Science Short

Science Short: The Black Swans of Albert Park

Wild Melbourne’s Science Short series is a collection of short video documentaries showcasing the wonderful research being done in Victoria. Each episode features a different scientist or research group, opening up the world of environmental research for the public to see. 

In this Science Short, Wild Melbourne venture to Albert Park Lake near the Melbourne CBD to follow the University of Melbourne Black Swan Research Group. Headed by the University of Melbourne’s Head of BioSciences, Raoul Moulder, the BSRG has been researching the black swan population at Albert Park for over a decade.

Raoul, along with Dr John Lesku from La Trobe University, is supervising PhD student Anne Aulsebrook as she investigates the effect that artificial lighting in urban areas is having on the biology of the swans. Artificial lights, such as street lamps, headlights and signs, are known to change how animals behave and respond to more natural cues.

Science Shorts: Fire, Climate, and Small Mammals

This month, we were fortunate enough to visit the beautiful Grampians National Park and chat with Deakin researcher, John White. John has worked on the ecology of the Grampians for around a decade, and his team's research has yielded surprising insights into the influence of climate on small mammal populations. 

Oddly similar to the boom and bust ecology found in arid ecosystems, the small mammals of our Grampians appear to be highly responsive to rainfall. During dry periods populations are low but they soon explode following high rainfall events. While this is interesting from a scientific perspective, it raises questions about the longevity of our small mammal populations in the Grampians. As our climate shifts and dry periods become more frequent and more enduring, the isolated populations 3-4 hours West of Melbourne may struggle to hang on. 

Adding to their struggle is the increasing risk of large, intense fires. Such disturbance events may outright kill our furry friends, or deprive them of the food or cover necessary for them to survive at high numbers. However, as John's PhD student Sussie is finding, there are some areas within the Grampians' vast expanses that tend to be less prone to burning and retain moisture during dryer periods. These wetter refuges offer our small mammals a heightened chance at survival  and may be the key to conserving these species in this ruggedly beautiful but precarious landscape. 


Wild Melbourne's Chris McCormack speaks with John White and his PhD student, Susannah Hale of Deakin University about their ecological research in the Grampians National Park. John's team are finding fascinating responses of small mammals to fire and climate in this amazing Victorian landscape.

Photos credit Robert Geary

Science Shorts: Little Penguins

This month, Wild Melbourne was lucky enough to speak with Associate Professor Richard Reina from Monash University about his research on Phillip Island's iconic Little Penguin population.  

Wild Melbourne's Chris McCormack, joined Richard down at the Phillip Island Nature Park, where he was told all about the expansive, long-term research that has been carried out on what is one of Australia's most well-known wildlife populations. The history of the Phillip Island Nature Park is an exciting one, and can lay claim to being one of the greatest conservation success stories in the world.  Land reclamation of the peninsula has been ongoing since the 1980's and has now been completed, leaving a huge area free for penguin nesting and a huge legacy for our Victorian community to cherish. 

Together with colleague Dr Andre Chiaradia, Richard has discovered much about the ecology of little penguins, and notably, the role they can play as indicators of change in the marine environment. Andre was the first to install weigh-bridges at the colony during his PhD in the 1990's, a device which continues to yield valuable information about individually micro-chipped penguins as they come and go from their nests.  The pair have co-supervised countless students and are ever on the look out to further our knowledge of our marine ecosystems through these iconic, and adorable sea birds. 

Following his conversation with Richard and Andre, Chris set out to follow Wild Melbourne colleague and PhD student Cathy Cavallo, along with fellow student Sonia Sanchez, as they went about monitoring the nesting population of penguins. Together, these two young marine scientists look set to shed light on a number of interesting questions about the penguins and their connection with our marine environment, and we look forward to hearing more from them in the future. 

Wild Melbourne would like to thank Richard, Andre, and the entire team down at the Phillip Island Nature Park, for allowing us to get a glimpse of the amazing science and conservation work happening just a few hours from Melbourne's CBD.

You can get around more of their science stories by following them on twitter: (Richard Reina, Cathy Cavallo, Phillip Island NP

We interview Associate Professor Richard Reina of Monash University about his team's research on Phillip Island's Little Penguins.

We join two of Richard Reina's PhD students as they monitor Phillip Island's Little Penguin population.