TESS Seminars 2023 Seminar Series

2023 Seminar Series

Speaker: Professor Darren Crayn| Australian Tropical Herbarium - James Cook University |

Abstract: Plant species that are endemic to isolated tropical mountain peaks are particularly vulnerable to climate change, as upward migration to track climate is severely bounded. For the 80+ plant species endemic to the mountain tops (> 1000 m elevation) of Australia's Wet Tropics World Heritage area, environmental niche modelling indicates available habitat will contract drastically by 2080, and for at least seven species, may disappear altogether. No suitable habitat is known to exist beyond the species' current range therefore urgent precautionary conservation action is required. This project responds to that imperative by aiming to secure at-risk species in living collections. Our novel research on seed banking strategies, genetic diversity and tolerance of extreme climates will ensure that the ex situ collections, distributed across multiple botanic gardens and seed banks along Australia’s east coast, incorporate high redundancy, are genetically and physiologically diverse, and climatically matched to wild habitat. Communicating science and conservation messages are achieved through an artist-in-residency, in-garden interpretive material, media and scholarly publications. This project brings together nine partner organisations with specific and complementary capabilities and infrastructure, in a broad and diverse consortium. These partners include three research centres, six public botanic gardens distributed across four States and Territories, and statutory land managers. This talk will communicate some of the learnings and results from the this 5 year project.

Biography: Darren Crayn is biodiversity scientist with a career spanning 25 years. Currently, he is the inaugural Director of the Australian Tropical Herbarium, a joint venture of James Cook University, the CSIRO, the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy. Appointed in 2008, he has helped this organisation build an international profile and considers himself very fortunate to work alongside a team of wonderful scientists. His research strengths include studies of the taxonomy, evolution and conservation of Australia's and the region's tropical flora. His career has involved research in many tropical countries, which has cemented his view that tropical north Queensland is the most satisfying work environment for a botanist.

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Speaker: Professor Lin Schwarzkopf| James Cook University |

Abstract:  With the advent of relatively inexpensive recording units, and longer battery life, recording environmental sound has become almost a standardised method included in many biological studies, but use of this data is quite limited, and it is still usually processed by manual listening for single species.  We have been attempting to ground-truth acoustic recordings by conducting manual surveys, and simultaneously analysing the data from acoustic recordings using a wide range of different methods.  I will discuss these methods in the context of various desired outcomes for biologists, and perhaps provide some guidance on ways to move forward using existing recordings for different purposes.

Biography: I am an ecologist that studies vertebrates, and the impact of anthropogenic activities on species and communities.  Recently, my focus has been on creating efficient means of monitoring fauna using acoustics.

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Speaker: Dr Katharina Nargar| Research Scientist | ATH & National Research Collections Australia (CSIRO)|

Abstract: Biological research collections, such as herbaria and museums are a rich repositories of biological diversity, representing a temporally deep and spatially broad time-series of samples. Collection genomics has emerged as powerful tool to delve into this treasure chest to unravel the evolutionary journey of hyperdiverse groups and to shine light on past genomic diversity of extinct populations and species for conservation genomic studies. As examples, this talk will present research on Australia’s rich and highly endemic orchid flora which elucidates the origins and diversification of Australian orchids through time and space as well as highlight promising collection genomics approaches to inform the conservation of rare and threatened species.

Biography:  Katharina Nargar is a molecular systematist and evolutionary biologist with a research focus on tropical plant biodiversity. Katharina’s research employs high-throughput DNA sequencing approaches to understand the diversification of species-rich plant groups in time and space and the underlying factors that shaped today’s diversity. Katharina’s conservation genomic research assesses taxonomic delimitation and genomic diversity in rare and threatened Australian orchids. Katharina is a Research Scientist at the Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH) and the National Research Collections Australia (CSIRO) and has been leading the orchid research program at the ATH since 2010.

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Speaker: Professor Rebecca Ostertag| University of Hawaii |

Abstract: Plant functional recently have been suggested to be useful for restoration planning. The Liko Nā Pilina hybrid ecosystem experiment in Hilo, Hawaii, USA employed functional traits to design and test the suitability of different species combinations, using native and introduced (but non-invasive) species to meet the objectives of increased carbon storage, native biodiversity regeneration, and invasion resistance. In this case, restoration to a previous reference condition was not feasible.  After the first five years of their development, we evaluated community-level outcomes related to nutrient cycling: carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus via litterfall, litter decomposition, outplant productivity, rates of invasion, and leaf litter arthropod species composition. We found that regardless of treatment, the experimental communities had low rates of nutrient cycling through litterfall relative to the invaded forest. In addition, which treatment did "best" depends on the metric being assessed. This seminar will include a discussion of how hybrid ecosystems represent a paradigm shift, how potential metrics of belonging within an ecosystem may be developed, and how new policies can support these efforts. Although challenges remain, this study provides evidence that functional trait-based restoration approaches to carefully select species and to assess ecosystem functioning can achieve management goals.

Biography:  Rebecca (Becky) Ostertag is a professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. She teaches courses in ecology, conservation, biostatistics,and field methods, and has mentored many undergraduate and Masterʻs projects in forest ecology over the last 20 yrs. She studies how forest structure and function, and uses that information for forest restoration in the face of invasive species, climate change, and other threats.  The collaborative work on hybrid ecosystems and using functional traits in restoration discussed in this talk has led to an understanding of the importance of proper restoration planning. Other key work is on the long-term dynamics of Hawaiian forests, that are part of the ForestGeo Network. She is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and serves as an Associate editor for the journal Functional Ecology.

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Speaker: Stanislav Lhota | University of Life Sciences (Prague, Czech Republic) |

Abstract: In 2019 Indonesia announced plan to translocate the capital city from Java to the island of Borneo. The Indonesian government pledges to develop the new megalopolis without harming the fragile and highly biodiverse lowland and coastal forest ecosystem where the construction is going to happen. Nusantara, as the city was named, is supposed to be the first green, smart and sustainable city in Indonesia,  and indeed in the world. We have been studying a large population of endangered proboscis monkeys in the same area since 2005. I will describe how did the past development impact this species and what can be predicted about its future of threatened wildlife within and around the limits of Nusantara city.

Biography: Stan Lhota is a Czech primatologist and conservationist, currently involved in proboscis monkey conservation program in Borneo, slow loris monitoring program in Sumatra, research on miners resources use by large mammals in Republic Congo, and behavioural research on indris and bamboo lemurs in Madagascar. Coordinator of Education4Conservation program in maternity and primary schools in Indonesia, Madagascar, Uganda and Republic of Congo. An interim director at the Centre ValBio research station in Ranomafana, Madagascar.

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Speaker: Emeritus Professor Helene Marsh| James Cook University|

Abstract: The dugong is a medium-sized marine mammal which is a seagrass community specialist. It has evolved morphological and sensory adaptations to its life as a strictly marine herbivore, and its perceptions of its environment are very different from those of other marine mammals. Dugongs perceive their environment largely through touch, hydrodynamic reception, and hearing; vision and taste are less important components of their sensory repertoire. Dugongs also apparently rely on socially transmitted knowledge learned from their mothers during the years of calf dependency. They have good spatial cognition. The important elements of their biophysical environment include the drivers of the distribution, abundance, species composition, biomass of seagrass communities, and the environmental parameters that influence dugongs directly such as water depth, light, temperature, tides, waves, currents, coastline features, and predation risk. The most profound effects of climate change on dugongs are likely to be short- and long-term changes to the distribution, species composition, and biomass of seagrass habitats, which, in turn, will affect their life history parameters, movements, and habitat use.

Biography: Helene Marsh is an Emeritus Professor at James Cook University in Townsville Queensland.She is a conservation biologist with some 40 years’ experience in research into biodiversity conservation, management and policy. She has advised the governments of 14 countries on the conservation of marine megafauna.  Helene has chaired the Commonwealth Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which advises the federal Minister for Environment since 2011 and was the natural heritage expert on the Australian delegation for the World Heritage Committee (2018-21).   She is a former chair of the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee and is currently on the Independent Expert Panel for the Great Barrier Reef.  Helene is the Lead for the Threatened and Migratory Species and Threatened Ecological Communities Initiative for the National Environmental Science Program. She is a Fellow of both the Australian Academy of Science (Vice-President, Biological Sciences 2019-23) and Australian Academies of Technological Sciences and Engineering and has received several national and international awards for her research and conservation. In 2021, she became an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the biological and environmental sciences, to the conservation of marine mammals, and to tertiary education.

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Speaker: Prof Kim Calders | CAVElab - computational and Applied Vegetation Ecology | GHENT University

Abstract: The physical forms of trees, in particular their dimensions and structure, provide fundamental insights into how forests function. Measuring forest structure (the size and location of leaves, branches and trunks) is not straightforward and is often represented in one or two dimensions only. Representation of inherently 3D structural properties in 1D or 2D can help simplify analysis, but also implies a loss of information that may be vital for a proper understanding of the ecosystem. In this presentation, I will show how new observations, using 3D laser scanners in particular, are providing us with a new way to estimate the structure of trees. These measurements provide a wealth of information that allows us to build new 3D models to better exploit satellite and airborne observations, estimate the mass of trees, explore theories of metabolic scaling or monitor phenology. I will show how these highly-detailed 3D models, based on film industry animation techniques, can give us a 'virtual laboratory'. These virtual forests can assist in testing simpler models, methods and their associated uncertainties, and are being used for a variety of applications. Furthermore, 3D laser measurements allow for objective assessment of canopy structure and the vertical distribution of canopy constituents and light regime. This provides new insights into forest architecture and classification, which is often challenging in tropical forests because of their high biodiversity and complex vegetation structure.

Biography: Kim Calders is scientist at Ghent University. His current research interests are related to measurements of full 3D vegetation structure and how this is related to airborne or spaceborne remote sensing signals.  He received the BSc and MSc degrees in bioscience engineering from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (BE) in 2006 and 2008, respectively, the MSc degree in remote sensing from University College London (UK), in 2010, and the PhD degree in LiDAR remote sensing from Wageningen University (NL) in 2015. From 2015 until 2017 he was a Post-Doctoral Researcher with the National Physical Laboratory and the Department of Geography, UCL (UK). He was a Post-Doctoral Researcher and Marie-Curie Fellow at Ghent University from 2017 until 2021. Since October 2021, he is an Associate Research Professor of Earth Observation & Terrestrial Ecology at Ghent University (100%). He is a member of CAVElab (Computational & Applied Vegetation Ecology) research group at the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering where he leads the team on terrestrial laser scanning. He also holds a 10% Advisory Position on the Forest-Human-Machine Interplay Flagship (UNITE) at the University of Eastern Finland.

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Speaker: A/Prof Karen Joyce | JCU Nguma-bada campus |

Abstract: In 2008 when the United States government opened the entire archive of 30 years of Landsat satellite data, they started a trend in open Earth observation (EO). In doing so, they unlocked a multibillion-dollar industry. As the volume of Government open satellite data grows, the amount of data from a variety of alternative remote sensing platforms (including drones) is also increasing. However, the increased data acquisition options have not necessarily led to open data availability, particularly in the private sector. So how does the valuable data captured in the private sector fit in? I argue that all data should have a life beyond that for which it was captured. In other parts of our lives, we have become accustomed to reusing, recycling, and upcycling a wide variety of different products and materials, so why not have a similar approach to our data holdings? Rather than holding EO data tight to our chests, we should take the ‘Marie Kondo’ approach, and pass it on to others to whom its reuse will bring joy through scientific discovery and application. Collectively, this opens discussions about moving away from a linear economy - where products are created, used, and then discarded - to a circular economy. A circular economy aims to keep resources circulating for as long as possible, breathing new life into them in different ways before they become terminal. Open satellite data archives already encourage this circularity, but it is less evident with EO data captured in a more distributed manner as with drones. In developing a circular drone data economy, we build opportunities to continually add value and repurpose our drone data for ourselves and others to develop new insights. This mindset and behavior can provide economic benefits, enhance social welfare, promote research and innovations, facilitate education, and support good governance. So, are you ready to ditch single use data?

Biography: I am a biographer for Mother Earth, using satellites and drones as my scientific illustrators. I share my experiences drawn from 25 years as a geospatial scientist in academia, military, industry, and small business to help people discover science beyond lab coats and test tubes. But I have an ulterior motive. I am passionate about how we can use drones and geospatial technology to watch over our environment and its changes. So the more people I can inspire to join me, the faster we can put plans in place to help keep our environment healthy into the future.

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Speaker : Prof Leonida Fusani | | Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology (Director) | University of Vienna

Abstract:  Despite the widespread occurrence of elaborate courtship displays in a large number of taxa, we still do not understand the relative function of all their components and whether their configuration has itself a function. Multimodal displays that combine signals sent through different sensory channels are the norm rather than the exception, and birds are among the champions of elaborate displays. Research on sexual selection processes has often focused on specific, single traits, with a few attempts of understanding the integrated value of the whole courtship. I will illustrate how novel advanced video and audio recording technology and subsequent computer-assisted analysis of behaviour have revealed hidden aspects of elaborate displays and advanced our understanding of courtship.

Biography:  Leonida Fusani was educated in Italy and the UK and worked in Germany, USA, Italy, and since 2014 he holds a double appointment at the University of Vienna and University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria. His research bridges behavioural physiology and ecology, with a main focus on avian courtship and migration. Since 2017 he has been conducting studies on the elaborate courtship displays of bowerbirds and riflebirds in Australia.

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Speaker: James Watson| Professor | Conservation Science|University of Queensland

Abstract:  Humanity is exerting unprecedented pressure on the natural environment, driving a biodiversity extinction and climate crisis and placing strain on natural resources. Understanding the spatial distribution and growing dominance of different human pressures is vital for ambitious global goals such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. I will discuss recent advances in human pressure mapping, bringing together a number of global studies that assess how expanding human pressures are affecting progress towards global conservation progress. I will use this to frame the conservation challenge facing nations, and make the case for an urgent shift away from simplistic area-based targets (such as 30 by 30) to retention targets that aim to ensure those areas that are most important for biodiversity conservation (ranging from sites that stop extinction to those that still retain intact, species assemblages and ecological function) are conserved. We still have time to ‘bend the curve’ back for biodiversity but this can only happen when with an evidence-based strategy based on what species and ecosystems need in the face of expanding human pressures and the changing climate.

Biography:  Professor James Watson is a Professor of Conservation Science at The University of Queensland where he leads two research groups: the Green Fire Science research group (www.greenfirescience.com), whose mission is to do policy oriented research aimed directly at improving the outcomes of conservation around the world and the Research and Recovery of Endangered Species (RARES) Group (www.rares.org.au) whose mission is to work with partners to do applied research that is linked directly to the practice of site based rare species conservation. James has worked with numerous governments, industry and conservation NGOs over the past two decades, undertaking applied conservation practice and policy in many countries.

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Speakers : Susan Laurance (Professor) |Kali Middleby ( PhD candidate) | JCU Nguma-bada campus


Limiting the rise of global warming under 2oC will necessitate a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the additional sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere. Tropical forest preservation and restoration will be crucial to meet this goal. However, current and future changes in climate such as climate warming, heatwaves, drought and their promotion of wildfires, threaten the potential of tropical forests to sequester carbon.  Furthermore, the synergisms of these phenomena with existing disturbances such as cyclones, invasive grasses and land use, encompass a suite of challenging scenarios that will require adaptive solutions. We will discuss impacts of current and future climate scenarios on tropical forests and present the results of ongoing restoration research in order to establish how we should prioritise restoration research priorities for coming decades.


Susan Laurance is a Professor of Tropical Forest Ecology at JCU. She studied Masters at UNE with a thesis on the design of wildlife corridors and a PhD on the impacts of roads on Amazon birds. Susan was a postdoctoral fellow at STRI investigating the effects of land use and climate change on tropical forest communities, an ARC Future Fellow and President of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation. Susan has published 156 peer-reviewed articles with > 28000 citations, and received >$6million in grant funding. Currently, Susan is a member of the European Research Council’s Life Science expert panel.

Kali Middleby is a JCU PhD graduate student, studying the impacts of climate warming on tropical trees. Specifically, her work examines the patterns and drivers of intraspecific trait variation and how this influences the thermal safety margin of forests. Kali studied her undergraduate at the University of Göttingen in Germany where she completed honours on the relationship between leaf and air temperatures, and how this varies seasonally as well as vertically throughout the canopy.

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Speaker: Rachel Walshe| Phd Candidate | JCU Nguma bada campus |

Abstract:  This paper explores the role of school garden learning experiences in de-escalating Environmental Generational Amnesia (EGA). EGA is a generational type of environmental forgetting brought about by prolonged disconnection from 'nature', with symptoms manifesting as poor motor skills, deficient food origin knowledge, a lack of moral affiliation towards the natural realm and undeveloped connection to place. Drawing on interviews with teachers, parents, counsellors, groundskeepers, and administrators at a Far North Queensland primary school, this paper explores how school garden learning experiences are perceived to remediate EGA through fostering interaction patterns that combat its symptoms. We find that urban school garden interactions offer new possibilities for (re)connecting students to the 'natural realm' in ways that can de-escalate the manifestation of EGA, inviting the 'out there' concept of nature back into the urban fold.

Biography: Rachael Walshe is a passionate Ph.D. researcher in Society and Culture, holding a Class I Honours degree in Geography and a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Management. Her current research delves into the intricate interplay between environmental generational amnesia and food disconnection among urban children. At the heart of her investigation lies a keen interest in exploring community gardens as socially and environmentally significant spaces that foster a reconnection to both nature and community while promoting sustainable food practices. Rachael's work sheds light on the profound impact of community gardens, offering valuable insights into how they can play a pivotal role in cultivating a greener, more connected, and more sustainable future for urban communities.

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Speaker:  Conrad Hoskin | Associate Professor | JCU Townsville

Abstract: I have spent 25 years exploring reptile and frog diversity in Queensland’s rainforests. When I started, I thought I’d missed the ‘age of discovery’, but it turned out many highly distinct species remained to be discovered and described to science. I will present some of those discoveries, and what the discoveries mean for our understanding of the deep and more recent history of Queensland’s rainforests. I will present some incredible examples of persistence and adaptation to unique habitats, and I will discuss some of the conservation challenges around these species and areas as they face an uncertain future.

Biography: Associate Professor Conrad Hoskin studies biodiversity — what’s out there, how it arises and adapts, and how we can conserve it. He has a particular interest in tropical biodiversity and much of his research has been on reptiles and frogs. He did his PhD at UQ, an APD (DECRA) Fellowship at ANU, an ABRS Fellowship at JCU, and then has been an academic at JCU for about 10 years. Conrad is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Queensland Museum. He has published 100 papers, two field guides, contributed to numerous books, and written many popular articles. He has won a Eureka Prize and is the current recipient of the Queensland Natural History Award.

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Speaker:  Steven Nowakowski | Environmentalist |

Abstract: As we quickly transition to renewables, conservationists must become experts in energy production, transmission, and consumption. Due to the absence of any state planning whatsoever in Queensland, current and proposed industrial scaled renewable energy footprints are impacting threatened and endangered species and critically important habitats. The cumulative impacts present an unacceptably high threat to biodiversity. Options for protecting biodiversity and achieving a reduction in emissions are possible by delivering proper planning for renewables and allowing consideration for all forms of zero emissions energy generation.

Biography: Steven Nowakowski is a committed environmentalist who has spent decades campaigning for the protection of wild areas. Steven considers himself a grass roots activist, whilst also being involved with organisations such as Rainforest Reserves Australia, Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook, Kur-Alert, Save Our Slopes, and Cairns and Far North Environment Centre. Steven has been fortunate to express his love for wild places through photography which he considers a crucial medium to showcase a ‘feeling’ for such places. Over years of campaigning, Steven has made life-long connections with Traditional Owners, community groups and conservation organisations. Steven believes his passion and commitment combined with his networking skills can connect the community with conservation outcomes.

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Speaker: Gerry Turpin | Senior Ethnobotanist|ATH | Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre | Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at JCU Nguma-bada campus

Abstract: The Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) was established in 2010 through consultation with Traditional Owners (TOs) from north Queensland and other interested parties. It is unique as it is the first of its kind in Australia and is a concept initiated and driven by TOs.  The aim of TIEC is to support TOs to record and document, manage, and protect and sustain their cultural knowledge on the use of plants. This presentation will highlight the importance of collection, documentation, and preservation of Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge. It will focus on Intellectual property, protocols, and agreements, including the recent legislation of the updated Queensland’s Biodiscovery Act, using our current project ‘Discovering novel drug lead molecules for inflammatory bowel disease from Australian Aboriginal tropical medicinal plants’ funded by NHMRC Ideas Grant. This project – led by the Mbabaram Aboriginal community and JCU - is currently the sole permitted project under the updated Biodiscovery Act 2004 and is already delivering exciting discoveries.

Biography: Gerry Turpin is an Mbabaram Traditional Owner from north Queensland with familial links to Wadjanbarra Yidinjii and Nadjon on the Atherton Tablelands, and Kuku Thaypan on Cape York. He is an Indigenous Ethnobotanist with the Australian Tropical Herbarium and has been employed by the Department of Science (DES) for over 30 years He is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at James Cook University, Smithfield Campus, and is currently studying for a Masters degree on Aboriginal Medicinal Plants. Gerry has been the coordinator of the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre at the Australian Tropical Herbarium for the past 12 years.  Previous work has been carrying out vegetation surveys and regional ecosystem mapping in Queensland with the Queensland Herbarium, Brisbane. As an Indigenous ethnobotanist Gerry has a strong cultural commitment to facilitating effective partnerships that support Indigenous communities to protect, manage and maintain their cultural knowledge on the use of plants.

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Speaker: A/Prof Lucas Cernusak| James Cook University |Nguma-bada campus

Abstract: Stomatal conductance impacts both photosynthesis and transpiration, and is therefore fundamental to the global carbon and water cycles, food production, and ecosystem services. Mathematical models provide the primary means of analysing this important leaf gas exchange parameter.  A nearly universal assumption in such models is that the relative humidity inside leaves always remains saturated.  Here, I will discuss the reasoning behind this assumption, and present evidence that it is not correct under all conditions.

Biography: Lucas Cernusak is an Associate Professor in the Ecology and Zoology group at James Cook University- Cairns.  His main research interest is to understand the environmental and biological controls on carbon dioxide and water vapour exchange between leaves and the atmosphere.  He is also interested in improving the interpretation of stable isotope signals in plant organic material, in order to better understand how leaf gas exchange has responded to global climate change through time and how it varies across ecological gradients.

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Speaker: A/Prof Anne Gaskett| School of Biological Sciences | University of Auckland

Abstract: Sensory traps fool insects into mating with orchids, and seabirds into colliding with brightly lit city buildings. My team research how animals perceive, evolve, and respond to sensory stimuli, for fascinating insights into evolution, but also new data for conservation. Sexually deceptive orchids use mimicry and sensory tricks to fool male insects into mating with flowers. Sexual deception could be considered a quirky but benign phenomenon and described with lots of cliched gender stereotypes … but we take a fresh perspective and investigate the long-term evolutionary consequences with an inclusive approach. We’ve discovered orchids can trigger pollinator ejaculation, and drive changes in pollinator morphology, behaviour and population dynamics. In turn, pollinators are not hapless dupes, but strategic responders with previously unknown resilience. It’s super interesting! When conservation threats involve sensory issues like colours, light or sound, there can be sensory solutions. Seabirds are one of the most at-risk animal groups, and have evolved sophisticated and sensitive sensory systems in response to challenges such as foraging and migrating over vast featureless oceans, or finding their mate, nest or chick in a busy colony. The city of Tamaki Makaurau|Auckland in Aotearoa|New Zealand is one of the world’s great seabird hotspots – a great place to investigate how seabird senses correlate with fishing bycatch, attraction to boat and city lights, plastic ingestion, and using calls and scents to try and attract birds back to restored sites.

Biography: I’m a mum and love spending time with my family in nature, making discoveries, cups of tea, cooking, op shops, and reading funny books with my kids. I grew up in Melbourne (with family in country Vic and Tassie), moved to Sydney and did a PhD at Macquarie Uni, then a PostDoc at Cornell Uni in the USA. Since 2010, I’ve been a lecturer at Auckland Uni in Aotearoa New Zealand. I’m Chair of my department’s Equity Committee - feel free to ask me about inclusive and equitable hiring and promotions, applying for jobs, personal and interpersonal safety during fieldwork, inclusive class fieldtrips and courses, and making practical changes for more inclusive workplaces.

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Speaker:  A/Prof Greg Holwell | School of Biological Sciences | University of Auckland

Abstract: Naturalists have always been fascinated by the sexual traits of animals. The extreme morphologies that influence male reproductive success are wonderful subjects for both nature documentaries and evolutionary research. Morphological structures that influence male competitive success can be exaggerated and complex, but are also extraordinarily diverse. Yet the reasons for the diversity in form among male sexual structures such as weaponry and genitalia are still uncertain. Over the last 15 years, my students and I have been combining single species and comparative approaches to investigate diversity in morphology across a range of spectacular New Zealand invertebrates. I will discuss some of the patterns we have unveiled highlighting the amazing natural history behind the extreme weaponry of sheet web spiders, harvestmen, giraffe weevils and cave wētā, and the somewhat sinister genitalia of lichen tuft moths. I hope to emphasise how harnessing curiosity and using natural history to guide us, we can uncover entirely new phenomena, contribute to theory, and tap into people’s innate fascination with the natural world.

Biography: I am a dad and love spending time in nature with my family, macro photography, drinking coffee and eating cake. I am a strong advocate for research into unstudied and poorly known invertebrate species and using natural history as the starting point to test evolutionary and behavioural hypotheses. I grew up in Stawell, western Victoria, did my PhD and postdoc at Macquarie University, Sydney, then took up a lectureship at the University of Auckland in Aotearoa | New Zealand where I have been since 2008.

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Speaker:  Prof May Tan-Mullins | Chief Sustainability Officer |Dean International |  JCU Singapore

Abstract: China’s significance in global environmental issues is undisputable. As an active and major financier and builder of overseas investment and infrastructural projects, the business behaviours of these Chinese companies inevitably impact on the environment and social contexts of the recipient countries. In particular, the ASEAN countries have been severely impacted as Chinese outward foreign direct investment (COFDI) has been flowing into this region at an unprecedented rate in recent years.  This is partly due to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and regional demand for Chinese investment and trade. COFDI is much welcomed by these countries as it brings economic benefits and enables the pursuit of national development schemes. However, the outcomes of these COFDI projects on the economic, political, cultural, and environmental fabric of host countries have been dramatic, as it often involves a shift of power configuration and resource ownerships between different stakeholders. Drawing from evidence in three Southeast Asia countries (Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia), this paper investigates how variables such as host country regime type and relations with China, and its’ local capacity to enforce laws and regulations, shape the environmental outcomes of COFDI. The findings of this paper will inform the mitigation strategies of the environmental implications arising from these COFDI.

Biography: May Tan-Mullins’s research interests are political ecology of rising China, environmental and energy justice, poverty alleviation and building resilience for the poorest and most vulnerable in the Tropics. Based on her expertise in various international development and human security issues, she was a consultant for the UNDP, National Bureau of Asian Research (US), Revenue Watch Institute (US) and the Chinese government. Professor May Tan-Mullins was also awarded the prestigious global Rockefeller Bellagio writing residency in Bellagio Centre, Lake Como in Italy. Her latest research project is with the Research Council of Norway on the topic of ‘Roads to Power? The Political Effects of Infrastructure Projects in Asia (2021-2024).

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Speaker: Margaret Cook | Research Fellow at the Australian Rivers Institute | Griffith University | La Trobe University

Abstract: Sub-tropical rivers are prone to flooding as part of their natural life cycles. Despite the knowledge of the Aboriginal people, British settlers developed an urban settlement on the floodplains of Southeast Queensland in the 1820s, creating a permanent and spiralling hazard. Dam construction bred a dependency on engineering to manage floods, rather than deploying town planning, building codes and legislation to manage floodplain development. However, major floods in 1893, 1974, 2011 and 2022 proved flood control is illusory as lives were lost and property destroyed. Rather than repeat the mistakes of the past we need to think about alternative futures so that we can live with floods.

Biography: Margaret Cook is a Research Fellow in the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, and at La Trobe University. Her research interests include ‘natural’ disasters, water and river histories. She has published extensively on floods and her recent books are A River a City Problem, Disasters in Australia and New Zealand and Cities in a Sunburnt Country.

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Speaker: Sophie Zwartsenberg | visiting PhD Candidate | Wageningen University

Abstract: Tropical forests form a crucial part of the global carbon cycle, and their responses to climate can change the forest from a source to a sink. But how do trees respond to climate? And how can we study this across long time series? Each tree holds its own story, preserving their younger selves in the tree rings. Tree rings can record many different events such as fires, volcano eruptions, landslides, and climate effects. Using tree rings to reconstruct the growth and climate sensitivity of tropical forests, we generally find that trees respond negatively to temperature, and positivity to precipitation. But why? Using modelling approaches we find that stem growth responses to climate shift across large climatic gradients, that precipitation and temperature interactively determine growth and that these effects are best explained by net primary productivity and allocation.

Biography: Sophie studied evolution, biodiversity and tropical ecology and the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where she currently works as a PhD candidate. Her work focuses on tropical tree growth and physiology in response to climate and CO2 in Asia and Australia, using the species Toona ciliata (red cedar) as a model organism. She uses a combination of methods including tree-ring measurements, isotope methods and mechanistic modelling approaches to reconstruct historical climate sensitivity of growth and physiology.

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Speaker: Mahmood Soofi | Feodor Lynen Research Fellow

Abstract: Protected areas are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, but most conflict with the interests of people who participate in the unlawful harvest of wildlife (poaching), as exemplified by armed clashes between poachers and rangers. Such conflicts are complex and may negatively affect both conservation outcomes and the well-being of the people involved. Because poaching is an illegal activity it is notoriously difficult to detect. To address the drivers of illegal killing of wildlife and to mitigate conflict, methodologies are necessary that accommodate the imperfect detection of illegal killings. Using records of ranger seizures of large ungulates and carnivores (e.g., Persian leopard) from Iran, I quantify and map the intensity of illegal killing of these mammals using hierarchical models (e.g., N-mixture modelling) across the country. This approach showed that the illegal killing of ungulates was positively affected by the unemployment rate in Iran over the last decade. In addition, I used models from sociopsychology including ‘integrated threat theory’ to address these wildlife conflicts. Using a structured questionnaire survey to interview rangers and the application of structural equation modelling, I demonstrate that relationships based on positive interactions between rangers and poachers can reduce prejudice and fear. Existing violent conflict is unlikely to decrease with an enforcement only approach.

Biography: Mahmood Soofi is a Feodor Lynen Research Fellow of the Humboldt Foundation based at CSIRO, Darwin, and the University of Göttingen, Germany. He is a conservation scientist whose work spans wildlife monitoring, population ecology, and human-wildlife conflict, with a focus on large mammals. Mahmood’s current research focuses on understanding the drivers of conservation conflicts particularly people who participate in unlawful harvests, planning for effective and socially just conservation, and accounting for social-ecological system dynamics. Mahmood seeks to understand and improve the effectiveness of protected areas through evaluating conservation interventions (e.g., law enforcement) and developing approaches to mitigate/transform conflicts.

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Speaker:  Jayden Engert | PhD candidate | JCU Nguma-bada campus

Abstract:  Australia is a global leader in land-clearing and biodiversity loss. The overwhelming majority of land clearing within Australia and globally, is driven by conversion to productive lands, including agricultural and pastoral uses. Bias towards productive land uses in land-use planning also leads to residual conservation of unproductive landscapes, which might act as marginal or sink habitats for many species. Using an integrated agricultural suitability map and high-quality species range maps, we analyze the influence of agricultural suitability on habitat loss and protection rates for Australia’s plant and animal species. We additionally assess how agricultural suitability determines which parts of a species range receives protection. Finally, using the agricultural suitability map we identify regions of Australia at-risk of future land-clearing, and the species likely to bear the brunt of the impacts.

Biography: Jayden Engert is an applied ecologist with a particular interest in human impacts, ecological restoration, and forest conservation. He completed a Bachelors in Zoology and a Masters in Protected Area Management at James Cook University, including a research component on tropical forest restoration. He has spent years working as a Geospatial Technician on various land management and conservation research projects. Jayden is a currently a PhD candidate at JCU where he aims to predict the environmental impacts of proposed large-scale infrastructure development projects across the Asia-Pacific region.

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Speaker: Sher Bahadur Gurung | PhD candidate | JCU Nguma-bada campus

Abstract: The increasing disturbance in natural hydrology due to urbanization and climate change has demanded the need of technology to reduce the impact of such disturbances. Water-sensitive urban design (WSUD) has emerged as a technique to mitigate such risk such as storm water management, flood control, water quality improvement of fresh and marine water. This practice has evolved gradually attributed by both fields as well model based knowledge. However, global practice of such techniques can only be achieved by optimal nexus of both knowledge. In this webinar, Sher will share his field experience and monitored data including his current modelling-based approach adopted to understand the WSUD effectiveness, in tropical environments.

Biography: Sher is currently, a PhD candidate at James Cook University, Cairns. Before, his PhD, he was involved in several research activity related to WSUD practices in South Korea. His area of research work focuses on the storm water management using WSUD. He has also published research articles related to the WSUD and received several research grants (Brain Korea 21 plus, best student paper prize and IRTPS) during his career.

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Speaker: Dr Ding Li Y | Conservation biologist | Regional Coordinator at BirdLife International

Abstract: More than 500 species of migratory birds travel the East Asian-Australasian Flyway each year, linking their breeding and wintering grounds across more than 20 countries. However, the region is also the most populous part of the planet, and wetlands and migratory species are under immense pressures from every possible threat from habitat loss to hunting. In this webinar, Yong Ding Li will share what we know about how different threats are impacting migratory species in the Asia-Pacific region, including the charismatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and insights on ongoing work at the national and international level to protect species and wetlands at BirdLife International.

Biography: Yong Ding Li carried out his PhD research in conservation and ecology at the Australian National University. He currently works at BirdLife International’s Asia Division as Regional Coordinator for its work on migratory bird conservation, and oversees project in several Asian countries. Ding Li is especially interested in Asian ecosystems, the ecology of migratory species and how regional cooperation can strengthen their conservation. He has written several papers and books on biodiversity conservation and birds in Asia.

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Speaker: Dr Lahiru S. Wijedasa | Asia Forest Programme Coordinator, BirdLife International

Abstract: Discovering undescribed species is an exhilarating feeling. In this talk, I will take l take you through 19 years of exploration and conservation work in Southeast Asia. During this journey, I was fortunate to discover and describe 14 new species of plants, ranging from forest giants to tiny herbs found beside footpaths in some of the worlds most visited national parks. However, my discoveries have also led to despair, as describing new species will not save them from extinction. This led me from a career in conservation science to a career in field conservation practice to protect and restore ecosystems within the region.

Biography: Lahiru runs the forest programme across 12 Asian countries for BirdLife International. This includes his role on the Board of Management of Hutan Harapan, and ecosystem restoration concession in Sumatra that accounts for 30% of the remaining lowland forest of Sumatra which includes tigers, elephants and forest based indigenous communities. He is also a tropical peatland scientist who has worked on policy, carbon emissions and restoration of peatlands and mangroves across all regions of Southeast Asia. Prior to his PhD, he worked at the Singapore Botanic Gardens as a tree surgeon and started his botanical explorations in Southeast Asia, completing a master’s in plant taxonomy at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh in the process. He also setup ConservationLinks as an agroforestry company that links consumers with spices and coffee to fund restoration in 2016. Throughout this career, Lahiru has described and collaborated on descriptions of 14 plant species new to science across South and Southeast Asia.

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Speaker: Associate Professor Penny van Oosterzee | JCU Adjunct | Thiaki Rainforest Research Project

Abstract: Cloud Land is a story of a patch of rainforest at the head of Thiaki Creek, the very first runnels of the Johnstone River. The focus is on events that made a difference to the rainforest itself. Interwoven with this is my own relationship with Thiaki during the restoration of a 50-hectare paddock. The book pleats and folds through deep time, forever time, evolutionary time, dreaming time, historical time and contemporary time.  The assembly of events exposes insights that are otherwise hidden when looked at individually. Here is a taste

Biography:  Penny van Oosterzee is an Adjunct Associate Professor at James Cook University. Penny’s research areas have a focus on policy agendas related to ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, biodiversity and climate change abatement. Penny is also a multi-award winning science writer including two Eureka Science Awards, several Whitley Awards, the John Mulvaney Award for archaeology for her books. Her company is a linkage partner for two Australian Research Council projects on rainforest cost-effective restoration based on her rainforest property Thiaki Creek Nature Reserve. These projects have seen 30 hectares of restoration plantings established with biodiversity core-benefits.  Thiaki Creek generates Australian Carbon Credit Units.

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