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Our new PhD student – Tamika Lunn, working on Hendra virus!

We would like to enthusiastically welcome Tamika Lunn as a new PhD student to our team! Tamika will be working on Henda virus. Read her story below!

Tamika Lunn

“I didn’t grow up dreaming of working with animals, or at least, not in the traditional sense. My early career ambition was to be a Pokémon master.”

“My eventual path to ecology was fairly fortuitous. I grew up in a small industrial port city on the north-west coast of Tasmania, where the main industries were forestry and heavy manufacturing. I’d accredit my initial interests in animals and the wilderness to subconscious influences from my favourite TV shows and books: Blinky Bill, the Ferals, Possum Magic and Wombat Stew. I focussed on science throughout high school (by that point I’d realised I couldn’t be a Pokémon master) and, even though I knew I’d like to work with animals, I didn’t know this could be a feasible career until year 12 when the Young Tassie Scientists gave a presentation on ecology research. Months later, I made the move to the “big city” (aka Hobart) to study Zoology and Environmental Science at the University of Tasmania.”

“As an undergrad I became involved with a large research effort looking into the influence of urban infringement on disease prevalence in bobcats, pumas and domestic cats. Though I played a miniscule role in the project, this was my first real introduction to disease ecology and statistics, and I loved it. After graduating I immediately continued onto my honours degree, where I planned to investigate the Mucormycosis fungal disease in Tasmanian platypus. My “plan B”, was to look at the influence of timber harvesting on platypus stream use and long term population health. I spent many long, sleep-deprived nights in sub-zero temperatures trying to catch them, but as it happened, I’d severely underestimated how elusive and smart they are. In a total of 2,332 trap hours, I managed to catch just 13 individuals (none with Mucormycosis). Despite their attempts to ruin my thesis, I graduated with First Class Honours with my plan B.”

Setting a fyke net during my honours (this one actually caught a platypus!)

“A few weeks after graduating, I moved from the freezing temperatures of Tasmania to arid central Australia to work as an ecology research intern for the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. I spent 6 months travelling between sanctuaries in New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory, assisting in endangered species programs at the different sanctuaries. The difference in environments struck me on my first day when, during my induction, a bushfire broke out in our home sanctuary. My first experience in the Northern Territory was equally as interesting, which coincided with a record-breaking streak for the most number of consecutive days exceeding 40 degrees. Heat aside, it was an amazing opportunity to witness a myriad of Australian mammals rarely seen by people (including numbats, bilbies, bridled nailtail wallabies, boodies, woylies and mala), which all lived in my immediate backyard.”

“Assessing vegetation” in arid NSW – a striking contrast to Tasmanian temperate rainforests, and the Queensland tropical rainforests I have been working in more recently

“Soon after returning home to Tasmania, I was fortunate enough to re-join the University of Tasmania as a research associate with the D.E.E.P (Dynamics of Eco-Evolutionary Patterns) lab. I led two separate projects within the group: one investigating the effects of the 2016 Tasmanian bushfires on temperate wet sclerophyll forests, and the other modelling population demographics of the echidna. I was happy to have the opportunity to re-engage my interest in quantitative ecology, as well as get back into the Tasmanian wilderness!”

In Tasmania, we don’t pause field work for torrential rain

“By this time I was ready for postgraduate study, and I began searching more seriously for the perfect PhD opportunity. I was keen to peruse research in disease and quantitative ecology, and wanted to combine new field experiences with exciting statistical and laboratory research. After researching people suggested by my honours mentor, I contacted Hamish and convinced him to take me on board to study Hendra. I was then lucky enough to meet the research group in Byron Bay for a catching trip, and immediately fell in love with the flying foxes.”

“My PhD will focus on mechanistic modelling of flying-fox viral infectious diseases, specifically Hendra virus. A central theme will be identifying mechanisms of viral maintenance, and drivers of viral excretion within Australian Pteropus bats, which I will investigate though a combination of modelling, field and laboratory research. From this PhD I am hoping to improve our understanding of the transmission dynamics underlying this this high-profile virus. Because Hendra virus is considered a model system for other emerging infectious diseases, including Ebola, Marburg and Nipah viruses, research in this area will also have important applications for understanding other bat-virus systems worldwide.”

Waiting for the flying-foxes to fly into our net

“I’ve already started the long process of gathering field data, and am on the lookout for people to assist me with my field work (foreseeably until late 2019). This will involve direct capture of flying-foxes, and collection of urine and faecal samples from underneath roosts. If you’re reading this, and are interested in finding out more, please contact me at”.

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