Dr Megan O'Donnell

Completed associate student
Dr Megan O'Donnell

Dr Megan O’Donnell’s study examined the effects of two Australian bushfires—the 2009 Black Saturday fires and the 2003 Canberra fires—on maternal fire exposure and the accompanying stress, on babies’ health and wellbeing, as well as the experiences of pregnant women during fires. Megan found that reproductive responses vary considerably between the populations studied and, potentially, in relation to the intensity of fire exposure. She found that average birth weights increased in the Canberra population, while remaining unchanged in the Black Saturday population. However, secondary sex ratio (the ratio of boys to girls born) decreased in the Black Saturday population, while remaining unchanged in the Canberra population. Mothers in both fires reported feeling stressed, with those mothers exposed to the Black Saturday fire reported higher perceived and objective stress. Mothers in both fires reported that public support and information were, at time, insufficient. Taken together, the findings indicate the functioning of finely tuned evolutionary mechanisms that adjust to environmental conditions where a threshold of severity is met, thereby protecting reproductive strategy from the influence of transient stressors.

Megan has worked in health research and for government in the areas of environmental protection, disaster response and public health.

Her thesis is available here. ​

Student project

Previous research indicates that reproductive outcomes, such as fertility rate, gestational age, birth weight, number of multiple births and the ratio of boys to girls, alter following environmental disasters due to the effects of maternal stress. This study is examining the effects of two Australian bushfires - the 2003 Canberra fires and the 2009 Black Saturday fires - on these outcomes. To further understand the needs of women who survive bushfires while pregnant, this work also examines their experiences and makes recommendations for future practice.
03 Sep 2019
What is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and alcohol...

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