I’m a research fellow in the Quantitative and Applied Ecology Group in the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne. My work focuses on how climate and habitat features interact with species traits to influence where they can live. I’m particularly interested in understanding how the behaviour, morphology and physiology of animals influences their sensitivity to climate, and methods for making more robust predictions of how species are likely to be influenced by future climate change.
Currently, I’m working on an exciting project with Jane Elith, Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita, Rob Salguero-Gómez and others focused on building integrated process-explicit models that capture how physiology, demography, dispersal and landscape dynamics influence species’ distributions and abundance. As well as developing new methods, we’re also interested in working out which models work best for which problems. Many different approaches have been developed for modelling species distributions, but there has been limited research comparing how useful these tools are for informing different sorts of conservation and management decisions, and how much data (and collected in which way) we need to ensure that they provide reliable predictions.
Prior to taking up this position, I worked in the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub on a project focused on identifying refuges for threatened species and improving our understanding of how to manage them. As part of this project we identified refuges used by feral cats during hot, stressful weather in arid areas of Australia. We also built models to determine how these habitat features help feral cats persist in these environments and where and when these refuges are most important.
My PhD research focused on how climate influences koalas – and I’ve continued to work on this charismatic and rather ideal study species. I spent a lot of time radio-tracking koalas in Victoria and north Queensland to try and understand how they use behaviour to buffer themselves against climate extremes (they seek shade…and hug cool tree trunks!).
I’ve also spent hours measuring koala specimens in museums across Australia to quantify geographic variation in traits such as body size and fur depth that influence heat exchange. I used these data to develop a mechanistic model that predicts energy and water requirements of koalas under different environmental conditions. This model can be used to predict how koalas will be affected by climate change and identify where they are most likely to persist in the future. I’m now extending this model to account for other factors and processes that also influence koala population dynamics.