About Ben Gooden

Ben is an ecologist who is interested in invasion biology and management, community assembly and applied plant ecology.

New publications out now….

Gooden, B. & French, K. (2014) Non-interactive effects of plant invasion and landscape modification on native communities. Diversity and Distributions 20, 626-632.

Gooden, B. & French, K. (2014) Impacts of alien grass invasion in coastal seed banks vary amongst native growth forms and dispersal strategies. Biological Conservation 171, 114–126.

Gooden, B., French, K. & Robinson, S.A. (2014) Alien grass disrupts reproduction and post-settlement recruitment of co-occurring native vegetation: a mechanism for diversity decline in invaded forest? Plant Ecology 215, 567-580.

Gooden, B. & French, K. (2014) Impacts of alien plant invasion on native plant communities are mediated by functional identity of resident species, not resource availability. Oikos 10.1111/oik.01724.

Gooden, B., French, K., Turner, P. and Downey, P. O. 2009. Impact threshold for an alien plant invader, Lantana camara L., on native plant communities. Biological Conservation 142, 2631–2641

Gooden, B., French, K., Turner, P. 2009. Invasion and management of a woody plant, Lantana camara L., alters vegetation diversity within wet sclerophyll forest in southP1090156eastern Australia. Forest Ecology and Management 257, 960–967

Please get in touch if you would like me to send pdf copies of these papers to you (bgooden@uow.edu.au)









Educational history

  • 2007: Bachelor of Science (Biology) Honours – Advanced, First Class (90 %), University of Wollongong. Thesis title: The Effect of the Woody Plant Invader Lantana camara on Vascular Plant Diversity in Wet Sclerophyll Forest.
  • 2004-2006: Bachelor of Science (Geoscience and Biology), University of Wollongong.
  • 2003: HSC Broken Hill (Willyama High School), UAI 98.7.


Employment history



Laboratory tutor

  • Conservation Biology BIOL351 (2010-current),
  • Terrestrial and Marine Ecology BIOL355 (2008, 2010, 2013),
  • Functional Biology BIOL105 (2012),
  • Marine and Freshwater Biodiversity BIOL240 (2011).


  • Functional ecology of plant secondary metabolites, BIOL241 (2011-current)
  • Evolution of ‘life on land’, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Plant evolution, phylogeny and taxonomy, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Functional anatomy and ecology of plants, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Ecological impacts of global environmental change, BIOL104 (current)
  • Statistics for environmental scientists, ENVI391 (2011-current)

Laboratory and field course supervision

  • Plant community identification and assembly, BIOL241 (2011-current)
  • Plant identification, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Bird survey techniques, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Plant functional biology, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Statistics for environmental scientists, ENVI391 (2011-current)

Teacher Evaluation Summary Report for Lecture and Tutorial Classes – student evaluation score averaging 5.63 out of 6 (94 %) for BIOL241 (Biodiversity of Terrestrial Organisms) and ENVI391 (Environmental Science and Systems).


Student supervision, Janet Cosh Herbarium, University of Wollongong (2011)

Teaching assistant, plant identification course and skills for environmental assessment, Janet Cosh Herbarium, University of Wollongong (2010-2011)

Field research assistant, Division of Ecology and Evolution, Imperial College London, Silwood Park (2009). Duties/skills: Mist netting, bird surveys, population monitoring. For verification and reference, contact Alex Lord.

Project officer, Southern Habitat Pty Ltd (2008). Duties/skills: Report preparation, vegetation and weed management plans, botanical surveys, design and supervision of restoration projects, preparation of tender applications. For verification and reference, contact the Managing Director Jay Windsor (jay@southernhabitat.com.au).

Research assistant, University of Wollongong (2008). Projects: community assembly and drought and weed impacts.

Bush regenerator, Southern Habitat Pty Ltd (2005-2007). Duties/skills: weed management, revegetation. For verification and reference, contact the Managing Director Jay Windsor (jay@southernhabitat.com.au).

Research Assistant, Colgate University, New York, USA (2006). Duties/skills: extraction of diatoms from sediment cores, diatom identification. For verification and reference, contact Professor Amy Leventer.


Janet Cosh Herbarium (2005)

Eastern Ground Parrot surveys, Barren Grounds, NSW (2004-2006)

Meals on Wheels, Home and Community Care, Broken Hill (2002-2003).


Professional appointments


  • Honorary Bulletin Editor for the Ecological Society of Australia, http://www.ecolsoc.org.au/
  • Convenor, Invasive Species Research Chapter, Ecological Society of Australia


  • NSW Regional Councillor, Ecological Society of Australia (2010-2012)



Ecological Society of Australia Student Research grant (2011)

Australian Postgraduate Award (2010-current)

UOW undergraduate science academic scholarship (2004-2007)

Dean’s Merit List for academic performance (2006)

Geoscience Australia award for First in Earth and Environment Sciences subjects (2006)

Second in third year biology (2006)

Research Assistantship with Colgate University, New York, USA (2006)

First in first-year geology (2005)

Prospectors Estwing geology prize (2005)

First in second year geology (2005)

Third in second year biology (2005)


Research aspirations

As evidence by my current projects, my aspirations for future research are diverse, ranging from plant bodies, to populations, communities, ecosystems and landscapes. The following are questions that i’d love to explore in the future. If any of these pique your interest, and you wish to discuss opportunities for collaboration, please get in touch!


1. The role of plant-animal interactions, particularly pollinator systems, in recruitment and assembly dynamics of plant communities.

2. The role of mycorrhizal associations in structuring competition hierarchies and maintaining the diversity of plant communities.

3. Effects of landscape configuration and heterogeneity on multi-trophic interactions and ecosystem function.

4. Seed dispersal dynamics in coastal plant communities


5. Impacts of alien plant species on plant-animal interactions and mycorrhizal associations.

6. Facilitative effects of alien plants on animal communities in urban landscapes.

7. Impacts of landscape development, such as urbanisation and habitat fragmentation, on ecosystem processes, such as pollination, and plant-animal mutualisms.

8. Synergistic effects of extreme weather events and landscape development on plant-animal interactions, recruitment dynamics and community assembly.


9. Functional ecology of ‘restored’ plant communities.

10. Restoration of plant communities and ‘resilience’ to climate change.

11. ‘Sustainability’ of restored landscapes.

12. Differential effects of alien plant control on community and ecosystem recovery.

13. Functional species ‘redundancy’ and plant community restoration.


Current research

1. Interactive effects of alien species invasion and landscape development on an endangered coastal forest community. This project, soon to be published (I hope!), consisted of a broad scale survey of an endangered coastal swamp forest invaded by the alien turf grass Stenotaphrum secundatum along the south-east coast of Australia. I surveyed sites across a gradient of urbanisation in the surrounding landscape ‘matrix’, in order to examine the interactive effects of invasion and anthropogenic landscape modification on the forest community. I expected to find that such interactive effects, if at all present, would be negatively synergistic, such that the magnitude of native species loss in response to invasion would increase with urbanisation in the matrix. Unexpectedly, the opposite effect was evident: the number of native species occupying invaded sites increased with urbanisation, to such an extent, in fact, that invaded sites in highly urbanised areas had a similar number of species as non-invaded forest! Indeed, the magnitude of native species loss in response to invasion was about two-times higher in patches of forest associated with relatively non-disturbed, ‘pristine’ landscapes with a very high cover and connectivity of indigenous forest!

The obvious question is: does urbanisation improve the capacity for native plants to coexist with S. secundatum and, if so, what is the mechanism behind this? Urbanisation is well-known to increase the amount of nutrients (mainly of nitrates) in coastal vegetation. One possibility is that increased nutrient availability reduces the ‘strength’ of the invader-native competitive interactions, either by diminishing the competitive ‘vigour’ of the invader or by enhancing the competitive ‘vigour’ of the natives. This is all speculative, of course, but I’m testing the ways in which increases in nutrient availability modulate the competitive interactions between the S. secundatum and native plants with a mesocosm experiment (see below), the results of which should be out shortly.

2. Seed bank responses to alien grass invasion. Seed banks play a fundamental role in the recruitment and assembly dynamics of plant communities. They are also a plant community‘s primary means of regeneration following disturbances, such as fire and alien plant invasion, which damage or remove the standing vegetation. As such, they can be thought of as a community’s ‘insurance’ policy against environmental change. In this study I investigated the effects of alien grass invasion and the accumulation of alien litter on the diversity of native seed banks in an endangered coastal forest. I found that invaded sites had significantly fewer native species represented in the seed bank, and significantly different germinant compositions. I found that alien litter, despite doubling the mass of litter on the forest floor, had no effect on the accumulation of seed, or the incorporation of seed in the seed bank.

3. Variation in invasive species impacts across native plant functional groups. In this, my most recent of studies, I’ve found that impacts of the invader S. secundatum on native plant functional diversity in the seed bank depend on species’ seed size (which represents maternal investment in offspring) and mode of dispersal. The number of propagules of wind and water dispersed species in the seed bank did not vary between invaded and native sites. However, the number of vertebrate dispersed species, including those spread by frugivores as well as carried externally on animal’s fur and feathers, was significantly lower in invaded soil, which I speculate may be caused by differences in the densities or behaviours of seed dispersal vectors, such as red-neck and swamp wallabies, between invaded and native forest.

4. Interactive effects of alien grass invasion and nutrient addition on community assembly and reproduction of native plants.

5. Impacts of grass invasion on litter dynamics in coastal forest

6. Are the competitive effects of alien grasses with contrasting photosynthetic strategies (C3 vs. C4) modulated by ‘extreme’ heat? As part of this project, I’m also interested in examining how the patterns of extreme heat (i.e. heatwave vs. non-consecutive days of extreme heat) influence native-alien competitive interactions.




Research interests

In general, I am interested in any form of ecological research as it relates to plant communities and their conservation.  Although my interests are founded in questions of fundamental ecology (such as community assembly rules and processes driving community structure and function), they are framed within a ‘conservation’ context. In all cases, I am interested in how fundamental ecological principles can be applied to conservation dilemmas, such as alien species invasion and anthropogenic landscape development. My research interests can be grouped within the themes outlined below.

1. Disturbance ecologyIMG_4240

I am currently studying the effects of invasive alien plants on coastal plant communities of eastern Australia, with a focus on identifying patterns of community responses to invasion, and the mechanisms driving these changes. I am examining changes in the fecundity and seed dispersal and recruitment dynamics of native residents in response to invasion.

I am also studying how invasion interacts with multiple anthropogenic disturbances (e.g. altered fire and nutrient regimes, deforesattion) to alter native plant communities. My focus is to identify the attributes of native communities that confer resilience to these anthropogenic disturbances.

2. Plant community assembly, distribution, diversity and function.

I am interested in the processes driving plant community diversity and the scales over which these processes operate. I am currently investigating recruitment dynamics of coastal vegetation with a focus on the role of the seed bank in community assembly (in collaboration with Todd Minchinton, University of Wollongong).

3. The role of mutualism in plant community assembly.

In general, I am interested in how interactions between plants and their mutualists (e.g. pollinators, mycorrhizae and seed dispersers) maintain the diversity and structure of plant communities.

At present I am collaborating with Kris French (University of Wollongong) to identify the effects of alien plant invaders on native plant-mycorrhizal mutualisms. First, we are investigating whether invasion alters the assemblage of mycorrhizae in the soil and then whether this leads to altered interactions between native plants and the resident mycorrhizal symbionts.Capture

4. Global environmental change and plant community dynamics

I am interested in exploring how changing environments, with a particular focus on ‘extreme’ heat and drought events, influence plant community assembly, and how such extreme events modulate the impacts of invasive species on communities and ecosystem processes.

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!