Thesis: The reintroduction of ecosystem engineers into altered landscapes
Ecosystem engineers are plants and animals that change the physical state of abiotic or biotic resources, thus altering their availability to other organisms. In Australia, mammals such as bettongs and bandicoots alter soil properties, nutrient cycling, fungal associations and seedling recruitment through their digging activities and are considered to be ecosystem engineers. The majority of these digging mammals have experienced widespread declines and, as a result, are often the target of reintroduction programs. My project will investigate how the changes that have occurred to Australian ecosystems over the last 200 years (e.g. the introduction of exotic plants and animals, altered disturbance regimes and climate change) may alter reintroduced ecosystem engineers’ impacts on their environment.
Why my research is important
Reintroduction programs are increasingly being used as a method for improving the conservation status of threatened species. In Australia, many species that are the focus of these reintroductions are ecosystem engineers and it is often assumed that their reintroduction will improve and restore ecosystem processes. However, due to the changes that have occurred in many ecosystems since those species were last present, this may or may not be the case. Understanding how ecosystem engineers interact with novel ecosystem components (e.g. introduced plants) will allow land managers to predict and respond to undesirable impacts and/or more effectively utilise their actions to promote ecosystem restoration.