Professor Chris Dickman awarded NSW Scientist of the Year for Biology

22 September 2010

 Professor Chris Dickman named 2010 NSW Scientist of the Year in the 'Plant and Animals' category
Professor Chris Dickman named 2010 NSW Scientist of the Year in the 'Plant and Animals' category

The School of Biological Sciences' Professor Chris Dickman has been named NSW Scientist of the Year in the "Plant and Animal Sciences" category for dedicated investigation into threats faced by NSW wildlife and achieving practical conservation outcomes in restoring biodiversity.

Professor Dickman is the second scientist from the School of Biological Sciences to win the "Plant and Animal Sciences" category of the NSW Scientist of the Year Award in the competition's three-year history. Professor Steve Simpson won the category in 2009 for his research into locust swarming and nutrition.

The prestigious title is awarded by the NSW Office of Science and Medical Research to recognise "high calibre research that brings benefits to the state's economy, environment and people," said Jodi McKay, NSW Minister for Science and Research, who named the winners at an award ceremony on 15 September.

Professor Dickman said he was humbled and proud to win the award.

"I was stunned to get the news about this award. There are many outstanding life scientists working in New South Wales, so even being considered for an award of this kind is a great honour."

Professor Dickman, who holds a personal Chair in Terrestrial Ecology and is Director of the Institute of Wildlife Research, has conducted long-term research into the factors influencing the distribution and abundance of land animals. Using this understanding of ecology, Professor Dickman has taken a holistic approach in developing environmental management plans to protect threatened species and maintain biodiversity in NSW.

For example, with colleagues, he is pioneering novel methods to recover native species using competitive replacement (using native rats to reduce populations of introduced rats around Sydney Harbour) and top predators (using dingoes to mitigate the damaging effect of feral animals on native populations in western NSW).

He was instrumental in completing the first baseline survey of the status of vertebrate animals and other biota in NSW, and in listing the key threats that they face. In seeking to combat these threats and recover biodiversity, he showed that restricting land clearing would conserve 1.4 million native mammals a year and developed innovative tools to identify native species and places where they risk depredation by red foxes and feral cats.

Professor Dickman said that while NSW wildlife faced many threats, there is still hope for achieving conservation goals.

"Like many parts of Australia, the terrestrial environment of New South Wales has been changed and degraded over the last two centuries, and this has had dramatic and negative effects on the native biota.

"But many pockets of biodiversity remain, and one of the great things about being an ecologist is that you get the opportunity to investigate the factors that promote biodiversity and explore ways that we can best protect it.

"There are some fantastic places in the rangelands, Great Eastern ranges and coastal areas of New South Wales - doing field work in these places is always a joy."

Professor Dickman thanked the many people who have supported and collaborated with him throughout this career for being instrumental in his success.

"Of course, any research that asks big picture questions about biological diversity, ecological processes and the functioning of natural systems can only be carried out by teams of people in a supportive environment.

"I am indebted to my friends and colleagues in the School and elsewhere for their support over many years, and also to the School and Faculty for providing an environment in which stimulating research can be carried out. The award is really one that we all share."

Professor Dickman was one of three University of Sydney scientists to win titles in the 2010 NSW Scientist of the Year Awards. Professor Bryan Gaensler, from the School of Physics, won the "Physics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Astronomy" category and Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, won the overall title of NSW Scientist of the Year.

Read more about the NSW Scientist of the Year Award, including a full list of 2010 finalists and category winners here.