We work at the interface of two major disciplines (ecology and conservation).
Our research seeks greater understanding of the ecological and evolutionary causes of patterns of extinction and abundance, to mitigate the effects of environmental change, restore ecosystems and manage wild populations.
Ecologists study the diverse ways in which animals interact with other species and with their physical environment. Every day, our researchers are unlocking secrets of the natural world, in tropical forests, in marine reserves, and in our biodiverse backyard. Why not join us in the Ecology program in Animal Biology?
Ecology covers six research areas.
In behavioural ecology we study the ecological and evolutionary basis for animal behaviour, how animals perceive their environments, find food and mates, and how plasticity in behaviour enables them to adapt to changing selective pressures from other organisms and from the environment.
All animals interact with other organisms in complex beneficial and antagonistic ways. Until recently, researchers tended to ignore, or simplify, this complexity down to single-species responses or pairwise interactions. However, we now recognise that there are important properties of interaction networks that determine the functional consequences of biodiversity loss and its implications for food web energetics and the provision of ecosystem services.
Evolutionary ecology is the study of how animal form and function evolves in response to the environment and to other organisms. We investigate the natural and sexual selection pressures that generate species and population divergence in morphological traits from body size, shape or colour, to the form and function of sperm and eggs. Our research examines the genetic basis of quantitative traits, and explores patterns of gene flow within and among population that underlie population divergence and speciation.
Our studies of marine populations and communities focus on determining the drivers of population dynamics and community structure. Much of our work occurs in the intertidal and shallow subtidal regions of both rocky and sandy shores, tracking spatial and temporal changes. We also work with marine megafauna such as sharks, whales and sea turtles – a major feature of Western Australian waters.
Population ecology deals with the demography and dynamics of populations, and seeks to understand the drivers of variation in population size and probability of species persistence in space and time. Population ecology is fundamental to the conservation management of threatened species, especially in the use of population viability analysis to predict population persistence in the face of threatening processes.
Understanding the physiological adaptations of animals to their environment involves study of the various physiological systems that support life. This is aided by comparing and contrasting various species from differing environments. It is increasingly important that we understand ‘how animals work’ in their natural environments because of threats from human impacts, such as climate change.
Many species and ecosystems are imperilled. Animal biologists possess unique and diverse skills for understanding causes of decline and for improve conservation outcomes. Our conservation research covers four main areas.
Threats to the persistence of species through time are tightly linked to the genetic health of populations. We conduct field-based assessments of genetic diversity in species and populations under threat, as well as understanding the genetic basis to extinction risk in a laboratory setting.
Understanding the impact of climate change is a pressing concern for the management of many threatened species. We are using our knowledge of the behaviour and physiology of affected organisms to understand whether species can persist under current rates of climate change, or where species may live in the future.
Marine animals are increasingly facing the impacts of human manipulation of the marine environment, together with more general threats such as ocean warming and acidification. Understanding how marine animals respond to changed environments is vital if we are to predict changes in distributions, growth rates, population dynamics and ecosystem sustainability. We work with threatened species, but also common species that are impacted by pressures such as tourism, recreational fishing and oil and gas installations.
We aim to find strategies that can protect endangered and vulnerable animals, to restore animal populations through captive breeding and translocations, and to manage fertility to prevent over-abundance of native and feral animals. Projects are often done in collaboration with agencies such as the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Department of Fisheries, and the Perth Zoo.