow Island.

    2014: Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) Award for Environmental Excellence – This award recognizes industry leadership in environmental management. The Biosecurity team at Chevron won this award for our operational excellence in evaluating environmental performance and seeking continuous improvement.

    2014: Gorgon Team Award – In recognition of teamwork to (1) develop a process for defining and amending weed hygiene zones and then (2) successfully implementing the procedure. This work required aligning Barrow Island stakeholders. Success of this program minimized costs and ensured a standard and transparent process for Chevron Australia.

    2012: United Nation’s Environment Day Award – This award recognizes businesses that have demonstrated excellence in overall environmental management. The Gorgon Quarantine team within Chevron won this award for the development and successful implementation of the Quarantine Management System for Barrow Island.

    Individual Awards

    2017: Individual Award - Harry Butler Champion Award – I won this award for my efforts managing the development of the first generation of two automated surveillance devices (EARS and PAWS) for use on Barrow Island and at Dampier. The new technology is an innovative way of improving the sensitivity and reliability of the non-indigenous species surveillance program in a cost-efficient manner.

    2012: Individual Award – Gorgon Award – In recognition of the outstanding contribution to the Gorgon Quarantine team, particularly my ‘tremendous’ efforts in the development of pest management and eradication strategies for Barrow Island.


    Doctoral and masters supervisions

    Ph.D. Students

    Yang Liu (2019-2021) (Co-supervisor) Robust cost-effective portfolio allocation of managing an invasive species: an application of info-gap theory


    Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

    38. Coetzee EM, Du X, Thomas ML, Ren Y, McKirdy SJ (2020) In-transit fumigation of shipping containers with ethyl formate + nitrogen on road and continued journey on sea. Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B, 55(9): 820-826 DOI: 10.1080/03601234.2020.1786328

    37. McKirdy SJ, O’Connor S, Thomas ML, Horton KL, Williams A, Hardie D, Coupland GT and van der Merwe J (2019) Biosecurity risks posed by a large sea-going passenger vessel: challenges of terrestrial arthropod species detection and eradication. Scientific reports 9: 19339  DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-55554-4

    36. Coetzee EM, Newman J, Coupland GT, YongLin R, Thomas ML, van der Merwe J, McKirdy SJ (2019) Commercial trials evaluating the novel use of ethyl formate for in-transit fumigation of shipping containers. J. Env. Sc. Health DOI: 10.1080/03601234.2019.1631101

    35. Thomas ML, Gunawardene N, Horton K, Williams A, O’Connor S, McKirdy S, van der Merwe J (2017) Many eyes on the ground: citizen science as an effective early detection tool for biosecurity. Biological Invasions DOI: 10.1007/s10530-017-1481-

    34. Scott JK, McKirdy SJ, van der Merwe J, Green R, Burbidge Au, Pickles G, Hardie D, Morris K, Kendrick P, Thomas ML, Horton KL, O’Connor SM, Downs J, Stoklosa R, Lagdon R, Marks B, Nairn M, Mengersen K (2017) Zero tolerance biosecurity protects high-conservation value island nature reserve. Scientific Reports 7:772 DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-00450-y

    33. Simmons LW, Thomas ML (2015) No Coolidge effect in the Australian field cricket, Teleogryllus oceanicus.  Austral Entomol. 54: 433-437 DOI: 10.1111/aen.12144

    32. Simmons LW, Thomas ML, Gray B, Zuk, M (2014) Replicated evolutionary divergence in the cuticular hydrocarbon profile of male crickets associated with the loss of song in the Hawaiian archipelago.  J. Evol. Biol. 27: 2249-2257

    31. Babis M, Holman L, Fenske R, Thomas ML, Baer B (2014) Cuticular lipids correlate with age and insemination status in queen honeybees. Insectes Sociaux 61: 337-345 DOI: 10.1007/s00040-014-0358-2

    30. Simmons LW, Thomas ML, Simmons FW, Zuk, M (2013) Female preference for acoustic and olfactory signals during courtship: male crickets send multiple messages. Behavioral Ecology 24: 1099-1107

    29. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2011) Short-term phenotypic plasticity in long-chain cuticular hdyrocarbons. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B 278: 3123-3128

    28. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2011) Crickets detect the genetic similarity of mating partners via cuticular hydrocarbons. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 24: 1793-1800

    27. Thomas ML (2011) Detection of female mating status using chemical signals and cues. Biological Reviews, 86:1-14

    26. Thomas ML, Gray B and Simmons LW (2011) Male crickets alter the relative expression of cuticular hydrocarbons when exposed to different acoustic environments. Animal Behaviour, 82: 49-53

    25. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2010) Cuticular hydrocarbons influence female attractiveness to males in the Australian field cricket, Teleogryllus oceanicusJournal of Evolutionary Biology 23: 707-714

    24. Thomas ML, Becker K, Abbott K, Feldhaar, H (2010) Supercolony mosaics: two different invasions by the yellow crazy ant, Anoplolepis gracilipes, on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Biological Invasions 12: 677-687

    23. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2009) Sexual selection on cuticular hydrocarbons in the Australian field cricket, Teleogryllus oceanicusBMC Evolutionary Biology 9: 162-173

    22. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2009) Male dominance influences pheromone expression, ejaculate quality, and fertilization success in the Australian field cricket, Teleogryllus oceanicusBehavioural Ecology 20: 1118-1124

    21. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2009) Male derived cuticular hydrocarbons signal sperm competition intensity and affect ejaculate expenditure in crickets. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 276: 383-388

    20. Lach L and Thomas ML (2008) Invasive ants in Australia: documented and potential ecological consequences. Australian Journal of Entomology 47: 275-288

    19. Schneider JM, Herberstein ME, Bruce MJ, Kasumovic MM, Thomas ML and Elgar MA (2008) Sperm competition and genital morphology in the golden orb-web spider Nephila plumipesAustralian Journal of Zoology 56: 233-238

    18. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2008) Rival male relatedness does not affect ejaculate allocation in the cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus. PLoS ONE 3: e2151. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002151

    17. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2008) Sexual dimorphism in cuticular hydrocarbons of the Australian field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus (Orthoptera: Gryllidae). Journal of Insect Physiology 54:1081-1089

    16. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2008) Cuticular hydrocarbons are heritable in the cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21:801-806

    15. Framenau VW and Thomas ML (2008) The ants of Christmas Island (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Records of the Western Australian Museum 25(1): 45-86

    14. Björkman-Chiswell BT, van Wilgenburg E, Thomas ML, Swearer SE and Elgar MA (2008) Absence of aggression, but not nestmate recognition in an Australian population of the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile. Insectes Sociaux 55:207-212

    13. Simmons LW and Thomas ML (2008) No postcopulatory response to inbreeding by male crickets. Biology Letters 4: 183-185

    12. Thomas ML and Simmons LW (2007) Male crickets adjust the viability of their sperm in response to female mating status. American Naturalist 170: 190-195

    11. Thomas ML, Christine M. Payne-Makrisâ, Andrew V. Suarez, Neil D. Tsutsui  and David A. Holway (2007) Contact between supercolonies elevates aggression in Argentine ants. Insectes Sociaux 54: 225-233

    10. Thomas ML, Christine M. Payne-Makrisâ, Andrew V. Suarez, Neil D. Tsutsui  and David A. Holway (2006) When supercolonies collide: territorial aggression in an invasive and unicolonial social insect. Molecular Ecology 15: 4303-4315

    9. Thomas ML, Tsutsui ND and Holway DA (2005) Intraspecific competition influences the symmetry and intensity of aggression in the Argentine ant. Behavioural Ecology 16: 472-481

    8. Thomas ML and Holway DA (2005) Condition-specific competition between invasive Argentine ants and Australian IridomyrmexJournal of Animal Ecology 74: 532-542

    7. Thomas ML, Dixson A, Coggins V and Holway DA (2005) Food availability and brood number do not influence intraspecific aggression in Argentine ants. Insectes Sociaux 52: 108-113

    6. Thomas ML and Framenau VW (2005) Foraging decisions of individual workers varies with colony size in the ectatommine ant Rhytidoponera metallicaInsectes Sociaux 52: 26-30

    5. Thomas ML (2003) Seasonality and colony size effects on the life history characteristics of Rhytidoponera metallica in temperate south-eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 51: 551-567

    4. Thomas ML and Elgar MA (2003) Colony size affects division of labour in the ponerine ant Rhytidoponera metallicaNaturwissenschaften 90: 88-92

    3. Thomas ML (2002) Nest site selection and longevity in the ponerine ant Rhytidoponera metallica (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux 49: 147-152

    2. Schneider JM, Thomas ML and Elgar MA (2001) Ectomised conductors in the golden orb-web spider, Nephila plumipes(Araneoidea): a male adaptation to sexual conflict? Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 49: 410-415

    1. Thomas ML, Parry LJ, Rachel AA and Elgar MA (1999) Geographic affinity, cuticular hydrocarbons, and colony recognition in the Australian meat ant Iridomyrmex purpureusNaturwissenschaften 86: 87-92

    Books and Book Chapters

    2. Moro D, van der Merwe J, Thomas ML, Smith A, Langdon R (2018) Integrating resource development with island conservation: Barrow Island as a model for conservation and development. In: Australian Islands, Advances and Solutions in Island Conservation Research, Management and Education. Ed. Moro D, Ball D, Bryant S

    1. Framenau VW and Thomas ML (2018) Spiders of Australia. Reed Concise Guide. New Holland Publishers