A passion for plant ecology

P1020876I am a plant ecologist and biology lecturer at the University of Wollongong with a passion for the Australian bush. Overall, my research focusses on vegetation community dynamics in a rapidly changing world.

I am particularly interested in patterns and processes of community change in response to alien plant invasion, urbanisation and climate change. I apply ecological theory to plant community conservation and restoration, with a focus on management of invasive species. My research has been largely confined to coastal plant communities (salt marsh and dunes) but in 2015 i’m keen to expand into the arid zone and temperate rainforests of southern Australia.

My research involves community-scale and field-based experiments as well as extensive field surveys. My lab, classroom and church are the bush!

I have several research opportunities available for students in 2014-2015, so please get in touch if interested!

Navel gazing…IMG_0290

My interest in botany began in childhood, nurtured by my family on a dairy farm beneath the sandstone cliffs of the Illawarra Escarpment. I have fond memories of walking through subtropical rainforests as a child; apprehensively scaling sandstone plateaus atop the escarpment, adorned with hanging swamps and heathlands; pressing flowers from my grandmother’s garden. Later, my family moved to Broken Hill, where I was introduced to the gnarled river red gums of the Darling and the dried creek beds of Mutawintji and Menindee.

My ‘obsession’ with botany was crystalised in this arid environment – I recall on one occasion, when i was perhaps 14 or 15, walking along a trail in the ‘Living Desert State Park’ on the Broken Hill-Silverton Road and needing to stop every few metres or so to read the ‘botanical’ names of the many trees and shrubs that were written on small aluminium plaques beneath them: Acacia aneura, Callitris glaucophylla, Atriplex nummularia, Myoporum montanum… Much to everyone’s frustration, I would have to know these names, frenetically repeating them in my mind until I was sure that I could recall them later on. Thus, my interest in plants and their ecology has then and now been borne along by a need to know: what is your name; why are you here, but not over there; who are you related to; how do you grow?

Before leaving Broken Hill to begin my degree in Wollongong, I can recall my mothers winning “best in show” in a local gardening competition for their nature strip of native shrubs and trailing desert peas and myoporums, and helping them trim back a wayward saltbush in the local arboretum that they were helping to regenerate. Perhaps it’s no wonder that i turned out to be a fanatic of the Australian bush and its unique flora.


I began my undergraduate degree in geosciences and biological sciences at the University of Wollongong in 2003, where I developed two main, but seemingly unconnected interests: palaeclimatological reconstructions using marine microfossils and ecology of plant communities and their conservation. During my degree I also volunteered and worked as a bush regenerator, restoring creeks and remnant patches of bushland by removing weeds and planting indigenous flora. It was here that I developed an interest in ‘weed’ ecology, which would see me through my Honours year and beyond. During Honours, I investigated the impacts of invasion and removal of the alien shrub Lantana camara on native forest communities, and was subsequently involved with the then Department of Environment and Conservation to identify the species most at risk from invasion as part of their Threat Abatement Plan.

Almost inevitably, upon my return to Australia after a much-needed sojourn in Europe, I took up a PhD within the Institute for Conservation Biology and Environmental Management, investigating the effects of an alien turf grass, Stenotaphrum secundatum, on coastal plant communities. It is with this project that I have been preoccupied over the last three years, and it is from this context that I am launching myself into the next stage of my career.

IMG_3858Personal interests…

Camping, bushwalking, folk singing, travel, landscape and botanical photography, print making (particularly lino printing and collagraphy), basket weaving and natural fibres, kayaking, reading and crosswords!

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