Doctor Timothy Sutton


Tim SuttonGraduated PhD 2016

Thesis Title

Evolutionary ecology of fig wasps associated with the Port Jackson fig

Research Project

Interactions between species are crucial to ecosystem functioning and may be disrupted by global change.

My project focuses on interactions between fig trees and their specialist pollinators and parasites, using the Port Jackson fig (Ficus rubiginosa) as a model system. I am exploiting new molecular approaches to understand how species interact at a landscape scale and how interactions vary in relation to climate.

Until recently, each fig species was thought to have its own unique pollinator wasp species, however, Pleistodontes imperialis, the pollinator of F. rubiginosa, is now known to comprise five cryptic genetic species with partially overlapping geographic ranges.

Environmental niche modelling suggests that each pollinator is limited to a relatively narrow climate zone and that this local adaptation has driven the evolution of new pollinator species during the plant's historical range expansion.

My research explores behavioural, evolutionary and ecological aspects of fig-pollinator interactions, with four main aims:

  • use microsatellites to compare population structure and mating system of P. imperialis sp. 1 and its parasitoid
  • discover genes which can be used to resolve the phylogeny of the Pleistodontes genus
  • test responses of pollinator species to climate scenarios to help understand their current species ranges and vulnerability to climate change, and
  • investigate factors that may allow for the coexistence of cryptic species.

Research Project Supervisors

Prof James Cook and A/Professor Markus Riegler


E A Southee Award in recognition for his Honours research about Wolbachia and the Queensland Fruit Fly, as well as incentive for the continuation of his research - 2011

F G Swain Award awarded by the UWS Hawkesbury Foundation for his PhD project titled 'Ecology and evolution of fig-pollinator-parasite interactions' - July 2013


Morgan EJ, Sutton TL, Darwell CT, Cook JM, (2018) 'Restructuring of a mutualism following introduction of Australian fig trees and pollinating wasps to Europe and the USA', Biological Invasions, vol.20, no.11, pp 3037-3045

Sutton TL, DeGabriel JL, Riegler M, Cook JM, (2018) 'A temperate pollinator with high thermal tolerance is still susceptible to heat events predicted under future climate change', Ecological Entomology, vol.43, no.4, pp 506-512

Sutton TL, DeGabriel JL, Riegler M, Cook JM, (2017) 'Local coexistence and genetic isolation of three pollinator species on the same fig tree species', Heredity, vol.118, no.5, pp 486-490

Sutton TL, Riegler M, Cook JM, (2016) 'One step ahead: A parasitoid disperses farther and forms a wider geographic population than its fig wasp host', Molecular Ecology, vol.25, no.4, pp 882-894

Sutton TL, Reuter C, Riegler M, Cook JM, (2015) 'Characterisation of microsatellite markers for fig-pollinating wasps in the Pleistodontes imperialis species complex', Australian Journal of Zoology, vol.63, no.2, pp 122-126