Karen Rowe

Ian Potter - Williamson Biodiversity Research Fellow

woman with bird
Dr Karen M. C. Rowe with an owl.

Dr. Karen M. C. Rowe has a broad interest in behavioural and evolutionary ecology, biogeography, and biodiversity informatics, particularly in birds and mammals.


Dr. Rowe received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2007 from the University of Illinois, USA where her research focused on reproductive behavioural ecology and molecular genetics of a North American songbird. Since her degree, she has worked as a visiting fellow at Southern Cross University, NSW on population genetics and systematics of endangered Australian fauna, and as a post-doctoral associate at the University of California, Berkeley on the Grinnell Resurvey Project, using historical museum records to document mammalian and avian responses to 100 years of climate change in the western United States.

Karen joined Museum Victoria in May of 2011 and in 2012, was selected as the Ian Potter-Williamson Biodiversity Research Fellow. Her current research combines historical museum records with contemporary resurveys to evaluate how climate, land-use and other factors have affected the dynamics and distribution of Victorian bird species and their assembly into communities.

Current activities

Using Museum Collections to Evaluate 150 Years of Avian Biodiversity Dynamics in Victoria

Dr. Rowe’s current research aims to document the changes in the distribution of vertebrate species and in the composition of vertebrate communities across elevational and latitudinal gradients in order to understand their responses to observed global change through time. Her current work focuses on changes in avian communities throughout Victoria over the last 150 years. Using the unique resources of historic museum records, including specimen records, historical field notes, and photographs, Karen works with a team of researchers to evaluate shifts in species’ distributions using contemporary field surveys, GIS, statistical occupancy analyses, and species distribution modeling.

Vertebrate Biodiversity Dynamics in the western United States

Beginning as a post-doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, Karen continues to investigate spatial and temporal patterns of vertebrate biodiversity dynamics in California and the western deserts. This research combined historical museum specimens with data mining of historical field notes and photographs to resurvey historical localities and document changes in bird and mammal communities over the past 100 years. The results of this work are being used to develop and test predictive models of how vertebrate diversity has and will respond to past and future land use and climate regimes. In collaboration with the National Park Service and land management agencies, she continues to apply these “museum-specimen-enriched” research findings to design effective and comprehensive resurvey protocols across the region to target sites with rich historical data, identify hot spots of biodiversity change, and priortise benchmark survey sites that are projected to have high species turnover under future climate change.

Avian Biodiversity and Victoria’s Protected Spaces – Historical Perspectives

In addition to the ecological and evolutionary processes affecting avian biodiversity, Karen is interested in how the changing perspectives of humans have shaped the identity and place of Victoria’s natural systems and protected areas. One such example includes Museum Victoria’s role in the Land Conservation Council’s avian surveys in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and the designation of Victorian protected spaces. This research is a collaborative effort with the Humanities Department here at MV.

Last updated 31 August 2012