The rate of species extinctions is well above background levels, is hundreds of times higher for some groups, and is now accelerating due to climate change. In attempts to slow this catastrophic loss, billions of dollars are expended annually in activities that include habitat restoration programs, management of nature reserves, control of invasive weeds and pest animals, and environmental impact assessments. However, the effectiveness of these expensive conservation actions often hinges on assumptions about how wildlife disperses through landscapes and such knowledge is generally absent or inadequate. There is an ongoing deficit of information about the distances that animals or seeds move, about the kinds of environments that dispersal can occur through and about how important such dispersal is for the long-term survival of species in landscapes.
In addition to the practical conservation problem associated with limited knowledge about movement, ecological theory suffers from the same dearth. Metapopulation and metacommunity theory are tied very closely to explicit assumptions about dispersal. Detailed measurements of dispersal for many species in fragmented landscapes are needed to reveal which hypothetical processes operate and how they vary in time and space.
The spatial dynamics, dispersal and conservation project takes a range of approaches to understanding the conservation needs of species in the face of human activities. It has a strong focus on developing a better understanding of dispersal and connectivity, but also explores the broader ecology of species, particularly demography and habitat associations.
Work recently completed or currently under way includes:
- Dispersal, demography and ecology in fire mosaics (Annabel Smith, Laurence Berry (PhD), Kwan Ling Ho (Hons))
- Interaction of fire and fragmentation (Juliana Lazzari (PhD), Zohara Lucas (Hons))
- Fragmentation and edge effects in plantation landscapes (John Evans, Nici Sweaney (PhD))
- Frog population ecology, dispersal, response to disturbance, species interactions and disease dynamics (Martin Westgate, Ben Scheele (PhD))
- Agricultural and Urban Matrix ecology (Stephanie Pulsford, Nélida Villaseñor (Phd))
- Home range and habitat condition (Georgiana Storey, PhD)