Feral cat movements in an arid landscape. An ongoing study in the Pilbara in northwest Western Australia that has been tracking feral cats has revealed interesting patterns in their behaviour, which we believe could reflect whether the animals are hunting or ‘commuting’. This project will involve analysing the spatial patterns of cats to understand their movement ecology. This project will suit student who are strong in statistics, or would like to learn new statistical and spatial mapping approaches – great skills for future jobs. Contact Trish Fleming.
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
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
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
Identifying optimal lures for feral cats. Feral cats can be difficult to monitor and control due to neophobia and trap avoidance behaviour, resulting in low detection rates and variable success of control measures. We will test a novel, long-life (up to 1 year) lure system to increase trap captures and reduce neophobic behaviour of cats and develop a smart camera to identify cats. Contact Trish Fleming
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
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
Structure and function of the neck muscles of kangaroos and wallabies. The muscular anatomy of many species of Australian wildlife is still poorly known, and this has implications for the ability of scientists to make interpretations and predictions about the behaviour of extinct animals. One aspect of kangaroo anatomy that is not well understood is the arrangement of the muscles of the neck, and how these might relate to head posture and behaviour. This project will involve dissecting kangaroo and wallaby cadavers to locate, describe and measure the muscles of the neck that connect to the back of the skull; and secondly, to determine how differences in this anatomy might relate to the habitual postures and behaviours of different species, via direct observation and analysis of photos from various sources. Contact Natalie Warburton
Links between seed banks and above ground vegetation across an urban matrix. Contact Bill Bateman
Genetic connectivity of urban reptile populations. Contact: Bill Bateman
Diets of red foxes in the Pilbara, North-West Western Australia. This site is of particular interest as it is a breeding site for flatback turtles. A pilot study of fox stomach contents revealed species that have not previously been documented in fox diet. A more comprehensive picture of fox diet from scat analysis will have important conservation implications. John Stuart.
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. John Stuart
Quenda are fussy about their fungi. A recent study lead by Murdoch University found that 80% of fungi identified in quenda scats were unclassified on global genetic databases. This indicates that they have never been genetically described before, representing a huge gap in knowledge. This project will compare fungi consumed by quenda with a broader sample collected form the environment to test the hypothesis that quenda are fussy eaters. Contact Trish Fleming and ShaneTobe