Cane toads and surfing plankton scoop ecology prizes

The Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) has announced the recipients of awards totalling more than $40,000, recognising four of Australia’s brightest ecological minds for their contribution to understanding the environment.


1. University of Sydney PhD student Samantha McCann has been awarded the 2016 Jill Landsberg Trust Fund Scholarship. Samantha is investigating the use of chemical cues to control invasive cane toads. She is looking at how methods such as baited tadpole traps, suppression chemicals, and predators influence the survival of cane toad tadpoles. Attempts at controlling cane toads throughout Australia have remained largely unsuccessful, so Samantha is investigating which of these methods causes the most successful reduction of surviving cane toad tadpoles. (Recently, Samantha’s supervisor, Dr Rick Shine, won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his work on cane toads.)


2. Associate Professor Jane Elith from the University of Melbourne’s School of BioSciences is the winner of the ESA’s premier award for 2016, the Australian Ecology Research Award. Jane works with models that describe relationships between the location of species and the state of the environment in which they are found. These species distribution models can explain why a particular animal, plant or disease is found in a particular location, and can also be used to predict maps of where species are likely to occur. A strong focus of Jane’s research has been testing, explaining and developing the models, so that researchers, land managers, conservationists, governments and others around the world can confidently apply them in the field. These models add to the limited data on which to make evidence-based decisions about managing threatened species, restoring land, controlling biological invasions, and other questions. Jane will be talk about the models and their application at the ESA conference in Perth, which will run from 28 November to 3 December 2016.


3. Rowena Hamer, completing her PhD at the University of Tasmania, has been awarded the Nature Conservancy Applied Conservation Scholarship. Rowena’s work aims to increase the resilience of native ecosystems by promoting the conservation of native carnivores. Working alongside Greening Australia and other partner organisations undertaking habitat restoration in the Tasmanian Midlands, she will be providing detailed information on the habitat requirements of Tasmanian devils, spotted-tailed quolls and eastern quolls. Her work also investigates the management of the major exotic predator, feral cats, in ways beyond traditional culling. Rowena is capturing images of these species using remote cameras, and uses GPS tracking to monitor their movements, habitat use and interactions.


4. Joshua Thia, a PhD student in biology at the University of Queensland, has won the 2016 Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award. Using genetic tools, Joshua is investigating how connections in coastal fish populations are influenced by three different larval dispersal processes: oceanography (the effect of ocean currents); the collective dispersal of closely related larvae; and the propensity of larvae to disperse away, or return to, the population in which they were born. The findings of this research can be extrapolated to understand how patchy rocky shore habitats on Australia's coast can be managed, and also provide greater understanding of how multiple dispersal processes combine to impact the overall connectivity in coastal fish populations.


Several of the award winners are attending the Ecological Society of Australia’s 2016 annual conference in Fremantle, Western Australia this week. The Ecological Society of Australia is the peak group of ecologists in Australia, with over 1500 members from all states and territories.