Student thesis awarded for odourous research

25 October 2013

Alex Carthey - winner of the DW Cooper Student Thesis Award
Alex Carthey - winner of the DW Cooper Student Thesis Award

Alex Carthey has won the inaugural DW Cooper Student Thesis Award from the Australasian Wildlife Management Society. Her thesis investigated the response of native mammals to the smell of native and alien predators.

"Winning this award is very exciting," said Alex. "It will allow me to attend the Australasian Wildlife Management Society's conference in New Zealand, which I wouldn't have been able to afford to do otherwise."

The DW Cooper Student Thesis Award was named in honour of Professor Des Cooper, a long time member of the Australasian Wildlife Management Society, who passed away last year. "The award is especially meaningful to me as Des Cooper taught me in undergrad at UNSW - he was a lovely man."

Alex's PhD thesis topic was Naivete of native Australian mammals towards introduced predators. "I used a variety of approaches to determine whether small mammals recognise and respond to predators such as cats, foxes and dogs" she said. Alex surveyed people who live near national parks to see if there was a relationship between the presence of pet cats or dogs and bandicoot visitation. "I also deployed remote sensing cameras in bushland to record bush rat behaviour in response to predator odour. And in the last part of my thesis, I performed a chemical analysis of body odour, scats (poo) and urine from predators to see whether native and alien predators smell different to one another."

Alex found that our wildlife aren't as hopeless as some might think - "bandicoots avoid yards with dogs when choosing where to forage, and bush rats recognised and responded to the odours of dogs, cats and foxes with increased vigilance." She also showed that the odours from native marsupial predators have a very different chemical composition to those of alien placental predators. "This suggests that any failure to recognise placental alien predators could be explained by them smelling very different to the marsupial predators that our wildlife is used to."

Alex, who was supervised by Associate Professor Peter Banks, graduates on Friday 8 November. We are sure she will go on to an exciting career in wildlife biology research!