Oldfield restoration and carbon farming
Around the world, abandoned farmlands have informed theory on vegetation development by revealing the order of species arrivals and persistence. In Western Australia, old fields tend to get stuck in persistently weedy degraded states compared with oldfields elsewhere in the world. We are doing research to inform the restoration of eucalypt woodlands to oldfields and the development of the emerging carbon market. We have long-term experiments at Ridgefield, in Pingelly, and Peniup, in the great southern region of Western Australia.
Jarrah forest reassembly after mining
Jarrah forest grows on some of the most nutrient-poor soils in the world. A focus of my research for the past decade has been to inform its restoration after bauxite mining. This research has informed practice including prescriptions for fertiliser use. We have also explored the impact of climate change on seedling establishment and measured the functional diversity of restored forest. We are currently applying this knowledge to mine rehabilitation elsewhere in Australia through the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies.
Ecological roles of soil fungi
Many plants native to Western Australia form associations with soil fungi. The fungi help plants to access soil nutrients that is likely beneficial for survival on the nutrient-poor soils. Fungi also play important roles in plant community dynamics. We have used microcosms like the one pictured, to determine effects of fungi on plant growth and interactions among plants including invasive species. Our latest research describes the ecology of Australian fine root endophytes, a poorly understood group that tend to occur in extreme conditions.
Globally distributed experiments
We maintain field experiments for two global networks of researchers. These experiments are powerful tests of key concepts in ecology. Our Drought-Net experiment at Credo, pictured, one of many around the world, is testing the sensitivity of chenopod shrublands to drought. The second experiment, at Pingelly, is part of the Nutrient Network. This network is testing impacts of nutrient limitation on the world’s grasslands. The Credo experiment was established in 2015 and Pingelly in 2013. Because our soils are nutrient-poor and our climate dry, our data are often outliers in the global dataset.
Resilience in practice
The concept of ecological resilience is appealing for its potential to predict ecosystem recovery from disturbance. Yet is application to restoration and management has been limited by confusion over how to measure it. We are working to provide guidance on resilience metrics. Our latest research includes experimental tests of restored projects to fire disturbance and the recovery of banksia woodland to clearing disturbance at the Roe 8 corridor south of Perth (pictured). The latter is led by undergraduate students.
Social side of restoration
Success of ecological restoration is dependent on the desires and motivations of people. And in turn, people benefit from restoration activity and the outcomes. We work with social scientists to understand how to incentivise restoration activities. Additionally, we are doing research to define desirable goals for ecological restoration when it is not possible to restore the historical reference ecosystem.