TESS Seminars 2024 Seminar Series

2024 Seminar Series

Speaker: Dr Alain Senghor K. Ngute | University of the Sunshine Coast

Abstract: In a global meta-analysis, I use an unprecedented dataset to show that lianas (woody vines) thrive relatively better than trees when forests are disturbed, temperatures increase, precipitation decreases, and especially in the tropical lowlands. The proliferation of these woody vines can persist for many decades after disturbances and hinder the recovery of disturbed forests, particularly when climate favours lianas. With implications for the ability of global forests to store carbon, these findings suggest that liana-infested tropical forests should be highly prioritised in restoration planning and management.

Biography: Alain Ngute, originally from Cameroon, is a passionate field ecologist specialising in tropical forest ecosystems, species responses to environmental change, and climate change impacts and adaptation of mountain socio-ecological systems. His recent PhD focused on the role lianas play in the recovery of tropical forests from disturbance. Alain’s work, so far, has been recognised by several grants and awards, reflecting his passion for integrating traditional knowledge with modern conservation practices to address environmental challenges.

Watch the video recording of the seminar.

Speaker: Dr Julian Schrader | Macquarie University

Abstract: Islands support outstanding biodiversity. However, their natural vegetation is increasingly being threatened by global change. This seminar is focusing on island floras and will discuss how island vegetation may respond to global warming by piecing together four case studies. First, I will show global patterns of island plant diversity as well as their threat status using a novel island-vegetation dataset. Second, I will discuss species gains and losses along temperature gradients in Australia, which can serve as baseline predictions of vegetation turnover under future climate warming. Third, I will introduce a novel database for Australian islands. And fourth, I will discuss which species may be best adapted to travel poleward with warming climate using plant functional traits on Australia’s islands as a research model. Arising out of these case studies, I will outline future research possibilities for addressing the impact of global change on vegetation dynamics across spatial and temporal scales.

Biography: Julian Schrader is a vegetation ecologist with special interest in plant functional ecology, biogeography and conservation biology. He works as a Lecturer at Macquarie University. He has a broad interest in ecological research spanning from plant adaptations of single species to community assembly processes and patterns of biodiversity at global scale. His synthesising research linking functional ecology to island biogeography opened up new directions in understanding plant assembly processes on islands and fragmented habitats on the mainland. Currently, he is studying species spatial and temporal turnover dynamics and species movements under global change using a novel Australia-wide dataset of species occurrences on islands.

Video recording to be available soon.

Speaker: Associate Professor Edwin T. Pos | Utrecht University

Abstract: What if we view ecology from a more quantitative perspective and employ principles from information theory and statistics? What can we learn and how can it help us understand the drivers of ecosystem dynamics? In this seminar we will cover the brief history of such approaches and discuss examples of Maximum-Entropy and information-theory applications in ecology as well as a brief outlook on current advances and frontiers.

Biography: Edwin Pos is an associate professor and head of Quantitative Biodiversity Dynamics at Utrecht University, and scientific director of the Utrecht University Botanic Gardens. A theoretical and evolutionary ecologist who focuses on Neotropical ecosystems, he seeks to meld principles from ecology with those from mathematics and physics. He is involved in studies ranging from tropical inventories, theoretical work and from the history of botanic collections to species distribution models using remote sensing.

Watch the What do the Numbers Say? video recording.

Speaker: Emma Mackintosh, PhD Candidate | University of the Sunshine Coast

Abstract: Lianas are a conspicuous feature of tropical forests. Ongoing disturbances and climate change may be causing an increase in liana abundance relative to trees, with serious consequences for forest functioning and recovery. This could be a particularly serious problem in the Wet Tropics bioregion of Australia given its exposure to recurring cyclone damage and past anthropogenic disturbances. Using data collected from a newly established plot network in the region, I found that lianas were associated with continued biomass loss following a major cyclone, and their abundance relative to trees appears to be driven by forest disturbances and increasing temperatures. This highlights an urgent need for further studies on liana management to preserve tropical forests and their critical carbon sinks.

Biography: Emma Mackintosh is currently completing her PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast, investigating the role of lianas in rainforest recovery. With a background in biology and ecology, her main research interest is tropical rainforests, in particular their response to disturbances. She has extensive field experience in Australia’s cyclone-damaged tropical rainforests as part of her PhD, and has previously studied rainforest logging and conversion to oil palm in Malaysian Borneo.

Watch the video recording of the seminar.

Speaker: Dr Stuart Pimm | Duke University

Abstract: Human actions are driving species to extinction about a thousand times faster than they diversify through evolution. Extinctions are primarily in ‘hotspot’ areas where high levels of habitat loss collide with concentrations of species with small geographical ranges. The principal means of preventing species extinctions is the creation of protected areas—yet most of these are in remote places, too hot, too dry, or too cold for human habitation—with few vulnerable species. Will expanding the protected-area network to 30% improve things?  Not if it’s business as usual, for more land will not equate to more species. In protecting more areas, quality matters, not quantity. Importantly, many protected areas are small and isolated. To maximise effectiveness, we must restore fragmented landscapes, allowing the remnant populations to connect and species to move in response to a heating global climate.

Biography: Dr Stuart Pimm, Professor of Conservation at Duke University, is a global leader in studying biodiversity, especially present-day extinctions and what the world can do to prevent them.  Pimm directs Saving Nature, a non-profit that uses donations for carbon-emissions offsets to fund conservation in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity.  He was awarded the 2019 International Cosmos Prize for his ground-breaking research on endangered species and their habitats. His other international honours also include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010) and the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).

Watch the video recording of this seminar.

Seminar 3: Transition to Extinction

A distinguished group of speakers, including Indigenous elders, scientists, nature photographers, lawyers and energy experts, will present a constellation of views on the environmental and societal costs of wind and solar developments.  Eastern Australia and the Great Dividing Range are hotspots for future wind developments, with the potential for disruption of some of the continent’s most biologically important ecosystems.

Watch the video recordings:


  • Georgina Stacpoole | Jirrbal Custodian
  • David Carney | Elder Jirrbal Custodian
  • Steven Nowakowski | Photographer

Biography: Steven Nowakowski is a widely published nature photographer who specialises in natural history subjects and publications. His self-publishing business now distributes widely and fulfils Steven’s desire to convey his love of nature and wild places. Steven has also been actively involved with many environmental groups and causes throughout his life, from direct activism to participating on committees of environmental organisations. These include the Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook, President of Kur-Alert, founding member of Save Our Slopes, and Committee member of the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre as well as editor of its magazine Ecotone for nearly a decade. Politically, Steven was a formative committee member of the Far North Queensland Green’s Branch and has run as a candidate numerous time. Steven is fortunate to be able to express his love for wild places through photography which he considers a crucial medium to convey a ‘feeling’ for such places. In 2011 Steven received A Cassowary Award for his contribution to the arts and in 2022, Steven was announced as the recipient of the William T. Cooper Conservation Award by the Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group of the Atherton Tablelands (FNQ) for his tireless conservation work.

Speaker: Roger Martin, Wildlife Biologist

Abstract: An increasing number of large wind turbines are being erected on upland sites on the western edge of the Dividing Range in Far North Queensland. Largely because of the high elevation and reliable summer rainfall, the upland sclerophyll forests of this area are extremely important climate change refugia for wildlife. This is particularly true for the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), an endangered species which inhabits these forests. Northern koalas are solitary, highly mobile animals that occupy large ranges and occur in extremely low abundance. Individuals rely on their low frequency contact calls and their great auditory acuity to locate conspecifics. The legislation controlling these developments (the EPBC Act, 1999) predates wind turbines and the amount of low frequency noise that turbines can inflict on wildlife is unregulated. There is an urgent need for scientific investigation of this noise and its wildlife impacts. We suggest that wind turbines could pose a threat to the viability of koala populations in this area. Habitat availability could decrease because the sheer volume of turbine noise could cause koalas, with their acute low frequency hearing, to abandon high quality habitat because of its proximity to wind turbines. Their noise could also mask long range koala contact calls and therefore decrease their breeding success.

Biography: Roger Martin is a wildlife biologist who lives on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland. In 1983 he was awarded the degree of Master of Science by Monash University for his pioneering research on the ecology of koalas in Victoria. He continued his work on koalas into the late 1990’s and published numerous scientific papers on their biology over that time. In 1989 he was commissioned by the Victorian Department of Conservation to write the first management plan for the koala in that State.  In 1996 he co-authored the book ‘The Koala: Natural History, Conservation and Management’ which was published in Australia by UNSW Press and in the United States by Krieger Publishing Company. Reprinted in 1999, it is now out of print but still cited in the scientific literature as a primary reference on the biology of the koala. Roger commenced research on Bennett’s Tree-kangaroo in 1989 and moved to the Tablelands to live and conduct research on Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo in 2011. Alarmed by the death of an estimated 60,000 koalas in the 2018/19 bushfires in south-eastern Australia and the resulting upgrade of the koala to ‘endangered’ status in both Queensland and New South Wales, Roger resumed koala research in 2021. The focus of this research is the koala population of Far North Queensland. Up to this time no field studies have been done on these northern koalas, yet the upland Eucalyptus forests of this region are recognized as important climate change ‘refugia’; that is, habitat where wild koalas may avoid the probable devastation to be wrought by climate change on most of Australia’s southern populations.

Speaker: Adjunct Professor Timothy D. Nevard| The Cairns Institute, James Cook University

Abstract: Three to four thousand Brolgas and Australian Sarus Cranes use the Atherton Tablelands as a dry season flocking area each year.  They gather to feed on crop residues and use around 25 overnight roosts between May and December, before departing to breed in the Gulf Plains of western Queensland. Wind infrastructure is a relatively recent development on the Atherton Tablelands, whose Key Biodiversity Area was established to help conserve the distinctive Australian Sarus Crane in its only known dry season flocking area. Neither species is a focus of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, but cranes on the Atherton Tablelands are a characteristic part of its uniquely diverse landscape and natural history.  This short presentation will explore how the cumulative development of wind power infrastructure could affect them.

Biography: Tim Nevard is an Adjunct Professor at The Cairns Institute, James Cook University. His career as a landscape ecologist, conservation scientist and practitioner has encompassed projects and initiatives in the voluntary, private, public and academic sectors across five continents.  He has been awarded the Order of Australia and Centenary of Federation Medals for his service to nature conservation and the community.

Speaker: Dominica Sophia Tannock

Biography: Dominica Sophia Tannock is an Australian Legal Practitioner, registered in Victoria. Since 2014, she has been the principal lawyer of DST Legal.  Dominica operates as a sole practitioner.  Most of her legal practice involves acting on behalf of Australian people living in regional communities who are adversely impacted by industrial emissions from wind farms, factories and mines, and who seek redress.

Speaker: Professor Stephen Wilson | University of Queensland

Abstract: “We need” are two short words that are repeated ad nauseum in discussion, debate and what used to be called ‘reporting’ or ‘journalism’ on climate and energy policy, followed by some version of:  “Think of forests of wind farms carpeting hills and cliffs from sea to sky. Think of endless arrays of solar panels disappearing like a mirage into the desert,” …to quote Australia’s former chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel. As the early stages of the ‘renewable energy transition’ come to their local area, a growing number of people in the Far North Queensland community have begun to ask: What on earth are we doing? Are we destroying our local environments and communities in a vain attempt to save the planet from climate change? How did we get to this point? Where are we heading? Do we need a Plan B?  Stephen is the kind of person who will stop and question the meaning of those little words “we” and “need.” Stephen will discuss what a power system is, how it works, and why he thinks Australia’s current ‘Plan A’ is destructive and dangerous. In his brief talk, Stephen will share some insights from his professional and academic experience in the worlds of university research, commercial strategy, and government policy. Stephen has a tendency to challenge listeners. He is on the public record as saying that we are testing the market to destruction (House of Reps inquiry, 2019) and that our current energy policy and plans for our electricity systems is “a perpetual recession machine” (CIS event, Sydney, Jun 2023). Stephen’s talk will be grounded in the basic physical principles on which engineering systems work. But don’t worry: an engineering or science background will not be needed to follow the talk.

Biography: Stephen is an engineer and an energy economist with over 30 years’ experience on projects in some 30 countries, spanning all forms of energy along the value chain. After graduating in mechanical engineering from the University of Melbourne, Stephen started his career as a consultant in energy efficiency and demand side management. His journey has taken him through electricity and gas transmission and distribution networks and storage, to power generation and all of the major primary energy sources. His work spans uranium and thermal coal for nuclear power generation, metallurgical coal in the iron and steel industry, as well as natural gas, oil, biofuels, and the role of wind and solar in power systems. He has supervised research on the production and export cost of green hydrogen. He has worked with a number of energy-economy-emissions models over the years. At UQ Stephen supervised research on Understanding the opportunities and costs of planning and operating electricity systems with high shares of variable renewable energy sources. That work also looked at the effect on costs of repealing the bans on nuclear energy in Australia and allowing the new generation of small modular reactors with a high degree of operational flexibility. Stephen was the principal investigator of the study and lead author of the report on What would be required for nuclear energy plants to be operating in Australia from the 2030s published by the University of Queensland in 2021. Stephen Wilson is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering at the University of Queensland, managing director of Cape Otway Associates, and a Visiting Fellow in Energy Security at the IPA.

Carolyn Emms| President, Rainforest Reserves Australia

Biography: Founding member and President of Rainforest Reserves Australia.  Carolyn Emms is a volunteer who has been involved with revegetation projects since 1990 and has supported many conservation foundations by assisting with the purchase of over 400,000 hectares of land of high conservation value. She has donated towards the establishment of Camden Sounds Sanctuary for Humpback Whales (Kimberley region, Western Australia), Piccaninny Plains (Cape York, Far North Queensland), Edgbaston Reserve (Central Queensland), and Mission Beach rainforest. Carolyn has purchased rainforest land to establish Rock Road Wildlife Corridor which has been sold to Endeavour Trust for Nature. In 2016, she established Barrine Park Nature Refuge which she is expanding for the Tablelands Cassowary Facility.

Speaker: Professor John Terborgh | Duke University

Abstract: Elephants are regarded as “ecological engineers” for their capacity to transform habitats, as is well documented for savanna and woodland habitats, where they can safely be observed. Direct observations have not been possible as yet in closed evergreen forests, so little is known about elephant impacts in this environment. My wife, Lisa, and I, along with many collaborators, have been studying elephant impacts in equatorial evergreen forests for a decade, using both indirect and direct methods. We show that elephants, augmented by other megafauna, decisively influence forest structure, composition and diversity. Selective reduction of preferred forage species suppresses species diversity without driving local extinctions. When a forest loses its elephants, its tree species diversity increases sharply in what we term “diversity release.” Unlike the impacts of most human-mediated disturbances to tropical forests, effects of the natural disturbances generated by megafauna appear to be fully reversible.

Biography: John Terborgh is James B. Duke Professor of Environmental Science Emeritus in Duke University (USA) and has current affiliations with the University of Florida and James Cook University. His work focuses on tropical ecology, particularly plant-animal interactions and trophic cascades. He has published more than 350 articles and 8 books. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He won Pew and MacArthur Fellowships in 1992, and in 1996 received the Daniel Geraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences. He has served on the boards of numerous conservation organizations and in 1999 he founded ParksWatch, an organization dedicated to monitoring and publicizing the status of parks in developing countries. He remains active in research and conservation to the present.

Watch the Megafauna Impacts video recording

Speaker: Associate Professor Ali Chauvenet | Griffith University

Abstract: Mental wellbeing is emerging as a service from nature to society.  Worldwide, countries are starting to look at nature-based therapy approaches to supplement mainstream healthcare.  Australia, however, is lagging behind on nature-based opportunities for wellbeing, despite support from the public and health practitioners.  Further, while green spaces are one of the few free community resources available to all, up to 30% of the population do not visit them regularly.  In the midst of contemporary environmental and mental health crises, mental wellbeing has the potential to deliver benefits for both people and nature by linking individual interests to large-scale environmental concerns.  In this talk, I will discuss our research on measuring mental-wellbeing benefits for people visiting parks, a framework for the economic valuation of these benefits, and reasons that people have unequal access to such vital benefits.

Biography: Dr Ali Chauvenet is an Associate Professor in the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University, and a member of both the Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security and the Griffith Centre for Mental Health.  Her background is in ecology and conservation science, and she is a self-confessed data and stats nerd.  Her current research focuses on the benefits of protecting nature for human wellbeing via an interdisciplinary approach combining conservation, psychology, and ecological economics.

Watch the video recording of the seminar.