Habitat loss is a leading cause of decline in animal populations and identifying suitable habitats are essential for the conservation and management of wildlife. Our ability to identify suitable habitats is reliant on our understanding of the factors that influence the expansion, persistence and loss of animal populations. Nutrition underpins animal growth and reproductive success and is therefore a key factor in animal population dynamics. Both nutrients and anti-feedant secondary metabolites affect the feeding behaviour of folivores such as the koala at local scales. How this translates to whole landscapes remains unknown in any system. We suspect that the availability of plant nutrients and secondary metabolites varies across large Australian forest landscapes, which would explain why we see islands of suitable habitat in a sea of uninhabitable forest.
For my Ph.D., I investigated the multi-scale effects of forage quality on herbivores. In this talk, I will highlight how variation in plant chemistry can:
- Inspire baffling bark-eating behaviour in a “fussy leaf eater”.
- Describe the cascading negative effects of human disturbance on the persistence of a vulnerable animal population.
- Explain the striking differences in koala population densities across its extensive range of habitats.