The Lab

Movement, spatial population dynamics, conservation in fragmented landscapes

Tim Doherty (Post doc), Sara Balouch (PhD), Tim Garvey (PhD)

Completed:  Sam Wallace (Hons 2018), Nicole Hansen (PhD), Kat Ng (PhD, Masters), Stephanie Pulsford (PhD, Hons), Geoff Kay (PhD), Nélida Villaseñor (PhD), John M Evans (PhD), Martin Westgate (PhD), Nicole Sweaney (PhD, Hons), Sacha Jellinek (PhD, Hons), Mitchell Barbara (Hons), Amber Liaw (hons), Adam Schutz (Hons), Brooke Swaffer (Hons), Joel Williams (Hons).

On the brink. Threatened species

Tom Burns (PhD), Melissa Wynn (PhD)

Completed: Danielle Wallace (Hons 2018), Ben Scheele (PhD, Hons), Matt Sleeth (Hons)

Restoration and invasive species

Kris Bell, Andrew O’Reilly-Nugent

Completed:  Bek Cherubin (Hons 2018), David Johnson (PhD), Nick McKenzie (Hons)

Fire ecology, forest ecology

Juliana Lazzari (PhD)

Completed: Annabel Smith (PhD), Rebecca Gibson (PhD), Bianca Dunker (PhD), Laurence Berry (PhD, Hons), Kwan Ling Ho (Hons), Zohara Claire Lucas (Hons), Amy Koch (PhD)



Movement and spatial population dynamics

Tim Doherty. Post Doctoral Fellow, Deakin University

Reptile spatial and community ecology

I’m interested in the application of metapopulation theories to fragmented landscapes and how we can better measure and incorporate data on animal movements. From an applied perspective, I’m interested in how animals respond to restoration of degraded landscapes and how these actions can be optimised to produce the greatest biodiversity outcomes.  My projects include exploring extinction debt using long-term data-sets, reptile landscapes-of-fear meet habitat fragmentation, and invasive predator impacts on native wildlife.

Collaborators: Euan Ritchie




Sara Balouch. PhD Scholar. Deakin University. 2017.

Reptiles in fragmented agricultural landscapes

This project will investigate the effects of invasion of remnant vegetation by native grasses or exotic weeds and loss of spinifex grass on reptile species richness and community structure, in extensively cleared agriculture landscapes of south-central New South Wales. The overall aim of the study is to determine the response of reptiles to ongoing habitat degradation. The study will also discover whether escape responses by reptiles depend on habitat condition. The study will provide in-depth knowledge of the consequences of loss of keystone plant species for reptiles, informing priorities for restoration including weed management in agricultural landscapes. Discoveries about the role of keystone structural plant species in these mallee ecosystems will support conservation efforts in a wider range of ecosystems currently facing rapid degradation.

Part of Sara’s PhD will be based in Pakistan investigating the impact of agriculture land management on reptile assemblages. The lack of published literature and data on reptile diversity in the agriculture landscapes of Pakistan requires immediate attention to understand their population statuses and contribution towards ecosystem services. This study will investigate the differences in reptile communities between natural forest and farmed areas and the response of reptiles to different farming practices (manual labour and mechanised farming). The positive conservation results to be achieved from the study will help in building collaboration and knowledge transfer between Australia and Pakistan to help deliver effective conservation outcomes. We will actively engage with local communities by providing training in research techniques to young Pakistani university students. This project will be achieved through established collaborations with the PMAS-Arid Agriculture University Pakistan and WWF Pakistan.

Collaborators: Tim Doherty (Deakin University); Muhammad Rais (PMAS-AAUR Pakistan); Masood Arshad (WWF Pakistan)



Tim Garvey. PhD Scholar. Deakin University. June 2017.

Measuring frog habitat use and movement to improve management in plantation forestry

This project establishes a new relationship between Deakin University, the Tasmanian Forest Practices Authority (FPA), and the Tasmanian plantation forestry industry. We will examine how movement and population viability of two threatened frog species in Tasmania is modified by changes to land management associated with forestry operations. This knowledge will help support environmental certification for the industry, and provide the FPA with specific guidelines to mitigate impacts of management on threatened species. The project is framed in the context of spatial population dynamics, particularly metapopulation theory. The project also addresses the globally important anthropogenic impacts of land clearing, logging and weed control. This framing ensures our research has relevance beyond the Tasmanian study system.

The FPA is tasked with regulating native forest and plantation logging to ensure conservation of Tasmania’s fauna and flora, while supporting a sustainable forest industry. To meet this challenge, new information is needed about threatened frogs because current guidelines are based on best guesses and do not provide for adequately informed management recommendations to mitigate possible impacts of logging. New understanding about the relationship of forest practices with frog population dynamics will enable guidelines to be developed, supporting the legislative requirements of FPA, and the sustainable certification of the private forest industry in Tasmania.

Collaborators: Amy Koch, Pep Turner, FPA.


On the Brink. Threatened species

Tom Burns. PhD scholar. Deakin University

The Chytrid Landscape from a Baw Baw frog’s eye view.

This project will examine the impact of chytrid fungus on the Critically Endangered Baw Baw frog (Philoria frosti), an Australian endemic found only on the Baw Baw Plateau and escarpment area of the Central Highlands of Victoria.  In the mid-1980s 10,000 or more occurred across its limited range.  Now the wild population numbers in the low hundreds and are restricted to a fraction of their former range. Chytridiomycosis, is the likely cause of the decline.  This global pandemic disease caused by the chyrid fungus has driven many amphibians to extinction. However, there is little information on the impacts of chytrid on Baw Baw Frogs. This project seeks to redress this problem by investigating chytrid impacts and prevalence in Baw Baw frogs, and in their current and former range. We aim to understand the factors that determine the distribution of chytrid in the environment, with particular focus on identifying potential refuges and reservoirs of infection.  This information will be key to the future conservation of the species, in particular in paving the way for potential reintroduction of frogs from the captive populations to the wild.

Collaborators. Nick Clemann, ARI; Ben Scheele, ANU; Baw Baw Frog Recovery Team, Melbourne Zoo, Andrew Weeks, Melbourne University.



Melissa Wynn, PhD Scholar, ANU.

Threat mitigation to support reintroduction of critically endangered reptiles on Christmas Island.

This project aims to identify threatening processes acting upon the endangered, endemic reptiles of Christmas Island and develop ways to manage or control these threats to enable future reintroductions. Given catastrophic declines in these species, this project also aims to understand and mitigate the risk of further decline in the only endemic reptile that remains in the wild, Cyrtodactylus sadleiri. A widespread cat eradication program without concomittant rat control raises the possibility of meso-predator release. We are therefore also examining the interaction of rats and geckos using a baiting experiment.

Collaborators: Sam Banks, ANU; Christmas Island National Park staff; Eve McDonald-Madden, UQ.





Restoration and Invasive species

Kris Bell, PhD Scholar, Deakin

Keystone habitat dynamics in agricultural landscapes

This project aims to understand the dynamics of a keystone habitat feature (spinifex Triodia scariosa) in remnant mallee woodlands in central New South Wales, Australia. Spinifex provides important habitat for many other species, but its persistence in agricultural areas may be threatened by weed invasion, competition and the alteration of other ecosystem processes. This project will involve field sampling, a manipulative experiment, and habitat mapping to assess spinifex availability across a range of site and landscape conditions. Funding has already been secured from the Hermon Slade Foundation and Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin University.

Collaborators: The overall project is led by Dr Tim Doherty in Prof. Don Driscoll’s research group at Deakin’s Burwood (Melbourne) campus.

Andrew O’Reilly-Nugent. University of Canberra.

Restoration in the face of competition and nutrient enrichment

This project will identify mechanisms of invasive species dominance by linking environmental and trait interactions to Australian grassland community structure. We will explore predictions of the growth-defence trade-off hypothesis using a trait-based framework to derive general predictive models of invasive species dominance.

Collaborators: Primary supervisor: Richard Duncan UCan; Jane Catford Univ. Southampten UK



Fire Ecology

Juliana Lazzari, PhD, ANU

Does fire interact with habitat fragmentation to increase risk of local extinctions?

Habitat loss and fragmentation is among the worst threats to biodiversity globally.  Fire also has a major influence on most aspects of plant and animal communities throughout the world, sometimes beneficial, sometimes disastrous.  In this project we have experimentally manipulated fire in mallee woodlands to examine the interaction of fire with fragmentation, examining responses of reptiles and beetles.

Collaborators: David Keith, UNSW; Sam Banks Charles Darwin University.






Completed Projects

David Johnson, PhD Scholar, ANU

Grassy ecosystem restoration

Large areas of grassland around the world have been highly modified from their naturally evolved state as a result of agricultural land use. Most forms of agriculture have a negative effect on forb diversity and abundance, and this is particularly true of grassy woodlands and grasslands in Australia.  To restore these landscapes, we need to discover the conditions that enable germination, establishment and survival of forbs. In this project we aim to identify factors which may limit forb seedling recruitment within grassy ecosystems and suggest ways to overcome them.  We also aim to understand the relative importance of possible ecological processes that drive plant community structure; habitat filtering, niche differentiation, niche saturation, intra- and inter-species competition, survival/growth trade-off strategies, and reproduction.  Through this project we hope to identify new ways to restore grassy ecosystems.

Collaborators: Primary Supervisor Phil Gibbons, ANU; Jane Catford Univ Southampton UK.


Geoff Kay. PhD Scholar, ANU

Regional, landscape and local drivers of reptile communities, species, and individual movement.

We examine spatial and environmental drivers of reptile community composition using occupancy data extending from southern NSW to SE Qld.  We also explore reptile movement through the agricultural matrix using phosphorescent powder to understand whether simple management techniques may improve connectivity across these fragmented landscapes.

Collaborators: Primary supervisor David Lindenmayer ANU, Saul Cunningham ex CSIRO, Phillip Barton ANU, Damian Michael ANU, Alessio Mortelliti, Univ of Maine.


Nicole Hansen, PhD Scholar, ANU.

When can reptiles use the matrix in agricultural landscapes?

Using the conceptual model of “matrix core effects” described in Driscoll et al 2013, this project will discover the kinds of changes in the matrix that can promote or limit movement of fauna through farming landscapes, and the consequences for populations of native species.  By considering matrix changes that farmers are already willing to adopt, we will provide practical guidance for policy development, restoration and stewardship payments that help maintain an ecologically sustainable agricultural sector.

The main focus of this project is how the movement and dispersal core effect is influenced by spatial and temporal variation and the temporal scale of changes in the matrix. We therefore focus on how matrix management, plantings and woody mulch influence reptile use, movement, survival and predation risk in production areas.

Collaborators: Damian Michael, ANU; Mal Carnegie, Lake Cowal Foundation; Local Land Services NSW.


Kat Ng, PhD Scholar, ANU

Distribution and movement of beetles in fragmented agricultural landscapes

My research will investigate how different intensities of cropping management in a highly fragmented agricultural landscape influence the distribution and movement of patch-dependent ground arthropods (focussing on beetles and predatory beetles) and how recent plantings and different intensities of cropping management influence movement into the matrix.  My findings may further contribute to testing a conceptual model of the matrix by Driscoll et al. (2013) to demonstrate its heuristic values (specifically the three core effects and their interactions: movement and dispersal, matrix resource base, and patch abiotic environment). Information from my research may identify specific crop and vegetation management that promotes movement of beneficial predators of crop pests at different times of the year.

Collaborators: Phillip Barton, David Lindenmayer, Sue MacIntyre ANU; Sarina MacFadyen CSIRO,  Mal Carnegie Lake Cowal Foundation; Local Land Services NSW.


Stephanie Pulsford, PhD Scholar, ANU.

Does grazing regime, fences, woody debris or plantings alter the matrix for reptiles?

We aim to explore the effectiveness of a number of easy and inexpensive methods for improving connectivity of native terrestrial animals. With the increase in land use intensification, climate change and rapid species loss it is important that we discover ways in which to better manage our landscapes so that animals can move to obtain essential resources, and to disperse. In this project we examine whether patch-matrix, continuum or variegated model concepts apply to reptiles in fragmented agricultural landscapes. We also examine the potential for course woody debris, fencelines, plantings and different grazing regimes to help improve connectivity for reptiles across farming landscapes.

Collaborators: David Lindenmayer, ANU; Phillip Barton, ANU; Local Land Services NSW.


Matt Sleeth, Honours, Deakin University.

Where might endemic lizards find refuge from an Invasive predator?

To understand how best to manage reintroduction of captive bred and wild reptile species on Christmas Island, we need to understand the ecology of one of their primary predators; the invasive wolf snake. We currently do not have adequate data to understand when the animals are active, where they hide, or life history details such as survival.  But this information is critical for building an informed control strategy.  Further, snake density may vary in response to other predators, such as rats and land crabs. If correct, this information may be useful for planning reintroductions into areas where native reptiles stand the best chance of survival.  We will use radio-tracking to examine wolf-snake home range and habitat use in areas with high and low densities of predators.

Collaborators: Euan Ritchie, Melissa Wynn, Christmas Island National Park staff.


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