Tristan Derham

About me

My professional experience has included roles in research, mining, government and environmental consulting. I have been involved in business development, hazardous waste policy, limnological research, and the planning, management and synthesis of multi-disciplinary environmental impact assessments.

I prefer to work both within and between disciplines. My academic interests lie at the nexus of environmental philosophy, ecology and the relationship between people and the environment.

Key interests


  • ecological restoration

  • rewilding

  • trophic cascades

  • environmental philosophy

  • environmental ethics

  • animal rights theory

  • animal refugees

  • emu

  • elephant


Derham, T. and Mathews, F. (2020). Elephants as Refugees. People & Nature.

Derham, T.T. (2019). In defence of ‘rewilding’ – a response to Hayward et al. (2019). Biological Conservation.

Derham, T.T., Duncan, R.P., Johnson, C.N. & Jones, M.E. (2018). Hope and caution: rewilding to mitigate the impacts of biological invasions.Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 373(1761).  

PhD research with DEEP

The philosophy of rewilding 

Supervisors: Prof. Barry Brook, Prof. Chris Johnson, Prof. Freya Mathews, Prof. Jeff Malpas

In Australia, the conversation about rewilding has only just begun. The first tentative references in the scientific literature have revolved around positive management of dingoes and the introduction of Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia. Conversations in Europe and North America are more wide-ranging and rewilding has been variously taken to mean: a policy of preserving core habitat connected with corridors to sustain populations of large carnivores; the introduction of functional analogue species to create Pleistocene-like ecosystems, the introduction of strongly interacting species to restore ecosystems on a landscape scale and the abandonment of agricultural land. Considered carefully, these ideas represent exciting alternative approaches to environmental management in Australia.

What are the conceptual threads common to these ideas? Advocates for rewilding often rely on implicit assumptions such as the value of wildness, the value of ecosystem function over community composition and the presence of agency and autonomy in nature. Advocacy often includes somewhat ambiguous appeals to past ecological states and passive management through strong intervention. I hope to bring the tools of environmental philosophy to this debate, including established theories of environmental ethics and ontology, to investigate the circumstances under which the ethical justification for rewilding is most reasonable. I’ll also look into what rewilding might mean in Australian contexts and where it holds the most promise.

I will ground-truth the philosophical analysis with an empirical investigation into examples of and opportunities for rewilding in Australia. For example, many large herbivores went extinct with the arrival of humans in Australia and the resulting effects have been large and widespread. Over the last two hundred years, a new suite of large herbivores has arrived. Australia is now host to healthy populations of large herbivores such as cattle, buffalo, camels, banteng, horses, donkeys and deer. These species may perform similar ecological roles to those of Pleistocene herbivores, long since extinct. The degree to which this is true has implications for environmental management at the landscape scale and the management of herbivore populations.


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