Neil Jordan

Neil Jordan

Research Interests


I apply behavioural ecology to conservation management problems, with a focus on animal communication and movement ecology, particularly in carnivores. I am interested in conducting and supervising work on the development or testing of potential human-wildlife conflict mitigation tools and activities. As Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s Conservation Biologist (joint appointment), I am also interested in conducting applied research in captive animal management, rehabilitation and reintroduction.

My key current areas of interest include:

•             Human-wildlife conflict and solutions;

•             “Problem animal” ecology and management;

•             Animal communication and conservation;

•             Invasive carnivore ecology and management.

Interested in pursuing Honours or PhD with me? Current Honours project opportunities can be found here. To apply, please send me your CV and a short description of your proposed project. 

 

Current Research Programs


African large carnivore behaviour and conservation (Okavango Delta, Botswana)

We conduct field research at the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust’s (BPCT) long-running large predator research camp on the fringes of the Okavango Delta World Heritage Site. Our work focuses on the behavioural and movement ecology of African wild dogs, lions, leopards, cheetah and spotted hyaenas. I focus particularly on animal communication, and developing and testing potential tools to manage the conflict between large carnivores and livestock. This conservation research program includes specific sub-projects aimed to simultaneously safeguard the lives of large carnivores and the livelihoods of subsistence farmers.

 

i-cow project: Can eye-patterns painted onto cattle reduce lion attacks?

 

Collaborators: Cameron Radford (PhD candidate); BPCT.

A major reason that lions are in decline is that many are killed in retaliation for eating livestock. As ambush predators, lions rely on stalking and surprise, so being seen by their prey usually means they abandon their hunt. We are testing whether painting eye patterns onto cattle hides reduces attacks, and promote coexistence with carnivores.

    Carnivore ROAR project 
   

Collaborators: Cameron Radford (PhD candidate), BPCT; Wild Spy Pty Inc.

We are testing whether lions and other problem predators can be repelled from areas of high risk using acoustic signals. Using a custom-designed and built Remotely Operated Acoustic Repellent (ROAR) stations, developed with our technical partners at Wild Spy, we are playing back the calls of apex predators and super predators and assessing their impact on large carnivore movements.

  African wild dog bioboundary project  
 

Collaborators: BPCT.

In collaboration with BPCT, we are investigating the scent-marking behaviour and chemistry of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), and specifically whether synthetic mimics of these signals can be used to manage their ranging behaviour and reduce human-wildlife conflict.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behavioural Ecology and conservation of Australian mammals

 

Testing signal-based management tools for dingoes in Australia

 

Collaborators: Benjamin Walker (Honours student); Martin Bucknall, Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility, UNSW.

Managing the impact of dingoes and other wild dogs in Australia is typically attempted using physical barriers and lethal control. There is however increasing evidence that dingoes confer cascading benefits on ecosystems, and so a more nuanced approach that aims to maintain the benefits of dingoes while reducing their negative impacts is much needed. This project will evaluate the potential application of dingo signals in conservation management, by collecting and characterizing dingo signals, and experimentally testing the responses of dingoes and other species to them.

   

Better the devil you know? Tasmanian Devil Scent Familiarization Study

   

Collaborators: Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat (Masters student, UCLA); Martin Bucknall (Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility, UNSW); San Diego Zoo Global; Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a nocturnal carnivorous marsupial that has suffered precipitous decline in the past 20 years due to a contagious fatal cancer. The primary tool for countering this devastating disease is captive breeding and reintroduction, but most fail to establish viable populations, apparently due to long distance movement, “dispersal” away from the release site. The aim of this research is to determine whether olfactory familiarization can be used as a tool to reduce social conflict and thus potentially be implemented during future translocations to reduce dispersal and disease transmission. Initial research is focused on identifying key chemical components that comprise their scat and anal scent gland secretions, with subsamples used in presentation experiments investigating the impact of familiarization on social aggression.

  Platypus stress: evaluation of the effects of river flow regimes on platypus gluccocorticoids.  
 

Collaborators: Dr Gilad Bino, UNSW and Platypus Conservation InitiativeDr Rebecca Hobbs, Leesa Keogh, Taronga Conservation Society Australia;  BMSF, UNSW

This project falls within the Platypus Conservation Initiative and takes an endocrine approach to assessing the effects of river fragmentation on platypus health. We are characterizing and evaluating gluccocorticoid profiles of wild platypuses to compare endocrine indicators of stress across river systems with varying flow regimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research Students


Prospective students (PhD and Honours) students should send me a CV and a short description of their proposed project.

Current Honours project opportunities can be found here, but should not be considered limiting.

Current students

Cameron Radford (PhD Candidate) - “Evaluating signal-based tools to reduce conflicts with Arica’s large carnivores” (Primary Supervisor; co-supervised by T Rogers).

Victoria Inman (PhD Candidate) - “Hippos as ecosystem engineers in the Okavango delta, Botswana” (Secondary Supervisor; co-supervised by K Leggett, R Kingsford).

Lucy Ransome (PhD Candidate) - “African wild dogs: social behavior and movement in a fugitive carnivore”. (Principal Supervisor [external], with D Jones, H McCallum (Griffith University), A Goldizen (University of Queensland).

Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat - (MSc Candidate) – “Better the devil you know? Tasmanian Devil Scent Familiarization Study”. (External cosupervisor, with D Shier & G Grether, UCLA)

Kasim Rafiq (PhD Candidate) - “Leopard movement ecology and their role in the large carnivore guild”. (Field supervisor, with C Meloro, Liverpool John Moores University).

Helen Tsanidis (Hons Candidate) - “Habitat selection by free-ranging eastern-barred bandicoots at Taronga zoo” (Co-supervisor with J Lawes):

Tom Garman (Hons Candidate) - “Movement ecology of free-ranging eastern-barred bandicoots at Taronga zoo” (Co-supervisor with J Lawes):

Past students

Benjamin Walker (Honours 2017) - “Characterising dingo scent chemistry, persistence, and conspecific responses.” (Primary supervisor with A/Prof M Letnic)

Jessica Vitale (PhD 2017; University of Nottingham) - “The role of spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta) within the large predator guild in the Okavango Delta, Botswana” (External co-supervisor with T Reader, University of Nottingham).

Briana Abrahms (PhD 2016; UC Berkeley) - “The Ecology and Conservation of Animal Movement in Changing Land- and Seascapes” (Field supervisor, with J Brashares, Berkeley).

Kasim Rafiq (MSc 2015; Durham University) -  Field Supervisor (, with P Stevens, S Richards).

Matthew Pomilia (MSc 2011; University of Leeds) - “Intraspecific variation in African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) ranging patterns in northern Botswana” (Field supervisor).

 

Current Teaching


Course convener:

BIOS2123 - Ecosystem Conservation and Management (Field course, Taronga Western Plains Zoo & Macquarie Marshes, NSW)

BIOS6723 - River Basin Ecosystem Conservation and Management (Field course, Botswana)

Contributions to:

BIOS3161- Life in Arid Lands (Field component; course convened by Lisa Schwanz)

BIOS6671 - Biodiversity and Conservation of Natural Resources (Lectures; course convened by William Sherwin)

 

Press and Outreach


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publications


 

Publications

Author Date Title Link PDF
Torrents Ticó et al. 2017 On the right track? Comparing concurrent spoor and camera-traps surveys in Botswana

Spoor (track) counts and camera trapping are increasingly common survey tools used to detect the presence of species of interest in an area (occupancy). Given the significant time and financial investments in such surveys, and the management decisions based on their conclusions, it is imperative that confidence can be assigned to the results. We compared results collected simultaneously using spoor and camera-trap surveys at a human—wildlife interface in northern Botswana. While our spoor survey and camera-trap surveys detected a similar number of mammal species (17 and 15, respectively), the species detected by each method differed. Of the 21 species detected overall, only about half (52.4%) were detected by both methods, and these co-detected species had significantly higher occupancy estimates than those species detected by only one method. Moreover, the direct comparison showed that some tracks were missed or misidentified by the spoor survey. Our results suggest that over short time frames, neither method is ideal for detecting species at low densities, and that researchers should consider combining multiple methods in such circumstances.

Walker et al. 2017 Sneeze to leave: African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) use variable quorum thresholds mediated by sneezes in collective decisions

We demonstrated the importance of signals in collective decision-making and movement and showed for the first time that decisions to move-off were mediated by sneezes in African wild dogs; a first for any species. We showed that responses to these signals varied depending on dominant motivation, which illustrates how signals allow for negotiation (in effect, voting) that shapes decision-making in a wild, socially complex canid.

Jordan et al. 2017 A conservation assessment of Suricata suricatta.
Dewhirst et al. 2017 An exploratory clustering approach for extracting stride parameters from tracking collars on free-ranging wild animals

Changes in stride frequency and length with speed are key parameters in animal locomotion research, and are commonly measured on a treadmill. We show that a clustering approach can be used to extract these variables from data collected by a tracking collar, which enables stride parameters to be measured during free-ranging locomotion in natural habitats.

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Jackson et al. 2017 The effect of relatedness and pack size on territory overlap in African wild dogs.

The degree of territorial overlap between neighbouring African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) packs varies greatly, yet the role of factors potentially affecting this remain unclear. We used movement data from 20 pack dyads to calculate the extent of territory overlap, finding that related neighbours had significantly greater levels of peripheral overlap and spent significantly more time in overlap zones than did unrelated packs. Pack size appeared to have little effect on overlap between related dyads, yet among unrelated neighbours larger packs tended to overlap more onto smaller packs’ territories. This spacing may affect the carrying capacity of protected areas, and have important management implications for intensively managed populations of this endangered species.

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Jordan et al. 2017 Dynamics of direct inter-pack encounters in endangered African wild dogs

Aggressive encounters have important life history consequences, but little is known of their detailed dynamics, mainly due to the difficulties of directly observing encounters. We use high-resolution custom-built collars to describe detailed spatial dynamics of encounters between African wild dog packs. Surprisingly, our results indicate that encounters are lower risk than previously thought and do not appear to influence long-term ranging.

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Hubel et al. 2016 Additive opportunistic capture explains group hunting benefits in African wild dogs

This paper uses high-resolution GPS collar technology to challenge popular perceptions of African wild dogs collaborating to run down their prey over long-distances. African wild dogs actually owe their hunting success to short high-speed runs, undertaken during hunts that typically lack high-level coordination between dogs.

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Abrahms et al. 2016 Does wildlife resource selection accurately inform corridor conservation?

Identifying and protecting wildlife corridors are key conservation challenges. We reviewed connectivity studies employing resource selection analysis and present an empirical case study to test behaviour-specific predictions of connectivity. Our results, using African wild dogs as a case study, suggest that resource selection analyses that fail to consider an animal’s behavioural state are insufficient in targeting movement pathways and corridors for protection. This failure may result in misidentification of wildlife corridors and misallocation of limited conservation resources. Our findings underscore the need for considering patterns of animal movement in appropriate behavioural contexts to ensure the effective application of resource selection analyses for corridor planning

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Jordan et al. 2016 Pair-specific scents in African wild dogs, Lycaon pictus, and an example of a potential method to identify signals within complex mixtures

Identifying the specific cues within complex signals is a key problem in animal communication research. We used a novel multivariate statistical approach to identify 19 candidate signals from almost 1000 candidate components within African wild dog urine. Testing the territorial function of these key chemicals is now feasible in the field, and is a critical stage in developing synthetic territorial signals for conservation management.

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Hubel et al. 2016 Energy cost and return for hunting in African wild dogs and cheetahs

African wild dogs are reported to hunt with energetically costly long chase distances. We recorded 1,119 high-speed chases of all members of a pack using custom-built collars, and showed that dogs ran multiple short, high-speed, mostly unsuccessful chases to capture prey. Modeling showed that the energy return of this approach substantially outweighs the cost of multiple short chases, suggesting that African wild dogs are more energetically robust than previously believed.

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Pomilia et al 2015 African wild dog ranging patterns in northern Botswana

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Abrahms et al. 2015 The context of road-use by African wild dogs highlights the importance of considering animal behaviour in conservation planning

Roads are among the most widespread forms of landscape alteration globally, so effective conservation planning requires an understanding of how they can affect animal movement. Using novel GPS collar technology we found that the response to roads by endangered African wild dogs, Lycaon pictus, varied with behaviour as well as with habitat. African wild dogs selected roads when travelling, ignored them when running (mostly hunting) and avoided roads when resting. Road-use increased in denser habitats, suggesting that roads may enhance wild dog movement through the landscape. Overall, this work highlights the importance of animal behaviour in conservation planning. Click here for full publication.

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