I am a current PhD candidate within the DEEP lab and UTAS node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH). As a native Tasmanian, I remained faithful to my state and completed my BSc at the University of Tasmania. I joined the DEEP lab in mid-2016 as an undergraduate student and continued working with the group for my Honours project, which studied the response of forest raven (Corvus tasmanicus) populations to land-use change in Tasmania. After completing my Honours, I was employed by the DEEP lab as a Research Assistant before commencing my PhD in mid-2018. I have a strong passion for animal conservation, especially the impact that humans have on bird populations, and I hope my research can contribute to keeping our bird buddies around to sing for future generations.
Research within D.E.E.P:
2018-2021: PhD Project – The Shifting Strait
Supervisors: Prof Barry Brook, Dr Jessie Buettel, Dr Matthew McDowell
Over 90% of avian extinctions have occurred on islands, largely due to habitat degradation, human persecution, disease, and the introduction of introduced species. The islands of the Bass Strait were once part of a land bridge that connected Tasmania to the Australian Mainland before sea level rise flooded the basin. The resulting isolation had a number of impacts on the local avian fauna, including the speciation of species restricted to the islands and the modification of migratory patterns. Bird communities on the islands were further impacted following human occupation, including local and global extinction events and shifts in bird community structure due to land-use change.
A range of ecologically important and critically endangered bird species, many of which are experiencing rapid population declines, inhabit the islands. A recent study found that three bird species from the Bass Strait region (King Island Scrubtit Acanthornis magna greeniana, King Island Brown Thornbill Acanthiza pusilla archibaldi and Orange-bellied Parrot Neophema chrysogaster) are the top three Australian birds most likely to become extinct. This high level of extinction threat is likely due to habitat modification on King Island, with over two-thirds of the island’s native vegetation now cleared. Furthermore, predation and competition pressure by opportunistic fauna that benefit from modified landscapes, such as invasive species, can exacerbate the already negative impacts of land-use change on these island environments.
This project aims to study the processes, such as human occupation and climatic shifts, responsible for the past and present communities on the islands of the Bass Strait. Incorporating advanced modelling methods with field-based research and historical data, the results of this project will allow us to make informed conservation decisions and mitigate extinction risks for island avian fauna.
2018: Research Assistant (D.E.E.P & CABAH)
I began working as a research assistant for the D.E.E.P group within the UTAS node of CABAH at the beginning of 2018. Within this role, I used historical data in combination with modelling techniques to investigate bird extinctions within Australia over the last 130,000 years. These extinct species include the large flightless bird Genyornis newtoni, the giant malleefowls, and the dwarf emus of King Island, Kangaroo Island and Tasmania.
2016 – 2017: Early Work (Undergraduate and Honours project)
Supervisors: Prof Barry Brook, Dr Jessie Buettel
Future land-use and climate change could supplement populations of opportunistic predatory birds, such as corvids, resulting in amplified predation pressure and negative effects on populations of other avian species. Within this study, I investigated whether forest ravens (Corvus tasmanicus) were more likely to be observed in modified landscapes and in areas of higher roadkill density in south-eastern Tasmania. Following this, I examined the effect of forest raven density on the abundance of other birds. This project involved over 48 hours of birdwatching and identification (a twitcher’s dream) and utilised analysis techniques, such as species distribution models and generalised linear models, to assess the habitat and population dynamics of forest ravens and prey species. This research is currently in preparation for publication.
Find me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mattwfielding
ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage: https://epicaustralia.org.au/