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 ecology
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.
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.