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Dr Sam Nicol

Research Scientist


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Dr Sam Nicol is a researcher at CSIRO Land and Water and is part of the Conservation Decisions Team.

Dr Nicol is an ecological modeller and decision scientist who specialises in decision techniques to help managers allocate limited natural resources over time to achieve environmental goals. He uses techniques from a broad range of disciplines to help decision-makers structure and understand decisions and provide scientifically robust and defensible recommendations at the appropriate level of complexity for application. Sam combines decision-making techniques from mathematics, economics and artificial intelligence with skills in small-group facilitation and ecological modelling to generate practical solutions for managers. His research can be used to logically formulate decisions, highlight trade-offs and prioritise actions.

Dr Nicol has published more than 30 refereed journal papers, including articles in leading journals such as PNAS, Nature Communications, Journal of Applied Ecology, and Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Sam has led or been a key project officer with a number of significant research projects including:

• Project member on two partnership projects with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage's Saving Our Species program. These projects use decision science to improve the efficiency of managing over 1000 listed threatened species and 32 Key Threatening Processes in NSW.

• Project member on the indicator selection and design for Stage 1 of the baseline biodiversity assessment for NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to support the new Biodiversity Conservation Act.

• Co-leading an evaluation of the value of different monitoring strategies for Moira grass restoration in Barmah forest in the Murray-Darling Basin.

• Co-leader of the technical team reponsible for designing a method to evaluate the ecological benefits of complementary measures in the Murray-Darling Basin.

• Developing a new adaptive management approach to manage uncertain sea level rise impacts and protect migratory shorebirds in the globally important East Asia-Australasia flyway.

• Developing an optimal approach to the protection of a critically endangered Australian fish, the red-finned blue-eye, as part of the Invasive Animals CRC.

• Developing a risk-based approach to environmental compliance and monitoring in collaboration with the Department of Environment.

• Developing an optimal water control strategy for breeding waterfowl on USA National Wildlife Refuges, North and South Dakota, USA.

• Pioneering new artificial intelligence techniques to find optimal management strategies for ecological decision problems with large state spaces.

• Data analyst and facilitator on Pilbara priority threat management for species of conservation significance, the Lake Eyre Basin invasive animal prioritisation project, and the Priority threat management for imperilled species of the Queensland Brigalow Belt.

• Completed CEED Conservation Leadership program to train young leaders in ecology and conservation.

Academic Qualifications

  • 2010

    Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
    The University of Queensland

  • 2004

    Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Engineering (Hons 1st Class)
    The University of Western Australia

Professional Experiences

  • 2012

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow
    CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences

  • 2010-2012

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow
    University of Alaska Fairbanks

  • 2015

    Research Scientist
    CSIRO Land and Water

Achievements and Awards

  • 2012

    Outstanding paper award in Computational Sustainability
    Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-12)

  • 2015-2016

    Invited Participant
    National Institute for Mathematical Biology and Synthesis (NIMBioS) Working Group “Area contributions of habitat for migratory species" (Knoxville TN)

  • 2018-2020

    CSIRO Julius Career Award for outstanding early-mid career researchers

Community and Corporate Citizenship

  • Jan 2018-Present

    Associate editor, Ecology and Evolution

  • December 2019-Present

    Review editor, Models in Ecology and Evolution