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Current students

PhD and Research Masters


Ebony Cowan, PhD candidate

Project title: Ecological resilience of restored plant communities to fire

Project Description: Ecological resilience of restored plant communities to fire Project description: Ecosystem resilience – the ability of an ecosystem to return to its former state following a disturbance – is a key factor in evaluating the success of ecological restoration efforts. Yet the resilience of restored communities to disturbance is unknown for many systems. Many plant communities in Western Australia are subjected to fire as their major form of disturbance, with the majority of plant species having evolved various strategies to persist following fire. This project will investigate the resilience of restored plant communities to fire, specifically seeking to determine the age when restoration is resilience to fire.

Plant communities restored after mining in Western Australia will be investigated, as resilient restoration is viewed as key component of mine closure. Investigating proxy measurements of resilience, plant demography and post burn dynamics across a chronosequence of restoration ages will assist in achieving these outcomes.

Personal profile: Ebony grew up on a dairy farm in Victoria where she completed her undergraduate degree. Following this, she moved to Western Australia to complete her honours at Murdoch University in 2018 focusing on serotinous seed production and climate change.


Emma Stock, Master of Environmental Science

Project title: Experimenting with modified extruded seed pellets for large-scale mine restoration.
Project description: The biodiverse arid Pilbara region of north-west WA has an extensive area of mined land requiring rehabilitation but restoring functional ecosystems is constrained by multiple barriers and the current method of spreading topsoil has a high failure rate at the seedling emergence phase. Extruded seed pellets have been investigated as an aridland seed dispersal technology that can improve the critical seed-soil contact to enhance plant recruitment. My project will investigate a novel method of strategically placing soil mixes incorporating topsoil and seeds in ‘mud pies’ directly onto the waste materials to be rehabilitated. I will evaluate if this can provide a beneficial physical and microbiological soil environment to enhance seedling emergence and assess the implications for scalability and cost-effectiveness in mine rehabilitation.
Supervisors: Dr. Rachel Standish, Prof. Richard Bell, Dr. Todd Erickson (BGPA/UWA), Dr Miriam Muñoz-Rojas.


Rafeena Boyle, Master of Philosophy candidate

Project title: How do residential gardens contribute towards urban biodiversity? An assessment of garden vegetation, avian use, and residents’ behaviours and attitudes in urban front gardens

Project Background: 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. Rafeena 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.

Personal Background: Rafeena’s primary interests involve environmental education and the management and restoration of urban ecology; in particular how private homeowners can be better engaged in habitat restoration. Having experienced many different cultures and environments while travelling, Rafeena has seen firsthand the importance of maintaining natural ecosystems, especially those with such rich biodiversity as found in her home in the South-west of Australia. Rafeena has previously completed a BSc in Environmental Management with First Class Honours at Murdoch University, studying the impact of distance from bush reserves on bird frequency in residential gardens.

Will Fowler

William Fowler, PhD candidate

Project title: Vegetation Dynamics on the Swan Coastal Plain: Examining extinction debt in urban bushland remnants.

Project description: Perth is a relatively young (186 years since European settlement) and rapidly urbanising city located in a highly biodiverse region. In such a young city many of the risks to plant communities are in their infancy. In-turn identifying the risks and managing natural areas effectively is essential to ensure plant communities are sustainable into the future. The first phase of my research quantifies vegetation change over the past ~25 years. This will be achieved through re-measure of historic vegetation surveys throughout the Perth metropolitan area. Secondly a detailed history and landscape context of bushland fragments will be compiled from site observations and GIS techniques; this will be used to determine differing site impacts and the implications of these. Thirdly, species determined to be at risk of localised extinction or decline will be examined closely to assess the viability of these species locally and regionally into the future, with the aim of recommending management actions to aid these species self-sustainability.

Profile: William has returned to the group after completing his BSc at Murdoch and Honours with the group in 2012 with his thesis titled “Soil Seed Bank Dynamics of Transferred Topsoil”. Since completing his degree William has worked as a Research Assistant at Curtin University, involved with research in the ecology and genetics of the PROTEACEAE family.

Supervisors: Dr. Joe Fontaine and Dr. Rachel Standish

Jai Thomas, PhD candidate

Russell Miller_small.jpeg

Russell Miller, PhD candidate

Project title: The relationship between fire management and native biodiversity in Banksia woodland

Project description: One of the most significant challenges facing the management of fire-prone environments is trying to find the successful balance between protecting human life and property from wildfire and reducing the negative impact of hazard reduction (mainly prescribed burning) on biodiversity. My research aims to quantify the fire interval, or combination of fire intervals, that optimises the persistence of native plants inBanksia woodland surrounding Perth, Western Australia. In addition, I aim to determine how other factors such as post-fire rainfall, season of burn and the presence of grassy weeds influence this relationship between fire interval and plant species persistence, as well as how fire interval influences animal habitat and resources in Banksia woodland.

Supervisors:  Dr. Joe Fontaine, Prof. Neil Enright, Dr. Ben Miller (BGPA) and Dr. David Merritt (BGPA)

Emily Eakin Busher profile  Emily Eakin-Busher - PhD Candidate

Project title: The impact of urbanisation on plant-pollinator networks

Project description: Animals facilitate the reproduction of many flowering plants, however there is increasing pressure on plant-pollinator relationships due to human activity. In particular, urbanisation causes habitat loss and fragmentation, which can have a detrimental impact on biodiversity. It is important to know which species and relationships are impacted to inform management practises for conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of pollination services. My research will determine which landscape characteristics (e.g. time since urbanisation, percentage native vegetation cover, percentage hard surfaces) are important for insect abundance and diversity in reserves and gardens. I will also look at the impact of reserves and garden characteristics (e.g. size, disturbance, distance to nearby reserves, percentage cover of native plants) on insect visitation, pollination and the fruit set of selected plant species. In addition, I will investigate whether exotic plants compete with native flowering plants for pollinators, and determine whether pollen is transferred between fragmented plant populations using microsatellite markers.

Profile: Emily completed her BSc and Honours with TERG in 2014. Since then, she has worked as a lab demonstrator here at Murdoch, and as an environmental assistant with the City of Bayswater.

Supervisors: Dr Rachel Standish, Dr Joe Fontaine and Dr Philip Ladd
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Leonie Monks - PhD Candidate

Project Title: Ecological factors affecting the success of rare flora translocations

Project Description: The number of threatened plant species is steadily increasing world-wide due to threats such as habitat destruction, habitat degradation, invasive species and climate change. Plant translocations are increasingly being used to establish new populations, or stabilise declining populations, of threatened plants. This PhD project will investigate several aspects of translocation methodology and success for threatened plant species. The results from this PhD study will add to the scientific knowledge needed to inform the practice of plant translocations and contribute to increasing the success of threatened plant recovery efforts worldwide.

Profile: Leonie completed a BSc (Biology) and Masters (Natural Resources) at Curtin University before commencing employment in 1997 with the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife (then Conservation and Land Management). She initially worked for the Threatened Species Unit, implementing recovery actions for critically endangered plants before moving to her current position as a Research Scientist in the Science Division to undertake research into threatened plant translocations.

Supervisors: Dr Rachel Standish and Dr David Coates (WA Department of Parks & Wildlife)

Lauren.jpg  Lauren Svejcar, PhD candidate

Project title: Facilitation and competition of mixed plant functional types in Banksia woodland restoration. Species interactions in Banksia woodland restoration.

Project description: The focus of my research is species interactions (facilitation and competition) in the context of multiple plant functional types with an emphasis on the role of fire ephemeral species in the preliminary stages of restoration (emergence to juvenile plants). The first phase of my research will be mapping existing plant communities at various stages of development to determine natural species distributions and grouping patterns. The secondary phases will utilize the grouping patterns determined in the mapping effort to test for facilitative or competitive interactions between multiple species in both field trials (quarry mine site) and glass house studies. The role of species interactions in plant establishment and persistence is critical knowledge for restoration practitioners because it will help to inform success of application practices. In addition to informing local restoration practices, this research will provide quantitative evidence of multi-species interactions and build on global theories of plant facilitation and competition.

Supervisors: Dr. Rachel Standish, Dr. Joe Fontaine, Dr. Ben Miller (BGPA) and Dr. Jason Stevens (BGPA).

Laily Mukaromah, Master of Philosophy candidate

Project Title: A vegetation classification analysis of Rottnest Island, WA, using hyperspecral imagery Masters in Environmental Science

Tina Schroeder.jpg  Tina Schroeder, PhD candidate

Project title: Is tree planting enough? Investigating the recovery of ecosystem functions and invertebrate diversity in old-field restoration.

Project description: Restoration of degraded landscapes has become increasingly important for conservation of species and their habitat owing to rapid environmental change and ongoing habitat destruction. Old-field restoration funded by government initiatives (e.g. 20 million trees program) or the emerging carbon market has the potential to contribute to conservation outcomes. My PhD will measure soil and soil-surface properties and ecosystem functions (i.e., decomposition, nutrient cycling, water retention) and abundance and diversity of surface-active macro invertebrates in old-field, restored and remnant woodland sites across the mid-west of Western Australia. Additionally, my PhD project will experimentally test benefits of adding habitat components by comparison to restored control plots. Results will provide valuable insights into the relationship between soil properties and functions, diversity of biota and habitat characteristics of wood debris and leaf-litter, and whether adding habitat components can accelerate and enhance restoration outcomes.
Profile: Tina completed a BSc in Wildlife Conservation at Deakin University in Melbourne and then a BSc with Honours at the University of Adelaide. After completion of her honours degree Tina gained professional experience working as a field ecologist for Arid Recovery and as a data analyst for TERN. Tina then moved to WA and started a PhD with the TERG group in August 2016. She currently lives with her husband at Eurardy Reserve, near Kalbarri.

Supervisors: Dr Rachel Standish, Dr Suzanne Prober (CSIRO), Prof Richard Hobbs (UWA).