Emily J. Flies

Health ecologist. Spatial Scientist. Communicator.


I have taken a meandering route to my current position of Lecturer at the University of Tasmania. My undergraduate (Bachelor of Arts) degree was in anthropology and psychology from the University of Buffalo, USA. I then spent a few years teaching outdoor education to middle-school students from Long Island and New York City and then studying, working and travelling in Central and South America. During these formative years, I became interested in how the environment impacts the way that zoonotic diseases are transmitted between humans and animals. Working as a research assistant in Bolivia also reignited my passion for research and in 2008, I began a research degree in “Disease Ecology and Conservation Medicine” at Michigan State University (USA). My master’s thesis explored whether certain bird species can become infected with and transmit a tick-borne bacteria (similar to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) and whether infection makes the birds sick. During my research, I became more interested in the connections between human, animal and environmental health (One Health/EcoHealth/Planetary Health).

After completing my master’s degree, I moved to Adelaide, AU to conduct my PhD at the University of South Australia, in the Healthy Environments, Healthy People Research Group. My PhD research explored how social and ecological factors impact transmission of mosquito-borne infections in South Australia. As part of that project, I developed a novel mosquito-borne virus detection technique that puts nucleic acid-preserving paper coated in honey into mosquito trap made of pantyhose, paperclip and recycled milk cartons. With those special traps, I sampled over 100 field sites four times throughout the spring/summer and detected three different viruses in the mosquitoes of South Australia. Through innovative spatial analyses, I was able to identify the social and environmental factors associated with higher rates of human infection with Ross River virus, which has the potential to become an emerging infectious disease.

While completing my PhD, I worked as a Research Associate at the University of Adelaide and helped form the Healthy Urban Microbiomes Initiative. With this research, I investigated the connections between urban green space, human health and human exposure to diverse microbiomes, explored the impact of urban green spaces, and biodiversity can benefit health called for more ‘healthy urban microbiome’ initiatives

In 2016, I moved to Tasmania and joined the Dynamics of Eco-Evolutionary Patterns lab at the University of Tasmania. In this lab, I applied my spatial and statistical analysis skills to topics of global concern including global food demand and what diseases are associated with urban living and why, how urbanisation impacts environmental microbial diveristy and what this means for urban ecosystem services

In 2019, with wonderful colleagues at UTAS, I formed the Healthy Landscapes research group. Together, we explore the relationships between healthy environments and people, including how city-size biases what we know of the effects of urban nature on people and biodiversity (most of what we know is from large cities), understanding how to make campus community gardens more successful, and how ecological restoration projects (in Australia and New Zealand especially) can benefit human health.

I am passionate about improving public understanding of and engagement with science through better science communication. In 2014, during my PhD, my partner Dr Andy Flies and I co-founded Science in the Pub Adelaide (SciPubAdelaide.org.au) and, since moving to Hobart in 2015, Science in the Pub Tasmania (SciPubTas.org.au). These two ongoing, non-profit organizations each bring a panel of 3 engaging, knowledgeable scientists into a pub to discuss a scientific topic with each other and the attendees. We average ~50-75 audience members at each monthly event. We have acquired grants and sponsorship to provide free hot nibbles for the audience and free drinks for the panel and we conduct a raffle each month to make the events self-sustaining. This initiative has led to spin-off events including Science in the Park and Science in the Dark and the fellowship program that I founded and run called Inspiring Women in STEMM.  My dedication to science communication and engagement has been acknowledged by several awards including being named the 2017 STEM Communicator of the Year for Tasmania, and the Tall Poppy of Tasmania 2018.

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