CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS

The majority of the research carried out in the team is done by Higher Degree Research Students. The study animals are mostly green sea turtles, but there are also a few freshwater turtle health projects and even a water dragon project because of Ellen’s interest in viruses and reptiles. If you are interested in turtle health research, then you would need to have a degree in a relevant discipline (preferably medical or veterinary science) and a previous research record. You can find out more at the JCU Graduate Research School for entry requirements and if you feel you can meet those, then you are welcome to contact Ellen directly (ellen.ariel@jcu.edu.au) with your CV and research idea.

Karina Jones (PhD Candidate)

Environmental influences on the epidemiology of fibropapillomatosis in green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and consequences for management of inshore areas of the Great Barrier Reef.

Fibropapillomatosis is a tumour-forming disease in marine turtles. Despite being discovered in 1938, the origin and mode of transmission of this disease is still unclear. However, current research suggests that it is likely to be caused by chelonid herpesvirus 5. This project aims to identify variants of this virus on the Great Barrier Reef using molecular methods. This work may help provide clues as to how this virus spreads from one population to the other. Karina is also looking at links between this disease and environmental factors as the virus seems to require co-factors in order to develop full scale lesions and disease.

Narges Mashkour (PhD Candidate)

Presence and impact of viruses in green turtles (Chelonia mydas) from the Northern Great Barrier Reef

Green sea turtles are listed as endangered animals and although Australian turtle biology research is very well established, little is known about the prevalence/incidence and impacts of viral infection on the general health of turtles. In order to fill some of these knowledge gaps, Narges aims to examine green sea turtles of the Great Barrier Reef for the presence and impacts of viruses recorded in other regions or terrestrial turtles. Samples will be screened by traditional and molecular techniques. By comparing the viro-biome of healthy, sick and dead turtles she hopes to find a correlation between the identified viruses and potential diseases.

Duan March (PhD Candidate)

Clinical health assessments of green turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Duan is a veterinarian at Dolphin Marine Magic, a marine park in Coffs Harbour that rescues and rehabilitates marine megafauna, including sea turtles. After 8 years of seeing the same presentation in hundreds of turtles and continually battling to identify reliable prognostic indicators or diagnose a primary cause of disease, he decided to enrol in a PhD specifically investigating sea turtle health. His project will investigate blood and tissue changes in rehabilitation animals as well as wild healthy populations in an attempt to describe the pathophysiological changes that are occurring in stranded marine turtles. Hopefully the characterisation of these processes will enable the development of more targeted treatment regimes and create a diagnostic pathway that is capable of identifying the primary disease processes.

Wytamma Wirth (PhD Candidate)

The pathogenesis and epidemiology of ranavirus in northern Queensland freshwater turtles.

Wytamma completed a bachelor of biochemistry and molecular biology and honours in microbiology and immunology at JCU. Wytamma’s research focuses on Australian freshwater turtle health. In his PhD Wytamma is using molecular methods to characterise freshwater turtle host-pathogen interactions and ranavirus epidemiology. Wytamma’s PhD project will expand on his previous work and integrate new areas of research while focusing on community engagement to create a nexus of research and learning, and ultimately improve the lives of our native freshwater turtle species.

Alicia Maclaine (PhD Candidate)

Viruses of Australian reptiles

Alicia’s PhD project investigates the prevalence of virus in wild and captive Australian lizards with a special emphasis on the native eastern water dragon. She is also interviewing herpetologists in the region to learn more about the current practices regarding reptilian health and management of captive lizards.

Adam Wilkinson (PhD Candidate)

The identification of potential links between Fibropapillomatosis prevalence in Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and heavy metal contamination along the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Adam’s research aims to investigate the negative impacts of toxic metal element contamination on Green sea turtles. Fibropapillomatosis (FP) susceptibility has been suggested to be partially affected by metal exposure, and thus this project will measure the potential influence of such environmental factors on FP prevalence in a number of Green turtle populations along the Great Barrier Reef.

Sara Kophamel Orduña (PhD Candidate)

Assessment of Health Status in Sea Turtle Populations by Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis Method

Health status assessment of sea turtles is often hindered by the lack of a quick, accurate, non-invasive and practical diagnostic tool that can be used in the field. Therefore, Sara’s research aims to establish a new diagnostic method for health assessment in the field, setting specific bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) reference values in marine turtle species and evaluating how body composition can be utilised in examining both the general health status and physical condition of sea turtles. She will also examine the body composition of sea turtle populations and nesting females along in Queensland, as well as determine baseline data of sea turtle hatchlings (Turtle Health Research facility at JCU) to use for comparison purposes with wild animals. She expects that one outcome of her research will be to facilitate triage decisions and to set up benchmarks for future sea turtle population studies.

Kate Parrish (PhD Candidate) Studies of Bellinger River Virus In 2015, Kate joined the NSW Department of Primary Industries as a veterinary virologist where she became involved in the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle mortality event. The discovery of a novel virus associated with this event provided an opportunity to explore the biology of this virus and host-pathogen interactions. Information regarding Bellinger River Virus is paramount in providing a technical basis for biosecurity protocols currently being developed.

Bethany Adomanis (MSc)

Do post-hatchling green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) remember how to solve a simple puzzle after a period of absence?

Bethany became a member of the Turtle Health Research team in early 2016 as a volunteer. She quickly sparked an interest in behavioural enrichment with the green sea turtle hatchlings in the Caraplace research facility. Her project involves providing the year-old green sea turtles with a simple puzzle to solve for a food reward, and then gauging whether the hatchlings remember how to solve the puzzle after a period of absence. After turtles hatch and make their run for the ocean, they are not seen again for approximately 15 years; this time is known as the “lost years”. Working with the turtle hatchlings will hopefully provide an insight into their memory development and learning capabilities during this largely unstudied life stage.

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