Research life Urban wildlife

New job, new lab, new fun

How would you feel about spending your days learning all about threatened species? Or dreaming up creative ways that we can conserve species in cities and towns? Or collating cool pictures of wild animals to use in an experiment unofficially known as ‘wildlife tinder’?

If the answer to any of those questions is ‘very excited’, then you’d have quite a lot of fun doing my new job. You can’t have it though. It’s mine.

Yes, in December last year I officially started my new position at the University of Melbourne with the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub and the Threatened Species Recovery Hub . Rather conveniently, this allows me to combine two of my research loves: threatened species and urban conservation.

When most of us think about the ideal place for saving species, I’m tipping the word ‘urban’ rarely springs to mind. True, urban living can be pretty risky for plants and animals. The mean streets of the city might be noisy and bright, full of vehicles that can run over you, pets that want to eat you and introduced species trying crowding you out.

And yet, you can still find native threatened species hanging on, or even thriving in urban environments. On a typical urban safari, you might spy fantastically-coloured frogs, cheeky marsupials, ornate orchids, diminutive dragons and majestic eucalypts. Some of these urban dwellers are tough. Some of them are just lucky. Some no longer occur anywhere else.

Part of my job is to find ways that we can improve their chances of sticking around. This means better understanding the range of threats at play, and identifying the unique opportunities that cities and towns could provide our very special natives.

On the other hand, let’s not pretend that we always roll out the welcome mat when native species turn up in our backyards. If we think they seem dangerous, damaging or just generally annoying, things can turn from ‘friend’ to ‘foe’ very quickly. So another aspect of my work involves managing these conflicts to get good outcomes for native species and people.


Threatened species conservation is just one benefit of protecting urban biodiversity. Having nature in cities is important for so many reasons: it can help keep our air cool, our water clean, and our minds happy and healthy  Still, as urban areas expand and habitats elsewhere decline, it’s really important that we find creative ways to share the urban habitat, and aim for conservation gains in cities and towns, rather than just preventing future losses.

In summary, I’m having quite a lot of fun at work lately, and you’re all going to hear a lot more about it.

1 comment on “New job, new lab, new fun

  1. Pingback: Pulling back the curtain | life. on.the.verge.

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