Feb 2019 honours cohort graduate!

Congratulations to our February 2019 honours cohort for graduating yesterday with outstanding results! These guys worked tirelessly throughout the year collecting field data, analysing that data and writing it all up in a whopping thesis. Let’s take a look at a summary of each project!

Gabriella Allegretto – Urban green space quality and use in greater Hobart: a question of environmental justice Gabby aimed to measure the quality of urban green spaces in Greater Hobart, understand urban green space user demographics and examine if quality is related to socioeconomic status. She investigated native forests and parks with playgrounds and found substantial variation in urban green space quality across her 16 sites. However, she found there was no clear relationship between suburb-level socioeconomic status and urban green space quality; access to good-quality urban green space does not appear to be an environmental justice issue in Greater Hobart. However, people without a tertiary education were underrepresented in the sampled green spaces which could be an environmental justice issue. Gabby suggests future research is needed to determine if patterns found in her study hold across other green space types (e.g. sports grounds and community gardens), are consistent in other councils, why certain groups are not visiting urban green spaces, and whether improving the usability and natural aesthetics of Hobart’s green spaces can result in greater visitation.

Molly Barlow – Species distribution models for conservation: identifying translocation sites for eastern and spotted-tailed quolls Molly demonstrated the applicability of Species Distribution Models to conservation, by identifying potential translocation sites for eastern (Dasyurus viverrinus) and spotted-tailed quolls (Dasyurus maculatus). In particular, she tested whether the Bass Strait islands could be suitable translocation sites for either species. Her results demonstrated that the Bassian Plain was climatically suitable for both species during the Last Glacial Maximum, and the Bass Strait islands were suitable during the mid-Holocene, findings supported by fossil evidence. Under current conditions, there are some islands for each species that exhibit differing levels of climatic suitability, but by 2050 none of the Bass Strait islands will be suitable for either species and their distributions in Tasmania are likely to be significantly reduced. There is still opportunity for these islands to be used short-term, however, for long-term management of either eastern or spotted-tailed quolls, other areas should be considered, such as Kangaroo Island or mainland locations.

Alex Paton – Evaluating scat surveys as a tool for population and community assessments Alex aimed to quantify the biases and uncertainties associated with a common wildlife monitoring technique, scat surveys, to shed light on its efficacy for population and community inferences. She compared results of transect-based scat surveys in Tasmania’s south-east forest with those of long-term passive camera-trap studies for six mammal and two bird species. She also used time-lapse imagery to monitor the persistence of Thylogale billardierii (Tasmanian pademelon) and Sarcophilus harrisii (Tasmanian devil) scats in relation to habitat, substrate, disturbance, and environmental correlates, and found that scat persistence differed for the two species. Scat surveys consistently underestimated site occupancy and richness relative to the camera traps (by an average factor of 2.7 : 1), but this bias was not constant across species, with most reliable detection for large, trail-using mammals. Estimates of relative abundance were poorly correlated between camera traps and scat surveys, with more intensive (and thus less cost-effective) surveys required to improve accuracy. However, when used in an appropriate context, Alex suggests that scat surveys can provide an effective and cheap ‘snapshot’ index for wildlife monitoring, especially if the focus is on detecting trail-using animals that scat liberally.

Peter Vaughn – Are petrels running out of gas? Prey availability mediates climate-driven shifts in procellariiforme habitat suitability Peter examined gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.) in south-east Australia as an exemplar of how climate change might affect procellariiforme species and the local ecosystem. He explored two questions. Firstly, what environmental factors might predict gadfly petrel habitat suitability? Further, how might habitat suitability for gadfly petrels fluctuate under ongoing climate change? Negative effects are predicted for habitat suitability of local and uncommon species in the region under sustained climate change. Conversely, average conditions are likely to improve for warm-season migrants. The detrimental future effects of climate change predicted for gadfly petrels are concerning, because they show that cold-water ecosystems in the region will be moved southwards beyond the limits of a productive area provided by the Australian continental shelf. They also imply that equivalent changes might occur worldwide. These results are informative for the conservation of procellariiformes and marine ecosystems, because they help define important areas for reservation based on future habitat suitability. In providing a novel method for investigating procellariiforme habitat suitability, Peter’s research can also be applied to underutilised datasets worldwide. Consequently, while painting a dire picture for temperate and cold-water ecosystems, his study offers a tool to better equip managers for mitigating the threats that climate change poses to the marine biome.

Congratulations to all our honours graduates. We wish them luck in their future endeavours! 

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