Climate-driven changes in fire regimes threaten many species with extinction. To minimise this threat we must identify where population declines are occurring and allocate conservation effort to prevent extinction. Quantifying population dynamics requires detailed demographic information – particularly on survival and reproductive rates – to build predictive models of species extinction risk under different fire regimes. This has been done for many plant species for which demographic information is available. For animals however, such data are often not available as they are difficult to obtain most species. This is particularly the case for reptiles, where coarse information on habitat use has failed to provide predictive power for fire-related population models. More detailed information on survival, reproduction, species interactions and physiology is needed to effectively predict extinction risk under changing fire regimes (Smith 2018, Oecologia 186, 129-139).

New physiological biomarkers have the ability to speed up progress in this area. Biomarkers are now available to quantify variation in reproductive cycles, stress responses to environmental changes and susceptibility to disease (Narayan 2019, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7, p.431). These biomarkers can provide physiological data non-invasively, so we can limit the stress placed on study animals – a critical consideration in light of the multitude of stressors already faced by native animals.

In this project we will apply biomarkers to understand the key processes driving reptile population dynamics after fire. Specifically, we will quantify reproductive rates and stress responses of populations under different fire regimes. We will then use these data build a demographic population model of extinction risk under future fire scenarios. The study region will encompass Main Range, Mt Barney, Lamington and Springbrook National Parks – areas heavily impacted by the 2019 fires in southeast Queensland. Target species will include those from the Gondwana Rainforest World Heritage area that might be particularly threatened because they did not evolve under a regime of recurrent fire.

Ultimately, this project will assist conservation managers in allocating resources to species and ecosystems threatened by the ‘new normal’ flammable future.

 

The Candidate:

The successful candidate will have a first class honours degree in ecology, physiology, evolutionary biology or a related discipline. Candidates with at least one published peer-reviewed paper will have an advantage. The candidate should be enthusiastic about ecological and physiological theory that can be applied to real-world problems. She/he should be willing to conduct field work and lab work, in addition to learning sophisticated analytical tools. Willingness to learn the R programming language is essential and prior knowledge in programming and statistics will be an advantage.

The candidate will need to apply for a PhD Scholarship through the UQ Graduate School:

 

 

 

Project members

Dr Annabel Smith

Lecturer in Wildlife Management
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences

Dr Edward Narayan

Senior Lecturer
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences
Affiliate Senior Research Fellow
Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation