About my research

I’m Emma Spencer, a PhD candidate at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, Australia. I have been passionate editedabout ecology for much of my life, but what started as an interest in wolves and other large predators has expanded into an obsession of predator and scavenger interactions and a fascination at the plethora of life that subsists on the remains of dead animals. Specifically, my area of research is Australia’s scavenging community and the wider effects of carrion in a range of biomes across the continent. I study the diversity of life present on and around carrion resources, including both the vertebrate and invertebrate species that make use of this resource, as well as the potential cascading effects of carrion on live prey in the surrounding system. I am also interested in nutrient cycling and the influence of carrion on soil properties and plant growth.

Spanning across a number of locations in NSW and QLD, I will utilise animal carcasses, motion sensor cameras, invertebrate traps and a series of behavioural experiments to determine the extent to which different scavenger guilds use carrion resources within the landscape, to examine the factors that influence the use of carrion by different scavengers and to explore the indirect effects of carrion on a variety of mammalian and avian species. Concurrent collection of soil and plant samples surrounding carrion resources will also enable me to determine whether nutrient-rich carcasses enhance soils and contribute to plant growth. Together, my observations will contribute to greater understanding of Australia’s scavenger community and the myriad of effects that carrion can have on the surrounding environment.

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Photo credit: Thomas Newsome

This work wouldn’t be possible without the support of my supervisors: Dr. Thomas Newsome, Dr. Philip Barton, Prof. Chris Dickman and Dr. Aaron Greenville.