Wildlife on the edge: how does personality, behaviour and foraging ecology of possums vary across the urban-woodland boundary?

Applicants are being sought for an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project, project exploring the impacts of urbanisation on the autecology and disease ecology of our native wildlife.


Project description

The successful applicants will quantify personality traits of individual common brushtail possums, test whether these traits differ among possum populations and whether they are linked to dietary differences and behavioural responses of individual animals to the world around them. They will compare possums in urban habitat, neighbouring native woodland, and in a fenced wildlife sanctuary where predation risk has been low for nearly a decade. The scats collected as part of the project will be used by a post-doc on the same ARC project, to test for differences in “reverse zoonoses”, i.e., gut parasites picked up as a form of urban pollution and potentially transmitted from the city to the bush.


  • Clare McArthur (Univ Sydney)
  • Michelle Power (Macquarie University)
  • Iain Gordon (ANU)
  • Adrian Manning (ANU)

Applicant requirements

  • A strong ecological background
  • Own scholarship or means of living.
  • Must have a current Driver’s Licence.
  • Preferably have experience in animal handling.
  • Must be – or be willing to become – quite nocturnal while collecting your data! Researchers will spend many nights (or at least evenings) trapping and handling possums during their waking hours. We can tap into a fantastic team of volunteers to help you.
  • Will likely be based in Canberra for at least the first two years of the project, to be near the study site and so make the project logistically feasible. During this time, you will be located in the Fenner School of Environment & Society ANU. Later, you will spend most time at the University of Sydney as you complete your thesis.

Your project will build on our research, including the work of former PhD students:

  • Mella VSA, Ward AJW, Banks PB, McArthur C (2015) Personality affects the foraging response of a mammalian herbivore to the dual costs of food and fear. Oecologia 177:293-303. doi: 10.1007/s00442-014-3110-8
  • Mella VSA et al. (2016) Effective field-based methods to quantify personality in brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Wildl. Res. 43:332–340
  • Wat KKY, Herath APHM, Rus AI, Banks PB, McArthur C (2019) Space use by animals on the urban fringe: interactive effects of sex and personality. Behav. Ecol. doi: 10.1093/beheco/arz194
  • Herath APHM, Wat KKY, Banks PB, McArthur C (accepted JUL 2021) Animal personality drives individual dietary specialisation across multiple dimensions in a mammalian herbivore. Funct. Ecol.