Ecosystem Dynamics lab: Honours Opportunities 2021

Here at the Ecosystem Dynamics lab we are offering the following Honours projects:

Can machine learning be used to accurately identify wildlife in remote camera trap images in a rapidly changing world?

Machine learning (ML) techniques provide a powerful method to automate image processing. However, due to rapid environmental change, image algorithms may not perform well after major disturbance events. This project will work closely with WildCount, run by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to refine ML algorithms for identifying species in camera trap images and test the impacts of the 2019/20 mega-fires on the accuracy of species identification.


DigiFarm: incorporating biodiversity into farming decisions (with the Sydney Institute of Agriculture)

We aim to develop a digitally enabled network which will monitor native flora and fauna to inform sustainable agricultural practices. A unique combination of methods will be used: We will test new methods in camera trapping and acoustic recorders (birds and bats) in quantifying on-farm biodiversity and develop spatial models to identify biodiversity hotspots.


Simpson Desert Insights: designing Citizen Science programs for identifying wildlife in remote camera trap images (with Australian Museum)

This project will work closely with DigiVol at the Australian Museum, and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney. It will determine the level of uncertainty in using Citizen Scientists to identify species in remote camera trap images.


Agricultural land suitability that includes ecological and cultural values (with Dr Floris Van Ogtrop, Primary, & Dr Ayesha Tulloch, USYD)

Land suitability maps for agricultural production are based on agronomic and climate data. The availability of spatial ecological/cultural data is improving. This project will incorporate these new data sources to create maps that are ecologically and culturally sensitive to assist decision makers.


Using digital technologies to track farmland ecological condition in remote arid Australia (with Dr Ayesha Tulloch, Primary, USYD)

Digital acoustic monitoring is increasingly used in wildlife studies around the globe. Acoustic monitoring devices are a powerful and cost-effective method to survey wildlife due to their ease in deployment and ability to continually monitor populations across time through the use of “soundscapes”. Digital monitoring is particularly important for tracking ecosystem condition in remote, poorly accessible locations, such as much of arid Australia where livestock grazing predominates. Numerous metrics can be derived from ecoacoustic monitoring datasets, including sound diversity (a potential surrogate for wildlife diversity) and sound abundance (a potential indicator for wildlife abundance or activity). However, the recency of these technologies means that there is little scientific evidence for a clear link between acoustic monitoring metrics and the condition of wildlife and landscapes.

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New paper: Simultaneously operating threats cannot predict extinction risk

Journal: Conservation Letters

Abstract:

Global threat-extinction risk networks illustrating the top 10 threats to threatened species. Networks illustrate the number of threatened species of (A) mammals, (B) reptiles, (C) birds, (D), amphibians, (E) ray-finned fishes (actinopterygians), and (F) cartilaginous fishes (chondrichthians) on the IUCN Red List that are impacted by each threat. Each node in the network is either an extinction risk category
or threat class, and the size of the node, or length of each section around the circle, represents the number of species within that node. Widths of lines joining each extinction risk category and threat class (node) represent the number of threatened species (links or edges) affected by each threat, within each extinction risk category. NT = near threatened, VU = vulnerable, EN = endangered, CR = critically endangered, EW = extinct in the wild, and EX = extinct.

Species afflicted by multiple threats are thought to face greater extinction risk. However, it is not known whether multiple threats operate antagonistically, additively, or synergistically, or whether they vary across different taxonomic and spatial scales. We addressed these questions by analyzing threats to 10,378 species in six vertebrate classes at global and regional spatial scales using network analysis. The total number of threats was a poor predictor of extinction risk, and particular combinations of threats did not predict extinction risk in the same way at different spatial scales. The exception was cartilaginous fishes, which faced increased extinction risk with increasing numbers of threats. Except for cartilaginous fishes, our findings indicate that species facing more threats than others do not face a higher risk of extinction and suggest that effective conservation will require more investment in identifying how threats and different ecosystem stressors operate together at local scales.

Reference: Greenville A. C., Newsome T. M., Wardle G. M., Dickman C. R., Ripple W. J. & Murray B. R. (2020). Simultaneously operating threats cannot predict extinction risk. Conservation Letters. doi.org/10.1111/conl.12758

 

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New paper! Class Conflict: Diffuse Competition between Mammalian and Reptilian Predators

Journal: Diversity

Abstract:

The panther skink (Ctenotus pantherinus) from the Simpson Desert, Australia.

A mulgara from the Simpson Desert, Qld, Australia.

(1) Diffuse competition affects per capita rates of population increase among species that exploit similar resources, and thus can be an important structuring force in ecological communities. Diffuse competition has traditionally been studied within taxonomically similar groups, although distantly related intraguild species are likely also to compete to some degree. (2) We assessed diffuse competition between mammalian and reptilian predators at sites in central Australia over 24 years. Specifically, we investigated the effect of dasyurid marsupial abundance on the diet breadth of three groups of lizards (nocturnal dietary generalists, diurnal dietary generalists and dietary specialists). (3) Nocturnal generalist lizards had progressively narrower diets as dasyurid abundance increased. The diet breadth of diurnal generalist lizards was unaffected by overall dasyurid abundance, but was restricted by that of the largest dasyurid species (Dasycercus blythi). Ant- and termite-specialist lizards were unaffected by dasyurid abundance. (4) Diffuse competition, mediated by interference, between dasyurids and nocturnal generalist lizards appears to have strong effects on these lizards, and is the first such between-class interaction to be described. Diffuse interactions may be widespread in natural communities, and merit further investigation among other disparate taxon groups that occur in the same ecological guilds.

Reference: Dickman C. R., Greenville A. C., Wardle G. M. & Bytheway J. P. (2020) Class Conflict: Diffuse Competition between Mammalian and Reptilian Predators. Diversity 12, 355.

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New paper: Impact of 2019–2020 mega-fires on Australian fauna habitat

Regrowth six months after the Erskine Creek Fire, Blue Mountains.

Journal: Nature Ecology & Evolution

Abstract:

Australia’s 2019–2020 mega-fires were exacerbated by drought, anthropogenic climate change and existing land-use management. Here, using a combination of remotely sensed data and species distribution models, we found these fires burnt ~97,000 km2 of vegetation across southern and eastern Australia, which is considered habitat for 832 species of native vertebrate fauna. Seventy taxa had a substantial proportion (>30%) of habitat impacted; 21 of these were already listed as threatened with extinction. To avoid further species declines, Australia must urgently reassess the extinction vulnerability of fire-impacted species and assist the recovery of populations in both burnt and unburnt areas. Population recovery requires multipronged strategies aimed at ameliorating current and fire-induced threats, including proactively protecting unburnt habitats.

 

Reference:

Ward M., Tulloch A. I. T., Radford J. Q., Williams B. A., Reside A. E., Macdonald S. L., Mayfield H. J., Maron M., Possingham H. P., Vine S. J., O’Connor J. L., Massingham E. J., Greenville A. C., Woinarski J. C. Z., Garnett S. T., Lintermans M., Scheele B. C., Carwardine J., Nimmo D. G., Lindenmayer D. B., Kooyman R. M., Simmonds J. S., Sonter L. J. & Watson J. E. M. (2020). Impact of 2019–2020 mega-fires on Australian fauna habitat. Nature Ecology & Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1251-1

Media:

Bushfire devastation leaves almost 50 Australian native species at risk of becoming threatened, The Guardian, Jul 2020.

Six million hectares of threatened species habitat up in smoke, The Conversation, Jan 2020.

Summer ‘mega-fires’ push more native animals towards extinction, SMH and Age, Jul 2020.

2019/20 bushfires could see 49 native species given threatened status, Bendigo Advertiser, Jul 2020.

Summer ‘mega-fires’ push more native animals towards extinction, The Age, Jul 2020.

The Terrible Consequences of Australia’s Uber-Bushfires, Wired, Jul 2020.

New report warns wildlife endangered after bushfires destroy habitat, Geelong Advertiser, Jul 2020.

Die Bilanz der Feuerkatastrophe, Spiegel, Jul 2020.

Threatened species on brink since fires, Mirage News, Jul 2020.

Fauna extinction listings may jump 14 percent after 2019-20 fires, USYD News, Jul 2020.

Bushfires could mean rise in threatened native species, Phy.org, Jul 2020.

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New paper: Ecological forecasts to inform near‐term management of threats to biodiversity

Published in: Global Change Biology

Abstract:

Ecosystems are being altered by rapid and interacting changes in natural processes and anthropogenic threats to biodiversity. Uncertainty in historical, current and future  effectiveness of actions hampers decisions about how to mitigate changes to prevent biodiversity loss and species extinctions. Research in resource management, agriculture and health indicates that forecasts predicting the effects of near-term or seasonal environmental conditions on management greatly improve outcomes. Such forecasts help resolve uncertainties about when and how to operationalise management. We reviewed the scientific literature on environmental management to investigate whether near-term forecasts are developed to inform biodiversity decisions in Australia, a nation with one of the highest recent extinction rates across the globe. We found that forecasts focused on economic objectives (e.g. fisheries management) predict on significantly shorter timelines and answer a broader range of management questions than forecasts focused on biodiversity conservation. We then evaluated scientific literature on the effectiveness of 484 actions to manage seven major terrestrial threats in Australia, to identify opportunities for near-term forecasts to inform operational conservation decisions. Depending on the action, between 30 and 80% threat management operations experienced near-term weather impacts on outcomes before, during or after management. Disease control, species translocation/reintroduction and habitat restoration actions were most frequently impacted, and negative impacts such as increased species mortality and reduced recruitment were more likely than positive impacts. Drought or dry conditions, and rainfall, were the most frequently reported weather impacts, indicating that near-term
forecasts predicting the effects of low or excessive rainfall on management outcomes are
likely to have the greatest benefits. Across the world many regions are, like Australia, becoming warmer and drier, or experiencing more extreme rainfall events. Informing conservation decisions with near-term and seasonal ecological forecasting will be critical to harness uncertainties and lower the risk of threat management failure under global change.

Reference:

Tulloch A. I. T., Hagger V. & Greenville A. C. (2020) Ecological forecasts to inform near-term management of threats to biodiversity. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/GCB.15272

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New paper! Fire and rain are one: extreme rainfall events predict wildfire extent in an arid grassland

Published in: International Journal of Wildland Fire

New paper led by Elise Verhoeven who did this research as part of an undergraduate internship at the University of Technology Sydney. Well done Elise on your first paper!

Abstract:

Assessing wildfire regimes and their environmental drivers is critical for effective land management and conservation. We used Landsat imagery to describe the wildfire regime of the north-eastern Simpson Desert (Australia) between 1972 and 2014, and to quantify the relationship between wildfire extent and rainfall. Wildfires occurred in 15 of the 42 years, but only 27% of the study region experienced multiple wildfires. A wildfire in 1975 burned 43% of the region and is the largest on record for the area. More recently, a large wildfire in 2011 reburned areas that had not burned since 1975 (47% of the 2011 wildfire), as well as new areas that had no record of wildfires (25% of the 2011 wildfire). The mean minimum wildfire return interval was 27 years, comparable with other spinifex-dominated grasslands, and the mean time since last wildfire was 21 years. Spinifex-dominated vegetation burned most frequently and over the largest area. Extreme annual rainfall events (> 93rd percentile) effectively predicted large wildfires occurring 2 years after those events. Extreme rainfall is predicted to increase in magnitude and frequency across central Australia, which could alter wildfire regimes and have unpredictable and far-reaching effects on ecosystems in the region’s arid landscapes.

Working in the Simpson Desert, Qld, after a wildfire came through the study region in 2011, which burnt 21% (2233 km2) of the study region. Photo: Aaron Greenville

Reference: Verhoeven E. M., Murray B. R., Dickman C. R., Wardle G. M. & Greenville A. C. (2020) Fire and rain are one: extreme rainfall events predict wildfire extent in an arid grassland. Int. J. Wildland Fire, https://doi.org/10.1071/WF19087.

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Citizen science: how you can contribute to coronavirus research without leaving the house

Ayesha Tulloch, University of Sydney; Aaron Greenville, University of Sydney; Alice Motion, University of Sydney; Cobi Calyx, UNSW; Glenda Wardle, University of Sydney; Rebecca Cross, University of Sydney; Rosanne Quinnell, University of Sydney; Samantha Rowbotham, University of Sydney, and Yun-Hee Jeon, University of Sydney

As Australians try to maintain social engagement during self-isolation, citizen science offers a unique opportunity.

Defined as “public participation and collaboration in scientific research”, citizen science allows everyday people to use technology to unite towards a common goal – from the comfort of their homes. And it is now offering a chance to contribute to research on the coronavirus pandemic.

With so many of us staying home, this could help build a sense of community where we may otherwise feel helpless, or struggle with isolation.




Read more:
Can’t sleep and feeling anxious about coronavirus? You’re not alone


Anyone is welcome to contribute. You don’t need expertise, just time and interest. Projects exist in many forms, catering to people of diverse ages, backgrounds and circumstances. Many projects offer resources and guides to help you get started, and opportunities to collaborate via online discussion forums.

Ditch the news cycle – engage, gain skills and make a difference

Scientists worldwide are racing to find effective treatments and vaccines to halt the coronavirus pandemic. As a citizen scientist, you can join the effort to help tackle COVID-19, and other infectious diseases.

Foldit is an online game that challenges players to fold proteins to better understand their structure and function. The Foldit team is now challenging citizen scientists to design antiviral proteins that can bind with the coronavirus.

The highest scoring designs will be manufactured and tested in real life. In this way, Foldit offers a creative outlet that could eventually contribute to a future vaccine for the virus.

Another similar project is Folding@home. This is a distributed computing project that, rather than using you to find proteins, uses your computer’s processing power to run calculations in the background. Your computer becomes one of thousands running calculations, all working together.

One way to combat infectious diseases is by monitoring their spread, to predict outbreaks.

Online surveillance project FluTracking helps track influenza. By completing a 10-second survey each week, participants aid researchers in monitoring the prevalence of flu-like symptoms across Australia and New Zealand. It could also help track the spread of the coronavirus.

Such initiatives are increasingly important in the global fight against emerging infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Citizen science portal Flutracking’ was designed to allow researchers and citizens to track flu-like symptoms around Australia and New Zealand.

Another program, PatientsLikeMe, empowers patients who have tested positive to a disease to share their experiences and treatment regimes with others who have similar health concerns. This lets researchers test potential treatments more quickly.

The program recently set up a community for people who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered. These individuals are contributing to a data set that could prove useful in the fight against the virus.

Environmental projects need your support too

If you’d like to get your mind off COVID-19, there’s a plethora of other options for citizen scientists. You can contribute to conservation and nature recovery efforts – a task many took to after the recent bushfires.




Read more:
Coronavirus: seven ways collective intelligence is tackling the pandemic


Some sites ask volunteers to digitise data from ongoing environmental monitoring programs. Contributors need no prior experience, and interpret photos taken with remote digital cameras using online guides. One example is Western Australia’s Western Shield Camera Watch, available through Zooniverse.

Other sites crowdsource volunteers to transcribe data from natural history collections (DigiVol), historical logbooks from explorers, and weather observation stations (Southern Weather Discovery).

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science app eBird uses bird sightings to fuel research and conservation efforts.
eBird

Citizen science programs such as eBird, BirdLife Australia’s Birdata, the Australian Museum’s FrogID, ClimateWatch, QuestaGame, NatureMapr, and the Urban Wildlife App, all have freely available mobile applications that let you contribute to “big” databases on urban and rural wildlife.

Nature watching is a great self-isolation activity because you can do it anywhere, including at home. Questagame runs a series of “bioquests” where people of all ages and experience levels can photograph animals and plants they encounter.

In April, we’ll also have the national Wild Pollinator Count. This project invites participants to watch any flowering plant for just ten minutes, and record insects that visit the flowers. The aim is to boost knowledge on wild pollinator activity.

The data collected through citizen science apps are used by researchers to explore animal migration, understand ranges of species, and determine how changes in climate, air quality and habitat affect animal behaviour.




Read more:
As heat strikes, here’s one way to help fight disease-carrying and nuisance mosquitoes


This year for the first time, several Australian cities are participating in iNaturalist’s City Nature Challenge. The organisers have adapted planned events with COVID-19 in mind, and suggest ways to document nature while maintaining social distancing. You can simply capture what you can see in your backyard, or when taking a walk, or put a moth light out at night to see what it attracts.

Connecting across generations

For those at home with children, there are a variety of projects aimed at younger audiences.

From surveying galaxies to the Bird Academy Play Lab’s Games Powered By Birds – starting young can encourage a lifetime of learning.

If you’re talented at writing or drawing, why not keep a nature diary, and share your observations through a blog.

By contributing to research through digital platforms, citizen scientists offer a repository of data experts might not otherwise have access to. The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) website has details on current projects you can join, or how to start your own.

Apart from being a valuable way to pass time while self-isolating, citizen science reminds us of the importance of community and collaboration at a time it’s desperately needed.

Ayesha Tulloch, DECRA Research Fellow, University of Sydney; Aaron Greenville, Lecturer in Spatial Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney; Alice Motion, Associate professor, University of Sydney; Cobi Calyx, Research Fellow in Science Communication, UNSW; Glenda Wardle, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Sydney; Rebecca Cross, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Sydney; Rosanne Quinnell, Associate Professor, University of Sydney; Samantha Rowbotham, Lecturer, Health Policy, University of Sydney, and Yun-Hee Jeon, Susan and Isaac Wakil Professor of Healthy Ageing, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Six million hectares of threatened species habitat up in smoke

New analysis led by Michelle Ward.

At least 250 threatened species have had their habitat hit by fires. Gena Dray

Michelle Ward, The University of Queensland; Aaron Greenville, University of Sydney; April Reside, The University of Queensland; Ayesha Tulloch, University of Sydney; Brooke Williams, The University of Queensland; Emily Massingham, The University of Queensland; Helen Mayfield, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Jim Radford, La Trobe University, and Laura Sonter, The University of Queensland

More than one billion mammals, birds, and reptiles across eastern Australia are estimated to have been affected by the current fire catastrophe.

Many animals and plants have been incinerated or suffocated by smoke and ash. Others may have escaped the blaze only to die of exhaustion or starvation, or be picked off by predators.



But even these huge losses of individual animals and plants do not reveal the full scale of impact that the recent fires have had on biodiversity.

Plants, invertebrates, freshwater fish, and frogs have also been affected, and the impact of the fires is likely to be disproportionately greater for threatened species.


Read more: A season in hell: bushfires push at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction


To delve deeper into the conservation impact, we used publicly available satellite imagery to look at the burnt areas (up to January 7, 2020) and see how they overlapped with the approximate distributions of all the threatened animals and plants listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

We restricted our analysis to the mediterranean and temperate zone of south-east and south-west Australia.

The bad news

We found that 99% of the area burned in the current fires contains potential habitat for at least one nationally listed threatened species. We conservatively estimate that six million hectares of threatened species habitat has been burned.



Given that many fires are still burning and it is not yet clear how severe the burning has been in many areas, the number of species affected and the extent of the impact may yet change.

What we do know is that these species are already on the brink of extinction due to other threats, such as land clearing, invasive species, climate change, disease, or previous fires.

Approximately 70 nationally threatened species have had at least 50% of their range burnt, while nearly 160 threatened species have had more than 20% of their range burnt.

More threatened plants have been affected than other groups: 209 threatened plant species have had more than 5% of their range burnt compared to 16 mammals, ten frogs, six birds, four reptiles, and four freshwater fish.

Author supplied

Twenty-nine of the 30 species that have had more than 80% of their range burnt are plants. Several species have had their entire range consumed by the fires, such as the Mountain Trachymene, a fire-sensitive plant found in only four locations in the South Eastern Highlands of NSW.

Other species that have been severely impacted include the Kangaroo Island dunnart and the Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo. These species’ entire populations numbered only in the hundreds prior to these bushfires that have burned more than 50% of their habitat.

The Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo has had more than 50% its habitat impacted by fire. Mike Barth

Glossy black cockatoos have a highly specialised diet. They eat the seeds of the drooping sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata). These trees may take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to recover enough to produce sufficient food for the black cockatoos.

The populations of many species will need careful management and protection to give their habitats enough time to recover and re-supply critical resources.

The figures above do not account for cumulative impacts of previous fires. For example, the critically endangered western ground parrot had around 6,000 hectares of potential habitat burnt in these fires, which exacerbates the impact of earlier extensive fires in 2015 and early 2019.

Threatened species vary in their ability to cope with fire. For fire-sensitive species, almost every individual dies or is displaced. The long-term consequences are likely to be dire, particularly if vegetation composition is irrevocably changed by severe fire or the area is subject to repeat fires.

More than 50% of the habitat of several species known to be susceptible to fire has been burnt – these include the long-footed potoroo and Littlejohn’s tree frog.

The endangered long-footed potoroo has had more than 50% of its potential habitat impacted by fire. George Bayliss

Some species are likely to thrive after fire. Indeed, of the top 30 most impacted species on our list, almost 20% will likely flourish due to low competition in their burnt environments – these are all re-sprouting plants. Others will do well if they are not burnt again before they can set seed.

Rising from the ashes

For fire-sensitive threatened species, these fires could have substantially increased the probability of extinction by virtue of direct mortality in the fires or reducing the amount of suitable habitat. However, after the embers settle, with enough investment and conservation actions, guided by evidence-based science, it may be possible to help threatened species recover.

For species on the brink of extinction, insurance populations need to be established. Captive breeding and release can complement wild populations, as occurs for the regent honeyeater. Dean Ingwersen / BirdLife Australia

Protection and conservation-focussed management of areas that have not burned will be the single most important action if threatened species are to have any chance of persistence and eventual recovery.

Management of threatening processes (such as weeds, feral predators, introduced herbivores, and habitat loss through logging or thinning) must occur not just at key sites, but across the landscapes they sit in. Maintaining only small pockets of habitat in a landscape of destruction will lock many species on the pathway to extinction.

In some cases, rigorous post-fire restoration will be necessary to allow species to re-colonise burnt areas. This may include intensive weed control and assisted regeneration of threatened flora and specific food sources for fauna, installing nest boxes and artificial cover, or even targeted supplementary feeding.

Unconventional recovery actions will be needed because this unique situation calls for outside-the-box thinking.



Playing the long game

These fires were made larger and more severe by record hot, dry conditions. Global temperatures have so far risen by approximately 1°C from pre-industrial levels.

Current projections indicate that we are on track for a 3°C increase. What will that look like?

We are in a moment of collective grief for what has been lost. A species lost is not just a word on a page, but an entire world of unique traits, behaviours, connections to other living things, and beauty.

These losses do not need to be in vain. We have an opportunity to transform our collective grief into collective action.

Australians are now personally experiencing climate impacts in an unprecedented way. We must use this moment to galvanise our leaders to act on climate change, here in Australia and on the world stage.

The futures of our beloved plants and animals, and our own, depend on it.

Michelle Ward, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Aaron Greenville, Lecturer in Spatial Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney; April Reside, Researcher, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland; Ayesha Tulloch, DECRA Research Fellow, University of Sydney; Brooke Williams, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Emily Massingham, PhD Student, The University of Queensland; Helen Mayfield, Postdoctoral Research Fellow School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, Professor, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; Jim Radford, Principal Research Fellow, Research Centre for Future Landscapes, La Trobe University, and Laura Sonter, PhD Candidate in Global Environmental Change, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ecosystem Dynamics lab: Honours Opportunities

Here at the Ecosystem Dynamics lab we are offering the following Honours projects:

Can machine learning be used to accurately identify wildlife in remote camera trap images? (with WildCount, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Government)

This project will work closely with WildCount, a large-scale wildlife monitoring program run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Government and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney. It will test the feasibility of using machine learning algorithms for identifying species in camera trap images.


DigiFarm: incorporating biodiversity into farming decisions (with the Sydney Institute of Agriculture)

We aim to develop a digitally enabled network which will monitor native flora and fauna to inform sustainable agricultural practices. A unique combination of methods will be used: We will test new methods in camera trapping and acoustic recorders (birds and bats) in quantifying on-farm biodiversity and develop spatial models to identify biodiversity hotspots.


Simpson Desert Insights: designing Citizen Science programs for identifying wildlife in remote camera trap images (with Australian Museum)

This project will work closely with DigiVol at the Australian Museum, and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney. It will determine the level of uncertainty in using Citizen Scientists to identify species in remote camera trap images.


Identifying species of high conservation value for restoring ecosystem function after disturbance.

This project aims to determine how ecosystem function changes after a disturbance (e.g. wildfire) event and partition each source of change from disturbance—species loss, gain and change in resident species dynamics—to ecosystem function. We aim to discover the mechanisms of how disturbance changes ecosystem function in order to identify species of high conservation value or act as a threatening process.


More information about Honours within the School can be found here.

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PhD opportunity: Maximising the resilience of pastures to grazing and extreme drought events

Brief Project Summary: 

This project aims to address the significant knowledge gap of how species composition may change due to extreme drought, and in-turn, quantify the loss of ecosystem function resulting from species turnover. Further, this project will identify species that contribute the most to function.

Narrabri. Photo by Kieran Shephard
L’lara, Narrabri. Photo by Kieran Shephard

A unique combination of methods will be used: The international DroughtNet protocol will be employed, where drought will be imposed using fixed shelters that passively reduce rainfall events and remote camera traps will be used as phenocams to quantify the loss of gross primary production in pastures after an extreme drought event. Results from this study will provide land managers, in both the agricultural and environmental sectors, the critical knowledge of how natural and human-modified systems will be impacted by more frequent and extreme drought events in order to maintain food security and biodiversity.

The project has financial support from the Hermon Slade Foundation and in-kind support from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture.

Project start either late 2019 or beginning of 2020 for three years.

Please email an expression of interest, including CV to Dr Aaron Greenville, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

Further information:

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