International Wolf Project: 'Landscapes of fear' and their cascading effects on ecosystems
Describe your research project Human-predator conflict has existed since the domestication of livestock. With advances in weapons and other deadly methods, as well as expanding human populations, the world is becoming increasingly dangerous for large predators. This is an important issue because large predators have driving capabilities in maintaining healthy ecosystems by triggering 'trophic cascades': a process whereby changes in predator populations influence species down the food chain. As an example, the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in North America, after 70 years of extirpation, had dramatic effects on the ecosystem, bringing it back to its natural state. Without wolves, the elk populations exploded, which had devastating effects on the vegetation, destroying habitat for many other species. Here is a really interesting short documentary on Youtube outlining the cascading effects of the wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone: 'How wolves change rivers" (opens an external link).
What is the aim of your project?
The aim of this study is to investigate and map landscapes of fear throughout the ecosystem, incorporating the effects of human activity. I will study how human (including socio-political) activity affects ecosystems through our interaction with wolves, and assess the cascading effects of this interaction to smaller predators, prey and so on.
Why did you choose to pursue a research degree as opposed to going into the work force? Why this area of research?
I’ve always been passionate about animal welfare and conservation, and have made them a priority my whole life. Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to study animals in the wild in one way or another. A career in research allows me to follow my dreams of travelling the world doing conservation work, and being part of the Centre for Compassionate Conservation lets us show that we can, and must, bring compassion into science.
What is your daily activity?
I've recently arrived in the Arava Valley in Israel, where I'll be living for up to a year. So far, I have been checking out potential sampling sites, trying to get an idea of the area and come up with a sampling design for my research. Much of my time so far has also been spent on preparing a talk for the upcoming Compassionate Conservation Middle East Conference held in the Arava.
What attracted you to research at UTS Science?
I carried out my undergraduate studies at UTS and realised then that it was becoming a leading university for conservation research. In 2012, I completed my Honours year, where I was investigating the effects of roads and urbanisation on insectivorous bats - whether anthropogenic noise (e.g. traffic noise) has the capacity to disrupt bats' echolocation, leading to a reduction in foraging activity or changes in species assemblages around roads and urban areas. Dan Ramp (my current supervisor) was my Honours supervisor, and was very supportive during that year and has been ever since. Since completing my honours, I spent a couple of years overseas, living in London and travelling the globe. During that time, Dan had started up the Centre for Compassionate Conservation at UTS and I knew that was exactly where I wanted to be.
What is your future?
Ideally, I would like to continue on with the Centre for Compassionate Conservation. It brings together everything that I have always stood for, bringing compassion for others into the way that we share our world. After my PhD, I hope to continue on doing research, and at this stage, think I will try to get a post-doc position within the Centre.