Meet the experts – Read about Alan’s passion for the imprecise nature of ecology

Thursday, 22 October, 2020

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Fun fact: 
Although I’m seen principally as a botanist, I have worked in many different fields of ecology, from two years on a remote island in Indonesia studying primates, to basking sharks in Scotland, population genetics in eucalypts, leaf essential oils, invertebrates as ecological indicators, and climate change impacts on biodiversity.

Favourite movie: 
Impossible to say, but I did like The Man with Two Brains – gloriously absurd. 

What do you love about science?
Science takes the mystery out of how the world works – or tries to. I love asking questions and working out how to get answers. Usually this raises more questions, but that’s a good thing. Ecology as a science is special as it is so broad and imprecise: the challenge is to improve precision as much as possible.

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on and why? 
Wasps vs airplanes. The Brazilian keyhole wasp (an introduced species) likes to build nests capped with mud in the pitot probes of aircraft at Brisbane Airport. These probes are critically important as they tell the pilots how fast they are going in the air. The smallest blockage of a pitot can cause a serious (and expensive) pre- or inflight incident, as has happened several times at Brisbane. 

We ran an experiment over three years to determine which aircraft they like best, what seasonality there is in nesting, and where on the airport they are most active. A risk assessment was done to estimate the potential costs of not managing the hazard. We found that the wasps like the larger aircraft and most activity is at the domestic terminal where regional flights arrive and depart. We modelled various management strategies and found that the risk of a blocked pitot can be reduced to acceptable levels, but not eliminated without eradication of the wasp. The research is published here.

What achievement are you most proud of? 
I am very proud to have guided 11 students through the choppy waters of a PhD (plus two masters and three honours). It’s not an undertaking to be taken lightly, and getting students through the self-doubt, the technical challenges and the sheer amount of work involved is quite satisfying. 


How would you love to change the world with ELA? 
I’m passionate about helping our clients (and ELA) transition away from fossil fuel projects. We have internal initiative focusing on building our work with renewables-based energy providers, assisting in disaster recovery and resilience, and working with clients transitioning to a less carbon-intensive economy. We’re already working on some great renewables projects, and I’d love us to do even more in this space. 

Nice to get to know you a little Alan! 

Got a project that needs ecology expertise?

Contact Alan:
Alan House
Principal Ecologist
Brisbane, QLD
Mobile: 0408 945 924