CIE Seminar Series 2014 – Developing regular, fine-scale assessments of vegetation condition across major river systems

Dr Shaun CunninghamSPEAKER: Dr Shaun CunninghamCentre for Integrative Ecology (CIE), School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University
DATE: Friday, 12th September 2014
LOCATION: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, Room ka4.207
TIME: 2:00 pm
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Melbourne Campus at Burwood, Room T3.05 and Warrnambool Campus, Room G1.01 (Percy Baxter LT)

ABSTRACT: Ecologists need to develop tools that quantify ecosystem condition over scales that are relevant to species’ persistence and their management. Dieback of floodplain forests is an acute example of how land-use intensification and drying climates are degrading native ecosystems.

Land managers of the Murray-Darling Basin are involved in a large-scale and highly-political effort to restore the resilience of these ecosystems by returning more water to the native floodplain. Regular and robust assessments of these ecosystems are vital to ensure the efficient use of this limited water and to justify its benefits to competing water users.

Shaun has developed such a tool that provides annual assessments of forest condition across the floodplain forests of the whole Murray River. The approach has involved several years of ground surveys, building predictive models using satellite imagery and subsequent validation surveys.

The approach is used annually by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to assess vegetation condition of the Murray, with ongoing research to expand the assessment to all floodplain forests of the Basin. The forest condition assessment has promise as a regional assessment of biodiversity beyond floodplains, showing strong relationships with bird richness and breeding, and plant understorey composition.

BIO: Shaun Cunningham joined the Centre for Integrative Ecology this year as research fellow. He is a forest ecologist who endeavours to quantify pattern and process in native and planted forests, with the aim of better informing their management.

His interests include predicting vegetation condition and extent across landscapes using remote sensing, restoring vegetation and ecological processes in agricultural landscapes, and physiological explanations for plant distribution.

His research has ranged in scale from leaf-level processes to vegetation patterns across river basins. He has studied native systems from heathlands to rainforests, and restoration of native vegetation in agricultural landscapes. He has worked for the Australian National Herbarium, CSIRO Plant Industry, the Bushfire CRC and Monash University.

At Deakin, he is continuing research in the above areas and starting a new project investigating structural and compositional changes in vegetation of floodplain and plains woodlands during the drought and the subsequent wet years.

For enquiries and appointments with the guest speaker, please email Natasha Kaukov.