Orsi Decker, Category Winner 2020 – Ecology and Environment

Orsi Decker

La Trobe University, Australia

From: Budapest, Hungary
Category: Ecology and Environment
Title of essay: Losing Australia’s native gardeners: The loss of the country’s digging mammals compromises the continent’s arid soil health


Orsi studied Biological Sciences at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. She continued her studies and received her master’s degree in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Amsterdam. As part of her training, Orsi completed research projects at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Orsi moved to Melbourne, Australia for her doctoral research at La Trobe University. Her thesis investigated the extinctions of native digging mammals and their context-dependent impacts on soil processes. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at La Trobe University where she is examining how restoration efforts could be improved to regain soil functions via introducing soil fauna to degraded areas. She recently joined a team to investigate the impact of Australia’s recent mega-fires on endemic land snails. Orsi loves hiking and biking with her dogs, gardening with her chickens, learning about herbal remedies and developing ‘junkyard solutions’ for the garden.


Extinctions can have cascading effects in ecological communities and undermine ecosystem functions. My doctoral research focused on digging mammals native to Australia—where modern extinction rates are among the highest in the world— which disturb soil while foraging for food and have an important role in soil functioning. I found that the beneficial impacts of these mammals are much broader than anticipated and that the effects of digging activity can be detected outside of foraging pits. I also found that the benefits of their soil disturbance are context-dependent: the greatest benefit was found where it was needed the most, in the continent’s arid and semi-arid systems.