I lead the Big Ecology Lab, in the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. 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.
I am also Director of the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre.
- Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education (learning and teaching), Macquarie University, 2006
- PhD in Ecology, Macquarie University, 2004
- BSc(hons), majoring in Botany and Ecology, Victoria University of Wellington, 1997
My Research Goals
- To quantify global scale patterns in ecology
- To find out how Australian species are responding to climate change
- To study the ecology and evolution of introduced species
- To understand how interactions with animals, soil and the abiotic environment shape the ways plants grow and reproduce
My Research in Detail
My students and I use a combination of field work and synthesis of data from the literature to quantify large scale patterns in ecology. We use controlled glasshouse conditions to study rapid evolution in introduced species, and we use herbarium, seed bank and museum specimens to study plants and animals from the past. We collaborate with ecologists from all around the world, and with researchers from a range of other disciplines including geography, climate science, and statistics.
Student Research Projects
Susan Everingham (PhD student) - Effects of climate change on Australian plants
Alexander Sentinella (PhD student) - Which plant species are most vulnerable to climate change?
Zoe Xirocostas (PhD student) - Which species experience enemy release?
Xuemeng Mu (PhD student) - The effect of extended heatwaves on Australian plants
Giancarlo Chiarenza (PhD student) - Plant soil interactions
Rebecca Piercey (PhD student - cosupervised with Paul Gribben) - Plant soil feedbacks in marine systems.
Jenny Auld (Honours student) - Are Australian alpine plants moving uphill in response to climate change?
Past PhD students
- Laura Warman (PhD 2011) - Alternative Stable States in Australia's wet tropics. Now Education Program Manager at Advancing Research Worldwide, Mexico.
- Fiona Thomson (PhD 2011) - Global to local perspectives on seed dispersal. Now a postdoctoral researcher at Landcare Research, New Zealand.
- Raymond Blick (PhD 2012) - Ecological associations and mimicry in Australian Mistletoe. Now a data analyst at UNSW Sydney.
- Habacuc Flores-Moreno (PhD 2013) - Ecological Mechanisms and evolutionary patterns of introduced species. Now a postdoc at the University of Minnesota, USA.
- Rhiannon Dalrymple (PhD 2015) - Patterns of colour diversity across communities. Now Program Director at Spark-Y Youth Action Labs, Minnesota, USA.
- Jacinta Green (PhD 2016) - Fouling on marine macroalgae. Now Parramatta River Riverkeeper.
- Sichong Chen (PhD 2016) - Seed size and seed dispersal. Now a postdoc at Kew Gardens, UK.
Floret Meredith, (PhD 2018) - Herbivory and plant defences on mainlands vs islands. Now digitisation officer at the National Herbarium of New South Wales.
Claire Brandenburger (PhD submitted 2019) - Rapid evolution in introduced species
Past Masters students
- Joanna Buswell (MSc 2009) Rapid evolution in introduced species. Now an analyst at the Ministry for Environment, New Zealand.
- Floor Soudijn (MSc 2009) Offspring size-number trade-offs in marine invertebrates. Now a postdoctoral researcher at the Technical University of Denmark.
Past honours students
- Paul Chachelle (BSc hons) Herbivory on land and in the sea. Went on to a PhD at U Western Australia.
- Karen Bartle (BSc hons) Evolution of seed dispersal ability in introduced Senecio madagascariensis. Now a team leader in plant biosecurity at Australian Quarantine Inspection Service.
- Ellen Couchman (BSc hons) Rapid morphological change in introduced starlings. Now an Environment Advisor at BMA, Queensland.
- Rhiannon Dalrymple (BSc hons). Do clonal species change as quickly as sexually reproducing species? Went on to a PhD at UNSW (see above)
- Marianne Tindall (BSc hons) The latitudinal gradient in spinescence. Now a swimming teacher.
- Thomas Meredith (BSc hons) Herbivory on land and in the sea. Now a lab assistant at the 4 Pines brewing company.
- Timothy Hitchcock (BSc hons) The latitudinal gradient in plant longevity. Now works at Commonwealth Bank.
- Stephanie Creer (BSc hons) Ecological processes underlying rapid evolution in Arctotheca populifolia. Went on to a PhD at U Queensland.
- Martin Kim (BSc hons) Herbivory on introduced vs native populations of Arctotheca populifolia. Now a photographer at Featherdale Wildlife Park.
- Susan Everingham (BSc hons 2016). When Native plants invade novel ecosystems. Now a PhD student at UNSW (see above).
- Sivagowre (Meena) Sritharan (BSc hons 2017). Are Australian Alpine plants changing in response to climate change? Meena is doing a PhD at ANU.
- Casey Gibson (BSc hons 2016) Development of reproductive isolation in introduced Arctotheca populifolia (F1 generation). Now doing a PhD at UNSW Sydney (with David Keith)
- Coen Romalis (BSc hons 2017) Development of reproductive isolation in introduced Arctotheca populifolia (F2 generation). Now works at an Ecological consulting firm in Melbourne.
- Neil Ross (BSc hons 2017) Why do spinifex hummocks form fairy rings?
- Karen Zeng (honours student) - Can we predict which species will change their flowering time?
- Zoe Xirocostas (honours student) - How sex chromosomes affect lifespan (now doing a PhD in the Big Ecology Lab at UNSW Sydney)
I would love to talk to potential PhD students who are interested in working on projects in large scale ecology, or who have exciting ideas of their own.
Advice for prospective students
The Big Ecology Lab is a very collaborative group, with really wide-ranging interests. As a student in the Big Ecology lab, you’re expected to get involved with as many things as possible. For instance, you might attend a weekly discussion group, present work at conferences, help your labmates out (with fieldwork, figuring out the answers to difficult questions, and with moral support), do some undergrad teaching, go to seminars, talk science with other staff/students in the department, and come out for beer sometimes. This all takes up time; but it's this sort of stuff that makes being a grad student fun.
If you are a PhD or MSc student, I think it is best if you can come up with your own research topic (after all, you’re going to be thinking about this topic a lot for the next 2-4 years – it might as well be something you really care about). However, I will work with you to make sure that you end up with something that’s going to be achievable, scientifically sound AND interesting. I’m open to a wide range of project topics. BSc(hons) students – I realise you might not have a clear idea of what you want to work on yet, and that’s perfectly ok. I will be really happy to talk about your ideas for research; but if you can’t come up with anything, I do have a list of project ideas that I think will be both manageable and interesting.
The single most important thing you should do while choosing a supervisor is to talk to their past/present students and ask what it’s like in their lab. Come and talk to us all.
TEACHING & OUTREACH
Courses I teach
BIOS3061: Plant Ecology (Course coordinator)
BIOS2051: Flowering Plants
BEES4517: Honours in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (co-coordinator, with Lisa Schwanz).
Professional affiliations and service positions
I am on the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Advisory Panel
I am an active participant in Scientists in Schools.
I am a jury member for the L’Oreal for Women in Science Fellowship scheme, a judge for the OEH Eureka prize for Environmental research, and run the Ecological Society of Australia/NSW OEH prize for Outstanding Outreach.
AWARDS & ACHIEVEMENTS
2018: Australian Ecology Research Award (awarded by the Ecological Society of Australia)
2017: Vice Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence - for contributions to student learning
2017: Shortlisted for the AFR Emerging Leader Award
2017: Became a fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales
2014: Vice Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence - Postgraduate Research Supervision
2012: NSW science and engineering award for Excellence in Biological Sciences (Plant, Agriculture and Environment)
2011: Australian Museum Eureka Award for Outstanding Young Researcher
2011: Included in The (Sydney) Magazine list of the 100 most influential people in NSW
2010: Edgeworth David Medal, Royal Society of New South Wales (awarded to a scientist under the age of 35 for work contributing to the advancement of Australian science)
2009: JG Russell Award (awarded to one QEII fellow each year by the Australian Academy of Science)
2008: NSW Tall Poppy Award (awarded by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science for outstanding scientific research and communication)