Dr Christina Zdenek

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

School of the Environment
Faculty of Science
c.zdenek@uq.edu.au
0475267909

Overview

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher for the Celine Frere Research Group at The University of Queensland. Our lab collaborates with governments and industry to deliver cost-effective wildlife monitoring services, novel gut microbiome analyses, and important wildlife conservation outcomes. Personally, with more than 16 years in field-based roles and 8 years in lab-based roles, my inter-disciplinary research interests have traversed parrot vocalisations to animal cognition, snake venom activity, antivenom efficacy, snake ecology, snake behaviour, and the human-snake conflict. My vision is to use science to promote a better relationship between humans and wildlife. I also have a passion for science communication (e.g. I was ABC's Top Five Scientist in 2021; am 1 of 3 Inspiring Australia's ambassadors for Qld in 2024) and have devoted 15 years to working with Indigenous groups on Cape York Peninsula to save Australia’s only tool-using parrot, the Palm Cockatoo, whereby Prof. Rob Heinsohn and I successfully raised its conservation status twice.

[Note: the grants section of this profile exclude the 7 grants (totalling $56,000) that I was awarded during my PhD and MPhil]

Research Impacts

Having conferred my PhD in May 2020, I have published 54 papers (as of 4Jan'24) across various disciplines (e.g. toxinology, animal behaviour, ecology), making significant impact in each field. Some examples: Toxinology: I tested a new snakebite therapeutic drug, with 6 of my papers used as supporting evidence in the successful application to the US FDA to progress the drug to phase II human clinical trials (pers. comm., Dr Lewin, Ophirex). We (Jackson et al 2016) revealed the world’s first example of ontogenetic venom change in an elapid (Family Elapidae) snake species, subsequently garnering 65 citations, illustrating its significant advancement of this field. Animal behaviour: my Zdenek et al 2023 paper demonstrated that snakes alter their behaviour in response to airborne sounds, questioning the long-standing misconception that snakes are deaf. Impacts of this paper are ongoing due to it being so new, but so far the Altimetrics score is 1122 (top 5%), and the paper has been viewed 8,234 times. It is a perfect precursor to subsequent research quantifying snake behaviour in response to snake ‘deterrents.' Re parrots, we (Heinsohn, Zdenek et al, 2017) identified the first known non-human animal to create a rhythmic beat, informing theories of the evolution of human rhythm cognition and rhythmic behaviours (Altmetric 744 (top 5%); 69 cit.). We (Heinsohn et al 2023) later showed individualistic patterns of rare sound tool design in a parrot, providing unique insights into animal behaviour and intelligence. Ecology: Dr Youngentob and I produced a ‘game-changer’ method for collecting leaves (or any sample) from the tops of trees. This enabled quantification of forage quality for koalas and informed conservation decisions in the Gold Coast and ACT regions. A co-authored paper of mine brought world attention to the rare behaviour (‘drumming’- beating a fashioned stick on a tree to make rhythm) of probably Australia's most difficult bird to study (pers. comm, Prof Rob Heinsoh, Difficult Bird Research Group), the Palm Cockatoo. This paper led to the species being featured in a blue-chip (highest possible quality) nature documentary by the BBC. Overall, 29.4% of my publications are in the top 10% most cited worldwide.

Research Impact Outside of Academia:

In 2015 and 2021, colleagues and I succeeded in nominating the increase of the conservation status of Palm Cockatoos twice under the Australian government’s EPBC Act. This Endangered-level status, in combination with my 2022 first-author paper (in Australian Field Ornithology) on the gold standard of Palm Cockatoo nest surveys, have resulted in the rejection of an unsatisfactory EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) for a large mine on Cape York (pers. anonymous employee at Dept. of Environment and Science). This paper, produced in collaboration with Rio Tinto (Australia’s 3rd largest materials company (ASX)), is now used for all of Rio Tinto’s ‘pre-clear’ (before landclearing) ecological surveys for Palm Cockatoos during their mining operations on Cape York Peninsula, Qld (pers. comm., L. Dibben, Ecotone Flora Fauna Consultants). Moreover, I am a national leader in science communication, with up to 50 radio interviews and 12 TV interviews annually (reaching 4.1 billion people worldwide in 2023 alone), plus many long-standing, frequent and professional STEM education endeavours. I was also the 8th most read author in The Conversation from UQ (Sept. 2021 – Sept. 2022, The Conversation dashboard). My appointment in 2022–present as the Communications Officer for IUCN’s Snake Specialist Group increases the benefit of my snake-related expertise internationally.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland
  • Master of Philosophy, Australian National University

Publications

  • Heinsohn, R., Zdenek, C. N., Appleby, D. and Endler, J. A. (2023). Individual preferences for sound tool design in a parrot. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 290 (2006) 20231271, 1-8. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2023.1271

  • Walker, Andrew A., Robinson, Samuel D., Merritt, David J., Cardoso, Fernanda C., Goudarzi, Mohaddeseh Hedayati, Mercedes, Raine S., Eagles, David A., Cooper, Paul, Zdenek, Christina N., Fry, Bryan G., Hall, Donald W., Vetter, Irina and King, Glenn F. (2023). Horizontal gene transfer underlies the painful stings of asp caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Megalopygidae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120 (29) e2305871120, e2305871120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2305871120

  • da Silva, Camila Fonseca Amorim, Virgüez, Edgar, Eker, Sibel, Zdenek, Christina N., Bergh, Cathrine, Gerarduzzi, Casimiro, Ge, Yan, Klinger, Madeline, Allareddy, Veerasathpurush, Hoots, Elizabeth, Henriquez, Tania, Waiho, Khor, D'Ippoliti, Carlo, Al Harraq, Ahmed, Xu, Hui, Zou, Junyu, Xia, Yuanxing, Abdul-Ghani, Rashad and Chugh, Mayank (2023). The future of scientific societies. Science, 380 (6640), 30-32. doi: 10.1126/science.adh8182

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Supervision

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Publications

Journal Article

Other Outputs

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

Completed Supervision