News & Stories

Songbird with sweet tooth finds its saviour


Alumna and PhD candidate Erin Bok (BSc Hons 2019) is on a mission to save one of the country’s smallest and rarest birds and its favourite tree.

The Biological Sciences PhD candidate is investigating the ecological and evolutionary relationships between the Forty-spotted pardalote and the Eucalyptus viminalis (manna gum).

Her research will inform conservation and restoration strategies to aid survival of manna gum, the pardalotes and other animals that have the same food source.

​​​​​​​“The forty-spotted pardalote is currently listed as endangered with a wild population fewer than 2000 individuals,” Erin said.

The bird’s main source of food is the sugary substance, known as manna, found inside the tree, which it ‘mines’ by making a hole in the tree and releasing the substance for its benefit and other animals.

“The songbird is dependent on the manna gum and the main resource linking pardalotes to the tree is manna, a sugary exudate produced by the trees,” Erin said.

“However, since the 1990s there has been significant reduction in the tree’s habitat, and this is impacting the numbers of the pardalotes.”

The birds are discerning creatures, known to show a preference for mining manna from specific stands of gums and choosing trees with the highest quality of the sugary substance.

“To help conserve forty-spotted pardalotes it is important to understand what factors cause trees to produce high quality manna. At present it is unclear if variation in manna is genetically or environmentally determined.”​​​​​​

“This knowledge can then be used to inform ongoing, targeted conservation and ecological restoration strategies for the manna gum and the species that rely on it.

Erin has received a Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment Grant, which, together with support from the ARC Centre for Forest Value, will support her research.

During her PhD, Erin will investigate the differences in the variation, availability, and quality of the manna.

She will also look at the how the quality of the manna impacts on how the birds use the trees, their behaviour, and reproductive success, as well as the impact on other community members that rely on the sugary substance.

If you’d like to help Erin with her data collection or fieldwork, please email:, or follow her on Twitter: @erin_bok

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