Lab Blogs

There’s a koala outside my office! International exchange provides opportunity for new research on predators and disease

Heather Bryantanding in front of Griffith University sign.

“But there are no bears in Australia!” was the most common response when I told friends I would be leaving my home for a four-month fellowship at Griffith University, Australia. That may be true, but there is still a lot to be shared through international collaboration. Indeed, it is the search for new partnerships, skills, and knowledge that has brought me to the Griffith Disease Ecology lab group to work with Professor McCallum and Team.

As a postdoc working with the ACS Lab and Raincoast, my research aims to understand the effects of environmental change on large carnivore health. During my time with the Griffith Disease Ecology Group, I have been developing new research on the links among predators, their prey, and wildlife diseases. A major goal is to compare the different predatory behaviours of human hunters and fishers with those of natural predators to better understand how our contrasting behaviours might influence ecological health. One key difference is that hunters and fishers target healthy, reproductive-aged adults, whereas natural predators often target weaker, younger prey. This differential predation by age class could lead to different outcomes for disease transmission and health of prey populations. My colleagues and I will be exploring these outcomes using a combination of literature review and theoretical modeling. My host lab’s expertise in wildlife disease ecology and ecological modeling is the perfect place to develop this research and to gain the skills I’ll need to complete the work.

Grizzly bear eating salmon.
Grizzly bear eating salmon.

I am grateful for the opportunity to undertake this research exchange, and acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, including the Yugurabul, Yuggera, Jagera, and Turrbal peoples on whose land I am staying, working, and playing. I feel privileged to be spending time learning in a place with such rich history and on-going connection to the land. I also thank the Endeavour Fellowship program for sponsoring my fellowship, and Professor Hamish McCallum, the Griffith Disease Ecology Group, and the Environmental Futures Research Institute for hosting me. I’ve had a very warm welcome and the first half of my Fellowship has flown by. I look forward to continuing to learn from everyone!

Learning about local plants and wildlife has been one of the many highlights of my Fellowship. So far I feel lucky to have seen several local wildlife species, including a young koala feeding near our office building. Though the picture is blurry, and the koala’s head was turned away from the camera, the memory of the furry creature will be etched in my memory for a long time to come!

Koala in tree at Griffith University.
Koala on campus.


By Heather Bryan
Postdoctoral Fellow, ACS Lab