Shane Morris

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Field work in Sabah, Malaysia. ©Anna Heath

About: 

I have just begun my PhD with the D.E.E.P group so I will update my research outline regularly as it becomes more specific. My approach will combine field work with advanced modelling techniques. I was driven to work within the D.E.E.P research group by my passion and commitment to insuring the conservation of animals facing decline due to anthropogenic stresses. I believe that through the use of rigorous and effective science the negative impact of people on the natural environment can be abated and the Anthropocene need not be the period of ecological disasters that it’s predicted to be.

PhD Research within D.E.E.P; 

The feasibility of the translocation of two endangered species of possum, Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) and the Mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus), from mainland Australia to Tasmania.

Leadbeater’s possum and the Mountain pygmy possum are both listed as critically endangered on the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list. Both of these species were considered extinct until wild individuals were found in Victoria in the 1960’s. Their populations are still extremely low and are at risk from future human induced land use change both directly (i.e. logging) and indirectly (i.e. climate change). The loss of the Mountain pygmy possum would be particularly unfortunate due to its uniqueness as it is the only alpine Australian marsupial, and the only Australian marsupial which hibernates.

The main aim of this research is to analyse the feasibility, from a purely scientific point of view, of introducing these at risk possum species into suitable areas of Tasmania. By a purely scientific point of view I mean a view unclouded by the bureaucratic and political issues that surround such a translocation. The outcome of this study would be an objective perspective of the advantages and disadvantages of this translocation that could inform policy in the future. I will make use of mechanistic niche modelling to identify the most suitable habitat sites for each species and valid these by ground truthing.

 

A study of the impact of non-conservation minded translocations on Tasmanian ecosystems.

Since European settlement of Australia, a number of mainland Australian species have been brought to Tasmania. This research will focus on three mainland species which were brought to Tasmania from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century for non-conservation purposes. These three species are the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae), and the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps). Two of these species (laughing kookaburra and sugar glider) have become widespread and damaging to native species. The lyrebird has not become widespread yet and could have potential benefits to the Tasmanian habitats it inhabits via fire suppression. This research will involve a combination of ecological modelling and fieldwork with an aim to help inform future plans to mitigate the negative effects of these Australian invasive species.

 

An investigation into the restoration of the previous mainland Australian ranges of three Tasmanian animal species by translocation.

The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), the Tasmanian native hen (Tribonyx mortierii), and the Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii) are considered so unique to Tasmania that their common names specifically state they are Tasmanian. Yet all of these species were previously present on mainland Australia but have disappeared due to the introduction of foreign predators by humans. The Tasmanian native hen is thought to have disappeared from the mainland approximately 4,700 years ago due to predation from the newly introduced dingo. As dingoes could not make it across the Bass Strait native hens persisted in Tasmania. Dingoes are also assumed to be the reason behind the decline of the Tasmanian devil on the mainland as they are thought to have went extinct there roughly 3,000 years ago (though some evidence suggests it may be as little as 400 years ago). The Tasmanian pademelon is much more recent mainland extinction occurring about 100 years ago and was due to the introduction of foxes by Europeans.

Therefore translocation of these species back to the mainland would be simply restoring their previous ranges which were altered by the introduction of placental mammals by humans. This research would assess possibly translocation areas. The key aspect of a potential site would be its absence of predators such as foxes. As Tasmanian devil populations are in severe decline due to DFTD (Devil Facial Tumour Disease) translocating an insurance population to the mainland could insure the survival of the species in the future.

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Hiking through western Tasmania. ©Thomas Ostersen

If you have any interest in gaining field work experience don’t hesitate to contact me at Shane.Morris@utas.edu.au


Outside the D.E.E.P lab:

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Processing a Whitehead’s rat in Sabah, Malaysia. ©Anna Heath

 

Originally from Ireland where I received an honours degree in Zoology from Trinity College, Dublin, and had an essay nominated for an international award (2012 Undergraduate Awards highly commended in the Life Sciences category). From there I took the odd detour of becoming a cocktail bartender in New York before returning to academia part-time at Imperial College London in 2014. As my degree was a MRes (Masters of Research) I undertook two theses.

The first I did in conjunction with Nichola Raihani at the University College London on the evolution of punishment in cooperation (on humans!).

The second, I carried out under the supervision of Rob Ewers at the S.A.F.E project (https://www.safeproject.net/) in Malaysian Borneo. My research involved assessing the shift in population dynamics and morphological change in Whitehead’s rat (Maxomys whiteheadi) across a land use disturbance gradient. I also assisted in the long-term mammal monitoring program and was lucky enough to have put up camera traps that obtained photos of one of the most elusive cat species in the world, the bay cat (Pardofelis badia).

Outside of academia I’ve had a variety of different jobs including factory worker, waiter, woodcutter, bartender, restaurant manager, and street food chef.


Contact

  • Shane.Morris@utas.edu.au