phototonyphillips.comI use decision theory and operations research to improve the outcomes achieved for biodiversity from conservation management. Ecological systems are incredibly complex, and changing how those systems interact and evolve can have unexpected implications. I build mathematical models of coupled ecological, land-use, and economic systems to understand the mechanisms driving success, failure, and efficiency of management actions. Carefully, transparently, and defensibly planning management and policy interventions while acknowledging those complexities and the associated risks helps achieve better outcomes for the environment and society.

I am a Lecturer in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Previously I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Potts Research Group at University of California Berkeley, where I worked on land use change in developing nations. My PhD was supervised by Hugh Possingham at the University of Queensland (UQ). My aim is to understand the economic mechanisms causing land-use change, and use that knowledge to help guide better decisions to reduce the negative effects on biodiversity. I also have continuing collaborations throughout Australia and the United States focussing on island conservation, as well as threatened and invasive species management.

Follow me on twitter @katejhelms.

Join us

I’m always interested in chatting with prospective undergrad, honours, PhD students, and postdocs. Please give some of our work a read, and contact me explaining your background and interests. Students should consider applying for one of the various scholarships QUT supports.

Prospective post-doctoral scholars should consider applying for an ARC DECRA, or the McDonnell Foundation’s complex systems post-doctoral fellowship.

Applications open: Dr Mike Bode, Dr Sam Nichol, and I have a PhD top-up scholarship available for a maths, IT, or quantitative ecology student in the field of optimal control of threatened species.  Animals do not follow simple paths when they move through heterogeneous landscapes, so modelling and managing their populations is a complex mathematical problem. In order to optimise planning of population management, we must account for spatial and temporal variability in the location and densities of populations. Fortunately, technological progress has handed us large, real-time datasets of species locations, which provide up-to-date, high resolution information. Tools from operations research and artificial intelligence can theoretically incorporate this data to produce optimal plans dictating where and when to act. The resulting plans should maximise the probability of achieving a specific management goal in complex environmental systems. We are studying how to optimally manage species that are threatened (e.g. bilbies) and others that are invasive (e.g. rats), when different levels of data are available. This project is perfectly timed to take advantage of massive increases in available data.

Applications open: I have a fully funded PhD scholarship (including stipend) available for a maths or stats student (or related field) looking at using the upcoming deluge of data to drive smart decisions for agriculture. This PhD will be co-supervised by Helen Thompson, who has significant expertise in spatial statistical modelling. The work will be in collaboration with CSIRO and Data61.