Cultural and genetic comparisons reveal interrupted meta-population connectivity among Australian palm cockatoos

Palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus aterrimus) from Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland have fascinating behaviour. Unusually large vocal repertoires and a unique display including various postures, gestures, and the use of a manufactured sound tool make them unique. Unfortunately their slow reproductive rate and negative impacts from mining and altered fire regimes make them vulnerable. A serious decline predicted for palm cockatoo numbers in one known location created interest in their connectivity with other populations on Cape York Peninsula.

Tracking dispersing individuals is difficult for this species, we therefore require alternative data sets to infer connectivity. Landscape scale genetic data are available from some locations in Cape York Peninsula, and my PhD involved combining genetic variation among these locations with variation in socially learned ‘cultural’ behaviour among all populations. With connectivity modelling and population viability analyses using this information, I update our understanding of Australian palm cockatoo meta-population dynamics.

About the speaker

I studied for my Bachelor of Science at the Australian National University, where I completed courses in animal behaviour, sensory physiology and plant science. I undertook a cross-institutional exchange semester allowing me to study at James Cook University in Townsville where I completed courses in tropical ecosystems and field ecology methods. For my honours year (ANU) I studied the social networks of baboons complete with fieldwork in Namibia, and was supervised by Prof. Rob Heinsohn and Dr. Alecia Carter. I hold an Australian Post Graduate Award (APA) and continue my research at the Fenner School of Environment and Society with a PhD program under the supervision of Prof. Robert Heinsohn and Dr. Naomi Langmore, as well as senior ecologist Dr. Steve Murphy