Amy Whitehead's Research

the ecological musings of a conservation biologist

Wildlife Wednesday: Whio ducklings



These whio (pronounced “fee-0”) ducklings were just a few days old when I took this photo.  They were some of the lucky ones, hatching in a river valley where introduced predators were kept at low numbers due to the hard work of Department of Conservation staff (who seem to be as threatened as the species they protect).  All of eggs and ducklings just over the hill where there was no predator control got munched by hungry stoats!

I know I’ve featured whio before on Wildlife Wednesday (the inaugural post in fact) but I have a special place in my heart for these bluest of blue ducks (and a lot of photos), having spent 5 years of my life working with them.  March is Whio Awareness Month and I had great intentions of writing an enthralling post about the plight of the whio and the work that’s bring done to protect them. But it’s the end of March already and I have a week full of meetings and deadlines, so it will have to wait for another day. But luckily the good folk at the Department of Conservation and Whio Forever have been busy telling their stories.  Head over to the Whio Forever website to learn more about project – a partnership between the Department of Conservation and Genesis Energy.

Related articles

WHITEHEAD, A., EDGE, K-A., SMART, A., HILL, G., & WILLANS, M. (2008). Large scale predator control improves the productivity of a rare New Zealand riverine duck. Biological Conservation, 141 (11), 2784-2794 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2008.08.013

WHITEHEAD, A., ELLIOTT, G., & MCINTOSH, A. (2010). Large-scale predator control increases population viability of a rare New Zealand riverine duck. Austral Ecology, 35 (7), 722-730 DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2009.02079.x

I should also note that this is my first post to be posted to the Research Blogging blogroll.  I wonder if this will help to make whio more popular than my most popular post so far about kakapo?


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My academic history (in a word-cloud)

Earlier this week, the postdocs in the QAECO lab presented a short talk about their academic life: past research, current research and future aspirations.  Limited to three powerpoint slides and eight minutes, it was an interesting exercise in brevity and finding ways to clearly communicate the major themes of your research.

My research history hasn’t really followed any obvious themes.  In fact, it’s really been driven by a series of happy accidents and crap-portunities*.   I started out as a field ecologist; studying the habitat use of freshwater fish, and working as a ranger for the Department of Conservation managing threatened bird species.  This was followed by more freshwater fish research, this time on rainbow trout in the United States, before I veered off (due to a crap-portunity) into the mysterious world of modelling (of the mathematical kind).  This fortuitous deviation led to an investigation of the sustainability of harvesting shovelnose sturgeon for caviar for my Masters and greatly influenced my research interests.  Returning to NZ, more ranger work for DOC led to a PhD looking at ways to improve the effectiveness of whio conservation: a glorious combination of fieldwork with spatial, demographic and population modelling.

Another happy accident saw me end up at Landcare Research, where I became the person that analysed all the random data living in the bottom of people’s filing cabinets.  I  investigated the effects of removing livestock from high country farmland, modeled disease transmission in Tasmanian devils, and looked for relationships between rabbit breeding and grass growth.  A short break in contracts provided an opportunity to do volunteer work in Antarctica.  This led to three seasons monitoring Adélie penguins and skua; and research looking at the effects of environmental conditions on Adélie penguin chick condition and the relationship between skua populations and penguin density.  I also spent time estimating the number of burrow-nesting petrels across a group of islands by identifying relationships between burrow density and habitat, burrow occupancy and breeding success.  And I briefly branched out into scary maths when I constructed a virtual model of masting trees to assess the impacts of herbivory.

I summarised all this in my talk by producing a word-cloud (in R because that’s how I roll) that showed the relative importance of keywords from each of these projects (and some pretty pictures of my study subjects to keep people interested).

academic wordcloud

So I guess you could say the central themes of my research to date are the management and conservation of populations threatened by invasive pests.  There will almost certainly be modelling involved, probably in (but not limited to) R, and I’d be keen on doing some fieldwork if possible.  I’m good at sorting out your horribly stored dataset (although I’d rather not) and I can put my hand to most forms of analysis (provided it is google-able and preferably done in R).  I’m currently branching out into yet another new field: conservation planning in the face of regional and urban development in the QAECO lab at the University of Melbourne but that’s another story for another time.

* When new opportunities arise out of the shitty things that happen.

Photo credits
I’d like to claim credit for these amazing photographs but, the truth is, I never actually saw some of my study species  (one of the downsides of being a modeller).  So thanks to the following contributors of the photographs I acquired from the internet.
Anticlockwise from bottom left: kokopu – Steve Moore; tussocks; rabbits; devils – Ian Waldie/Getty; drylands; masting; Adélie penguin – Amy Whitehead; whio – Amy Whitehead; oi – Mike Danzenbaker; kaki – Glenda Rees; shovelnose sturgeon – Konrad P. Schmidt; rainbow trout; kakapo – Mark Carwardine/; skua – Amy Whitehead; takahe