CIE Seminar Series 2014 – Of misletoes and mechanisms: advances in understanding their ecological role and ecosystem function

David WatsonSPEAKERAssociate Professor David Watson, Associate Professor in Ecology, Institute for Land Water & Society and School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University, NSW
DATE: Friday, 15st August 2014
LOCATION: Melbourne Campus at Burwood, Room LT4 (B3.05)
TIME: 2:00 pm
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, Room ka4.207 and Warrnambool Campus, Room G.1.01 (Percy Baxter LT)

ABSTRACT: In this seminar, I review recent advances in understanding the role mistletoes (Loranthaceae) play in woodlands and forests, as well as the factors underlying their inherently patchy distribution.

I draw together findings from several studies into mistletoe seed dispersal, dispelling the “just so” story that mistletoe specialist frugivores are coevolved dispersers and suggesting they are better considered exploitative opportunists.

Building on results of the large-scale removal experiment, I delve deeper into the community-level findings to uncover the underlying mechanisms. Rather than those groups depending on mistletoe nectar or fruit, insectivores were found to exhibit the greatest declines following mistletoe removal.

Indeed, once the response of ground-feeding insectivores is removed, no significant treatment effects persist. This counter-intuitive finding is consistent with the emerging view of mistletoes and other parasitic plants as facilitators, boosting diversity via highly enriched litter-fall.

BIO: David is an ecologist interested in the factors affecting diversity patterns. He has conducted numerous empirical and theoretical studies of the determinants of diversity, ranging from cloud-forests of southern Mexico to arid shrublands in central Australia.

He has a particular interest in mistletoe and has suggested that it operates as a keystone resource in forests throughout the world. Recent projects on Barro Colorado Island, Panama and in Washington state complement ongoing studies in south-eastern Australia.

David was born and grew up in Melbourne, completed a BSc (Hons) degree at Monash University, with a double major in Botany and Zoology, then earned his PhD in ecology at the University of Kansas USA.

He became interested in mistletoes during Honours research in Wimmera, kept an eye out for them during fieldwork for his PhD in southern Mexico and Costa Rica.  He began undertaking research on mistletoes after he joined Charles Sturt University in 2000. He has ongoing studies in eastern and central Australia and central  America, as well as collaborations with researchers in the USA, Canada, Brazil and Europe.

In addition to mistletoe, his research program has three other main themes: developing practical solutions to habitat fragmentation, managing biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and devising improved biodiversity survey methods. For the students across the Murray Darling basin, however, he is known simply as “Doctor Dave”.

For enquiries and appointments with the guest speaker, please email Euan Ritchie.