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Matthew Fielding

About me

I am a current PhD candidate within the DEEP lab and UTAS node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH). As a native Tasmanian, I remained faithful to my state and completed my BSc at the University of Tasmania. I joined the DEEP lab in mid-2016 as an undergraduate student and continued working with the group for my Honours project, which studied the response of forest raven (Corvus tasmanicus) populations to land-use change in Tasmania. After completing my Honours, I was employed by the DEEP lab as a Research Assistant before commencing my PhD in mid-2018. I have a strong passion for animal conservation, especially the impact that humans have on bird populations, and I hope my research can contribute to keeping our bird buddies around to sing for future generations.

Key interests

  • ornithology

  • conservation ecology 

  • community ecology 

  • land-use change

  • bass strait islands

  • woodland birds

Publications

Fielding, M.W., Buettel, J.C., Nguyen, H. & Brook, B.W. (2019). Ravens exploit wildlife roadkill and agricultural landscapes but do not affect songbird assemblages. Emu-Austral Ornithology. 

http://www.doi.org/10.1080/01584197.2019.1629820 

Nguyen. H.K.D., Fielding, M.W.,  Buettel, J.C. & Brook, B.W. Habitat suitability, live abundance and their link to road mortality of Tasmanian wildlife. Wildlife Research  46(3): 236-246. https://doi.org/10.1071/WR18128

PhD research with DEEP

Drivers of bird community structure on temperate land-bridge islands: a case study on a shifting strait​

Supervisors: Prof Barry Brook, Dr Jessie Buettel, Dr Matthew McDowell

Land-bridge islands are often overlooked in conservation research. However, these unique environments are home to some of Australia’s most endangered avian fauna. The Bass Strait Islands were once part of a land bridge that connected Tasmania to the Australian Mainland before sea level rise flooded the basin. Isolation had several effects on the local avian fauna, most notably, the diversification of several populations that are now identified as separate subspecies. Sea level rise also triggered significant shifts in the distributional range of birds in the area, possibly leading to anomalies in the current distribution of several species. Bird communities on the islands were further impacted following European occupation and subsequent large-scale habitat modification.

For some generalist species, like the Forest Raven (Corvus tasmanicus), land-use change on King Island seems to have been beneficial due to increased food availability from roadkill and hunting of macropodids. This has potentially led to the modification of raven behaviour to forage on roadsides more frequently, as they provide a reliable source of carrion. Increases in raven abundance have reportedly led to the competitive exclusion of the vulnerable King Island Black Currawong (Strepera fuliginosa colei). In contrast, habitat modification has resulted in the global extinction of some birds, such as the King Island (Dromaius novaehollandiae minor) and the Tasmanian (D. n. diemenensis) subspecies of Emu. As emus are important seed dispersal agents, this function may now be absent from these regions, a particularly pressing concern given projected climate change.

 

My PhD project will study the woodland birds of the Bass Strait Islands, focusing on distributional anomalies, current threats to species and past avian extinctions, which will allow us to predict future shifts in bird communities of the region. The principal aim of this project is to understand how drivers, such as isolation, climate change and habitat modification, have shaped woodland bird communities on land-bridge islands and resulted in the extinction and endangered status of several endemic subspecies. To do this, I require a contemporary snapshot of the bird communities of the islands which will be achieved through the collection of field data in the Bass Strait region.

My research history

2018: Research Assistant (D.E.E.P & CABAH) 

 

I began working as a research assistant for the D.E.E.P group within the UTAS node of CABAH at the beginning of 2018. Within this role, I used historical data in combination with modelling techniques to investigate bird extinctions within Australia over the last 130,000 years. These extinct species include the large flightless bird Genyornis newtoni, the giant malleefowls, and the dwarf emus of King Island, Kangaroo Island and Tasmania.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 - 2017: Early Work (Undergraduate and Honours)

Supervisors: Prof Barry Brook, Dr Jessie Buettel

Future land-use and climate change could supplement populations of opportunistic predatory birds, such as corvids, resulting in amplified predation pressure and negative effects on populations of other avian species. Within this study, I investigated whether forest ravens (Corvus tasmanicus) were more likely to be observed in modified landscapes and in areas of higher roadkill density in south-eastern Tasmania. Following this, I examined the effect of forest raven density on the abundance of other birds. This project involved over 48 hours of birdwatching and identification (a twitcher’s dream) and utilised analysis techniques, such as species distribution models and generalised linear models, to assess the habitat and population dynamics of forest ravens and prey species. This research is currently in preparation for publication.

An artist’s rendition of Genyornis newtoni 

(Ph: Anne Musser)

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