Dr Diana Fisher has dedicated two decades to the study of mammals, including threatened species of carnivorous marsupials, wallabies and bats that most people know little about.
Dr Fisher, however, loves working with all mammals, including native mice and bats.
“When I studied the endangered monkey-faced bat in the Solomon Islands, I found that although they have ferocious-looking teeth and strong jaws able to crack nuts, they are actually docile and sweet-natured. Local people could pull them from tree hollows without danger of being bitten ,” says Dr Fisher.
Dr Fisher observed the same vulnerability in the bridled nailtail wallaby (the focus of her PhD), a small, endangered macropod that survives in the wild at one site in central Queensland, where it was rediscovered in 1973.
“These little wallabies are naturally tame and dopey. They leave their young hiding alone for long periods and tend to freeze flat on the ground when they are frightened. This makes them vulnerable, particularly to the threats posed by feral predators such as cats and foxes. Bilbies are similarly docile and naïve. Refuge from predators is particularly important for these mammals, but somewhere safe to ride out droughts is also likely to be crucial.”
Bridled nailtails and bilbies are two of many threatened species she is working to protect as a leader of Project 4.4, which aims to map out important refuges from different types of threats to Australian fauna.
She will also lend her expertise to Project 1.1, which will focus on reducing the impact of introduced predators, particularly cats. Project participants will test methods to control cats, and assess the benefits for threatened prey populations in Queensland.
Together with her affinity for the smallest and most vulnerable mammals, Dr Fisher brings her keen eye for detail and data to the field - particularly useful considering the size of her subjects. She credits part of her approach to former honours supervisor and collaborator in Project 4.4, Professor Chris Dickman.
“Some of the best research advice ever given to me came from Chris. He told me ‘When you’re out in the field, collect as much as possible. You never know what you’ll need later on.’”
Perhaps a similar sentiment applies to the work of the TSR Hub in general, protecting the plant and animal species that people need in order to prosper, even if they don’t yet know it.
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.