TESS Seminars 2021 Seminar Series

2021 Seminar Series

15th September, 2021| 

A/Prof Robyn Glade-Wright (JCU)

Abstract: Climate Change Communicators and Environmental Psychologists have found that messages delivered in the form of the Arts and Humanities can play an instrumental role in motivating sustainable behaviour. Facts established in the Sciences can be communicated through the Arts in compelling and novel forms which engage our imagination, emotions and understanding. In this seminar, the efficacy of an environmental message delivered through a work of art will be evaluated, with outcomes indicating that the Arts can influence behaviour to reel in this disaster. Hand in hand the Sciences and the Arts might awaken the slumbering potential for hope: for the citizens of the world to nurture our small planet.


(Robyn Glade-Wright  Over-consumption 2019 Cardboard, bamboo, vegetation, paint, glue, 270 x 80 x 100 cm. Photo: Michael Marzik)

Biography: Robyn Glade-Wright is a practicing artist and arts educator who has presented over forty solo exhibitions in public and private galleries. Glade-Wright’s research interests include aesthetics, ethics, environmental art and practice-led research. Glade-Wright’s works of art call attention to the role humans have played in climate change, environmental pollution and species loss. Beauty is used subversively in many of her creative works. Lurking behind the beautiful form lies a haunting message, goading us into reflection and action to preserve the diversity of the natural environment and to foster a sustainable future.

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8th September, 2021

Prof Scott Ritchie (JCU, Adjunct)

WhereJCU Cairns, Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield (Crowther Lecture Theatre A03-003) - in person presentation

Abstract: (a self-explanatory title). Curious? Come and join us to hear more about Wolbachia!

Biography: Prof Scott has been an active researcher and manager in mosquito-borne disease control since 1980.  From 1994 – 2011 he was employed as Director, Medical Entomology at the Tropical Regional Services of Queensland Health in Cairns Australia where he managed the dengue control program.  Scott was also an academic researcher (Associate and full Professor) at JCU from 2009 - 2019, and still serve as an adjunct Professor. He is currently Director, Field Entomology for the World Mosquito Program, Monash University. His research has centred upon control of vector-borne diseases, especially dengue. Scott has been a principal investigator in the Eliminate Dengue program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since its inception in 2005. This innovative project utilises the bacterium Wolbachia to prevent the mosquito Aedes aegypti from transmitting dengue and Zika viruses, and currently help lead entomological efforts to rollout this strategy globally.  He has also been involved in research on the impact of global warming on dengue, new pesticides for the control of Ae. aegypti and the development of novel passive mosquito traps for the detection of pathogens in mosquitoes and other disease vectors. Scott has published 295 per-reviewed papers and been awarded 59 competitive research grants.

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1st September, 2021

Prof Steve Williams (JCU)

Abstract: The recently released IPCC 6th Assessment Report has sounded the alarm even more stridently than previous reports. It has been described as a Code Red alert for the world and shows how close we are to serious irreversible damage to the global climate, natural ecosystems and our own well-being. Similarly, here in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area we have progressed from concern, to serious worry over early predictions of impacts on biodiversity to empirical observation of declines in our species and the erosion of the Outstanding Universal Value of our world heritage areas. In this talk I will describe some of the latest trends we have been observing and some of the things we need to learn about in order to increase our resilience into the future.

Biography: Stephen (Steve) Williams is a Professor at James Cook University. Steve was one of the first to identify global climate change as a severe threatening process to biodiversity in the tropics, especially in mountain ecosystems. He has over 150 publications, more than 30000 peer review citations, he is one of the most-cited global change biologists in the world. Over the last few years, Steve was the inaugural Chair of the IUCN Climate Change & Biodiversity Specialist Group and chaired the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area Science Advisory Committee. His research has focussed on Australian tropical rainforest, however he now has an emphasis on establishing an Asia-Pacific climate change research and monitoring network.

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25th August, 2021

Dr Abbi Scott (JCU, TropWater)

Where: JCU Cairns, Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield (Crowther Lecture Theatre A03-003) - in person presentation

Abstract: Ecologists have been documenting patterns in grazing of herbivores on land for decades, gaining an in depth understanding of the complex interactions between plant communities and the herbivores that feed on them. However, far less in known about grazing in our underwater grasslands - seagrass meadows. Although seagrasses were once thought of as poor quality food not consumed by herbivores, more recent work has shown that these vast, productive meadows are an important food source for marine herbivores across the globe. As seagrasses have evolved, grazing pressure has shaped their extent, diversity and characteristics, and continues to structure meadows today.  The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has large areas of seagrass which support a diverse group of grazers, including megaherbivores (green turtles and dugongs), however until recently the role of herbivory in structuring GBR seagrasses remained unknown. We used exclusion studies to understand how grazing by herbivores in GBR seagrass meadows impacts meadow characteristics, and the important ecosystem services that these seagrass meadows provide. We found that grazing by megaherbivores is an important structuring influence for seagrass communities across the GBR, with some very dramatic impacts observed as part of our study. By understanding the plant-herbivore system in GBR seagrass meadows, we can inform monitoring and management measures that seek to conserve herbivores and the seagrass meadows they rely on.

Biography: Abbi is a Research Officer in the TropWATER Seagrass Ecology Lab at James Cook University in Cairns. Abbi’s PhD research used field experiments to investigate the structuring impact of herbivores in Great Barrier Reef seagrass. Abbi currently works on seagrass herbivory research and marine monitoring in the Great Barrier Reef and has previously worked on seagrass and rocky shore ecosystems in Australia and the UK. Twitter: @abbilscott.

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18th August, 2021

Dr Nandini Velho (Faculty, Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design & Technology)

Where: online streamed on Zoom and YouTube

Abstract: Arunachal Pradesh state in northeast India is a remote frontier area, sharing international borders with China, Bhutan and Myanmar. The state is a disputed territory also claimed by China, a border dispute that led to the Sino-Indian war of 1962. The state spans parts of two Global Biodiversity Hotspots (Eastern Himalaya and Indo-Myanmar), and is among the most biodiverse areas in the world. The bird diversity of the region is second only to that in the Andes and a new bird species, the Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum), was only recently discovered from the area around Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. Arunachal Pradesh also accounts for a large percentage of India's primary forest cover, a majority of which is managed by tribal communities. In this presentation I will explore a decade of our work related to different management systems, perceptions of residents and experts towards conservation of the area. I will talk about how historical, sociological and livelihood factors have determined trade-offs towards conservation of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and the adjacent Community Reserve.

Biography: Nandini’s work has focused on the human-dimensions of wildlife management as well as understanding rainforest dynamics in tropical forests. Concurrently, she have worked closely with local forest managers, policy makers in the Office of the then Minister of Environment and Forests, and engaged with on-ground outreach activities, including healthcare and logistical support of front-line forest staff, conservation education and writing in the popular medium.

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11th August, 2021

Dr Nicolás Younes (Postdoctoral Researcher in The Australian National University)

Abstract:  A spacetessian is a Tessian who loves satellites, remote sensing, and space technology. Satellite and space technologies are everywhere and their role in our research and daily lives is often overlooked. In this talk Nicolas wants to show how he became a spacetessian and how everyone uses space-related technologies. He'll also show how he uses ground and satellite sensors to monitor everything from mangroves and corals, to fire and deforestation.

*** Spoiler alert *** He also helps design satellites!

Biography: Nicolas is an environmental engineer with a passion for learning and teaching. For his PhD project at JCU, he used satellite images to examine changes in mangrove phenology across Australia. Recently Nicolas moved to ANU as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. He has worked in industry and academia in Ecuador, Australia and the United States.

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4th August, 2021|

Dr Nicholas Murray (JCU)

Abstract: Losses of intertidal ecosystems such as mangroves, saltmarsh and tidal flats, are the widely reported result of intensifying human pressure and the growing impact of climate change on coastal regions around the world. In many cases, losses of coastal ecosystems have outpaced losses of adjacent terrestrial ecosystems, including tropical forests. However, intertidal ecosystems are known to have the capacity to rapidly respond to environmental change, gaining extent by means of migration, elevation gain and redistribution. Although many studies have suggested these processes as potential drivers of coastal resilience, little is known about the extent to which gains in intertidal ecosystem extent have counterbalanced known losses. In this seminar I will introduce the Global Intertidal Change project, which addresses this knowledge gap empirically with a global, high-resolution remote-sensing analysis of the distribution and change of Earth’s three main intertidal ecosystems since 1999. The dataset suggests that extensive losses of intertidal ecosystems have been partially offset by co-located gains, and establishes a system for monitoring the ongoing responses of intertidal ecosystems to elevating pressures along the world’s coastlines.

Biography:  Nick has recently moved to James Cook University, and is a senior research fellow and ARC DECRA Fellow in the College of Science and Engineering in Townsville. Nick’s research spans the fields of remote sensing, conservation biology and ecology, and tends to use spatial models to investigate the dynamics and status of coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. Nick’s work has been recognized by several awards, including the 2016 IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management emerging scientist award, Australia’s nomination for the APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education, and the 2015 Eureka Prize for Environmental Research as part of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems science team. Twitter: @remotelysense

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28th July, 2021

Prof Bill Laurance (JCU)

Abstract: I will argue that many ecosystems are vulnerable to environmental synergisms - which are changes that occur when two or more environmental stressors interact or amplify one another and thereby create new threats. Such synergisms are evident in many human-altered ecosystems such as fragmented or logged forests, and in numerous animal, plant and pathogen species. Using datasets from tropical Africa, the Amazon and the Asia-Pacific region, I assert that environmental synergisms are the norm rather than the exception for many threatened species and ecosystems, and will be difficult to predict in terms of their environmental and societal impacts. The critical uncertainties of environmental synergisms highlight a need for targeted, precautionary strategies for conserving nature and safeguarding the welfare of indigenous and rural peoples who rely on these ecosystems for subsistence and survival.

Biography: William Laurance is a Distinguished Research Professor at James Cook University.  An environmental scientist whose work spans the tropical world, he has written eight books and nearly 700 scientific and popular articles.  He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, and former President of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation.  He has received many professional honors, including an Australian Laureate Fellowship, the Heineken Environment Prize, BBVA Frontiers in Ecology and Conservation Biology Award, the Society for Conservation Biology’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Zoological Society of London’s Outstanding Conservation Achievement Prize.  He is director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at James Cook University, and founded and directs ALERT— the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers.

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02 June 2021

Dr Robert Godfree | Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research & National Research Collections Australia, CSIRO, Canberra

Abstract:  There are growing concerns that an increase in the scale and intensity of drought and wildfire under climate change may cause rapid ecosystem degradation both in Australia and worldwide. In this presentation I will discuss the implications of the 2019-2020 megafires and the preceding 2017-2019 drought for plant species and communities in south-eastern Australia based on investigation of historical drought events and estimates of fire impacts generated from herbarium plant specimen data. The results suggests that the biogeographical impact of the 2019-2020 megafires was unprecedented and that several groups of species, including epiphytic orchids and rainforest taxa, are now under threat of population decline and range contraction. Recent evidence also suggests that the implications of the fires for woody taxa may have been exacerbated by severe drought-induced dieback during 2019, particularly in northern NSW.

Biography: Bob has worked as an ecologist with CSIRO for over 20 years, focusing on the conservation and management of Australian biodiversity. His particular interests include the impacts of drought and other extreme events on arid and semi-arid ecosystems, biogeography, invasive species management and plant genetics and evolution.

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26 May 2021|

Dr Daniel Montesinos | JCU/ATH

Abstract: Invasive plants generally align with the fast side of the plant’s trait economics spectrum, characterised by fast nutrient acquisition, growth, and reproduction. However, there are numerous and notable exceptions, including woody invasives. The generalization that invasives are fast is driven by the high occurrence of invasive ruderal species colonising nutrient-rich disturbed habitats, a consequence of anthropogenic disturbance usually going hand-in-hand with biological introductions. Successful invasive plans have shown a remarkable ability to rapidly adapt to the new regions where they are introduced. These changes predominantly involve increased resource acquisition, growth, and reproduction, aligning them even further with the fast side of the plant economics spectrum. Common garden experiments comparing populations from distant world regions show a clear trend for already “fast” invasive plants to rapidly adapt towards even “faster” traits in their non-native regions.

Biography: Daniel Montesinos is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Tropical Herbarium in Cairns, affiliated with James Cook University. He has worked previously at universities in his native Spain, the USA, and Portugal. He is broadly interested in the evolutionary ecology, reproductive systems, and biogeography of plants. Daniel has worked in forest ecology, and currently has focused his work on study of the evolutionary ecology of invasive species. He is the Editor in chief of Web Ecology and Coordinating Editor of the Nordic Journal of Botany. Follow him on Twitter @plant_ecology.

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19 May 2021

Claudia Munera | ANU Doctoral candidate

Abstract: How do you conserve a glacial moorland when the glaciers are no longer there? How do you protect the habitat of an endangered species when the rainforest it depends upon transforms into a dry woodland? Conservation of biodiversity has traditionally been concerned with preserving, maintaining, and restoring biodiversity, ecosystem services, and unique landscapes. However, climate change brings new and inevitable ecological transformation, where traditional approaches to conserving biodiversity are fundamentally challenged.  Future-oriented conservation aims to rethink what we need to do now to prepare for future ecological change. Reframing climate adaptation in conservation requires addressing climate change in positive and forward-looking ways, considering the scientific and technical aspects of climate change, and assessing climate-related decisions that enable or hinder how change is anticipated and managed. Through results from a project implemented in Colombia, Claudia will explore how future-oriented conservation approaches can help protected area managers and practitioners to anticipate and respond to long-term social and ecological change amidst uncertain information for effective climate adaptation.

Biography: Claudia is a Colombian biologist with a Master in World Heritage and Cultural Projects for Development (University of Turin & Politecnico di Torino) and currently a Ph.D. Scholar in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. Her research and professional interests have been around the social and livelihood impacts of environmental conservation and sustainable development initiatives on local communities. As a researcher and practitioner, Claudia has been involved in projects related to climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, protected areas, sustainable development, and ecotourism in Latin America, South Africa, and Australia. Claudia has worked on projects with MIF, Government organizations and NGOs, and worked for several years as an endangered species researcher with the Humboldt Institute in Colombia.  Her Ph.D. research explores the narratives of adaptation framing protected areas strategies to deal with future climate change impacts in Australia, Colombia, and South Africa, to identify transitions to dynamic management of natural resources under climate change.

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12 May 2021

Dr Maxine Newlands (JCU) and Dr Michelle Dyer (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority)


Stewardship in the Great Barrier Reef describes an action, education, values, engagement, communication, conservation, protection and sustainable use programs and activities. The term stewardship is across different social scales - from individuals, social groups, communities, organisations to governments, and spatial scales from bioregion to national borders and global imaginings.

This presentation summaries our recent report, Stewardship for the Great Barrier Reef: A review of concepts and definitions of stewardship for the Great Barrier Reef. We will outline a broad range of activities labelled stewardship, it did not match formal definitions in which stewardship is often defined very narrowly as “action”. Therefore, a gap exists between concept and intention regarding what is meant by the term stewardship.

The findings propose a definition of stewardship that includes three components encompassing activities designed to engender stewardship thinking, build capacity for stewardship, and stewardship as action. To better understand the broader range of activities occurring that is already being labelled stewardship in the Reef, we suggest a typology that allows activities to be evaluated in their own right. This approach means those undertaking stewardship and their success in achieving their stewardship purpose rather than against an assumed link to an environmental outcome for which there is no evidence. The purpose of this definition and typology is to enable articulation and then evaluation of stewardship activities against their purpose and ultimately against the larger goal of improved Reef health values.

The full report is available at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority eLibrary: Stewardship for the Great Barrier Reef: A review of concepts and definitions of stewardship for the Great Barrier Reef - https://hdl.handle.net/11017/3781

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05 May, 2021

Terry Carmichael | Senior Project Officer | Wet Tropics Management Authority

Abstract: The World Heritage Convention aims to protect places that are so significant—of such Outstanding Universal Value—that their permanent protection is of the highest importance to humanity. The Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area (the Area) was inscribed on the World Heritage list more than 30 years ago and is one of the elite group of World Heritage properties listed for all four natural criteria. The unique biodiversity and its significance as Australia’s largest tropical rainforest make the Area one of the most important and irreplaceable regions in the world.

On 9 November 2012 the Area was included on the National Heritage list for its Indigenous values; a reminder that prior to European settlement, the Wet Tropics rainforests provided and continue to provide cultural, intellectual, spiritual, and cultural rights and responsibilities for Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples.

Managing the World Heritage Area is complex, and one of the roles of the Wet Tropics Management Authority (the Authority) is to address the social, economic, and environmental issues and challenges anticipated into the future.

Perhaps our biggest challenge is climate change. With changes to species distribution already been recorded - and sombre predictions of modelled effects; altered fire regimes; and impacts of invasive species, there will be a need for science-based solutions; advocacy by informed communities and substantial resources to improve the resilience of the Area.

We need to plan for future changes without endangering World Heritage values. Ensuring these values, our economy and the wider community are protected from negative effects will need considered planning, regulation as well as the support, and partnership of the Wet Tropics community.

Terry will talk about the important work that the Authority is doing to make these values understandable to all and help raise the importance and significance of the Area in the minds and hearts of the community and visitors alike.

Biography: Terry Carmichael was in one of the initial groups to graduate from Queensland’s first protected area management course at Queensland University, Gatton Campus in the early 1980’s. During the next three decades Terry used the skills he gained to create a number of  career opportunities in the environmental sector. Terry had an extensive captive wildlife management career as a zoo manager/curator which saw him involved in breeding programs for threatened species, creating and maintaining large mixed species immersion exhibits and developing  and delivering environmental education & interpretation programs.Terry also taught nature based tour guiding at TAFE for five years and worked as an environmental officer in the resource sector . Terry has been employed at the Wet Tropics Management Authority  (WTMA) for six years as a senior project officer. He is the Secretariate for WTMA’s Scientific Advisory Committee and the Cassowary Recovery Team, he also sits on a number of other recovery teams.  Terry’s career in the nature based tourism sector also informs his  work with the Tourism Industry in developing interpretative displays on the values of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Terry is also a trainer and assessor for the Wet Tropics Tour Guide Program.

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28th April, 2021

Dr Edita Ritmejeryt | Post Doctoral Research Fellow | JCU Bebegu Yumba Campus

Abstract: As sessile organisms, plants produce a remarkable diversity of chemicals to defend their tissues against herbivory. The large body of research into plant defences has primarily focused on plant-herbivore interactions and foliar defences, whereas floral chemical defences have received little attention. This is despite the fact that flowers of many species are known to contain defence metabolites, the sizeable investment of resources in floral structures, the significance of flowers to fitness, and the importance of floral chemistry for both florivores and pollinators. This seminar will address the patterns in floral chemical defence in the Proteaceae, a dominant plant family in Australia characterised by diverse floral traits and a high frequency of floral cyanogenesis – a constitutive nitrogen-based chemical defence involving the release of toxic hydrogen cyanide from endogenous cyanogenic glycosides (CNglycs) upon tissue damage.  Two main aspects to this research, (1) investigations into patterns in the distribution of CNglycs within flowers of different species, and (2) investigations into patterns in whole-plant chemical defence using Telopea speciosissima will be discussed.

Biography: After completing her honours in fire ecology of an endangered native orchid (Pterostylis despectans; RMIT University), Edita moved to pursuing her passion for both chemistry and botany by completing her PhD in chemical ecology at the University of Melbourne. During her PhD she investigated nitrogen-based defence – cyanogenesis – in Proteaceae flowers,  using a range of analytical techniques – MALDI-MSI, LC-MS and colorimetric assays. The novelty of her research has been awarded by the best student poster award at International Society of Chemical Ecology conference (2017) and multiple research and travel grants to support her project. During her honours and PhD, Edita worked as a research assistant in Blue Mallee propagation for oil production projects. Edita joined JCU in 2020 to work in Dr Wangchuk’s team in discovering new bioactive molecules to treat inflammatory bowel disease from medicinal plants used by Australian indigenous communities.

Video recording restricted by author (* if you have interest in access, please send an email requesting to yoko.ishida@jcu.edu.au)

21st April, 2021

Dr Michael Oelgemöller | JCU Bebegu Yumba Campus

Abstract: This presentation will provide an overview on our ‘Green and Applied Chemistry’ research activities in Townsville. The tropical region offers unique opportunities for sustainable chemical research. Over the last decade, we have successfully converted biomass constituents into valuable commodity chemicals for a variety of tropical industries. For example, essential oils are rich in chemicals that can be harvested and isolated easily using established techniques. Local Coryumbia citriodora or lemon-scented gum was found to contain an exceptionally high citronellal content and using this resource, we have recently established the production of an effective natural insect repellent with essential oil producers in New Caledonia and Northern Queensland. We have likewise utilized other essential oil components for the manufacturing of fragrances using natural sunlight. For example, we have produced several kilograms of the valuable fragrant rose oxide from citronellol. Other sources of biomass include agricultural waste products such as sugarcane bagasse. From this, we have manufactured a versatile herbicide and building block chemical. Other research areas deal with the synthesis of bioactive compounds such as antimalarials or anaesthetics using novel continuous-flow techniques that enable sustainable, decentralized and flexible production scales. We are also using sunlight to degrade organic and microbial pollutants in water, one of the most previous natural resource in the Tropics. In particular, pharmaceutical residues have recently emerged as a significant threat to the aquatic environment and consequently human health. We have utilized Australian minerals for the effective capture and degradation of these pollutants. We have also studied the effects of sunlight on sunscreen agents and have shown that the latter are often compromised after exposure to intense sunlight.

Biography: Dr Michael Oelgemöller received his PhD from the University of Cologne in 1999. He was a researcher at the ERATO-JST Photochirogenesis project in Osaka (1999-2001) and at Bayer CropScience K.K. Japan in Yuki (2001-2004). From 2004-2008 he held a position as a Lecturer in Organic and Medicinal Chemistry at Dublin City University. In February 2009, he joined James Cook University in Townsville as an Associate Professor in Organic and Pharmaceutical Chemistry. His research activities range from the development of continuous-flow photoreactors to the solar manufacturing of chemicals, photochemical synthesis of bioactive compounds, photostability testing and photochemical degradation of organic and microbial pollutants. He has received several awards and has been a visiting professor at various universities in Asia and Europe.

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14th April, 2021

Dr Matthew Luskin | University of Queensland

Abstract: As a new tropical ecologist to Queensland, I first will introduce my work on Southeast Asian wildlife conservation and ecological cascades that are degrading the region's rainforests. This will include (a) Sumatran tigers and top-down trophic cascades, (b) how the expansion of oil palm provides resource subsidies to wildlife, thereby triggering bottom-up ecological cascades, (c) African Swine Fever, which is currently decimating the region's wild pig species and (d) how these threats alter plant-animal interactions with a focus on tree and liana recruitment. I'll end with an invitation to collaborate on a new initiative for a Wet Tropics camera trap working group and outline some exciting questions we could answer together.

Biography: Dr Luskin is a new Lecturer of Conservation Science at the University of Queensland and lead the Ecological Cascades Lab (www.ecologicalcascades.com). He’s a wildlife ecologist studying rainforest vertebrates and plant-animal interactions, with a focus on the world’s most threatened tropical forests. He previously spent 10 years in Southeast Asia for his PhD at UC Berkeley and postdoc with the Smithsonian Institution. Matthew have worked on apex predators like tigers (Luskin et al 2017a, Nature Comms), hunting (Luskin et al 2014, Harrison et al 2016, Conservation Biology), oil palm expansion (Luskin et al 2017b, Nature Comms), and the cascading effects of altered wildlife on plant-animal interactions (Luskin et al 2019 Applied Ecology, Luskin et al 2021 PRSB), as well as ‘pure/basic science’ questions in plant-animal interactions (Jia et al & Luskin 2018, PNAS, Song et al & Luskin 2020 Ecology Letters).

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31st  March, 2021
Dr Alex Cheesman | University of Exeter & JCU

Abstract:  Ozone (O3) in the earth’s lower atmosphere is an important air pollutant that causes adverse effects on plants and ecosystems worldwide. Although tropospheric O3 occurs in the atmosphere naturally, its abundance has been elevated due to anthropogenic activities with O3 concentrations on average doubling since 1850 due to rapid global industrialization and urbanization. Current O3 concentrations have been shown to cause significant productivity losses in both agronomic and natural systems around the world but as yet it remains unclear what the impact of future changes will be on tropical systems. The TropOz facility on the JCU Cairns, Nguma-bada campus represents a unique experimental facility allowing for the examination of the impacts of O3 on tropical vegetation under semi-natural conditions. Funded by the UK’s National Environmental Research Council and the University of Exeter, UK this facility is allowing us to conduct detailed examination of the physiological impacts of air pollution on both tropical trees and important crop species while providing the data needed to model the impact of future changes on tropical systems.

Biography: Dr Cheesman is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, currently seconded to James Cook University (JCU) and working to establish and run TropOz - an international research program investigating the role of tropospheric ozone on tropical plants. He is a plant eco-physiologist and soil scientist interested in the dynamic interaction of tropical systems in a changing world. He is an active researcher on issues of climate change, nutrient management, and plant physiology. He completed his B.A. in Plant Sciences from Cambridge University in 2004 before taking a job as a field assistant on Barro Colorado Island, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. In 2010 he completed a PhD in Soil and Water Science at the University of Florida, USA. Much of the field work for which was carried out in the remote wetlands of Panama. This led to a 2 year post-doctoral research fellowship at STRI with Dr Klaus Winter.  From June 2013 to June 2018, he worked as a post-doctoral research fellow at JCU working with A/Prof Lucas Cernusak on issues of plant ecophysiology adaptation and acclimation to temperature and increasing CO2. Since that time, he has led the development of the TropOz facility on the JCU Nguma-bada campus, while also working with A/Prof Paul Nelson in the application of denitrifying bioreactors for the remediation of excess nitrogen flowing to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon.

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24th March, 2021

A/Prof Robert Pal (Montana University)

Abstract:  The potential for soil seed banks and biological crust to contribute to effective habitat restoration is not well understood, but their activation could offer a cost-effective solution for vegetation establishment of degraded sites. Our study site had been affected by deforestation and aeolian contamination from copper smelting, resulting in significant erosion and large unvegetated patches. To evaluate the potential value of soil seed bank and biological crust activation for restoring intermountain grasslands and mountain forests, we set up a greenhouse experiment to test the effect of nutrient amendments previously utilized in field trials in the study area. We also tested the effect of native seed augmentation on diversity. Our results showed that the tested soils had a significant seed bank and a biological crust that could be activated with nutrient amendments. Native seed augmentation increased grass and forb seedling numbers. While biofertilizer combined with mycorrhizae did not affect grass or forb seedling numbers, it did increase plant biomass. Our study concluded that activating soil seed banks and biological crust with nutrient amendments may be a feasible approach in ecological restoration.

Biography: Robert Pal is an Associate Professor and the Director of Restoration at Montana Tech (Department of Biological Sciences). He holds a master’s in agriculture and a Ph.D. in Biology/Plant Ecology. His main research focus has always been the study of the flora and vegetation of disturbed habitats, including agricultural and urban areas. That led him to work on ecological restoration and plant invasions. He was awarded by prestigious research grants such as the Fulbright Research Grant and the Marie Curie Fellowship. Robert is in charge of the Ecological Restoration MS Program, the Restoration Certificate, and the Native Plant Restoration Program and at Montana Tech. He was recently elected as vice president of the Montana Native Plant Society. Besides multiple restoration projects, he is part of several national and international research projects mainly in biological invasions.

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17th March, 2021

Dr Jack Koci (JCU Bebegu Yumba Campus)

Abstract: In tropical northeast Queensland, gullies are a major source of sediment and particulate nutrients delivered to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) World Heritage Area. High sediment and nutrient loads in coastal waterways are detrimentally impacting the health of the GBR. Remediating gullied landscapes and preventing further degradation is a major focus of investment toward improving coastal water quality. In this seminar, Jack will explore some of the linkages between cattle grazing, gully erosion, and water quality in the GBR. He will also present key findings from three case studies focused on improving gully management in the region. In the first case study, he will examine the effect of reduced grazing pressure on runoff, sediment, and nutrients loads in three small sub-catchments within the Upper Burdekin, over a 20-year period. In the second case study, he will report findings from an eight-year study into the effects of several relatively low-cost gully remediation strategies on gully sediment yields and vegetation recovery. In the final case study, Jack will demonstrate how high resolution topographic and landscape data can be generated from low-cost drones and handheld digital cameras, and how this information can be used to help to inform gully management.

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10th March, 2021

1.Restoring natural wetland values back in the Great Barrier Reef seascape

Presenter: Nathan Waltham (JCU, TropWater)

A major coastal wetland in Australia’s natural estate is the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) lagoon and, despite protection with an assortment of international agreements, national and state legislation and policies, it is an ecosystem that continues to decline in health (GBRMPA Outlook report).  Conservation and repair of GBR coastal wetland ecosystems have come into focus following media attention on reef health and resilience, with ecosystem protection and restoration cited as a key performance measure in long term strategic planning policies – e.g. 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan.  In this presentation we will look at the following case studies: cane land conversion to wetlands for improved water quality, habitat restoration for fish connectivity across agricultural floodplains, aquatic plant removal to reduce hypoxia risks to fish, and feral fencing programs to improve biodiversity in coastal wetlands.  More restoration projects are on the horizon, funded directly through government schemes, though there is interest in private funded restoration schemes where major investment companies sponsor wetland restoration as part of social licences to operation.  For new projects to be successful, we need to look back at past wetland restoration projects, the lessons and data, in order to make more informed decisions on investment in wetland restoration.

2.Queensland’s seagrass meadows

Presenter: Rob Coles (JCU, Seagrass-TropWater)

Abstract: Queensland’s coasts have significant and diverse tropical seagrass habitats that we have mapped and researched. This includes the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) with ~35 000 km2 of potential seagrass ecosystem and possibly much more. Seagrasses are flowering plants that have evolved to survive submersed in seawater. They are an important part of the coastal ecosystem, stabilising sediments, sequestering carbon, providing nursery grounds for juvenile prawns and fish and are food for Dugong and Turtles. The JCU TropWATER seagrass group based in Cairns have mapped, monitored and conducted research on our seagrasses stretching back to the mid 1980s. In this talk Rob will describe our seagrass species and distributions in the GBRWHA and our present broad scale mapping and monitoring program. He will address some of the risks to this important habitat and the potential for interventions such as restoration and describe our recent research on how meadows may recover after loss. Much of our seagrass data – some 80,000 records are publically available and he will show you how to access that information.

3.Indigenous perspectives on wetlands protection and management

Presenter: Gavin Singleton (Project manager, Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation)

4.Environmental perspectives on local wetlands with reference to Jack Barnes Boardwalk and East Trinity inlet

Presenter: Denis Walls (President, CAFNEC)

5.Blue carbon in our coastal and marine ecosystems

Presenter: Lucy Friend (Environmental Manager, Cairns Airport)

Q&A featuring all of our speakers

plus Liz Owen and Dennis Ah-Kee, Directors, Jaragun Ecoservices, Land restoration and connectivity of waterways across the Russell River catchment.

Watch the videos recordings here:

Video recording talk 1

Video recording talk 2

Video recording talk 3

Video recording talk 4

Video recording talk 5

Video recording Q&A

3rd March,  2021

Dr GOLO MAURER ( KBA Program Leader, BirdLife Australia)


In 2021 a new framework for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity will be created recognizing the critical role of habitat conservation in stopping extinctions. KBAs identified to the IUCN’s scientific standard is likely to be a central element of this framework guiding philanthropic and government action. Secondly, promoting their conservation by government, community and the private sector.

Based on BirdLife Australia’s Important Bird Areas and Alliance for Zero Extinction sites 334 KBAs have already been identified in Australia. These are home to c. 1,000 or 60% of Australia’s threatened taxa. The KBA National Coordination Group works with scientists to expand this network taxonomically and geographically. Australia’s current KBA network covers only 5.4% of the country’s land mass. An extended KBA network can provide a blueprint for the 30 by 30 goal of protecting 30% of the world’s land mass by 2030 that ensures that the areas protected are also the ones most critical for the persistence of biodiversity.

For existing KBAs BirdLife Australia runs a KBA-Guardian volunteer program to monitor KBA health and support on-ground conservation, education and local advocacy. Over 100 KBA-Guardians are assessing Australia’s KBAs and have identified 23 KBAs in Danger of losing their threatened species mainly due to water mismanagement, invasive species, development and inappropriate fire regimes.

The strength of KBAs comes not from formal protection necessarily but from creating an internationally recognised focal point for conservation action and collaboration based on scientific and traditional knowledge. The challenge is to identify these sites and generate the capacity for their conservation.

Watch the video recording

24th February, 2021
William Laurance: Director of TESS                  Jayden Engert: TESS Doctoral student


Roads are expanding explosively worldwide, especially in biodiversity-rich tropical regions where they often promote human invasions, forest destruction, wildfires and other environmental and societal impacts.  Many roads are being constructed illegally or informally and do not appear on any existing roadmap; the toll of such ‘ghost roads’ on ecosystems is poorly understood.  We mapped and measured roads with high precision across the Indo-Pacific and tropical Australasian regions, and then assessed how such roads affect forest cover and condition.

Across our study region, road proximity was a strong predictor of forest loss, with most (80.5%) deforestation occurring within 1 kilometre of a road. Forest loss was also influenced by regionally varying land-use histories and topography, with older frontiers and flatter areas typically bearing more roads and forest loss.  Collectively, our findings suggest that roads—especially unmapped, understudied ‘ghost roads’ — are far more prevalent in the tropics than is generally understood.  If allowed to proliferate further, such roads could provoke severe declines of tropical ecosystems and their environmental and societal benefits.

Watch the video recording