Biological studies and wildlife

Decades of work by Mike Clarke has changed the way we manage wildfires and threatened species, especially in the Mallee region of Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

In Victoria, Professor Clarke (one of Australia’s leading wildlife biologists, conservationists and experts on Australian birds and other animal life) served for five years as Convener of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act to the Minister for the Environment. He was also an expert witness on fire ecology at the Victorian ‘Black Saturday’ Bushfires Royal Commission, which followed the disastrous fires of 2009 which claimed 173 lives, tragically including that of his colleague Richard Zann and two members of Dr Zann’s family.

To help understand and manage increasingly fragile ecosystems on our ravaged planet, La Trobe led a decade-long global research project to the Indonesian volcanic island of Krakatau where a cataclysmic explosion in the 19th century had wiped out all life.

Headed by Foundation Professor of Zoology Ian Thornton, and including Peter Rawlinson, Richard Zann and Tim New, this involved half a dozen expeditions by more than forty scientists from six countries studying how a wide range of animals and plants had managed to re-establish themselves from scratch.

The venture captured the public imagination.  Expeditions were supported by ‘Australian Geographic’ magazine and ‘The Age’ newspaper and resulted in the publication of two entire issues of the ‘Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society’.

Fellow foundation zoologist, Pat Woolley, has long been a leading expert on Australian and PNG marsupials.  In 1992 she located the first live Julia Creek dunnarts, a species previously thought to be extinct.