Photographer Kate Berry will be collecting more than just pictures when she heads to the Galapagos Islands on a research trip this month.
The 22-year-old USC Animal Ecology Honours student from Cashmere has received an Early Career Grant from National Geographic to gather data on how Galapagos marine iguanas and lava lizards thrive in their wildlife paradise.
Kate says for a fascinating species that can dive 30 metres underwater and hold their breath for 40 minutes, very little is known about their unique body shape, size and how they interact with their environment.
Working with her supervisor Dr Christofer Clemente, she will be gathering data on how the iguanas move on land in order to understand the evolutionary trade-offs that are a result of their aquatic life.
“We will be visiting different islands because, depending on which island they are from, they could be anywhere from 900 grams to 12 kilograms, and we suspect that will mean they move in different ways,” Kate said.
The researchers will collect the information using high-speed cameras to capture 98 marine iguanas and 98 lava lizards moving through a plastic tunnel on the ground which will act as a makeshift “running track”.
Combined with information from a preliminary study in 2017, the data will help provide a better understanding of the factors affecting the survival of marine iguanas.
“Environmental changes in recent years are threatening the species’ long-term survival, so it is vital that we research the way they live in their habitat to help us inform future strategies to protect them,” Kate said.
The project is in association with the UNC Galapagos Science Centre, the University of North Carolina and the Galapagos National Park Services.
As a keen photographer with her own website – Ecologist with a Camera - Kate also plans to have her camera on hand at all times.
“I love getting up close and taking photos from a unique perspective,” she said.
“From a very young age I’ve been outside chasing animals and watching conservationists such as Steve Irwin and Sir David Attenborough, so my love for animals has always been there.
“My ultimate goal would be to combine my ecological research with photography and documentary making.
“All it takes is just one image for people to connect with and it can change their perspective on wildlife and the importance of conserving the natural world.”
USC Honours student Kate Berry