Penny Pascoe, PhD Student

Using stable isotopes to investigate seabird-driven island recovery

I am passionate about understanding and protecting remote and wild ecosystems, and seeing research being applied to on the ground policy and decision making. I am from Australia, growing up in regional Victoria before a fascination for Antarctica led me to move south to Hobart, Tasmania to complete an undergraduate degree majoring in zoology. I then undertook an honours research project at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Hobart looking at different statistical methods for inferring southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonine) foraging behaviour from satellite movement data. During this project I spent a month on New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Campbell Island deploying satellite transmitters onto southern elephant seals and New Zealand sealions (Phocarctos hookeri). This was my first experience working on a remote island and really clarified for me that I wanted to develop a career understanding and protecting these places.


Towards the end of my honours I worked as a research scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division looking at the effects of ocean acidification on marine microbial communities at Davis Station, Antarctica. I then spent a year travelling around South America and volunteered as a research assistant looking into fisheries by-catch in Lima, Peru, benthic invertebrate taxonomy in Chilean Patagonia, and hooded-grebe (Podiceps gallardoi) conservation in Argentinean Patagonia.


After briefly returning to Australia I next spent 18-months working on Australia’s sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, first as a research assistant continuing a long-term albatross and petrel monitoring project, and then as the island’s wildlife range, coordinating and undertaking seabird and seal population monitoring. I returned from Macquarie Island in early 2018 and spent some time working as a guide on cruise ships in the Kimberley region in the north of Australia and the New Zealand sub-Antarctic and assisting with seabird monitoring projects on various Australian and New Zealand islands before commencing my PhD at the University of Tasmania, with co-supervision from Dr Holly Jones.

My PhD research is investigating the use of stable isotope analysis for quantifying the progression of island ecosystem recovery following invasive mammal eradications. I am undertaking a large-scale natural experiment on islands from around New Zealand, Australia and the sub-Antarctic, comparing food webs and isotopic enrichment on islands at different stages post eradication to still invaded and never invaded islands. I am investigating the potential of this technique as a cost- and time-efficient ecosystem assessment tool, allowing post-eradication monitoring to occur on island where limited resources prevent extensive population level monitoring. I am excited to be travelling over to America in 2021 when I will be spending time working with the Jones Lab at NIU.