Joanna Sumner

Manager, Genetic Resources

Joanna Sumner
Dr Joanna Sumner working in the field.
Source: Museum Victoria

Dr Joanna Sumner manages the genetics lab and the tissue collection and researches reptile population genetics and phylogeography.


Dr Sumner has worked in the fields of molecular ecology, phylogenetics and conservation biology since 1993. She started her research career investigating the Antechinus (marsupial mice) of south-east Australia with Prof. Chris Dickman at the University of Sydney. For her PhD, Dr Sumner surveyed reptiles and frogs in fragmented and continuous rainforest sites on the Atherton Tableland in the Wet Tropics of Australia under the supervision of Prof. Craig Moritz at the University of Queensland. Her research concentrated on molecular ecology and genetic diversity of Gnypetoscincus queenslandiae, an endemic rainforest skink.

Dr Sumner joined Museum Victoria in 2006 as an ARC postdoctoral researcher collaborating with Prof. Scott Keogh from the Australian National University. She is researching the Eulamprus quoyii group of water skinks as a model system in south-eastern Australia to address questions concerning how the history of the Great Dividing Range has shaped the evolutionary history of animals in the area. Geological events such as the uprising of the Great Dividing Range, and climatic events such as ice ages have shaped the current distribution of species. Her study aims to clarify the number and distribution of species in this group and determine comparative dispersal ability in relation to habitat area.

Other ongoing projects include the population biology and molecular ecology of the endangered Broad-headed Snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides,and phylegeographic patterns in the Central Netted Dragon, a desert-adapted dragon lizard. Dr Sumner also supervises students on molecular ecology and conservation projects.

Current activities:

Lab management

The museum’s DNA Laboratory is used by scientists and students who require genetic techniques in molecular evolution and ecology research. There are currently around 20 researchers using the resource, contributing to an array of ongoing research projects. Dr Sumner oversees the facility on a day-to-day basis, managing the instruments, and training students and new researchers. She has substantial expertise in molecular biology, including microsatellite library construction and screening and DNA sequencing, and provides expert advice for project design and analyses.

The facility also has -80°C freezers for long-term storage of biological material that forms the basis of the Museum Victoria Tissue Collection. We maintain frozen and alcohol preserved tissues and DNA samples from thousands of vertebrate and invertebrate specimens. Access to material from the collection is managed through the Tissue Grant Policy.


Dr Sumner is involved in a range of research projects that concentrate on conservation and evolution of reptiles in Australia. She works on phylogeography and geneflow patterns in water skinks and conservation genetics of broad-headed snakes. She supervises students with similar interests and projects include conservation genetics of the Alpine She-oak Skink and the Striped Legless Lizard.

Students and staff

Stephanie Chapple (PhD 2009-13)

Systematics of Australia’s most diverse temperate fish genus, Heteroclinus.

Luisa Teasedale (MSc. 2010-11)

Function and evolution of throat colour polymorphism in the Tawny Dragon (Ctenophorus decresii). Co-supervised with Devi Stuart-Fox (Melbourne University).

Pete Smissen (MSc. 2010-11)

Phylogeography and population genetics of Varanus varius: evidence of rapid expansion and high gene flow in a mobile lizard. Co-supervised with Jane Melville (Museum Victoria) and Tim Jessop (Melbourne University).

Francesca Lyndon-Gee (MSc. 2009-10)

Assessing functional responses of lizards to ecological and disturbance processes in forests of East Gippsland. Co-supervised with Tim Jessop (Melbourne University).

Susi Maldonado (Honours 2008-9)

Human-induced versus historical habitat shifts: identifying the processes that shaped the genetic structure of the threatened grassland legless lizard, Delma impar. Co-supervised with Jane Melville (Museum Victoria).

Tessa Koumoundouros (Honours 2007-8)

Current genetic isolation and fragmentation contrasts with historical connectivity in an alpine lizard (Cyclodomorphus praealtus) threatened by climate change. Co-supervised with Jane Melville (Museum Victoria) and Nick Clemanm (ARI).

Last updated 12 July 2012