Research Projects

We have a number of active research areas in PIREL. If you are interested in postgraduate research or developing a postdoc application then please contact us!

Exotic plants and climate change

Much of our research is about trying to understand what the impacts of climate change may be on exotic plants. Climate change and exotic species are two of the most important threats to global diversity yet we understand little of the interaction of these two forces. We employ a range of techniques including bioclimatic modelling, the use of experimental mesocosms to look at the effect of elevated CO2 and extreme climatic events, and the effect of elevated CO2 in combination with disturbances such as fire on plants and communities. Visit our new website weedfutures.net

Riparian vegetation and rehabilitation

Riparian systems are species-rich and important components of landscape function, however they are affected by a range of processes associated with agriculture and development including exotic plant invasion, channel modification, and changes to nutrient and carbon fluxes.  Our research with Associate Professor Kirstie Fryirs includes looking at the seed bank as a resource for riparian rehabilitation as well as examining the effect of climate change on riparian vegetation structure and functional diversity.

The role of volatiles in exotic plant invasions

Plants produce and disperse a huge number of organic chemical compounds (VOCs) that become volatile when exposed to ambient air and generally produce a distinctive odour. In nature, plants’ being immobile organisms means they need VOCs to interact with their environment and other species in order to attract pollinators, deter herbivores and pathogens, cope with stressors and communicate with other plants. We are looking at the difference in VOC emissions between native and exotic plant species to determine if this is related to invasion success.

Plant functional traits

Understanding variation in plant functional traits and how they contribute to the diversity of ecological strategies employed by plants is a continuing research interest in the lab. Our research includes understanding relationships between plant traits and invasive success, understanding global patterns of variation in key traits such as leaf size (with Assoc. Prof. Ian Wright) and plant height (with Prof. Angela Moles and colleagues), and looking at relationships between plant traits and leaf isoprenoid emission capacity  (with Assoc. Prof. Ian Wright and colleagues).

Myrtle Rust

Myrtle rust is a pathogenic rust fungus native to Central and South America. It attacks plants in the Myrtaceae family, one of the most ecologically and economically important plant families in Australia. Since its introduction to Australia in 2010, myrtle rust has caused shoot dieback, reduced recruitment, and adult plant mortality in susceptible species. Through a combination of glasshouse studies, fieldwork and modelling techniques, we are studying the ecological impacts of myrtle rust in Australian ecosystems, with a focus on compositional changes and recruitment after fire in coastal woodland communities.

Images (top-bottom): The south African Pelargonium capitatum is invasive in Western Australia (Photo: Julia Cooke), Cattai Creek (photo: John Martyn), growing acacias in the glasshouse for volatile experiments (photo: Christina Birnbaum), an example of extraordinary leaf shapes (photo: John Martyn), Myrtaceae leaf infected by Myrtle Rust (photo: CRC).

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