Dr Oranit (Orie) Gilad
Research Fellow, Department of Environmental Sciences
C02F - Centre for Carbon, Water and Food
The University of Sydney
|Telephone||+61 2 4661 1998|
|Fax||+61 2 8627 1099|
Orie is a Conservation Ecologist whose main research interest is in the integration of lab, field and theoretical studies to understand the origins of ecosystem structure and resilience. The systems she has worked on range in scale from large mammals to the soil-microbe system. Orie received her doctorate degree from Texas A&M University in 2006 where she remained as a lecturer and founded Balanced Ecology Inc. (BEI), a non-profit organization focusing on wildlife conservation through research and public education. She continued as a medical zoologist with the US Army, studying the environmental factors contributing to zoonotic diseases and developing method to minimize and prevent spread and transmission. Orie joined the University of Sydney in 2012 and is involved in multiple collaborations pursuing a multi-scale system approach that blends theory with practice. Projects include detecting missing links in disease paths of vector borne diseases through the use of Stable Isotopes, identifying the threshold of soil ecosystem resiliency, chemical communications in Giant Pandas and Flying Foxes, securing water and carbon in soil through pasture management, and investigating the impact of micro-climate changes on emerging and re-emerging diseases
Behavioral Ecology, Wildlife and Habitat Concervation, Wildlife-Livestock-Human Interaction, Nutritional Ecology, Zoonotic Diseases
My research aims for a whole ecosystem understanding to better manage human-wildlife, human-ecosystem and wildlife-ecosystem interactions. My work encompasses the many facets of the interface between species and their environment and the forces that impact stable ecosystems.
Behavioural Ecology is a main topic of interest and I am fascinated by the evolutionary adaptations species have undergone and the manifestation of those adaptation to increase their reproduction success. This area of research takes many forms. For example, my work on wildlife and habitat conservation is tightly connected to human land use and methods of coexistence. My research on soil looks at microbial ecosystem scale to better understand how we can detect loss of resilience in the natural fertility under unsustainable agriculture. My work on zoonosis is focuses on understanding disease paths from reservoirs through vector to host, as well as the environmental factors contributing to the emergence and spread of disease. The aim is to develop strategies for identification, minimization and prevention. Linking these studies are the common challenges of interconnectivity, complexity and dynamics and their relation to resiliency. I work in both the field and laboratory environment and use ecological modelling to integrate knowledge of complex interactions to better understand the system and predict future scenarios to allow for educated management decisions.
Teaching and supervision
A Systems Biology Approach to Molecular and Cellular Biology
This introductory unit is designed for non-biologists who are interested in integrating their field of expertise with that of biology and working at the interface of biology and mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering or the social sciences. The unit introduces core concepts in biology and will integrate real-world problems including presentation by experts in their field emphasizing the need for multidisciplinary approach for the understanding of complex biological systems. Participants have the opportunity to team up with biologists working in their area of interest and to model a current research topic leading to a peer-reviewed publication.
WFSC 401: Mammalogy
WFSC 302: Natural History of the Vertebrates
Entomology and Vector Biology
BIOL 1406: Cellular and Molecular Biology
BIOL 1407: Structure and Function of Organisms
BIOL 1309: Life on Earth (Classroom and Distance Learning)
BIOL 1409: Introductory Biology -- Diversity of Life
Securing soil water and carbon: A chronosequence Study using Lucerne to improve soil quality in grasslands.
Collaborators: Dr. Lachlan Ingram, Dr. Andrew Merchant, Prof. John Crawford, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney
Lucerne is often planted throughout the drier and saline regions of Australia to increase soil nitrogen and subsequently plant production. The aims of this project are to investigate the role that lucerne plays not only in increasing soil nitrogen but equally importantly, carbon sequestration and the subsequent improvement in soil structure and soil moisture characteristics. Improving soil water holding capacity will ensure that low and highly variable precipitation, a typical concern for many agricultural areas, can be efficiently used to maximize production. In addition, improving these soil characteristics will help restore degraded land and reduce soil erosion while at the same time sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
The Use of Stable Isotopes to identify missing links within disease paths: reservoir, vector and final host
Collaborators: Dr. Cameron Webb, Westmead Hospital, Sydney; Sydney Emerging Infections and Biosecurity Institute
The use of stable isotopes is emerging as a powerful tool in understanding relationships within disease paths. We are aiming to better understand the relationship between reservoir, vector and host in order to allow for the identification of missing links in less understood, emerging or introduced disease.
Impact of Micro-Climate changes on emerging-re-emerging diseases
Emerging and re-emerging diseases are a public health concern across the planet. With globalization what were once localized outbreaks can become multi-localities epidemics. Many of these diseases are correlated to human population growth, expansion of urbanization, clearing of wilderness areas, increased proximity of humans and their activities to wildlife and their habitat, and the movement of wildlife into new areas due to global climate change and human expansion of land use. But the impact of local (micro) climate change on these new diseases is poorly understood. I am looking at the correlation between several local zoonotic diseases and identifying the specific spatial and temporal factors leading to their emergence.
Microbial impacts on soil structure and nutrient flow through the naïve ecosystem
Collaborator: Prof. John Crawford, Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney
As more natural areas are being cleared in an attempt to meet our growing food needs, several matters are becoming apparent. In order to maintain biodiversity, an essential element for a long-term preservation of a healthy biosphere, methods must be developed that will increase soil productivity while maintaining resiliency despite human and natural disturbances. Current studies indicate that the soil’s ability to produce crops has fallen and is estimated to further decline by 30% in the next 20 years. This decrease is alarming as the needs of a growing human population estimated at 9 billion by 2050 will require an increase of 50% in food production. Our understanding of the soil ecosystem is deficient and we must better understand the causes for soil deterioration, loss of resiliency and the production of lower quality crops in order to tackle modern challenges of health and disease. Human and livestock are fed on crops that do not meet the nutritional requirements for health and we are witnessing a growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and a plethora of many other chronic illnesses. By studying the complex network of interaction between soil, soil microbes, nutrients and plants we can design land management practices that contribute to a healthy ecosystem and as such, protect humans and other species.
Other Current and Past Projects
The mountain lion of Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Estimates of Density and Distribution through DNA Analysis
Collaborators: Professor Rodney Honeycutt, Pepperdine University; Fred Armstrong, Resource Manager (former), Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Assessing the Feasibility for Reintroducing Desert Bighorn Sheep to Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Habitat, Migration Corridors and Challenges
Collaborators: Professor Ben Wu, Texas A&M University; Fred Armstrong, Resource Manager (former), Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Simulated dynamics of Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) in the Israeli Negev: Effects of migration corridors and post-reintroduction changes in natality on population viability
Collaborators: Professor Bill Grant, Texas A&M University; Professor David Saltz, Ben Gurion University.
Identification of chemical components from shoulder gland secretion in male Spectacled Flying Fox (Pteropus conspicillatus) (Publication forthcoming 2013)
Collaborator: Hugh Spencer: Australian Tropical Research Foundation
Effect of water deficiency on sugar allocation in plants
Collaborator: Dr. Andrew Merchant, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney.
Kin discrimination in Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).
Collaborators: Dr. Ron Swaisgood, Zoological Society of San Diego, San Diego, California; Zhou Xiaoping, China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda, Wolong Nature Reserve, Wolong, China. (Publication forthcoming 2013)
Analysis of Histoplasma capsulatum spores in Mexican free tailed bat guano and environmental soil samples. (Publication forthcoming 2013)
Isolation and identification of Leishmania spp. from sand flies (Lutzomyia and Phlebotomus spp.) and native wood rats, Neotoma floridana.
Habitat characterization and analysis of Triatominae spp. the carrier of Chagas disease.
Integrated Systems Labratory, Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney.