A diversity of approaches: key advances in traitbased theory and methods

Rachael Gallagher, Karel Mokany and Daniel Falster

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Over the last two decades there has been an explosion in the use of species traits to help answer a diversity of questions in ecology. Trait-based approaches are now routinely used to answer fundamental theoretical and applied questions. However, it is becoming increasingly challenging for ecologists interested in using trait-based methods to investigate patterns and processes to keep pace with the rapidly growing literature. Established methods are evolving, and new techniques emerging across a variety of ecological disciplines and topics, making communication between experts and the wider ecological community essential.This symposium aims to connect ecologists working with traits in diverse and novel ways, in keeping with the over-arching ‘diversity’ theme of the conference, and to cover the use of traits in understanding community assembly, composition, structure and function, from local to global spatial scales and ecological to evolutionary temporal scales.

This symposium is also a launching pad for a new ESA Research Chapter in theoretical ecology, to be led by Dr Daniel Falster.

Beneath the surface: groundwater dependent ecosystem hydroecology, diversity and processes.

Mark Kennard

Thursday 1 December 2016

Groundwater is vital for many ecosystems, playing a critical role in rates of primary production and decomposition, fluxes of nutrients and energy, as well as sustaining surface and subsurface biodiversity. Groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDE’s) occur widely in Australia, including in regions where human activities have the potential to impact GDE diversity and hydroecological processes. A major potential threat relates to groundwater abstraction such as for water supply, mine dewatering or coal seam gas extraction, which may reduce groundwater quantity and quality, and alter the dynamics of groundwater-surface water exchange. The implications of these threats for GDE structure and function are poorly understood, and there is a pressing need for an integrative understanding of hydroecological processes and responses to inform the regulation and management of activities that impact groundwater environments.This symposium will bring together an interdisciplinary group of speakers to present a series of case studies on GDE’s from two geographic regions in eastern Australia. These presentations will showcase current research and advances in knowledge on the diversity, processes and prospects for a range of GDE types (including riparian zones, streams, spring wetlands, floodplains, hyporheic zones and subterranean ecosystems) that may be threatened by groundwater abstraction. Together with other relevant contributions, this symposium will appeal to those interested in the hydroecology, biodiversity and functioning of GDE’s.

Conservation Behaviour: putting behavioural ecology theory into conservation practice

Stephanie Courtney Jones

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Conservation Behaviour is a relatively new field, providing a novel approach to address the conservation and management of biodiversity. In particular, the overall goal of Conservation Behaviour is to assist in a range of in-situ (e.g., understanding population responses to urban landscapes or environmental change including human-induced rapid environmental change) and exsitu (e.g, captive breeding programmes, translocations, reintroductions) conservation practices. Since the recent conception of this interdisciplinary field, researchers have tackled both the conceptual frameworks surrounding the integration of conservation and behaviour, and pioneered empirical tests of these frameworks. However, we have yet to take stock of the efficacy of existing conceptual and empirical attempts at integration, and the direct impacts that Conservation Behaviour as a whole is having upon the conservation and management of populations and species. The symposium will bring together behavioural ecologists from around Australia to discuss Conservation Behaviour. As Conservation Behaviour is in its infancy, it is critical to assess the key strengths and weaknesses with specific reference to conservation issues. Participants will bring together current knowledge relating to ex-situ and in-situ conservation practices to generate metrics for the impact that Conservation Behaviour is having on the conservation of individual species, which will include a critical assessment of what experimental, comparative and analytical approaches are being used, whether particular taxa are being favoured in empirical studies, and whether other tools or disciplines, should be incorporated.The symposium will also incorporate commentary on the interface between Conservation Behaviour and another related emerging field, Conservation Physiology. This will enable us to provide a broader perspective on how to address conservation problems and improve biodiversity management. A major goal of the commentary will be to outline examples that have integrated behavioural and physiological principles and critique methodologies currently used to inform conservation management strategies. This symposium aims to review current frameworks and methodologies used by proponents of Conservation Behaviour to assist in conservation management strategies, and to provide a synthetic overview of the current state of affairs of this emerging field of research with particular focus on research being conducted within Australia.

Specifically, the symposium will address

  1. The existing theoretical advances that have allowed us to bridge conservation and behaviour
  2. Current empirical studies that have successfully demonstrated this bridge, and
  3. The potential to develop new frameworks, empirical directions and research opportunities to fill perceived knowledge gaps.

Conservation ecology across the diverse woodlands of southern Australia

Libby Rumpff

Monday 28 November 2016

Eucalypt woodlands constitute some of the most extensive and yet exploited ecosystems in Australia. Their ecology, conservation and management varies throughout that extent. Yet commonalities exist in ecosystem and community structure and ecosystem functions and demographic processes. In addition, human use typified by pastoralism and cropping, has some commonalities, but also different histories. This symposium brings together researchers and managers to consider, can we generalize to aid effective conservation management without losing critical specifics of floristically or geographically distant woodlands.

Currently conservation management treats eucalypt woodlands as having specific threats and management actions. Conservation plans are then drawn up one at a time; this is inefficient. Resources for conservation assessment and recovery planning are scarce. Yet there may indeed be attributes of systems that require their distinct treatment. The question is, what can be generalised and what needs specific treatment? While woodlands comprise diverse ecological communities, scientists and mangers need to able to determine whether idiosyncratic ecologies and conservation actions are needed.

Disease ecology in biodiversity conservation

Krista Jones

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Parasites and pathogens, both endemic and emerging, through both subtle and dramatic effects, are key drivers of population dynamics. Their potential impact is particularly concerning for threatened species where infection patterns and processes may influence conservation outcomes. Understanding the factors which influence infection dynamics in threatened species and characterising the consequences of altered patterns and processes will help conserve biodiversity. This symposium will consider research on parasite and pathogen infection dynamics in threatened species and/or how this work can aid conservation management decisions. JustificationScientific strength – Disease ecology is an innovative and interdisciplinary field that brings together ecologists, conservationists, animal behaviourists and those from various medical fields (microbiologists, veterinarians, immunologists, etc.). Parasites are ubiquitous among taxa, thus making them of interest to researchers from a variety of ecological systems. Many of the proposed speakers also study how perturbations (e.g., climate change) affect systems, which is another broad ecological theme that will appeal to those not specifically interested in parasites per se.Structure and organisation – Our symposium will provide an overall synthesis of the role of disease ecology in biodiversity conservation with various talks addressing different aspects of the topic in various study systems (e.g., marine vs terrestrial).

Ecological and evolutionary consequences of pollination by vertebrates

David Roberts

Tuesday 29 November 2016

]The spectacular diversity of colours, morphologies, and arrangement of flowers are an evolutionary response by plants to the foraging of animals and the outcome of selection for optimal pollination. Plant-pollinator interactions are dynamic in space and time and the outcomes of pollination are context dependent. Different insects, birds, mammals, lizards and bats all vary in their ability to pollinate and disperse pollen. The outcome for plant mating is influenced by pollinator foraging behaviour versus resource allocation by plants to achieve pollination. Multidisciplinary research that combines traditional observational studies, capture-mark-recapture and pollen load analysis with ecological genetic studies involving field experimentation provides the most powerful approach to study plant-pollinator interactions. In this symposium, ecological geneticists, animal behaviourists, and pollination biologists will proffer new research findings that

(i) highlight the role of pollinator behaviour for plant mating and the generation of genetically diverse progeny arrays;

(ii) use plant phylogenies together with assessment of pollination guild to highlight the frequency of occurrence of transitions from ancestral insect pollinators to vertebrate pollinators;

(iii) employ ongroundsurvey, tracking, or behavioural observations of interactions of vertebrate pollinators that may be of consequence for the plants on which they feed and pollinate.

Approximately 90% of 400,000 flowering plant species worldwide are dependent on animals for pollination. Thus, pollinators underpin services that are crucial for the functioning of nearly all terrestrial ecosystems. However, in an increasingly anthropogenically modified world, disruption to pollination services, for example, by impairment of pollinator movements, especially through agro- and urban-landscapes, or declines in native pollinator abundance and diversity, as well as impacts from introduced species such as honeybees or bumblebees, threatens the key ecosystem services pollinators provide. This has generated widespread concern. In Australia, pollination by different vertebrates is common; mammal pollination is well known, and >1000 species of birds have been recorded visiting the flowers of approximately 1000 species of plants. Moreover, Western Australia’s internationally recognised southwest Australian Floristic Region, is a vertebrate pollination hotspot, with its exceptional plant species diversity (>7380 species), of which 15% of species (the highest in the world) are thought to be bird- or mammal-pollinated, including 40% of rare or threatened species.

Expanding knowledge of the interactions among plants and their pollinators in wild populations is necessary for understanding and conserving biodiversity at all levels. Our proposed symposium will highlight recent plant-pollinator research from Australia and elsewhere, providing a knowledge-base for individuals interested in evolutionary relationships between plants and their pollinators, and organisations responsible for the conservation and management of our environment.

Harnessing the technology revolution in ecology

Jose Lahoz-Monfort

Monday 28 November 2016

These are truly exciting times! Accelerating technological and engineering progress is being matched by affordable technology and global data connectivity. This convergence brings tremendous opportunities for Ecology. New technologies could revolutionise the way we collect data on species and habitats, allowing access to remote or difficult locations, automating data collection and providing new tools to support Conservation action directly (e.g. surveillance of illegal activities). The range of technologies and applications is staggering: sensors carried on aerial or underwater drones, camera traps able to automatically relay pictures through satellite, animalmounted proximity sensors to track social interactions, mobile devices and applications to empower large-scale citizen science, automatic data logging from networks of environmental sensors… On the other hand, despite their promise, the reliability and performance of new technologies compared to traditional surveys must be carefully tested before their deployment.To seize these opportunities, we need to raise our capacity for affordable design, manufacture of project-specific devices, and customisation of off-the-shelf commercial products to suit specific needs. This requires developing an open collaboration between conservationists and technologists. This symposium will provide an overview of this “technology revolution” and showcase a broad range of exciting developments and applications.

Reliable monitoring is essential to support biodiversity research, conservation and management. Novel and emerging technologies promise to increase massively our capacity to collect data on species and habitats, providing a better standpoint to investigate both biodiversity patterns and processes. With Science funding at a low point there is widespread interest in gathering data more efficiently, technological solutions must be increasingly adopted. This symposium will showcase the latest applications of techno-ecology as well as demonstrating the prospects for new technology to answer questions about diversity as we career into the Anthropocene.

How do facilitation cascades affect diversity: pattern, process, prospects

David Watson

Monday 28 November 2016

Just as predators exert disproportionate influence on food-webs from the top down, facilitators engaged in mutually-beneficial interactions with other organisms modify ecological networks from the bottom up. Although trophic cascades are well established in ecological theory and inform restoration practice, we are just beginning to understand how facilitation cascades influence ecosystems, so ESA2016 is a timely opportunity to synthesize what we know, identify what we don’t know and map out key priorities for future research, both pure and applied. This symposium will bring together established and emerging researchers combining both detailed and broad knowledge of species interactions across ecosystems and spatio-temporal scales.

To date, work on facilitation cascades has been restricted to system-specific approaches, providing foundational understanding on interaction strength and community-level effects. By looking across systems, this symposium is centred on the processes and mechanisms underlying facilitation, significantly advancing our understanding of how facilitation cascades operate (and why they don’t apply in all systems).

Researchers working on facilitation cascades come from a variety of backgrounds, but most are focused exclusively on either terrestrial or marine ecosystems. ESA2016 is an ideal forum to bring these interdisciplinary perspectives together and identify the lack of research from freshwater ecosystems.

There is considerable interest in the international ecological community on the role of facilitation in structuring communities and affecting ecosystem function, evidenced by recent special issues of the Journal of Ecology (2013), Web Ecology (2015) and
Functional Ecology (2016).

Improving science to support decisionmaking about multiple uses of land and water in northern Australia

Jorge Alvarez-Romero

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Given proposed developments in northern Australia, there is a need to improve the science underpinning planning and management that supports multiple uses of land and water, while maintaining environmental and cultural values. An integrated research programme in northern Australia (under the National Environmental Science Programme) is working towards improving knowledge of social-ecological systems required to improve management decisions. In collaboration with diverse stakeholders, the programme aims to understand the diversity of land and water values in the region, and incorporate these into planning processes. Presentations will cover the most up-todate knowledge about environmental (riparian vegetation, fish) and Indigenous (values, customary uses) water requirements, and explore the broader consequences of increased water use for development.

This symposium will demonstrate how this information can be integrated following participatory, multi-objective catchment planning, through which stakeholders can collaboratively construct and assess the outcomes of alternative development and management scenarios.

The symposium is relevant to the study of ecological processes in aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia. Integrated multi-objective planning that takes into account these processes, along with Indigenous knowledge and values, is critical given proposed developments in the region.

Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge

Gerry Turpin

Tuesday 29 November 2016

The Nature Conservancy




With thanks to The Nature Conservancy for their generous support of this symposium.

Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge (IBK) is knowledge that encompasses people, language and culture and their relationship to the environment, emphasising the importance of cultural connections. The more widely known terms are Indigenous Ecological knowledge (IEK) and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).The use of IBK by Indigenous people worldwide has shaped the diversity and condition of past and current environments. IBK is increasingly being recognised for its potential contribution to contemporary ecosystem science and management. Recent studies have found that biological diversity and cultural diversity are linked, suggesting the combined biocultural resources are vital to the survival of life on Earth for all living things.

The challenge for Traditional Owners is how to maintain their biocultural knowledge, customary obligations and livelihoods in the future, while facing ‘Western’ expectations to follow their mode of living and environmental conservation. A further challenge is for the broader population to recognise and understand the value and diversity of IBK, inclusion of IBK in research and to avoid structuring IBK around Western Science (WS) research frameworks.

This Symposium invites Indigenous people to demonstrate how IBK along with WS has been and can be used to ensure the continuous and sustainability of cultural ecosystem services for Australia by:


New science for prioritising management actions on Australian islands

Bob Pressey

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Australian islands present managers with problems that require innovative scientific solutions. The islands are home to populations and breeding aggregations of national and global significance, while facing diverse threats, mainly from invasive plants and animals. The resources of management agencies are far too small to mitigate these threats on all islands requiring immediate attention, so managers must prioritise the allocation of limited resources in space and time. The presentations in this symposium describe research from three closely related projects covering:

1. Lord Howe Island;

2. about 400 islands in the southern Great Barrier Reef; and

3. about 600 islands off Western Australia’s Pilbara coast.

The symposium will describe innovative applied research, discuss progress and limitations in guiding management decisions, and consider the wider application of the methods.The symposium’s importance comes from: the diversity of topics, the innovations in data, modelling, and decision-support, and the close involvement of managers to bridge the research implementation divide.


Reintroductions projects in Australia: conservation value, lessons learnt, future directions

John Kanowski

Monday 28 November 2016

The reintroduction of mammal species to parts of their former range (‘reintroduction projects’) has been an important tool in conservation in Australia for several decades. Reintroductions have been conducted by government agencies and non government organisations with projects in nearly all jurisdictions. The recent ‘Mammal Action Plan 2012’ recognised reintroduction projects as one of the few examples of successful conservation of threatened mammals in Australia; and the Commonwealth Government’s Threatened Species Strategy has indicated that the number of reintroduction projects should increase. As well as contributing directly to conservation, reintroduction projects typically provide valuable opportunties to learn about fundamental ecology, not only of the target species but of their interactions with other taxa and the broader ecosystem. Many insights into the functioning of Australian ecosystems have been and can be obtained from reintroduction projects – indeed, given the wholesale loss of critical weight range mammals from large areas of southern and central Australia, and the ecological roles played by these species – herbivore, carnivores, seed and spore dispersers, and ecosystem engineers – reintroduction projects can be seen as essential to understanding the ecology of Australian ecosystems.The symposium will bring together leading ecologists involved in mammal reintroduction projects in Australia to review the scope of
projects past, present and proposed, with the aim of addressing three key issues:

  1. the value of reintroduction projects for conservation,
  2. the lessons learnt from projects conducted to date, and
  3. future directions for reintroductions.


Seed ecology: from population process to applied conservation

Mark Ooi

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Life-history stages surrounding seeds are critical for the persistence of plant populations. The key processes of dormancy and germination are arguably some of the most complex, yet least understood, attributes in Australian plants. For example, seeds underpin plant population persistence in many disturbance-prone environments, but our understanding of dormancy has only relatively recently moved beyond viewing it as a binary mechanism, where a single dormancy-breaking cue can promote germination. Similarly, germination cues have often not been differentiated from their dormancy counterparts, while the relationship between many seed traits and subsequent seedling success are currently understudied.

This symposium aims to present research focused on uncovering the complexity of dormancy and germination mechanisms, a critical element for understanding plant population dynamics. It will highlight how knowledge of these mechanisms in natural systems has led to the development of ex-situ seed bank protocols for the improved utilisation of seeds for conservation application. Additionally, the strong link between temperature and dormancy and germination processes means that climate change will inevitably affect seed-related dynamics. The ecological consequences of climate change will therefore an integral component of the content.

This symposium will appeal to all plant ecologists, including those with an interest in seed ecology, applied conservation and climate change impacts.


Small players, big consequences: linking belowground diversity to ecosystem functioning

Eleonora Egidi, Cristina Aponte

Thursday 1 December 2016

Biological diversity is the foundation for the maintenance of ecosystems and a large proportion of this variability within terrestrial systems is hidden below-ground in soils. Microbial communities comprise the majority of this genetic diversity and control a number of important ecosystem processes, including nutrient acquisition, nitrogen cycling, carbon cycling and soil formation, as well as above-ground diversity patterns. Given the crucial role of microbes in regulating these important processes, integrating microbial ecology into ecosystem biology represents a key task to better understand the effects of environmental changes, as well as a necessary prerequisite to assess whether and how soil microorganisms may be used in the future to support and improve conservation strategies. Compared to what is known about above-ground diversity, our understanding of this hidden biodiversity is limited. Microbial ecological questions that need to be addressed include central queries such as “Who is there?” and “What are they doing?” followed by “What controls the distribution and abundance of members of the soil community?” And “How do these communities change with time in response to their environment?”

Thanks to the recent development of high throughput sequencing technologies, soil microbial diversity research is entering a new era: a novel generation of tools is available to elucidate these fundamental issues, being decisive in revealing biogeographic patterns as well as untangling the mechanisms that regulate the spatial and temporal dynamics of microbial communities associated to terrestrial systems. Therefore, the relationship between microbial assemblages and the ecosystem can now be studied at a speed and depth as never before. This Symposium aims to offer an overview of the current knowledge and perspectives on the soil microbes-ecosystem relationship in Australian systems, including descriptions of community assemblages and trophic interactions, as well as the role of microorganisms in determining patterns of diversity, ecosystem processes and services.

Surviving the dry: how diversity is maintained in the arid zone

Chris Pavey

Wednesday 30 November 2016

This symposium in convened by the Arid Ecology Research Chapter of ESA, and is a follow-up from the research chapter’s first symposium held at ESA 2011 in Hobart: The greening of arid Australia – opportunities and lessons from extreme years (see Austral Ecology Volume 38 (7), November 2013). Over the past few years serious rainfall deficiencies have gripped many parts of Australia and long-term drying trends cannot be explained by natural variability alone. Arid and semi-arid organisms have successfully developed many survival strategies to live in a water-limited environment, and Australia’s dry interior has become a diverse and complex system. This symposium aims to bring together researchers from a range of backgrounds to explore how species diversity is maintained in a system where droughts are the norm, and provide lessons for a continent that is faced with longer and more severe droughts due to a changing climate. The presentations will cover a range of arid zone based research that consists of both specific, previously unpublished research and broader syntheses.

Urban Nature: identifying processes, patterns, and future prospects

Robert Davis

Tuesday 29 November 2016

KPBG_Logo_cmyk With thanks to Botanic Cardens and Parks Authority for their generous support of this symposium.

While urbanization imposes multiple challenges for biodiversity conservation within and beyond city boundaries, it also offers opportunities, namely in the provision of novel resources originating from the urban fabric, and community engagement. Understanding the patterns and processes underlying these challenges and opportunities is pivotal in informing the planning and management of green spaces and biodiversity in cities.This symposium will explore how patterns and processes have led to our current understanding of how native biota is impacted by and adapting to urbanization and will discuss the prospects for how this understanding can be translated into action by harnessing social interest in urban landscapes.It is a timely topic highly relevant to most ecologists and of great public appeal. This symposium is supported by the Urban Ecology Chapter of ESA and allows for inter-disciplinary collaboration to highlight opportunities for new research and knowledge in urban landscapes.

The greater Perth Metropolitan Region is home to a rapidly expanding group of ecologists and practitioners who are focusing on the challenges and opportunities associated with increased urbanization, while retaining the benefits of biodiversity and natural ecosystems. The focus of this symposium is on the ecological impacts that urban environments have on biodiversity, and how that knowledge can be translated into actions that reduce the environmental impact of future development.Perth is an ideal location for this symposium given its unique position in the Southwestern Australia global biodiversity hotspot, rapid urban expansion, and the many efforts to conserve endangered species (three species of black cockatoos, quenda) and threatened communities (Banksia woodland) within the urban region. This symposium will showcase many of these efforts via local contributions while balancing them against a broader context of interstate and international perspectives.