What inspired you to research climate change on St Bee’s?
Over the years of the Earthwatch-supported koala project on St Bees Island we observed changes in plant community structure and composition. A review of historical air photography showed that broad changes were occurring, not only on St Bees but also on all the regional islands. What could be driving this? Are the changes critical? Should we be intervening? Critically, will the koala habitat be lost and what will be the fate of other animals? The initial evidence suggested that these changes increased from around the mid-1970’s, close to the date when climate changes became more evident in Queensland. So, we became concerned that the changes may be a consequence of global climate change, and that our land management practices may exacerbate these changes.
What is your favourite moment in the field?
Camping on St Bees Island and listening to the primeval call of the koalas during the breeding season – a call that has been part of the Australian bush for millions of years.
How does citizen science help your research?
Field ecological research in Australia requires the collection of extensive data sets over long periods of time. This is because climatic cycles operate over relatively long periods of time in Australia. Usually we seek at least three to 11 years of data to account for these time periods. The Earthwatch Citizen Science model, that is the support provided by the volunteers, gives researchers the opportunity to gather large data sets over a number of years. This citizen science-based long-term research effort is not available through traditional funding agencies. Consequently the volunteer teams support research opportunities not easily met elsewhere. In other words, it won’t happen without you!
Dr Alistair Melzer (PhD Ecology UQ) has been working in the dry tropical environment of Queensland since 1989. Dr Melzer has worked with Queensland’s industry, government and community since 1995 to resolve environmental problems associated with project development and subsequent management. These include:
- Flora and fauna surveys associated with formal impact assessment.
- Environmental management plans and associated ecosystem health monitoring.
- Coastal zone and estuarine management.
- Bush fire management strategies.
- Weed management plans, and revegetation strategies and associated restoration success monitoring in coastal, estuarine and inland Queensland.
Alistair Melzer also pursues applied research projects in partnership with state agencies, universities and the community. Currently these include:
- Koala conservation biology.
- Restoration of koala habitat under climate change.
- Management of environmental weeds and the recovery of fire sensitive ecosystems.
- Ecosystem change under pressure from climate change on Australia’s continental islands.