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Dr Nicholas Joseph Matzke

PhD Integrative Biology (UC Berkeley); MA Geography (UC Santa Barbara); BS Biology/Chemistry (Valparaiso)

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Senior Lecturer


I work in phylogenetic biogeography: the dispersal history of species around the globe over millions of years. I specialise in taking model-based inference techniques (Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian methods) from statistical phylogenetics and applying them to biogeographical problems. This often involves linking unusual datasets for improved inference (e.g. linking biogeography, paleogeography, and organismal traits and structures to more traditional DNA and fossil datasets). Recent papers focus on using statistical model comparison to learn the role that organismal traits play in the probability of long-distance dispersal events. My R package for biogeographical analysis is BioGeoBEARS.

I am also a leader in evolution education. I worked at the U.S. nonprofit National Center for Science Education during the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. I also tracked the "evolution of antievolutionism" after Kitzmiller using phylogenetic analysis of the evolutionary history of creationist policies. This was published in Science magazine. It is an example of "phylomemetics", studying how texts and other human cultural products ("memes") evolve in part through Darwin's process of "descent with modification." The fact that the antievolutionists and climate change denialists often team up (see the Science article) has also led me to comment on climate change denialism (see my interview on Radio New Zealand (RNZ), December 2019).

I invite students to work with me on any topics related to these (the University of Auckland has rolling admissions, so postgraduate applications are accepted at any time during the year; see also UoA Summer Research Projects). I am also regularly involved in research collaborations, symposia at scientific meetings, and workshops on methods in phylogenetic biogeography.

For a graphical overview of some of my research areas, please see . I put my most active projects and updates on PhyloWiki.

Research Projects

Note: The below are projects for which I have/had formal position advertisements. However, for students in New Zealand (e.g. UoA Honours students, Masters, Ph.D.s, summer students), or students abroad who can self-fund, I am happy to chat if you are interested in working with me on any of the sorts of topics mentioned above. The University of Auckland also offers scholarships, some of which are available to international students (although usually very competitive).

(Position filled) Available July 2019: Funded PhD project: Improving model-based inference in phylogenetic biogeography. See also: FindAThesis: New models in phylogenetic biogeography. Regulations: University of Auckland Marsden Grant PhD Scholarship in Phylogenetic Biogeography

(Position filled) Phylogenetics of the bacterial flagellum. See listing at:

See also at FindAThesisThe current research of Dr Nicholas Matzke

Research | Current

Revolutionising biogeography by adding extinction, fossils, organismal traits, and paleogeography in a computationally efficient way. Part of a funded Marsden grant and further proposals, this work aims to overcome the major limitations in current methods for inferring biogeographical history at phylogenetic timescales. Students who work in this area will get experience with phylogenetics, Maximum Likelihood/Bayesian inference, programming (in R, Julia, etc.), Geographic Information Systems, paleogeography modeling (GPlates, Paleobiology Database), etc. Position filledUniversity of Auckland Marsden Grant PhD Scholarship in Phylogenetic Biogeography

Reconstructing the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. The bacterial flagellum is a famous example of a complex molecular adaptation, and its evolutionary history has attracted public attention for that reason. This work is a collaboration between Matt Baker at UNSW (experimental evolution, ancestral protein reconstruction) and Matzke (bioinformatics, phylogenetics); students may work in these areas, or their interface.

Phylogenetics and Phylogenetic Comparative Methods (PCMs). Biology is vast, and many areas have yet to be addressed by modern inference methods; similarly, many modern inference methods used quite crude models with simple assumptions. Motivated students therefore are welcome to propose projects in these areas; Matzke’s interests include phylomemetics, carnivorous plants, evolution education, and evolution of complex adaptations.


Research history

Teaching | Current



Semester, # lectures


Ecology and Evolution: The Continuum of Life

One, 8-9 lectures, designed 3 labs


Comparative Bioinformatics

One, ~18 lectures, 3 labs


Evolution and The Origins of Life

Two, 8-9 lectures, 2 labs

BIOSCI 220 Quantitative Biology One & Two, 9 lectures, 3 labs


Evolution of Genes, Populations and Species

Two, 6 lectures, 2 labs


Pacific Biogeography and Biodiversity

Two, 4-5 lectures


Molecular Ecology and Evolution

Two, 2 lectures

Postgraduate supervision

Degree, Institution



Ph.D., U. Auckland, SBS Wallis Bland Supervisor

Ph.D., U. Auckland, SBS

Luke Liddell


Ph.D., U. Auckland, SBS

Ben Potter


M.A., U. Auckland, Marine Science Victoria Lai Co-advisor
Ph.D., U. Auckland, Marine Science Thomas Morris Co-advisor

Ph.D., U. Auckland, Comp. Sci.

Christiaan Swanepoel


Ph.D., ANU

Kirrily Apthorp





Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Klaus, K. V., & Matzke, N. J. (2020). Statistical Comparison of Trait-dependent Biogeographical Models indicates that Podocarpaceae Dispersal is influenced by both Seed Cone Traits and Geographical Distance. Systematic Biology, 69 (1), 61-75. 10.1093/sysbio/syz034
  • Nicolaï MPJ, & Matzke, N. J. (2019). Trait-based range expansion aided in the global radiation of Crocodylidae. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 28 (9), 1244-1258. 10.1111/geb.12929
  • Lu, L., Fritsch, P. W., Matzke, N. J., Wang, H., Kron, K. A., Li, D. Z., & Wiens, J. J. (2019). Why is fruit colour so variable? Phylogenetic analyses reveal relationships between fruit-colour evolution, biogeography and diversification. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 28 (7), 891-903. 10.1111/geb.12900
  • Blom, M. P. K., Matzke, N. J., Bragg, J. G., Arida, E., Austin, C. C., Backlin, A. R., ... Hathaway, S. A. (2019). Habitat preference modulates trans-oceanic dispersal in a terrestrial vertebrate. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286 (1904), 20182575-20182575. 10.1098/rspb.2018.2575
  • Ishida, T., Ito, R., Clark, J., Matzke, N., Sowa, Y., & Baker, M. A. B. (2018). Sodium-powered stators of the bacterial flagellar motor can generate torque in the presence of phenamil with mutations near the peptidoglycan-binding region. 10.1101/507533
  • Matos-Maraví P, Matzke, N. J., Larabee, F. J., Clouse, R. M., Wheeler, W. C., Sorger, D. M., ... Janda, M. (2018). Taxon cycle predictions supported by model-based inference in Indo-Pacific trap-jaw ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Odontomachus). Molecular ecology, 27 (20), 4090-4107. 10.1111/mec.14835
  • Flammensbeck, C. K., Pollerspock, J., Schedel, F. D. B., Matzke, N. J., & Straube, N. (2018). Of teeth and trees: A fossil tip-dating approach to infer divergence times of extinct and extant squaliform sharks. ZOOLOGICA SCRIPTA, 47 (5), 539-557. 10.1111/zsc.12299
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Christina Flammensbeck
  • Matzke, N. J., & Irmis, R. B. (2018). Including autapomorphies is important for paleontological tip-dating with clocklike data, but not with non-clock data. PeerJ, 610.7717/peerj.4553

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Primary office location

Level 4, Room 413
New Zealand