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James received a BSc (Hons) degree in 1998 from the Australian National University, with a thesis examining the evolution of cooperative breeding behaviour in thornbills, a small genus of Australian birds. He obtained a PhD in 2005 from the University of Queensland, studying the ecological and evolutionary causes of vocal and genetic variation in the satin bowerbird. From 2006, James’ main research focus moved away from birds and behavioural ecology to studying insect-plant interactions, with a move to an extended post-doctoral position at the University of Edinburgh. Here James worked on the evolutionary ecology of oak gallwasps (a Holarctic group of gall-inducing wasps) and their associated parasitoid wasp community, as well as the taxonomy of these groups. Since 2012, James was also affiliated with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh when working on insect-plant interactions using the speciose Neotropical legume genus Inga as a model system. He returned to Australia in late 2017, joining CSIRO as part of the molecular team at the Australian National Insect Collection working within the Environomics Future Science Platform project “Mobilising collections through genomics”.

James’ research interests lie in evolutionary, molecular and behavioural ecology, addressing general questions about how biodiversity is generated, how species respond to environmental change, and how species interact and communities assemble. His main approach to answering these questions has been to take a cross-disciplinary approach, combining phylogenetic and population genetic data with ecological and behavioural data. This research has also been underpinned by extensive DNA-based taxonomic research into the relevant study organisms. He has worked on a range of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant systems, at both the single-species and community levels.
He also has a strong interest in developing and optimising a range of next-gen laboratory techniques (genomic library preparation, targeted enrichment through hybrid capture, high-throughput amplicon sequencing) central to generating useful genetic data, and in addition applying these methods to difficult and degraded template DNA such as that sourced from older museum material and faecal samples. This work has been the focus of his CSIRO work as part of the Environomics Future Science Platform, developing the high-throughput methods for generating genomic data from the specimens stored in CSIRO's National Research Collections Australia.

Other Interests

birdwatching, bird banding, natural history

Academic Qualifications

  • 1998

    BSc (Hons)
    Australian National University

  • 2005

    University of Queensland

Professional Experiences

  • 2004-2005

    Research assistant
    University of Queensland

  • 2006-2017

    Post-doctoral Research Associate
    University of Edinburgh

  • 2012-2017

    Post-doctoral Research Associate
    Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


  • 2007-2010

    NERC Standard Grant, with Graham Stone and Andrew Rambaut; "Using multispecies evolutionary history to test hypotheses of community assembly"

  • 2015-2015

    NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility pilot project grant, with Catherine Kidner, Michelle Hart & Laura Forrest; "Capturing genes from herbaria"

We have publications by Dr James Nicholls