SCBO: How did it feel to be selected as recipient of the SCBO Oceania student presentation award?
TD: I was really surprised to win the award given the tough competition I was up against! I knew it was serious when some of the SCBO board members turned up during the poster session and started grilling me. The award day was actually quite a big day for me because apart from being the last day of the conference, I also got my PhD examiners reports back that morning and it was my birthday too.
What has been the highlight of your research to date and what has been the most interesting thing that you have learned?
I’ve just finished up my PhD where I was really lucky to work closely with two NGOs: Bush Heritage Australia (BHA) and Earthwatch Institute. I did my field research at Bush Heritage’s Charles Darwin Reserve, which is 300 km north-east of Perth and sits in the transitional zone between the arid interior and mesic south-west of the State. Partnering with BHA was great because I was able to work with their ecologists to ensure that the research we were conducting had applied outcomes that were relevant to BHA’s on-ground management. At the same time, we had excellent support from Earthwatch who led volunteer teams that helped with the fieldwork and they also funded a large part of the project. The most valuable thing I learnt during my PhD (from a more abstract point of view) was to always plan for the unexpected! i.e. have a plan B, C, D, E, …. Z.
How do you think that your research will help managers look after forests and wildlife?
Most of my field research to date has actually be conducted in shrublands, rather than forests, although I did do my honours on black cockatoos in south-western Australia’s jarrah forest. At Charles Darwin Reserve, we’ve been doing a lot of fire ecology work in semi-arid shrublands that are subject to large wildfires and which take decades to recover post-fire. We’ve studied the birds, mammals and reptiles there (see my poster), and previous students have looked at fuel dynamics and plant communities. Our primary aim here is to understand how time since last fire influences the ecosystem and how land managers can best manage fire to promote ecological values. This is important because fire frequency and extent are predicted to increase with a warming and drying climate and altered fire regimes are a potential threat to many species and hence a chief concern of land managers.
What piece of advice do you have for other students in the region about how to make their research relevant to conservation?
The main piece of advice would be to go out and talk to land managers and conservation practitioners who are living and working on the frontline. I think a lot of researchers in academia (me included) like to think that their research is applied, but it’s very easy to lose sight of this goal when some big journals demand novelty and want to know what the global implications of your work are. If possible, try and partner with NGOs, government agencies, or local environmental groups. I found that this was a good way to stay grounded.
Where do you see yourself going next? What’s your dream job?
I love research, so I’m currently looking at post-docs. A big area of interest for me at the moment concerns how threatening processes interact with each other and how this can/should influence our management actions. One key example of this relates to invasive predators and I’m hoping to examine these ideas in more detail in the not-too-distant future.