Supporting ecological recovery through research

Monday, 26 April 2021

The devastating bushfires of 2019/2020 were estimated by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature to have killed or displaced nearly 3 billion animals across Australia. Gaining a precise picture of the impact will allow for recovery and rehabilitation efforts to concentrate on the most effective strategies.

Sarah Stock

Thanks to the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, University of Newcastle researcher Sarah Stock is gathering valuable data using genetic markers in a newly identified species of frog.

Amphibian indicators

“Frogs are useful markers for the health of an ecosystem. They sit in the middle of the food chain and if they are thriving or struggling it provides a good indicator of how the surrounding species are also faring.”

Sarah’s PhD research will use genetic markers to gather population data on the Southern Tree Frog (Litoria watsoni). Genetic sequencing is a valuable tool to gather population data, particularly for rare species that are hard to find and count in the field. Landscape genetic studies, which combine ecology and molecular methods, allow ecologists to explore spatial patterns
of genetic diversity over time and therefore help them to understand the impacts of disturbances such as bushfires.

Sarah will gather data in an unaffected 'control' area and a fire-affected area of the Nowra region where 50- 80% of the frog’s habitat was burnt in the mega-fires of 2020. It will combine tadpole and frog surveys and habitat surveys with genetic sequencing to determine the population size, population genetic diversity and dispersal patterns before and after the fires.

Sarah’s PhD as a whole aims to understand how disturbances like bushfires alter the adaptive potential, dispersal patterns and population genetic structuring of the Southern Tree Frog. Her research will expand our understanding of how large-scale disturbance events impact our native species' evolutionary pathways. In turn, her work will inform what management actions are required for threatened native species across Australia.

I am passionate about this research and very grateful for the philanthropic support I’ve received. There is a lot of work to be done to support and preserve our amazing flora and fauna and this research will provide another piece of the puzzle to inform the best solutions”
Sarah Stock PhD Researcher

Supporting Real World Solutions

Dr Bill Holsworth is a renowned ecologist, mammalogist, wildlife biologist and philanthropist. In 1989 Bill and his wife, Carol, established the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment to fund grants to universities for postgraduate research in ecology, wildlife management and natural history studies.

Since the Endowment became available at all Australian universities in 2014, the University of Newcastle has been awarded nine philanthropic grants to support a range of ecological research projects. These include:

  • understanding bird behaviour to optimise urban nest- box design to support parrot breeding
  • developing methods for assisted breeding of threatened rock-wallabies
  • ecological rehabilitation of mined lands
  • coastal marine ecosystems and beach ecology

We are very grateful for the ongoing support of the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment. Establishing partnerships and providing long term and recurring support for research programs amplifies the impact on the outcomes of research and the beneficial change that can occur as a result.”
Professor Matt Hayward, School of Environmental and Life Sciences

If you would like to support an area of research that is important to you, contact Brad Holmes on 02 4921 8612 or

Read more in The Gift magazine

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.