Preparing bilbies for feral weather: developing an early warning system for conservation management


   College of Science and Engineering

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  Dr Martijn van de Pol  Applications accepted all year round  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Greater bilbies, though once abundant in Australia, are a threatened species. In Queensland a wild population of bilbies persists in the Channel Country in the far west of the state. This population is separated from the rest of the Australian population and is thus of high conservation value. Arid environments, where bilbies live, are characterized by boom-bust cycles driven by rare rainfall events. Heavy rainfall results in a vegetation-boom, causing plant-eating mammal numbers to increase, in turn causing feral predators like cats to boom as well. Initially, cats feed mainly on common mammals like long-haired rats, but once rat numbers drop, they switch to bilbies. Rain-driven cat booms have over the past decades reduced the bilby population to such low levels several times that we thought they might have gone extinct. Consequently, feral cat management programs have been started. However, effective cat management and bilby conservation in such remote areas requires timely planning of resources well in advance. What is urgently needed is an early warning system that can reliably predict when rat and cat booms and subsequent prey-switch events will likely occur. Decade-long census time series are available on various species from arid Australia to determine over what time-frame cat and rat (and other boom-bust mammals) numbers will increase after rainfall and how we can best manage their peaks. They await to be analysed and translated into practical tools for conservation management.

Applications are open for non-Australian applicants both in Australia and overseas, and Australian domestic students.

This project is particularly suitable for people with a background in ecology and an affinity with wildlife conservation. Some experience with statistical modelling of time-series data / regression analysis is desirable. People with an interest in population dynamical / mathematical / ecological modelling can also develop the project in that direction.

To be a successful applicant you would either have, or be likely, to get a first-class Honours or Master’s degree. The degree must have included a research project (>6 months) that represents a significant contribution to the final mark. To be competitive for a scholarship an excellent GPA and peer-reviewed papers are required.

If you are interested, please email me with a CV detailing your GPA and publications and I will let you know whether I think your skill set and academic record would place you well against the competition.

Biological Sciences (4) Mathematics (25)

 About the Project