Research Supervisor Connect

Wildlife on the edge: how does personality, behaviour and foraging ecology of possums vary across the urban-woodland boundary?


You will explore the impacts of urbanisation on the foraging and behavioural ecology of our native wildlife, by comparing the personality traits and behavioural responses of individual common brushtail possums across an urban-natural landscape boundary. Your results will be part of a larger project exploring how these factors affect the disease ecology of the species.


Professor Clare McArthur.

Research location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program type



THE PROJECT: is a fully funded part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project, exploring the impacts of urbanisation on the autecology and disease ecology of our native wildlife. You will quantify personality traits of individual common brushtail possums, test whether these traits differ among possum populations and whether they are linked to dietary differences and behavioural responses of individual animals to the world around them. You will compare possums in urban habitat, neighbouring native woodland, and in a fenced wildlife sanctuary where predation risk has been low for nearly a decade. The scats you collect as part of the project will be used by a post-doc on the same ARC project, to test for differences in “reverse zoonoses”, i.e., gut parasites picked up as a form of urban pollution and potentially transmitted from the city to the bush.

Your project will build on our research, including the work of former PhD students: • Mella VSA, Ward AJW, Banks PB, McArthur C (2015) Personality affects the foraging response of a mammalian herbivore to the dual costs of food and fear. Oecologia 177:293-303. doi: 10.1007/s00442-014-3110-8 • Mella VSA et al. (2016) Effective field-based methods to quantify personality in brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Wildl. Res. 43:332–340 • Wat KKY, Herath APHM, Rus AI, Banks PB, McArthur C (2019) Space use by animals on the urban fringe: interactive effects of sex and personality. Behav. Ecol. doi: 10.1093/beheco/arz194 • Herath APHM, Wat KKY, Banks PB, McArthur C (accepted JUL 2021) Animal personality drives individual dietary specialisation across multiple dimensions in a mammalian herbivore. Funct. Ecol.

Additional information

The additional supervisors for this project are: Michelle Power (Macquarie University), Iain Gordon (ANU), Adrian Manning (ANU).


  • Need strong ecological background.
  • Need to bring your own scholarship or means of living.
  • Must have a current Driver’s Licence.
  • Preferably have experience in animal handling.
  • Must be – or be willing to become – quite nocturnal while collecting your data! You will spend many nights (or at least evenings) trapping and handling possums during their waking hours. We can tap into a fantastic team of volunteers to help you.
  • Will likely be based in Canberra for at least the first two years of the project, to be near the study site and so make the project logistically feasible. During this time, you will be located in the Fenner School of Environment & Society ANU. Later, you will spend most time at the University of Sydney as you complete your thesis.

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 licence;
  • 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.

Want to find out more?

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2959

Other opportunities with Professor Clare McArthur