Shared study journey leads to Tuscany

24 October 2023 | News

Two PhD candidates who started their study together at Lincoln recently found themselves, years into their shared journey, discussing possums and plastic in Florence.

Brittany, left, and Katie outside the conference centre.

Brittany Graham and Katie Pitt presented their research in pest management at the 13th European Vertebrate Pest Conference in the historic Italian city.

Both appreciated the opportunity to discuss their work on an international stage, and being able to be there together to do it was an extra bonus.

"Highlights of my trip include seeing all of the beautiful history and scenery that Italy has to offer, and also having the opportunity to travel abroad with Katie," Brittany said.

"We started our undergrad degrees together all those years ago and it's just crazy how we have managed to get this far, where we are presenting our PhD research in Italy."

Katie said it was amazing to experience such a big conference with Brittany "as we’ve been studying together coming up eight years".

"We started doing first year ecology together and are now over halfway through our PhDs."

Brittany’s research could see the echoes of beeps resonating through the New Zealand bush.

Her presentation was called 'Novel audio lures to improve interaction and encounter rates of possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) with control methods in New Zealand.'

"As part of my PhD, I am investigating alternative lures to attract possums to control tools. The lures I am looking at are visual, olfactory, and audio, and for the conference I presented my findings for attractive audio lures."

She compared aggressive possum sounds and an alarmed possum sound to a beep sound. The data showed that possums were more attracted to the aggressive possum sound in their breeding season, while the beeping sound was most attractive the rest of the time.

"This shows us that organisations will have to be more specific and targeted when using sound as a lure for control operations, as they will need to change the sound depending on the time of year control is occurring," Brittany said.

"And the positive behaviour towards the sounds shows that these sounds are not a deterrent and could be a valuable tool to draw possums to a control station from further away. This means less control stations and less labour is needed to maintain control operations."

This would save organisations time and money when it comes to furthering the country towards the Predator Free 2050 initiative, she added.

"Katie’s presentation was entitled 'Potential solutions for reducing environmental impact of pest mammal monitoring in New Zealand'.

"My research focuses on integrating more sustainable practises into New Zealand pest mammal monitoring by offering alternatives to the plastic equipment we currently use," she said.

This research idea grew from when she was studying her Master of Pest Management degree at Lincoln.

"After working with mainly single-use plastic for pest mammal monitoring during my undergrad and master’s, I realised there were no eco-friendly options available in New Zealand for chew cards and tracking tunnels, so I decided to research potential options.

"Alongside trialling plastic free monitoring equipment, I am also running a social survey to gain opinions of important stakeholders in the New Zealand conservation sector to identify whether they would be willing to integrate more sustainable practices."

Katie said her work was well received at the conference, "as plastic pollution and sustainable management of vertebrate pests is a global issue".

Learn more about Lincoln University's Pest Management and Conservation programmes here