Dr Michael Lee

Dr Michael Lee
  • Biography/ Background



  • Qualifications

    B.Sc (Marine Biology), Hons (Anatomy/Histology), University of Queensland, 1990.  Supervisor: BGM Jamieson

    Ph.D (Zoology), University of Cambridge, 1994.  Supervisor: JA Clack.


  • Awards & Achievements


  • Teaching Interests

  • Research Interests



    Our research group uses multidisciplinary approaches to understand major evolutionary transitions - this includes molecular phylogenetics, anatomy, and the fossil record. Current research areas include: molecular systematics and dating, reptile phylogeny (especially skinks, geckos, and fossils), limb reduction in tetrapods, snake origins and diversification, and the Cambrian explosion.

    Our group interacts with the Molecular Biology labs (Evolutionary Biology Unit), the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), and the Earth Sciences Section of the SA museum. Most students and postdocs are also affiliated with one of these groups and benefit from the multidisciplinary perspective.


    • Dr. Kate Sanders (ARC Future Fellow: sea snake evolution)
    • Dr. Diego Garcia-Bellido (ARC Future Fellow: Cambrian/Ediacaran palaeontology)
    • Dr. Marc Jones (ARC DECRA Fellow: agamid lizard biomechanics and evolution).
    • Dr. Brett Goodman (ARC DECRA Fellow: evolution of limblessness and arid adaptations in lizards)
    • Dr. Trevor Worthy (ARC DECRA Fellow via Flinders University: bird evolution).


    • Kanishka Ukuwela (sea snake phylogeny.  Co-supervisor Kate Sanders)
    • Kieren Mitchell (Gondwanan vertebrate evolution.  Primary Supervisor Alan Cooper)
    • James Holmes (Cambrian palaeobiology. Co-supervisor Diego Garcia-Bellido)


    • Dr. Trevor Worthy  (Ph.D and postdoc: Avifaunal evolution). Trevor is now Research Fellow / DECRA at Flinders University.
    • Dr. Kate Sanders  (ARC postdoc: sea snake evolution). Kate is now an ARC future fellow.
    • Dr. Adam Skinner (PhD: skink evolution, postdoc: Lerista limb loss).  Adam is now researcher / statistician at UNSW health.
    • Dr. Ben Kear (postdoc: Australian Mesozoic marine reptiles). Ben is on the faculty at Uppsala University.
    • Dr. John Scanlon (postdoc: Snake Evolution). John is now at the Riversleigh Fossil Centre, with an honorary appointment at the University of NSW
    • Dr. Paul Oliver (PhD: Australian gecko biodiversity).  Paul is now DECRA fellow at ANU.
    • Dr. Andrew Hugall (PhD: Australian snail biodiversity. Yes he submitted!). Andrew is a postdoc at Museum Victoria.
    • Dr. Aaron Camens  (PhD: Diprotodontid evolution and functional morphology). Aaron is a postdoc at Flinders University.
    • Amy Ianella (Hons 1: PNG frog diversity).  Amy is now undertaking her Ph.D with Phill Cassey.
    • Matthew Taylor (Hons 1: PNG lizard diversity). 



    • Lee, M. S. Y. 1992. Cambrian and recent morphological disparity. Science 258: 1816-1817.
    • Lee, M. S. Y. 1993. The origin of the turtle body plan: bridging a famous morphological gap. Science 261: 1716-1720.
    • Lee, M.S.Y. 1996. Correlated progression and the origin of turtles. Nature 379: 812-815.
    • Caldwell, M.W. and Lee, M.S.Y. 1997. A snake with legs from the marine Cretaceous of the Middle East. Nature 386: 705-709.
    • Lee, M.S.Y. 1998. Convergent evolution and character correlation in burrowing reptiles: towards a resolution of squamate phylogeny. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 65: 369-453.
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Bell, G.L. Jr, and Caldwell, M.W. 1999. The origin of snake feeding. Nature 400: 655-659.
    • Scanlon, J. D. and Lee, M.S.Y. 2000. The Pleistocene serpent Wonambi and the early evolution of snakes. Nature 403: 416-420.
    • Lee, M. S. Y., Doughty, P. 2003. The geometric meaning of macroevolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 18: 263-266
    • Caprette C.C., Lee M.S.Y., Shine R., Mokaney A., Downhower J.F. 2004. The origin of snakes as seen through eye anatomy. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (London) 81: 469-482.
    • Kear, B., Schroeder, N., Lee, M.S.Y. 2006. An archaic crested plesiosaur in opal from the Lower Cretaceous high latitude deposits of Australia. Biology Letters 2:615-619.
    • Skinner, A., Lee M. S. Y., Hutchinson, M. 2008. Rapid and repeated limb loss in Lizards (Lerista, Scincidae, Squamata). BMC Evolutionary Biology 8: 310 (1-11).
    • Lee, M.S.Y. 2009.  Hidden support from unpromising datasets strongly unites snakes and anguimorph lizards.  Journal of Evolutionary Biology 22: 1308-1316.
    • Lee, M.S.Y. Hutchinson, M., Worthy, T.H., Archer, M., Tennyson, A.J.D., Worthy, J.P. Schofield, R. P.. 2009.  Miocene skinks and geckos reveal long term conservatism of the New Zealand lizard fauna.  Biology Letters  (advance online doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0440)
    • Skinner, A., Lee M. S. Y.  2009.  Body-form evolution in the scincid lizard Lerista and the mode of macroevolutionary transitions.  Evolutionary Biology 36: 292-300.
    • Lee M.S.Y., Jago, J.B., Garcia-Bellido, D.C., Edgecombe, G.E., Gehling, J.G, Paterson, J.R.  2011.  Modern optics in exceptionally preserved eyes of Early Cambrian arthropods from Australia. Nature 474: 631-634.
    • Lee M.S.Y., Worthy, T.  2011.  Likelihood reinstates Archaeopteryx as a primitive bird.  Biology Letters (Advance Online: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0884)
    • Paterson, J.R., Garcia-Bellido, D.C., Lee M.S.Y., Brock G.A., Jago J.B.,  Edgecombe, G.E.,  2011. Acute vision in the giant Cambrian predator Anomalocaris and the origin of compound eyes. Nature 480: 237-240  [COVER STORY].
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Soubrier, J., Edgecombe, G.D.  2013. Rates of phenotypic and genomic evolution during the Cambrian explosion. Current Biology 23: 1889-1895.
    • Mitchell KJ, Llamas B, Soubrier J, Rawlence NJ, Worthy TH, Wood JR, Lee MSY, Cooper A (2014) Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and clarifies ratite bird evolution. Science 344(6186):898-900.
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Cau, A., Naish, D., Dyke, G.J. (2014).  Sustained miniaturization and anatomical innovation in the dinosaurian ancestors of birds.  Science 345(6196):562-566.
    • Long, J. et al. (2015).  Reproductive structures in antiarch placoderms and the early origin of vertebrate copulution.  Nature doi:10.1038/nature13825


    • Lee, M.S.Y. 1999. Molecular clock calibrations and metazoan divergence dates. Journal of Molecular Evolution 49: 385-391.
    • Hugall, A. E., Lee, M.S.Y. 2004. Molecular claims of Gondwanan age of Australian agamids are untenable. Molecular Biology and Evolution 21: 2102-2110.
    • Lee, M.S.Y. and Anderson, J. A. 2006. Molecular clocks and the origin of living amphibians. 40: 635-639.
    • Hugall, A. F, Foster, R., Lee, M.S.Y. 2007. Calibration Choice, Rate Smoothing, and the Pattern of Tetrapod Diversification According to the Long Nuclear Gene RAG-1. Systematic Biology 56: 543-563.
    • Hugall, A. and Lee, M.S.Y. 2007. The likelihood node density effect and consequences for evolutionary studies of molecular rates. Evolution 61: 2293-2307.
    • Sanders, K.L., Lee M. S. Y. 2007. Evaluating molecular clock calibrations using Bayesian analyses with soft and hard bounds. Biology Letters 3: 275-279.
    • Sanders, K.L., Lee M.S.Y., Leijs, R., Foster, R., Keogh, J.S. 2008. Molecular phylogeny and divergence dates for Australasian elapids and sea snakes (Hydrophiinae): Evidence from seven genes for rapid evolutionary radiations. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21: 682-695
    • Oliver, P.M., Adams, M., Lee, M.S.Y., Hutchinson, M.N. and Doughty, P.D.  2009.  Cryptic diversity in vertebrates: molecular data double species diversity in a radiation of Australian lizards.  Proceedings: Biological Sciences 276: 2001-2007
    • Phillips, M.J., Bennett T., and Lee, M.S.Y.  2009.  Molecules and morphology indicate a recent aquatic ancestry for echidnas.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106: 17089-17094.
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Skinner, A.  2011.  Testing fossil calibrations for vertebrate evolutionary trees.  Zoologica Scripta 40: 538-543.
    • Sanders, K.L., Rasmussen, A.R., Mumpuni, Elmberg, J., Silva, A., Guinea, M.L., Lee, M.S.Y.  2013.  Recent rapid speciation and ecomorph divergence in Indo-Australian sea snakes (Hydrophiinae). Molecular Ecology 10: 2742–2759.


    • Lee, M. S. Y. 2003. Species concepts and species reality: Salvaging a Linnaean rank. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 16: 179-188.
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Hugall, A.F. 2003. Partitioned likelihood support and the evaluation of data set conflict. Systematic Biology 52: 11-22.
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Wolsan, M. 2003. Cohesion, individuality, and the nature of species. Biology and Philosophy 17: 651-660.
    • Lee, M.S.Y. 2006. Morphological phylogenetics and the universe of possible characters. Taxon 55: 5-7
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Skinner, A.  2008.  Hierarchy and clade definitions in phylogenetic taxonomy. Organisms, Diversity and Evolution 8: 17-20.
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Oliver, P. Hutchinson, M.N.  2008.  Phylogenetic uncertainty and molecular clock calibrations in legless lizards (Pygopodidae, Gekkota).  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 50: 661-666.
    • Lee, M.S.Y., Cau, A., Naish, D., Dyke G. J.  2014.  Morphological clocks in palaeontology, and a mid-Cretaceous origin of crown Aves.  Systematic Biology 63: 442-449.
    • King, B., Lee, M.S.Y.  2015.  Ancestral state reconstruction, rate heterogeneity, and the evolution of reptile viviparity.  Systematic Biology doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syv005

  • Research Funding


    Major current projects are listed below.  Sincere thanks to all our funding sources listed.

    • Sea snake evolution: why are some taxa and regions species-rich? (with Kate Sanders APD).  Australian Research Council "Discovery Grant", 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.
    • The developmental genetics of major evolutionary transitions: limb reduction in lizards (with Adam Skinner).  Australian Research Council "Discovery Grant", 2012, 2013, 2014.
    •  Islands of rocks: geckos as a model system to understand patterns of biodiversity, endemism and speciation in the Kimberley (with Paul Oliver).  Australian Research Council "Linkage Grant", 2012, 2013, 2014.
    • Beyond barcoding: understanding biodiversity in diverse frontier for tropical biology - New Guinea. (with Paul Oliver).  APSF: Austalia and Pacific Science Foundation 2011, 2012, 2013.
    • Our research is supported by the Australian Research Council, Australia Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Biological Resources Study, University of Adelaide, SEALINK, SA Museum, WA Museum, and PIRSA.

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Entry last updated: Wednesday, 5 Oct 2016