We are pleased to offer the following symposia at ESA 2023.

Fire, biodiversity and ecological function in tropical savannas – insights from field experiments

Professor Alan Andersen1, Professor John Morgan2, Dr Anna Richards3

1Charles Darwin University, 2La Trobe University, 3CSIRO

Tropical savannas are the most fire-prone of all biomes and fire is a key driver of savanna biodiversity. Fire is particularly frequent, complex and contentious in the vast tropical savannas of northern Australia, where declines in many threatened species are associated with fire, and substantial areas are under fire management for greenhouse-gas abatement. Much of the research on the ecological effects of fire have been correlative, examining associations between historical fire patterns and contemporary patterns of species distribution and abundance. However, this has typically led to weak or inconsistent results, and any association between fire and biodiversity pattern cannot be assumed to be causal. As is the case more generally in landscape ecology, the most reliable information on causal effects of fire come from controlled field experiments where fire treatments are applied to replicated plots. Such experiments are ongoing in the Top End and this symposium will present the latest results from them.

Transforming fire risk management to improve biodiversity conservation under climate change

James Barker1, Dr Tori Reynolds1, Renée Woodward1, Professor Ross Bradstock1

1NSW Department of Planning and Environment

Australia is one of the most fire-prone continents in the world, and Australia’s flora and fauna have become adapted to specific fire regimes. The three aspects of a fire regime (frequency, intensity, and seasonality) have been considerably modified across Australia over the last 250 years. Under climate change, continued warming temperatures, increased drying in many regions, and greater fuel load accumulation after heavy rainfall, the frequency and intensity of fires are likely to continue to increase in many regions of Australia. These factors make planning, management, and policy formation to conserve Australia’s biodiversity increasingly difficult. A risk-based approach to these issues is emerging to integrate research into an adaptive management framework. Shifting to a quantitative risk-based perspective may help address the changing nature of fire regimes and how we interact with them. This raises some key questions. How do we consider the trade-offs in risk between the built environment and biodiversity? And how do we take an evidence-informed approach to fire and biodiversity management and make it dynamic in the face of a constantly changing climate?

The aim of the symposium will be to bring together scientists, managers, First Nations perspectives, and the ecological community to share knowledge and, importantly, strategies for managing fire to conserve biodiversity in our ever-changing environments.

We invite speakers to present on these topics:

  • The latest research and knowledge on applied bushfire science relating to ecological risk management;
  • Understanding the capacity of fire management in mitigating risk (including climate change) to biodiversity;
  • Predicting the changes in risk to biodiversity and ecosystems that are likely to occur in the future under rapidly changing fire regimes, and;
  • Technological innovations to improve fire risk management capability.

This symposium will synthesise the latest in applied ecological research in a mix of five- and fifteen-minute talks to foster a multidisciplinary discussion on the changing landscape of fire regimes, and how fire and biodiversity management can adapt to this change. Selected presenters will be those that present new ideas for a holistic approach to biodiversity management in a changing environment, incorporating the latest research and knowledge on changing fire regimes, the impacts on biodiversity, and the development of systems for managing risk. Collaboration between research, practice, and community will be a key focus of the symposium, to develop a cohesive approach to adaptation and research. The symposium will be capped by a discussion where the presented ideas will be synthesised into an outline for future fire research and collaboration, with a focus on adapting to the changing realities of the field. We will encourage the inclusion of a diverse panel of speakers and presenters from various backgrounds and career stages.
Representatives from the Science, Economics and Insights Division (NSW Department of Planning and Environment), the NSW Bushfire and Natural Hazards Research Centre and FLARE Wildfire Research Group have been invited and we anticipate great interest from across the nation.

Enhancing drone-based capabilities for improving conservation, management, monitoring and FAIR data

Dr Tim Brown1,2, Hillary Cherry2, Louis Elliott3, Deepak Gautam4, Siddeswara Guru5, Mark Hamilton2, Remy Dehaan9, Jens Klump7, David Powell, Lihong Zheng9, Remy Dehaan9, Felipe Gonzalez11

1Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, ANU node, 2NSW Dept Planning & Environment, 3NT Department of Environment and Natural Resources, 4RMIT University, 5Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN), 6NSW Dept Planning & Environment, 7CSIRO Mineral Resources, 8Monash University eResearch, 9Charles Sturt University, 10Charles Sturt University, 11Queensland University of Technology, 12Australian National University

Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, have the potential to revolutionise monitoring, research, conservation and management outcomes. However there are no widely adopted best practices for working with drone data and almost every aspect of drone use can be challenging and hard to operationalise, particularly for users with limited resources.

Drone and 3D geospatial time-series datasets are large and hard to manage and visualise; processing usually requires high-end hardware, and workflow development requires expert knowledge. Consequently, solutions are commonly developed in-house, by well-resourced groups who build custom pipelines that require significant domain expertise to implement.

Such bespoke solutions are effective, but expensive and not easily scalable because complex pipelines and data are not “reusable” without the software, hardware and expertise required to use them. Due to these issues, even when published, drone workflows generally do not conform to FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) data principles [1]. Drone-derived datasets are similarly hard to publish in a FAIR manner due to their large size and complexity (3D, time-series, etc). Some commercial cloud solutions exist, but they are generally inflexible and do not support custom pipeline development or allow bulk data export, leading to vendor lock-in and data loss.

The lack of FAIR data frameworks and open, cloud-native platforms leads to frequent duplications of effort, where multiple groups re-solve the same problem while less resourced users are unable to access existing solutions. This is inefficient, expensive and prevents uptake of solutions by the wider community. However, by recognising that most domains share many of the same challenges in working with drone data, we as a community can identify common blockers and then create shared, open solutions for them. To be most effective, this “solve once for everyone” approach requires shared data standards supported by open-source software, backed by cloud-native online platforms. Data standards enable sharing and rapid re-use of code and cloud-native platforms democratise access to high-end computational environments at low cost. This strategy enables “fair-from-capture” workflows for drone data and is particularly effective when implemented in a modular, domain-agnostic way.

This symposium will include a high-level overview of the state-of-play in drones and drone data in Australia and Internationally and will provide an overview of existing projects and solutions aimed at improving usability of drones and drone data. We will also launch an informal Community of Practice centred on working with drone data in Australia.

[1] Nature, 2016.; See also:

Unravelling the underground: new insights into plant-soil ecology from diverse fields

Dr Adam Frew1, Dr Christina Birnbaum2, Dr Eleonora Egidi1, Dr Anna Hopkins3, Dr Carlos Aguilar-Trigueros1,4

1Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, 2University of Southern Queensland, 3Edith Cowan University, 4University of Jyväskylä

Beneath our feet lies the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, the soil supports the majority of life on the planet. With advances in technology, the soil may no longer be the ‘black box’ it once was, but belowground ecosystems are complex and our understanding of underground ecology is still in its infancy.

Soil processes underpin all terrestrial ecosystems, thus if we are to conserve ecosystem function and biodiversity while sustainably managing landscapes, we need to advance our knowledge of the underground. From microbial ecology to biogeochemistry, agroecology to restoration, many facets of plant-soil ecology research remain siloed. To meaningfully advance fundamental ecology and applied outcomes there is a need for greater interdisciplinary cross-talk and collaboration.

This symposium will synthesize knowledge from distinct sub-disciplines advancing the understanding of plant-soil ecology. This represents a unique catalytic occasion that will bring together researchers working across disparate components of plant-soil ecology. Building on the successful succession of plant-soil symposia that have been held at ESA conferences from 2016-2022, this symposium will showcase the forefront of research being carried out and advance our understanding of plant-soil interactions. Speakers will showcase the latest research across the fields of microbial ecology, fungal biology, biogeochemistry, plant ecophysiology, agronomy, and others. In doing so, the synthesis will offer a new and unique understanding of the underground, from the basic to the applied.

The symposium offers new major contributions that advance our ecological understanding of plant-soil interactions. This is achieved by bringing together leading researchers of different career stages from a broad scope of subdisciplines, all looking to advance our knowledge of plant-soil ecology. As such, our symposium is inherently interdisciplinary which will bring diverse perspectives sure to attract a broad audience of attendees.

The structure of the symposium provides an overall synthesis of new findings relating to improving our understanding of the interface between plants and soil. The collection of speakers will provide the latest findings from their distinct research areas but as a whole, the symposium will collectively deliver fresh and comprehensive insight into plant-soil ecology.

Open interoperability frameworks and data management for monitoring biodiversity and the environment to help meet global societal challenges

Dr Siddeswara Guru1, Dr Ashley Leedman2, Dr Beryl Morris1, Dr Kevin Thiele2, Sally O’Neill3

1University Of Queensland, 2Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, 3University of Adelaide

Continuous monitoring of biodiversity and the related environment enable us to measure changes and their impacts on critical ecosystems. Advances in technologies and increase in funding have enabled data acquisition using multiple avenues, including human observations, aerial vehicles, in-situ instruments, satellite sensors etc. However, monitoring procedures, variables observed, and data sharing protocols are often different and, in many instances, fragmented and locally biased. These hinder our ability to derive meaningful conclusions about the drivers of environmental and biodiversity change, and their intensity and direction of impact at regional, continental and global scale. To address these challenges, agreed standards are needed for acquiring and delivering biodiversity and environmental observations and related services to users, including the scientific community and policymakers.

Building Cross-cultural Futures Through Healing Country

Associate Professor Andrew Knight, Associate Professor Emilie Ens, Professor Stephen van Leeuwen

1ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Healing Country, 2Cross-cultural Ecology & Environmental Management Lab, Macquarie University, 3ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Healing Country

Interest in firmly establishing the role of First Nations Australians in leading the management of Country and its abundance of natural resources has grown substantially in recent times. Many initiatives such as jointly managed protected areas, Ranger Programs supporting stewardship of Country and biocultural mapping to inform land management decision-making are expanding in number and extent. Education and training ‘pipelines’ that can provide a strong cohort of knowledgeable, skilled and highly competent First Nations graduates and professionals is currently unable to meet the demand for these initiatives. For example, a proportion of scholarships focused upon First Nations people’s education and training go unfilled every year. If given the right tools and knowledge, Indigenous communities are uniquely placed to seize these opportunities to generate enduring livelihoods and transform structural inequalities in regional and remote Australia.

This symposium presents a diverse suite of complementary examples of education and training initiatives to examine: 1) the ways in which they have worked to decolonise the institutions they operate in and with; 2) the lessons they have learnt in developing and delivering First Nations graduates and professionals to the management of Country; and 3) the directions that these initiatives will be looking to take as they adapt to current and future needs of First Nations people and the institutions responsible for managing Country.

The Symposium is centred around the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Healing Country which formally commenced in late 2022. This five-year initiative aims to unlock opportunities in the restoration of Country for, and by, Indigenous Australians through business-centred ecological restoration led and delivered by Indigenous Australians with support from restoration scientists and business practitioners in culturally appropriate ways. In this symposium, Healing Country is complemented with a suite of innovative First Nations education and training initiatives that meld together to offer an insight into how we, as a sector, can more comprehensively, strategically and systemically decolonise our education and training institutions.

In the interests of fusing Western and First Nations knowledge systems and building the capacity of, and providing a genuine voice to, First Nations representatives, each 15-minute presentation is given by an Indigenous presenter, or co-presented with a non-Indigenous representative.

Putting the floristics back into vegetation management

Dr Donna Lewis2, Dr Sarah Luxton1

1CSIRO, Environment, 2Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network

Why does Australia need a hierarchical, nationally consistent floristic classification system? Multiple products already exist at the state, territory, and federal levels, including the National Vegetation Information System (NVIS), the NSW Plant Community Types and Regional Ecosystems of Queensland. But there are two key issues with current approaches that impact how vegetation data is used and interpreted, with implications for biodiversity management and conservation. One, some map products are composites of existing, but disjunct mapping products generated from datasets varying in spatial scale and level of attribute detail. These datasets generally only describe vegetation structure and dominant species, often at broad scales. Secondly, variation in jurisdiction-led approaches has led to inconsistencies (particularly at map/state boundaries), creating difficulties for federal reporting and natural resource management organisations that operate nationally.

The cost, in conjunction with Australia’s large size and relatively small population are often cited as barriers to collecting plot-based vegetation data. However, the amalgamation of existing plot data into a nationally integrated dataset, with data-standard agreements and pivoting to a plot-based classification approach would provide a powerful foundation for future work. It would enable more strategic, streamlined and meaningful national reporting, a biome-based typology that makes geographical and ecological sense, see Australia align with best-practise internationally and ensure that Australian vegetation types have a global context. These factors impact conservation assessment, fire modelling, fauna management, federal environmental reporting and our capacity to measure and describe the endemism, diversity and richness that makes our flora unique. They also have implications for corporate carbon and biodiversity frameworks, including environmental-economic accounting and emerging requirements linked to nature-related risks.     

This session will be relevant to academics, practitioners and policymakers interested in vegetation management. Topics range from how a national floristic classification would complement existing state and national level typologies – to case-studies from regional, jurisdictional and national land managers.

Practitioner Engagement: Collaborative Research Informing Ecological Management

Dr Samantha Lloyd1, Dr Sacha Jellinek2, Lincoln Kern3

1Healthy Land And Water, 2University of Melbourne and Melbourne Water, 3Practical Ecology

Collaborations between practitioners and researchers are at the forefront of applied ecological research and management. These valuable partnerships ensure mutual learnings inform scientific understanding, on-ground application and government policy. Communicating the outcomes of these collaborative projects, beyond scientific publications, into formats that engage practitioners and project partners can be hugely beneficial to supporting best practice outcomes across the ecological and land management sector.

This symposium, run by the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) Practitioner Engagement Working Group (PEWG), showcases applied ecological research projects, driven by strong partnerships between researchers and practitioners, and promotes the value of these links to on-ground action. It demonstrates the crucial role of ecological practitioners, the value of collaborative projects that link applied research and onground application through stakeholder and practitioner engagement and the importance of tailoring communication beyond traditional scientific formats.

The symposium includes joint presentations from practitioners and researchers on the value of collaborations and the challenges and successes they have experienced in researching and/or implementing applied research. It will reflect on how such projects can inform management and policy, and therefore, the application of conservation projects. Facilitated by the PEWG, this symposium will also promote the winners of the ESA Ecological Impact Award.

Business and Biodiversity

Dr Sarah Luxton1

1CSIRO, Environment

How business can ‘do its bit’ for biodiversity and create a nature-positive economy is an emerging area of economic and ecological research. Forming the net-zero climate equivalent for nature, concerted global action is defining the need and paths to action. Key milestones include the release of the Dasgupta Review (2021) – outlining the economics of biodiversity and creating a ‘grammar’ across disciplines, and the formation of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) (launched in June 2021) and related Science Based Targets Network (SBTN). The Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is currently undertaking a ‘business and biodiversity assessment’ and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Economic Forum and World Bank have released a number of white papers defining business risks and opportunities related to biodiversity. The transition is exciting. However, there are significant challenges to shifting to a truly nature-positive economy and delivering international targets and aspirations in place-based, localised ways. And the problems are not new. Fundamental, long-standing issues in ecology – of how to accurately measure ecosystems and manage human’s impact on nature – have been researched for decades. Translating this work will bring both opportunities and frustrations, as evidenced by current issues in carbon and offset markets.       

This multi-disciplinary symposium aims to present, discuss, debate and highlight next steps in this conflicted and burgeoning area. It will bring together researchers and practitioners working in the fields of green-finance, ecological economics, natural capital accounting, biodiversity markets and offsets, vegetation assessment, and restoration and landscape ecology. 

With more than half of the world’s economy dependent on nature and estimates that a shift towards nature-positive business models could generate $10 trillion in annual business opportunities and create 395 million jobs by 2030 (World Economic Forum) – it is imperative that ecological basis of action is robust, effective, and meaningful. This symposium provides a forum for a national conversation in this space. 

Detecting and attributing change in Australian vegetation

Professor Belinda Medlyn1, Associate Professor Rachael  Gallagher1, Laura Williams1

1Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University

A lot of attention has been given to the threats that climate and other global environmental changes pose to vegetation and ecosystems across Australia. Less clear is what changes to Australian vegetation have already occurred. Detecting change against the large background climatic variability is challenging. Causal attribution is also difficult given that changes in climate have co-occurred with large changes in management and grazing regimes. In this symposium, we seek to assemble an overview of the evidence and data-driven perspectives of change occurring in Australian vegetation at a range of different time scales.

We will bring together invited speakers to address the following questions:

  • What changes in vegetation have been observed across Australian ecosystems?
  • What range of approaches (tools and techniques) are being used to detect change?
  • Are we set up to detect change across Australian ecosystems and where are the gaps?
  • Can we attribute causes to the changes that have been observed?

Diverse perspectives will be solicited, covering the range of approaches toward assessing vegetation change. While our focus is on recent and ongoing patterns of change, we will contextualise rapid and recently observed changes with longer-term perspectives. The symposium will be structured around the following perspectives and approaches:

  • Palaeoecology
  • Indigenous oral history
  • Dendrochronology
  • Forest Inventory and plot data
  • Long-term monitoring
  • Remote sensing
  • Synthetic approaches
  • Management and application

Understanding the ecological consequences of global environmental change is one of the most pressing current challenges for both ecologists and conservation biologists. We have a growing mechanistic understanding of climate change effects on plants, communities and ecosystems from physiological experiments, while various modelling techniques are being used to synthesize insights and forecast ecological outcomes. These forms of understanding are invaluable. But both are abstractions. We lack a consolidated understanding of what changes are already occurring in Australia—as well as where they are occurring and why. Moreover, whether current monitoring is adequate to detect change over time against a background of variability is unclear.

This symposium will serve as a forum toward consolidating our current understanding of the patterns and causes of vegetation change in Australia. In turn, this will enable us to identify gaps in our understanding and to highlight inadequacies in our current systems of detecting change and assessing causality. Addressing these topics will integrate theoretical and applied perspectives and will be of interest to researchers and practitioners across the fields of ecology and conservation biology. By identifying knowledge gaps and priorities for future ecosystem monitoring, this symposium has the potential to be impactful in shaping government policies for monitoring and management. To this end, we also propose to prepare a short paper that summarises and synthesises the findings of the symposium.

Thinking about human-non-human relationships – what does this mean and why does it matter for ecology?

Dr Rachel Morgain1, Oliver Costello2, Dr Stephanie Lavau1, Dr Dave Kendal, Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge3

1University of Melbourne, 2Jagun Alliance, 3University of Canberra

Ecological thinking is archetypally about the interactions and interrelationships of diverse entities in complex, evolving systems. But western ecology often has and continues to separate humans from these interrelationships, framing us as external observers of the natural world, and our social practices and systems as things that impact on ecological systems from outside. This draws on long-standing, deeply rooted ways of thinking across all western knowledge systems that separate ‘people’ from ‘nature’, and is not easily avoided or shifted. At the same time, many ecologists are acutely aware that ways of thinking that separate us from the non-human world are part of the problem: they underpin the western socio-economic practices and systems that have caused and continue to cause immense damage to Country, ecosystems and the diverse living and non-living things that form parts of these integrated wholes.

This symposium aims to bring together First Nations, interdisciplinary and western ecological approaches to question and reframe how we conceive of human-non-human relationships in ecology. It seeks to draw out the impacts that a framing of humans as separate from ‘nature’, and related concepts such as ‘wilderness’, have had on western ecological knowledge and practice. It will explore the ongoing implications of these ways of thinking, both for our understandings of living systems, and for current and future ecological practices. And it will invite discussion and exploration of how we can shift ways of thinking, knowing, sensing and working, across diverse ecological approaches, to help us find ourselves (again) as part of the whole world beyond the human.

A yarn about Walking Together

Katharina Victoria Perez-Hammerle1,2

1The University of Queensland, 2Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Science

Conferences often feature conservation-related work that involve Indigenous People and local communities. However, the purpose is often solely about communicating specific details of conservation research, policy and/or the project outcomes rather than experiences. The theme of this Symposium is changing the conversation by providing a new space for story-telling. Here, the focus is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who participate in conservation activities (via research, policy and/or practice) to have a place to share their experience of what made for good, bad and ugly conservation experiences in a way that offers guidance for future practices to improve.

Global demand is strong and increasing for the inclusion of Indigenous People and local community worldviews, knowledges and values in conservation; as well as for their participation and leadership in conservation initiatives. The purpose is to improve socio-ecological relationships and enhance our chances for a sustainable and just future by working with Indigenous Peoples and local communities whose care and custodianship is fundamental to achieve critical conservation objectives. It is therefore important to provide spaces for diverse voices to be heard and experiences be shared. As more conservation initiatives require respectful consideration of Indigenous and local community interests and experiences to be accounted for, and be held accountable to, it serves attendees at ESA 2023 to come and have a yarn about Walking Together.

Ecosystem Services: concepts, valuation, and applications

Dr Kamaljit K Sangha1

1Charles Darwin University

This symposium is aimed to discuss and enhance the participants’ understanding of ecosystem services (ES). The main topics include:

  • What are ecosystem services?
  • What are the key concepts applied within the ES arena?
  • What are the main frameworks available to evaluate ES, particularly from Indigenous perspectives?
  • How to value ES, especially for non-monetary values (including Indigenous values)?
  • Discussion and open questions.

Indigenous ecological knowledge

Professor Stephen van Leeuwen1

1Curtin University

As part of ESA 2023, the annual Indigenous symposium will showcase Indigenous peoples biocultural knowledge research and projects. This initiative is part of the an ongoing commitment to increase Indigenous participation.

We invite Indigenous people to present in this symposium. This provides an opportunity for Indigenous peoples to share and hear stories to build: relationships with each other and with non-Indigenous ecologists; recognition of our diverse knowledge and shared interests, values and practices in caring for and understanding country.

Decisions on presentations for this symposia will be based on:

Strength of application;
Your ability to tell a good story about your ideas and work;
Your ability to demonstrate why your work is important; and
Meeting the word count and format requirements.

With thanks to the Atlas of Living Australia for their support of this symposium