Our team undertakes research on ecological and evolutionary dynamics. We primarily use field data and experiments to explore links between biodiversity and environmental change. We also build models to forecast changes in animal and plant populations, which in turn help us develop strategies to conserve biodiversity. Increasingly, we’re integrating data and models using participatory approaches (such as scenario planning) that involve policy makers from the get-go.
The group is led by Luke Kelly at the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne. We focus on four main areas of research:
- Plant evolution and global change. We work in Mediterranean-type ecosystems in Australia and Spain to determine whether plant populations can successfully evolve through key traits to keep up with the rate of environmental change. Recently we have been incorporating genomics and glasshouse experiments into our work on rapid evolution, climate change and novel fire regimes.
- Fire ecology and management. A common goal of fire management is to avoid population extinctions due to inappropriate fire regimes. Our work on this front aims to determine what mix of fire-driven variation (pyrodiversity) will promote biodiversity, and how desirable levels of pyrodiversity can be achieved over time.
- Animal ecology (particularly mammals). We undertake field studies of fascinating mammals, birds and reptiles in southern Australia. Through learning about animals we develop and test ecological theory (about animal succession, environmental heterogeneity and edge effects) and do practical things like identify critical habitat and determine the best way to manage invasive predators.
- Conservation decision making. Making conservation decisions is hard because ecosystems are complex and there are a range of social and environmental values in play. We support conservation decisions by developing approaches for monitoring biodiversity and exploring how different management strategies perform under possible futures. More and more we find that co-designing scenarios with policy makers, land managers and people affected by decisions leads to better conservation outcomes.
If you’d like to join us or visit us then check out the opportunities page. You can also follow us on Instagram, and #biodynamos on Twitter, to keep up with our latest work in the field and lab.
A new, large-scale research project on fire-prone heathlands
This summer has already seen some of the largest fires ever recorded in south-eastern Australia. We’re looking forward to doing new research that helps to understand these and other fires. To this end, in 2020 we are kicking off a new research project on Victoria’s fire-prone heathlands. Heathlands are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in Victoria. They contain fire-dependent species that nonetheless …19 January, 2020
Introducing our newest member
A warm welcome to Ella Plummans Pouton - the newest member of the biodynamos. Ella is starting her PhD in February 2020 in the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences. She will be working on the resilience of fire-prone heathlands to changes in fire regimes and climate. Ella was also recently awarded a prestigious Victorian Government Hamer Scholarship, and will be spending six …19 January, 2020
The big picture of the Amazon fires
Julianna Santos has a new piece in University of Melbourne's Pursuit. As the world’s biggest rainforest continues to burn, Julianna argues that it’s important to understand the political and social situation in Brazil that led us to this point. Why is the Amazon is burning? What’s the relationship between these fires and the political situation in Brazil? And what are the local …24 September, 2019
PhD opportunity and top-up scholarship
Luke is looking for a new PhD student to join the biodynamos. The student will work on plant ecology and evolution as part of new, large-scale project on the resilience of fire-prone heathlands. The project will be developed with the student based on their research interests and strengths. They’ll be co-supervised by Luke Kelly, Trent Penman and Matt Swan who envisage a …23 August, 2019
We're looking for enthusiastic volunteers for our next field season (September-December 2019). A range of opportunities are available to contribute to research on plants, small mammals and birds. Check out the list of projects below and get in touch with each student directly for specific details and dates. Plant surveys and measurement of 'fire traits' as part of a planned burning experiment …21 August, 2019
Interactions between fire, rainfall and herbivory drive plant vital rates
Kate Giljohann has a new paper on interactions between climate and disturbance regimes in Journal of Ecology Kate and colleagues used an 11‐year dataset from a fire and herbivore exclosure experiment to model vital rates of the hummock grass,Triodia scariosa. Importantly, this work showed that relatively small changes to disturbance regimes can substantially alter population processes, even in perennial resprouting species. This …20 August, 2019
Integrating animal and plant paradigms to enhance fire ecology
We're excited to have a new article on animal and plant ecology in the journal Fire. We call for better integration of animal-based and plant-based approaches in fire ecology (summarised in the figure below). This one was a few years in the making but was a lot of fun to write with a team of scientists doing novel research, on a range …12 August, 2019
Using fire to promote biodiversity
Luke is excited to have a new article with Lluis Brotons in Science. Fire profoundly influences people, climate, and ecosystems. The impacts of this interaction are likely to grow, with climate models forecasting widespread increases in fire frequency and intensity because of rising global temperatures. However, the relationship between fire and biodiversity is complex. Many plants and animals require fire for …21 July, 2019
Dr Luke Kelly
Luke is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology in the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He enjoys contributing solutions to global conservation problems. His research interests are in ecology and evolution, biodiversity conservation and environmental decision making. Much of his work is focused on understanding animal and plant responses to fire, landscape modification and climate change. This includes doing a mix of field experiments, ecological modelling and scenario analysis.
Dr Kate Giljohann
Kate is a Research Fellow in the School of BioSciences. She is particularly interested in plants, conservation and the ecology of disturbances. Her research encompasses population, community and landscape-level analyses, with a focus on assisting environmental management. In collaboration with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Kate is developing a suite of models to enhance the evaluation of alternative fire management strategies for biodiversity.
Julianna is a PhD student in the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences. She comes from Brazil, where she studied the ecology and conservation of Neotropical mammals, including the population dynamics and diet of wild cats and several invasive species. She started her PhD in 2019 and has been investigating movement ecology, genetic diversity and population dynamics of small mammals in fire-prone landscapes in southern Australia.
Kate is a PhD student in the School of BioSciences. Her PhD research focuses on understanding the impact of fire on mammals and reptiles in the Murray Mallee region of south-eastern Australia. She is using a combination of landscape-scale modelling and large-scale field experiments to explore the mechanisms underpinning faunal responses to fire. She aims to conduct applied research that can inform environmental management and works closely with land managers to achieve this.
Isaac is a Masters student in the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences who studies how plant traits, such as bark, influence mortality and survival during and after fire. He is using plant traits to predict vegetation response to fire and to understand how trees survive in fire-adapted landscapes. Isaac seeks to understand how populations will persist in a future of increased fire due to climate and human impacts. He will be conducting vegetation surveys in the semi-arid mallee before and after planned burns applied in the Mallee Fire District of Victoria.
Eliza’s current research interests include fire ecology, animal behaviour and wildlife conservation. Eliza graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science (Zoology). Her Masters research focusses on the effects of fire edges (resulting from either prescribed burns or wildfires) on bird foraging and movement. Her study is underway in mallee landscapes of northern Victoria and western New South Wales. She hopes to assist with future decision making for fire management, increase awareness of threatened bird species and provide the drive for more on the ground conservation efforts.
Lily graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Zoology) at the University of Melbourne in 2018. She is currently studying a Master of Science within the School of Ecosystem and Forest Science. Her research interest is in biodiversity conservation, with a focus on mammal species. In her Masters project Lily is investigating the effect landscape scale properties have on native small mammals within Western-Victoria. Her project has a focus on both fire and vegetation properties and Lily hopes to aid biodiversity conservation within the area by guiding fire management and conservation of endangered species.
Fred is currently completing a PhD, based at La Trobe University, investigating the role of fire in shaping the distribution of species in some of Australia’s most fire-prone ecosystems. The main focus of Fred’s research is to understand how the dynamics of fire regimes, climate and environment affect species distributions in disparate ecosystems. Some key areas of investigation include; the post-fire dynamics of habitat development; the differing role of time since fire in shaping the distribution of birds and the influence of spatial aspects of fire regimes in shaping bird distributions. The outcomes of Fred’s research will be used to inform fire management strategies to help conserve biodiversity.
Ella Plumanns Pouton
Ella is a PhD student in the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences. She is investigating the resilience of fire-prone heathlands to changing fire regimes. Ella’s Masters research focused on the influence of season, inter-tree competition and other growth attributes on the productivity of temperate eucalypts. Ella has a background in environmental politics and international relations, and worked as a Teaching Associate for three years in subjects focusing on these topics. She has also worked as an evaluator of government programs in the areas of natural resource management, climate change and emergency management and as a researcher in the not-for-profit sector. Ella is particularly interested in vulnerability, adaptability and resilience of ecological (and social and political) systems to climate change and disaster.
Hradsky, B.A., Kelly, L.T., Robley, A.L., Wintle, B.A (2019) FoxNet: an individual-based modelling framework to support red fox management. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56, 1460-1470. Abstract
Duane, A., Kelly, L.T., Giljohann, K.G., Batllori, E., McCarthy, M., Brotons, L. (2019) Disentangling the influence of past fires on subsequent fires in Mediterranean landscapes. Ecosystems. Full text
Nimmo, D., Avitabile, S., Banks, S., Bliege-Bird, R., Callister, K., Clarke, M., Dickman, C., Doherty, T., Driscoll, D., Greenville, A., Haslem, A., Kelly, L.T., Kenny, S., Lahoz-Monfort, J., Lee, C., Leonard, S., Moore, H., Newsome, T., Parr, C., Ritchie, E., Schneide, K., Turner, J., Westbrooke, M., White, M., Wouters, M., Bennett, A. (2019) Animal movements in fire-prone landscapes. Biological Reviews doi:10.1111/brv.12486 Abstract
Pollock, L.J., Kelly, L.T., Thomas, F.M., Soe, P., Morris, W.K., White, M. Vesk, P.A (2018) Combining functional traits, the environment, and multiple surveys to understand semi-arid tree distributions. Journal of Vegetation Science, 29, 967-977. Abstract
Kelly, L.T., Brotons, L., Giljohann, K.M., McCarthy, M.A., Pausas, J.G. & Smith, A.L. (2018) Bridging the divide: integrating animal and plant paradigms to secure the future of biodiversity in fire-prone ecosystems. Fire doi: 10.3390/fire1020029 PDF
Kelly, L.T., Haslem, A., Murphy, B (2018) Managing fire for plant and animal conservation. Austral Ecology doi:10.1111/aec.12604 PDF
Giljohann, K.M., Kelly, L.T., Connell, J., Clarke, M., Clarke, R., Regan, T., McCarthy, M (2018) Assessing the sensitivity of biodiversity indices used to inform fire management. Journal of Applied Ecology, 55, 461-471. Abstract
Kelly, L.T., Brotons, L (2017) Using fire to promote biodiversity. Science, 355, 1264-1265. PDF
Kelly, L.T., Haslem, A., Holland, G.J., Leonard, S., MacHunter, J., Bassett, M., Bennett, A.F., Bruce, Chia, E., Christie, F., Clarke, M., Di Stefano, J., Loyn, R., McCarthy, M., Pung, A., Robinson, N., Sitters, H., Swan, M., York, A (2017) Fire regimes and environmental gradients shape vertebrate and plant distributions in temperate eucalypt forests. Ecosphere 8, e01781. Full text
Kelly, L.T., Haslem, A., Holland, G.J., Leonard, S., MacHunter, J., Bassett, M., Bennett, A.F., Bruce, Chia, E., Christie, F., Clarke, M., Di Stefano, J., Loyn, R., McCarthy, M., Pung, A., Robinson, N., Sitters, H., Swan, M., York, A (2017) Fire regimes and environmental gradients shape bird, mammal and plant distributions in temperate eucalypt forests. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. DOI:10.1002/bes2.1322 Full text
Kelly, L.T., Brotons, L., & McCarthy, M.A (2017) Putting pyrodiversity to work for animal conservation. Conservation Biology, 31, 952-955 PDF
Fardila, D., Kelly, L.T., Moore, J.L., & McCarthy, M.A. (2017) A systematic review reveals changes in where and how we have studied habitat loss and fragmentation over 20 years. Biological Conservation, 212,Part A, 130-138. Abstract
Giljohann, K.M., McCarthy, M.A., Keith, D.A., Kelly, L.T., Tozer, M.G., Regan, T.J (2017) Interactions between rainfall, fire and herbivory drive resprouter vital rates in a semi-arid ecosystem. Journal of Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12768 Abstract
We have a plethora of opportunities in spring/summer 2019/2020 for volunteers to learn new skills and visit wild places.
Check out the list of projects below and get in touch with each student directly for specific details and dates.
- Plant surveys and measurement of ‘fire traits’ as part of a planned burning experiment in Murray Sunset National Park. Contact Isaac Kreger.
- Bird surveys at ‘fire edges’ in northern Victoria and western New South Wales. Contact Eliza Thompson.
- Live-trapping native small mammals such as yellow-footed antechinus and heath mouse in western Victoria. Contact Lily Wheeler.
- Movement studies and live-trapping of small mammals such as mallee ningaui and Bolam’s mouse in western New South Wales. Contact Julianna Santos.
There are a range of options for students to start doing research with us at the University of Melbourne including: a Master of Science (Ecosystem Science) (a two-year course which includes coursework and a major research project), a Master of Philosophy (Science) (a two-year course working on a research project) and a Doctor of Philosophy (Science) (a four-year PhD program). A range of scholarships are available from the University.
Early Career Researchers
A range of grants are available for early career researchers at University of Melbourne including McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellowships. The School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences is keen to support applications for Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRA).
Visitors are always welcome. We’re based in the Baldwin Spencer Building at Parkville, University of Melbourne. We run a weekly lab meeting on Monday afternoon that we encourage visitors to attend. For longer visits, we can point you to some schemes for visiting fellowships. Please contact Luke Kelly directly if you’re interested in visiting us.