Dr Liz Milla

Dr Liz Milla is a postdoctoral fellow, leading the Environomics FSP Pollen DNA Metabarcoding project. Liz’s current research uses ecological and genomic tools to reveal interactions between plants and their insect pollinators. Her research on pollinator networks will contribute to biodiversity identification and help detect keystone plant and insect species for targeted conservation and management strategies.

What made you choose a career in science?

I love problem solving, so I wanted to study something that required analytical skills. I chose computer science because it was a growing field with good job opportunities when I started university many years ago. However, I’ve always loved nature and later I decided I could try to make a career out of studying it rather than just spending my free time enjoying it, so I went back to university and studied conservation biology.

What path have you followed to now?

A rather long and varied one. I worked as a full-time software developer for several years in a range of industries, including education, finance and defence. When I was studying conservation biology, I also worked as a developer at the Environment Protection Authority, working closely with environmental scientists monitoring air quality and freshwater ecosystems. I later joined The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, based in the genomics lab, where I gained valuable experience in molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics. After a few years’ break from study, I started a PhD on the evolution and ecology of a group of tiny Australian pollinating moths in the family Heliozelidae. Through this work, I became fascinated by pollination biology. When I found out about the Environomics FSP project on mapping pollinator networks I was really excited about a job working with pollinators, and very happy to be accepted as a postdoc.

What is exciting about your current project?

Pollination is a critical ecosystem service, and insects play a huge role in delivering it. But we know very little about who pollinates what. Trying to gather this information through direct observations is painstaking and time-consuming. However, we can obtain a remarkable amount of information from pollinators through the use of pollen DNA metabarcoding. We are discovering plant-pollinator interactions that would be almost impossible to observe. We are also learning about which insects are important pollinators, and which plants are key food sources in threatened ecosystems. Plus, I get to go in the field and look at bees and other insects on flowers – what more could you ask for?

What interests you outside of work?

I love hiking, particularly multi-day trips. My most recent trip was to the Bibbulmun track in WA, during wildflower season. It was fantastic to see such unique biodiversity in full bloom. Because I’ve developed an appreciation for the small world, I am also learning macro photography (mainly insects and flowers of course!), so I took a camera with me and took lots of photos.

CSIRO Profile: https://people.csiro.au/M/L/liz-milla