Dolphins & devils, corals & cane toads: million-dollar endowment funds Australia’s newest ecologists


8 June 2017


Dolphins & devils, corals & cane toads: million-dollar endowment funds Australia’s newest ecologists


More than $1 million in funds for students were announced today by the Ecological Society of Australia.


Professor Don Driscoll, President of the Ecological Society of Australia, says the fund supports post-graduate students conducting research in ecology, wildlife management, and conservation biology. 


‘Today we announced that around 100 students will share more than $1 million in funds from the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment,’ said Professor Driscoll. ‘The projects aim to answer some of the most urgent environmental problems facing Australia.’ 


For example, Mr Matheus Mello-Athayde, from the University of Queensland, is investigating whether a resilient coral found at the Great Barrier Reef can give hope for marine ecosystems under future global warming and acidification.


‘We’re all concerned about the devastating effects that climate change is having on reefs,’ said Mr Mello-Athayde. ‘I’m looking at a common coral that is resilient and trying to work out what it is that helps it do better than other species in the same areas, in the hope that this insight will help us protect reefs in the future.’

Other marine projects include:

  • Brenton Pember, from Murdoch University in Western Australia, will use 3-dimensional satellite tags to track the movement of sharks.
  • Ms Eleanor Pratt, from Flinders University in South Australia, will use genomics to investigate how bottlenose dolphins adapt to changes in the ocean.
  • Mr João Teixeira, from the University of Melbourne in Victoria, will look at the thermal tolerance of different populations of snapper across its latitudinal range to assess how the species will cope with a warmer future.

Mr Weliton Menário Costa, from the Australian National University, is studying the behaviour of eastern grey kangaroos to see if reproduction and survival are influenced by personality traits such as how bold, sociable or exploratory they are.

‘If there’s a strong association between personality types and individuals’ reproduction and survival, managers could potentially proactively favour kangaroos with lower fitness in over-populated areas to control numbers and reduce conflict with humans and other wildlife,’ he said. 

‘I am very grateful to Dr Holsworth and the Ecological Society of Australia for their support, as it means I can make more progress in my research.’

Other projects include:

  • Mr Daniel Selechnik, from the University of Sydney, is studying the divergence of immunity in cane toads, to see if disease transmission is an Achilles’ heel for this invasive pest.
  • Elspeth McLennan, from the University of Sydney, is analysing the diet of Tasmanian devils on Maria Island as part of the conservation effort for the species. 
  • Harry Moore, from Charles Sturt University in NSW, is enhancing understanding of key threats to the endangered northern quoll in the Pilbara, including wildfire, feral cats, and habitat fragmentation due to mining of iron ore. 

The Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment has supported more than 850 students since it was established by renowned ecologist, wildlife biologist and philanthropist Dr Bill Holsworth and his wife Carol in 1989. It is managed through a partnership with the Ecological Society of Australia. More information about the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment is available at