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New Year, New Research!

Happy New Year from the DEEP research group to you, and may 2019 be a productive and exciting year of research!

Towards the end of last year, we had three fantastic Honours students from the DEEP group graduate at the University of Tasmania Hobart Graduation Ceremonies. They Joined more than 2500 UTAS students all starting new chapters of their lives by graduating with degrees. In celebration, University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black said, “We are extremely proud of our graduands and wish them every success.” He also acknowledged the encouragement and support that the broader community provides to students reaching their goals! Our three Honours students, Damien Ashlin, Heather Bryan, and Yvonne Teo created Honours theses’ as part of their degree:

Damien Ashlin – Supervised by Prof. barry Brook & Prof. Chris Johnson – Thesis title: Effects of the introduced superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) on forest litter and fire risk in Tasmania.

Damien “expected that a forecast increase in Earth’s surface temperatures due to global climate change will result in more frequent and intense wildfires due to lengthened fire seasons, increasing the effect of wildfire on natural environments. In this study, Damein examined the potential for the introduced superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) to affect fire behaviour by influencing properties of the surface fuel bed in Tasmanian wet Eucalyptus forests. He mapped the species current distribution in Tasmanian from observational data and used climate and environmental data from its native range to create a species distribution model (SDM). At the landscape level, sites occupied by lyrebirds had, on average, 20% less surface fuel biomass than sites not occupied by lyrebirds. Lyrebirds were responsible for altering properties of the fuel-array in over half of the forest floor by turning over soil and creating extensive patchy disturbances. This research has shown that lyrebird foraging in the litter layer reduces surface fuel loads and model-predicted proxies for fire intensity (energy output) and severity (biological impact).”

Heather Bryan – Supervised by Prof. Barry Brook & Assoc. Prof. Erik Wapstra – Thesis title: Patterns of extinction risk in range-restricted and widespread lizards under climate change.

Heather described that “predicting responses of natural systems to climate change is a major challenge but imperative if we are to influence or mitigate its impacts to biodiversity. Accordingly, there has been an increase and diversification of predictive modelling techniques over the past two decades. However, data availability is generally limited for species and communities and most predictions continue to rely on single techniques which are typically correlative rather than causative in nature. In Heather’s Thesis, she predicted congeneric responses to climate change for four species of Tasmanian snow skinks (Niveoscincus), a genus which has divergent life-history strategies between and within species in response to different thermal environments. Making use of a series of comprehensive datasets, she employed a range of predictive approaches from relatively simple correlative methods, to more data-intensive demographic models. The divergent pattern in climate change vulnerability within Niveoscincus is not a story of lizard, ectotherm or even alpine species vulnerability, but the vulnerability of range-restricted specialists, a pattern relevant to all biotic systems.”

Yvonne Teo – Supervised by Prof. Barry Brook, Dr. Jessie Buettel, and Elise Ringwaldt – Thesis title: Use of new technologies for wildlife monitoring in Tasmania.

Yvonne described that the “estimation of animal population abundance plays an important role in monitoring wildlife, which is fundamental to conservation. The use of drones in zoology research is increasing and it is important to develop species-specific protocols to minimise disturbance. In this research, drone impacts on wildlife were evaluated by measuring drone-induced behavioural responses in Bennett’s wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) and the Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii) in Tasmania, Australia. Development of a species-specific protocol is therefore important to serve as a framework for future wildlife monitoring to survey species that are endemic to Tasmania.”

Furthermore, late last year we welcomed a soft-ware developer onto our team! Kasirat Turfi Kasfi is a UTAS graduate in IT who has worked on software development and has mostly applied herself in the field of machine learning/deep learning. Kasirat will be working within the DEEP group to develop machine learning/deep learning models; which will be applied on a vast number of wildlife image and audio files in order to recognise and classify different animal species.

Alexandra Paton and Rahil Amin, both UTAS Undergraduate students, also joined our group over the summer as part of the Dean’s Summer Research Scholarship. Alex aimed to develop a procedure for collecting scat, track, and bone samples at camera trap sites; while Rahil was investigating the distribution of large cockatoo’s and galahs across southern Tasmania. With both excellent undergraduate students finishing their DSRS in the near future.

This year, more researchers and students will be joining and collaborating with our research group! We are excited to soon announce these new people in an upcoming post with the types of research and advances they are involved in; keep an eye on our People page! We are also looking forward to our third Going DEEPer into Research workshop. An annual event which our whole research group and guest speakers attend to share and inspire each other with the types of research they are working on within UTAS, industry, and the community.

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