Volunteer at HIE


The Institute's volunteering program, 'Helping Hands', gives students a way to experience science and gain skills with a flexible approach...

Building a career starts before you graduate. A successful launch into a satisfying career in the environmental sciences needs the right contacts, combined with real, hands-on experience so you can get going straight away.

Consider volunteering while you study - good students and good volunteers are what employers look for.

Current opportunities for which we seek volunteers are:

3 Volunteer Opportunities In Emu Research


Emu Fieldwork: As part of a wider study on the mating system of the emu, we will be looking at the effects of density on parentage. During 2017 and 2018, we will be working with a captive emu population to better understand their interesting mating system. Download Information Flier

Emu Tracking: Emus have a fascinating mating and parental care system. This will be the first study to gain fine scale detail on the mating system of the emu in the wild. We will be tracking emus in attempt to locate nests, and placing cameras to film the incubating period. Download Information Flier

Emu Population Counts: While the emu remains common in many areas, along the east coast of Australia their distribution has severely retracted. Only a few small populations along the east coast of NSW remain. To assess the likelihood that these populations will persist into the future, we need help to estimate population size within these four populations. Download Information Flier

For information contact HDR student Julia Ryeland on Julia.Ryeland@westernsydney.edu.au.

Ecology And Conservation Of The Critically Endangered Christmas Island Flying-Fox

Location: Christmas Island, Australia

Christmas Island Flying Fox

The Christmas Island flying-fox (CIFF) is the last remaining indigenous mammal on Christmas Island, a remote, beautiful, and ecologically unique part of Australia. However, Christmas Island's biodiversity is under threat from anthropogenic change. This is evidenced by the extinction of two native rat species, and the only two mammal extinctions in Australia in the last 50 years: the Christmas Island shrew (Crocidura trichura), and the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus murrayi).

The CIFF was listed in January 2014 as Critically Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. The latest population estimates suggest there are only 1369  534 individuals remaining, and if the causes of decline are not identified and remedied, it too will become extinct. The precipitous decline of the CIFF has serious implications for Christmas Island's endemic flora and fauna as its role in seed dispersal and pollination is critical for maintaining the health of the island's unique ecosystems.

Current research is centered around the behaviour and ecology of the CIFF, with a focus on understanding life history, distribution, roosting and foraging ecology, and population size.


  • Be vaccinated against Rabies/Lyssavirus to assist with capture/handling of CIFF and collection of biological samples
  • Must be enthusiastic, highly motivated and able to work as part of a team
  • Be capable of working in remote locations, for protracted periods of time, under difficult conditions including terrain and hot humid climates
  • Be able of carrying a 20 kg pack for distances of up to 4km

Knowledge and experience with capturing and handling of bats specifically flying-foxes would be a distinct advantage, as would experience with Excel, ArcGIS, R, processing of wildlife acoustic recordings (SM2 acoustic recorders).

How to Apply

Interested applicants can discuss their eligibility and interests with Christopher Todd (c.todd@westernsydney.edu.au)

HDR Student Nicole Hanrahan: Acoustic Ecology Of Ghost Bats In Northern Australia

Ghost Bat

The function of acoustic communication is commonly studied in birds, but relatively little research has examined this topic in bats, even though bats are often highly vocal and social.

The ghost bat (Macroderma gigas) is an iconic Australian endemic that produces a diverse range of complex vocalisations of unknown function, and thus provides an exciting opportunity to investigate the function of non-echolocation calls in bats.

Fieldwork will be based in the Top End of the Northern Territory, a beautiful tropical region of northern Australia. The volunteer will provide assistance with experiments and observations of ghost bat colonies in captivity and in the wild. Activities will include working in remote locations, capturing and processing bats, making behavioral observations and recording acoustic data. Volunteers will need to have been previously vaccinated against rabies to assist with capture/handling of ghost bats and collection of biological samples.

The ability to work in hot/humid conditions and difficult terrain is a must.

  • Location: Northern Territory (Litchfield NP and Kakadu NP)

For application details contact: Nicola Hanrahan

Website: Animal Ecology Lab (opens in a new window)

Dr Paul Rymer: Ecological restoration of the Cumberland Plain Woodland: Is local always best?

Cumberland Plain plant species

The Cumberland Plain Woodland (CPW) is listed as a critically endangered ecological community. It has experienced extensive habitat loss and fragmentation through agricultural and urban development; as such the small remnants are at increased risk of extinction.

Ecological restoration aims to restore degraded sites through removal of weeds and re-establishment of native species. Best practise maintains local provenances to reduce mixing of gene pools that may be locally adapted to different sites.

This, however, imposes a significant constraint on seed collectors which in the context of highly fragmented landscapes limits the amount and genetic diversity of seed for restoration. This project will explore the relative importance of local adaptation and genetic diversity for successful ecological restoration.

  • Volunteers will work with collaboration with Greening Australia and The Australian Botanic Garden to ensure applied outcomes for ecological restoration. The successful volunteers will be provided with training to develop skills in field sampling, processing collections, germination experiments, plant growth and trait assessment.
  • Volunteers should be enthusiastic, and have good attention to detail and organisation skills.
  • 7-21 hours per week required.
  • Please contact Paul Rymer under 0415 963 139 or p.rymer@westernsydney.edu.au.

Dr Paul Rymer: How do plant-insect interactions behave along steep environmental gradients?

Honeyeater on a Grevillea

Many plant-insect associations have evolved over millions of years; however some interactions have emerged more recently with environmental change.

This can break up key mutualistic interactions (such as pollination) and antagonistic interactions (such as seed predation) with the loss and emergence of different species in the landscape. Critically, the disruption of plant-insect associations can threaten the viability of natural populations, alter species distributions, and result in a loss of biodiversity.

This project will explore plant-insect interactions along a steep altitudinal gradient from coastal Sydney to upland Blue Mountains. It will focus on insects associated with legumes (including Acacia, Dillwynia, Pultenaea) within established plots in the Biological Adaptation Transect Sydney (working closely with The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney).

Volunteers will be engaged in fieldwork to sample insects during plant flowering and seed set, insect identification with morphology (and potentially DNA barcoding). Training will be provided in plant and insect identification, along with field sampling and laboratory techniques.

  • Volunteers should be enthusiastic, and have good attention to detail and organisation skills. A driver's licence is desirable.
  • 7-21 hours per week required.
  • Please contact Paul Rymer under 0415 963 139 or p.rymer@westernsydney.edu.au.

Dr Paul Rymer: Adaptive capacity to rapidly changing climate

Cumberland Plain plant species

The impacts of climate change are known to vary both by region and plant type. Despite this little attention has been given to (the often substantial) variation within species in providing adaptive capacity to rapidly changing climate.

This project will test two main hypotheses: (1) plants growing under temperature regimes found in their native source population will outperform plants from different climates, and (2) plants from warm/dry sites have higher resistance and resilience to drought.

Volunteers will work alongside a team of collaborating researchers assisting in plant water manipulations, plant traits sampling, leaf gas exchange / hydraulic measures, recording plant growth and/or final harvest.

The successful volunteers will be able to match their skills and aspirations to the work, and will be provided with expert training in these techniques.

  • 7-35 hours per week required.
  • Please contact Paul Rymer under 0415 963 139 or p.rymer@westernsydney.edu.au.

Eucalyptus Leaf