I have a deep passion for environmental protection. I can’t remember a time when I was not fascinated by the amazing plants and animals we are so lucky to have in our very own backyards in subtropical Brisbane, Australia. This led me on a path of completing an undergraduate degree in science, followed by a range of jobs in the Queensland State and Local governments which aimed to reduce the environmental impacts of people on nature. I then decided to return to university and scientific investigation in 2013 and began my Masters by Research which ultimately metamorphosed into a PhD.
My research has tested the key abiotic and biotic factors which influence the formation of marine and terrestrial ecological communities in time and space. My research involved two main projects which are linked via the application of a fundamental theory of ecology: The theory of island biogeography (TIB). The TIB is a model of the natural world which aids us to understand the drivers of biodiversity in space and time and was first postulated in 1963. The main principle of the TIB, the species area relationship (SAR) is the most commonly tested aspect of this theory and predicts that the larger the area of an isolated habitat the more species which can coexist within that habitat. The two ecological contexts I examined for the purposes of my PhD are pumice-rafting within the Pacific Ocean and a seedling establishment and biodiversity study of a critically endangered woodland ecosystem comprised of dense stands of the tree Melaleuca irbyana (M. irbyana).
I chose to study two very different, and rarely studied communities in my PhD, as I wanted to deepen my understanding of the key abiotic and biotic forces which shape community dynamics and coexistence in different environments. Examination of pumice-rafted communities allowed me to test the TIB, SAR and additional abiotic and biotic factors on a set of island-like habitats which formed from unassisted community assembly processes. However, during my PhD it occurred to me, that due to the current losses of biodiversity globally, many extant ecological communities exist as degraded human-made remnants of what were once much larger and diverse ecosystems. Studies of human-made remnant communities using ideas contained within the TIB and SAR, has the potential to provide new or missing information on the effects of reduced habitat area and increased isolation on their long-term survival.
The ability to provide missing information on a human-made rare or endangered community or species led me to choose to study an additional community for my PhD research. The community I chose is the critically endangered remnant forest comprised of the tree Melaleuca irbyana. Examination of M. irbyana remnant forests allowed me to compare use of the TIB, SAR and additional abiotic and biotic factors between a community formed from unassisted community assembly processes (i.e. pumice rafts) and a relatively human-made community formed from degrading processes (i.e. M. irbyana). I also linked my research to theory, by examining elements of the theory of island biogeography such as age, area and isolation to understand the abiotic and biotic factors working in each system.
Topics I have researched for my PhD and other projects include:
- community ecology of floating pumice rafts
- biodiversity, regeneration and recruitment in remnant reserves of a critically endangered tree: Melaleuca irbyana
Hiking the Routeburn track, New Zealand.