PhD project #1

RIEL

 

 

 

Optimal fire management for small mammals in the tropical savannas

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Small mammals have undergone rapid declines in recent decades in the tropical savannas of northern Australia. Inappropriate fire regimes – namely, high frequencies of large, intense fires – have been strongly implicated as a potential driver of these declines. Implementing early dry season prescribed burning to reduce the extent of late dry season wildfires is a management paradigm being rolled out across vast areas of northern Australia. It is widely assumed that this style of management benefits a wide spectrum of biodiversity, but this assumption has yet to be rigorously evaluated, especially in relation to the wide range of small mammals which are declining in the tropical savannas.

The PhD project will investigate the response of small mammals to the spatial and temporal patterns of fire (e.g. seasonality, frequency, patchiness) in northern Australia and will explore the broad-scale patterns in ‘mammal-relevant’ fire regime attributes resulting from fire management programs across northern Australia. The applied focus will be on how we can optimise outcomes of prescribed fire programs for declining native mammals.

To address these questions, we will select from a suite of well-established and novel methods, including including conventional mammal surveys, GPS- and radio-tracking and genetic analysis to determine rates of mammal survival following fire. Using populations models, we will integrate this information on the fire ecology of small mammals with detailed satellite- and ground-based observations of fire attributes (e.g. patchiness, severity) to understand the likely long-term effects of early dry season prescribed burning on small mammals. The project outcomes will help to identify land management strategies with diverse environmental benefits.

Required skills and experience

The student will need to be have a good undergraduate academic record. They must be able to work independently, showing a high level of initiative. They will need to have field experience, and have trapped and handled small mammals. They must have the capacity to plan and implement a logistically complex field programme in remote and physically challenging environments.

Project funding and supervision

The project is fully funded and will involve close collaboration between Charles Darwin University and various stakeholders. The student would need to successfully apply for Research Training Program scholarship ($27,596 per annum) from Charles Darwin University (see www.cdu.edu.au/research/ori/scholarships), and the project will provide a ‘top up’ of $7,000 per annum for three years. The student would be based at CDU’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL; http://riel.cdu.edu.au/), and be supervised by Prof. Sam Banks (www.sambanks.weebly.com) and Dr Brett Murphy (www.tropicalsavannaecology.org/brettpmurphy).

If you’re interested in this project, please send a CV, academic transcript and a brief description of why you want to do this project, to sam.banks@cdu.edu.au.

Closing date: 20 October 2018