I have been a PhD candidate at the D.E.E.P lab since very late 2016. I was driven to work within the D.E.E.P research group by my passion and commitment to insuring the conservation of animals facing decline due to anthropogenic stresses. I believe that through the use of rigorous and effective science the negative impact of people on the natural environment can be abated and the Anthropocene need not be the period of ecological disasters that it’s predicted to be.
PhD research with DEEP
The feasibility of the translocation of two endangered species of possum, Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) and the Mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus), from mainland Australia to Tasmania.
Leadbeater’s possum and the Mountain pygmy possum are both listed as critically endangered on the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list. Both of these species were considered extinct until wild individuals were found in Victoria in the 1960’s. Their populations are still extremely low and are at risk from future human induced land use change both directly (i.e. logging) and indirectly (i.e. climate change). The loss of the Mountain pygmy possum would be particularly unfortunate due to its uniqueness as it is the only alpine Australian marsupial, and the only Australian marsupial which hibernates.
The main aim of this research is to analyse the feasibility, from a purely scientific point of view, of introducing these at risk possum species into suitable areas of Tasmania. By a purely scientific point of view I mean a view unclouded by the bureaucratic and political issues that surround such a translocation. The outcome of this study would be an objective perspective of the advantages and disadvantages of this translocation that could inform policy in the future. I will make use of mechanistic Species Distribution Modelling to identify the most suitable habitat sites for each species and valid these by ground truthing.
A study of the impact of non-conservation minded translocations on Tasmanian ecosystems.
Since European settlement of Australia, a number of mainland Australian species have been brought to Tasmania. This research will focus on three mainland species which were brought to Tasmania from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century for non-conservation purposes. These three species are the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae), and the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps). Two of these species (laughing kookaburra and sugar glider) have become widespread and damaging to native species. The lyrebird has not become widespread yet and could have potential benefits to the Tasmanian habitats it inhabits via fire suppression. This research will involve a combination of ecological modelling and fieldwork with an aim to help inform future plans to mitigate the negative effects of these Australian invasive species.
An investigation into the restoration of the previous mainland Australian ranges of three Tasmanian animal species by translocation.
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), the eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), and the Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii) are currently only found in Tasmania. Yet all of these species were previously present on mainland Australia but have disappeared due to the introduction of foreign predators by humans (an intentional non-conservation minded human assisted range change). The Tasmanian devil and the now extinct Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) are thought to have disappeared from the mainland after the introduction of the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) to Australia approximately 3,500 years ago. After the arrival of the dingo these species disappeared from the fossil record but persisted in Tasmania (due to the fact dingoes couldn’t expand their range due to the Bass Strait). It has been proposed that the mainland extinctions were caused by a synergistic effect between dingoes and Aboriginal cultural changes such as innovations in hunting technology and more intensive resource use. With the intensification of the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) also playing a part. The Tasmanian pademelon and the eastern quoll are much more recent mainland extinction occurring about 100 and 50 years ago, respectively. Both were believed to have gone extinct on the mainland due to foxes.
Field work in Sabah, Malaysia. ©Anna Heath
Hiking through western Tasmania. ©Thomas Ostersen
An analysis of the changing of community assemblages in Tasmania with projections into the future.
Changes in climate can affect a species abundance, while also altering its range, phenology and microhabitat use. Species vary drastically in their response to changes in the climate causing the overlapping and separation of ranges leading to novel biotic communities. Ranges contract and expand due to altered interspecific interactions which causes further contractions and expansions i.e. a cascading effect. Overall this results in a change in the alpha (species diversity of a small region), beta (community composition both spatially and temporally) and gamma (species diversity of a meta population) diversity of a community.
The effect climate change has on the communities in Tasmania will be the prime aim of this chapter. This is an important area of research as species changing ranges can have as large an effect on a community as the introduction of a non-native species. Ecosystem resilience is thought to be positively influenced by species diversity, so it follows that if climate change causes a reduction in species diversity through range changes the ecosystem in Tasmania will become less resilient. As temperatures increase due to climate change species have been moving poleward and to higher elevations. Will Tasmania follow this trend or will precipitation gradients mediate this effect? This chapter will again combine a combination of field work and modelling. This modelling would involve the synthesis of various species data collected throughout Tasmania.
*If you have any interest in gaining field work experience don’t hesitate to contact me.
My research history
Originally from Ireland where I received an honours degree in Zoology from Trinity College, Dublin, and had an essay nominated for an international award (2012 Undergraduate Awards highly commended in the Life Sciences category). From there I took the odd detour of becoming a cocktail bartender in New York before returning to academia part-time at Imperial College London in 2014. As my degree was a MRes (Masters of Research) I undertook two theses. The first I did in conjunction with Nichola Raihani at the University College London on the evolution of punishment in cooperation (on humans!). The second, I carried out under the supervision of Rob Ewers at the S.A.F.E project (https://www.safeproject.net/) in Malaysian Borneo. My research involved assessing the shift in population dynamics and morphological change in Whitehead’s rat (Maxomys whiteheadi) across a land use disturbance gradient. I also assisted in the long-term mammal monitoring program and was lucky enough to have put up camera traps that obtained photos of one of the most elusive cat species in the world, the bay cat (Pardofelis badia).
Outside of academia I’ve had a variety of different jobs including factory worker, waiter, woodcutter, bartender, restaurant manager, and street food chef.
Processing a Whitehead’s rat in Sabah, Malaysia. ©Anna Heath