Research Student:
Katherine (Kasia) Majewski

Professional Background:

I have a career of many hats; that of an ecologist, entomologist, herpetologist, aquarist, assistant curator, science communicator, and now once again, my student hat.

Education and Work Experience: I graduated from the Environmental Biology program from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada - my home town - with my honours project focusing on benthic macroinvertebrates in the Prairie Pothole Region. I moved on to Vancouver Aquarium where I worked as an aquarist with Indo-Pacific corals and fishes, and Central and South American reptiles and amphibians, but the dream was to undertake field work abroad in Borneo.

 

In 2016, after a year abroad in Japan with the JET Programme, I moved to Cardiff in Wales to begin my Masters of Research with a focus on the diet of the Asian water monitor lizard, an opportunistic hunter and scavenger, in Malaysian Borneo. My project was supervised by Professor Benoit Goossens and I also worked closely the Sergio Guerrero-Sanchez who was undertaking monitor lizard research as part of his PhD.  I spent 6 months undertaking this research at Danau Girang field Centre, and off-grid field site on the mighty Kinabatangan River in Borneo. After completing my masters degree, I moved to Manchester England to work as an Assistant Curator for the Vivarium collection of rare and endangered Central and South American amphibians. While there, I had the honour of working on an exchange project between Manchester Museum and herpetologists at Vienna Zoo focusing on endangered species of Bornean stream toads. At that time, I started crafting a new dream... more on that later!

Left: assisting with trapping, capturing and processing live monitor lizards as part of Dr. Guerrero-Sanchez's PhD project. Right: the dietary study of monitor lizards required multiple sampling methodologies to quantify all the potential prey species for monitor lizards in the Kinabatangan area, from pitfall trapping for invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, to small mammal cage trapping, to rattan fish trap and traditional cast netting (pictured) for aquatic fauna.  

Science Communication: I love what I do, and over the course of the last ten years I have been gifted many professional opportunities to talk about my work. I hope that in sharing my experience I can help others realize their aspirations and goals of being able to join and contribute to the scientific community, or citizen science projects. 

 

Some of my favourite projects from the last few years have included:

As well as countless afterhours events and classroom visits to talk about local wildlife, careers in STEM, and what it's like to chase animals different sizes all around the world. I think it's important for scientists to connect with their local and international public to promote scientific discovery, career development, and public interest in our natural world. I am always enthusiastic about joining science communication and engagement events, so please do not hesitate to contact me if I could make a contribution to an upcoming event.

For the last few years I had the opportunity to develop the Tanuki Project with Dr. Andrew MacIntosh, and after receiving the highly competitive MEXT scholarship last year, I have finally arrived to begin a new academic chapter, following my newest career dream, here at the Primate Research Institute in Japan.

Current Research: Tanuki Project

Yakushima is a culturally and biologically diverse island located off the coast of Kyushu in Southern Japan. One fifth of the island has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Many of the species and subspecies of plants and animals on the island are considered endemic to the island, and a host of others and endemic to Japan. It's unique geographical position marks it as the northern-most range for many species found further south in Okinawa, while it is the southern-most range for species otherwise distributed across Kyushu and Honshu. While it is only 500km in diameter, the sharply rising mountains reach altitudes of 2000 meters, resulting in a broad gradient of ecosystems from the sandy beaches and coastal forests, to the rainy cedar and moss forests at higher altitudes. 

 

 

 

Left: parts of Yakushima receive up to 8 meters of rainfall annually, resulting in incredible rich plant and moss diversity. Right: Tanuki, or raccoon dog (Nectereutes procyonoides).

Unlike mainland Japan, this unique habitat never hosted any large carnivore species such as wolves, badgers, bears or foxes. The largest carnivore on the island is the endemic subspecies of Japanese weasel, Musteral itatsi sho. 

In the 1980's, an alien species was discovered on the island. Tanuki, or raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides) are an omnivorous, oportunistic predator with a high level of adaptability to new environments and a high reproductive potential. They are endemic to mainland Japan, and have cultural significance in their own right, as they are at the centre of many cultural beliefs and folklore. But on Yakushima their invasive population remains poorly understood and understudied. My research questions for around exploring the implications of the tanuki invasion on Yakushima on the sensitive local species found there. Specifically: 

1. Population Dynamics: approximating the raccoon dog population size on Yakushima, and their distribution around the island.

2. Direct Competition through Diet: defining the prey items of raccoon dogs on the island, which rare and/or endemic species may by most at risk from raccoon dog predation, and are there prey items for which raccoon dogs compete with Japanese weasels.

3. Indirect Competition through Parasite Spread: defining the parasites associated with raccoon dogs, and how they may be amplified/spread within their populations, affecting the native endemic weasels on the island. My specific interest lies with studying trematodes found in raccoon dogs in Yakushima. 

My hope is that this research will expand my knowledge from my previous work with another large opportunistic generalist species, the Asian water monitor in Borneo, to also include experience with the impacts of invasive species. This is particularly vital to understand on small, sensitive island habitats.

Follow along on our lab blog for updates on the progress of the Tanuki Project!

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