The Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University is seeking applications from highly qualified and motivated candidates for a PhD program of research on the spatial ecology and population dynamics of the Eastern Small-eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigrescens) and the Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) at Booderee National Park in the Jervis Bay Territory on the south coast of NSW.
The aim of this project is to understand the spatial population structure of two predatory elapid snakes, the Eastern Small-eyed Snake Cryptophis nigrescens and the Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus at Booderee National Park. The candidate will collect high-quality baseline field data, undertaking a radio-tracking program for the Red-bellied Black Snake and a mark-recapture program for the Eastern Small-eyed Snake. The candidate will also have the opportunity to investigate dispersal using genetics in a well-resourced laboratory. A key motivation for this study on elapids is the planned re-introduction to the Park of several threatened mammal species, including a top order predator, the Eastern Quoll Dasyurus viverrinus. Part of the study will address the question: What does the spatial ecology of elapids tell us about park management and can it inform future re-introductions of mammals?
The project will be supervised by ARC Laureate Fellow Professor David Lindenmayer (ANU), Dr Damian Michael (ANU), and Dr Jonathan Webb (University of Technology, Sydney).
Background to the project
Recent surveys by the ANU research team in Booderee National Park have found high numbers of the Eastern Small-eyed Snake Cryptophis nigrescens. This snake is a medium-sized elapid which preys on lizards. The species occupies a variety of habitats and congregates beneath weathered surface rock and bark. Our ability to find these snakes beneath established artificial refuges (corrugated tin) within the Park provides a unique opportunity to investigate population demographics, social behaviour and dispersal. In addition, sightings of the Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus have also increased in the Park.
The successful candidate will work closely with Senior Research Officers Dr Damian Michael and Mr Chris MacGregor who have established a mark-recapture study on the Eastern Small-eyed Snake in the Park, and Dr Jonathan Webb who has over 20 years experience of working with elapid snakes. The candidate will be able to carry out a variety of investigations that will build on the mark-recapture study by using radio tracking, field investigations and molecular analysis in the laboratory. The candidate will gain experience in spatial ecology, population ecology and molecular analysis techniques.
Specific areas of investigation could include: radio tracking (Red-bellied Black Snakes); colonisation and seasonal use of artificial refuges; thermal constraints of refuges use; microhabitat preferences; effects of fire on population demographics; or population genetics and dispersal.