2016 NSW Scientist of the Year

RickShine1Rick Shine AM FAA FRZS, Professor of Biology at The University of Sydney, has been named the 2016 NSW Scientist of the Year.

Professor Rick Shine AM FAA FRZS, The University of Sydney

Professor Rick Shine is a Laureate Fellow of the Australian Research Council and a Professor in Biology at the University of Sydney. He completed his undergraduate degree at the Australian National University, and went on to study the ecology of venomous snakes for his PhD at the University of New England. Rick then spent three post-doctoral years at the University of Utah, in the United States, before returning to Australia in 1978 to join the University of Sydney.

Rick’s research concerns the interface between evolution and ecology, particularly in reptiles and has transformed our understanding of the evolutionary ecology of reptiles and amphibians.

Rick has played a major role in changing views of reptiles and amphibians – from the paradigm that these animals are simple “lower” vertebrates, through to an understanding that they are sophisticated and complex creatures.

In recent years Rick’s work has shifted to focus on major issues in conservation and has devised new and effective conservation measures. Rick is an effective communicator of science to the general public, and an inspiring mentor to his many students.

Rick has published more than 900 papers in peer-reviewed journals, with his work cited more than 40,000 times.

His early research focused on life-history evolution in reptiles (on topics such as why live-bearing has evolved from egg-laying, and why males grow larger than females in some species but not others).

After 20 years spent studying the ecology of snakes on a floodplain in the Northern Territory, in 2005 Rick realised his site was about to be overrun by cane toads. Rick then mounted a major program to study the alien amphibians. That work has documented rapid evolutionary responses both by the cane toads and the native species they affect. and produced fundamental insights into the novel evolutionary forces unleashed by biological invasions and identified effective new methods to control invasive species.

Rick’s team has discovered that cane toad tadpoles engage in deadly chemical warfare with each other, and that we can use those toad-targeted chemicals to help control the invaders. And whilst we may not be able to exterminate cane toads, we can buffer their impact on vulnerable native wildlife by educating predators (such as quolls and goannas) not to eat the toxic newcomers.

Rick’s eminence is demonstrated through the many honours bestowed upon him. In 2007, a new species of snake (Shine's Whipsnake or Demansia shinei) was named in his honour.

Rick was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 2003, appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2005, and in 2012 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. Rick was also the first non-American to be elected President of the world’s largest scientific herpetological society, the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.