I am an ecologist with a broad range of interests, including forest ecology, plant-animal interactions, seed and seedling ecology, invasion biology, and the ecological strategies of plants.
Biotic Filters to Community Assembly: One of the main goals of community ecology is to understand the processes that distil a local community from a regional pool of species. These processes can be thought of as ecological filters that admit to a local community only those species that can persist under local conditions. These filters can be both abiotic (climate, soils etc) and biotic (predators, pathogens, competitors etc). Together with colleagues from Monash University, I study red land crabs, invasive yellow crazy ants and scale insects as biotic filters to the local assembly of rainforest seedling communities on Christmas Island (Indian Ocean).
Trait-Based Determinants of Community Assembly: Species are filtered from the regional pool according to their key functional traits, and differences in filter number, type, and strength lead to variation in local community composition. Species sharing the same or similar key functional traits are regarded as sharing the same ecological 'strategy'. The study of plant ecological strategies is useful because it sheds light on the selective forces that have shaped the evolution of plants, and because grouping plants by their strategies provides researchers and managers with a tractable means of predicting vegetation responses to global change. Together with John Morgan and students, I am assessing the UK-based triangular C-S-R Plant Strategy Scheme for its utility in a variety of Australian contexts.
Maintenance of Species Diversity: In any community, there are a few common species and many rare ones, and one general idea is that rare species 'avoid' going locally extinct by performing better (higher rates of recruitment, lower rates of mortality etc) than more common species. I collaborate with Kyle Harms (Louisiana State University) and Joseph H. Connell (University of California Santa Barbara) on a decades-old field project to test some of these ideas. We work at two forest sites in Queensland, one in tropical rainforest near Cairns, and another in sub-tropical rainforest in Lamington National Park, near Brisbane.