CIE-HDR Conference 2015 – Plenary Invited Speakers

Don Driscoll
Don Driscoll

Don A. Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology:
“My work over the past 20 years is characterized by a combination of practical conservation research and ecological theory.

This approach is critical to advancing knowledge in conservation and ecology, communicating that knowledge effectively across a range of audiences, and developing a successful academic career.

This broad theme will emerge during the seminar as we merrily skip our way through my recent advances in conservation biology, spanning the ecologies of landscapes, fire and restoration.”

Prof Driscoll will brave the depths of terrestrial ecology, shedding light on the theory and practice of landscape, restoration and fire ecology.

More information on Don’s work can be found on his website.


  • PhD, UNI WA, metapopulation ecology of endangered frogs.
  • CSIRO Post-Doc, Canberra. Impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation on reptiles and beetles in agricultural landscapes.
  • ARC Post-Doctoral Fellowship, UTAS. Habitat fragmentation and metapopulations.
  • Lecturer in Biodiversity, Flinders University. Coordinating/teaching a post-graduate biodiversity course. Fire and fragmentation research.
  • Associate Professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian Natrional University. Ecological synthesis, dispersal, fragmentation and fire research.
  • Professor of Terrestrial Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria.


Adriana Verges
Adriana Verges

Dr Adriana Vergés leads a research group within the Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation at UNSW Australia. Her research focuses on the ecology and evolution of species interactions and marine conservation more broadly.

Much of her recent work is centered on the ecological impacts of climate change in coastal ecosystems and the ‘tropicalisation’ of temperate communities such as algal forests or seagrass meadows.

Adriana is very interested in the use of films to communicate science and curates the ‘Science & Storytelling’ events at the Australian Museum in Sydney. This series of documentary film screenings and panel discussions bring together scientists, filmmakers and the general public to discuss the challenges behind representing complex science stories on screen.

Adriana originally hails from Barcelona (Spain), where she obtained her PhD in Ecology at the University of Barcelona. She also holds an MSc in Science Communication from Dublin City University (Ireland) and a BSc (Hons) in Marine Science from the National University of Ireland (Galway).

Abstract: Ocean warming, shifts in plant-herbivore interactions and the tropicalisation of temperate reefs

Climate-driven changes in species interactions can profoundly alter ecological communities, particularly when they impact foundation species. In marine systems, changes in plant-herbivore interactions can lead to the loss of dominant habitat forming species such as corals when tropical fish herbivory decreases, or to declines in algal forests when temperate urchin grazing increases.

Emerging evidence from the eastern Mediterranean, Japan and eastern Australia indicates that ocean warming is causing a novel type of phase-shift in tropical-temperate transition zones, whereby tropical and subtropical herbivores are overgrazing the canopy forming algae that typically dominates shallow temperate reefs.

I will use a ten-year (2002-2012) video dataset from northern NSW that encompasses a 0.6°C increase in mean sea surface to quantify patterns of kelp abundance and kelp-herbivore interactions in a tropical-temperate transition zone. Kelp was present on 70% of surveyed reefs in 2002, declined through time and completely disappeared from 2010 onwards. Simultaneously, grazing incidence on kelp increased steadily from <10% to over 70% in the years preceding kelp disappearance. The proportion of tropical and herbivorous species in fish communities increased as kelp declined.

Experimental video evidence shows transplanted kelp is quickly consumed within hours by tropical rabbitfish (Siganidae) and drummers (Kyphosidae) in reefs from where it has disappeared, where large densities of grazing surgeonfish dominate consumption of algal turfs. These results suggest that climate-mediated increases in herbivory pose a very significant global threat to kelp dominated ecosystems and the communities they support.


  • What’s causing the tropicalisation of temperate marine ecosystems? – This project investigates the causes of climate-mediated declines in cold water algal forests. These seaweeds are the trees of our underwater world and support major fisheries and coastal recreation. This project provides innovative multidisciplinary training for postgraduate students in experimental marine ecology, advanced molecular microbiology and physical oceanography.
  • Kelp grazers and the restoration of missing underwater forests – The loss of habitat-forming macroalgae along urbanised coastlines represents a substantial loss of biodiversity worldwide. Crayweed (Phyllospora comosa) is an important habitat-forming species that supports economically important fisheries such as crayfish and abalone. Crayweed disappeared from all metropolitan Sydney reefs in the 1980s, probably as a consequence of pollution. Although water quality has dramatically improved since those days, crayweed has not returned. This project aims to restore crayweed to Sydney reefs and investigates the ecological processes that influence the survival of this species in denuded coastlines.
  • Seagrass genetic diversity and ecosystem function – Loss of biodiversity ranks among the major causes of ecosystem change in the 21st century, with effects rivalling those of other human impacts such as climate change, habitat loss and nutrient pollution. Communities with greater diversity generally exhibit greater productivity and recover better from disturbance when compared to less diverse communities. This projects investigates diversity at the genotypic level in an endangered seagrass (Posidonia australis) and aims to establish the relationship between genotypic diversity, phenotypic diversity and community processes such as productivity and herbivory.


John Wingfield
John Wingfield

John Wingfield, Distinguished Professor and Endowed Chair in Physiology, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, University of California, Davis, California.

John Wingfield is interested in how organisms perceive their environment, integrate and transduce that information into morphological, physiological and behavioral responses. Of particular interest are the mechanisms by which animals use this system to respond to changing environments and their ecological contexts.

He is currently Distinguished Professor and Endowed Chair in Physiology at the University of California, Davis. John is also participating in the Deakin University “Thinkers-in-Residence” Program.

Abstract: Allostasis, resilience and coping with a changing world

A potentially serious outcome of global climate change is the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Additionally, environmental perturbations such as human disturbance, invasive species, social disruption and pollution indicate that bird populations world wide face major challenges in coping with stress. Responses to one or more environmental perturbations incur energetic costs in addition to those of the normal life cycle such as breeding, migrating etc.

The concept of allostasis provides a framework to integrate energetic demand and wear and tear of daily and seasonal routines (the predictable life cycle) with perturbations of the environment including disease, aging and social status. The concept is particularly attractive because it allows a framework to assess the challenges faced in changing social and physical environments at the individual level because no single organism experiences the environment in exactly the same way as another.

The reactive scope of the mediators of coping mechanisms, such as the adrenocortical response to acute stress, also vary on seasonal, daily, habitat and individual bases. Understanding these regulatory mechanisms will be critical to ameliorating the effects of global change in general.