Biodiversity loss is happening at an unacceptable rate, worldwide. The drivers of this loss—climate change, habitat modification, invasive species, and disease—can be managed, but we urgently need efficient new strategies to mitigate their impact. One emerging conservation strategy is to exploit geographic trait variation. Work in this area currently focuses on the use of geographic variation in climate-relevant traits to mitigate climate change impact. But climate change is not the only threatening process for which geographic variation exists. Geographic variation exists for traits mediating the impact of other drivers of biodiversity loss as well: susceptibility to invasive species; dispersal rate of invasive species; susceptibility to disease, and so on. The possibility exists, therefore, for us to take a more aggressive approach: rather than amplifying rates of natural gene flow and focusing only on climate-relevant traits, we can, instead, broaden the traits we consider, and move variants to wherever they will achieve a desirable conservation outcome. Such an approach — targeted gene flow — can be applied to a surprisingly wide range of circumstances, ranging from halting the spread of invasive species, to combatting emergent disease.


Geographic variation and local adaptation are ubiquitous within species, but conservation managers currently make no use of this heritable variation. This project developed the idea of targeted gene flow; exploiting natural geographic variation to achieve conservation outcomes. This project — and ARC Future Fellowship — developed decision-support tools as well as three empirical case studies: pre-adapting populations to climate change; stopping the advance of cane toads; and preventing and reversing the decline of northern quolls. The tools address the issues of when to time a targeted gene flow action, and where to source appropriate genetic variation. The case studies provide the groundwork for future novel conservation actions in these areas.

The project provided opportunities for four fantastic PhD students (Ella Kelly, Naomi Indigo, Chris Jolly, Adam Smart), a postdoc (Jeff Paril) and developed a new collaboration with Kenbi Rangers. Our combined work resulted in 27 papers to date.

Selected publications

Harrison, Natasha. D., Phillips, Ben. L., Mitchell, Nicola. J., Wayne, Julia. C., Maxwell, Marika. A., Ward, Colin. G., Wayne, Adrian. F. (2023). Perverse outcomes from fencing fauna: Loss of antipredator traits in a havened mammal population Biological Conservation. 281:110000.

von Takach, Brenton, Ranjard, Louis, Burridge, Christopher. P., Cameron, Skye. F., Cremona, Teigan, Eldridge, Mark. D.. B., Fisher, Diana. O., Frankenberg, Stephen, Hill, Brydie. M., Hohnen, Rosemary, Jolly, Chris. J., Kelly, Ella, MacDonald, Anna. J., Moussalli, Adnan, Ottewell, Kym, Phillips, Ben. L., Radford, Ian. J., Spencer, Peter. B.. S., Trewella, Gavin. J., Umbrello, Linette. S., Banks, Sam. C. (2022). Population genomics of a predatory mammal reveals patterns of decline and impacts of exposure to toxic toads Molecular Ecology. 31:5468–5486.

Paril, Jeff. F., Phillips, Ben. L. (2022). Slow and steady wins the race: Spatial and stochastic processes and the failure of suppression gene drives Molecular Ecology. 31:4451–4464.

Kelly, Ella, Rangers, Kenbi. Traditional. Owners. and, Jolly, Chris. J., Indigo, Naomi, Smart, Adam, Webb, Jonathan, Phillips, B (2021). No outbreeding depression in a trial of targeted gene flow in an endangered Australian marsupial Conservation Genetics. 22:23–33.

Jolly, Chris. J., Smart, Adam. S., Moreen, John, Webb, Jonathan. K., Gillespie, Graeme. R., Phillips, Ben. L. (2021). Trophic cascade driven by behavioral fine-tuning as naïve prey rapidly adjust to a novel predator Ecology. 102:e03363.

Jolly, Chris. J., Phillips, Ben. L. (2021). Rapid evolution in predator‐free conservation havens and its effects on endangered species recovery Conservation Biology. 35:383–385.

Indigo, Naomi. L., Jolly, Chris. J., Kelly, Ella, Smith, James, Webb, Jonathan. K., Phillips, Ben. L. (2021). Effects of learning and adaptation on population viability Conservation Biology. 35:1245-1255.

Smart, Adam. S., Tingley, Reid, Phillips, Ben. L. (2020). Estimating the benefit of quarantine: eradicating invasive cane toads from islands NeoBiota. 60:117–136.

Saleeba, K, O’Shea, M, Phillips, B. L, Kearney, Michael. R (2020). Using Biophysical Models to Improve Survey Efficiency for Cryptic Ectotherms Journal of Wildlife Management. 84:1185–1195.

Jolly, Chris. J., Webb, Jonathan. K., Gillespie, Graeme. R., Phillips, Ben. L. (2020). Training fails to elicit behavioral change in a marsupial suffering evolutionary loss of antipredator behaviors Journal of Mammalogy. 101:1108–1116.

Erm, Philip, Phillips, Ben. L (2020). Evolution transforms pushed waves into pulled waves The American Naturalist. 195:E87–E99.

Phillips, B. L, Perkins, T.. Alex (2019). Spatial sorting as the spatial analogue of natural selection Theoretical Ecology. 12:155–163.

Kelly, Ella, Phillips, Ben (2019). How many and when? Optimising targeted gene flow for a step change in the environment Ecology Letters. 22:447–457.

Jolly, Chris. J., Webb, Jonathan. K., Gillespie, Graeme. R., Hughes, Nelika. K., Phillips, Ben. L. (2019). Bias averted: personality may not influence trappability Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 73:129.

Indigo, Naomi, Smith, James, Webb, Jonathan. K., Phillips, Ben. L. (2019). Bangers and cash: Baiting efficiency in a heterogeneous population Wildlife Society Bulletin. 43:669–677.

Gregg, Emily. A., Tingley, Reid, Phillips, Benjamin. L. (2019). The on-ground feasibility of a waterless barrier to stop the spread of invasive cane toads in Western Australia Conservation Science and Practice. 0:e74.

Martins, F, , Kruuk, L. E. B, Llewelyn, John, Moritz, C, Phillips, B. L (2018). Heritability of climate-relevant traits in a rainforest skink Heredity. 122:41–52.

Macdonald, S, Llewelyn, J, Phillips, B. L (2018). Using connectivity to identify climatic drivers of local adaptation Ecology Letters. 21:201–216.

Kelly, E, Phillips, B. L (2018). Targeted gene flow and rapid adaptation in an endangered marsupial Conservation Biology. 33:112–121.

Kelly, E. L, Phillips, B. L, Webb, J. K (2018). Taste overshadows less salient cues to elicit food aversion in endangered marsupial Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 209:83–87.

Jolly, C. J, Webb, J. K, Phillips, B. L (2018). The perils of paradise: an endangered species conserved on an island loses antipredator behaviours within 13 generations Biology Letters. 14:20180222.

Jolly, Christopher. J., Kelly, Ella, Gillespie, Graeme. R., Phillips, Ben, Webb, Jonathan. K. (2018). Out of the frying pan: Reintroduction of toad-smart northern quolls to southern Kakadu National Park Austral Ecology. 43:139–149.

Indigo, Naomi, Smith, James, Webb, Jonathan. K., Phillips, Ben (2018). Not such silly sausages: Evidence suggests northern quolls exhibit aversion to toads after training with toad sausages Austral Ecology. 43:592–601.

Barnett, Louise. K., Phillips, Ben. L., Heath, Allen. C.. G., Coates, Andrew, Hoskin, Conrad. J. (2018). The impact of parasites during range expansion of an invasive gecko Parasitology. 145:1400–1409.

Southwell, D, Tingley, R, Bode, M, Nicholson, E, Phillips, B (2017). Cost and feasibility of a barrier to halt the spread of invasive cane toads in arid Australia: incorporating expert knowledge into model-based decision-making Journal of Applied Ecology. 54:216–224.

Kelly, E. L, Phillips, B. L (2017). Get smart: native mammal develops toad-smart behaviour in response to a toxic invader Behavioral Ecology. 28:854–858.

Phillips, B. L, Shine, R, Tingley, R (2016). The genetic backburn: using evolution to halt invasions Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 283:20153037.

Perkins, S. E, Boettiger, C, Phillips, B. L (2016). After the games are over: life-history trade-offs drive dispersal attenuation following range expansion Ecology and Evolution. 6:6425–6434.

Kelly, E. L, Phillips, B. L (2016). Targeted gene flow for conservation Conservation Biology. 30:259–267.