Honours in ecology 2015

9 07 2014

Below is a list of honours projects I’m putting up for 2015. I’m involved in others with Euan Ritchie that he will advertise shortly. As always, I’m looking for students with a strong academic history (i.e. High Distinction average). If one of the projects interests you, email me (dale@deakin.edu.au) explaining why it interests you and attach a copy of your academic transcript.

Biodiversity on the farm: how will land-use change affect farmland biodiversity?

Associate or External Supervisors and their contact details: Dr Simon Watson, LaTrobe University
Start date: February 2015 or July 2015 (either)

Land for livestock and cropping comprise 40% of the world’s ice-free land surface. Although primarily committed to production, these landscapes accommodate much biodiversity. Climate change and market forces are bringing about changes in land-use across the globe. In SE Australia, one transition is from livestock to winter cereals such as wheat, as wool prices fall and the south of the continent dries. In many regions, this transition is already well underway. However, we know virtually nothing about how these transitions will affect farmland biodiversity. This novel study will survey biodiversity on farmland to examine how scenarios of land-use change will affect biodiversity.

Ecosystem services of scattered trees in farming landscapes

Associate or External Supervisors and their contact details: Prof Andrew Bennett
Start date: February 2015 or July 2015 (either)

Scattered trees are typical of farming landscapes all over the world. They are ‘keystone structures’ as they are disproportionately important as habitat to biodiversity in agricultural regions. However, scattered trees are declining across SE Australia as old trees die and are not replaced due to a lack of recruitment. We are beginning to understand what this will mean for biodiversity, but we do not know what the flow-on effects are for the many ecosystem services that scattered trees provide. This project will examine the ecosystem services brought to farming landscapes by scattered trees. The project will directly measure ecosystem services, including insect pest control by the birds and bats that live in scattered trees, carbon sequestration, and soil function. By gaining a greater appreciation for the services provided by scattered trees, this project will inform policies aimed at their protection and restoration.

How does a century of fire influence carbon storage in mallee ecosystems?

Associate or External Supervisors: Prof Andrew F Bennett, Deakin University; Dr Steve Leonard, LaTrobe University
Start date: February 2015 or July 2015 (either)

This study will explore how fire affects above-ground carbon stocks over a century-long time-scale in semi-arid Australia. Utilizing vegetation data collected during the Mallee Fire and Biodiversity Project (also see here), the project will determine the amount of carbon stored above ground in over 800 sites located across a 104, 0002 km study area. Some field work will be required in the remote Murray Mallee region in order to validate statistical models. A manual driving license is required. This project will have important implications for how fire is managed in mallee systems.

The role of phylogeny in global responses to disturbance

Associate or External Supervisors: Dr Mathew Symonds, Deakin University,
Start date: February 2015 or July 2015 (either)

Understanding the pattern of species declines around the world is critical to alleviating such declines. Such an understanding can be enhanced by exploring the extent to which related species decline in a similar way, due to their shared evolutionary history. This project will ask to what extent are responses to modern disturbances (such as land clearing or climate change) governed by a species evolutionary history.

How does wildfire influence reptile behaviour?

Associate or External Supervisors: Dr Mike Kearney, University of Melbourne
Start date: July 2015

Fire is key driver of the distribution of fauna in regions throughout the world. However, we know very little about how species cope with the changes that fire brings about. This study will build on a number of research projects broadly investigating the influence of fire on fanua in mallee ecosystems. It will employ the use of remote cameras to monitor the behavior of lizard species across the Murray Mallee region of semi-arid southeastern Australia, in relation to fire history and climatic variables. Possible study species include the Desert Skink Liopholis inornata and the Mallee Dragon Ctenophorus fordi. Remote field work will be required, and therefore applicants must have a manual license.

Global land displacement: a challenge for conservation biology

19 02 2014

Originally posted on Ideas for Sustainability:

Guest post by Dale Nimmo, who is currently visiting Leuphana University Lueneburg

We live in an increasingly connected, globalized world. Our food and clothes come from all corners of the globe, and the food produced in our own country gets sent all around the world too. One consequence of global trade is land displacement; that is, the displacement of land that occurs when the resources consumed by people in one nation or region were produced on land in another.

Recently, I read two fascinating papers on land displacement (Weinzettel et al. 2013 and Yu et al. 2013). Both track resources used across nations, allowing them to quantify land displaced across the globe via trade. While land displacement isn’t a new concept, I think these quantitative analyses help capture it in a captivating way.

The picture that emerges is one of a first-world vacuum, as the land…

View original 438 more words

Big Desert Critters: Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse

11 11 2013

Keep your eyes peeled for this feisty fellow from the Big Desert Wilderness, courtesy of Jess Lawton (Deakin Honours student). It’s a Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse, Notomys mitchellii. We know virtually nothing about their ecology, mainly because they’ve been really difficult to detect….

Until now.

Big Desert critters

4 08 2013

Euan Ritchie has put together a nice summary of some camera trap vids from work we’re doing in Big Desert/Wyperfeld, Victoria. Note Euan’s excellent taste in music.

The Matrix in Ecology

29 07 2013

An exceptional and exceedingly rare example of making ecology hip and interesting. Well done Don Driscoll et al.

Also see the less hip, but still interesting paper, here.

Pine plantations modify local conditions in forest fragments: Insights from the Wog Wog fragmentation experiment

18 07 2013

One issue constantly facing landscape ecologists is how to isolate the effects of fragmentation on ecosystems. This is because fragmentation is not a random process; it occurs disproportionately in productive areas that are valued for agricultural production. This results in a confounding of vegetation productivity and fragmentation, such that large intact areas tend to be less fertile, making it difficult to target the independent effects of fragmentation.

One way to get around this is to conduct fragmentation experiments. Fragmentation experiments deliberately manipulate the structure of patches to control for confounding effects and allow researchers to answer specific question in an experimental way. However, manipulating fragmentation at large spatial scales is extremely difficult, and so such studies are rare (but examples can be seen here, here, and here).

Last year, while at the pub with my good friend Brad Farmilo, I agreed to collaborate on work being conducted within one of the world’s few large-scale fragmentation experiments: the Wog Wog Fragmentation Experiment.

Aerial photo of the Wog Wog Fragmentation Experiment

Aerial photo of the Wog Wog Fragmentation Experiment

This experiment was set up in 1987, and has produced a heap of great work (e.g. see here and here). A lot of this work focused on the influence of fragmentation on fauna, but Brad (and his supervisor John Morgan) was interested in looking at the more subtle effects of fragmentation, such as changes to soil chemistry, litter dynamics, and the temperature within fragments. These changes were of particular interest because the Wog Wog experimental fragments are imbedded in a pine plantation, which could result in different changes to those previously described in agricultural landscapes.

I’m really glad I decided to get involved and I’m happy to say that the outcome of this work has been published in Forest Ecology and Management. Briefly, we found fragmentation causes a series of changes to local environmental conditions, including increased canopy cover (due to the pine matrix ‘overtopping’ the forest fragments), leading to increased soil moisture and reduced temperatures in small fragments. We’re now figuring out how these changes directly influence plant species, as well as delving into the question of how fragmentation and other disturbances (e.g. herbivory) interact.

Check out this clip for more info on Wog Wog

Relaxed laws imperil Australian wildlife: Nature correspondence

26 06 2013

Building on from our previous article in The Guardian, we’ve had the following correspondence led by Euan Ritchie published in Nature on the issue of state government changes to laws governing use of national parks.

There is more to come on this issue, so stay tuned.

Relaxed laws imperil Australian wildlife

Policy and legislative changes by Australia’s state governments are eroding the vital protection of the country’s unique biodiversity.

Reserves are being opened up to ecologically disruptive activities, such as grazing by domestic livestock, logging, mining, recreational hunting and fishing, and commercial development. Protected habitats on private and leasehold land are imperilled too. Queensland and Victoria, for example, are relaxing hard-won laws that limit vegetation clearance on private land, further accelerating the loss of regional biodiversity.

Collectively, these actions increase the pressure on biodiversity conservation in protected areas, many of which are already showing biodiversity loss (for example, the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia). Ecological connectivity is being lost, which will hamper the dispersal of species and their ability to respond to climate-change effects.

Species extinctions are primed to increase. Too many of the country’s unique fauna and flora have been wiped out over the past two centuries (see, for example, C. Johnson Australia’s Mammal Extinctions; Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006), including the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus murrayi) in 2009.

There could be no worse time to weaken reserve protection and relax laws designed to reduce habitat loss.