Extending community ecology using coral
One of the problems that community ecology faces is that the temporal scale of our data is often mismatched compared to the scale of the processes or questions we're interested in. This is especially true of long-lived organisms such as trees and reef coral. These species have generational times that far outstrip even our longest long-term data collection.
In this project, I'll be examining fossil coral records, such as transects along uplifted reef shelves and reef sediment cores, where community composition has been preserved over several thousand years. I'm aiming to use these data to look at how coral communities change over timescales that are matched to their generation time. Some research questions are: how do species co-occurrence patterns change after a large pulse disturbance event? How does diversity change over time at multiple spatial scales?
Carbon-diversity co-benefits in Australian reforestation
Restoring native vegetation to provide multiple outcomes, in particular conservation and carbon storage, is becoming a popular concept. The theoretical underpinnings of any co-benefits between these outcomes is the biodiversity-ecosystem function (BEF) relationship, which has rarely been studied in reforestation and outside temperate and tropical systems. In addition, providing conservation and carbon benefits in the long-term requires reforested areas to mature into self-perpetuating communities. In this project I'm using a forest inventory dataset from a large number of Australian reforestation projects to examine the potential for carbon-diversity co-benefits, and any potential concerns for the persistence of these restored forest communities.
Context-dependent relationships between functional traits and growth rate
Restoration ecology often measures attributes of community development, including productivity, at a stand-level, but these are comprised of the performance of individual plants. Functional ecology has identified traits that correlate with plant growth rate, but these relationships have been studied using thousands of species at a global scale, and only capture part of a species’ ecological strategy. In this project, I am examining whether environmental and evolutionary context affect how a plant’s functional traits correlate with growth rate. Initially, I'm looking at whether genus identity is an important moderator of trait-growth relationships, using over 100 species of Acacia and Eucalyptus.
Interconnectivity and exchange of ideas in ecology
Ecology is still a relatively young scientific field, but it's mature enough now that we examine historical trends in not only how we as ecologists conduct research, but how we organise and communicate among ourselves. This research project is intentionally broad and open-ended, and it's something I hope to explore continually through my career.
The first research question I've asked is how interconnected different areas of applied ecology are. I'm looking at four main sub-categories of applied ecology, research focusing on conservation, climate change, invasive species and restoration, and examining the growth and interconnectivity between them.