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Evolutionary ecology
Phone: +64 3 479 3943


I'm a plant evolutionary ecologist with interests in diversification, hybridisation, biogeography and conservation.

Plant niches and diversification

I am currently investigating the processes that control plant diversification. This involves combining species distribution data, climate data, ecological niche modelling, and phylogenetics (the study of genetic relationships) to understand what controls diversity patterns through time. I am particularly interested in the contrasting effects that competition and evolutionary flexibility have on diversification. This research aims to identify limits to biodiversity, and provide an evolutionary context to the global conservation challenge.

I am also investigating how the components of diversity, such as phylogenetic, functional and endemic diversity, are distributed in space and time, and what this means for conservation. For example, we have recently found that there is little correlation between the different components of diversity in conifer trees, making the conservation of all the aspects of their biodiversity difficult. We also found that this problem is likely to be amplified by climate change.


The predicted global distribution of 600 conifer species based on physiological niche models.


Ancestral state reconstructions of physiological niche traits in 98 species of Pinus

Restoration ecology

I am working on project that is focused on advancing the science of native forest restoration in New Zealand. The project is being undertaken in collaboration with Associate Professor Janice Lord and Professor David Orlovich and aims to improve forest restoration now and in the future by: 1) improving our understanding of the fundamental seed biology of native species; 2) identifying, collecting and incorporating appropriate mycorrhizal fungi in restoration programs; 3) using species distribution modelling to determine where different native species should be grown.

Hybridisation and speciation

My work in this area has focused on the evolution of reproductive barriers and testing theoretical models of genetic isolation. Given the widespread movement of organisms around the globe, this work also has implications for understanding genetic risk in modern ecosystems. For example, is hybridisation between native and introduced species contaminating the native species' gene pool?


A natural hybrid between Eucalyptus stoatei and E. tetraptera;


Manipulated hybridisation is a powerful method for assessing the degree of reproductive isolation between related species

Potential Postgraduate Projects (MSc and PhD)

  • The ecology of diversification: do processes that promote and constrain diversification operate along different axes of ecological niches?
  • Know your boundaries: what is limiting the spread of remnant southern beech forest?
  • Reconstructing the past for the future: where should New Zealand natives be planted?
  • Ice Plant assimilation: are New Zealand Horokaka (Disphyma australe) being genetically swamped by the invasive Ice Plant (Carpobrotus edulis)?

Current Postgraduate Students

  • Melissa Abraham (MSc): Drought stress in New Zealand forest trees, what are the limits and where will they grow in the future?
  • Duncan Nicol (MSc): Biogeography of the New Zealand Celmisia

Previous Students

  • Yiping Chen BSc(Hons): DNA fingerprinting in Eucalyptus dunnii


BIOL 123
Plants: How They Shape the World
BTNY 301
Plant Ecology
BTNY 465 Plant and Environment
ECO L211 Ecology of Communities and Ecosystems
ECOL 212 Ecological Applications
ECOL 313 Ecology Field Course


Department of Botany Outreach portfolio

Selected Publications

McKinnon GE, Larcombe MJ, Griffin RA, Vaillancourt RE (2018). Development of microsatellites using Next-Generation Sequencing for the emerging tropical forestry species Acacia crassicarpa.Journal of Tropical Forest Science. 30, 252-258.

Águas A, Larcombe MJ, Matias H, Deus E, Potts BM, Rego FC, Silva1 JS (2017). Understanding the naturalization of Eucalyptus globulus in Portugal - a comparison with Australian plantations. European Journal of Forest Research. 136, 433-446.

Larcombe MJ, Potts BM, Jones RC, Steane D, Costa e Silva J, Vaillancourt RE (2016). Managing Australia's eucalypt gene pools: assessing the risk of exotic gene flow. The Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, 128, 25-39.

Larcombe MJ, Costa e Silva J, Tilyard P, Gore P, Potts BM (2016). On the persistence of reproductive barriers in Eucalyptus: the bridging of mechanical barriers to zygote formation by F1 hybrids is counteracted by intrinsic post-zygotic incompatibilities. Annals of Botany, 118, 431-444.

Le S, Ratnam W, Harwood CE, Griffin RA, Koutoulis A, Harbard JL, Larcombe MJ, Cyer KS, Yee LW, Ha TH and Vaillancourt RE (2016). A multiplexed set of microsatellite markers for discriminating Acacia mangium, A. auriculiformis and their hybrid. Tree Genetics and Genomes, DOI: 10.007/s11295-016-0990-2.

Worth JRP, Larcombe MJ, Sakaguchi S, Marthick J, Jordan GJ, Bowman DMJS, Ito M (2016). Transient hybridisation, not homoploid hybrid speciation, between ancient and deeply divergent conifers. American Journal of Botany, 103, 246-259.

Larcombe MJ, Barbour RC, Jones RC, Vaillancourt RE, Potts BM (2016). Postmating barriers to hybridisation between an island's native eucalypts and an introduced congener. Tree Genetics & Genomes, 12: 26 DOI:10.1007/s11295-016-0979-x.

Larcombe MJ, Holland B, Steane D, Jones RC, Nicolle D, Vaillancourt RE, Potts BM (2015) Patterns of reproductive isolation in Eucalyptus – a phylogenetic perspective. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 32, 1833-1846.

Larcombe MJ, Vaillancourt RE, Jones RC, Potts BM (2014) Assessing a Bayesian approach for detecting exotic hybrids between plantation and native eucalypts. International Journal of Forestry Research 2014: DOI:10.1155/2014/650202.

Larcombe MJ, Barbour R, Vaillancourt RE, Potts BM (2014) Assessing the risk of exotic gene flow from E. globulus plantations to native E. ovata forests. Forest Ecology and Management 312, 193-202.

Larcombe MJ, Silva JS, Vaillancourt RE, Potts BM (2013) Assessing the invasive potential of Eucalyptus globulus in Australia: quantification of wildling establishment from plantations. Biological Invasions, 15, 2763-2781.

Larcombe MJ, McKinnon GE, Vaillancourt RE (2011) Genetic evidence for the origins of range disjunctions in the Australian dry sclerophyll plant Hardenbergia violacea. Journal of Biogeography 38, 125-136.

Tremblay RL, Perez M-E, Larcombe M, Brown A, Quarmby J, Bickerton D, French G, Bould A (2009a) Dormancy in Caladenia: a Bayesian approach to evaluating latency. Australian Journal of Botany 57, 340-350.

Tremblay RL, Perez M-E, Larcombe M, Brown A, Quarmby J, Bickerton D, French G, Bould A (2009b) Population dynamics of Caladenia: Bayesian estimates of transition and extinction probabilities. Australian Journal of Botany 57, 351-360.

Nevill PG, Reed A, Bossinger G, Vaillancourt RE, Larcombe M, Ades PK (2008) Cross-species amplification of Eucalyptus microsatellite loci. Molecular Ecology Resources 8, 1277-1280.

Larcombe M (2008) Tasmanian threatened orchid baseline data and monitoring: where we are at and where we need to be. The Tasmanian Naturalist 130, 67 – 81.


Dale, E. E., Larcombe, M. J., Potter, B. C. M., & Lee, W. G. (2024). Diversification and trait evolution in New Zealand woody lineages across changing biomes. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 54(1), 98-123. doi: 10.1080/03036758.2022.2108071

Mathias, S., van Galen, L. G., Jarvie, S., & Larcombe, M. J. (2023). Range reshuffling: Climate change, invasive species, and the case of Nothofagus forests in Aotearoa New Zealand. Diversity & Distributions, 13767. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/ddi.13767

Heenan, P. B., Lee, W. G., McGlone, M. S., McCarthy, J. K., Mitchell, C. M., Larcombe, M. J., & Houliston, G. J. (2023). Ecosourcing for resilience in a changing environment. New Zealand Journal of Botany. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/0028825X.2023.2210289

Thomas, A., Meudt, H. M., Larcombe, M. J., Igea, J., Lee, W. G., Antonelli, A., & Tanentzap, A. J. (2023). Multiple origins of mountain biodiversity in New Zealand's largest plant radiation. Journal of Biogeography. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/jbi.14589

van Galen, L. G., Orlovich, D. A., Lord, J. M., Nilsen, A. R., Dutoit, L., & Larcombe, M. J. (2023). Correlated evolution in an ectomycorrhizal host-symbiont system. New Phytologist. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/nph.18802

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