Professor Mike Lee

Matthew Flinders Fellow

College of Science and Engineering

Research expertise
Research expertise
+61 8 82077568
place Biological Sciences (128F)
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, South Australia

I am interested in broad-scale patterns of evolution, such as major changes in body plan, or why some groups speciate much more rapidly than others. Reptiles are typically the research focus, though I also collaborate with workers on other groups such as birds, mammals and even arthropods. We have recently obtained major funding to work on snake evolution (see below).

I grew up in Queensland (mainly Brisbane) in the 80s, and spent most of my childhood catching and examining any creature that moved, much to my parents horror. I now ostensibly get to do this for a living, except that with encroaching age and committments my research is moving more into theoretical and computational areas. I think Bayesian methods are the future of science.

My Twitter, Google Scholar, and Academia profiles.

  • B.Sc (Hons) in Zoology from the University of Queensland, supervised by Barrie Jamieson.
  • Ph.D (Zoology/Palaeontology) from the University of Cambridge, supervised by Jenny Clack FRS.
Honours, awards and grants



RESEARCH GRANTS (only current projects listed)

  • Lee MSY (sole CI). Integrating fossils and genomes to resolve the early evolution of snakes. Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant. $351 000 (2016, 2017, 2018)
  • Prideaux G (lead CI), Lee MSY et al. Illuminating the evolutionary history of Australia's most iconic animals. Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant. (2019, 2020, 2021).
  • Long JA (lead CI), Lee MSY et al. Resolving evolutionary problems at the fish-tetrapod transition. Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant. $491 000 (2016, 2017, 2018)
  • Thomson V (lead CI), Jones, MEH, Sumner, J, Lee, MSY, Hutchinson MN, Sanders KL. Testing co-evolutionary processes driving venom diversity in tiger snakes. Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant. $164 000 (2017, 2018, 2019)


POSTDOCS & STUDENTS (current & recent)

  • Alessandro Palci, ARC-funded Postdoc. Early evolution of snakes; limb loss in reptiles.
  • Ben King, Ph.D student. Basal vertebrate evolution (associate supervisor, with John Long). GRADUATED 2018.
  • Kailah Thorne, Ph.D student. Fossils and morphological evolution of Egernia group skinks (primary supervisor, with Mark Hutchinson and Gavin Prideaux).
  • Jacob Blokland, Ph.D student. Evolution of rails (Aves). (associate supervisor, with Trevor Worthy)
  • Ellen Mather, Ph.D student. Fossil accipitrid birds of prey (Aves). (associate supervisor, with Trevor Worthy)
  • James Dorey, Ph.D student. Bee systematics. (associate supervisor, with Mike Schwarz and Mark Stevens)
  • Catherine Nielsen, Hons student. Sphenomorphine skink fossils and evolution (primary supervisor, with Mark Hutchinson). GRADUATED 2018.


Research expertise
Evolutionary biology
Other earth sciences
Research interests


All papers can be downloaded if you join the above website; faster than asking for reprints.

Some representative recent papers:

  • King, B. and Lee, M.S.Y. 2015. Ancestral state reconstruction, rate heterogeneity, and the evolution of reptile viviparity. Systematic Biology 64 (3): 532-544.
  • Lee, M.S.Y., Cau, A., Naish, D., Dyke G. J. 2014. Sustained miniaturisation and evolutionary novelty in the dinosaurian ancestors of birds. Science 345: 562-566.
  • Mitchell, K.J. Llamas, B., Soubrier, J., Rawlence, N.J., Worthy, T.H., Lee, M.S.Y., Cooper, A. 2014. Ancient DNA unites elephant birds with kiwis and clarifies ratite evolution. Science 344: 898-900.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Paterson, J. R., García-Bellido, D.C., Lee, M.S.Y., Brock, G.A., Jago, J.B., Edgecombe, G.D. 2011. Acute vision in the giant Cambrian predator Anomalocaris and the origin of compound eyes. Nature 480(7376): 237-240. [cover article]
  • Lee, M.S.Y., Jago, J.B., García-Bellido, D.C., Edgecombe, G.D., Gehling, J.G., Paterson, J.R. 2011. Modern optics in exceptionally preserved eyes of Early Cambrian arthropods from Australia. Nature 474: 631-634.



MEDIA COVERAGE OF RESEARCH, click on "Community Engagement"


PH.D AND HONS SUPERVISION: I am able to supervise projects in the research areas below; most of my recent students have submitted. My projects typically require quantitative skills in phylogenetics, comparative methods or related areas (or the desire to quickly learn these). Fondness for reptiles and/or fossils is optional. See publications above to get a flavour for what is possible.

Teaching interests

I am part of the FLINDERS PALAEONTOLOGY GROUP, one of the best places in Australia to study the deep history of life. This consists of the labs of following academic staff and research fellows addressing questions across all vertebrates - from fish to mammals, and the Cambrian to the Anthropocene.

Supervisory interests
Bayesian analysis in time series or bioinformatics
Cambrian explosion
Vertebrate palaeontology
Higher degree by research supervision
Principal supervisor: Evolutionary Biology (2)
Associate supervisor: Vertebrate palaeontology (1)
Higher degree by research student achievements
Benedict King

Best Student Paoer - AUG 2016

Expert for media contact
Available for contact via
+61 8 82077568
Or contact the media team
+61 8 82012092
0427 398 713
Media expertise
  • Biodiversity
  • Palaeontology
  • Zoology
Further information

South Australian Museum Office and Lab

    • Ph: 08 8207 7568
    • Email:
    • Mail: Earth Sciences Section, South Australian Museum, North Terrace, Adelaide 5000



I am part of the Flinders Palaeontology Group, one of the best places in Australia to study the deep history of life. This consists of the labs of the following academic staff and research fellows (and their research groups) addressing questions across all vertebrates - from fish to mammals, and the Cambrian to the Anthropocene.

The Conversation

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