The winner of the Jill Landsberg Trust Fund Applied Conservation Scholarship for 2015 is Ryan Pearson (Griffith University) for his project “Solving migratory mysteries: can the shell chemistry of commensal barnacles reveal the migratory origin of endangered loggerhead turtles?”. Ryan receives a $6000 research grant and his award will be presented at the 2015 ESA conference in Adelaide, and followed up with a special presentation on this work at the 2016 ESA conference in Freemantle, W.A.
About Ryan's Project
Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are listed as endangered worldwide by the IUCN. A recent UNEP action plan for the conservation of the south Pacific population identified that developing a better understanding foraging habitat use is an ‘essential’ priority. Throughout the world’s oceans, strategies such as satellite telemetry and tag-recapture have been implemented to investigate habitat use of migrating marine megafauna, although these methods are limited by cost and information recovery. In recent years, stable isotope analysis of turtle tissues has become more widely employed, usually analysing carbon and nitrogen isotopes to infer the home foraging area of nesting turtles. This method has provided mixed but generally promising results, however, due to individual diet specialisation within a generalist population of loggerhead turtles, doubt remains over the validity of using turtle tissues alone.
This project aims to circumvent the diet-based concerns of using turtle tissues for this purpose by analysing the stable isotope signals within shell layers of barnacles commensal on nesting south Pacific Loggerhead turtles. These calcium carbonate shell layers offer a diet-independent source of chemical information about the area of the ocean in which the turtle has been swimming and, therefore, allow the migratory origin of nesting turtles to be established. The method has potential for this population of turtles, and the species generally, as well as for other species of migrating marine megafauna with commensal barnacles.
The judges (Romina Rader, Jacqui Stol, Anna Renwick, Caragh Threlfal and Jorge Castillijos) also gave two highly commended awards:
- Laura Brannelly “Apoptosis as an immune mechanism against the deadly amohibian chytrid fungus in the critically endangered species pseudophyne corroboree”
- Robyn Shaw “Halting Australia’s mammal declines: a demographic, ecological and genetic approach to fire response in Australian native rodents”
Congratulations to all our winners!
ESA gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of The Jill Landsberg Trust Fund in generously funding this significant applied conservation award