2015 winner of The Nature Conservancy Applied Conservation

The winner of the Nature Conservancy Applied Conservation Award for 2015 is Michael Sievers PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne for this project “Opening the trapdoor: Artificial wetlands as ecological traps for frogs“.

Michael Sievers - NCAC award

Congratulations to Michael Sievers, PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne, and this year’s winner of The Nature Conservancy Applied Conservation Award.  Michael will receive a $6000 research grant for his project “Opening the trapdoor: Artificial wetlands as ecological traps for frogs“ The nature and distribution of wetlands around cities is changing at an unprecedented rate, with artificial wetlands increasingly dominating urban landscapes.

Although superficially resembling natural systems, these created environments are primarily designed to treat stormwater pollution, with biological conservation often a secondary or missing component. Although there is considerable evidence that animals inhabit artificial wetlands, the ecological consequences of choosing these habitats are less well known. Animals often respond to human- induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) with specific behaviours, such as altering their habitat selection. These behavioural responses are shaped by past environments - which provide the evolutionary history that shapes sensory and cognitive processes controlling behaviour - and ultimately influence the fitness, survival and reproductive success of animals. In some cases, animals exhibit highly adaptive responses and can even flourish in highly disturbed, human-altered systems such as invasive species. However, more often than not, animals appear to be struggling to cope under HIREC, not necessarily because of a scarcity of appropriate resources, but because of maladaptive behaviours resulting in ecological traps.  

 An ecological trap is a habitat that an animal finds equally or more attractive than other available habitat, despite experiencing reduced fitness whilst occupying it. Artificial wetlands may function as traps if some cues of habitat quality perceived by animals are present (e.g. native vegetation) along with unperceived factors reducing fitness (e.g. pollutants). Among the animal groups of greatest conservation concern, amphibians clearly stand out as the most imperilled, with 41% of species facing the threat of extinction. 

My project will focus on Melbourne’s native frogs, with the primary goal to ascertain the fitness consequences of inhabiting artificial wetlands of differing quality throughout juvenile and adult life-history stages, and to determine whether frogs can detect and respond adaptively to wetland quality. Having the capacity to understand and predict how frogs will respond to HIREC will be crucial for active management and, if need be, eliminating ecological traps from the landscape. 

You can keep up to date with this project at http://msievers100.wordpress.com 

The judges also awarded two Highly Commended awards to:

  •  Manisha Bhardwaj “Is Road Noise Driving Bats out of their Habitat?”
  •  Krista Jones “Behaviour and pathogen transmission in the critically endangered woylie (Bettongia penicillata)”

ESA would like to gratefully acknowledge our funding partners The Nature Conservancy and The Thomas Foundation for their support of applied conservation research.