In profile: Tahneal Hawke, PhD candidate
The distinctive appearance of the platypus makes it one of Australia’s most iconic species. However despite its popularity, the population of the platypus—which is native to Australia’s eastern rivers—is steadily declining, and the threat of extinction becoming more real by the day. Recent research by UNSW experts has predicted that based on current climate change and threat projections, platypus numbers could decline by up to 73 per cent over the next 50 years.
One of the UNSW researchers working to gain a better understanding of the plight of the platypus is PhD Candidate Tahneal Hawke. Supervised by renowned conservation experts Professor Richard Kingsford and Dr Gilad Bino, Tahneal is assessing the long-term declines in platypus abundance and distribution, and exploring how the species may be impacted by river regulation.
Tahneal says that this research is vital for an effective approach to platypus conservation.
“Understanding the declines in abundance and distribution of platypuses over a long period of time is critical to accurately determine the conservation status of the species and to inform conservation management. Moreover, the assessment of the impacts of river regulation on platypus ecology and movement is also critical to the long-term viability of the species,” says Tahneal.
Tahneal says that platypus distribution overlaps significantly with Australia’s most regulated rivers, so she is delving deeper into the impacts of dams and looking at how infrastructure and flow regimes can impact platypus habitat and movement behaviour.
So far, her research has suggested that improved flow regimes can improve conditions for platypus—an important finding for the management of regulated rivers as well as conservation strategy.
With a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Biology (Hons) from UNSW, Tahneal has always been interested in animal research and conservation. Her interest in platypus sparked from their uniqueness in terms of morphology and evolution, and it grew out of a desire to protect them.
“They are one of Australia’s most iconic animals but, due to their elusive nature, relatively little is known about their ecology and conservation,” says Tahneal.
Australia has the worst mammal extinction rates for any continent with 35% of worldwide mammal extinctions and more than 10% of the continent’s terrestrial species going extinct
Tahneal Hawke, PhD candidate
“Australia has the worst mammal extinction rates for any continent, with 35% of worldwide mammal extinctions and more than 10% of the continent’s terrestrial species going extinct, making it particularly important to protect iconic mammal species such as the platypus.”
Tahneal says that her decision to continue her higher degree research at UNSW was easy thanks to the fantastic science program that allows for plenty of flexibility. Just recently, her own research has expanded to ascertain the impacts of recent bushfires on platypus population.
She also has great respect for her fellow students, colleagues and supervisors.
“Throughout my time at UNSW I have most enjoyed being able to work with colleagues and students who all share a strong passion for conservation and an appreciation of the natural world.”
Tahneal hopes to continue animal research in the future, focusing on improving the knowledge and conservation of threatened species.
More on recent UNSW platypus research: