A NHILL-BORN woman has attracted international attention after solving a mystery about the elusive yet deadly cassowary.
Danielle Eastick, the lead author of the Scientific Reports paper and former Wimmera resident, proved the purpose behind a cassowary's large rudder-like crest, known as a casque.
She discovered the casque acts like a built-in air-conditioner, which was previously unknown until now.
Cassowary Casque Acts as Thermal Window was Ms Eastick's first published work.
"After completing my undergraduate degree at La Trobe University, I started my honours year. The project was one my supervisor came up with and needed a student to do," she said.
"It stood out to me because it seemed like a really cool project."
The project used thermal cameras to find out if cassowaries used their casques to cool themselves down when they became too hot.
Alongside a team of Melbourne-based scientists, Ms Eastick took photos of cassowaries in different temperatures, ranging from cold, mid-range and hot.
Ms Eastick said there were many theories about the casque's purpose, but no one had ever tested them before.
"The study showed they're using it for thermoregulation, which is really cool because no one has ever known what they use it for," she said.
While she was not surprised by the results, Ms Eastick said the study had attracted a lot of attention at both a national and international levels.
"Reading other papers on the anatomy of the casque, it sounded like a similar structure that other animals use for heat exchange such as the giant beaks of a toucan," she said.
"We were hoping for this result. So I'm not surprised, but no one has ever known this information and it was such a simple study. A lot of other people are surprised."
Ms Eastick said she was excited her paper was finally published, and that it had been well-received.
"This was a higher-up journal and that was quite nice for my first one," she said.
No one has ever known this information and it was such a simple study. A lot of people are surprised.Danielle Eastick
"It went national and international. People just took to it and it kind of blew up. People just seem to like cassowaries."
Ms Eastick said she was excited to be a part of a study that revealed unknown information.
"Seeing as they're an endangered species, it's good to know as much as possible just in case that knowledge comes in handy some day," she said.
Next steps for Danielle Eastick
Ms Eastick's next research project has moved from giants birds to micro-bats. The project is a part of her Doctor of Philosophy degree where she hopes to have four published papers by the end of her four years.
"I am mainly interested in how humans are impacting animals," she said. "At the moment, I am looking at micro-bats and how increasing urbanisation could influence the bats.
"To do that I'm focusing on the body conditions and if we are doing something to alter them, then how that might be influencing their reproduction."
Ms Eastick said the "offspring-sex-ratio" in other animals were often skewed when body conditions changed.
"So they might have a lot of baby boys. If you have a population with more males, then there are no females to mate with and the population declines," she said.
"If we find out that we are influencing the bats then we will go that one step further in finding out how we can stop this from happening."
Once she has completed her PhD, Ms Eastick hopes to find a career in micro-bat research. It was never a pathway she thought she would follow.
"I really like micro-bats and hopefully I can find a career researching them after my PhD," she said.
"It's a very niche subject and if you had asked me five years ago what animal I would like to study I would never have thought about bats.
I want to see how we might be influencing the bats and see what we can do to lessen the impact.Danielle Eastick
"I actually didn't go into science straight away at university. I knew I liked animals, but didn't think I would go down the academic career pathway."
Ms Eastick said micro-bats were amazing animals.
"I started this project and have fallen in love with them. They are unbelievable, especially what they can do reproduction-wise," she said.
"The ones I work with, the mum in particular has twin pups and carries those pups around and they weigh just as much as her. What they can do is unbelievable.
"They are a big animal group with so many species. Hopefully there will be a lot of research left on them."
Ms Eastick said all research was important and could show the impact humans had on the environment and animals.
"I want to see how we might be influencing the bats and see what we can do to lessen the impact," she said.
"But, it might also show they're absolutely booming. There are positive and negatives to urbanisation, but we need to know if they're positive, negative or neutral so we can move on or further our research."
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