I am a biologist working in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. My work focusses on how animals respond to environmental change. I do a lot of field-based research, but usually resort to genetic methods to study the things that animals don't tell us in other ways.
I'm currently funded by the ARC as a Future Fellow to conduct research on how ecological disturbance (fires, volcanoes, footsteps...) affects the genetic diversity of natural populations. We know that disturbance is a major driver of biodiversity patterns at the species and community levels, but comparatively little work has gone into understanding how it influences genetic diversity. My work in this area mostly focusses on the response of mammals to fire events and regimes - how do individuals and populations respond to fires, and what are the implications for population persistence and genetic diversity under changing fire regimes?
Recent papers and other things
Using simulations to understand how disturbance regimes affect genetic diversity. Ian Davies led a study that we published in the open access journal Ecology and Evolution in which he developed a computer simulation model to investigate how the regime of ecological disturbance (size, frequency, severity etc) affects the amount and spatial patterning of genetic diversity and structure in natural populations.
Refuges, demographic and genetic stability in possums. In a paper recently published in Molecular Ecology, we show how fine-scale topographic refuges can buffer the survival of individual possums against the effects of drought and fire, leading to increased demographic and genetic stability. Or, as the ever-wise Mason Crane put it, gullies are important, even when they burn. Such areas can be particularly important for the persistence of animal populations and will be increasingly important under changing climate and fire regimes.
Social interactions and E. coli transfer in possums. It's good to be social, unless you end up catching a horrible disease from someone else. Michaela Blyton's Ecology Letters paper shows how social interactions between mountain brushtail possums explain E. coli strain sharing better than spatial proximity (i.e. it's how often you interact, not how close you live), but that nocturnal foraging interactions were more strongly associated with strain sharing than regular den-sharing associations. Michaela used proximity-logger radio-collars to collect interaction data from this difficult-to-observe species. If you want more info, check out the story through the ANU website here, or even read the paper!
ABC interview on wildlife survival of bushfire. If you're keen on possums, have a listen to this recent interview that Laurence Berry, David Lindenmayer and I did with the Ann Jones from ABC Radio National.
The current state of play in dispersal research. Don Driscoll led a systematic review that was just published in PLoS ONE, in which we looked at how dispersal research is used for conservation and how it has changed in recent decades. The paper identified some exciting advances in methods for studying dispersal, but found that the application of new dispersal research methods to conservation research, and the nature of the dispersal questions we are asking, is changing rather slowly.
See the projects and publications pages if you want any more details