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Areas of research

Community assembly trajectories in restored jarrah forest

Studies of forest assembly necessarily span decadal time scales and thus often require the collaborative effort of consecutive researchers. An alternative, more practical; approach to the long-term study of forest assembly is to study forests of different ages and infeJarrah forest.jpgr temporal trends from these spatial patterns. So-called space-for-time studies result in a chronosequence of data; these data are common in the ecological literature and the benefits and drawbacks of the approach are well-known. This project plans to use a chronosequence of data collected by Alcoa of Australia to test a long-standing assumption that the assembly trajectories of restored jarrah forest largely reflect the species composition of the seed mix. Thus, the so-called ‘initial floristics model’ of community assembly will be tested using data from forest plots established in the last 20 years (1994–2014). We will test the validity of the model using both species-level and trait-level data.

Collaborators: Drs Matthew Daws and Andrew Grigg (Alcoa of Australia)
Funding: Alcoa of Australia

Experimental tests of the contribution of functional diversity to resilience

Experiment.jpgEcological resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to ‘bounce-back’ from a disturbance. The concept has been widely adopted by managers and policy-makers for its relevancy in predicting the response of native ecosystems to human-induced disturbances. Yet mechanistic understanding of resilience is limited. Theory suggests functional diversity contributes to ecological resilience. I aim to test this idea by measuring the response of plant communities to simulated disturbances. I will first use synthetic grassland communities to test for resilience to drought or heat disturbance in experimental microcosms. Ultimately, I’d like to do some experimental tests under field conditions. This research could help to improve our ability to predict and manage native ecosystems in the face of future, potentially novel, disturbances.

Collaborators: Ms Nancy Shackelford and Dr Brian Starzomski (University of Victoria, British Colombia), Willa Veber (Murdoch University), Prof. Richard Hobbs (The University of Western Australia)
Funding: Murdoch University Small Grant, ARC CEED (Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions)

Frequent fire impacts on shrubland biodiversity

banksia2web.jpgMost vegetation types in southwest Western Australia are fire-prone with plant species exhibiting a wide range of adaptations to fire varying fire regime. Climate change models suggest, and observations support, predictions of warmer, drier conditions likely leading to increased fire frequency. Adaptations such as serotiny, fire-cued germination of soil-stored seed (by heat and/or smoke), and resprouting are widespread, but response to shortened fire intervals are poorly understood. Working in collaboration with the Western Australian Department of Conservation (DEC), we have implemented a series of experimental fires to examine the consequences of shortened fire intervals on biodiverse shrublands of the northern sandplains approximately 300km north of Perth. Demographic consequences of shortened fire intervals as well as response of various plant functional types are being examined.

Partners & collaborators: Department of Environment and Conservation, Prof. Byron Lamont (Curtin University), Dr. Ben Miller (Botanic Garden and Parks Authority), Dr George Perry (University of Auckland), Dr Juergen Groeneveld (UFZ-Centre for Environmental Research, Germany)

Funding: ARC Linkage Grant scheme, Iluka Resources Pty Ltd

RestorationFieldworkweb.jpgUrban ecology and restoration of native bushlands

Urban nature reserves play a critical role in the conservation of biodiversity and provide unique opportunities for community involvement in conservation actions. Unfortunately, urban nature reserves typically face significant and interacting threats associated with increasing isolation, weed infestation, browsing/grazing pressure, altered edaphic and hydrological conditions, and shifts in vegetation composition and structure due to altered frequency of fire. For these reasons, urban bushland remnants can often experience impaired ecological function and opportunities to restore function are critical. We are pursuing several studies aimed at identifying patterns of species loss as well as restoration options in Banksia woodland on the Swan Coastal Plain of Western Australia.

Identifying drivers of species loss and persistence in urban remnants. We have had a series of students examine extant plant community composition and structure in relation to remnant history, disturbance, age, and isolation. This is an active area of research for our group and we are pursuing further work to better understand multi-decadal changes in across the Perth metropolitan area including fire-weed interactions and other potential degrading factors which may contribute to species losses in this globally recognised region.

UrbanEcologyweb.jpgContribution of private gardens to persistence of wildlife in urban landscapes. The Perth metropolitan region is rapidly urbanising and remnant vegetation faces increasing isolation with well documented declines in a range of insectivorous bird species. A number of bird species still found within the urban landscape are declining or thought to be declining. PhD student Rafeena Boyle is investigating the capacity of private gardens to provide habitat for a range of these species with specific attention to the role of native vegetation in provisioning habitat. Investigating underlying motivations of gardeners is being undertaken as well to identify potential incentives and options for government to increase retention of native biodiversity in the urban landscape.

Restoration options for Banksia woodlands in Western Australia. Among the primary options to return a large number of species to degraded woodlands is the transfer of topsoil containing the soil seed bank from high quality sites to impaired sites (most often in concert with clearing of vegetation for development). However, the conditions under which topsoil transfer is successful are not well understood; some transfers are successful and others are not. We are conducting experiments examining the importance of topsoil depth, ripping, smoke, heat, and weed control on successful germination and establishment of native species from transferred topsoil.

Key points of focus include:
Investigation of soil seed bank dynamics in relocated topsoil using experimental application of smoke and/or heat.
Manipulation of topsoil depth
Ripping placed soil to improve intermixing and prevent soil compaction
Monitoring of soil-water relations

Partners & collaborators:, Department of Environment and Conservation, City of Cockburn, Dr. Katinka Ruthrof (Murdoch University) Strategen (Fiona Stanley Hospital Project)

Funding: Department of Environment and Conservation, Swan Region (WA), Department of Health (WA)

Long distance dispersal of shrubland and woodland plants

cockatooweb2.jpgThe principal aims of this project are to quantify long distance seed dispersal and its role in the population dynamic behaviour of woody forest species with contrasting life histories (especially dispersal and fire response syndromes), and to identify how these rates and dynamics will affect species responses to changes in climate and fire regime in fire-prone shrublands. This project continues and extends our integration of polymorphic molecular marker analysis for population assignment testing, plant demography and computer simulation approaches to investigate these important questions.

Partners & collaborators: Prof. Byron Lamont (Curtin University), Dr. Siegy Krauss (Kings Park), Dr. Ben Miller (Kings Park), Dr. Tianhua He (Curtin University).

Funding: ARC Discovery Grant scheme

Climate change impacts on high biodiversity shrublands

There is little process-based understanding of how projected climate changes this century will impact on Australian plant species. This project aims to take advantage of a novel field situation in the biodiversity hotspot northern sandplain shrublands of Western Australia to establish a natural experiment where plant community composition, climate, and biotic interactions are held constant, while water availability varies, to examine the impacts of climate change on vegetation. The project integrates empirical and experimental studies in ecohydrology and plant demography to develop climate/soil-water/plant response simulation models that will provide predictive power on climate change impacts not available through other approaches.ClimateExperiment_ShelterBarrel.jpg

Partners & Collaborators: Dr. Colin Yates (WA Department of Environment and Conservation), Dr. Ray Froend (Edith Cowan University), Prof. Florian Jeltsch (university of Potsdam)

Funding: Department of Environment and Conservation (WA)

Understanding fire behaviour, bushfire threat, and pyrogenic emissions

The fire-prone nature of vegetation in Western Australia makes fire and fire management critical to both mitigation of risk to humans as well as conservation of biodiversity. Active management burning programs and fire risk prediction exist across Australia but with significant needs for further understanding, particularly as it relates to fire hazard as a function of time since last fire and surrounding rural/peri-urban regions. Active areas of research include experimental management burns in shrublands to evaluate fire behaviour in relation to time since fire, quantifying bushfire risk across Western Australia, providing planting guidelines for homeowners in bushfire prone areas. Additionally, we are pursuing work to estimate carbon emissions related to both wildfire and managed fire in Western Australia temperate shrublands and woodlands with comparisons against similar regions of North America.
Partners & Collaborators: Mr. David Atkins (DEC), Mr. Ralph Smith (FESA), Dr. John Campbell (Oregon State University), Dr. Daniel Donato (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Funding: Fire and Emergency Services, Western Australia, ARC Linkage Scheme, Department of Environment and Conservation, Mid-West Region


Ecology and Demography of Southern Hemisphere Conifers.

SouthernConiferPhil.jpgThe ecology and demography of conifer species in mixed conifer-angiosperm tropical and temperate forests has long been a topic of great interest to plant ecologists. While conifers may dominate forest stands at high altitudes and high latitudes, they are generally much less common in mixed forests at lower latitudes and altitudes where they are competing for resources with angiosperm tree species. Research is ongoing in New Caledonia and Malaysia on Araucariaceae and Podocarpaceae species.

Partners and Collaborators: Australian Research Council, Dr. Tanguy Jaffre (IRD), Dr. Stephane McCoy (VALE), Dr. George Perry (University of Auckland), Dr. Ben Miller (Kings Park), Dr. Leslie Rigg (University of Northern Illinois), CTFS (Harvard University).

Funding: ARC Discovery Grant scheme, CTFS (Harvard University) grant, VALE Mining Pty Ltd.

Mechanisms of species co-existence in high-diversity Mediterranean shrublands.

Collaborators: Prof. Byron Lamont, Dr. George Perry, Dr. Ben Miller, Dr. Juergen Groeneveld, Prof. Florian Jeltsch
Funding: ARC Discovery Grant scheme

Ecology and pollination ecology of rare plant species of Western Australia

Examples of focal species include Calytrix breviseta, Verticordia fimbrilepis, Ricinocarpus brevis, Tetratheca paynterae, Verticordia staminosa, Conospermum undulatum

Collaborators: Dr. Colin Yates, DEC Perth Western Australia
Funding: Perth Airport Authority, Cliff Mining, SERCUL