Getting out in the field

Picture of a tree in the Nullabor Plains

Pictured: Field research can take place in remote areas such as the Nullabor Plain in South Australia.

The Australian Wildlife Society’s generous scholarship is helping UTS researchers better understand the effects of climate change on our natural world.

Scholarships can profoundly affect the direction of a student’s research. The funding environmental scientist Ellen Curtis received for her PhD research is a case in point.

Over the past five years, Curtis has been studying how Australian native desert plants acclimatise and adapt to high temperature extremes. She submitted her final thesis this year, supported by a $5,000 scholarship she received from the Australian Wildlife Society (AWS) in 2013.

“Without the kind financial support of the AWS scholarship an entire chapter of my PhD thesis would not have been possible.” – Ellen Curtis

Curtis was the inaugural recipient of the AWS’s Wildlife Ecology Science Research Scholarship, awarded to UTS Higher Degree by Research students undertaking a project with direct relevance to Australian native flora and fauna conservation.

“Without the kind financial support of the AWS scholarship an entire chapter of my PhD thesis would not have been possible,” Curtis says.

She used the funds to cover travel costs to study sites in the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden at Port Augusta in South Australia, and also bought specialised equipment to conduct tree canopy studies, including 40 small field- capable data loggers, known as i-Buttons.

“This equipment increased my ability to monitor temperatures for experiments in the canopy and also to discover patterns of thermal tolerance variation across seasons, space and species,” she says.

As one of Australia’s oldest and most respected conservation organisations, the AWS’s commitment to the protection of Australia’s native species is closely aligned to UTS’s long-standing expertise in wildlife research, says interim UTS Dean of Science, Professor William Gladstone.

“At UTS, we have a good wildlife research profile with particular strengths in conservation ecology and habitat, marine science, and Australian native animals such as quolls and kangaroos,” he says. “We are particular experts not just in animals but the whole environmental approach.”

“Ellen’s research is incredibly valuable and she was awarded the scholarship through a vigorous selection process because her project demonstrated a clear conservation message,” he says.

Since its establishment, the scholarship has supported many projects with real-world impact, including understanding native marine seaweeds, monitoring kangaroo populations, and safeguarding northern quolls from cane toads.

Suzanne Medway Am with Patrick Medway AM

Pictured: AWS president Suzanne Medway AM and AWS CEO Patrick Medway AM

The 2017 recipient, PhD candidate Reannan Honey, is studying the effects on wildlife of artificial hollows created by arborists.

The number of natural hollows in trees in NSW – used by more than 46 different mammal species – is rapidly decreasing due to logging, firewood collection, rural dieback, grazing and clearing. Honey’s research will examine whether the artificial hollows are beneficial, and whether their introduction could lead to an increase in animal populations in the area.