PhD Candidate - Rhodes Conservation Research Group
School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management
The University of Queensland
For as long as she can remember, Marie has been fascinated by the natural environment. As a child, she was the kid you would always find outside, covered in mud and trying to catch tadpoles, sitting on a rock waiting for an echidna to emerge from a burrow or hunting through the bush looking for native orchids! This passion did not fade with time and eventually lead Marie to study a PhD in conservation biology. Studying science has allowed Marie to not only follow her passion, but also work on research that will help us better understand our world.
What got you into science?
I think it was a combination of a lot of things! I grew up in quite a rural area, so I had plenty of opportunity to explore, experiment and experience nature first hand. My parents also fuelled my interest, as they also had a big passion for science. They were always happy to answer my never-ending list of questions, or help me work out how I could answer the question myself, and they never turned down the opportunity to watch a David Attenborough documentary with me!
I guess, overall, what got me into science was the chance of having a career where I got to answer all my burning questions about nature and had the opportunity to work outside in nature, rather than sitting all day in an office.
What did you do when you finished school?
Since the beginning of high school I knew I wanted to be some kind of scientist, so after school I went straight into studying a Bachelor of Science at University. I absolutely loved it! I really liked the atmosphere of university, the friends I made and the opportunities that I was given. So I was actually kind of sad when I graduated! After a year of travelling and working, I realised that I wanted to continue to keep learning and researching, so I enrolled in a PhD.
What does your research involve?
My research focuses on better understanding ecosystem services within developed landscapes. Ecosystem services are the benefits we get from ecosystems. So this includes things like food, air quality regulation, timber, and even recreation and climate regulation. However, as we continue to develop landscapes the amount and way that these services are provided to humans is changing. My research will help identify the factors in developed landscapes that are having a positive and negative supply on ecosystem service supply, and how different policies and management actions affect them. For example, determining which urban planning scenarios support the most biodiversity, and other environmental services. If you want to know more about this research, you can find more information in my research group’s blog here: http://rhodesconservation.com/
How does your research apply to day-to-day life?
As the human population continues to increase, urban areas are going to become bigger and put more pressure on natural ecosystems and biodiversity. However at the same that natural ecosystems, and the ecosystem services they provide, are decreasing, there are going to be more people requiring ecosystem services, such as timber, food and air quality regulation. My research will help identify ways in which we can design and develop urban and developed areas which do not have a negative impact on the supply of ecosystem services. Therefore allowing the human population to continue to grow with less negative impacts on natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
What's the most challenging thing about your work?
Like a lot of environmental science research, I have to conduct fieldwork to collect my data, which can be very difficult! Though many people think I’m lucky because I get spend much of my PhD outside, the reality is that I spend very long hours in all types of weather collecting data often from countless sites, and usually getting bitten by numerous insects along the way. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
What breakthroughs do you predict will occur in your field over the next 10 years?
I think we will identify how to design cities and landscapes that actually can benefit biodiversity, natural ecosystem and humans simultaneously. Already we are starting to see this, with scientists developing methods that can restore degraded urban areas into near-pristine natural ecosystems, and also developing artificial habitats in urban areas that increase native species numbers. I think in the near future, these developments will become more mainstream and a common sight in urban areas, making our cities more sustainable.