Professor Angela Moles
BSc (Hons), PhD (Macquarie)
Field of Research: 
Plant Ecology and Evolution
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 8302

Room 410, D26 Building
UNSW, Kensington 2052

Head of the Big Ecology Lab

Research & Current Projects


My primary research goal is to quantify the ecological strategies employed by plant species in different environments, and to better understand the selective processes underlying global patterns in ecological strategy.


1)  The World Herbivory Project  (with Bill Foley, Ian Wallis, and 47 other collaborators)

We established 75 study sites in natural ecosystems all around the world, including rainforest in the Congo, China and Peru; desert in Israel and Arizona; tundra in Patagonia, Alaska and Greenland, and savanna in Zambia, South Africa and Australia. At each site we measured environmental conditions, plant physical and chemical defences, herbivore abundance and herbivory. We are using these data to answer a range of fundamental questions, such as “Are interactions between plants and animals more intense in the tropics?” and “Are tropical plants better defended than are plants at higher latitudes?”

2)  The ecology of invasive species (with Dick Frankham and Bill Sherwin)

Introduced species are a major threat to global biodiversity. They also provide a fascinating system for studying the way plants adapt to life in a new environment. We are measuring changes in form, function and genetic make-up of introduced species since their arrival in Australia. Quantifying the rate and direction of evolution will increase our understanding of the invasion process, and help us estimate how quickly plants might be able to adapt to future climate change. We will ask whether populations of introduced plants are becoming reproductively isolated from populations of the species in their native range. It is possible that introduced species are on their way to becoming new native Australian taxa.

3)  The advantages of clonal vs sexual reproduction (with Stephen Bonser)

We are using plants to provide novel tests of the idea that sex helps species escape from their parasites and pathogens, and that sexual species are faster to adapt to changed environmental conditions than are clonal species. This research will help predict how plants will respond to future changes in climate and parasite pressure.



Angela's TEDxSydney presentation (2012)

Angela talks about weeds with Joel Werner on ABC Radio National (1 June 2012)

BBC Earth News article about global patterns in plant height (25 June 2009)

Angela's appearance on Catalyst (2008)

Angela talks about vine twining directions (Catalyst extra footage, 2008)

Coverage from L'Oreal for Women in Science award (includes video, 2008)

Interview on the Science Show (ABC radio national, 2008)

See Also:

Big Ecology Lab



Dr Zhang Hongxiang (Visiting Scholar) – global patterns in clonal vs sexual reproduction


Research Students


Claire Brandenburger (PhD candidate) - Rapid evolution in introduced species.

Sichong Chen (PhD candidate) - Seed size and seed dispersal.

Rhiannon Dalrymple (PhD candidate) - Patterns of colour diversity across communities.

Jacinta Green (PhD candidate) – Does fouling affect algae?

Floret Meredith (PhD candidate) – Plant-animal interactions on islands vs the mainland. 

Timothy Hitchcock (Honours candidate) – Global patterns in plant longevity.

Tom Meredith (Honours candidate) – Defences against herbivores on land and in the sea.


Karen Bartle (Honours 2010) - Rapid evolution of dispersal ability in the invading species Senecio madagascariensis (Fireweed).

Ray Blick (PhD 2013) - Understanding variability and connectivity in plant communities

Joanna Buswell (MSc 2009) - Rapid evolution of exotic plants.

Paul Chachelle (Honours 2008) - Comparing herbivory on land and in the sea.

Ellen Couchman (BSc hons 2010) - Rapid morphological change in introduced starlings in Australia.

Habacuc Flores Moreno (PhD submitted 2013) - Ecological mechanisms and evolutionary patterns in invasive species.

Floor Soudijn (MSc 2009) - Offspring size/number tradeoffs in marine ecosystems.

Fiona Thomson (PhD 2011) - Investigating seed dispersal at local (Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, Australia) and larger scales.

Laura Warman (PhD 2011) - Two systems or one? Vegetation dynamics in Australia's Wet Tropics.

Marianne Tindall (Honours 2012) – Is there a latitudinal gradient in the proportion of species with spines?



BIOS3061 Plant Ecology (Lecturer)


A complete list of publications is available on the Big Ecology Website

57. Rollins L.A., Moles, A.T., Lam, S., Buitenwerf, R., Buswell, J.M., Brandenburger, C., Flores-Moreno, H., Nielsen, B., Couchman, E., Brown, G.S., Thompson, F.J., Frankham, R., Sherwin, W.B. (in press). High genetic diversity is not essential for successful introduction. Ecology and Evolution.

56. Moles, A.T., Flores-Moreno, H. & Dickie, J.B. (in press) A response to Poisot et al.: Publishing your dataset is not always virtuous. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution.

55. Letten, A., Lyons, S.K. & Moles, A.T. (in press) The mid-domain effect: it's not just about space. Journal of Biogeography.

54. Flores-Moreno, H. & Moles, A.T. (2013) A comparison of the recruitment success of introduced and native species under natural conditions.  PLoS ONE 8(8): e72509.

53. Bartle, K., Moles, A.T. & Bonser, S.P. (in press) No evidence for rapid evolution of seed dispersal ability in range edge populations of the invasive species Senecio madagascariensis. Austral Ecology.

52. Flores-Moreno, H., Thomson, F. J. Warton, D.I. & Moles, A.T. (2013) Are invaders better dispersers? A comparative study of seed dispersal distance. PLoS One. 8(6): e68541. Full text.

51. Blick, R.A.J., Burns, K.C. Moles, A.T. (2013) Dominant network interactions are not correlated with resource availability: a case study using mistletoe-host interactions. Oikos 122: 889-895.

50. Lanfear, R., Ho, S.Y.W., Davies, T.J., Moles, A.T., Aarssen, L., Swenson, N.G., Warman, L., Zanne, A., Allen, A.P. (2013) Rates of molecular evolution are linked to height in plants: the rate of mitosis hypothesis. Nature communications 4, article number 1879.

49. Moles, A.T. (2013) Dogmatic is problematic: Interpreting evidence for latitudinal gradients in herbivory and defence. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 6:1-4. PDF

48. Warman, L., Bradford, M.G. & Moles, A.T. (2013) A broad approach to abrupt boundaries: Looking beyond the boundary at soil attributes within and across tropical vegetation. PLOS One. 8(4):e60789. Full text

47. Moles, A.T., Peco, B., Wallis, I.R., Foley, W.J., Poore, A.G.B., Bisigato, A.J., Cella-Pizarro, L., Clark, C.J., Cohen, P.S., Cornwell, W.K., Edwards, W., Ejrnaes, R., Gonzales-Ojeda, T., Graae, B.J., Hay, G., Lumbwe, F., Magaña-Rodríguez, B., Moore, B.D., Peri, P.L., Poulsen, J.R., Stegen, J.C., Veldtman, R., von Zeipel, H., Andrew, N.R., Boulter, S.L., Borer, E.T., Fernández Campón, F., Coll, M., Farji-Brener, A.G., De Gabriel, J., Jurado, E., Kyhn, L.A., Low, B., Mulder, C.P.H., Reardon-Smith, K., Rodríguez-Velázquez, J., Seabloom, E.W., Vesk, P.A., van Cauter, A., Waldram, M.S., Zheng, Z., Blendinger, P.G., Enquist, B.J., Facelli, J.M., Knight, T., Majer, J.D., Martinez-Ramos, M., McQuillan, P., Prior, L.D., Hui, F.K.C. (2013) Correlations between physical and chemical defences in plants: Trade-offs, syndromes, or just many different ways to skin a herbivorous cat? New Phytologist 198: 252-263.

46. Blick, R.A.J, Burns, K.C. & Moles, A.T. (2012) Predicting network topology of mistletoe-host interactions: do mistletoes really mimic their hosts? Oikos 121:761-771.

45. Moles, A.T., Flores-Moreno, H., Bonser, S.P., Warton, D.I., Helm, A., Warman, L., Eldridge, D.J., Jurado, E., Hemmings, F.A., Reich, P.B., Cavender-Bares, J., Seabloom, E.W., Mayfield, M.M., Sheil, D., Djietror, J.C., Peri, P.L., Enrico, L., Cabido, M.R., Setterfield, S.A., Lehmann, C.E.R, Thomson, F.J. (2012) Invasions: the trail behind, the path ahead, and a test of a disturbing idea. Journal of Ecology 100: 116-127.

44. Swenson, N., Enquist, B., Pither, J., Kerkhoff, A., Boyle, B., Weiser, M., Elser, J., Fagan, W., Forero-Montana, J., Fyllas, N., Kraft, N., Lake, J., Moles, A.T., Patino, S., Phillips, O., Price, C., Reich, P., Quesada, C., Stegen, J., Valencia, R, Wright, I.J., Weight, S.J., Andelman, S., Jørgensen, P., Lacher, T.E., Menteagudo, A., Núñez-Vargas, M.P., Vasquez-Martínez, R., Nolting, K. (2012). The biogeography and filtering of woody plant functional diversity in North and South America. Global Ecology and Biogeography 21: 798–808.

43. Thomson, F.J., Moles, A.T., Auld, T.D., Kingsford, R. (2011) Seed dispersal distance is more strongly correlated with plant height than with seed mass. Journal of Ecology 99: 1299-1307.

42. Moles, A.T., Wallis, I.R., Foley, W.J., Warton, D.I., Stegen, J.C., Bisigato, A.J., Cella-Pizarro, L., Clark, C.J., Cohen, P.S., Cornwell, W.K., Edwards, W., Ejrnaes, R., Gonzales-Ojeda, T., Graae, B.J., Hay, G., Lumbwe, F.C., Magaña-Rodríguez, B., Moore, B.D., Peri, P.L., Poulsen, J.R., Veldtman, R., von Zeipel, H., Andrew, N.R., Boulter, S.L., Borer, E.T., Fernández Campón, F., Coll, M., Farji-Brener, A.G., De Gabriel, J., Jurado, E., Kyhn, L., Low, B., Mulder, C.P.H., Reardon-Smith, K., Rodríguez-Velázquez, J., Seabloom, E.W., Vesk, P.A., van Cauter, A., Waldram, M.S., Zheng, Z., Blendinger, P.G., Enquist, B.J., Facelli, J.M., Knight, T., Majer, J.D., Martínez-Ramos, M., McQuillan, P., Prior, L.D. (2011) Putting plant resistance traits on the map: a test of the idea that plants are better defended at lower latitudes. New Phytologist 191: 777-788.

41. Kattge, J and 128 others including Moles, A.T. (2011) TRY: A global database of plant traits. Global Change Biology 17: 2905-2935.

40. Warman, L., Moles, A.T. & Edwards, W. (2011) Not so simple after all: Searching for the ecological advantages of compound leaves. Oikos 120: 813-821.

39. Gallagher, R.V., Leishman, M.R. & Moles, A.T. (2011) Traits and ecological strategies of tropical and extratropical climbing plants. Journal of Biogeography 38: 828-839.

38. Moles, A.T., Bonser, S.P., Poore, A.G.B., Wallis, I.R., Foley, W.J. (2011) Assessing the evidence for latitudinal gradients in plant defence and herbivory. Functional Ecology 25: 380-388. 

37. Buswell, J.M., Moles, A.T. & Hartley, S (2011) Is rapid evolution common in introduced plant species? Journal of Ecology 99: 214-224. 

36. Thomson, F.J., Moles, A.T., Auld, T.D., Ramp, D., Ren, S. & Kingsford, R. (2010) Chasing the unknown - predicting seed dispersal mechanisms from plant traits. Journal of Ecology 98: 1310-1318.

35. Moles, A.T., Warton, D. I., Warman, L., Swenson, N. G., Laffan, S. W., Zanne, A. E., Pitman, A., Hemmings, F. A. & Leishman, M. R.  (2009). Global patterns in plant height. Journal of Ecology 97: 923-932. 

34. Edwards, W. & Moles, A. T. (2009). Re-contemplate an entangled bank: The Power of Movement in Plants revisited. The Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 160: 111-118. 

33. Moles A. T.; Wright I. J.;  Pitman A. J.; Murray, B. R. & Westoby, M. (2009) Is there a latitudinal gradient in seed production? Ecography 32: 78-82. 

32. Warman, L. & Moles A.T (2009) Alternative stable states in Australia's wet tropics: a theoretical framework for the field data and a field case for the theory. Landscape Ecology 24: 1-13. 

31. Westoby, M.; Moles, A. T. & Falster D. S. (2009) Evolutionary coordination between offspring size at independence and adult size. Journal of Ecology 97: 23-26. 

30. Moles, A. T. & Leishman, M. R. (2008) The seedling as part of a plant's life history strategy. In: Leck, M. A.; Parker, V. T. & Simpson, R. L. (eds) Seedling Ecology and Evolution. Cambridge University Press. 

29. Mason, R.; Cooke, J.; Moles A.T & Leishman, M. R. (2008) Reproductive output of invasive versus native plants. Global Ecology and Biogeography 17: 633-640. 

28. Falster, D. S.; Moles, A. T.; Westoby, M. (2008) A general model for the scaling of offspring size and adult size. The American Naturalist 172: 299-317.

27. Moles, A. T., Gruber, M. & Bonser, S. P. (2008) A new framework for predicting invasive plant species. Journal of Ecology 96: 13-17.

26. Royer, D. L., Sack, L., Wilf, P., Lusk, C. H., Jordan, G. J., Niinemets, U., Wright, I. J., Westoby, M., Cariglino, B., Coley, P. D., Cutter, A. D., Johnson, K. R., Labandeira, C. C., Moles, A. T., Palmer, M. B., Valladares, F. (2007) Fossil leaf economics quantified: calibration, Eocene case study, and implications. Paleobiology 33: 574-589.

25. Edwards, W., Moles, A. T. & Franks, P.  (2007) The global trend in plant twining direction. Global Ecology and Biogeography16: 795-800. full text

24. Beaulieu, J. M., Moles, A. T., Leitch, I. J., Bennett, M. D., Dickie, J. B. & Knight, C. A. (2007) Correlated evolution of genome size and seed mass. New Phytologist 173: 422-437 full text

23. Moles, A. T., Ackerly, D. D., Tweddle, J. C., Dickie, J. B., Smith, R., Leishman, M. L., Mayfield, M. M., Pitman, A. J, Wood, J. & Westoby, M. (2007) Global patterns in seed size. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 16:109-116 full text

22. Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2006) Seed size and plant strategy across the whole life cycle. Oikos 113: 91-105. PDF 

21. Moles, A. T., Ackerly, D. D., Webb, C. O., Tweddle, J. C., Dickie, J. B. & Westoby, M. (2005) Response to Comment on "A Brief History of Seed Size". Science 310: 783; (Grubb et al's comment)   

20. Moles, A. T., Ackerly, D. D., Webb, C. O., Tweddle, J. C., Dickie, J. B., Pitman, A. J. & Westoby, M. (2005) Factors that shape seed mass evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102: 10540-10544. Full text 

19. Moles, A. T., Ackerly, D. D., Webb, C. O., Tweddle, J. C., Dickie, J. B. & Westoby, M. (2005) A brief history of seed size. Science 307: 576-580. abstract. Full text 

18. Moles, A. T., Warton, D. I., Stevens, R. D. & Westoby, M. (2004) Does a latitudinal gradient in seedling survival favour larger seeds in the tropics? Ecology Letters 7: 911-914.

17. Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2004) Seed mass and seedling establishment after fire in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney, Australia. Austral Ecology 29: 383-390. 

16. Moles, A. T., Falster, D. S., Leishman, M. R. & Westoby, M. (2004)  Small-seeded species produce more seeds per square metre of canopy per year, but not per individual per lifetime. Journal of Ecology 92: 372-383. 

15. Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2004) Seedling survival and seed size: a synthesis of the literature. Journal of Ecology 92: 384-396. 

14. Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2004) What do seedlings die from, and what are the implications for evolution of seed size? Oikos 106: 193-199. 

13. Moles, A. T., Warton, D. I. & Westoby, M. (2003) Do small-seeded species have higher survival through seed predation than large-seeded species? Ecology 84: 3148-3161.

12. Jurado, E. & Moles, A. T. (2003) Germination deferment strategies. In: Nicolás, G.; Bradford, K.J.; Côme, D.; Curie, M.; Pritchard, H. W. (eds.)The Biology of Seeds: Recent Research Advances. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK. Pages 381-388.  

11. Moles, A. T., Warton, D. I. & Westoby, M. (2003) Seed size and survival in the soil in arid Australia. Austral Ecology 28: 575-585. 

10. Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2003) Leaf expansion times: a response to Sun (2003). Oikos 100: 203. 

9. Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2003) Latitude, seed predation and seed mass. The Journal of Biogeography 30: 105-128. 

8. Westoby, M., Falster, D. S., Moles, A. T., Vesk, P. A. & Wright, I. J. (2002) Plant ecological strategies: Some leading dimensions of variation between species. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 33: 125-159.

7. Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2002) Seed addition experiments are more likely to increase recruitment in large-seeded species. Oikos 99: 241-248. 

6. Jurado, E., Estrada, E. & Moles, A. T. (2001) Characterizing plant attributes with particular emphasis on seeds in Tamaulipan thornscrub in semi-arid Mexico. Journal of Arid Environments 48: 309-321. 

5. Leishman, M. R., Wright, I. J., Moles, A. T. & Westoby, M. (2000) The evolutionary ecology of seed size. In: Fenner, M. (ed.) Seeds - the ecology of regeneration in plant communities, 2nd edition. CAB International, Wallingford, U. K. 

4. Moles, A. T. & Westoby M. (2000) Do small leaves expand faster than large leaves, and do shorter expansion times reduce herbivore damage? Oikos 90: 517-526.

3. Moles, A. T., Hodson, D. W. & Webb, C. J. (2000) Seed size and shape and persistence in soil in the New Zealand flora. Oikos 89: 541-545.

2. Moles, A. T. & Drake, D. R. (1999) Post-dispersal seed predation on eleven large-seeded species from the New Zealand flora: a preliminary study in secondary forest. New Zealand Journal of Botany 37: 679-685.

1. Moles, A. T. & Drake, D. R. (1999). Potential contributions of the seed rain and seed bank to regeneration of native forest under plantation pine in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Botany 37: 83-93.


Moles, A. T. & Edwards, W. (2009). A curly question: why do most vines twine anticlockwise? Australasian Science June issue: pages 30-32.