I am currently the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide until 15 January 2017. As of 16 January 2017, I will be the Matthew Flinders Fellow in Global Ecology at Flinders University in South Australia.
Before global warming, even before the human population exploded to 7.3 billion, scientists, philosophers and lovers of nature were already concerned with the conservation of plants, insects, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals, both in terrestrial and marine settings, and in ecosystems as diverse as tropical forests through to the Antarctic. As a conservation ecologist, therefore, I am carrying on a long tradition of studying ecosystems and trying to understand the complex interactions between the diverse plants and animals that inhabit them, and what happens when ecosystems begin to unravel as habitats and their inhabitants are lost due to the effects of human activity. Where I diverge from tradition is by examining the increasingly complex interactions between human behaviour, infrastructure, energy, agriculture and the environment.
To appreciate the impact of deforestation, pollution, habitat loss, extinctions, over-grazing, over-fishing or warming seas, I analyse information about different ecosystems worldwide to estimate the impact of human activity. I specialise in applying mathematical models to large multi-species datasets to determine global-scale patterns of threat to biodiversity. The research involves the use of cross-disciplinary (standard sampling of species abundance, genetics, physiology, behaviour, economics, policy) data and methods; the results are quantitative, sound and defendable. In a world where human activity has precipitated the current ‘Anthropocene’ extinction event and the subsequent loss of hundreds of thousands of species, my aim is to provide evidence that is irrefutable to influence government policy and private behaviour.
Only with rational data can human attitudes and behaviours be shifted away from the wholesale modification of the biosphere and towards the conservation of the ecosystem services that support life, such as pure water and clean air, along with habitat and species diversity.