Peter Banks is the new Associate Professor of Conservation Biology

3 May 2011

Peter Banks, new Associate Professor of Conservation Biology, with his research team outside their new offices in the Science Road Cottage.
Peter Banks, new Associate Professor of Conservation Biology, with his research team outside their new offices in the Science Road Cottage.

After 15 years away, Peter Banks returns to the School with a large research team to take up the position of Associate Professor of Conservation Biology.

Prof Banks comes from the University of NSW where he has held an academic position in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences for 11 years.

As a behavioural ecologist who works on conservation issues, Prof Banks' research complements the School's strengths in a number of fields including invasive biology, sociobiology and urban ecology. "It is so exciting to be part of this department, which promises so many opportunities for new collaborations, " says Prof Banks. "I also currently hold grants with a number of researchers here, so I look forward to expanding these interactions further."

Prof Banks is no stranger to the School, having completed an Honours degree and PhD under the supervision of Professor Chris Dickman. While his Honours research focused on population dynamics of small mammals, an accidental occurrence during his project set him on the path of studying invasive animals, which has continued throughout his career. "A fox was continually urinating on my traps, which was probably because I put my trap line in its territory," remembers Prof Banks. "From that experience in Honours, it was pretty easy to transition into my PhD looking at the impact of foxes on native and introduced mammals."

Following his PhD, Prof Banks worked with NSW National Parks on modeling fauna distributions to improve reserve systems, which ultimately contributed to the creation of a new national park in the Hunter Valley. He then took up a postdoctoral role in Finland studying the impact of American mink on native mink and birds, and in 1999 was appointed by UNSW where he remained until the end of last year.

Broadly, Prof Banks' work uses behavioural ecology and an experimental approach to solve conservation problems. Currently, much of his work centres around introduced black rats and investigating various ways of mitigating their impact on native fauna. Since black rats pose problems by preying on eggs in native bird nests, Prof Banks and his students are devising ways of disrupting the chemical signals that rats use to find the nests as a mode of conserving the birds. "We can actually teach predators to disassociate the smell of a particular prey with food," says Prof Banks. "This can potentially give prey species a fighting chance for survival during times when they are most sensitive to being predated upon, such as nesting periods before eggs have hatched."

Around Sydney Harbour, Prof Banks is also working on a novel mode of controlling the black rat population, which centres around an understanding of the animal's ecology. Together with Professor Chris Dickman and research associate Dr Grainne Cleary, Prof Banks is removing black rats from the forests around Mosman and reintroducing native bush rats to take their place. "We are using the principle of interference competition, where the established population will outcompete any new comers," says Prof Banks. "Although bush rats haven't been present in Sydney Harbour for quite some time, if we create a strong population of them then they will do the work for us of keeping out the black rat."

With a teaching-free year, Prof Banks will focus on his research, supervising a number of students both at Sydney and UNSW and furnishing his new lab space. His large team will also be busy settling into their new office - the Head of School's former rooms in the Science Road Cottage.

Contact: Carla Avolio

Phone: 02 9351 4543

Email: 045433212d191017173e102d2d3b28052d363b764e08401d0647