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Inluence of plant odours on foraging and behavioural ecology of mammalian herbivores


Odour ecology is an emerging new field when applied to foraging mammalian herbivores. Using free-ranging swamp wallabies in their natural habitat near Sydney, you will explore how plant odours influence their foraging decisions and/or diet. We know herbivores are attracted to plant odours, and this should increase foraging efficiency. You will therefore test how plant odours affect plant apparency in associational plant refuges; and/or, whether plant species selection is a function of odour signal-to-noise ratio.


Professor Clare McArthur, Dr Malcolm Possell.

Research location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program type



We predict that if a long-distance cue reduces search time, attractive plant odour treatments at feeding stations will lower Giving-Up-Density (GUD). You will titrate different patch quality characteristics, combining the GUD method with motion-triggered cameras, to determine the relative benefits and costs of plant nutrients vs. the conspicuousness of the odour signal to foraging choices.


We also predict that if plant odour cues affect foraging efficiency by lowering search time, and this in turn affects dietary decisions, then plants with strong detectable signals will be more conspicuous, perceived as more available and so positively selected. You will explore this, quantifying the diet of wallabies using microscopic analysis of cuticle and epidermal features from plants in scats compared to reference samples, to determine relative abundance of consumed plant species. By odour signature analysis of fresh plant samples, and estimates of relative field availability of plant species, you will test plant species selection as a function of odour signal-to-noise ratio.

Additional information

This project is part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project and so you will be part of a larger team all working on a similar theme. You must have a current Australian driver’s license and be prepared to do field work (close to Sydney).

HDR Inherent Requirements
In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2526

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