Click on the links below to learn more about each Symposium:

1. David Keith – Assessing risks to ecosystems: research and applications

2. Paul Rymer – Assisted migration under climate change

3. Kirsten Parris – Communicating ecology to a broad audience: Novel ideas and approaches

4. Noel Preece – Enabling Ecosystem Surveillance Monitoring across Australia – putting ecology to work

5. Scott Johnson and Sue Hartley – Functional roles of plant silicon: how plants get in and what they use it for

6. Gerry Turpin – ESA Indigenous Symposium

7. Heloise Gibb – Insect Ecology Research Chapter: Insects punching above their weight

8. Michael Rostas – Invertebrate ecology of managed grasslands: addressing the new challenges 

9. Jen Wood, Tracey Steinrucken, Anna Hopkins – Microscopic interactions with macroscopic effects: the role of microorganisms in maintaining and monitoring the health of macro-communities and organisms

10. Heidi Zimmer – Novel management interventions for threatened species

11. April Reside – Novel methods for identifying and managing refuges across scales and ecosystems

12. Heini Kujala – Putting ecology to work at the land development frontier

13. Belinda Medlyn – Tree Mortality: When, Where and Why Do Trees Die?

14. Elise Pendall – Vulnerability and resilience of grasslands in Oceania to climate change

15. Sacha Jellinek – Monitoring restored/revegetated areas in agricultural landscapes

16. Perpetua Turner – Effectiveness monitoring

17. Jim Radford –  Changing Australia: emerging trends, trade-offs and synergies of landscape transformation in rural Australia

Assessing risks to ecosystems: research and applications
David Keith

In 2014 IUCN adopted a new international standard for assessing risks to ecosystems, signalling the development of Red Lists of national and global scope that highlight those ecosystems most at risk of collapse. The scientific development of the concepts and methods that underpin the international standard are the product of a large and ongoing international scientific collaboration. Applications of the IUCN Red List assessments are emerging for terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world, with many applications in Australia and New Zealand compiling and analysing valuable data sets, diagnosing threats, building and applying process models that lay the foundations for improved ecosystem management.In 2015 all Australian governments agreed in principle to implement the international standard as a “Common Assessment Methodology” for listing threatened ecological communities under respective Commonwealth and state legislation. This high level of buy-in from policymakers presents opportunities to strengthen the evidence-base for decisions and improve conservation outcomes. With the uptake of ecosystem risk assessment, new scientific challenges are emerging. This symposium will focus on the interface between science and policy, bringing together researchers and practitioners to explore diverse challenges and opportunities, as well as innovative applications of risk assessment in ecosystem management and environmental policy in Australia and New Zealand. The topics to be addressed include:

  • development of analytical tools;
  • ecological models;
  • typological frameworks;
  • biodiversity and environmental monitoring designs;
  • ecosystem-specific interpretations of generic Red List concepts;
  • integration with ecosystem management;
  • evidence-based policy applications.Justification.

The symposium will synthesise diverse themes encompassing directly relevant to assessing risks to ecosystems and the services they provide.  It will feature innovative developments in field ecology, modelling, remote sensing, conservation planning, ecosystem services, recent policy applications and informative case studies on Australian and New Zealand ecosystems.

Assisted migration under climate change
Paul Rymer

Understanding the capacity of organisms to respond to climate change is essential for the maintenance of biodiversity, ecosystem health and productivity. Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme events, which has resulted in local extinction, shifts in species distributions, and community composition. Adaptive land management is urgently needed in order to mitigate the risk of large-scale extinctions in a rapidly changing climate. Assessing genetic adaptation and physiological tolerance to climate across species distributions is critically important if we are to develop management tools, such as assisted gene migration, for sustainable and productive forests in a drying climate.This symposium will provide a forum for the presentation of empirical research from a wide range biological systems employing a number of approaches (field, controlled environment, laboratory) to characterise the ability of organisms to respond to climate change. Contributions that provide a clear conceptual framework and policy / management recommendations are encouraged. The overall goal of the symposium is the bring together researchers to facilitate developments in the field of research, provide future directions, and ultimately a scientific basis for adaptive management strategies such as assisted migration. 

Changing Australia: emerging trends, trade-offs and synergies of landscape transformation in rural Australia
Jim Radford

Rural landscapes sustain nature; provide people with food, fibre and fuel; shape cultural identify and wellbeing; and inspire creativity. However, the consequences of past, present and emerging landscape transformation pose enormous challenges for nature and human society. The nature and extent of landscape change affects agricultural productivity through impacts on ecosystem services and disservices, and has profound and enduring consequences for natural systems (native species, ecosystems and ecological processes), for human health and wellbeing, and for regional communities. This symposium will explore the nexus between the emerging economic, social and cultural drivers of landscape change, the nature and rate of landscape change that can be expected, and the outcomes of such change for a range of landscape functions (e.g., nature conservation, ecosystem services, natural capital, human wellbeing, community resilience and agricultural productivity). The objectives of the symposium are to identify emerging trends and their likely impacts on ecological systems and processes, and to explore the trade-offs and synergies among different landscape functions that are educed by landscape change. 

Communicating ecology to a broad audience: Novel ideas and approaches
Kirsten Parris

Science communication is an important component of our work as ecologists.  But how do we connect with the diversity of audiences outside academia in an engaging and effective way?  And how do we communicate calmly and clearly when agitated and ill-informed voices are so prevalent in public discourse?  This symposium will present novel ideas and approaches for communicating ecology to a range of groups including school children, educators, policy makers, land managers, industry and the general public.  These include art-science workshops, science comedy, community-based engagement programs, citizen science, briefings/summaries (such as ESA’s Hot Topics), science books for children, costume, poetry and song.Symposium speakers will include early-career and established researchers from diverse fields spanning ecology, conservation biology, science communication, art, scenography, and environmental policy.  All participants will be asked to prepare an abstract for their presentation that uses only the 1,000 most common words in the English language (the “Up-goer Five” challenge: see  The symposium will also help to launch a new ESA Research Chapter on Science Communication.

Effectiveness monitoring
Perpetua Turner

This cross-disciplinary symposium brings together ecologists, managers and practitioners centred on discussions of how ecological management is/isn’t working, based on government and non-govermnent research, and if outcomes are a consequence of management and thus directly addresses the conference theme ‘Putting ecology to work’. It is widely recognised that long-term research and monitoring is important for scientific credibility of provisions applied in ecological management plans. Legislative requirements to monitor the effectiveness of management objectives and public scrutiny of management practices means the scientific basis for particular management actions needs to be clear. Effectiveness monitoring is a functional approach used to establish the impacts of specific management actions against the objectives for management of key biodiversity assets. Specific management actions may be the reduction in the numbers of feral species to increase the population sizes of reintroduced, regionally extinct fauna, or changes in fire regime to improve the population resilience of small vertebrate species. Many research programs support these efforts. 

This cross-disciplinary symposium presents priority research programs involved in effectiveness monitoring including:

1. Research program management objectives 
2. The threats to values linked with management actions and,
3. How the effectiveness of management recommendations is being assessed will be presented.

Ecologists interested in whether management specified has achieved its objective and whether the outcome was actually a consequence of management will be interested in this symposium.

Enabling Ecosystem Surveillance Monitoring across Australia – putting ecology to work
Noel Preece

Systematic, continental-scale monitoring of essential ecosystem variables that reflect the health of our ecosystems is needed across Australia. The Ecosystem Science Council is leading a working group to achieve this goal. This symposium will provide a critical step in this process, bringing together a wide range of ecosystem expertise to contribute to the better ecological understanding of our ecosystems across Australia and its seas and remote islands. The symposium will be of interest to ecologists as it will present a range of high-profile syntheses of ecosystem surveillance approaches, from experts in the field. Three core areas will be explored.

  1. What, and where, do we already monitor well?
  2. What are the critical gaps in current monitoring efforts? and,
  3. How can we ensure that continental-scale ecosystem monitoring is successful over the long haul?

The symposium will canvass approaches to catalogue and assess existing ecosystem monitoring programs that have potential for contributing to ecosystem surveillance. This assessment is intended to be collaborative across local, state and national agencies and organizations, across different disciplines, and across all ecological domains.Consistency, continuity and adaptability of monitoring will be the priority as the aim is for future generations to be in a position to look back objectively over past changes. To achieve continuity over coming centuries, ecosystem surveillance systems need to be effective and deliver on their purpose, but also modest enough that sustained bipartisan government commitment can be forthcoming. This effort is timely as we are experiencing a period of unprecedented environmental change. State of the environment reporting continues to lack the basic data for many components, and also lacks the framework to effectively report on trends in a consistent manner. Renewed effort aimed at integration is also needed as our current monitoring approaches differ, sometimes substantially, across state borders, and among organizations and individuals. These inconsistencies result in problems of assessing baseline and trend data for ecosystem variables from plants to animals, soils, other biota and abiotic factors at landscape scales. They also result in major gaps in knowledge across whole bioregions, and incorrect assumptions about status and trends.We plan to advocate to relevant parties for the establishment, implementation, and enduring long-term support of the proposed surveillance monitoring program. This symposium will seek to garner support from participants for this approach to a systematic, consistent and coordinated ecosystem surveillance program across Australia.

ESA Indigenous Symposium
Gerry Turpin

The theme of EcoTAS 2017 theme is “Putting Ecology to Work”, with the aim of ‘highlighting the significant impact that ecology has in the wider world and how we can best harness the diverse nature of ecological research’. Indigenous people are invited to present or to lead a co-presentation about how their projects and research outcomes, are contributing and making impacts in their community and the wider world. 

This Symposium provides an opportunity for Rangers, Traditional Owners and other Indigenous presenters to show how their projects and research, using Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge along with Western Science, are contributing and making impacts to their:

  • Culture

  • Community including health and economy

   • Environmental health and biodiversity

 Functional roles of plant silicon: how plants get it and what they use it for
Scott Johnson and Sue Hartley


Silicon, acquired from the soil, has long been known to benefit agricultural plants by alleviating the effects of numerous biotic and abiotic stresses, including herbivores, pathogens and environmental extremes. Research into the ecological significance of silicon in plant interactions is more recent but we have made a number of breakthroughs in recent years, including understanding how plants regulate Si uptake and constraining silicon budgets in ecosystems. Ecologists have proposed that plants use silicon in structural and protective roles at a cheaper cost than carbon-based compounds allowing plants to deploy resources elsewhere (e.g. secondary metabolites with defensive functions). Together, these functions raise the prospect that we may be able to better use silicon for plant protection and possibly climate change adaptation. This symposium will draw together ecologists working in diverse areas of silicon function in plants to answer questions such as:

• how plants get silicon and why don’t all plants do it?

• which herbivores suffer and how do they induce plants to take up more?

• how do microbes influence silicon uptake?

• is silicon always good for plants?

• how can we use silicon in plants? 

We aim to identify recent advances in the role of silicon in plant ecology from the genetic level to an ecosystem perspective. This synthesis will identify how silicon could be used to address contemporary challenges such as plant protection, food security and adaptation to the effects of global climate change and extreme events.


Insect Ecology Research Chapter: Insects punching above their weight
Heloise Gibb

This intentionally broad symposium presents a starting point for the Insect Ecology research chapter.  Insects and other invertebrates make up the vast majority of terrestrial biodiversity.  They also make up a large component of animal biomass and are critical for ecosystem function.  Despite their importance, the majority of insects remain undescribed and their ecologies poorly understood.  Further, the public understanding of their value is limited.  We showcase the diversity of insect-focussed ecological research, starting with fundamental ecology, physiology and behaviour and moving to applied research, including topics such as restoration, conservation and ecosystem services.  We also consider the popular perceptions of insects and how they might be changed to encourage greater understanding of the value of insects.

This is a broad and inclusive symposium, which has the primary aim of bringing together the diversity of ecologists who study insects.  While it is taxonomically focused, our symposium provides opportunities for cross-pollination among sub-disciplines of ecology: we will cover ecological, behavioural, physiological, and community dynamics.  Our aim is to provide an overview of the immense diversity of work that is being done with insects.

The symposium addresses key issues in relation to the use of insects in ecological research (pure and applied), management, conservation, and outreach contexts.

Invertebrate ecology of managed grasslands: addressing the new challenges 
Michael Rostas

Natural and managed grasslands form a major part of the Australasian landscape and provide a wealth of ecological services. For example, grasslands store one third of global carbon stocks and pastures involving legumes provide critical natural N inputs at a time when chemical interventions need to be reduced. In addition, grasslands are of vital importance for human food production as vast areas of rangelands and pastures are used for livestock. Grasslands are one of the most densely populated ecosystems with invertebrates being probably the most important engineers that shape both plant communities and the grassland as a whole. However, many aspects of grassland-invertebrate interactions are poorly understood and in a rapidly changing world new challenges such as climate change, invasive species and biocontrol failure are on the horizon. This symposium will highlight the following topics, thereby combining fundamental and applied ecological questions:

  • The impact of climate change on grassland insect mutualisms
  • How rapid evolutionary processes led to the collapse of a successful pasture biocontrol programme  
  • How grassland habitats shape invertebrate biodiversity
  • Evolution and expansion of host plant range in grassland herbivores
  • Enhancing ecosystem services in low biodiversity grasslands by introducing missing detritivores

Permanent meadows and pastures account for 40-47 % of land use in Australia and New Zealand and therefore constitute the largest plant production sector in both countries. Understanding how invertebrates in these agroecosystems interact with their environment and how they influence plant productivity is both of ecological and economic importance. In this timely symposium we will offer new insights into the ecology of grassland invertebrates and address current and future issues as well as strategies for management. 

Microscopic interactions with macroscopic effects: the role of microorganisms in maintaining and monitoring the health of macro-communities and organisms
Jen Wood, Tracey Steinrucken, Anna Hopkins

Microbial communities form the microscopic foundation of all ecosystems. Incorrectly functioning microbial communities can lead to disease states in individuals – both in the plant and animal kingdom – and perturbed microbial communities can affect entire ecosystems.In the last two decades, genetic and genomic studies have revealed the astonishing diversity and ubiquity of microorganisms. Virtually all multicellular organisms host a community of symbionts composed of mutualistic, commensal, and pathogenic microbes, i.e., their microbiome. The rapid growth in microbiome research, particularly since the development of high throughput sequencing technologies, has revealed that microbial communities underpin the health, nutrition, disease susceptibility and environmental adaptations of macroscopic organisms at every trophic level, in every biome.

Investigations into the ecology and consequences of micro-macro interactions, and the effect of changing environmental factors upon these interactions, have yielded novel insights into plant, animal and ecosystem health. Therefore, the effective utilization of microbial ecology research in wider ecological and conservation research is central for the development of robust conservation strategies and has emerged as a crucial requirement for defining restoration targets and assessing the effectiveness of management interventions.

This Symposium aspires to further raise the profile of microbial ecology research within the wider Ecology community and serve as a platform for initiating collaborations in ecological research that span kingdoms. 

Monitoring restored/revegetated areas in agricultural landscapes
Sacha Jellinek

 This symposium will showcase the methods and tools (such as new technology) currently used to monitor restored habitats, such as revegetated areas. At the end of the symposium, we will attempt to summarise the talks given and provide an overview of the different methods used to monitor revegetated areas. It will result in a discussion of the methods currently used to monitor revegetated areas, and provide guidance to develop a national set of guidelines to help practitioners and researchers systematically assess revegetated habitats.

Terrestrial restoration has the potential to maintain native animal and plant communities and provide social benefits. However, information about how to achieve good outcomes from restoration is lacking. Restoration projects have generally lacked scientific input due to limited funding for monitoring and a focus on on-ground restoration activities rather than restoration outcomes. This means that there is usually no rigorous assessment of the variables influencing restoration effectiveness, limited interpretation of restoration results and little follow-up to determine ecological and social outcomes. This lack of information may lead to a substantial expenditure of resources on restoration activities that do not produce the expected biodiversity benefits. 

As environmental stressors, such as climate change increasingly impact biodiversity, and as restoration schemes become increasingly important to maintain our remaining native plant and animal communities, there is a need to establish how effective past restoration activities have been. 

Novel management interventions for threatened species
Heidi Zimmer

Management actions that were historically considered radical, infeasible and unnatural are increasing in popularity. These actions include species reintroductions and rewilding, genetic rescue, and adoption of species-specific burning and watering regimes. The change in attitude has been driven a growing list of threatened species, and by advances in our ecological understanding. At the same time, the age-old conservation debate around whether “to intervene, or not to intervene” continues.The objective of this symposium is to draw together  examples of where ecology has been used to inform a novel management intervention to save a threatened species.

The goal of the symposium is a more coordinated approach to the use of such interventions. The significant contribution of this symposium will be in identifying:

  1. What is ecologically possible?
  2. What actions are feasible (or indeed defensible) in the resource-limited conservation management space?


Novel methods for identifying and managing refuges across scales and ecosystems
April Reside

Refuges are essential for the persistence of many species, particularly animals threatened by invasive predators and disease, changed fire regimes, climate change, and those coping with periodic drought. To protect these species, we need to identify the locations and functions of specific small and large-scale refuges. Understanding how refuges enable species persistence can allow us to protect and enhance them. This symposium will focus on both the innovative methods being developed to identify refuges within the landscape, and on the role of refuges in management: How can we effectively protect and enhance these critical resources? Refuges range from small-scale, such as rock outcrops or drainage lines with protective microclimate, to larger scale such as mountains or landscapes with features that enable species to survive in the face of these threats.  

The goal of this symposium is to enhance our understanding of:

  1. How refuges protect species, benefits and limitations;
  2. Novel methods for identifying refuges;
  3. The latest strategies for refuge management.

Refuges are a key target for management of threatened species and are of great interest to researchers, recovery teams and Australian and state Government conservation planning. Our symposium aims to highlight and synthesise how ecological knowledge and emerging technologies can be used to identify and manage refuges, aligning closely with the conference theme ‘putting ecology to work’.

Putting ecology to work at the land development frontier
Heini Kujala

Sustainable development has a key role in combating ongoing biodiversity loss, as human land use requirements place increasing pressure on species and habitats. At the development frontier, where decision on new land development are made, conflicts between biodiversity and multi-tenure land use needs are constantly encountered. In theory, this is where ecological knowledge has some of its greatest potential in reducing biodiversity losses, by guiding development to locations and practices with least negative impact. Anticipating and acting on foreseeable development-conservation conflicts can be very cost-efficient because the cost of conserving species and communities increases rapidly as they become less widespread and options for their conservation narrow. In many countries the existing legislation and regulations already stipulate that development impacts on biodiversity are to be reduced through environmental impact assessments and offsetting of unavoidable impacts. Yet, concerns have been raised about the ad hoc evaluation of individual development projects and their offsetting needs, in isolation from other ongoing development projects taking place in the same region. The lack of holistic assessment and accounting of cumulative development impacts on biodiversity mean that species are often faced with a ‘death by thousand cuts’, where biodiversity is degraded by many small impacts that individually do not appear to threaten species’ persistence and as such, are not met with adequate mitigation or compensation through offsetting mechanisms.This symposium brings together the existing knowledge of the challenges we face at the development frontier and the recent advancements and tools available for tackling these challenges. 

Tree Mortality: When, Where and Why Do Trees Die?
Belinda Medlyn

This symposium is affiliated with the new ESA chapter “Theory of Australian Ecosystems”. This symposium aims to bring together researchers working on tree mortality – a key process in forest ecosystems. The symposium will consider background rates of tree mortality as well as accelerated mortality, i.e. tree dieback events. Background mortality is an important driver of population dynamics, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and life-history evolution within plant communities. Dieback is of high ecological and economic significance because of its potential to greatly change the nature of ecosystems and the services they provide. While past research has identified factors influencing tree mortality across a variety of scales, these factors are yet to be integrated within a cohesive and predictive framework.

The goals of the symposium are to

  1. better understand causes of mortality in forests,
  2. compare patterns of mortality being observed in different ecosystems across Australia / NZ, and
  3. discuss methods that can be used to detect, quantify, and predict rates of mortality.

The symposium will be interdisciplinary – combining observational studies aiming to quantify rates of mortality using plot-based, survey or remote-sensing methods; ecological and physiological studies addressing the causes of mortality; and theoretical work aiming to predict rates and stress thresholds for tree mortality.  Tree mortality is a topic of increasing scientific interest worldwide. There have been many reports of heat- and drought-related mortality events around the globe, including in Australia and NZ, and the risk of such events is very likely to increase with accelerating climate change. 

Vulnerability and resilience of grasslands in Oceania to climate change
Elise Pendall

This symposium seeks to characterize the resilience and vulnerability of grasslands across Australia and New Zealand to climate variables, including droughts, changes in precipitation seasonality, heat waves, and rising atmospheric CO2. We will bring together experts in grassland ecology from temperate, tropical and Mediterranean regions to develop a continental-scale perspective on recent findings of community and ecosystem-level responses to climate. We are particularly interested in improving our predictive understanding of grassland productivity, including the timing (phenology) of greenness, as well as the functional traits (above- and belowground) underlying productivity responses.

Grassland ecosystems are economically important, yet particularly sensitive to changing climate, including droughts, floods and heat waves. Grasslands and grazing lands cover ~70% of the Australian continent and support a ~$17 billion livestock industry, with similar importance in the New Zealand landscape and economy. Climatic changes will cause significant changes in grassland ecosystems, which lack the deep roots that can buffer woody ecosystems from the water deficits associated with excessive heat and drought. Understanding and predicting the impacts of changes in temperature and rainfall regimes on the productivity, phenology and physiology of grasslands is a key knowledge gap that must be addressed in order to develop robust climate adaptation strategies.