Dr Thomas Newsome, from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, has won a NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award, presented on 29 September at the Powerhouse Museum.
Awarded annually by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, the Young Tall Poppy awards are prestigious early career researcher awards that recognise scientists aged 35 and under for excellence in scientific research and passion in science communication and community engagement.
"The award is a great honour, and it is encouraging to be recognised for excellence in science communication and community engagement," said Dr Newsome.
"My research is on top predators: big animals like dingoes and wolves at the top of the food chain. I study how they change the abundance and behaviour of their prey and competitors, and how that in turn affects other species and ecological processes," explained Dr Newsome.
"The key question for science is: How big is the impact of the top predator on the rest of the food chain? If the impact is large – and the preliminary science tells us it is – then we need to act fast to change current policies to avoid irreparable further ecological harm.
"One quarter of Australia is now dingo-free and has been for half a century. In that time, Australia's landscapes have degraded substantially. Australia has lost 29 native mammals to extinction since European settlement. If bringing back dingoes would stem that massive decline in ecosystem health, then we need to know.
I hope to increase the public's awareness of the mammal extinction crisis in Australia, and how top predators like dingoes can help to reverse the mammal declines we are witnessing.
Dr Newsome was nominated by Professor Chris Dickman, also from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, who said: "Dr Thomas Newsome is a highly talented researcher, who has already gained a strong international reputation through his important contributions to his field. He has an outstanding track record of publications and securing grants."
As part of the award, Dr Newsome will do at least two outreach activities as part of the Tall Poppy Campaign programs targeting school students, teachers, the general public, media, federal or state MPs, and policy makers, and a range of science promotional activities over 2016 and 2017. He also receives free Associate Membership of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science for one year.
"My target audience will most likely be school children here in Sydney, but also in remote communities in Central Australia," said Dr Newsome.
"Researchers are typically judged on the number of grants they receive and the number of peer-reviewed publications they produce, but researchers have an obligation to communicate research findings to the broader community. How else will they create change?
"The Australian Institute of Policy and Science recognises that science communication and community engagement is important, and awards like these provide a mechanism to recognise researchers who are making an impact outside the academic world."