Science and Technology

Author accolades for QUT mammal expert

A world expert in carnivorous marsupials has been acknowledged with the prestigious Whitley Medal for a book he co-wrote with a team of Australian and international researchers.

QUT mammologist Dr Andrew Baker was hand-picked by the USA’s Smithsonian Institution to contribute to its new book, Handbook of the mammals of the world, volume 5: monotremes and marsupials, edited by the Smithsonian and published by Lynx Edicions (Spain).

On September 22 2016 the book received the 2016 Whitley Award from the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales (RZS NSW), which honours outstanding publications about Australasian zoology.

“It feels good to win this award as we were all proud of how the book turned out – it was a real team effort. I was honoured to even be asked to contribute to the book, given the Smithsonian’s formidable reputation for science,” said Dr Baker, from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty.

“I love writing for the public – it’s always a fun challenge to make science digestible to a wide audience.”

Dr Baker spent six months writing his 120-page (120,000-word) chapter covering all 74 dasyurid species – Australasia’s carnivorous marsupials – which include quolls, Tasmanian devils, dunnarts and antechinus.

Several species of the ‘suicidally-sexed’ antechinus included in the book were recently discovered by Dr Baker and his team.

Mammal discoveries are relatively rare, with an average of just a few new species discovered every year, globally.

Dr Baker and his team have discovered five new antechinus species since 2012.

Antechinus are renowned for their strange sex lives – every year, after three weeks of frantic mating in sessions lasting up to 14 hours, all males die from exhaustion and immune system failure.

“Our endangered Black-tailed Dusky Antechinus, Silver-headed Antechinus and Buff-footed Antechinus are among the book’s entries, including recent research on their ecology, as discovered by our team of postgrad students,” Dr Baker said.

“It’s the first time all that information has been published in a format that’s accessible to the general public.”

Dr Baker is currently collaborating on two other books:

  • Secret lives of carnivorous marsupials, due for release next year by CSIRO Publishing.
  • Mammals of Australia (4th edition), due for release in 2018 by New Holland Publishing.

The Smithsonian’s 800-page book on mammals was written by 21 international experts and features 717 colour photographs sourced from the world’s best nature photographers and 44 colour plates, featuring lifelike paintings by renowned artist Toni Llobet.

The prestigious Whitley Awards have been awarded annually since 1979 by the RZS NSW to publications that increase our awareness of Australasian fauna.

The awards honour eminent Australian ichthyologist Gilbert Whitely, the Australian Museum’s fish curator for more than 40 years and a prominent member of the RZS NSW.

Dr Baker and six of his co-authors from around the world were presented with the award at a ceremony at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

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