Potential projects

Native wildlife

  1. Which fauna use corridors? Dryandra Woodland National Park (‘Dryandra’) features the largest remnant of native vegetation on the western edge of the Western Australian wheatbelt. The reserve supports more than half of the total known numbers of the Endangered numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), represents one of only three (possibly now two) natural populations of the Critically Endangered woylie (Bettongia penicillata), and supports an important population of the Vulnerable chuditch (Dasyurus geoffroii). Despite its large total area (280 km2), Dryandra is represented by 17 isolated blocks of native vegetation surrounded by intensive agricultural lands that have been largely cleared. Ensuring persistence of these important mammal species requires sufficient space to support thriving populations, but also sufficient connectivity to enable genetic flow. The isolated blocks can provide important habitat if they are connected through viable corridors. This project will investigate which corridors are used by these species to inform management decisions about designing future corridors. For further information, contact Trish Fleming.
  2. Long-life lures for pest detection and monitoring. Lures are used to attract animals for surveillance or monitoring purposes. Historically, these lures are food-based and short-lived (2 weeks). Developments in remote communications now means that traps are becoming more autonomous and can be left out for longer periods of time with little to no maintenance required. One of the current shortfalls relating to these autonomous traps is the continuous need to replace the trap lure. Such a lure would significantly decrease operational costs associated with refreshing lures and increase the effectiveness of the control/monitoring operations by ensuring that the lures are always optimally attractive to target animals. This project will trial New Zealand-developed long-life block lures to assess the effectiveness and longevity of the lures in attracting invasive rodents in Australia.  Contact Melissa Thomas Melissa.Thomas@Murdoch.edu.au or Trish Fleming.
  3. Do livestock guardian dogs pose a risk for wildlife?  Livestock guardian animals are increasingly important for the protection of livestock against predators. In Australian rangelands, Maremma sheepdogs guard sheep against predation by dingoes, therefore playing an important role in ensuring the livelihoods of livestock producers, reducing the need for lethal dingo control to protect livestock. However Maremmas could also pose a threat to wildlife in their own right.  While the sheepdogs are regularly fed, they could also predate on wildlife, as has been demonstrated in South Africa (Drouilly et al 2020; Smith et al. 2020). This study will investigate the diet of free-ranging Maremmas on pastoral properties in the Southern Rangelands of Western Australia. The project will involve both field work for collection of samples, and laboratory analyses of diet. For further information, contact Trish Fleming.
  4. Are quenda more vulnerable to introduced predators in the presence of dieback? Phytophthora cinnamomi is a major plant pathogen causing extensive loss of vegetation cover in many parts of the world. Many jarrah forest native plant species are vulnerable to ‘dieback’. In Mundaring, infested sites have reduced shrub density and fewer grasstrees suitable as refuge for animals, and there is less digging activity by quenda (Isoodon fusciventer). This project will examine whether infested sites have a greater incidence of introduced predators (foxes and cats), and whether quenda could be more vulnerable in these sites due to loss of this protective cover. For further information, contact Trish Fleming.
  5. Ecological characteristics that make fire-fighting waterpoints effective refuges for biodiversity. Freshwater and riparian ecosystems are the most biologically diverse in the world per unit area but are also disproportionately threatened by climate change. The most severe effect of climate change is the loss of permanent pools that provide essential refuges for the survival of species during the dry season. We have recently found that fire-fighting waterpoints can mimic natural refuge pools to maintain biodiversity although their value for conservation is currently hindered by an inadequate understanding of the characteristics that make them effective as biodiversity refuges. This project aims to identify the ecological characteristics that make fire-fighting waterpoints effective biodiversity refuges. Projects can be designed to focus on any of the flora and fauna that are dependent on natural refuge pools for survival, including fishes, frogs, macroinvertebrates, and terrestrial flora and fauna (including feral animals, such as deer, pigs, feral cats, and foxes). This project is fully funded and includes the scope to design field and/or laboratory-based studies. For further information, contact Stephen Beatty S.Beatty@murdoch.edu.au or Trish Fleming.
  6. Do bats drink from fire-fighting waterpoints? Across southwest Western Australia, fire-fighting waterpoints can provide important water resources to maintain biodiversity in the forest. Bats have different flight mobility characteristics, which are determined by their wing shape and body size. Therefore the vegetation surrounding waterpoints is likely to influence their ability to access the water surface to drink.  In this project, you will use audio recording to monitor bat use of water points and grow our understanding of the ecology of forest bat species. For further information, contact Stephen Beatty S.Beatty@murdoch.edu.au or Trish Fleming.
  7. Virtual fences to save endangered species. Vehicle strike is one of the most common causes of death for wildlife, even in relatively undeveloped areas. In some locations, building a physical fence (with fauna underpasses or overpasses) can be cost prohibitive, and can also act as an ecological trap – isolating populations or funnelling animals to locations where predators learn to hunt. Virtual fences (Fox et al. 2018, Englefield et al. 2019, Stannard et al. 2021), using either auditory or visual deterrents or both that are triggered by car headlights, may therefore be a viable alternative. This project offers the opportunity to develop a robust experimental design, with appropriate spatial replication, testing alternative virtual fence modes in a landscape with high density populations of threatened and endemic fauna.
    Barrow Island is a Class A Nature reserve and is Western Australia’s second largest island. The island is home to 13 mammal species (wallabies, burrowing bettongs, bandicoots, possums, small carnivorous marsupials, native rats and mice, and microbats, Moro and MacAulay 2010), some that are extinct or rare on the mainland. Barrow Island is also home of the Gorgon Project – one of the world’s largest natural gas projects and the largest single resource project in Australia’s history –bringing people and infrastructure onto the island.
    In this project, you will work with researchers on a project that has direct application to conservation outcomes in both a national and international context. The project will involve design and establishment of a virtual fence/s (for example: https://www.wildlifesafetysolutions.com.au/) on Barrow Island, and then analysis of vehicle interaction / fauna data to quantify results, also potentially using new camera technology for behavioural analysis. For further information, contact Trish Fleming or Blair Hardman.

    Englefield, B., S. G. Candy, M. Starling, and P. D. McGreevy. 2019. A trial of a solar-powered, cooperative sensor/actuator, opto-acoustical, virtual road-fence to mitigate roadkill in Tasmania, Australia. Animals 9:752.
    Fox, S., J. M. Potts, D. Pemberton, and D. Crosswell. 2018. Roadkill mitigation: trialing virtual fence devices on the west coast of Tasmania. Australian Mammalogy 41:205-211.
    Moro, D., and I. MacAulay. 2010. A Guide to the Mammals of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia.
    Stannard, H. J., M. B. Wynan, R. J. Wynan, B. A. Dixon, S. Mayadunnage, and J. M. Old. 2021. Can virtual fences reduce wombat road mortalities? Ecological Engineering 172:106414.
  8. Kangaroo biology and management in the rangelands. Kangaroos are unique and charismatic animals, recognisable the world over. In the Australian rangelands (the massive areas of semi-arid land used predominantly for raising livestock), kangaroos have benefitted from the broadscale modification of the landscape, such as the provision of permanent water, the widespread control of predators, and the vegetation shifts resulting from livestock grazing. In some areas, kangaroos are contributing to overgrazing (alongside livestock and feral herbivores), resulting in damage to biodiversity and agriculture. Land managers, whether motivated by conservation or agricultural production, must understand and manage kangaroo populations to avoid damage to fragile Australian ecosystems. In addition, kangaroos can provide a healthy and low-carbon alternative to lamb and beef, and a highly sought-after leather. However, the commercial harvest of kangaroos is under pressure from high costs and low demand.
    At Murdoch University, our research group has been investigating kangaroo biology and management in the rangelands of WA, in order to better protect and understand these our natural areas, and the amazing animals within. We are seeking a PhD student to join our team, working on kangaroo biology and management in the rangelands. There is ongoing research into kangaroo grazing patterns that a suitable candidate would take over and lead. However, a suitable candidate would have considerable scope to broaden this research and focus on topics they desire. This project has a small amount of funding already, however a successful candidate will work with the supervisors to secure additional support.
    A suitable candidate is: Hard-working – obviously, it’s a PhD; Independent and self-motivated– you will need to take ownership of your research; Comfortable in remote regions – this project will require fieldwork in remote cattle stations, complete with heat, snakes, flat tyres, and awesome sunsets; Confident engaging with new people – you may will need to build relationships with farmers, industry and government, and have to be comfortable chatting to people from all backgrounds; Willing to develop analytical skills – Kangaroo research requires some complex analytical approaches, you don’t need the skills already, but you need to motivated to learn.
    If you would like to learn more or inquire about the project, please contact Stuart Dawson (stuart.dawson@dpird.wa.gov.au) or Trish Fleming (t.fleming@murdoch.edu.au).
  9. Identifying individual foxes from camera trap images. Being able to identify individual animals is essential for population estimates. Animals such as foxes, which lack obvious distinguishing markings, can be difficult to individually identify. This project will examine novel ways to identify individual foxes from a catalogue of photographic images of a population of foxes in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Techniques developed in this project will be applicable across a wide range of species. Contact John Stuart.

Predators in urban and natural landscapes

  1. Personality syndromes and predator cues. Individuals of many taxa show consistent personality types (‘shy’, ‘bold’): the aim of this experiment is to explore how exposure to a predator cue (scent) influences behaviour of ash grey mice: do bold animals remain bold? Do shy animals become shyer?  The experiment will involve behavioural syndrome testing and measuring of ventilatory behaviour of mice exposed to various odours. Contact Bill Bateman or Christine Cooper

Invasive animal control

  1. Monitoring tools for wary dingoes. Understanding how many dingoes are present in an area is an important piece of information necessary to guide their management.  Many studies use passive infrared camera traps to monitor population numbers, assuming that estimates obtained through these cameras are robust and representative of actual numbers.  However it is clear that dingoes avoid cameras – some stare into the lens, while others walk around the sensor field and therefore avoid triggering the camera.  This project will address a simple question – can we alter camera trap position to increase the likelihood of ‘trapping’ camera-wary dingoes? Contact Trish Fleming.
  2. What do schoolie ravens eat, and where do they go when term is over? Australian ravens are problematic for many Perth schoolyards.  They are super-smart animals that know how to undo backpack zips, open lunchboxes, and access bins.  Their populations flourish around schools as they exploit discarded (or badly protected) play lunches and refuse.  But what happens when term is over and students leave for holidays?  Anecdotal stories suggest that these bullying birds head out into the neighbourhood where they cause havoc among small bird and reptile populations.  This project will use a range of methods to find out what the birds are doing: following ravens using trackers, watching their exploitation of resources within schoolyards, and analysing their diet. Contact Trish Fleming.

Evolutionary biology

  1. Evolutionary Anatomy and Behaviour in Black Cockatoos. Three species of Black cockatoos are found in South West Western Australia. The endangered Carnaby’s cockatoo and Baudin’s cockatoo, and the vulnerable forest red-tailed black cockatoo. The three species overlap in their geographic ranges to some extent, and utilise parts of the Perth metropolitan area at various times of the year for both foraging and roosting. The selection of food items and biomechanics of feeding are known (to some extent) to be different between species, and various other differences between species behaviour has been noted. However, detailed comparative anatomy is lacking. This project will undertake a detailed study of the link between form and function in this iconic group of birds, using detailed dissection, modern geometric morphometric methods and behavioural analysis. Contact Natalie Warburton.
  2. Invertebrate Autotomy. Autotomy is a dramatic and extreme response to predation whereby organisms shed part of their body to avoid entrapment or predation. Although the benefit of autotomy is survival, the costs to locomotion, energy stores, mating ability and inter and intra specific competition are varied and less well-understood. This project will be a laboratory and field-based eco-physiology and behavioural ecology project that will aim to explore the energetic and behavioural costs of limb autotomy in a range of invertebrate taxa. Topics to be explored include: physiological effects of autotomy for taxon with leg specialisation, costs of autotomy with predation mode, physiological costs of autotomy at different ontogenetic stages (species with and without regeneration), the effect of autotomy on immune reaction (encapsulation of foreign bodies) and interaction between predators and prey that can both autotomise. Contact Bill Bateman.
  3. Assessing the fitness consequences of parasites in Tiger snakes
  4. Lizard caudal autotomy
  5. Sexual dimorphism in the skeleton of Bobtail lizards
  6. Fang Function (Hons)
  7. New species of Dasyurid (Hons)
  8. Evolution of locomotion in bandicoots (PhD)

Urban Ecology

  1. Links between seed banks and above ground vegetation across an urban matrix.  Contact Bill Bateman
  2. Genetic connectivity of urban reptile populations. Contact: Bill Bateman

 

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