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The Australian National University

Dr Sam Banks

BA, BSc (Hons), PhD (Monash)
ARC Future Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society
ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment

Areas of expertise

  • Conservation And Biodiversity 050202
  • Population, Ecological And Evolutionary Genetics 060411
  • Zoology 0608

Research interests

I'm a conservation biologist interested in how animals respond to environmental change. I'm something of a details person and like to find out about the processes operating in animal populations and how they respond to environmental changes caused by things like disturbance, habitat fragmentation or logging. I do a lot of field-based research, but often resort to genetic methods to study the things that animals don't tell us in other ways.




Researcher's projects

My current projects:

Hows does ecological disturbance affect genetic diversity?

Disturbance is recognised as a major driver of the dynamics of ecosystems around the world, but we have little understanding of how it affects the most basic level of biodiversity, genetic diversity. Through two long-term field studies I am investigating how fire affects the demography and genetics of mammal populations in contrasting environments. I am interested in finding out how disturbance affects spatial and temporal patterns of neutral and adaptive genetic diversity, and how we can use genetic data to infer the responses of animal populations to disturbance events and regimes. This work has so far focussed on a range of native Australian mammals in tall eucalypt forest in the Victorian central highlands and coastal heathland at Jervis Bay, NSW.

Arboreal marsupial population biology.

This project takes place in the mountain ash forests of Victoria's central highlands and focusses on how arboreal marsupials (our main focus is on mountain brushtail possums) adapt to environmental variation. For instance, a key threatening process for many arboreal marsupials in this region is the loss of hollow bearing trees due to logging and fire. These animals have shown interesting changes in their patterns of sociobiology, dispersal and offspring sex allocation that are likely to improve individual fitness under different environmental conditions, such as the availability of hollow-bearing trees. Michaela Blyton is currently undertaking a PhD under this broader project on the sociobiology of mountain brushtail possums under varying levels of den resource availability.

Habitat fragmentation research

I did my PhD on the response of small marsupial carnivores to habitat fragmentation and am currently doing some work on what influences animal dispersal choices in fragmented landscapes. I am also involved in a few collaborative fragmentation projects including:

Why do species persist, or not, in fragmented landscapes? This project is being undertaken by John Evans as a PhD (co-supervised with Dr Don Dricoll and Kendi Davies) and focusses on identifying the role of dispersal behaviour in the susceptibility of beetle species to extinction in fragmented habitat.

Morphological adaptation to variation in habitat quality. This project is being conducted with Dr Damian Michael and investigates morphological variation in the Boulenger's Skink in response to habitat condition in agricultural landscapes.


Available student projects

I would be happy to talk to interested potential students. Some project suggestions include:

How does fire influence the genetic diversity of natural populations? I'm involved in a couple of long-term research projects on the ecological effects of fire in Victorian mountain ash forests and Jervis Bay coastal heathland. There are lots of opportunities for projects that take advantage of the research background these studies provide.

Marsupial conservation biology in montane ash forest. I work with Professor David Lindenmayer on the biology and conservation of arboreal marsupials in Victorian mountain ash forest. This is a really nice place to work and there is scope for a number of projects tying together field-biology and genetic research to understand how animals respond to environmental changes such as those caused by logging and fire.

Habitat fragmentation research. How do animals persist in fragmented landscapes? There is scope for research projects on the causes and consequences of dispersal choices and other behaviours in fragmented landscapes. We have long-term research projects focussing on remnant and restored habitat patches in the NSW southwest slopes and nearby areas that provide good opportunities for research in this area.

How can we use genetic analyses to understand animal population biology? Biologists increasingly use genetic methods to study how natural populations work. I'm interested in testing how genetic analyses can be used to infer dispersal strategies and other biological processes, using both simulation-based investigations and empirical study.


Current student projects


Robyn Shaw: New genetic methods for understanding mammalian responses to fire (cosupervised with Rod Peakall, Geoff Cary and Katherine Tuft (Australian Wildlife Conservancy)).

Brenton von Takach Dukai: The genetic and demographic impacts of contemporary disturbance regimes in obligate seeder forests (with David Lindenmayer, Justin Borevitz, Annabel Smith).

Yusuke Fukuda: Understanding crocodile movement and dispersal for managing human-crocodile conflicts. (Cosupervised with Hamish Campbell and Keith Christian)

Georgeanna Story: Sociality and dispersal in common wombats (Vombatus ursinus). How do they influence the success of rehabilitated wombats released into free-living populations? (co-supervised with Don Driscoll and Kris French).

Melissa Wynn: Targeted investment to inform threat mitigation and the reintroduction of critically endangered reptiles on Christmas Island. (Cosupervised with Don Dricoll - Deakin, and Eve McDonald Madden - UQ)

Constanza Leon: Social behaviour and dispersal of white-winged choughs (cosupervised with Rob Heinsohn and Andrew Cockburn).



Kristen Abicair: Reintroduction biology of the New Holland mouse (with Adrian Manning).


Past student projects


Laurence Berry: The role of unburnt refuges in post-fire faunal recovery (cosupervised with David Lindenmayer, Don Driscoll and Ross Bradstock).

Felicia Pereoglou (awarded PhD May 2016): Eastern Chestnut Mice (Pseudomys gracilicaudatus) in the post-fire environment (co-supervised with David Lindenmayer, Jeff Wood and Fred Ford).

Amanda Edworthy (submitted March 2016): Conservation biology of forty-spotted pardalotes (cosupervised with Naomi Langmore and Rob Heinsohn - I'm Amanda's nerdy genetics supervisor).

 John Evans (PhD awarded March 2016): Does dispersal influence extinction risk in a fragmented landscape? (co-supervised with Don Driscoll and Kendi Davies)

Michaela Blyton (PhD awarded 2014): Connecting social system dynamics, population genetics and symbiotic interactions: Insights from the mountain brushtail possum. (cosupervised with Rod Peakall, David Lindenmayer and David Gordon).


April Suen (2015): Reintroduction biology of bettongs

Xenia Weber (2015): Phylogeography of southern bull kelp

Amy Macris (2014): Genetic impacts of chytrid fungus infection on frogs

Kwan Ling Ho (2013): Fire refuges and invertebrates

Zohara Lucas (2013): Fire regime impacts on beetle communities

Mitchell Barbara (2012): Responses of small mammals to fragemntation matrix change

Robyn Shaw (2012): Genetic inference of sex-biased dispersal in Antechinus

Michaela Blyton (2009): Mating system of the mountain brushtail possum


Projects and Grants

Grants are drawn from ARIES. To add Projects or Grants please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  29 March 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers