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Our students


Susan Anstey

I graduated as a vet from the University of Queensland and have worked as a veterinarian in mixed-animal practice in some beautiful rural locations in Australia. The Sunshine Coast is now home and I live there with my family on a farm in the Obi Obi valley. I love everything about our Sunny Coast lifestyle. In 2018, my research at USC is just starting but I am looking forward to my time here. The team I work with are awesome.

My research

My research is looking into the management of polyarthritis in lambs caused by Chlamydia. This research looks at the immune response to infection and hopes to create a vaccine that would prevent this disease, which would financially benefit farmers and the industry while also improving animal welfare.

Kate Berry

I am passionate about photography, conservation and research, and broadening my horizons through adventure and travel. I am determined to promote conservation by capturing the beauty and mystery of the natural world through my camera lens and research.

I have been lucky enough to receive an early career grant from National Geographic Society, which I plan to use to undertake my honours research project in the Galapagos Islands in December 2018 to investigate marine iguana performance and the evolutionary transition to water in reptiles.

I am now working at Australia Zoo as a photographer, where I get to inspire passion towards the natural world, turn fears into fascination and contribute to the zoo's conservation missions.

My research

In 2017, I travelled to the Galapagos Islands, where I recognised the plight of the marine iguanas and the importance of understanding all aspects of their ecology. The marine iguana is one of the most remarkable organisms of the archipelago, notable for their unique morphology and habit of swimming in the oceans to graze upon algae growing on submerged rocks. Marine iguanas are currently considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with isolation having led to the species being highly susceptible to anthropogenic and climatic threats.

I want to raise awareness through my photographic work and research to ensure this unique species is conserved. My project aims to investigate how an adaptation to a marine environment has influenced the body shape and movement of marine iguanas.

My study aims to contribute to conservation efforts for this species by identifying habitats most suitable by understanding of their unique morphology and gait patterns.

Ellen Bingham

I grew up around Noosa and enjoy all aspects of exploring nature, including hiking, swimming, observing wildlife, and assisting in rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned and injured native species. I have recently completed a dual Bachelor of Science/Business, majoring in Animal Ecology and International Business, and an honours project where I investigated the influence of invasive species in coastal food webs. My super power is to swiftly traverse through densely vegetated dunes during challenging field surveys.

My research

I am USC’s aspiring ‘eagle whisperer’. In the language of academia, this means I am investigating how the ever-increasing urbanisation of the coastal fringe changes the maps that we use to survey birds of prey along our spectacular coastline. If we want to have eagles sweeping majestically over the surf and soaring effortlessly over the dunes, we need to figure out better conservation strategies for these iconic species. I am contributing to this conservation design by identifying which parts of our beaches and dunes are particularly valuable for raptors.

Research outputs

Ellen L. Bingham, Ben L. Gilby, Andrew D. Olds, Michael A. Weston, Rod M. Connolly, Christopher J. Henderson, Brooke Maslo, Charles F. Peterson, Christine M. Voss, Thomas A. Schlacher (2018)
Functional plasticity in vertebrate scavenger assemblages in the presence of introduced competitors. Oecologia pp. 1-11. DOI: DOI: 10.1007/s00442-018-4217-0

Makeely Blandford

I recently completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and an Honours in Environmental Microbiology. In February 2018 I started my PhD, researching the molecular biology of a gill disease in fish. When I am not catching mullets or working in the microbiology laboratory, I enjoy music and being outdoors.

My research

I am researching the fish gill diseases ‘epitheliocystis’ caused by bacteria. Infected fish develop cysts on their gills, causing less food intake and unusual swimming patterns. Because fish rely on gills to take up oxygen from the water, diseased fish experience respiratory distress and may even die (there have been reports of 100 percent mortality in some cases). The disease can strike quickly, and fish can be dead within 24 hours of displaying signs of infection. Obviously, this can cause significant damage to aquaculture operations and may pose a sizeable barrier to culture species. Scientists have also been unable to determine the cause or transmission pathway(s) of the disease, and it is difficult to treat. I am hoping to contribute to fewer fish having wonky gills.


Blandford MI, Taylor-Brown A, Schlacher TA, Nowak B, Polkinghorne A. Epitheliocystis in fish: An emerging aquaculture disease with a global impact. Transbound Emerg Dis. 2018;00:1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/tbed.12908

Sankhya Bommana

I am an early career microbiologist, with a special interest in Chlamydia pathogenesis, infection dynamics, vaccine immunology, and molecular serology. While most of my research has dealt with intracellular bacteria, Chlamydia, I’ve worked in clinical settings on projects related to HIV and Chikungunya virus pathogenesis and epidemiology during my pre-doctoral studies. I am also an active advocate for a range of issues such as women’s health and equity.

My research

My research has economic and social benefits by providing better diagnostics and vaccines for chlamydial disease in farm animals such as sheep and cattle; reducing costs of losses due to disease; and lower costs associated with the treatment of farm animals. Not only does my research help to improve the welfare of animals, but it also assists farmers and veterinarians with treatment and prevents, thereby contributing towards a sustainable livestock industry.

Top five research outputs

Bommana S, Walker E, Desclozeaux M, Jelocnik M, Timms P, Polkinghorne A, Carver S. (2018) Molecular and serological dynamics of Chlamydia pecorum infection in a longitudinal study of prime lamb production. PeerJ. 2018 Jan 25;6:e4296. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4296.
Bommana S, Walker E, Desclozeaux M, Timms P, Polkinghorne A. Humoral immune response against two surface antigens of Chlamydia pecorum in vaccinated and naturally infected sheep. PLoS One. 2017 Nov 30;12(11):e0188370.
Desclozeaux M, Jelocnik M, Whitting K, Saifzadeh S, Bommana S, Potter A, Gerdts V, Timms P, Polkinghorne A. Safety and immunogenicity of a prototype anti- Chlamydia pecorum recombinant protein vaccine in lambs and pregnant ewes. Vaccine. 2017 Jun 14;35(27):3461-3465.
Walker E, Moore C, Shearer P, Jelocnik M, Bommana S, Timms P, Polkinghorne A. Clinical, diagnostic and pathologic features of presumptive cases of Chlamydia pecorum- associated arthritis in Australian sheep flocks. BMC Vet Res. 2016 Sep 8;12(1):193.
Neogi U, Palchaudhuri R, Bommana S, Shet A. Genetic architecture of HIV type 1 Nef and Tat from HLA-B57-typed long-term survivors in an Indian cohort of perinatally HIV-infected children. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2013 Dec;29(12):1613-6.

Hayden Borland

I come from Yamba, a small town in northern New South Wales and have a keen interest in rugby league, cricket and soccer, and playing the guitar. Growing up in a coastal community, where the ocean and estuaries are heavily fished, has given me a desire to make a tangible contribution to conservation and environmental management aimed at having healthy populations of fish for all to enjoy into the future.

My research

My research investigates how the depth of different habitats can affect the distribution, abundance and diversity of fish in estuaries, and if modification of depths by human activity can change the number and type of fish species that people like to catch and eat. I use two complementary approaches for this: deploying underwater cameras to ‘sample’ the number and types of fish that occur in different habitats in different parts of estuaries; and conducting fine-grained sonar surveys to create detailed charts of estuaries - referred to as bathymetry. This combination of techniques provides data to model how the interplay between water depth and habitat characteristic determine fish distributions and hence provides more accurate ways to plan for conservation of high-value habitats.


Borland, HP, Schlacher, TA, Gilby, BL, Connolly, RM, Yabsley, NA & Olds, AD 2017, 'Habitat type and beach exposure shape fish assemblages in the surf zones of ocean beaches', Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 570, pp. 203-11.

Cassandra Duncan

I recently completed my Bachelor in Animal Ecology and have received the Dean’s Medal for academic excellence. I come from Hervey Bay and have a close connection with the ocean, a passion for wildlife, and a keen interest in marine ecology. I love fieldwork, making underwater videos, and pride myself to be an innovative problem solver in the field and in the lab.

My research

Oyster reefs once abounded in sheltered waters of the Australian east coast. They are now starting to come back, thanks due a fantastic restoration project in the Noosa estuary, done as a joint initiative involving USC, the Noosa Biosphere Foundation, Noosa Council, the Thomas Foundation, and the Noosa Parks Association. This is a great ‘natural experiment’, allowing me to examine how these newly-created combinations of reefs and fish create new tapestries of ecological activity. To this end, I investigate the footprint of predation and scavenging by fish in relation to reefs and how the broader mosaic of mangroves, sandflats, and seagrass beds, can change the maps of these footprints.

Nicole Galea

I love nature and all the creatures that live in wild places. My hobbies include gardening, keeping bees (apiarist), and drawing animals, which I sell the prints to raise money for animal protection, welfare, and research. My research is directed towards domestic cat management through education, cat owner involvement, and reducing the impacts on native wildlife species, by investgating biomechanical changes to hunting and movement behaviours with the use of a prey protector device.

My research

I investigate whether a prey protector device (CatBibTM)  is effective in reducing, or preventing, domestic cat impacts on native wildlife, by looking at free-roaming cat behaviours and biomechanics. I will collect data from cats, which will be fitted with equipment to measure the how the cat moves, and where the cat goes when wearing a CatBibTM device, allowing us to test whether the device is restricting the roaming behaviours or hunting physiology, while measuring the effectiveness in reducing the amount of wildlife killed. We will be able to measure, for the first time, how the CatBibTM effects the biomechanics when cats are hunting. The cat owners will be able to follow the daily movements of their pets through Google Maps and also access the impacts of their pets on wildlife and see how they can make a difference with better animal controls.

Bob Gorissen

I play in several sports teams, including field hockey and basketball. I also love wildlife photography and enjoy the Coast’s fantastic beaches, and fishing in the Coral Sea and its abutting estuaries.

My research

I survey all the major estuaries in South-East Queensland, using an array of underwater cameras. The scientifically exciting part of this work is that I can determine, for the first time in Queensland, the rates of predation (a key ecological process), the type and diversity of predatory fish, and in which habitats predation is highest and predators are most abundant. This information is needed to better protect fish and their estuarine habitats.

Felicity Hardcastle

I am a recent Bachelor of Animal Ecology graduate with a minor in marine and coastal conservation. I love fish, marine conservation and being out in our beautiful coastal systems. I am excited to properly start my research journey.

My research

Given the popularity of fishing, one would assume that we have a good handle on how ‘healthy’ the fish are in our estuaries. While we don’t have any signs of alarm yet, we can’t take this ‘health status’ for granted. Just as is the case for humans, good public health policy requires regular check-ups to detect any diseases that may lurk in the population. This where my project comes in: I am conducting a health check of fish from the estuaries of Southern Queensland, sampling fish from all the major coastal rivers in the region (from the Noosa in the north to the Tweed in the south). In the laboratory, I first get a full set of body measurements for every fish (surprisingly these can indicate health rather well), determine the concentrations of chemicals in the flesh, check for parasites and any signs of gill diseases, and examine the type and diversity of ingested prey in the digestive system: ‘primary health fish care’ in action.

Abby Hine

I’m one of the newest members of USC’s ecology team. I grew up on the Sunshine Coast and I’m grateful that for the past three years I’ve had the opportunity to undertake research on our amazing coasts and species that surrounded me while growing up – the environment that inspired a great love for nature to begin with. I enjoy being in the field observing real ecological interactions but also enjoy reading published research because every article or book gives me with the opportunity to learn something fascinating.

My research

I’m interested in frogs. Growing up next to the beach I noticed that frogs use parts of sand dunes as breeding areas during summer. This made me ask questions about frogs at the edge of the sea. My first chapter in this new research story is to paint a truly global picture, sketching which species of frogs occur at the edge of the sea, what microhabitats they use, and what adaptations they have. This should provide a very solid launch pad for my next project, which will examine how invasions of dunes and beaches by exotic frog species – especially the cane toad – impact the ecological functions and biodiversity of these ecosystems.

Md.Mominul Islam

I am a PhD student at USC. I love working hard and thinking outside the box. My passion and enthusiasm for science has fuelled my academic and research career.

My research

My primary research interests are centred on the understanding how bacteria Chlamydia pecorum causes disease in livestock. I am generally interested in cellular biology, molecular microbiology, and molecular techniques for disease diagnosis.

Research outputs
  • Islam MM, Jelocnik M, Hustom, WM, Timms P and Polkinghorne, A. 2018. Characterization of the in vitro Chlamydia pecorum response to gamma interferon. Infection and Immunity. 86:e00714-17.
  • Jelocnik M, Islam MM, Madden D, Jenkins C, Branley J, Carver S, and Polkinghorne A. 2017. Development and evaluation of rapid novel isothermal amplification assays for important veterinary pathogens: Chlamydia psittaci and Chlamydia pecorum. PeerJ 5(24):e3799.

Olivia Kimber

I’m a keen hiker and love exploring remote and pristine areas. On one flooded, earthquake ridden, and stormy expedition to the South Island of New Zealand my attention was drawn to the unique animals thriving in such remote areas. Finding that these ‘untouched’ areas also harbour introduced predators that threaten the existence of such species led me to study the complex relationships between introduced predators and their environment. I’ve since completed a Bachelor in Animal Ecology and I am currently completing my honours project. I plan to continue with introduced predator research into the future.

My research

Red foxes are a widespread exotic carnivore in Australia and have had significant impacts on native wildlife, motivating governments to invest heavily in fox control. But the broader ramifications of foxes’ impacts are rarely considered. Thus, my research aims to bring some ecological thinking to fox research. We know foxes are now firmly part of Australian food webs (often they are the top carnivore) and are surprisingly abundant on beaches and in dunes. This raises the question of what truly determines the distribution and abundance of foxes and what their role is in coastal food webs. Better understanding what characteristics of the coastal landscape are important for foxes, can also make for more effective and efficient fox control.

Kirralee Mallett

Growing up in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, coastal sojourns were a rare treat. Moving to the Sunshine Coast has changed all that and has made me a budding marine scientist. I enjoy listening to music, travelling, and can be found walking along the beach.

I study the ecology of the white-faced heron (Egretta novaehollandiae). While conducting bird surveys on the sand islands of Southern Queensland, we have noticed a sizeable population of herons. Individuals are usually seen near small freshwater creeks that emerge from the dunes but can also be observed stalking prey in the swash zone.

I will identify the landscape and human factors that determine the distribution and habitat of herons at the beach. This is a fundamental starting point to investigate more complex functional questions in the future, such as the role of marine carbon in the diet of terrestrial carnivores on sandy shores.

Catherine Miller

I have recently completed the Bachelor of Environmental Science, with minors in Animal Ecology, Restoration and Conservation, and Geospatial Analysis. When I have time to spare, I enjoy environmental volunteering. In the past year, I have participated in caring for a local forest, feral coastal fox monitoring, and rubbish surveys of the Maroochy River. I particularly enjoy projects concerning the health of the waterways and oceans for the well-being of marine life.

My research

My research concerns anthropogenic marine debris entering Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast, and Hervey Bay, and its movement through these areas by ocean circulations, with respect to sea turtles. Marine debris, particularly plastics and fishing gear, are a serious hazard to marine life with sea turtles, sea birds, and other threatened marine megafauna experiencing ingestion, entanglement and decreased nesting success. Ill health and mortality are evident. This research will ensure a greater knowledge of the impacts of marine debris on sea turtles in these areas. Consequently, society can better understand the need for and participate in ensuring a healthy and sustainable environment. With the first of four surveys conducted prior to the 1 July single use plastic bag ban, our data will reveal the effect this has had on the rubbish entering the ocean. Our data will quantify and reveal which of the river systems are providing the biggest input of marine debris into the ocean. Computer modelling of marine debris movement due to ocean circulations will identify debris hotspots. This will be overlaid with sea turtle distribution data for risk analysis of the impacts of marine debris on sea turtles and their nests.

Jesse Mosman

I am 22 years old and come from Glen Innes in NSW. May passion is the conservation of coastal ecosystems and I want to make a real contribution to better environmental protection.

My research

Sandy beaches are much more than the strip of sand between the sea and the land. In fact, ‘beach ecosystems’ encompass the surf zone and coastal dunes. It is those very surf-zones of beaches where my research takes place. Surf-zones are important habitats for a great variety of fish and many an Australian day is spent angling in the surf zone. Surprisingly, science has only just begun to examine what makes surf fishes tick and how we can best conserve them, especially on the Sunshine Coast. To this end, I am currently producing the first-ever ‘map’ of the distribution and bio-diversity of fishes in the region’s surf zones. This should also give us a good measure of the ‘condition or health’ of beaches in the region and how human changes to coastal areas are impacting our surf fishes.

Nicholas L Ortodossi

I am an outdoor enthusiast and adrenaline junkie. I love extreme sports, such as surfing and snowboarding. Being out on the ocean and trekking through the bush is where I’m most content. Surprisingly, I snow-ski backwards very well. My research super power is an ability to “get the work done”.

My research

Oyster reefs used to cover most of the seafloor of our river estuaries and bays, supporting a sizeable oyster harvesting industry, but they went into near fatal decline in the first part of the last century. These reefs have not recovered. What you can find today are merely sad, lonely, isolated small remnants of former habitat glory. Even if you don’t like oysters, you might like fish, and this is the connection to my research; oyster reefs are super valuable fish habitats (fish like to live on and near oyster reefs), meaning that ‘fewer reefs’ translates into ‘fewer fish’. I investigate how we can restore oyster reefs to give us the best possible ‘return’ in terms of more abundant fish, more species of fish, and better growth of fish. Some of the ‘ideas’ that I put to the test is how the position of reefs in an estuarine ‘habitat landscape’ affects fish (are reefs close to mangroves working better?) and whether new reefs can measurably change the distribution of fish in the whole estuary (I make ‘fish maps’).

  • Gilby, B. L., Olds, A. D., Peterson, C. H., Connolly, R. M., Voss, C. M., Bishop, M. J., . . . Schlacher, T. A. Maximizing the benefits of oyster reef restoration for finfish and their fisheries. Fish and Fisheries, 0(0). doi:doi:10.1111/faf.12301

Sara Perrott

I am passionate about the ocean, spending my spare time snorkelling and scuba-diving. Since going for an evening snorkel while travelling overseas years ago, I have become awe struck at the beauty of manta rays. I am now very luck to research these amazing creatures. My long-term goal is to be involved in manta ray research, coral reef restoration, and crown-of-thorns starfish monitoring.

My research

Knowledge about manta ray populations, spatial ecology, and biology is currently limited. With populations of these rays declining globally, it is necessary to further understand their movements and habitat use to put more effective conservation measures in place. Continual research of rays will provide critical data on the threats they face, such as fisheries by-catch, and ensure that stable populations remain for myself and many others to observe and to enjoy.

Alyce Taylor-Brown

I completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science in 2011, which fostered my interest in microbiology. I then went on to study honours, where I investigated koala immunological responses to chlamydial infection and disease, developing novel assays to characterise these responses. I then embarked on my PhD, investigating chlamydial biology, pathogenesis and evolution at the genomic level in novel, uncultivated chlamydial species from animals such as snakes and fish. In my spare time I enjoy preparing, eating and discussing food, and working it off in the gym, if I’m not at the beach.

My research

My main area of research is studying genetic sequences of newly identified chlamydial species that infect snakes, fish, and other animals. This will enable us to understand more about the diversity, biology and infection strategies of these disease-causing bacteria. Another closely related area of research is tracking the diversity of particular chlamydial species in these animals. This is particularly important in the aquaculture industry, where we can apply this knowledge to tracing the source and transmission of infections to inform prevention or better treatment in the future.

Top 5 research outputs
  • Alyce Taylor-Brown, Labolina Spang, Nicole Borel, Adam Polkinghorne (2017) Culture-independent metagenomics supports pathogen discovery for uncultivable bacteria within the genus Chlamydia. Scientific Reports; DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-10757-5.
  • Alyce Taylor-Brown, Trestan Pillonel, Andrew Bridle, Weihong Qi, Nathan L. Bachmann, Terry L. Miller, Gilbert Greub, Barbara Nowak, Helena M.B.Seth-Smith, Lloyd Vaughan, Adam Polkinghorne (2017) Culture-independent genomics of a novel chlamydial pathogen of fish provides new insight into host-specific adaptations utilized by these intracellular bacteria. Environmental Microbiology; 19(5). DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.13694.
  • Alyce Taylor-Brown, Nathan L. Bachmann, Nicole Borel, Adam Polkinghorne (2016) Culture-independent genomic characterisation of Candidatus Chlamydia sanzinia, a novel uncultivated bacterium infecting snakes. BMC Genomics; 17(1). DOI:10.1186/s12864-016-3055-x.
  • Alyce Taylor-Brown, Simon Rüegg, Adam Polkinghorne, Nicole Borel (2015) Characterisation of Chlamydia pneumoniae and other novel Chlamydial infections in captive snakes. Veterinary Microbiology; 178(1-2). DOI:10.1016/j.vetmic.2015.04.021.
  • Alyce Taylor-Brown, Lloyd Vaughan, Gilbert Greub, Peter Timms, Adam Polkinghorne (2015) Twenty years of research into Chlamydia-like organisms: A revolution in our understanding of the biology and pathogenicity of members of the phylum Chlamydiae. Pathogens and Disease; 73(1). DOI:10.1093/femspd/FTU009.

Sarah Thackwray

I have a great passion for wildlife and conservation. From a young age I have been drawn to the ocean and its inhabitants, snorkelling before I could swim and exploring this ‘new world’. Throughout the years I have been fortunate enough to snorkel and dive in a range of ecosystems, encountering an array of species. This has fuelled my desire to study marine organisms.

My research

My research project investigates how functional diversity of fish, the diversity of traits within a population, varies with three main factors: 1. “ecosystem type” (aka what habitat fishes are in); 2. the “seascape context” (aka where those habitats sit in the broader coastal setting); and 3. “conservation status” (aka whether habitats occur inside or outside of marine protected areas). Surprisingly, this is the first study of its kind globally, which makes me very optimistic that it can be useful for conservation. Once we know which habitat in which location gives us the best return for our conservation investment, we can make better decisions on how to invest in the future.

Isaac Witten

I come from Barraba, a small country town in NSW. I enjoy playing golf, photography, the beach and ocean, SCUBA and free diving, and generally all things outdoors and underwater. If I could wish for a research super power it would be to have the ability to speak to animals.

My research

Coastal areas are becoming increasingly urban, creating milieus that have a distinct human fingerprint. Coastal cities also create favourable conditions for crows, a group of birds with extraordinary plasticity that thrive in human-modified environments, including those at the edge of the sea.

Large populations of crows on marine shores may, however, not be benign: crows are often superior competitors and predators, displacing other bird species and consuming eggs and chicks. These ‘crow impacts’ represent a dilemma in conservation. As a first step to design effective species management for crows in coastal areas, I will make species distribution models for Torresian crows occurring on ocean beaches and coastal dunes of South-East Queensland. Of interest is to identify which combinations of topography (terrain complexity, dune height), habitat features (water availability), human land uses (urban footprint, camping) and food subsidies/resources (rubbish dumps) create hotspots of crow abundance.

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