Dr Damian Michael is a strong believer in grass roots change. His work aims to enable landholders and community groups to make informed
management decisions based on long-term research and sound science. As a Senior Research Officer at the ANU, Damian has been fortunate to work with
over 500 landholders to help conserve threatened species and ecological communities across south-eastern Australia. Here he talks about his upbringing,
career and the satisfaction he gets from working with farming communities and volunteer groups.
I was born in England and it was at an early age that I developed a keen interest in wildlife, catching newts from our pond and following fox tracks left behind in the snow. On moving to Australia in the early 1980’s I was fortunate to have an adventurous upbringing. Camping, hiking and rock climbing exposed me to a huge diversity of native creatures.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to work with animals and in the year 2000 I graduated from Charles Sturt University with an Applied Science degree in Ecosystem Management and Ecology. Eagerly anticipating entering the work force as a Parks Ranger, a timely offer of an Honours project rekindled my passion for reptiles. My project involved using artificial substrates to detect threatened snakes and lizards in a threatened grassland community. It’s pleasing to note we now use this method to monitor reptiles across our long-term research programs.
Since joining David Lindenmayer’s research team almost 17 years ago, I have had many rewarding opportunities to work on threatened species and ecological communities. My first role was to work on Leadbeater’s Possum in the central highlands of Victoria, where I ran a series of Earthwatch Camps. These camps involved clients from all around the world and it was during this time that I realised what impact seeing a threatened species for the first time can have on changing people’s mindset and passion for driving environmental change. I take great pride in witnessing volunteers and community groups absorb our conservation messages and then apply them to their own lives or industries elsewhere.
In my current role as a TSR Hub project team leader and researcher I am fortunate to work with local government agencies, Landcare groups and rural communities to tackle biodiversity conservation issues in one of Australia most threatened ecosystems - our Box Gum Grassy Woodlands. Sixteen years ago, we established a major study examining biodiversity benefits of tree plantings on farms. Seeing plantings mature and threatened species return to the landscape is truly an amazing feeling, and reassures my belief in the adage ‘create it and they will return’.
I am encouraged by seeing threatened birds return to formerly cleared landscapes, but I am also conscious of the huge amount of effort invested by landholders and natural resource management agencies to make these changes come to fruition. One of the most rewarding outcomes of my work is forging strong relationships with farming communities, sharing knowledge and adapting science to achieve win-win opportunities.
I see one of my challenges into the future is to promote a deeper appreciation of Australia’s threatened reptiles, a group of animals shrouded by myth and misconceptions. We are doing this by working with landholders to change grazing regimes and protect key habitats such as rocky outcrops.
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Top image: Damian has a close encounter with one of his favourite groups of native animals - reptiles (in this case an eastern water dragon).
Many landscapes in Australia are fire-prone, and increasingly so. Altered fire regimes can have a serious negative impact on threatened plant species and ecological communities. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project is working to better understand the effects of different fire regimes on threatened flora in order to improve fire management strategies and conservation outcomes.
Almost a quarter of Australia’s possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law, and many more are showing signs of decline. Dr Rochelle Steven from The University of Queensland believes people in the community can do a lot to support conservation, especially in urban areas.
The detection and monitoring of threatened species have been a strong area of research in the National Environmental Science Program and also the two national environmental research programs which preceded it. Hub Director Professor Brendan Wintle takes a look at what we’ve been achieving and why it is so important to the conservation of Australia’s threatened species.
In 2009, the Christmas Island blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko were headed for imminent extinction. Parks Australia acted quickly to collect remaining wild individuals in order to establish captive breeding programs on Christmas Island and at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, which have been highly successful. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project team is working closely with Parks Australia to help secure a future for the two lizards beyond captivity.
The silver-headed antechinus and black-tailed dusky antechinus are carnivorous marsupials found in high-elevation forests in parts of central-eastern and south-eastern Queensland. They were only described in the past six years, but they are already listed as Endangered. Knowing where they occur is essential for effective conservation, but current distribution knowledge is patchy. To address this, PhD candidate Stephane Batista in partnership with the Queensland Herbarium and Queensland Department of Environment and Science is modelling the habitat where these threatened species are likely to occur, and is using detection dogs to rapidly survey these sites.