Isaac Witten

Much to crow about

I come originally from Barraba, a small country town in NSW. Having moved to the superior glades north of the Tweed River (go the Maroons), I am completing my degree in Environmental Science at USC. I enjoy playing golf, photography, the beach and ocean, SCUBA and free diving and generally all things outdoors and underwater. If I could wish for a research super power it would be to have the ability to speak to animals.

Crows have long and close associations with humans and are a truly global group of birds. The ‘success’ of crows to thrive in environments modified by humans is generally attributed to their ability to inhabit a wide range of habitat types and exploit a rich tapestry of diverse food source. This plasticity makes crows in many parts of the world ‘urban birds’.

Coastal areas are becoming increasingly urban: established coastal cities expand outwards and small coastal towns and villages are rapidly transforming into new urban centres at the edge of the sea. This urbanisation of the coastal strip changes the mix of habitats from diverse natural settings to milieus progressively bearing a distinct human fingerprint. This creates favourable conditions for crows.

The expansion of crow populations along marine shorelines, may, however, not be benign. Because crows are known to displace other, less competitive, species expanding populations of crows may lower the biodiversity of bird communities more broadly. As predators, crows also prey on the eggs and chicks of other birds. These ‘crow impacts’ represent a dilemma for conservation.

As a first step to design effective management plans for crows in coastal areas, I will make species distribution models for Torresian crows occurring on ocean beaches and coastal dunes of SE Queensland. Of particular interest is to identify which combinations of topography (e.g. terrain complexity, dune height), habitat features (e.g. water availability), human land-uses (e.g. urban footprint, camping) and food subsidies/resources (e.g. rubbish dumps) create hotspots of crow abundance: I shall be corvid-eyed and will have much to crow about.

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