Wildlife and conservation biology

Researchers in the wildlife and conservation biology group bring together expertise across a broad range of taxonomic groups to tackle major challengers that prevent effective conservation. Our research is done in collaboration with industry partners, agencies and stakeholders, locally and globally.

Major research areas

Wildlife ecology and conservation

Wildlife – ranging from the largest trees, mammals and birds through to smaller herbs and invertebrates – is in the midst of an extinction crisis.

Growing human populations, increased resource consumption and expanding movement of goods around the globe generate threatening processes such as habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and climate change.

Increasingly sophisticated management approaches are needed to prevent declines of ecosystems and loss of species. This in turn demands rapid growth in knowledge about the ecology and conservation requirements of species.

Researchers in the wildlife and conservation biology group bring together expertise across a broad range of taxonomic groups, to tackle major challengers that prevent effective conservation.

We develop and apply new technologies and approaches, including advanced monitoring techniques, high-tech automated surveys, citizen science, DNA technology and advanced modelling approaches.

Key project areas include:

  • development and implementation of urban ecology conservation
  • resilience and recovery of biota under future climates
  • urban biodiversity and conservation, particularly urban gradient research
  • predator ecology and management
  • interactions of threatened species with invasive species and disease
  • migration ecology and disease ecology
  • human Dimensions of wildlife management issues and wildlife-human conflicts
  • species distribution and population modelling, including optimal monitoring
  • using long-term palaeo- records to characterise the nature of lost insect diversity of Indo-Pacific island ecosystems
  • mammal ecology and conservation, predator-prey interactions, integrated and multi-species management
  • development, validation and implementation of practical on-ground conservation solutions particularly as they pertain to coastal birds
  • ecology and management of wildlife in modified landscapes

Landscape ecology

Extinction is typically the outcome of the loss of multiple local populations, without opportunities for re-establishment.

These processes take place at a landscape scale, making landscape ecology a key discipline in understanding and preventing species' extinctions.

Our research in this field is helping to define the importance of different landscape elements for conservation, including the role in conservation of remnant native vegetation and revegetation.

Key project areas include:

  • investigating the response of raptors to landscape scale processes such as urbanisation
  • enhancing wildlife movement through fragmented landscapes
  • distribution and movements of koalas in different landscapes
  • mapping vegetation extent and condition
  • understanding the importance of predation and fire in affecting the structure and function of landscapes across Australian ecosystems
  • investigating how wildlife respond to landscapes under disturbance regimes including fire and urbanisation.

Fire ecology and management

Fire is critical for maintaining biodiversity in many ecosystems, but when fire regimes are changed or become extreme, biodiversity is often threatened.

Added to the complex interactions of fire with native ecosystems is the desire of people to better manage fire to reduce the threat to property and human lives.

Fire management therefore straddles both the environmental and political realms and our group strives to engage with both to ensure an adequate science base to support informed land management.

Key project areas include:

    • understanding the role of fire and climate on biodiversity
    • fire ecology and underlying responses of reptiles, birds and plants to fire
    • the effect of fire on mammalian communities and their species interactions
    • the long-term response of small mammals to fire and climatic conditions in a model mesic systems, the Grampians.

Restoration ecology

Habitat loss is the leading cause of species extinctions around the world. However, in many regions, land managers recognise that the loss of species and the services those species provided outweighs the benefits of destroying the habitat in the first place.

People now want to recover the amenity value of biodiversity, pollination, pest-control, water filtration and carbon sequestration. How to achieve restoration effectively and efficiently remains a massive challenge.

Key project areas include:

  • reforestation of agricultural landscapes
  • restoration in grassy box-gum woodlands
  • management and rehabilitation of wetland biodiversity in rural and urban landscapes
  • restoration, conservation, and improved management of wetlands
  • rewilding
  • restoration outcomes in south-western Victoria.

Ecological concepts

Conservation biology is replete with fascinating, often challenging, ecological and evolutionary theories. The challenge arises because conservation is a 'crisis discipline', so often, theories are applied in conservation before they have been thoroughly tested.

Theory has the roles of helping scientists to plan their research, to make predictions about how species respond to environmental threats and to enable communication of discoveries using a common language.

Our research group contributes to developing theory in ecology and evolution, including spatial ecological concepts such as metacommunity theory, macroecology and ecogeographical rules, and concepts linking behaviour, morphology and physiology of individuals and species with their environment.

Key project areas include:

  • behavioural and physiological ecology of vertebrates, with emphasis on marine top predators
  • synthesising ecological theory to support more rapid learning in ecology and conservation
  • niche, foodweb and trophic cascade theory
  • evolution of biodiversity, including macroecology and ecogeographical rules.

Management decisions

Making decisions about land management to conserve biodiversity often presents complex challenges. There will usually be a range of actions that could be taken to reduce a threat to a species or ecosystem.

However, with a limited budget, which actions will provide the best outcomes?Decisions are further complicated by competing objectives, where the best choice for conservation is in conflict with the preferred management for human purposes.

Our research team engages research in protecting wading birds on beaches in the face of pressure from recreational vehicles, managing fire for biodiversity under pressure to increase planned burning, conserving wildlife in northern Australia amidst the push to develop the north, and managing bird-feeding in urban areas to meet the needs of the human-feeders without compromising the health and diversity of native bird communities.

By developing more sophisticated approaches to assessing the options, costs, benefits and likelihood of success, our research contributes to spending conservation dollars more effectively and to resolving conflict in conservation biology.

Key project areas include:

  • developing guidelines and best practice regimes for bird feeding in back yards to limited spread of disease and help conserve desirable birds in the urban environment
  • understanding how multiple threatening processes interact to influence vulnerable species and ecosystems
  • integrated pest management and biodiversity conservation
  • land-use changes to buffer native and production ecosystems against climate change
  • making better decisions in conservation management by accommodating multiple objectives
  • flyway management for migratory birds
  • ecosystem risk assessment; evaluating biodiversity indicators for monitoring and making conservation decisions
  • conservation planning and prioritisation; optimal monitoring of wildlife
  • documentation of threats to reproductive success of ground nesting birds.

Human dimensions in environmental management

The field of conservation biology is a response to human impacts on the natural environment. Biodiversity conservation takes place in social and political contexts that both generate the threats, and define which conservation actions are possible.

Understanding the constraints and opportunities for conservation provided by the human context is essential to wildlife conservation and management.

Our researchers examine human attitudes towards wildlife, including in areas of management conflict, and human interactions with the environment from social and political perspectives.

Key project areas include:

  • investigating and understanding human perception, values, attitudes, beliefs towards urban wildlife
  • human Dimensions of wildlife management issues and wildlife-human conflicts
  • conservation planning for biodiversity and socio-economic objectives, and social-ecological modelling
  • human-wildlife conflict and coexistence
  • urban ecology
  • understanding human perceptions, values, attitudes and beliefs with respect to the environment in general, and shore and shorebird conservation in particular.

Contact us

For more info about our research, contact group leader Professor Don Driscoll.
+61 3 9251 7609

Email Professor Driscoll