Lab Members

Current lab members:

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Matthew Quin. Matt previously received a Masters degree from Latrobe University, where he used genetic techniques to determine diet from deer fecal pellets. Matt is now investigating the landscape genetics of invasive chital deer in QLD to understand historic patterns of population growth/spread, which can be used to predict future spread and areas in need of management solutions.

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Alejandro de la Fuente-Pinero. (primary PhD advisor = Steve Williams). Is a PhD student studying how soil composition, leaf nutrition, and climate change affect the distribution and abundance of endangered rainforest possum species. Alejandro combines field work with mathematical models to test complex ecological hypotheses. This work will inform management decisions for critically endangered mammal species.

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Tom Bruce. Is a PhD student working on the ecology and behavior of feral cats in the wet tropics. Tom’s research is focusing on how/why cat densities differ in the Australian Wet Tropics region, the most biodiverse region of the continent. Most studies of feral cats have been conducted in habitats that are quite different to the dense rainforests and sclerophyll forests where Tom is working, and this work has important conservation implications for managing invasive species in heterogeneous landscapes.

Lab Alumni:

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Catherine Kelly. Cat wrote on her PhD thesis on invasive chital deer ecology. Cat partnered with QLD Department of Agriculture scientists to understand how to mitigate the spread of this invasive deer species. Cat is currently publishing her work the behavior, birth seasonality, and habitat selection of these deer. This work will be used to predict where chital deer may spread next and how best to control their populations.

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Lily Leahy. (primary PhD advisor = Steve Williams). Lily studies arboreal ant distribution and physiology with the aim of understanding how climatic variability affects species distributions. The primary importance of this work is to understand how and why species are distributed, and how this will be affected by climate change. Lily uses her expertise in tree climbing to obtain canopy ant samples in the Australian rainforest.

Mamiko Seki. Undergraduate intern. 2019. Quantifying predator-prey spatial interactions in a tropical savanna ecosystem.

Bianca Staker. MSc. 2018. Using camera traps to measure the density of small rodents in an Australian rainforest.

Erica Malpass. MSc. 2017. Do social mammals use agonistic vocalizations as cues to food location?

Caralea Hensler. Undergraduate intern. 2018. Habitat selection of macropods in Northern Australia.

Student opportunities:

I’m always open to developing new projects with potential PhD, Masters, or Honours students. I’m particularly interested in topics such as collective behavior, mammal behavior and ecology, predator-prey interactions, and movement ecology. Projects that can be undertaken in the Australian Wet Tropics region or close to Townsville are logistically easier, but I’m open to projects in any location.

Current project opportunities in the lab:

Using robotic predator models to understand anti-predator behaviors.

In contrast to sheep and goats, cattle have anti-predator defense behaviors that regularly dissuade wild dog attacks. Some adult cattle develop very nasty dispositions towards dogs (i.e. cows try and kill them) and adult cows with neonates often form crèches that cooperatively protect vulnerable calves from predators. This study proposes to investigate these anti-predator behaviors in cattle in a series of field experiments:

  1. Documenting anti-predator behaviors elicited by a robot wild dog in various classes of cattle.
  2. Investigating whether the cows that form crèches are closely related which might explain their ‘maternal’ attitude towards each others calves.
  3. Evaluating the impact of weaner management practices and the use working dogs on subsequent anti-predator behavior

These experiments seek to understand how anti-predator behaviors develop, whether they are learned from experienced adult associates and passed on to subsequent generations and whether cattle husbandry practices facilitate predation loss that otherwise could be avoided. These investigations will improve our understanding of the natural defense behaviors in cattle and how husbandry might influence predation risk. Field work will be conducted in Northern Queensland on private properties and cattle research stations. Experience in dry tropics habitats and cattle stations is a plus. Experience with remote controlled cars and a drone flight license would be helpful.

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