student profile: Adrian Rus


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Thesis work

Thesis title: Incorporating movement and behavioural ecology to understand habitat use of a specialist herbivore, the koala.

Supervisors: Clare MCARTHUR , Mathew CROWTHER

Thesis abstract:

�br /� The ever-expanding human footprint has modified and reshaped the environment from a continuous complex heterogeneous landscape to a simplified and increasingly fragmented habitat. Consequently, many native species have declined and will continue on this trend as habitat is modified and lost due to increased anthropogenic disturbances. In Australia, the consequences of climate change and habitat loss are of major concern to future conservation of native wildlife and require further attention. Climate change has been linked to more frequent and extreme weather events (i.e. drought and heatwaves) leading to a higher probability of species extinction.�br /� The koala (�em�Phascolarctos cinereus�/em�), is an iconic Australian species which has seen a major decline due to loss of habitat, disease, and climate change. Koala’s dietary specialization makes it extremely vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and climate change because they are dependent on distribution of food trees. Newer conservation and management strategies must be planned with a detailed understanding of why koalas use habitats, and more importantly, enabling and anticipating their response to dramatic changes in their environment.�br /� As animals move across the landscape, movement patterns emerge due to the interactions between internal factors relating to an animal’s physiological and psychological state (e.g. sex, age, reproductive status) and external factors relating to the environment (e.g. food, shelter, weather). The dynamism of these factors can provide an insight into the mechanisms driving animal habitat use. My goal is to examine the movement patterns of a specialist herbivore and link them to internal (sex, age and personality) and external (landscape configuration and habitat quality) factors. My study focusses on free-ranging koalas at sites on the Liverpool Plains surrounding the town of Gunnedah, NSW. I will fit koalas with GPS tracking collars and quantify their use of trees from the movement data and determine the internal and external factors influencing habitat use. This study will provide a deeper understanding of the factors driving habitat use by a specialist herbivore, as well as the importance of movement and behavioural ecology in developing new and innovative management strategies.

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