Max Day award funds research to keep at-risk species with us

A 2021 Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award will enable wildlife health researcher Dr Laura Brannelly to grow our understanding of the genetics of frog species at risk of extinction.

This research could lead to a better understanding of how these frog species persist after disease related declines and will identify management strategies that work with their breeding behaviour to support their recovery.

Principles of brewing teaching staff
Dr Laura Brannelly, a researcher at University of Melbourne, received the 2020 Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award.

Dr Brannelly is an ARC DECRA Fellow studying the effects disease has on the reproduction of the alpine tree frog, a declining native Australian species that was once present throughout much of the Snowy Mountains in Victoria and New South Wales.

It is now endangered in New South Wales and Victoria, primarily due to the fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which is affecting amphibians across the globe and contributed to at least 90 extinctions.

Although the alpine tree frog has been severely impacted, Dr Brannelly says the fact the species has persisted is significant.

“We think that the reason why these animals are still surviving in these populations is because they’re putting more effort into breeding,” Dr Brannelly said.

“The idea is called terminal investment. When an animal thinks that it’s about to die, it will do all it can to keep its genes within the population.”

She intends to use her Max Day grant to better understand that process by analysing the genetics of 20 frogs from nine populations to identify genes under selection, which could help with future management strategies.

Using a genetic approach, Dr Brannelly will improve our understanding of how this species is surviving with disease. While her interests are in reproduction, she will also explore other ways that might assist frogs in recovering from disease, such as immune genes.

Below: Find out more about Dr Brannelly's research, and research to improve the diet of honey bees by Lea Hannah, a PhD candidate at Western Sydney University. Video: The Australian Academy of Science.

The Max Day award provides up to $20,000 for early-career researchers working on the conservation of Australia’s flora and fauna, the ecologically sustainable use of resources, and the protection of the environment and ecosystem services.

It is named in honour of the late Dr Maxwell Frank Cooper Day AO FAA, an Australian Academy of Science Fellow who spent a lifetime championing entomology, conservation and forestry, as well as helping other scientists.

Banner image: An Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina) model. Photo: Heath Warwick, Museums Victoria.