Dr Natalie Briscoe’s fascination with wildlife goes right back to her early childhood. Living in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges
outside of Melbourne, she was surrounded by bush and inspired by how animals were adapted to different environments, often coping with adverse conditions.
And this fascination led to a career in analysing what it takes for a species to persist in a changing climate, and how this understanding helps identify
what they need as refuge.
I was very fortunate in my early life. I lived in a wonderful bush setting and had a wonderful biology teacher in high school. She channelled my natural curiosity about wildlife into a more scientific way of thinking. I was particularly interested by how different animals managed to make a living in so many different ways, across such diverse environments.
At university, I pursued these interests with a major in zoology, alongside politics. This strange sounding combination proved valuable. Not only did I learn about the ecology of different species’ and systems – but I also gained insight into how different societies function, and the drivers of many of the stressors on wildlife. I was particularly struck by the challenge of conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change, in highly modified landscapes. I began to appreciate that to manage species we need to understand their resource needs and what limits their survival.
My research has combined my curiosity for understanding how animals ‘make a living’ in their environment, with the desire to apply this knowledge to better protect them. I spent my PhD researching how koalas will be affected by climate change. I collected data on their physical traits and physiology, as well as how they behave in different weather. I then used this information to build a model that predicts how much energy and water koalas need to live in a particular place, based on the climate at that location. Using this model, we were able to predict which areas are likely to remain suitable for the koalas in the future – thereby identifying priorities for protection.
Along the way, I also learnt a lot about how koalas cope with the diverse range of environments they live in. In south-eastern Australia, for example, koalas cool down by hugging cool tree trunks during hot weather. It turns out that this behaviour is really effective at helping them cope with temperature extremes, when water is scarce. As a scientist, I love uncovering new information like this. But it can also help us protect koala populations, highlighting the importance of trees that provide cool tree trunks and deep shade, alongside trees they feed on.
One of the best things about my job is that I work with a broad range of people who have incredible knowledge about the ecology of different species and systems, and a passion for making a difference. As part of my current work for the TSR Hub identifying and managing refuges from threats, I’m working with land managers, field ecologists, hydrologists, as well as experts in modelling and animal physiology. Together we’re trying to identify strategies to reduce the impact of disease on threatened frogs, as well as understand what feral predators need to survive in different environments, so that we can better target management.
Top image: Natalie Briscoe has always been fascinated by how animals live where they do. But what does this mean when the conditions where they live change. How do animals like koalas cope with climate change in (already) heavily modified forests and woodlands? What environmental elements would provide them refuge in the future when extreme weather conditions are forecast to be more frequent? Photo: Greta Frankham
One million species threatened with extinction worldwide. That was the attention-grabbing headline that recently (and, sadly, briefly) captured the world’s attention, when the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) released its first global assessment of how the planet’s biodiversity is faring – and what that means for people.
The Alligator Rivers yellow chat is a small, bright yellow insectivorous bird of the Kakadu floodplains. This Endangered species is imperilled by habitat changes caused by altered fire regimes, buffalo and feral pigs, rising sea levels and the spread of weeds like prickly mimosa and introduced grasses. What has been happening to degrade these floodplains has been equally of concern to Traditional Owners as to yellow chat researchers.
The central purpose of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub is delivering research that is relevant for and useable by decision-makers, land managers and others responsible for recovering threatened species. Working with partners is vital if we’re to achieve this.
The native forest on Norfolk Island provides vital habitat for the island’s threatened plant and bird species, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet (also called endemic). When the British colonised Norfolk Island in 1788, they cleared much of the original vegetation. Remaining forest is now protected in the national park and reserves, but plant recruitment is poor and invasive non-native plant species would likely overtake the forest without the on-going efforts of park managers. To preserve remaining forest, it is important to determine the main causes of declines and the most effective actions that managers can take to address these threats and restore native vegetation.
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub is celebrating great conservation outcomes from projects taking place in Booderee National Park for two Endangered species: the eastern bristlebird and the southern brown bandicoot (eastern subspecies). The Australian National University’s David Lindenmayer and Chris MacGregor give us the scoop on the bristlebird and Natasha Robinson shares the good news about the southern brown bandicoot.