Staff profile: Dr David Britton

Position title:
Head, Natural Sciences & Biodiversity Conservation
Entomology Collection
+612 9320 6221
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Dave was the Collection Manager of Entomology from 2003 to 2013 at the Australian Museum, and Branch Head of Natural Sciences since April 2013. Dave has extensive background in entomology covering research topics such as nutritional and behavioural ecology, insect conservation, and taxonomy of moths and pest management of insects in field crops.

He has been active in internal Museum initiatives such as large scale, specialised collection storage improvements, collection digitisation, facilitating increased access to collections data and specimens, and communicating Australian Museum science. Dave has also been involved in external projects as a Museum representative, such as the BushBlitz program, Council of Heads of Faunal Collections, Council of Heads of Entomological Collections, Australian Faunal Directory and the Atlas of Living Australia.

Dave has a B.Sc. (Hons.) Zoology (University of Melbourne), M.Sc. Zoology (La Trobe University) and a Ph.D. Agronomy and Soil Science (University of New England).

Current Research Interests:

My current research interests are the systematics and biology of the Australian lichen moths (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae; Lithosiinae). I am also involved in several projects looking at insect/plant associations, inlcuding projects looking at native insect herbivores on endangered Australian plant species.

Other Research:

I have been involved in a broad range of other research areas throughout my education and career. I have listed some of these below:

Electrophysiology and muscular anatomy of mole crickets in relation to flight and singing behaviour. This highlighted the sexual dimorphism present in these insects, and their evolutionary relationship to other crickets.

Nutritional ecology of larvae of a geometrid moth. This explored the costs and benefits of being a generalist instead of a specialist herbivore. The findings from this study have indicated there may be hidden risks to biodiversity of herbivorous insects from anthropogenic changes to plant community structure.

Butterfly conservation, particularly of ant-attended lycaenid butterflies, and of communities of butterflies as well as individual species. This research culminated in the listing and development of a recovery plan to help conserve threatened species of lycaenid butterfly in Victoria.

Spatial and temporal patterns in insect communities in the north-eastern forests of NSW and in Sturt National Park in the west of NSW. Findings from these studies will assist in making appropriate decisions in regards to land management. The design and execution of similar surveys of terrestrial arthropods will also be augmented by this research.

Use of semiochemicals in pest management, particularly sex pheromones in Lepidoptera. For my Phd research I looked at alternative methods for application of synthetic female sex pheromone in the cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera. Sex pheromones are often species specific, and their use in pest management can avoid many of the environmental and economical problems associated with less specific insecticides.

Research Strengths and Skills:

I have particularly good skills in general insect identification, with a specialist interest in the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). My very broad knowledge of insects means that I can often provide information on identification and biology on a large range of insects which a specialist taxonomist might not necessarily be able to provide. This is useful for assessing large and diverse collections of insects. I have a strong background in experimental design, conservation biology and behavioural ecology based on field and laboratory experience. I have been involved in ground-breaking studies in biological informatics at the Australian Museum and earlier at Macquarie University. A current Museum project I am working on tests novel methods of capturing collection data from specimens in collections.

Supervisory Areas:

I have co-supervised postgraduates and honours students from a number of universities, including Kerinne Harvey (Macquarie University) whose PhD project examined how insect communities on invasive weeds change over time since introduction.


1999-2005 Ph.D. (School of Rural Science & Agriculture, Uni. of New England) Using sex pheromone to control male Helicoverpa armigera Hübner (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in cotton. Supervisors: Assoc. Prof. P. C. Gregg & Dr. A. Del Socorro

1994 M.Sc. (School of Zoology, La Trobe Uni.) Thesis title: Nutritional ecology of Chlenias spp. (Geometridae) on an introduced conifer Pinus radiata D.Don: The effects of choosing a non-native host plant in Lepidoptera. Supervisor: Dr. T.R. New

1986 B.Sc (Hons) (Department of Zoology, Uni. of Melbourne) Thesis title: Muscular anatomy and neuromuscular control of the stridulatra in the mole cricket, Gryllotalpa australis Erichson. Supervisor: Dr. D. Young

1983-85 B.Sc. (Uni. of Melbourne) (Majored in Zoology)

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