Dr Debra Saunders

Research Fellow
  • 2012 – Postdoctoral researcher, Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU
  • 2009-2011 – Visiting Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU
  • 2008-2009 – Postdoctoral researcher, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany
  • 2003 – 2007 - PhD scholar, Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU
  • 2001 – 2005 - Threatened Species Recovery Officer, Threatened Species Unit, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)
  • 2000 – 2001 - Project Manager, Commonwealth Key Centre for Biodiversity and Bio-resources, Macquarie University
  • 1996 – 2000 - Environmental Consultant (Zoologist), Biosis Research Pty. Ltd.
  • 1994 – 1996 - Education Officer, Coastal Environment Centre

Research interests

Improving our understanding and conservation of small migratory species in the southern hemisphere

Debbie is an ecologist, with honours from the School of Botany and Zoology, University of NSW (1996) and a PhD in Resource and Environmental Management from the Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU (2008).  She has worked for the private environmental consultant industry, Max Planck Institute of Ornithology, NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Macquarie University Key Centre for Biodiversity and Bioresources and Birdlife Australia.

Debbie is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Fenner School of Environment and Society where she focuses on her key research interests in migration ecology and threatened species and landscape-scale conservation.  She has recently commenced a research project titled “The endangered swift parrot as a model for managing small migratory birds”.  The importance of this research has received international recognition with funding from both Loro Parque Foundation (Spain) and the Australian Research Council Linkage Grants program.  Other key project partners include Zoos South Australia, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), Bush Heritage Australia, Tasmanian Forest Practices Authority. 

This project will adapt cutting-edge technologies for aerial-tracking of small migratory birds across vast landscapes, and provide multi-scale insights into the conservation needs of endangered swift parrots. Conservation of migratory species requires knowledge of the species’ ecology at multiple scales and the links between different phases of the migratory cycle. Our current project aims to address some of the key knowledge gaps in this regard. Austral migrants such as swift parrots can be challenging to conserve because variable climatic conditions cause great plasticity in their movements. Improving our knowledge of habitat requirements, reproductive success, and mortality, including disease prevalence and return rates from migration, will enable the development of optimal conservation strategies and more effective land management.

Professional activities

  • Research project leader – conservation and tracking of small migratory animals
  • Ecological Society of Australia committee member
  • National Swift Parrot Recovery Team member
  • Threatened species ecology and conservation advisor to regional, state and commonwealth government organisations

Academic highlights

  • 2009-2011 - Visiting Fellowship, Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU
  • 2008-2009 - Postdoctoral research project with Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
  • 2008 - PhD graduation

Awards granted


  • Australian Research Council Linkage Grant


  • Ecological Society of Australia, Science meets Parliament grant


  • Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Postdoctoral research grant


  • International Association of Research Universities (IARU) grant
  • ANU collaborative projects travel grant
  • NSW Department of Environment and Conservation travel grant
  • ANU Fenner School Special Purpose Fund grant


  • Natural Heritage Trust grant, Swift Parrot Recovery Program


  • ANU PhD research scholarship
  • Cliff, O, Fitch, R, Sukkarieh, S et al 2015, 'Online Localization of Radio-Tagged Wildlife with an Autonomous Aerial Robot System', Robotics Science and Systems Conference 2015, ed. Lydia E. Kavraki, David Hsu, and Jonas Buchli, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, pp. 1-9.
  • Stojanovic, D, Webb, M, Roshier, D et al 2012, 'Ground-based survey methods both overestimate and underestimate the abundance of suitable tree-cavities for the endangered Swift Parrot', Emu - Austral Ornithology, vol. 112, no. 4, pp. 350-356.
  • Felton, A, Fischer, J, Lindenmayer, D et al 2009, 'Climate change, conservation and management: an assessment of the peer-reviewed scientific journal literature', Biodiversity and Conservation, vol. 18, pp. 2243-2253.
  • Saunders, D & Heinsohn, R 2008, 'Winter habital use by the endangered, migratory Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) in New South Wales', Emu - Austral Ornithology, vol. 108, no. 1, pp. 81-89.
  • Lindenmayer, D, Fischer, J, Felton, A et al 2007, 'The complementarity of single-species and ecosystem-oriented research in conservation research', Oikos, vol. 116, pp. 1220-1226.