Declines of vertebrate species are occurring worldwide as a result of habitat degradation, invasive species, land clearing and climate change. The Australian continent, with its highly unique and diverse fauna, has been exceptionally vulnerable to such changes, with 34 mammal species becoming extinct since European colonisation. While many of these extinctions have occurred in southern Australia, a contemporary wave of mammal declines is currently occurring across northern Australia.

To conserve threatened species, conservation biologists have been required to make decisions with inadequate information. The recent development of (1) low-cost next-generation DNA sequencing platforms, and (2) novel ecological niche-based approaches for investigating species declines has for the first time permitted data on population genomic diversity and refugial habitats to be used to inform strategic planning frameworks. Such data benefits strategic planning by providing quantitative measures of the importance of unique populations and habitat conditions for adaptation to environmental change. For example, populations with higher levels of genomic diversity or in higher rainfall areas may be better suited to a changing climate. Developing our ability to analyse, interpret and present information-rich datasets is a crucial step in the design and implementation of effective management actions for threatened or declining species.

In this context, this project has three principal aims:

  1. Develop and showcase modern methods for analysing, interpreting and presenting genomic and habitat niche data.

  2. Further our understanding of the importance of different habitat types and environmental conditions as refuges for adaptive potential in threatened species.

  3. Provide management agencies with critically-important data-driven conservation advice to promote the persistence of mammals in northern Australia.

This project is generating crucial biological information to improve conservation assessment and planning and involves partnerships between CDU, NT DEPWS, WA DBCA and the NCRIS-funded Oz Mammal Genomics Initiative (Bioplatforms Australia). It provides core information relevant to developing biodiversity research partnerships on the Tiwi Islands, Kakadu National Park and north-east Arnhem Land.

Species that have had data collected and analysed as part of this project include the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), black-footed tree-rat (Mesembriomys gouldii), brush-tailed rabbit-rat (Conilurus penicillatus), and grassland melomys (Melomys burtoni), amongst others.


This project begun at Charles Darwin University where Brenton helped Prof Sam Banks establish the Molecular Ecology Lab as a postdoctoral research fellow. Brenton moved to Curtin University in Perth in 2021 to start a Forrest Prospect Fellowship, building on their work at CDU. The project is currently in the final stages, with Brenton moving on to new projects based in south-western Australia. Some fantastic knowledge has been created as a result of this project and the outputs are being used to aid conservation management actions for several mammal species in northern Australia.

Selected publications

von Takach, B., Cameron, S.F., Cremona, T., Eldridge, M.D.B., Fisher, D.O., Hohnen, R., Jolly, C.J., Kelly, E., Phillips, B.L., Radford, I.J., Rick, K., Spencer, P.B.S., Trewella, G.J., Umbrello, L.S., Banks, S.C. (2024). Conservation prioritisation of genomic diversity to inform management of a declining mammal species. Biological Conservation 291, 110467.

von Takach, B., Sargent, H., Penton, C. E., Rick, K., Murphy, B. P., Neave, G., Davies, H. F., Hill, B. M., and Banks, S. C. (2023). Population genomics and conservation management of the threatened black-footed tree-rat (Mesembriomys gouldii) in northern Australia. Heredity 130, 278–288.

von Takach, B., Jolly, C. J., Dixon, K. M., Penton, C. E., T. S. Doherty, and Banks, S. C. (2022). Long-unburnt habitat is critical for the conservation of threatened vertebrates across Australia. Landscape Ecology 37, 1469–1482.

von Takach, B., Ranjard, L., Burridge, C. P., Cameron, S. F., Cremona, T., Eldridge, M. D. B., Fisher, D. O., Frankenberg, S., Hill, B. M., Hohnen, R., Jolly, C. J., Kelly, E., MacDonald, A. J., Moussalli, A., Ottewell, K., Phillips, B. L., Radford, I. J., Spencer, P. B. S., Trewella, G. J., Umbrello, L. S., & Banks, S. C. (2022). Population genomics of a predatory mammal reveals patterns of decline and impacts of exposure to toxic toads. Molecular Ecology 31(21): 5468–5486.

Cremona T., Banks S.C., Davies H.F., Geyle H.M., Penton C.E., Stobo-Wilson A.M., von Takach B., Trewella G.J., Murphy B.P. (2022). On the brink of extinction: the small mammal decline in northern Australia. In ‘Imperiled: The Encyclopedia of Conservation’. (Elsevier)

von Takach, B., Penton, C. E., Murphy, B. M., Radford, I. J., Davies, H. F., Hill, B. M., and Banks, S. C. (2021) Population genomics and conservation management of a declining tropical rodent. Heredity 126, 763–775.

von Takach, B., Scheele, B. C., Moore, H., Murphy, B. P., and Banks, S. C. (2020). Patterns of niche contraction identify vital refuge areas for declining mammals. Diversity and Distributions 26, 1467-1482.