Biologist, natural ecosystems - Cheryl Dear

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In the history of life, extinctions are normal events balanced by the evolution of new species. But extinctions are now occurring a thousand times faster than new species can evolve, mainly due to human activities such as habitat destruction and the introduction of exotic plants and animals. In the last 50 years, 70 per cent of the world's natural ecosystems have been destroyed. In Australia, in the 200 years since European settlement, 25 vertebrate species have become extinct.

I'm not just reading about the problem of extinctions, I'm doing something to help. I'm a conservation biologist at The Royal Melbourne Zoo, and I specialise in habitat restoration. I survey areas to find out what plants are necessary for an animal's survival, replant areas so that captive animals can be released again, and expand habitat areas for endangered species.

Habitat restoration is the next step after endangered animals have been bred in captivity. Once an animal's habitat has been restored or expanded, the animal can be released back into the wild, with appropriate safeguards and monitoring to ensure that the reasons for the original habitat decline don't return.

Successful conservation relies heavily on teamwork, not only within the unit where I work, but also with other zoo staff, government agencies, universities, volunteers and members of the general community.

The Royal Melbourne Zoo staff are working with universities and the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment to breed eastern barred bandicoots in captivity and return them to reserves where the growth of native grasses is encouraged and feral predators such as foxes are controlled.

My advice to anyone considering a science career is to study the areas of science that interest you personally. The greater the interest, the more you put in and the more you get out. Science can be fun.

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