Symposia at ESA2020


Soil microbial responses to climate extremes: mechanisms, patterns, interactions

Convenors: Dr Eleonora Egidi, Western Sydney University; Dr Christina Birnbaum, Deakin University

The diversity of microbial communities is at the heart of all terrestrial ecosystems: microbes are critical players in maintaining soil biogeochemical cycling and plant diversity, and are linked to ecosystem functioning and stability. As the consequences of climate change continue to impose unprecedented pressures on many Australian systems, disentangling patterns and mechanisms underpinning microbial response, and interactions among aboveground and belowground species, is of critical importance to assess resistance, resilience, and sustainability of ecosystems to projected shifts in disturbance regimes across Australia. As part of the ESA Plant- Soil Ecology Research Chapter, this Symposium will address how soil microbial communities respond to environmental disturbance and climate change, highlighting how current knowledge can improve our ability to predict the fate of, and thus design strategies to preserve, ecosystem biodiversity and functioning. The diversity of microbial communities is linked to the functioning and stability of ecosystems. As climate change continues to impact ecosystems worldwide, the ability to predict how microbial diversity will respond to disturbance is of critical importance. This symposium will bring together an exciting line-up of early- and mid-career scientists working in the plant-microbial ecology interface from a diverse range of backgrounds, providing a much-needed link between plant and soil research within the ESA ecological community. Presentations will cover a range of mechanistic (e.g., resistance/resilience of microbial communities), interactive (e.g., linkages between microbes and their hosts), and correlative (e.g., correlations between disturbance, climate shifts, and microbial changes) studies. By improving our current, very limited, understanding of microbial response to multiple global drivers of change, this symposium will provide fundamental insights on the interplay between microbial communities, geochemical processes, and environmental disturbances, that are essential if we hope to tackle the major challenges that climate change is currently posing.

Temperature Extremes: impacts, resilience and mitigation

Convenors: Dr Stephanie Courtney Jones, Australian National University; Dr Katherine Moseby, University of New South Wales

Extreme temperature events now are commonplace and predicted to increase in frequency and intensity and to occur at unusual times. These events will have lethal and sublethal effects that include physiological, behavioural, ecological and evolutionary impacts, either directly or in conjunction with other factors like drought, competition or other sources of resource limitation. Thus, there is a need to understand the implications of extreme temperatures and breaching thermal thresholds in order to effectively predict species and ecosystem vulnerability under climate change. This requires a nuanced understanding of what it means to be thermally tolerant; the mechanisms that underpin lethal and sublethal effects, and the management and mitigation strategies for coping with extreme temperatures. Drawing on observations, experiments and modelling. We bring together experts from these disciplines to present new research on the impacts of extreme temperature, the strategies fauna and flora use to combat extreme temperatures and the possible mitigation methods that could be employed in the future.

This symposium will address the topics of

  1. Thermal tolerance and thermoregulation,
  2. Impact of thermal extremes such as heat waves and cold snaps and
  3. Future management and mitigation strategies for coping with changes in temperature extremes.

Managing a cultural landscape and building resilience in a new world reality

Convenor: Adjunct Associate Professor Noel Preece, Biome5

Contemporary land management practices have to be adapted to the changing climate, occupancy of country, land uses, and global exchanges such as trade. Ecological principles and practical management experience have informed much of the management practices. There is an opportunity and need to recognize the long-term perspective of Indigenous knowledge and practice on country, even where Indigenous custodians have been disenfranchised for generations. There is a revival and recollection of Indigenous knowledge and practice around the country, which can be utilized to the advantage of Indigenous people, and for improved land management. Many managers and researchers are recognizing the value and importance of Traditional ecological knowledge applied to contemporary management situations.

This symposium will investigate some of the issues around this revival, and addresses some of the following points:

  • enable cultural management of Country through the reframing of current land management practices
  • benefits to Indigenous custodians and communities of applying resurrected traditional management practices – back on country, health, identity, respect.
  • the value (and dangers) of applying knowledge from different climatic zones (like tropics and cool temperate),
  • understandings about unbroken practice and knowledge such as in some places in northern savannas and western deserts compared with southern more fragmented knowledge and practice and how these can together work towards positive outcomes
  • understanding and communicating science based approaches to enable traditional practices to demonstrate landscape scale changes following the extreme and catastrophic fires on life and property.
  • demonstrating how Science can work with Cultural processes in enabling traditional fire practitioners and Traditional Owners to be accountable for management of Country
  • communicating science to enable and empower Indigenous people

Indigenous Ecological Knowledge 10th Anniversary Symposium

Convenor: Gerry Turpin, Qld Department of Environment and Science

As part of the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference, the ESA annual Indigenous Symposium will showcase Indigenous peoples biocultural knowledge research and projects. This initiative is part of the ESAs ongoing commitment to increase Indigenous participation in ESA activities.

The ESA is inviting Australian Indigenous people to present in this symposium. This provides an opportunity for Indigenous peoples to share and hear stories to build: relationships with each other and with non-Indigenous ecologists; recognition of our diverse knowledge and shared interests, values and practices in caring for and understanding country.

Decisions on presentations for the Indigenous Symposia will be based on:

  • Strength of application (i.e. why you should be chosen)
  • Your ability to tell a good story about your ideas and/work
  • Your ability to demonstrate why your work is important
  • Meeting the word count and format requirements.

Behavioural responses to ecological challenges

Convenors: Caitlyn Forster, Dr Thomas White, University of Sydney

Behaviour is a key mechanism by which animals cope with ecological challenges. Whether locating scarce resources, avoiding predation, or securing mates, an animal’s behavioural repertoire will define its capacity to thrive amidst uncertainty. Accumulating evidence is highlighting this reality in the face of global change. Urbanisation and climatic shifts are irrevocably altering the way in which animals interact with the world on a day-to-day basis, as well as the broader adaptive landscape they occupy. This symposium will explore recent advances in our understanding of behavioural responses to such ecological extremes. Behavioural ecology is an integrative field, so discussions will draw on insights from evolution, physiology, psychology, neuroethology, economics, as well as the visual arts. This session aims to synthesise current knowledge and foster new collaborations, to enable progress in predicting behavioural responses to change from the scale of individuals to ecosystems. Australia has recently seen an array of drastic ecological change. It is critical we have a richer understanding of how organisms respond, so we can mitigate the impacts.

Perspectives on a changing landscape of fire

Convenors: James W Barker, Dr Joshua Whittaker, University of Wollongong; Dr Rachael Nolan, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment

The 2019/20 fire season saw unprecedented bushfire activity in Australia and had widespread implications for both ecosystems and people. These events have brought fire once more to the forefront of Australian political debate and now is an opportune time to bring together our diverse knowledge to inform future fire research and management directions. Understanding mechanisms of resilience and recovery of Australian ecosystems to fire requires a diversity of approaches. Fire knowledge is inherently multi-disciplinary, incorporating several fields of science, social science, traditional knowledge gained over thousands of years, and lived experience of fire managers. The intersection of this diverse knowledge base is important for understanding the risks and values related to fire.
The aim of this symposium is to bring together scientists, managers, and community to share knowledge and discuss ways in which different groups with diverse goals and ideas can work together to adapt research and management goals for a changing environment.
We invite speakers to present on these topics:
• The latest research on ecological and social dimensions of fire;
• Integrating different forms of knowledge and practice to meet multiple needs, and;
• Adapting to the changing landscape of fire.

Building resilience and recovering communities: collaborations between practitioners and researchers

Convenors: Dr Sacha Jellinek, University of Melbourne; Dr Samamtha Lloyd, South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium; Dr Chloe Sato, Deakin University; Lincoln Kern, Practical Ecology

Science has long underpinned the development of government and non-government strategy, policy, planning frameworks and operations. This is particularly true for environmental systems, including bushfire, threatened species management, weed and pest management, climate change and restoration ecology. However, links between research and onground works are seldom acknowledged or communicated, even though collaborations between researchers and practitioners are vital to ensure science continues to inform policy and onground practice. Practitioners can include consultants, government agencies and non-government staff that use this new knowledge to adaptively manage projects into the future. Communicating the outcomes of these partnerships is often challenging but can be hugely beneficial to ensure the best possible conservation outcomes in land management and restoration projects.This symposium will showcase collaborative projects between research and practitioners, aimed at understanding the mechanisms/processes that drive ecological patterns in altered environments. Natural hazards, habitat disturbance and climate change all offer opportunities to highlight how resilience in ecological communities can be supported, and how these communities can thereby recover from disturbance events. Presenters will also discuss how this work can be upscaled to build on project successes, and how adaptive management practices can ensure long-term ecological resilience. Symposium outcomes will highlight the importance of good collaborations supported by robust science for ecological resilience and recovery.

Short-term impacts of the 2019-20 Fire Season

Convenor: Associate Professor Owen Price, University of Wollongong; Mark Ooi, University of New South Wales

The bushfire season of 2019-20 burnt an unprecedented total area of Eastern Australia. With the Australian public traumatised by huge estimates of the ecological impact, and National Park managers needing to triage management responses, there is an urgent need to understand exactly what the impact on fauna and flora was and whether these fires challenge our current understanding of fire ecology. The best way to do this is by direct measurements of change in ecological factors.This symposium invites researchers to present concise studies of the recent fires that provide measurements of change in species, communities or biophysical variables that, taken together, will give a comprehensive picture of the immediate impact of the fires and the initial phases of recovery. Studies must interpret their results in the context of the fire regime not just burnt/unburnt. We will give priority to studies that address knowledge gaps, such as poorly studied taxa or fire regime components. Also, we prefer studies with formal pre- and post-fire observations and those with multiple sites. However, we will accept small sample sizes and simple analyses that would normally struggle to be accepted in full journal articles. We encourage contributions as short (~5 page) written papers that will be collated into a special edition of Austral Ecology. These will be peer reviewed by an editorial team and the contributors, and the final one or two presentations in the symposium and proceedings will attempt to synthesise the diverse set of submitted papers. We will accept short appendices if the methods need additional explanation.

Approaches for detailing threats, actions and management costs for threatened species recovery across broad scales

Convenors: Dr April Reside

Planning for threatened species recovery requires information on threats, threat abatement actions, and their costs and feasibility, across large, diverse scales. Some of this information has been collated to varying degrees for threatened species at the scale of management jurisdictions. In some cases, details on the required actions for mitigating the threats for each species have also been outlined, and in some cases costs of these actions have been estimated. However, as yet we do not have a comprehensive Australia wide understanding of the scale of the response required for achieving species recovery goals. This symposium will look at approaches for detailing threats, actions, and management costs; and the insights and lessons to be learned from the different approaches. This work can provide strategic input for coordinated action of threat mitigation and species recovery actions, prioritise options to support management, identify priority areas for management, investment and strategic assessments, and contribute to frameworks for identifying measures of success in threatened species recovery.

Ecological Extremes in Antarctica, mechanisms of resilience and recovery

Convenors: Dr Melinda Waterman, Professor Sharon Robinson, Dr Diana King, University of Wollongong

Although Antarctica is a frozen, icy desert, there are small ice-free oases, predominantly on the coast where life exists. Collectively 0.44% of the continent, these unique areas are important biodiversity hotspots for penguins and other seabirds, mosses, lichens, as well as streams, lakes and ponds with their associated invertebrates and of course microbes. These organisms are living in extreme conditions that are rapidly changing. Antarctica may be isolated from the rest of the continents by the Southern Ocean, but it has worldwide impacts. It drives the global ocean conveyor belt, a constant system of deep-ocean circulation which transfers oceanic heat around the planet, and its melting ice sheets add to global sea level rise. Like the Arctic, West Antarctica, the peninsula and the sub-Antarctic islands have experienced rapid temperature increases with global climate change. The pace of warming has generally been slower in East Antarctica. This is in part due to the ozone hole, which has occurred in spring over Antarctica since the late 1970s. Ozone depletion has generally strengthened the jet stream winds over the Southern Ocean promoting a generally more ‘positive’ state of the Southern Annular Mode in summer. This means the Southern Ocean’s westerly wind belt has tended to stay close to Antarctica at that time of year creating a seasonal ‘shield’, reducing the transfer of warm air from the Earth’s temperate regions to East Antarctica. However, in the 2019/2020 summer season, this shield collapsed and heat-wave conditions were measured all around the continent. In addition to climate change, Antarctica’s unique biodiversity is also threatened by introductions of alien species, especially to sub-Antarctic islands; fuel contamination of soil and water, microplastics in the oceans and disturbance around stations and other infrastructure. This symposium will illustrate how biodiversity across the different regions of Antarctica is resilient to the naturally extreme environment it inhabits. How has/will biodiversity respond to climate change and other human impacts (station building and contaminants, microplastics, invasive species) in the past and what do we predict for the future? We will also present solutions as to how we can better manage Antarctic ecosystems in future to preserve its biodiversity in the face of these threats.

Citizen Science: a tool for ecology, conservation and science communication

Convenors: Dr Katie Irvine, University of Adelaide / TERN; Dr Ayesha Tulloch, University of Sydney, University of Queensland

Australia is a big country. Despite our best efforts, scientists and practitioners simply can’t get to every place in Australia to survey, monitor or manage biodiversity. Citizen science is growing in popularity in Australia as a method for monitoring and sometimes managing biodiversity and other environmental variables at temporal and spatial scales that would not be possible otherwise. Citizen science provides a fantastic way for researchers and scientific institutions to ‘open the door’ to nonscientists and facilitate community education and engagement in limitless ways. Citizen science projects can provide examples of the best of science communication, the media love citizen science stories, and by definition the public are passionate and involved.Ongoing challenges for implementing successful citizen science programs include perceived risks with data quality, community willingness and capacity to engage, and return on investment. This symposium will showcase new tools, techniques and methods of citizen science data collection and analysis. Through different case studies, we highlight the benefits and challenges of different citizen science approaches and programs for building ecological knowledge, informing biodiversity management decisions, facilitating education, and fostering community engagement with nature.

Themes to explore:

  • Key factors in successful projects which engage, educate and enrich community members while also delivering data that is useful for scientific research and/or planning and policy.
  • Recent growth in the popularity of citizen science can largely be attributed to technology. Mobile apps and online training and support allows scientists to design and implement monitoring protocols.
  • What can we do as citizen science practitioners and participants to instil confidence in the research and academic community that citizen science derived data is suitable for informing research and management?

While citizen science is not an appropriate tool for all ecological studies or researchers, it has many varied uses and we believe there is an appetite in the ecological community for information on how citizen science is useful to individuals or labs for data gathering and community education and outreach. Citizen science can formalise community input to scientific studies; public opinion and interpretation is highly valuable for ecological studies, and the expertise of amateur naturalists is often an untapped or underutilised resource. Citizen scientists can provide rapid and broadscale assistance to researchers and practitioners when faced with sudden environmental or anthropogenic change that needs an urgent response.

Wetland management and restoration in human-dominated landscapes

Convenor: Jayne Hanford, The University of Sydney

Wetlands are inherently extreme environments – plants and animals must variously tolerate high salinity, desiccation cycles and/or constant waterlogging to persist and thrive. Add to this human impacts such as altered water flows and abstraction, pollution, invasive species and unpredictable rainfall associated with climate change and it’s clear that the persistence of wetland organisms and ecosystems is inextricably linked to their capacity to tolerate and recover from multiple disturbances. How do they do this, and how can we facilitate the persistence of wetlands impacted by human activities? This session will bring together wetland researchers and practitioners to share their experiences from diverse wetland types, with a focus on wetland management and restoration, and the mechanisms underpinning these. While approaches to management and restoration vary greatly between wetland types, the lessons learned through studying natural wetland resilience and identifying and mitigating drivers of degradation have many applications beyond the target wetland. Given the vital ecosystem functions provided by wetlands, including provision of clean water, nutrient cycling and habitat for fish, birds and amphibians, their management and restoration also impacts many other ecological disciplines, as well as the human landscape. Although wetlands in Australia are highly diverse environments, many of the human-caused pressures they face are similar, and indeed reflect pressures faced by other human-impacted environments. Wetlands are unique, however, in the many naturally-occurring extremes they must also withstand. Bringing together knowledge on how these inbuilt resilience processes might be harnessed to withstand human-caused stresses, and how these mechanisms might be applied in other restoration and management contexts, is an invaluable opportunity for identifying unifying themes in ecological management and restoration and advancing wetland conservation and management practice.

Tree dieback in Australian Ecosystems

Convenors: Professor Belinda Medlyn, A/Professor Brendan Choat, Western Sydney University

Healthy trees are the backbone of many ecosystems, but there are increasing concerns over tree health in many parts of the country. The goal of this symposium is to bring together researchers and practitioners studying tree dieback from across Australia, in order to exchange information about the current extent of dieback, the underlying causes, and approaches to management. Dieback may be related to a wide range of causes, including but not limited to drought, pathogens, and insect attack – or indeed the cause may not be known. We encourage submissions investigating tree dieback from a range of perspectives, including field monitoring, remote sensing, functional ecology and restoration. We hope to facilitate a broad nation-wide discussion of tree dieback. There was a lot of excellent research on tree dieback in the 1960’s – 1980’s in Australia. A series of key conferences brought researchers from across the country together to form an overall picture of the processes causing dieback and exchange information about management approaches (Marks & Idzak 1973; Old et al. 1981; Kater 1995). The most recent of these – held in 1995 – was rather optimistically named “After Dieback”. Twenty-five years on, dieback continues to occur in all States and Territories, and now appears to be accelerating in some regions. Changing climate, as well as land use and land management, are implicated. At present, there is considerable ongoing research addressing individual events, but there is a real need to bring together researchers working on dieback in order to compare what is happening in different parts of the country. Sharing information about events in different regions will help us as a scientific community to develop a bigger-picture perspective, potentially identifying larger-scale trends and gaining a better understanding of the underlying causes. In addition, a discussion of management approaches currently being employed in different regions could prove extremely valuable.

Improving the adaptive potential of restored communities

Convenor: Dr Marlien van der Merwe, National Herbarium of NSW; Royal Botanic Garden and Domain Trust, Sydney NSW.

The adaptive potential of restored communities relies heavily on the quality of material being used. Good quality starting material should be resilient and have the capacity to evolve with a changing environment and avoid local extinction. In this symposium we aim to cover current developments in the field of conservation and restoration genetics that particularly focus on best practices to capture genetic representativeness of source populations for practical applications. This symposium will bring together researchers in evolutionary ecology working towards restoration efforts that will improve the future self-sustainability and evolutionary adaptability of the restored population, by optimising diversity of starting material. We will discuss new methods being developed to capture this diversity (collections, translocations and seed production areas) and how developed theory helps us to directly include targeted adaptive potential into practical restoration outcomes. Current new research in this field includes the use of climatic models to facilitate future climate site specific restoration scenarios, computational models to capture genetic diversity and multispecies analyses to understand landscape dynamics.

Windows into resilience and recovery: technological advances and the acquisition of data in ecological systems

Convenor: Professor Andy Davis

Data is usually hard won! Technology continues to revolutionise our ability to collect information and test hypotheses that were unthinkable less than a decade ago. This symposium focusses on recent advances in technology that provide windows into ecological systems; particularly those that present special challenges. Nowhere are these challenges more apparent than in aquatic systems – where ecologists must often work remotely. Here the focus will include data acquisition using acoustic and radio tags, Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV – drones) and the exploration of trophic ecology with stable isotopes.Techniques are transferable among aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

Approaches for detailing threats, actions and management costs for threatened species recovery across broad scales

Convenors: Dr April Reside

Planning for threatened species recovery requires information on threats, threat abatement actions, and their costs and feasibility, across large, diverse scales. Some of this information has been collated to varying degrees for threatened species at the scale of management jurisdictions. In some cases, details on the required actions for mitigating the threats for each species have also been outlined, and in some cases costs of these actions have been estimated. However, as yet we do not have a comprehensive Australia wide understanding of the scale of the response required for achieving species recovery goals. This symposium will look at approaches for detailing threats, actions, and management costs; and the insights and lessons to be learned from the different approaches. This work can provide strategic input for coordinated action of threat mitigation and species recovery actions, prioritise options to support management, identify priority areas for management, investment and strategic assessments, and contribute to frameworks for identifying measures of success in threatened species recovery.

Our National State of the Environment – key issues during a time of change

Convenors:  Jeanette Corbitt , Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment; Dr Ian Cresswell, Ian Cresswell Consulting

Every 5 years, the Australian Government commissions an independent review of the state of the environment. The purpose of national state of the environment reporting is to provide all Australians with information on the state of the environment and what the key national environmental issues are. The next 2021 Australian State of the Environment (SoE) report is in development.

At a time of significant environmental change, this ESA symposium aims to engage a broad audience about new developments and future directions for users of environmental information. It provides a timely opportunity to engage on key environmental issues, particularly in the context of how information and digital reform can shape environmental reporting and our understanding of ecological change, pressures and trends.

This symposium also provides an opportunity to examine key science-policy questions: including how multi-disciplinary environmental reporting can assist with assessing our interventions as stewards for the Australian environment, and how this may link or integrate to regional and global efforts and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals; and further, in this context, how multi-disciplinary environmental reporting contributes to our understanding of environmental health for human health and resilience, particularly given recent bushfire events.