Western Australian herps: diversity, discovery & descriptions
Western Australia is a vast area teeming with frogs and reptiles. As curator at the WA Museum, I’ve been privileged to be able to explore some of the farthest reaches of the state working with an amazing, talented group of collaborators and fortunate enough to discover and describe many new species of herps. The opportunities and collaborations that led to these new species descriptions in WA will be outlined, focusing on frogs and geckos, but also taking in the career trajectory of moving from the process-based questions of evolutionary ecology at universities to the more pattern-based questions of documenting herpetological diversity from regional government museum that covers one-third of the Australian continent.
The meandering path of a sea turtle biologist: movement ecology, conservation and management in marine systems
Sea turtle biologist, movement ecologist, eco-physiologist. These are some of the hats I have worn at different points in my career and, at times, all at once. When I started working on leatherback turtles 13 years ago, the questions we were asking, were rather trivial: where do female turtles hang out during and after the nesting season? Where do they eat? What does their diving behaviour look like? However, as technology advanced, remote sensing and numerical models improved, questions started revolving more around the turtles’ energy management strategies (i.e. how to maximise reproductive output in a thermally dynamic environment? how to minimize energy expenditure during migration?) and their navigation strategies (i.e. do turtles know where they are in the ocean? how do they deal with current drift? what is the impact of currents on their life history?). Myself and colleagues have investigated these questions in both female and male sea turtles and most recently also hatchling turtles. We started filling long standing gaps in our knowledge about these threatened reptiles, and in the process, helped to improve their protection and management.
Linking biogeography and adaptation: using the past to inform future risk
How can we improve our models of biodiversity loss under climate change? A key factor is better incorporating the adaptive capacity of species into our models. However, we have struggled to incorporate information on evolution and physiology at the broad taxonomic and spatial scales needed to help inform conservation planning. I will discuss how we can define adaptive capacity for incorporation into broad-scale spatial models, and therefore more widely into conservation planning. Using my current research, I’ll discuss ways to assess important parameters of adaptive capacity at continent-wide taxonomic scales. I will also review the current state frog biogeography in the monsoon tropics, and discuss how I am linking data on species’ responses to past climatic changes to their future persistence in a changing environment.
Obsession, optimism, and opportunism: bumbling my way to glory
I have been asked to give this talk because of a bizarre situation: in October 2016, I was named as NSW Scientist of the Year, and also was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. Nicki has asked me to 'reflect on your glorious career with reptiles, preferably, omitting all mention of cane toads'. In this talk I will try to make sense of how a childish obsession with scaly, slithery objects eventually won me a seat beside the Prime Minister at a posh awards ceremony in Parliament House. With the benefit of hindsight I will attempt to identify the tactics that contributed to my professional success. I will steadfastly ignore the obvious fact that any advice I have to offer is hopelessly out-of-date and useless for younger workers. I will also show photographs of herpetologists in tuxedos.