Symposia at ESA 2024

In addition to open forum presentations, ESA 2024 will feature a diverse range of symposia.

The Call for Abstracts opens on 11 April 2024. Submissions are encouraged for any of the symposia listed below, either 5-minute speed talks, or 15-minute oral presentations. Abstract submissions for Open Forum are also welcome.

Carbon dynamics from leaf to landscape under climate change: life in a warmer, drier world

Convenors: Dr Zach Brown and Dr Hilary Rose Dawson, Australian National University
Terrestrial systems, particularly those in extreme climates, are experiencing rapid ecological change. Species are on the move and mass mortality events are prevalent. Such disruptions to these systems cause disruptions to ecosystem carbon fluxes--often weakening the carbon sink strength. To prevent runaway climate feedbacks, it is essential that we improve our understanding of tipping points and ecosystem capacity for carbon storage, uptake, and sequestration. 

Land surface temperatures have surpassed pre-industrial records on a global scale, with a notable increase in the frequency, severity, and duration of acute temperature events. Concurrently, precipitation patterns have become more variable, leading to reduced water availability for plants and soil microbes. These temperature and moisture extremes push the physiological limits of plants and change soil processes, altering crucial components of the global carbon cycle in ways that pose an immediate and pressing challenge to terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. As drivers of production and respiration, the responses of plants and microbes to climate extremes are pivotal in determining the carbon storage capacity of terrestrial systems. From intricate interactions at the root-soil interface to overarching dynamics spanning leaf to canopy to landscape, this symposium showcases observational studies and experimental research across diverse Australian ecosystems. Insights gleaned from these investigations are paramount in informing effective climate mitigation and adaptation strategies essential for navigating the challenges of a rapidly changing world. 

In this symposium, we bring together an array of presentations of studies carried in the Australian climatic extremes as well as the more temperate. Ecologists often use the term 'future' in reference to climate change. However, systems in climatic extremes already have measurable responses to climate change. Early insights from these systems experiencing huge change may indicate changes in other more systems not already on the edge.

Nature market mechanisms – one year on

Convenor: Dr Sarah Luxton, CSIRO Environment
The past year has seen much happen in the nature markets space. The Australasian branch of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) has been launched, IPBES have convened an expert panel to undertake a business and biodiversity methodological assessment, and at home, the Australian Federal Government passed the Nature Repair Market Bill. While much controversy remains, it is fair to say that market-driven approaches to biodiversity conservation and restoration are here to stay and that there are benefits to improving our capacity to interact with them as ecologists. 

To provide an update ‘one year on’ from the announcement of the Australian nature repair market, this symposium will draws together key perspectives related to nature markets: indigenous, conservation, government, financial, social science, and ecological science. Presentations from the ecological scientific community on how we can “do” nature market mechanisms to ensure that they actually repair biodiversity are invited. 

This symposium unites multiple disciplines concerned with the business of biodiversity in Australia, and will engage an audience interested in biodiversity restoration on private land, and how to ensure upcoming biodiversity markets and associated land management strategies are genuinely nature positive.

Beyond Boundaries: Technological Innovations and Advancements in Ecological Monitoring and Conservation

Convenor: Dr Siddeswara Guru, The University of Queensland – TERN
Ecology has a long history of utilising the latest technologies for monitoring the environment and measuring flora, fauna, and related parameters. Advancements in remote sensing, satellites, Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and in-situ sensor technologies have revolutionised the scale and precision of ecological monitoring.  

Challenges in ecological monitoring include data integration, standardisation, and tools to process, disseminate and analyse monitoring datasets. In addition, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have become critical components of ecological research, enhancing data analysis and interpretation. The tools and processes should enable real-time data processing and high-resolution data on various environmental parameters, allowing scientists to monitor ecosystems at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales.

The symposium will bring together thought leaders, researchers, practitioners, technology developers and policymakers to explore technological tools and processes transforming our understanding of ecosystems and reshaping conservation strategies. The symposium will allow participants to gain insights into the multifaceted approaches driving progress in technological innovation and explore opportunities to ensure responsible and equitable use of technological innovations in ecological research.

Conservation management of wildlife populations guided by genetics

Convenor: Dr Alexandra Pavlova, Monash University
Biodiversity faces unprecedented challenges in the Anthropocene era. Understanding how habitat and climate changes affect species ecology and evolution is essential for effective conservation management of wildlife. This symposium will inform ecologists and conservation practitioners on the usefulness of genetics in informing conservation decision-making and facilitate adoption of genetic methods in wildlife management, and will explore innovative approaches that harness the power of genetic tools to inform us on population processes, allowing us to design effective management interventions for wildlife populations. This symposium will bring together leading scientists, researchers and practitioners to share insights, discuss current advancements, and ways to improve communications between scientists and wildlife managers. By fostering interdisciplinary discussions, the symposium aims to broaden the integration of genetic tools into conservation practices. This integration is pivotal to ensuring the enduring survival and sustainability of wildlife populations in a rapidly changing world.

Pathways to biodiversity-friendly farmlands: knowledge, barriers and opportunities

Convenor: Dr Frederick Rainsford, La Trobe University
Agricultural lands constitute the most widespread land-use on earth. Conservation of biodiversity, globally, hinges on the ability of agricultural lands to sustain species and ecological communities. Emerging markets, schemes and nature laws aim to improve conservation outcomes in farmlands and create ‘nature positive’ societies. The success of these opportunities will depend on whether ecological knowledge can overcome social and economic barriers and be translated into effective on-ground conservation actions. 

This symposium aims to bring together researchers in the fields of landscape ecology, socio-ecology, sustainability, and environmental policy to: 
 1. showcase state-of-the-art knowledge of farmland ecology,  
 2. identify the main barriers effective conservation in farmlands and  
 3. light the way forward through opportunities for conservation success. 

Moving beyond the ‘sharing vs. sparing’ dichotomy, the symposium will map current pathways from ecological knowledge to biodiversity-friendly farmlands. The symposium will be structured under three main themes: 
  1. knowledge – presentations on cutting edge research into farmland ecology;  
 2. barriers – social (e.g., negative farmer perceptions) and economic barriers can prevent effective conservation, here, presentations will show current research into farmer perceptions and other challenges faced in farmland conservation; and 
  3. opportunities – this theme will focus on policy, market mechanisms, and other opportunities to improve farmland conservation and achieve ‘nature positive’ outcomes.  

The symposium will showcase state-of-the-art research into the ecology and conservation of farmlands – a globally pressing concern. The symposium will be deliberately interdisciplinary. Speakers will be invited from the fields of microbial ecology, landscape ecology, ecosystem services, socio-ecology, environmental economics and biodiversity policy. The interdisciplinary nature of the symposium will attract a broad audience interested in ecology, policy and conservation. The symposium is structured to provide a synthesis of current pathways from ecological knowledge to application through policy and market opportunities and the socio-economic barriers that may hinder conservation outcomes. 

Indigenous ecological knowledge

Convenor: Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, Curtin University / Chair, ESA Indigenous Engagement Working Group
As part of ESA 2024, 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.

Habitat by Design: Artificial Habitat for Recovery, Restoration, and Rewilding

Convenors: Dr Alexandra Carthey, Macquarie University and ReHabitat and Professor Melanie Bishop, Macquarie University and Living Seawells
Artificial habitat structures hold broad appeal as a tangible and seemingly straightforward “fix” for the ongoing destruction, fragmentation, and anthropogenic modification of habitat. They are increasingly used across a broad range of ecosystem types, targeting a broad range of species, and to replace a broad range of emergent ecosystem functions such as the provision of breeding sites, refuge from predation, reduction of erosion, and the seeding or support of vegetative regeneration, among many others. Yet despite the promise of artificial habitats, when inappropriately applied they can have large negative consequences, ranging from greenwashing to acting as ecological traps.

We lack synthesis across these wide-ranging areas of artificial habitat research and practice. This symposium intends to achieve such synthesis by inviting speakers from across all types of artificial habitat use, design and evaluation. Presentations will provide insights into successful collaborations between ecologists, designers, and conservation practitioners, opening lines of conversation among those who design, evaluate, and apply these structures to conservation problems.

Other themes include exploration of permanent vs temporary structures, purpose-built vs incidental artificial habitats, habitats built for single vs multiple species and those that are designed to support reintroduction of species vs those that get naturally colonized. 

This symposium will bring researchers together from disparate realms of artificial habitat research to facilitate knowledge-sharing, synthesise theory, and generate new collaborations.

Using detection dogs in ecological research and monitoring

Convenor: Emma Bennett, Monash University and Elmoby Ecology
There is growing interest both in Australia and around the world in the use of detection dogs in conservation projects. They are particularly useful for low-density surveys, eradication projects and were traditional surveys may cause a disturbance. They consistently outperform other survey methods in the search for invasive plants, wind farm mortality surveys, scat detection and live animal detection; however, dogs are not always the most cost-effective detection tool. Understanding when detection dogs are the most useful tool to support conservation is challenging for many managers, particularly given that dogs work across a wide range of conservation applications and transferring knowledge from one setting to another is not always simple. This symposium will bring researchers and practitioners together from around Australia to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of using detection dogs in ecological studies using case studies from both zoological and botanical applications.

Increasingly government agencies, NGO’s and consultants are engaging dogs to collect data for their ecological projects. This means that companies and agencies involved in conservation have become owners and operators of detection dogs, employing trainers and handlers to deliver on key conservation objectives. Sharing knowledge around the benefits and pitfalls of detection dogs and the variety of options available to managers considering this survey technique will support effective deployment of dogs into conservation projects and help to address the knowledge gaps in this space.

There is a huge range of research and practical applications occurring throughout Australia on detection dogs in conservation and limited opportunities to share research in this field. This symposium will have a wide variety of interest both from people wishing to present new research and to an audience looking to learn about this rapidly growing survey method. 

Forests against the Machine: facilitating persistence and conservation in dieback-affected native forests and woodlands

Convenors: Chloe Bentze and Ass. Prof. Gunnar Keppel, University of South Australia
Sudden declines in forest health, beyond background rates, have recently been observed worldwide – a phenomenon termed “dieback”. Dieback is a rapidly progressing problem and a quickly evolving field of research of global relevance. While our understanding of the processes contributing to dieback in Australia is improving, many knowledge gaps about the broader implications of dieback and its management remain. 

Forests and woodlands are key and vulnerable ecosystems in Australia, as they support biodiversity, provide ecosystem and cultural services and are under important anthropogenic pressure. Tree dieback is a significant threat to the persistence of forest and woodland ecosystems. In Australia, dieback has been reported in all states and territories, highlighting its increasing relevance to research, environmental managers, landscape planners and the Australian public more broadly. The rapid progression of dieback means that scientific findings must become accessible to environmental managers and practitioners quickly, to allow swift and effective action based on scientific evidence. This symposium will bring together novel research from different disciplines to address this major conservation issue.

This symposium will have three themes: 
 1. tools for detecting and predicting dieback, particularly drought-induced mortality, 
 2. the impacts of dieback on forest communities, and 
 3. conservation approaches for managing dieback.

Though the aetiology of dieback can be complex and spatially variable, unusually long and/or frequent hot and dry spells is a commonly identified cause of dieback. Such climate-change-type droughts are forecast to become more frequent in the future, so developing and implementing detection and prediction tools is essential. Talks will bring approaches from various disciplines together, including remote sensing, plant hydraulics, and modelling. 

Conserving Australia’s forests and woodlands is critical as they support a myriad of organisms and ecosystem services. The repercussions of dieback on ecosystems are a critical, but understudied, aspect of the field. The effects of dieback on biodiversity and ecosystem implications will be explored and discussed through case studies.  

As climate change impacts continue to intensify, identifying management strategies for dieback is fundamental for preserving key ecosystems. Anticipating natural responses of trees to evolving conditions can allow us to adapt land management accordingly. Understanding trees’ innate adaptive capacities may also allow us to assist in conserving forest ecosystems. Conservation outcomes and management strategies will be discussed, from using refugia for population persistence to increasing resistance and resilience by harnessing the power of genetics 

Creating authentic learning experiences in the ecology classroom using Artificial Intelligence

Convenors: Dr Caitlyn Forster and Dr Fran van den Berg, The University of Sydney
This symposium will explore the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into ecological education. With the rapid advancements in AI technology, there is potential to revolutionise how ecological concepts are taught, understood, and applied. For example, undergraduates are currently co-piloting with AI to improve species identifications, test their understanding of topics, generate code, write and synthesise information and communicate concepts and ideas. It is critical that as educators for the next generation of ecologists, we identify skills with using AI that we want to develop in our graduates and discuss where we need to have conversations around the responsible use of AI in ecology.

Educating future ecologists with the most up-to-date technologies is becoming increasingly important, particularly as research increases its focus on AI technologies to decrease the human workload. We must have nuanced discussions around how and when the use of AI is encouraged, and where we need to be more cautious of its uses, especially in teaching and assessing undergraduate ecologists. To do this, and to make informed decisions of what AI tools we should be focusing on, as educators, it is critical that we understand how ecological practitioners and researchers are currently using AI, and equip our students with the skills to use artificial intelligence effectively. This session will also provide a key opportunity to share education tools or strategies that incorporate the use of AI. It will also provide practitioners a chance to discuss what skills graduates should be learning.
The overall symposia will be a series of talks, followed by a panel discussion, aimed to give an overview of the potential tools in AI for ecology and discuss important ethical issues including academic integrity concerns. We also hope to run a workshop during the conference where educators in a more informal session can workshop and share current teaching practices or collectively solve problems around incorporating the use of AI in ecology teaching.

The symposium will join educators, students and practitioners to highlight current teaching innovations using artificial intelligence and establish AI is used by ecologists. The goal is to understand what uses of AI are likely to be implemented in real-world ecological work and see how this can be embedded in our curriculum to create authentic learning tasks. This symposium will consist of a series of talks that include case studies where Artificial Intelligence has effectively been used in both ecology and incorporated into educational environments.

From risk to recovery: measuring the status of ecosystems

Convenors: Dr Jessica Walsh, Monash University and Prof Emily Nicholson, University of Melbourne
Ecosystems sustain biodiversity and provide essential services and resources for humans. Effective ecosystem protection and restoration are now at the forefront of several international biodiversity agreements and initiatives. The UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration emphasises the need for positive trajectories towards recovery, even though the condition and/or extent of many ecosystems are in decline resulting in risk of ecosystem collapse. Assessing the threat status and trends of an ecosystem is a foundational step before conservation planning and restoration decisions are made. 

Measuring collapse risk and recovery status of ecosystems is underpinned by multi-disciplinary scientific methods (ecological field data, spatial analyses, and forecasting using modelling or structured expert elicitation), which provides the evidence for informing regional, national and international planning, policy and management decisions.

This symposium will include presentations from researchers, practitioners and policy makers who are interested in using standardised methods to track trends of decline and/or recovery across ecosystems and for assessing the past and future impact of conservation measures. The topic will also appeal to those who want to learn more about the condition and status of Australian and international ecosystems.

The goal of this symposium is to present new methods to assess risk of ecosystem collapse, and novel ways to measure past conservation impact and future recovery potential for threatened ecosystems. Much of the research has been conducted in conjunction with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Ecosystem Management, in a global attempt to provide standardised assessment methods of ecosystem collapse risk via the Red List of Ecosystems and recovery potential (Green Status of Ecosystems).

Functional traits, physiology and future climates

Convenors: Dr Natalie Briscoe, Dr Kristoffer Wild, Professor Michael Kearney, The University of Melbourne
There is a growing need and interest in making mechanistic predictions of future climate on species based on physiological functional traits. Such approaches can help identify species most at risk from future climate change, as well uncovering the mechanisms that drive responses, knowledge critical for management. In this symposium we will cover the latest developments in tools and concepts including new models, new predictions and new ways to link models with trait databases. It will bring together researchers working on plants and animals across a range of environments including deserts, the tropics, and temperate forests.

This symposium will explore the fundamental links between organisms and their environments which is foundational to ecological understanding. The approaches covered bring together principles in environmental biophysics, ecophysiology, population dynamics and biodiversity informatics. There is much to be gained by bringing together researchers from these different disciplines and highlighting new opportunities and advances. In addition to advancing ecological knowledge, the concepts and tools can be applied directly to conserving biodiversity under climate change as well as pest and disease vector management 

Advancing Theory in Community Ecology

Convenors: Courtney Taylor and Prof Margaret Mayfield, The University of Melbourne
Theory in community ecology has come a long way since MacArthur and Wilson's Theory of Island Biogeography, yet we are still searching for answers to fundamental questions about the structure, function of ecological communities, especially as new approaches and new types of data allow us to uncover increasingly complex patterns in communities. This symposium will bring together ecologists who are interested in questions about how communities assemble, how diversity and stability are maintained, and how environmental factors and species interactions govern these processes, with a focus on research that tests theory with empirical data. Presentations will answer these questions with different methodologies and systems in order to glean what generalisations emerge across seemingly disparate ecosystems. 

As we enter an age where species will interact with both novel environments and novel species assemblages, understanding how ecological communities may respond to these changing environments is crucial to their continued persistence.
Understanding the basic processes that govern the structure and function of ecological communities is fundamental to predicting how these communities will respond to changing environments. However, ecologists who work on questions of theory often lack interaction with those who work on applied conservation questions. One goal of this symposium is to increase interaction between these two realms and bridge the gaps between these disciplines.

With a focus on community and theoretical ecology, this symposium will feature diverse perspectives, drawing from empirical and modelling work across a range of ecosystems including plants, microbes, marine systems. The presenters use diverse methods and theoretical frameworks to answer these interrelated questions, including network theory, coexistence theory and population modelling. 

This symposium will address fundamental questions which are of universal interest to many ecologists, biologists, and land managers, such as how diversity is maintained and how ecological communities respond to environmental change. Moreover, the symposium will include speakers working on a range of ecosystems and applying different methodological tools and techniques, widening its appeal to both applied and theoretical ecologists.

Getting it right in a changing climate: informing adaptive management for conservation and restoration of natural ecosystems under climate change.

Convenors: Paul Rymer and Hannah Carle, Western Sydney University and Rebecca Jordan, CSIRO
Biodiversity and ecosystem function are at risk from the impacts of altered land-use and climate change. Bold international targets on restoration and biodiversity (Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework) and development of Natural Capital have driven increasing investment from governments and business sectors at all scales providing unprecedented scope to conserve and restore natural ecosystems. 

Despite these significant investments, the outcomes of current conservation and restoration activities remain particularly uncertain due to rapidly changing climate and increasingly extreme climate anomalies. This places many of these efforts to achieve diverse and self-sustaining outcomes at additional risk of failure.

Current adaptive management strategies are limited by a lack of understanding of how to maintain or restore diverse and functionally resilient ecosystems that can cope with climate change. Key to guiding adaptive management under climate change will be a developed evidence-base that explains ecosystem climate limits (and drivers) and how these could be leveraged to enhance conservation and restoration outcomes.

This symposium will draw together collective knowledge on ecosystem climate change risk and resilience to inform adaptive management enhancing conservation and restoration outcomes under climate change. Presentations are invited from a diversity of backgrounds, approaches and perspectives including on indigenous knowledge and practices, species tolerance to extreme events, climate sensitivity of natural populations, modelling predictions of climate vulnerability, and population genetic analyses to inform adaptive capacity. 

This symposium will showcase insights and approaches across disciplines and ecosystem types that can contribute to enhancing adaptive management to mitigate ecosystem climate risk. This symposium comes at an important time, when critical investments and efforts are being made in biodiversity and carbon offsetting programs, as well as nature-positive solutions that support biodiversity and ecosystem function (including carbon capture). The natural capital accounting and biodiversity markets and broader efforts ought to be guided by an evidence-base that incorporates climate threats/resilience.

This symposium will facilitate discussions that will help guide our next steps. Submissions from students, early career researchers and research leaders that showcase a breadth of research at the forefront of conservation and restoration under climate change are encouraged. 

Identifying when to resist, accept, or direct ecosystem change: revisiting management paradigms to improve conservation outcomes under changing disturbance regimes

Convenor: Dr Callum Bryant, Australian National University
Existing conservation management paradigms and policy have emerged and functioned in relatively stable climates and disturbance regimes. However, as the scale and frequency of disturbance events are changing, optimising resource use across multiple scales and areas of varying conservation value is increasingly complex. Managers are tasked with finding socially acceptable, economical solutions that meet biodiversity targets and maintain ecosystem functions despite large disturbances, heterogeneous landscapes and limited resourcing.

In the face of the accelerating pace and scale of ecosystem change, managers require decision frameworks and a range of new, triage options to help mitigate perverse outcomes and manage for broadly agreed-upon conservation values. The Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) framework developed in the United States provides such a management framework. However, it is yet to be broadly utilised in Australia. The RAD framework seeks to help managers mitigate, plan for, recognise and manage ecosystem changes through time and space, and categorise the objectives of the management practices being adopted into one of three strategies. Strategies to 'Resist' change are underpinned by the current conservation paradigm, involving efforts to halt or remove threats to ecosystems, and to conserve existing biodiversity. Yet, in the face of compounding climate pressures, risk/return on investment for 'Resist' strategies at a landscape scale is questionable. 

In the absence of proactive management policies, 'Accept' strategies allow background ecosystem transformation to unfold; however, this is often at an unknown cost because the structure and function of ecosystems may be degraded by iterative disturbance. Strategies to 'Direct' change actively seek to alter ecosystem composition or function towards what is deemed suitable for novel future climates. The decision as to which strategy - Resist, Accept- or Direct - is appropriate in a given landscape requires broad-based agreement on desired conservation values and ecosystem services to be maintained now and in the future, requiring stakeholder consultation and an enabling policy environment. Understanding the different accountabilities and policy frameworks across public and private land tenures will be critical to developing an integrated approach to RAD decision-making that maintains landscape-scale ecosystem function in the future. 

This symposium invites field-leading experts to help frame the problem, and case studies exploring RAD examples. 

Ecology and policy in the Murray-Darling Basin

Convenors: Dr Jarod Lyon and Dr Jian Yen, Arthur Rylah Institute
The $13bn Murray-Darling Basin Plan is one of the largest investments in environmental restoration in Australia. The Basin Plan sets the amount of water that can be taken each year from the Murray-Darling Basin, while striking a balance between environmental, economic, cultural, and social values. Although water, and how it is used, is at the core of the plan, a key driver for its implementation was halting (and indeed reversing) decades of environmental decline caused by river regulation and extracting water for consumptive uses.

Key to the Basin Plan has been an assumption that returning water to rivers and wetlands will promote recovery of the environment. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that a ‘just add water’ approach will not delivering the expected environmental outcomes given that conflicting or uncertain ecological knowledge is being set against huge operational constraints.

This symposium will examine current ecological and traditional knowledge and the overarching policy context that translates this knowledge into outcomes for biodiversity conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. Bridging the ecology-policy divide in the Murray-Darling Basin offers significant contributions to the conservation of biodiversity, and presents a significant, interdisciplinary challenge.

The symposium aims to develop a shared understanding of the complex environmental and policy challenges associated with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and is timely given the upcoming 2026 Basin Plan Review. By connecting those with a stake in the Basin’s natural resources, the symposium will invite discussion of the many factors that affect environmental outcomes in the Basin. The symposium will examine current ecological and traditional knowledge and the overarching policy context that translates this knowledge into outcomes for biodiversity conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. Bridging the ecology-policy divide in the Murray-Darling Basin offers significant contributions to the conservation of biodiversity, and presents a significant, interdisciplinary challenge.

This symposium will encourage open dialogue on what the lines of evidence tell us, different ways of knowing, knowledge gaps and making decisions to achieve environmental outcomes with imperfect information. 

The value of benchtop ecology: Diverse uses of omic-based techniques that explore ecological responses to extreme events

Convenors, Sarah McInnes and Dr Nathali Machado de Lima, Centre for Ecosystem Science, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW and Dr Ryan Tangney, Centre for Ecosystem Science, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW; Kings Park Science, Biodiversity, and Conservation Science, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and Attractions
Climate change has worsened the effects of extreme events on environments globally, demanding multi-faceted approaches to understand ecological responses to these disturbances. The emerging field of omics-based ecology has the potential to generate new insights into longstanding questions by providing data on fundamental, molecular-level mechanisms within a system. Working in tandem with field-based techniques, these methods are often complementary and can be a powerful way to approach ecological problems. 

Omics-based technologies can provide insight into molecular-level ecological responses across a wide range of systems using similar and complementary methods. Detailed genetic information (e.g. from genomics and transcriptomics) can provide insight into the fundamental driving processes within an organism – such as RNA-sequencing highlighting key genes involved in an organism’s stress response. Conversely, ecosystem species composition can be explored via DNA, as eDNA can be used to identify elusive species. Understanding molecular processes within organisms, alongside broader ecosystem composition, is important when developing theories about how these systems respond to extreme events. 

This symposium will discuss distinct case studies that use omics-techniques, highlighting the capabilities of this molecular ecology branch. Each presentation will be linked by their use of similar technologies to achieve different outcomes in a wide range of extreme systems (such as fire, epidemic, and mining).  

The aims of this symposium are to:
 1. Showcase the versatility of omics-based techniques in ecology, as diverse systems and questions can be investigated using similar methods
 2. Highlight how data generated ‘on the bench’ is complementary to data generated by more classic, field-based approaches in ecology. Using omics techniques in tandem with traditional ecological approaches can lead to meaningful context around fundamental processes, which feeds into analyses at higher levels of ecosystem organisation
 3. Emphasise the value of omics data when answering fundamental questions in ecology. This session does not aim to show that one method is better than the other, but rather highlight how omics can generate new insights

From Antarctica and Southern Ocean to Australia: Current Ecological Research and Conservation Challenges

Convenors: Dr W. P. Amy Liu, Dr Rodolfo De Oliveira Anderson, Dr Matthias Dehling and Dr David Clarke, Monash University
This symposium will provide a comprehensive platform for early/mid-career researchers, scientists, and practitioners to share knowledge, insights, and advancements in the field of Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecology. As the significance of the Antarctic region grows in the context of global environmental changes, this symposium will foster discussions on current ecological research findings and conservation challenges specific to this unique and fragile ecosystem. 

Australian biodiversity transcends the geographic boundaries of Oceania, permeating its reach to some of the most fragile and isolated ecosystems, such as Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (including the sub-Antarctic islands). Despite its geographic isolation Antarctic biodiversity, much of which is endemic to the region, is at risk from human-induced rapid environmental change. However, our knowledge is relatively depauperate due to the remoteness and harsh conditions of Antarctica, as well as the often cryptic nature of these organisms, which combined make biodiversity monitoring challenging. Moreover, the low spatial and temporal resolution of environmental data further complicates our understanding on the status and trends of Antarctic biological systems. Though geographically separated from much of the world, Antarctica is also inextricably linked to the global system. As such, improving our understanding of Antarctic biodiversity and how it is responding to environmental change is not only a conservation and policy imperative for the region, but for the planet at large. 

Discussions will include the impact of climate change and other environmental threats Antarctic biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, as well as potential avenues for safeguarding the present and the future of this unique ecosystem, accounting for multiple forms of uncertainty. Another key focus involves enhancing collaboration between diverse panel of researchers of different backgrounds and career stages to develop a cohesive approach and identify knowledge gaps (e.g. data fragmentation issues) to the advancement of Antarctic research. 

Advances and applications of Bayesian Network analyses in ecology

Convenors: Dr Erica Marshall, The University of Melbourne and Dr Helen Mayfield, The University of Queensland
The natural environment, and its many interacting systems, is notoriously difficult to quantitatively measure and predict. Nevertheless, to help us understand how species or ecosystems respond to drivers, such as changes in land-use, climate change, and invasive species we often seek to simplify the world into quantitative models. Doing so can be difficult in systems which are dynamic and uncertain. 

The use of causal modelling and probability theory for creating these system representations has been increasing over time. In particular, one modelling framework that is useful for capturing prior beliefs and probabilities are Bayesian Networks (BNs). BNs are a probabilistic graphical model that provides a powerful framework for understanding complex ecological systems, incorporating uncertainty, and informing management and conservation strategies.

This symposium will provide attendees with an update on the latest advances in BN modelling for ecology and promote understanding of how they can use BN models in ecological applications. This symposium will bring together researchers and practitioners from diverse ecological disciplines to showcase the latest advancements, challenges, and successes in applying BNs to ecological questions.

Presentations are invited that cover the following topics: 

 1. Methodological advancements in BNs for ecological applications
 2. Integration of empirical data and expert knowledge into BN analyses
 3. Case studies demonstrating the utility of BNs in addressing real-world ecological challenges
 4. Uncertainty quantification and sensitivity analysis in BN-based ecological predictions 
 5. The role of BNs in supporting evidence-based decision-making for ecosystem management and conservation.

Towards powerful, generalised trait-based models of fundamental and realised niches

Convenor: Peter Vesk, University of Melbourne
Generalization among species is a backbone of trait-based ecology. With one of the most curated databases, AusTraits, functional ecology in Australian systems is in a strong position. Pattern-based and process-based approaches offer different but complementary views on the varied ways in which plants make a living that influence where they occur. Traits related to plant performance in varied environmental conditions offer a way to generalised prediction about species, and communities. 

What can our researcher community learn from each other’s approaches? What traits should we be studying? How should we factor in environmental conditions and resources? How do we bridge the gap between studies focussed on fundamental vs realised niches? 

Functional ecology has over 25 years identifying, operationalizing, measuring, analysing patterns and processes in plant traits. Australia has the world’s best structured, curated plant trait database: AusTraits. Diverse research groups are employing functional traits in a range of state-of-the-art methodological approaches. Yet these can be somewhat siloed. This symposium will provide an opportunity for researchers (at all levels) to hear from other labs pursuing different methodologies. Pattern-based analyses identify relationships worthy of investigation, physiological models of particular organs sharpen insight into why patterns occur, eco-evo models to statistical models of realised niches or community models offer predictions for where species might grow. So there is great value in bringing such approaches and labs together to converge on useful ways forward. Speakers will present across studies: focussed on particular organs (leaves, roots); with different approaches. Awareness of alternative lifts our understanding of what we are doing, or should be, and how we might do it.

Forgotten Species: Current Knowledge and Future Directions

Convenors: Dr Caitlyn Forster, The University of Sydney, Prof Euan Ritchie and Meghan Shaw, Deakin University, Dr Leanda Mason, The University of Western Australia, Grace Heathcote, The Ecological Society of Australia
In the face of the current biodiversity crisis, there is an urgent need to understand and protect our remaining biodiversity. However, such efforts are often hindered by a widespread focus on a small subset of species. Known as taxonomic bias, this pattern has been documented across academic research and associated peer-reviewed publications, news media, conservation funding, policy protections for threatened species and on social media. This system makes it difficult to identify when under-represented species become threatened or extinct, to predict future losses or to recognise impacts on the functioning of global ecosystems. 

This symposium will bring together speakers from a diversity of backgrounds to share knowledge and experience related to taxonomic bias: What types of taxa does this bias affect? How does that influence conservation efforts, either positively or negatively? What impacts does it have on the people trying to study and protect them? How can ecologists engage audiences with species that have been historically ignored?

Presentations relating to a wide range of taxa across flora, fauna and fungi are encouraged. This could include (for example) research results, knowledge-sharing or project updates. 

The symposium will be capped by a panel discussion which will synthesise the presented ideas, identify gaps in our knowledge and suggest future actions for research, collaboration and improved communication. 

Spanners, connectors, catalysts, and levers for biodiversity: Tensions and opportunities for transformational systems change

Convenor: Dr Kate Lee, Arthur Rylah Institute, DEECA
Biodiversity decline is a wicked problem being largely driven by global systems of production and consumption. These systems are a critical avenue for achieving biodiversity conservation, but the transformation required demands moving beyond traditional ecological research and conservation for new ways of rapidly escalating our impact. These ways should be informed by contemporary understandings of First Nations voices, a ‘tenure blind’ approach, and finding new ways of working together for new solutions.
The space for applying these is found in truly transdisciplinary approaches exploring the boundaries and the tensions at the interfaces across knowledge, policy and practice. By their very nature, such explorations have historically been difficult, but this is where emerging stories can provide optimism and inspiration; novel knowledge and action, for conserving biodiversity.

The symposium will use storying to weave diverse perspectives and new contributions of our panel of spanners, connectors, catalysts, and levers for biodiversity. This synthesises insights provided through each contribution, building a collective narrative of the tensions and transformative potential at the boundaries.

Explore stories, spaces and cases including:
 - Storying to approach two-way knowing
 - Traditional Owner-led redevelopment of cultural landscapes, engaging with values, relational obligations and ways of working
 - Behaviours for biodiversity far away through transforming our coffee supply chain
 - Being tenure blind and addressing business risk through private sector alliances and investment to scale impact
 - Transformative transitions for biodiversity conservation through people, systems and policy

Advances in Fire Ecology Science: Defining and Achieving Desirable States

Convenor: Dr Laurence Berry, Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action
Identifying appropriate fire regimes and defining desirable ecosystem states is considered critical to the conservation of biodiversity and is one of primary challenges in contemporary fire science. This symposium will present the latest advances in theoretical and applied fire ecology science and consider how these define desirable ecological states and identify management actions to achieve them achieve them in the broader context of policy and land management decision-making. 

This symposium will allow prominent fire ecology researchers and key land-management and policy decision-makers to discuss with the audience the integration of fire science into practice, and the pathways towards achieving desirable states in fire management. The works presented will span from ecological theory to practical applied sciences, flora and faunal responses, terrestrial and aquatic systems, and incorporate a breadth of work on fire behaviour, individual fire, and fire regime influences, as well as reflecting on ecological responses and feedbacks to fire across broad spatial and temporal ranges. 

The symposium will champion strong science and promote its integration into management policies and practice through connecting researchers and land managers at the conference to facilitate knowledge transfer, discussion of challenges and promote networking and collaboration.

Nature Positive 1: the importance of robust ecological evidence and rigorous science

Convenors; Jeremy Simmonds and Dr Ailsa Kerswell, 2rog Consulting
The concept of ‘nature positive’ has exploded onto the scene recently. It is being embraced by the private sector and policy makers alike as a panacea for the biodiversity crisis. Yet, without strong ecological evidence at its core, nature positive is a long way off. This symposium is a rallying cry for ecologists to be at the forefront of the nature positive movement. Never has the need for robust ecological data been so urgent, nor had such potential to have cut-through across multiple sectors. 

The goal is to showcase examples of how robust ecological data is and can influence decisions towards the achievement of nature positive outcomes. This symposium will provide a platform for speakers from academia and the private sector to describe methods that are fundamental to informing nature positive planning, and findings of empirical studies about ‘what actions work on the ground’ for halting and reversing biodiversity decline. Taken together, these talks will provide a synthesis of why robust ecological data is fundamental to a nature positive future, and how such information is / can be obtained and disseminated. 

This symposium will showcase the link between rigorous, well-thought out ecological data collection and analysis, and proactive decision-making and planning to inform actions that contribute to halting and reversing biodiversity decline. It integrates ecological science with conservation planning, and the decisions made by policy-makers and businesses. 

Bringing nature back into cities

Convenors: Professor Sarah Bekessy, RMIT: Professor Michelle Leishman, Professor Melanie Bishop and Dr Caragh Threlfall, Macquarie University
The impact of increasing urbanisation on biodiversity is an increasingly urgent challenge globally, requiring innovative interdisciplinary approaches and partnerships. Incorporating design, policy and social dimensions into research on the ecology of cities is relatively new in Australia, and this symposium will be the first of its kind in this country to bring together researchers from varied disciplines (ecology, horticulture, social sciences, planning, architecture). The symposium will provide an overview of current projects being undertaken across Australia in this emerging field of interdisciplinary research. 

The symposium will feature speakers from national and international research groups to demonstrate the interdisciplinary thinking that is required to successfully achieve biodiverse urban landscapes across terrestrial and aquatic environments and highlight some of the exciting transdisciplinary approaches emerging across ecology, design and architecture, urban planning, horticulture, conservation and animal behaviour. 

The symposium will provide the opportunity to present new perspectives on areas for future research and research-practice partnerships within urban ecosystems. Speakers will be challenged to present novel approaches to achieve the goal of ‘bringing nature back into cities’. 

Fundamental and applied mycology: a global nexus for cross-kingdom interactions

Convenors: Associate Professor Jonathan Plett, Australasian Mycological Society and Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University; Dr Camille Truong, Australasian Mycological Society and Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria; Dr. Anna Hopkins1, Australasian Mycological Society and Edith Cowan University
Fungi provide fundamental ecosystem services in terrestrial and marine environments and establish a wide range of beneficial and antagonist interactions with animals, plants and microbes. These interactions are increasingly recognised to play critical roles in regulating population dynamics, biodiversity patterns, ecosystem processes, and host health. With less than 10% of an estimated 2.5 million fungal species that have been described to date, mycology is among the largest reservoirs for new discoveries, yet the discipline is often neglected in academic programs in Australia. The Australasian Mycological Society (AMS) is the sole scientific society dedicated to Fungi in the region. We aim to promote research and interactions across disciplines and scientists working on Fungi, as well as fostering the next generation of mycologists. 

This symposium program will showcase the diversity of research topics and studied ecosystems from Australasian Mycological Society (AMS) members, including, among others, systematics and biodiversity studies, ecological interactions, functional genomics, pathogenicity and pest control. Collectively, this symposium will provide the opportunity to bring together scientists from different disciplines and career stages around a shared interest in harnessing knowledge about Fungi and cross-kingdom interactions. Central to this symposium is the broad spectrum of research topics and scales, from cells to whole ecosystems, highlighting the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to better manage both natural and agricultural ecosystems, as well as benefit host health. 

Wildfire Futures – Interdisciplinary challenges and opportunities in understanding and exploring future fire regimes

Convenors; Dr Thomas Fairman, Dr Hamish Clarke, Dr Katitza Marinkovic Chávez, Dr Colin Gallagher, Dr Ella Plumanns Pouton, Dr Libby Rumpff and A/Prof Lauren Bennett, The University of Melbourne
Fire is an intrinsic feature of the Australian landscape, yet anthropogenic changes to climates, and land uses are dramatically altering the patterns and impacts of major fires. As the climate changes large and severe wildfires – like those seen in the 2019/20 fire season – will occur with increasing frequency and increasing impacts. Understanding the wide range of socio-ecological impacts of future fires is pressing, including ecological, human, and economic impacts across a range of values. To achieve this interdisciplinary approaches are required, that provide forums for ecologists and other scientists and practitioners to learn from one another. 

The Wildfire Futures: Interdisciplinary challenges in understanding future fire regimes symposium will create a forum for early and mid-career researchers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines (including but not limited to ecology and conservation) to present their future-focussed research. By understanding how ecology and related disciplines are studying and exploring the future of fire and their socio-ecological impacts, we can begin to develop more collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches to fire ecology and fire research more broadly. 

This symposium will include presentations from ecologists who are undertaking interdisciplinary work, and other researchers and practitioners that are studying disciplines that are adjacent to fire ecology (such as fire behaviour, human geography, public health). The aim is to improve opportunities for collaboration between ecologists and a broader range of disciplines – such as social scientists, fire scientists, Traditional Knowledge holders, and climate change specialists.

Practitioner Engagement: Ecological Connections between Practitioners and Researchers

Convenors: Dr Samantha Lloyd, Healthy Land & Water, Lincoln Kern, Practical Ecology, Dr Sacha Jellinek, University of Melbourne
Collaborations between practitioners and researchers are at the forefront of applied ecological research and communication. Partnerships between practitioners and applied researchers are vital to ensuring ecological projects and programs inform the best possible evidence-based decision making, on-ground actions and government policy. Sharing the workings, outcomes and learnings from these connections is essential to building new collaborative opportunities and enhancing potential conservation outcomes across the ecological, land management and planning sectors.  

Evidence-based decision making and management, together with stakeholder engagement, collaborative coordination and non-traditional communication are increasingly features of modern ecological and conservation projects. This symposium, run by the Ecological Society of Australia Practitioner Engagement Working Group, will showcase applied ecological research projects, driven by strong partnerships between researchers and practitioners, promoting the value of collaboration to support more effective learnings and on-ground action. Practitioners include (but are not limited to) First Nations organisation, consultants, government agencies and departments and non-government organisations, including natural resource management bodies and private conservation. 

This symposium will highlight the increasingly significant role of ecological practitioners and researchers collaborating on applied projects and the importance of tailoring communication beyond traditional scientific formats. The symposium will feature joint presentations from practitioners and researchers on the value of collaborations and the challenges and successes they have experienced. It will reflect on how such projects can best inform policy and on-ground management actions, and therefore, the application of ecological research. Examples include use of satellite imagery to better inform riparian vegetation change; long-term adaptive management of western basalt plains grasslands; restoration of arid rangelands; fire management and ecosystem resilience; predicting the impact of bushfire on and freshwater ecosystems; and using children’s literature to build ecological connection and understanding.

Nature-dependent ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes

Convenors: Dr Ayesha Tulloch and Jessie Moyses, QUT
Land clearing and management practices on working lands are key drivers of decline in biodiversity providing important ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control (Dicks et al., 2021; Rodger et al., 2021). Recent global syntheses have shown that aboveground regulating ecosystem services are particularly sensitive to changes in biodiversity (Dainese et al., 2019; Emmerson et al., 2016). With over half of Australia’s land used for agriculture (ABARES, 2023), understanding the ways we can balance productivity outcomes with minimal environmental harm is crucial for the future of biodiversity and sustainable food production (Kremen et al., 2002). Research linking nature to the ecosystem services humans rely on every day, and the potential positive (or adverse) outcomes associated with different land management strategies is of relevance and interest to multiple disciplines of science represented at ESA2024. This symposium brings together researchers working on topics from innovative landscape-scale restoration methods, to farm-level experimental habitat management for native insects and birds. Speakers will synthesise nature-positive land management initiatives across Australia and overseas aiming to restore biodiversity, reduce environmentally harmful practices such as reliance on agrochemicals, whilst improving and diversifying food production. 

This symposium will unite multiple applied disciplines concerned with protecting biodiversity across the breadth of climate zones and agroecosystems in Australia. Submissions are invited from scientists interested in the links between different nature-positive land management strategies, the groups of biodiversity providing the valuable ecosystem services we rely on, from soil health, to pest control, to pollination, and outcomes for land managers and food growers. The symposium will demonstrate a range of innovative approaches to measure biodiversity response to landscape change and the outcomes for ecosystem service provision. Speakers will share long-term and experimental case studies from a range of agricultural contexts to underline where landscape and management change are likely (or least likely) to support both biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.

Advancing ecological theory and management with near-term forecasts: an Australasian synthesis

Convenors: Dr Nicholas Clark, The University of Queensland, Prof Glenda Wardle, The University of Sydney
Near-term forecasting is a rapidly emerging subfield that aims to improve the way we anticipate ecosystem change. It does this by iterating through two crucial analysis phases: 
(1) using theory and models to produce explicit ecological forecasts that can be falsified against new data, and
(2) using forecast failures to uncover model limitations, fine-tune hypotheses and inform decision-making.

This fundamental representation of hypothesis-driven science accelerates our understanding of the processes that shape ecosystems, allowing ecologists and managers to better adapt to the pressures of anthropogenic and environmental change. With changing climates and landscape modification impacting Australia’s ecosystems at all levels, anticipating how ecosystems will respond to these changes is vital for planning and policy formation. For instance, a key government sustainable development priority is the broader use of ecological analyses to adopt evidence-based conservation and resource management. But to do this effectively, we must embrace a more predictive approach to ecology.

This symposium aims to bring together scientists, managers, industry workers, and community members to advance research and collaboration around near-term ecological forecasts. Building on the growing reach of the Ecological Forecasting Initiative’s Oceania Chapter, this symposium will showcase research that aims to deliver forecasts of key ecological entities including species’ abundances, species’ distributions, biodiversity patterns, ecological events such as algal blooms or fire conditions, and others. Emphasis will be placed on real-world partnerships that not only describe how forecasts are generated, but how they are being used to transform decision-making processes and improve ecological hypotheses.

Connecting pyrodiversity, biodiversity and people in Australian landscapes

Convenors: Associate Professor Luke Kelly, University of Melbourne; Dr Leanne Greenwood, Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and Charles Sturt University; Julianna Santos, University of Melbourne; Professor Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University
Fire is a vital part of ecosystems and cultures across Australia. Variation in fire patterns enable many plants to complete their life cycles, creates habitats for a range of animals, and maintains a diversity of ecosystems. Yet human activities are reshaping fire patterns in many places, often to the detriment of biodiversity. 

A way forward is to promote patterns of fire that benefit biodiversity. Recent studies are helping to identify diverse fire patterns—sometimes termed pyrodiversity—that enhance biodiversity. However, there is a need to further develop pyrodiversity science and practice that is evidence-based, tailored to suit the needs of species and ecosystems, and recognises the ecological functions of people. 

This symposium will help to develop a new understanding of connections between pyrodiversity, biodiversity, and people. It will explore how pyrodiversity is generated, how it transforms biodiversity at a variety of levels – from genes to ecosystems– and the important ways that socio-ecological systems shape these relationships. Participating scientists and practitioners bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience: from the skillful application of fire to create habitat mosaics to the innovative use of genomics to understand fire-biota relationships.

Key integrative themes include sustaining biodiversity through co-design with stakeholders, the application of Indigenous fire knowledge, and linking different fields within ecology (fire ecology and landscape ecology). Presentations will showcase new work on experimental fires, cutting-edge models, and innovative genomics techniques. 

This symposium will synthesize how different forms of pyrodiversity are generated and how they shape biodiversity.  It will bring together emerging actions for using fire to promote biodiversity. 

Australian Peatlands – Undiscovered and Unique Ecosystems

Prof Patrick Moss, Queensland University of Technology; Prof Catherine Yule and Dr Gareth Chalmers, University of the Sunshine Coast
Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet and is most often associated with arid and semi-arid environments, with around two thirds of the continent characterized by these landscapes. However, as the recent Global Peatland Assessment report ( demonstrates it also contains extensive areas (~2.5 million hectares) of peatlands. These ecosystems are generally found in the wetter coastal and/or alpine environments of the continent and play a crucial role with carbon storage, as well as containing unique and distinctive plant and animal species. In addition, peatlands can also be found in the drier regions of Australia, associated with ground water feed spring systems, such as the Great Artesian Basin and providing unique environments that are in sharp contrast with the surrounding savanna or desert environments.  

This symposium will bring together a range of Australia peatland researchers (from ecologists, spatial scientists, palaeoecologist, soil scientists, geochemists to hydrologists), who will examine issues associated with the defining and mapping peatland ecosystems, conservation/restoration efforts, carbon sequestration/geochemical processes, as well as reconstructing past environments. The symposium will be of broad interest to a range of interested stakeholders, particularly environmental managers, First Nations people and ecologists. 

Australian peatlands are relatively understudied and undervalued in terms of global understanding of these crucial ecosystems. Currently an Australian Peat Definition and Attribute Working Group (APDAWG) has been formed to better define and map peatlands and this symposium will draw on this expertise, as well as the broader Australian peat researcher community, to provide a synthesis of current and future research directions, as well as highlighting the importance of these unique systems. 

Getting your start: understanding plant establishment to predict vegetation change and the success of restoration and conservation interventions

Convenors: Associate Professor Rachael Gallagher and Dr Assaf Inbar, Prof. Belinda Medlyn, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University
Establishment is a crucial stage in the life cycle of plants. The ability to recruit new individuals underpins the demography of populations and is essential to maintaining viable populations in the long-term. Yet, establishment is also a highly vulnerable life-history stage for plants. After germination, a range of physiological and physical barriers to establishment must be overcome and many individuals are lost. But how many? And what are the primary drivers of successful establishment in the field?  

This symposium will bring together ecologists interested in these questions from multiple dimensions, including ecosystem modelling, conservation and restoration. Small plants are often subject to abiotic extremes that challenge establishment. Seedlings are close to the soil surface where temperature can be substantially higher than ambient air, and typically have lower overall root mass to access water. Seedlings and saplings are also highly vulnerable to disturbances such as fire for which they may have few defences that are available to larger individuals (e.g., thick bark, a canopy stored seedbank). Under climate change, a reduced capacity for populations to continue to recruit new individuals to offset losses associated with increased environmental stressors (droughts, fire, flooding) may tip some species towards decline and, ultimately, extinction. Therefore, we must better understand the process of establishment so we can model the effects on vegetation structure and function. 

Process-based modelling of vegetation dynamics is a key tool for predicting the state of the vegetation under future climate (and atmospheric CO2 concentrations). These models are based on process-knowledge and are evaluated by observed data. Among the numerous processes that are simulated in these models, recruitment of new vegetation cohorts is one of the least constrained, both in terms of process knowledge for different plant functional types and environment (i.e., temperature, rainfall, insolation etc.), and in terms of model evaluation. Given the crucial importance of establishment for predicting future vegetation structure, function and distribution, it is of high priority to accurately capture these processes in models. 

Establishment is also of keen interest in efforts to restore and remake vegetation and plant populations throughout Australia, and the world. Successful restoration and conservation efforts – including translocation – rely on plants being able to establish successfully in a range of field settings. The success of new initiatives that aim to engage landholders in ‘nature repair’ will be contingent on clear advice from ecologists about when establishment is likely to succeed, and why.

Plant-soil microbial interactions in an era of rapid change: challenges and opportunities.

Convenors: Dr Elizabeth Wandrag, University of Tasmania; Dr Christina Birnbaum, Dr Eleonora Egidi, Dr Adam Frew, Dr Anna Hopkins
The increased accessibility of tools for studying soil microbial communities has marked a step-change in our understanding of the crucial role of plant-soil interactions in driving the composition and function of ecological communities. Accelerated changes to climate and disturbance regimes, biological invasions and human land-use challenge this new understanding by altering the context in which plant-soil interactions take place.

This symposium will bring together researchers from across disciplines of microbial ecology, biogeochemistry, plant ecophysiology, community ecology and agroecosystems to:
 1) synthesize current knowledge of the drivers and outcomes of plant-soil interactions; 
 2) highlight emerging research on how global change is altering these interactions and with what consequences; and 
 3) propose new ways in which plant-soil research could advance understanding of ecosystem response to change. 

Plant-soil interactions have emerged as a key driver of community composition and ecosystem function. However, key knowledge gaps remain and create tension between advancing fundamental understanding of plant-soil interactions while keeping apace with rapid global change. This tension highlights a broader need for diverse and multi-pronged approaches to solving ecological problems. Plant-soil research exemplifies such approaches because it is inherently interdisciplinary. 

Phytophthora Dieback: Beyond immediate impacts

Convenor: Mia Townsend, Dieback Working Group Inc.
Phytophthora Dieback, caused by the introduced pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi, is well-known across Australia due to its significant environmental impacts. This pathogen - a key threatening process under the EPBC Act - was identified in the 2021 State of the Environment as a significant threat for approximately 300 Australian Threatened Species; a higher number than feral cats and foxes combined. This disease impacts ecosystems in all Australian states and territories except the Northern Territory. Anthropogenic spread is the main mechanism for introducing this devastating disease to uninfested landscapes. 

Although direct impacts have been well-explored through research over the past few decades, a modern and more nuanced view of how environmental diseases interact with other pressures to affect ecosystem function and services is emerging in recent research. This symposium will showcase recent Phytophthora Dieback research and will add to capacity to manage biosecurity hygiene during research and land care activities. 

Topics will include presentations on Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, recruitment rates for non-susceptible plant species, interactions of disease with native fauna and introduced predators, as well as interactions with Carbon sequestration in natural ecosystems. The symposium will give an overview of disease hygiene and how this can be managed by land managers, researchers and landcare professionals when accessing vulnerable ecosystems.

Understanding and predicting the impacts of global and local economic activity on nature using Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs)

Convenors: Professor Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; Dr Brooke Williams, Queensland University of Technology; Prof Brett Bryan, Deakin University; Prof Eve McDonald-Madden and Assoc Prof Justin Johnson, University of Minnesota
Economic activity plays a vital role in societal prosperity, but it can also worsen environmental harm and speed up biodiversity loss by driving land-use change, pollution, invasive species, and over-exploitation and harvesting of natural resources. The everyday choices we make including what we eat and drink, materials we build with, where and how we travel create economic activity and damages to nature all over the planet, depending on where products we use come from and how they were produced. 

Damage to nature also poses large risks to the economy. The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that half of global GDP is directly dependent on biodiversity and at risk from biodiversity loss, prompting the WEF to list biodiversity loss one of the top 3 risks to global economy. 

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) are being used to link economic activity (consumption and trade), economic shocks (e.g. trade agreements, global policy initiatives, climate change) to biodiversity and ecosystem services impacts. Integrated economic, land-use and biodiversity models allow a mechanistic representation of the link between production and consumption of commodities and impacts on nature, and the impacts of nature loss on the economy (via environmental damages). They allow demarcation of the direct (biophysical) impacts of, for example, climate change or policy on biodiversity, and the indirect impacts via changes to supply chain production and consumption and knock-on effects through land use, pollution and exploitation. 

IAMs have been used in other sectors to evaluate and tailor policy, focussing on capturing unexpected impacts that may arise through economic pathways obscured to decision makers. However, for most ecologists, IAM is a new field of modelling that extends better-known models such as species distribution or land use models into an economic framework. There is little understanding among ecologists about how they work, how they may be useful, what are their limitations, and why and how one might choose to use one. 

This symposium will provide an overview of the most recent developments in IAMs for understanding current and future impacts of economic activity, climate change, consumption and policies on biodiversity and ecosystem services at global, national and local scales. Examples include analyses of global beef production impacts on nature under future climate and dietary scenarios, analysis of coffee production and supply chains to explore benefits of biodiversity-friendly coffee, analysis of Australian biodiversity change under future climate and land use change scenarios, and global analysis of how GBF protection targets could drive land use spill-over impacts on ecosystem services.  

The symposium will draw together lessons from case studies to overview strengths, weaknesses and exciting near-future applications of IAM and will focus on how these models can be made relevant, accessible and useful to guide policy and conservation decision making, realistically incorporating ecological knowledge, and addressing uncertainty.

Integrated Species Distribution Models (ISDMs): From data collection through to Inference/Prediction

Convenors: Scott Foster, CSIRO Data61; Andrew Hoskins, CSIRO Environment and Jens Froese, CSIRO Health & Biosecurity
Integrated species distribution models (ISDMs) aim to leverage statistical inference for a species from as much data as possible. This approach broadens and deepens the information resource for the species. Inevitably mean that data stems from a variety of sources, contains a variety of biases and will have a variety of measurement types and sampling operating procedures. This data heterogeneity presents technical and analytical challenges for ISDMs: how to model heterogeneous data so that the results can be trusted? 

ISDM usage is perhaps the quintessential collaborative and inter-disciplinary undertaking. Using ISDMs typically requires collaboration between multiple data custodians, ecologists, statisticians and managers. The ISDM itself, its data needs, and the dissemination of results, forms a unifying framework for all these disciplines to contribute to. ISDMs have a wide range of applications, disciplines and are species-agnostic – the ISDM symposium is applicable to all interested in species prediction.

Recently, there have been many advances for ISDMs, with methods and computational tools being produced that enable their wide-spread use. The use of ISDMs also presents social and institutional challenges: how to facilitate collation and use of multiple, potentially sensitive, data sources collected by networks of stakeholders to generate trusted and accessible outputs? This symposium faces these multiple challenges for ISDMs, with talks about data, analytical methods and tools, and current applications.

Nature Positive 2: the strengths and weaknesses of emerging policy tools in delivering positive biodiversity outcomes

Convenors: Abigail Watkins, EcoFutures; Dr Matthew Selinske, Mosaic Insights and RMIT University, Dr Susan Nuske, EcoFutures and Dr Helen Corney, EcoFutures
‘Nature positive’ is defined as halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 against a 2020 baseline. Achieving nature positive goals is critical if we hope mitigate climate change impacts and reverse biodiversity loss. However, realising a nature positive society by 2030 appears aspirational at best, and generates many questions. The Australian Government is responding to a global push for nature positive by establishing a Nature Positive Plan, a Nature Repair Market, and a new national Environmental Protection Authority. Although there is praise for these initiatives, some consider the proposed changes to be inadequate and implementation could undermine conservation efforts or increase greenwashing.

Effective implementation requires engagement from the conservation sector. This symposium will discuss the Nature Positive concept and explore approaches to achieving biodiversity outcomes, with the following objectives:
 • Understand the Nature Positive Plan, its strengths, weaknesses and ‘must haves’ to identify potential solutions
 • The role of markets in repairing nature, the risks and limitations
 • Explore barriers and opportunities to achieving absolute biodiversity gains

Given the intense interest from business and finance, the conservation sector needs to engage to ensure robust and effective approaches are undertaken to achieve and demonstrate nature positive. It is imperative that we build a strong understanding of the policy and its implementation.

This symposium will provide insight into the complex arena of the new nature law reform and familiarity with gaps in policy and requisite knowledge and offer key insights to tackling this problem. The symposium will identify and motivate a community of practice around nature positive.

Frontiers and Challenges in Nature Based Measures for reducing Disaster Risks from Natural Hazards

Convenors: Dr Bryony Horton and Marc Tutaan, NSW Dept. Climate Change, Energy, the Environment And Water
Nature based solutions or measures are emerging as a global solution for many of the complex environmental and sustainability issues being faced including climate change, natural hazards and biodiversity decline. The IUCN define nature-based solutions as actions that address societal challenges through the protection, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems, benefiting both biodiversity and human-wellbeing.

Under climate change many natural hazards, such as bushfires, heatwaves, droughts and flooding are predicted to become more frequent, intense and compounding over time, posing considerable risk to Australians, the environment and economy. Responding to the challenge of natural hazards requires a multi-disciplinary approach across ecology, social science, economics and First Nations knowledge to better equip us to effectively reduce the impacts felt from natural hazards. While nature-based measures are not new, and offer a range of benefits such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity restoration and water quality there is further potential for these to be applied in new ways, to reduce natural hazard risk. 

This symposium will explore the current frontiers and challenges of nature-based solutions in Australia with a particular focus on their application to mitigate risk arising from natural hazards at the community scale. Presentations will discuss the evidence-base of nature-based measures to better understand the science behind effective nature-based solutions in Australia, including  restoration science, traditional knowledge, economic benefits and social licence and equity. 

Topics to be discussed in this symposium include: 
 • What is the social, economic and environmental evidence base for nature base solutions and its limitations? What are the frontiers for future research?
 • How are these solutions being applied to mitigate natural hazard risk? And how do they differ from nature based solutions for other purposes?
 • What lessons can be used to effectively implement nature-based solutions for natural hazard risk?
 • What are the appropriate frameworks to measure outcomes in terms of the costs, benefits and risks?
 • What are the barriers in advancement and application of nature-based solutions for natural hazard mitigation?

Wind energy and wildlife – achieving conservation outcomes in Australia’s era of energy transition

Convenor: Dr Inka Veltheim, Arthur Rylah Institute, DEECA
Wind turbines can impact birds and bats directly due to turbine collisions and indirectly through displacement and avoidance of habitats. Avoiding and mitigating these impacts is essential to ensure conservation outcomes for threatened and migratory species are achieved whilst achieving global and national climate change renewable energy targets. 

There is global interest for ecologists and conservation ecologists in ensuring wildlife conservation goals are met for new wind energy projects. A small group of wind and wildlife experts have led this field in Australia for the last two decades. With the exponential rise in wind projects there is a more urgent need for information and good policy to avoid, minimise and mitigate impacts on species of conservation concern. For the great majority of species, we lack knowledge on how to effectively avoid and mitigate such impacts. Thus, there is a great need to share current knowledge and challenges amongst the Australian ecological community and to highlight the need for more ecological research, better policy and mitigation solutions to address these challenges.

The symposium will highlight a wildlife conservation issue that has been emerging in Australia but has received little attention in the wider Australian ecological community. Presentations from research, ecological consulting and policy are invited. 

Trends in invasion ecology and biosecurity measures

Convenor: Dr Irene Martin-Fores, The University of Adelaide / TERN
Invasion ecology is a rapidly evolving field with profound implications for ecosystem management and global biodiversity. As invasive species continue to threaten native ecosystems and human well-being, understanding trends and implementing effective biosecurity measures are paramount. This symposium will explore recent advancements and interdisciplinary approaches in this area of expertise, while focusing on current and future trends of biological invasions under global change. 

This symposium will highlight recent trends and emerging challenges in invasion ecology and will delve into the complex interactions between invasive species, native assets, human activities, and global change, providing insights into the mechanisms driving invasion success and ecological impacts. Presentations will feature an innovative and interdisciplinary approach. By integrating complemental fields (e.g. invasion ecology and functional ecology/ecological modelling, etc), the symposium will provide diverse perspectives, aiming to foster a holistic understanding of invasion ecology dynamics and identify successful strategies for effective biosecurity management. 

The symposium will provide both an overall synthesis of current trends in invasion ecology in Australia and detailed insights into specific case studies and management strategies.  It will address pressing threats posed by invasion ecology and focus on biosecurity measures. 

Each talk within the symposium will contribute to the overarching synthesis by focusing on specific themes such as invasion pathways, cooccurrence and community dynamics, functional traits related to invasiveness, illegal wildlife trade, and novel biosecurity technologies. 

Completing the adaptive learning cycle: linking monitoring to management for improved conservation outcomes

Convenors: Associate Professor Carly Cook, Monash University and Dr Nicole Hansen, NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
Threatened species managers are faced with complex decisions about when to intervene in the decline of a species or ecosystem, and which actions will be most effective to reverse the decline. These decisions are critical to avoid monitoring species to extinction because of inaction and wasting time and resources by intervening when action is not necessary. 

This symposium proposes to provide a forum to discuss three grand challenges: 
 1) promising tools or approaches (e.g., decision triggers) to link monitoring to management action, 
 2) supporting decisions about when to cease monitoring or management action; and 
 3) future directions for supporting proactive rather than reactive approaches to species management.

Despite being a broadly accepted gap in adaptive management, the development of triggers for management action have been neglected, left in the too hard basket. This has left a significant gap in the capacity of conservation practitioners to conduct proactive conservation management and efficiently use scarce resources to achieve the best outcomes. 

Presentations will discuss recent developments in approaches to setting decision triggers and addressing the three grand challenges outlined above. This will include developments in promising tools and approaches to linking monitoring to management action: setting decision triggers for species with challenging life-history strategies (e.g., boom-bust species), the value of involving management teams in setting decision triggers and the cost-effectiveness of early intervention in species decline. 

Supporting decisions about when to cease monitoring or management action will be discussed - setting thresholds for when targets have been achieved and identifying thresholds for when management is deemed too ineffective to continue. 

The symposium will also discuss future directions for supporting proactive rather than reactive approaches to species management: evaluating species response to management interventions.