Honours projects for 2016 (closed)

NOTE: these places have now been filled.

Looking for an exciting honours project in ecology? I have five openings for 2016.

I also welcome other project ideas from students if they fit with my expertise and research priorities.

To find out more, please refer to the Deakin University website: Honours in Life and Environmental Sciences, or contact me.

Ecosystem ecology: understanding interactions between predators, prey, and fire in Victoria’s Big Desert

Principal supervisor: Dr Euan Ritchie

External Supervisor: Dr Dale Nimmo (Charles Sturt University)

Start date: February 2016

The Australian dingo,  Canis lupus dingo. Image courtesy Angus McNab.

Dingoes and wild dogs are top predators in northwest Victoria’s national parks. Image credit: Angus McNab.

Northwest Victoria’s conservation reserves are key flagship areas home to high species diversity, including many species of conservation concern. Within this region, wild canids (dingoes/wild dogs), the top predators, are patchily distributed, being relatively common in the Big Desert-Wyperfeld region, but largely absent from the northern Murray Sunset and Hattah-Kulkyne national parks.

Wild canids, like other top predators worldwide, are known to be critical in influencing species throughout the ecosystems in which they occur. However, it remains to be determined what role(s) dingoes/wild dogs perform in Big Desert-Wyperfeld. Specifically, do they regulate populations of overabundant herbivores (e.g. kangaroos) and/or invasive predators (e.g. cats and foxes), and does this in turn benefit native prey species (e.g. hopping mice)?

We will examine the role(s) of wild canids by surveying their distribution and abundance in the Big Desert-Wyperfeld region, and relating it to that of other key species of conservation and/or pest management concern. This will be achieved through a combination of remote camera trapping, sand pads, scat counts and giving up density experiments.

Putting the heat on species interactions: predators, prey and fire in Wilsons Promontory National Park

Principal Supervisor: Dr Euan Ritchie

External Supervisors: Dr Dale Nimmo (Charles Sturt University)

Start date: July 2016

Wilsons Prom is home to native mammals such as the Swamp Wallaby, Wallabia bicolor. Image by Toby Hudson [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wilsons Prom is home to native mammals such as the Swamp Wallaby, Wallabia bicolor. Image by Toby Hudson, via Wikimedia Commons

Fire and predation are key processes that shape the structure and function of ecological communities. Despite their importance, few studies have examined how they may interact to affect the distribution, abundance and habitat preferences of species across different habitats.

This project will examine the effects of fire and predation on mammals in Wilsons Promontory National Park. This work is supported by a Parks Victoria research partnership.

How does the composition and configuration of agricultural land use affect patch occupancy of bat species?

Principal Supervisor: Dr Euan Ritchie

External Supervisors: Dr Dale Nimmo (Charles Sturt University)

Start date: February 2016

Bats

More than 20 species of bat are found in Victoria. Image credit: bellogarrey via Flickr

Bat species are an important element of Australia’s countryside biodiversity. They also provide ecosystem services to agriculture through invertebrate pest control.

Previous studies have highlighted the importance of remnant vegetation embedded within farmland for the conservation of bat species, but little research has investigated how agricultural matrix surrounding these remnant patches influences patch occupancy.

This study will investigate how the composition and configuration of farmland surrounding remnant vegetation influences patch occupancy of bat species. Remnant patches of native vegetation embedded within agricultural land across in the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority will be surveyed using echolocation call detection. The majority of the remnants patches selected for surveys have been identified by the catchment as high priority conservation sites.

The results of this project will provide important insights as to how best manage agricultural land in order to enhance the conservation potential of remnant vegetation, as well as potentially increase ecosystem services to agriculture.

Fox, cat and fire interactions in the Grampians National Park

Principal Supervisor: Dr Euan Ritchie

External and co-supervisors: Dr Dale Nimmo (Charles Sturt University) and Associate Professor John White (Deakin University)

Start date: July 2016

Fox

Foxes are invasive predators in the Grampians. Image credit: Dan Derrett via Flickr

This project, a research partnership between Parks Victoria and Deakin University, will examine fox and cat distribution across the Grampians National Park. Specifically, it will aim to:

  1. Determine the most effective way to survey these invasive predators, using a combination of camera traps, scat counts and sand pads.
  2. Examine the effect of fire on fox and cat habitat use.
  3. Examine how foxes and cats are associated with native mammals (as part of an ongoing, long-term study led by Associate Professor White).

The ecological role of eastern barred bandicoots in a newly established island population

Principal Supervisor: Dr Euan Ritchie

External and co-supervisors: Dr Duncan Sutherland (Phillip Island Nature Parks) and Dr Amy Coetsee (Zoos Victoria)

Start date: February 2016

Eastern barred bandicoots

Eastern barred bandicoots persist only in captivity or within fox-free nature reserves. Image credit JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

Mainland eastern barred bandicoots (EBBs) are listed as extinct in the wild, persisting only in captivity or within fox-free fenced reserves.

Phillip Island Nature Parks, together with Zoos Victoria and the Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team, are conducting an experimental release of EBBs onto fox-free Churchill Island, adjacent to Phillip Island, which lies outside the known historic range of the species.

This project forms part of a broader effort to bring the EBBs back from the brink of extinction and off the threatened species list.

We are seeking an honours student for a project to experimentally determine the role of EBBs as ecological engineers and to continue a monitoring programme into the survival rates, reproductive success and habitat use of EBBs.

The project will involve soil and habitat assessments, live-trapping, radio-tracking and camera trapping.

The candidate will require a manual driver’s licence. Field accommodation on Phillip Island is available.