Dr Mervyn Shepherd is a Senior Research Fellow with Southern Cross Plant Science. His research interests are in the genetics of forest trees and industrial crops to support improvement or management of forest resources. A major focus of Dr Shepherd's work over the past 13 years has been the use of species' hybrids to elucidate the genetic architecture of traits of interest to forestry and as a system to study genome organisation and evolution.
Dr Shepherd's research involves the assessment of morphological, anatomical or chemical difference in tree populations, and relating this with genetic variation at the DNA sequence level. Genes and genomic segments underlying important ecological or economic traits in trees are identified, and models that describe the mode of inheritance are developed. These studies provide insight into how trees have adapted to past natural and anthropogenic change, and how they will respond to selective forces in the future. This research helps us to grow more productive and resilient plantations, and better manage and conserve native forests. The research is used by geneticists, tree breeders, ecologists, natural resource managers and policy makers, concerned with the productivity, health and sustainable use of forest resources, and the communities that depend on them.
Establishing the genetic basis of variation in characters for product quality and the productivity of tea tree oil production, has been a major research interest since 2010. This has involved the survey of natural populations of this recently domesticated tree, and growing different sources in common garden experiments to establish the degree and basis of genetic determination of adaptive difference. This pre-breeding research is providing genetic materials and know-how that will be useful for devising more efficient strategies and practises for breeding tea tree, and for the development of cultivars with increased pest or drought tolerance, or that produce oil with greater market acceptance through improvements to oil quality. Since July 2017, Dr Shepherd has been the project leader for the Tea Tree breeding program based at SCU and a CRC-Project developing clonal propagation systems for tea tree.
Dr Shepherd has contributed to undergraduate teaching in Genetics, Molecular Genetics and Bioinformatics at SCU since 2015.