What We Do >> Research Projects >> Managing Ecosystem Change

Managing Ecosystem Change in the
Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area

Student Project Summaries

Niche overlap of higher-order predators endemic to the GBMWHA

Student: Jack Pascoe, PhD, University of Western Sydney
Timeframe: 2007 – 2010
Supervisors: Rob Mulley, Rosalie Chapple and Ricky Spencer
Overall aim: To measure the level of overlap in resource use of exotic and native predators endemic to the World Heritage Area across three niche dimensions - spatial, temporal and trophic. Specifically, the research will investigate the use of space, time and food resources by endemic higher-order predators and the level of overlap between members of this fauna assemblage.
Study sites: The three sites selected are Big Yango in the Yengo National Park, the Wolgan Valley in the Wollemi National Park and the Warragamba Special Area.
Fieldwork: Target species include exotic predators within the World Heritage Area: the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), the domestic cat (Felis catus), vulnerable native predators such as the spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) and the large forest owls including the powerful owl (Ninox strenua) and wild dog/dingo (Canis lupus familiarus/dingo) and their hybrids. Jack is using a range of field techniques to determine the interactions that species within the carnivore assemblage have with each other and their prey. These techniques include sand pad monitoring (to determine activity of terrestrial species), remote cameras and owl call playback (detection of cryptic species), spotlighting (prey densities) and dietary analysis.

[ View Presentation by Jack Pascoe ]

Project: Plant dispersal strategies in relation to a changing climate in the GBMWHA

Student: Fiona Thomson, PhD, University of New South Wales
Timeframe: 2007 - 2010
Supervisors: Richard Kingsford, Dan Ramp and Tony Auld
Overall aim: To ask what is known about dispersal mechanisms of plant species in the GBMWHA and what their chances of dispersal in adapting to changing climate? Dispersal mechanisms for 63% of plant species (approx. 2000 species) in the WHA are unknown. Dispersal mechanisms range from wind, ants, ballistic, water and vertebrates. Myrmecochory is the term used to describe seed dispersal by ants and is believed to be the one of the most important dispersal methods for sclerophyll vegetation in Australia. Myrmecochory is often associated with poor soils, hence the nutrient-deficient sandstone of the GBMWHA suggests that myrmecochory is a major dispersal agent for flora in this area. Many species, such as acacias, have evolved an elaiosome, an ant attractant, which is attached to the seeds.
Fieldwork: Fiona is examining ant dispersal at different elevations to gain a greater understanding of how this dispersal system works in this area, using a Wattle species (Acacia terminalis). Fieldwork includes observations of ant dispersal behaviour, seed predation trials and ant community sampling.

[ View Presentation by Fiona Thomson ]

Project: Large-scale fauna modeling: Optimal conservation strategies aimed at maximising fauna persistence and representation using habitat suitability models

Student: Gilad Bino, PhD, University of New South Wales
Timeframe: 2008 – 2011
Supervisors: Dan Ramp and Richard Kingsford
Overall aim: To work on integrating meta-population and climate change models with optimal reserve design. The project is currently focused on constructing habitat suitability models for each of the target species utilising GIS procedures enabling the layering of species occurrence data along with environmental, geographic and habitat data. Distribution modeling is producing state-wide habitat suitability models for NSW mammals, yielding state-wide predicted distributions for fauna. It involves systematic survey and atlas records for 65 mammal species from 14 families. This research identifies areas of high conservation importance in the GBMWHA. Gilad is exploring methods for assessing distribution of species with knowledge gaps e.g. can information on common species provide insight into rare species? The project is gathering information on functional traits, genetic makeup and environmental responses and determining the inter-species similarities. There is a positive relationship between functional, genetic and environmental similarity indices. The question then is, are they sympatric?
Outcome and Application: The research is providing high-quality fauna distribution information to inform decision-making and includes: state-wide assessment of NSW mammal diversity patterns and implications for management predicting distributions of threatened species identifying areas of high taxonomic and functional diversity within and around the GBMWHA.

[ View Presentation by Gilad Bino ]

Project: Integrating science and policy within an adaptive management framework in the GBMWHA

Student: Alex Gold, PhD, University of New South Wales
Timeframe: 2009 – 2012
Supervisors: John Merson, Rosalie Chapple and Dan Ramp
Overall aim: To address the uptake of outcomes into policy and management for the GBMWHA from a recent project funded by an Australian research Council Linkage grant. Alex will focus on the development of an adaptive management framework and will work closely with Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) in relation to the review of management plans for reserves within the WHA.

[ View Presentation by Alex Gold ]

Project: Integrating adaptive weed management and biodiversity conservation in the Blue Mountains

Student: Alex Gold, MPhil, University of New South Wales
Timeframe: 2008 – 2009 (completed)
Supervisors: Shawn Laffan, Dan Ramp and Richard Kingsford
Overall aim: To identify suitable habitat for weed species, specifically lantana (Lantana camara), in the Blue Mountains. In an effort to better integrate weed management with biodiversity conservation, a secondary focus was to use the habitat suitability model to identify areas high in biodiversity values and which are also threatened by weed invasion. The research used a species distribution modeling approach to identify suitable habitat for lantana and how the weed may impact on native biodiversity.

[ View Presentation by Alex Gold ]

Project: Reserve design effectiveness: Systematic reserve design and the historical representation of Myrtaceae in the GBMWHA

Student: Melissa Head, Hons, University of New South Wales
Timeframe: 2008 (completed)
Supervisors: Dan Ramp and Shawn Laffan
Overall aim: To evaluate the current representation of Myrtaceae within the GBMWHA and to evaluate the reserve acquisition process by contrasting historical and systematic reserve design. Protected conservation areas are a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. The goals of protected areas are: to conserve a representative sample of biodiversity, fortify resilience to drivers of change that threaten their persistence. Historically however, most reserves have been allocated opportunistically and biodiversity conservation has not been the primary goal. This project addresses systematic conservation planning (SCP) whereby principles of SCP are based on setting explicit goals and objectives (conservation and socio-economic), new conservation areas that complement the existing reserve are quantitatively identified, managers are better informed to prioritise purchase of new land, and in terms of management of existing protected areas.

Project: Spatial Point Processes and pseudo-absence logistic regression for species distribution modeling

Student: Leah Shepherd, Hons, University of New South Wales
Timeframe: 2008 (completed)
Supervisor: David Warton
Overall aim: To look at species distribution modeling for presence-only data. Point process modeling was identified as offering a set of tools for making valid inferences using presence-only data. Methods currently used in the literature involve generating “pseudo-absences” that enable model fitting but for which standard measures of uncertainty become invalid. The project shows that point process models can overcome this deficiency, using Angophora costata Atlas data from the Blue Mountains region. The finer aspects of the model-fitting approach are being investigated, before its application is recommended.

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