Research themes

Our scientific research is focused on 6 flagship research themes.

Landscape connectivity | Habitat refuge | Problem species | Fire ecology | Species in our landscapes | Restoration ecology

Landscape connectivity

The effects of habitat loss and fragmentation have been well researched for decades.

Purple-gaped honeyeater at Chingarrup, WA. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

Purple-gaped honeyeater at Chingarrup, WA. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

One of the accepted principles to emerge is that plant and animal populations that are divided or isolated by habitat loss are more likely to decline than populations in large, intact and connected habitat.

Movement of individual animals through the landscape is critical for supporting viable populations – it allows animals to disperse into new habitat, to find shelter, mates and food, as well as maintain genetic diversity and ‘rescue’ declining populations.

Revegetation, restoration and retention of critical habitat linkages is vital.

This research asks:

  • Which parts of the landscape are most important to increase connectivity?
  • What are the risks of increasing connectivity?
  • How do species and populations maintain connectivity in ephemeral environments?

Source and refuge habitats

Some areas provide disproportionately more resources and habitat than others. Where these support productive breeding (i.e. well-above replacement of parents), they're known as source habitat and are areas from which animals can disperse and colonise other places.

Riana Gardiner with a radio tracker, tracking collared bettongs in the Tasmanian Midlands. Photo by César Peñaherrera
Riana Gardiner with a radio tracker, tracking collared bettongs in the Tasmanian Midlands. Photo by César Peñaherrera
Other areas provide refuge for plants and animals during drought, flood, fire or other extreme events. 

Knowing where species may retreat or shift to in response to climate change is increasingly important. Research and conservation work needs to be coordinated to identify, monitor and better protect refuge and source habitat that's so important to the survival of our native species. In addition, identifying areas where feral animals congregate during wet or dry times may increase effectiveness of controls.

This research asks:

  • What are the important refuges for plants and animals and where are they?
  • How can we use remote-sensed data to find and monitor source and refuge habitat?
  • How can we use refuges to increase the effectiveness of land management work?

Problem species

Introduced plants and animals pose one of the greatest threats to the health of our ecosystems.

  • Introduced plants cause environmental damage by displacing native plants, altering vegetation structure and disrupting natural regimes (e.g. fire).
  • Introduced animals such as cats, foxes, livestock and rabbits prey on native species, compete for resources, and degrade habitat.
Cat with prey

Feral cat devours gallah. Photo Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.

Human-induced changes to landscapes and natural ecosystems have also triggered population increases in some native species in certain areas, such as noisy miners and kangaroos, which now present a threat in some habitats to other native animals.

Despite many years of feral animal and weed control in Australia, research is still needed to find more effective means of control. Critically, we need to understand the interactions between species, the effect of other management interventions (e.g. fire) on introduced species, and their ecosystem-level impacts, to determine the best strategies for control.

This research asks:

  • What are the interactions and trade-offs involved in invasive species control?
  • What are the optimal management strategies? 
  • What are the most effective means of control or containing invasive weeds or pathogens? 
  • What's the most effective means of feral cat control? 

Fire ecology

Fire plays a big role in Australian ecosystems and has been used extensively for thousands of years by Aboriginal people.

A controlled burn at Reedy Creek. Photo Steve Heggie.
A controlled burn at Reedy Creek. Photo Steve Heggie.
Since European settlement the nature of fire (its extent, patchiness, frequency, intensity and seasonality) has changed significantly from what most Australian species are adapted to.

The consequences aren't well understood and we need more research into how fire management can benefit biodiversity. Understanding the likelihood and consequences of bushfire and using planned burns to prevent large fires, stimulate regeneration and manage biodiversity, is important work.

This research asks:

  • What's the influence of scale (how much), seasonality (when) and grain size (size of patch burns) of fire on the viability of plants and animals? How does this vary?
  • Does pyrodiversity create biodiversity? What's the influence of grain size on this relationship?
  • What are the interactions between fire, macropods, predators and grasses?

Species in our landscapes

Keystone species

Research has shown that habitats with greater species diversity are more resilient to events such as fire or drought, and that particular species have key functional roles as primary producers, habitat formers, pollinators, soil aerators, nutrient recyclers or top-order predators.

By focusing on protecting and restoring populations of these keystone species we'll help achieve more robust ecosystems and healthier landscapes overall.

Indicator species

The critically endangered Red-finned Blue-eye. Photo Adam Kerezsy.
The critically endangered Red-finned Blue-eye. Photo Adam Kerezsy.
The presence of specific species can indicate whether or not elements of a habitat are functioning well. Such indicator species help us monitor our progress.

Our work will focus on protecting and restoring the priority habitats in each landscape, and we'll monitor our progress by tracking the health of indicator species that rely on those habitats.

Culturally significant species

These species are important to our culture or to that of our partners. Many are also keystone or indicator species. Maintaining current populations or bringing these species back will be driven by the community for which they have special significance.

This research asks:

  • Which critical species are functionally needed in each landscape?
  • What are the best indicator species for our conservation targets?
  • Which species carry special cultural significance?
  • What are the key threatening processes for all these species?
  • What are the key requirements to maintain these species in the landscape?
  • What are the most effective means of increasing the viability of threatened species?

Restoration ecology

As well as valuable high-conservation habitat, many of our reserves and partnership properties also have some areas that have been cleared or degraded by former land use.

Volunteers involved with revegetation work on Scottsdale Reserve, NSW. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Volunteers involved with revegetation work on Scottsdale Reserve, NSW. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Restoration isn’t just about planting trees. It's a complex process of stimulating natural systems, requiring detailed landscape analysis,understanding of underlying ecology, and comprehensive design.

To be successful at large-scale restoration it's vital to study how interventions affect ecological processes.

We carry out rigorous analysis of target species and their habitat requirements to ensure restored landscapes replicate the natural systems that support wildlife (e.g. adding log piles and rocks to our plantings has meant that small lizards have rapidly colonised revegetated areas at Monjebup Reserve).

This research asks:

  • What techniques will overcome major transitional changes in degraded ecosystems?
  • Which habitat features will increase the effectiveness of restoration (e.g. rock mounds, rolled wire ‘refuges’, logs etc.)?
  • How can we redress threatening processes through restoration (e.g. feral predators, weeds, soil erosion)?