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Brushtail possum in a tree
Research_

Behavioural Ecology Lab

Answering fundamental questions about how animals forage
We’re exploring plant-herbivore and predator-prey interactions to understand the behavioural responses of foraging herbivores to food and fear, then provide conservation and management solutions to browsing problems.

Our research explores animal foraging at all stages of the process: from whether, how and why animals visit food patches, to how long they stay, and why they quit.

We investigate not only the ultimate drivers of foraging relating to risks and rewards, but also the proximate drivers such as the rules of thumb (heuristics) they use in making foraging decisions, to how and how well they solve problems while they forage.

Our research is currently focused on two main themes:

  • understanding how animals use odour cues to forage efficiently, and
  • exploring the ecological consequences of animal personality, particularly in relation to foraging.

Our fundamental discoveries can be used to improve the conservation and management of species. 

Our research spans four integrated research domains:

Uniting sensory and foraging ecology

We’re exploring the central role of plant odour in mediating foraging in mammals, and mammalian herbivores in particular.

The implications for management and conservation are exciting: we can exploit how herbivores use odour to and choose foods, manipulating odours to help protect plants we value.

Understanding how animal personality affects foraging

We incorporate the influence of individual behavioural phenotype (animal personality) into the foraging ecology of mammalian herbivores.

We explore how personality shapes the diet, habitat use and movement ecology and problem-solving capacity of individuals, altering their response to predation risk and their propensity to pick up and transmit parasites.

Integrating plant-herbivore and predator-prey ecology

In quantifying how plant toxins affect more than food intake by herbivores (by affecting how they mix and switch between food types), we can develop more realistic models of how herbivores forage in space and time in a realistic ecological context.

By then uniting the dual influence, and often the dilemma, associated with the chemistry of food and the risk of predation, we provide unique insights into foraging ecology, such as how individual foragers balance the costs and benefits of finding good food in risky places.

Conservation and management

We apply our fundamental research to help develop new, practical solutions for conservation and management, design landscapes better suited to the variation in needs among individuals within species, improve pest control, and reduce disease transmission.