We use field studies, environmental DNA sampling, laboratory experiments, and statistical modelling to study the impacts of environmental change on species distributions at macroecological scales. Most of our work focuses on Australian amphibians and reptiles, although we occasionally study fish, insects, and mammals as well. We are particularly interested in understanding impacts of environmental change on distributions of threatened and invasive species.
We have made significant academic contributions under this broad theme, but also work with industry, NGOs, and governments to translate our academic work into on-ground management.
We study environmental change impacts using both mechanistic (bottom-up) and correlative (top-down) approaches.
From species traits to species distributions
One approach to study impacts of environmental change on species distributions is to start at the bottom; to study the mechanisms that define a species’ fundamental niche. Our laboratory work in this area centres on amphibian ecophysiology. We study the impacts of environmental stressors on development, growth, metabolism, and behaviour throughout the amphibian lifecycle. Data on these traits are used to parameterise mechanistic niche models, which can be used to predict the impacts of environmental change on species distributions across broad spatial extents. We have used this approach for European common frogs (Rana temporaria), cane toads (Rhinella marina), and Brown tree frogs (Litoria ewingii), to name a few. This bottom-up approach enables us to explore how fine-scale processes, such as metabolism, translate into broad-scale patterns.
An alternative approach that we often employ is to examine broad-scale geographic patterns, and try to infer underlying ecological processes. We use field surveys, environmental DNA sampling, and a variety of correlative tools (e.g., species distribution modelling, machine learning) for this purpose. For example, we have used correlative approaches to study how extrinsic threats influence extinction risk, and to estimate extinction risk of Data Deficient species.
Along with our colleagues at EnviroDNA, we use environmental DNA sampling to monitor species distributions across broad spatial extents, and to explore how environmental stressors correlate with those distributions. We have also developed statistical and mathematical methods for evaluating the sensitivity and cost-efficiency of this promising new monitoring tool. We have applied this technique to a wide array of freshwater organisms in south-eastern Australia, including native and non-native amphibians, platypus, and fish.
We are always interested in potential collaborations, so if you share our research interests, please contact Reid to discuss potential research projects!