We are pleased to offer the following symposia at the joint conference of the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) and the Society of Conservation Biology Oceania (SCBO).

Quick links to Symposia descriptions:

State of the Environment Report 2021

Convenors: Dr Ian Cresswell, University of Newcastle; Dennis Murphy, DAWE
Monday 28 November, 1100-1300

You are invited to hear from the authors of the 2021 release of the State of the Environment (SoE) report. Learn how this SoE combined scientific, Indigenous and local knowledge to better understand and care for Country. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have worked together to create this first holistic assessment of the state of Australia’s environment.

Read the report. Make an impact. Heal Country. Our future wellbeing and prosperity depend on it.

The national state of the environment report 2021 (SoE2021) has been written by team of independent experts using available evidence and extensive consultation to produce robust, peer-reviewed thematic chapters, which are rigorous and highly credible. The 2021 SoE report has sought to significantly improve Indigenous participation in order to provide a broader perspective on management of land and sea. SoE 2021 brings together the extensive information that has emerged on a wide range of environmental, heritage and social issues over the past 5 years, asl well as reporting on the main emerging issues facing Australia. It includes new themes of ‘Extreme events’ and ‘Indigenous’, in line with the major focus that has emerged in these areas in the past 5 years.

From disconnect to reconnect: integrating soil microbial communities into fundamental ecology, conservation, and restoration

Convenors: Dr Christina Birnbaum, The University of Southern Queensland; Dr Eleonora Egidi, The University of Western Sydney; Dr Anna Hopkins; Edith Cowan University; Dr Adam Frew, The University of Southern Queensland.
Monday 28 November, 1100-1300

Microbes support all other life forms of the biosphere where they contribute to nutrient cycling and climate regulation, with a major role in primary production, pedogenesis and formation of fertile islands. Integrating microbial processes within traditional ecological paradigms and practices has the potential to improve Australia’s biosphere resilience to environmental change, and harnessing microbial capabilities is rapidly emerging as a new frontier to facilitate both conservation and restoration efforts.

This symposium builds on the successful, well attended plant-soil symposia held at ESA from 2016-2021 (as part of the Plant-Soil Ecology Research Chapter) and will explore the extent, complexity and interactions of microbial communities in Australian terrestrial ecosystems. We will welcome contributions showcasing how this new knowledge can be used to shape the future of other research fields, including fundamental ecology, conservation, and restoration.

In the canopy after the fires: Reconnecting to build a new understanding of Australian gliders and possums

Convenors: Dr Benjamin Wagner and Jeremy Paul Johnson, The University of Melbourne
Monday 28 November, 1400-1530

The 2019/20 bushfires devastated fauna and flora populations and left vast ranges of habitat in unsuitable, unstable, or degraded condition. However, it also provided an opportunity to study whether and how some fauna may persist and recover from broad-scale disturbances. Burning ~100,000 km², the unprecedented 19/20 fires predominantly affected forest ecosystems, home to a unique suite of gliders and possums, severely reducing the availability of suitable habitat across eastern Australia. Australian gliders and possums are especially vulnerable to disturbances to their habitat as they rely on mature forest features such as hollows and tree-sourced foraging. Removal or alteration of mature forest habitat by disturbance may take decades to recover, and during this time, the survival, persistence and recovery of glider and possum populations are under threat. Closing critical knowledge gaps about habitat requirements, persistence thresholds or our ability to manage or restore landscapes into suitable states for gliders and possums over time is necessary for successful conservation, allowing us to preserve these unique species. The 19/20 fires were a critical reminder about the extensive and severe negative effects a warming climate can have, particularly on some of our most vulnerable arboreal species. These fires instigated a national response and enabled a critical reconnect by experts and practitioners working on these species, expressed by increased collaboration, research, management and conservation efforts across jurisdictions. To respond effectively to the impact of severe disturbance events, such as the 19/20 bushfires, reconnection between researchers and managers via interdisciplinary collaboration to share existing knowledge and to communicate new research approaches, techniques, and applications is crucial. Ideally, this reconnection will continue beyond the immediate future to assist national species recovery. This symposium aims to attract and showcase the research currently undertaken to better understand glider and possum population dynamics, persistence and habitat and present new findings and methods to help us better protect these unique species and their habitat into an increasingly uncertain future.

How much is enough? Setting meaningful targets for biodiversity conservation

Convenors: Dr James Brazill-Boast, Biodiversity Conservation Trust NSW; Dr Nicole Hansen and Dr Stephanie Stuart, Saving our Species, NSW Department of Planning and Environment
Monday 28 November, 1100-1530

Explicit targets are essential to successfully tackling the biodiversity crisis, and represent a defining feature of many National and International conservation initiatives, such as the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. All too often, however, such targets are formulated based on their marketing appeal or derived from other top-down processes, independent of ecologically-meaningful thresholds linked to achieving particular biodiversity outcomes. In this respect, the scientific response to the biodiversity crisis is behind that of the climate crisis, which is able to clearly articulate emissions scenarios required in order to remain within future climatic envelopes linked to tolerances of humans and other organisms.

Over the past two decades, the ecological and environmental policy literature has seen a proliferation of frameworks, methods and tools designed to help conservation practitioners and policy-makers achieve their goals in a resource-limited environment. Reporting on the development of empirically-derived or other ‘bottom-up’ targets for conserving various biodiversity values, however, has been much less frequent, and presents significant challenges. Answering complex questions such as ‘How many individuals or hectares of habitat does a particular threatened species require to be viable in the long term?’ ‘How many feral cats need to be removed from the landscape to ensure the viability of critical weight range species populations?’ ‘What is the minimum extent, condition and connectivity of a particular ecological community required to avoid collapse?’ is critical to effectively and efficiently addressing the biodiversity crisis.

This symposium will bring together people who have been tackling these difficult questions, with a view to developing scientifically robust and practical solutions to conservation challenges.

Is connecting with nature enough to support conservation action? Key challenges we need to tackle to move the field forward

Convenors: Dr Ans Vercammen and Dr Angela Dean, The University of Queensland; Christopher McCormack and Rose Macauley, The University of Melbourne; Emily McLeod, Zoos Victoria; DR Matthew Selinske, RMIT Melbourne
Monday 28 November, 1400-1530

There is both empirical and theoretical support for the link between nature connectedness and individual engagement in conservation actions. However, there are still significant gaps in our understanding of the concept of nature connection itself, its measurement, its susceptibility to manipulation, and the mechanisms through which it exerts its effect on human behaviour and decision-making, and this affects our ability to leverage nature connectedness for achieving conservation outcomes.

Evolutionary biologist Wilson (1984) argued that people have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other life forms, which motivates us to preserve and sustain life. This attraction, identification, and need to connect to nature is thought to remain in our modern psychology (Kellert and Wilson, 1993). Meta-analyses have concluded that there is robust evidence for the association between connectedness with nature and engagement in taking conservation actions (Mackay & Schmitt, 2019; Whitburn, Linklater & Abrahamse, 2020), but have also identified significant limitations. Much of the between-study variance is attributable to the specific psychometric scales used to measure connection to nature and PEB, suggesting that there is little consensus on the concept itself, and its measurement is underdeveloped. Furthermore, most insights are derived from correlational research, and the effect sizes from experimental manipulations are generally weaker. This indicates that we have a poor understanding of causality and lack effective interventions. The prevailing assumptions has also been that nature exposure has positive effects, yet the possibility that disagreeable nature experiences may disengage people has rarely been examined.

This symposium willtake a critical perspective on the status of research into connection with nature. It is important to effectively leverage nature connectedness as a mechanism for behaviour change and to enhance support for conservation. It is imperative to have a deeper understanding of the concept and its limitations.

Indigenous ecological knowledge

Convenor: Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, Curtin University
Tuesday 29 November, 1100-1300

As part of ESA-SCBO 2022, 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.

Maximising outcomes for biodiversity and society through innovative approaches to private land conservation

Convenors: Erica Cseko Noiasco and Dr Ayesha Tulloch, Queensland University of Technology
Tuesday 29 November, 1100-1300

With 77% of Australia’s land area managed by private landholders, private lands (including freehold, leasehold, indigenous lands) are critical to achieving national conservation targets, as relying on the public protected area estate alone will not stem the continued loss of biodiversity. Private land conservation (PLC) fulfills a key function in connecting, buffering and augmenting the public protected area estate. This symposium will bring together innovative research across the continuum of mechanisms for promoting PLC: from more formal mechanisms such as conservation contracts, covenants, tax incentives or voluntary stewardship schemes, to informal actions such as sustainable farming. Importantly, the speakers will focus on the link between ecological systems and social-economic systems – this link is frequently ignored but critical to conservation success. Understanding social systems is instrumental to effective conservation as people’s behaviour and actions towards nature depends on how they perceive human-biodiversity interactions (positive or negative), which are influenced by their socio-economic context and culture. Additionally, biodiversity has profound impact on human well-being and livelihoods as it shapes ecosystems services and functions. The importance of considering social-ecological systems (SES) in conservation is being increasingly acknowledged; however few studies approach SES through a relational perspective detaching the human sphere from the environment. Social and ecological systems are connected via coevolving feedback loops that self-organise themselves across scales. By explicitly adopting a holistic approach that accounts for these two way interactions, PLC initiatives increase the chances of win-win outcomes for biodiversity and people. This symposium will synthesise a range of existing initiatives across Australia and overseas to conserve biodiversity on private land whilst also considering social and economic outcomes.

Nothing to see here: Natural history notes and null results

Convenor: Dr Steph Courtney Jones, Australian National University
Tuesday 29 November, 1100-1300

Peer-reviewed journals don’t always reflect the realities of research, and this mismatch can take many forms. For example, scientific journals prioritise publish positive findings, with statistically significant results supporting the hypothesis being tested rather than negative or null results and natural history, a traditionally descriptive discipline, have been difficult to publish. However, reporting natural history and null results are a key part of the development of ecology, evolution, and conservation. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in natural history and null results and the larger questions that they raise. In this symposium, we invite speakers to reconnect with, and talk about some of the natural history observations or null results from their work (published or not), regardless of perceived novelty or impact. These can be told via a yarn, interpretative dance, rant or in song, all forms of communication are encouraged and welcomed.

Collaborative approaches to monitoring significant species and habitats using Indigenous knowledge, technical assessments and citizen science

Convenors: Dr Cathy Robinson and Dr Andrew Hoskins, CSIRO
Tuesday 29 November, 1600-1730

Monitoring wildlife to inform and evaluate effective management decisions is complex when baseline data is difficult to establish, the species is of significant conservation concern, and the wildlife species has diverse cultural and social values. Gaining scientific confidence in species population data can be difficult when the plethora of survey methods available introduce a myriad of errors and biases, species are cryptic or hard to find, and/or wildlife species inhabit complex and hard to access areas.

Citizen scientists, land holders and Indigenous people are also monitoring wildlife and there is growing policy and funding program recognition and expectation that their input needs to be respectfully incorporated into wildlife monitoring and management. If and how multiple sources of evidence can be used to monitor and manage wildlife species can be challenging, particularly when conservation and other social and cultural values for a wildlife species are difficult to reconcile

Assessing the spatial and temporal distribution of Koalas (Phascolarctus cinereus) in Australia highlights this challenge. Koalas are a national icon for many Australians, a totemic species for some Indigenous groups, and deemed a conservation concern in some areas where they are overabundant. Koalas are also a charismatic mammal that have attracted significant scientific, public and funding attention. A diverse potpourri of monitoring methods and programs have and are being used in different regions across their habitat range Despite this considerable interest and investment, existing Koala population estimates in some regions are considered outdated and unreliable and available baseline monitoring data is patchy.

The challenges involved in monitoring the status and trends of Koala populations echo the challenges and innovation of other species and environmental monitoring programs that have been co-designed with local groups, Indigenous people, state agencies and researchers.

This symposium welcomes insights from collaborative efforts to co-design large-scale wildlife / regional monitoring program that has sufficient ‘technical confidence’ in the accuracy of species population or habitat estimates and also consider the methods needed to build and maintain ‘social confidence’ to co-design features of the monitoring efforts reflect the mix and diversity of local sightings, values and management contexts.

This includes researchers who have developed innovative modelling techniques to consider data sourced from multiple monitoring techniques and sources to provide robust estimates of species population status and trends.

Contributions are invited from researchers and practitioners who have paid attention to the design of robust collaborative governance frameworks to ensure data provided by Indigenous rangers, citizen scientists, local communities, researchers, and government agencies have appropriate data sharing and use protocols and to ensure data is useful and usable for evidence-based conservation.

Empowering researchers and decision-makers to solve environmental problems through Virtual Laboratories

Convenors: Dr Elisa Bayraktarov, EcoCommons Australia, Griffith University; Professor Brenday Mackey, Griffith Climate Action Beacon, Griffith University; Assoc Professor Linda Beaumont, Macquarie University
Tuesday 29 November, 1600-1730

This Symposium will show how Virtual Laboratories (VLs) can provide connections between researchers / decision-makers with data from different scientific domains or disciplines relevant to ecology and conservation. VLs serve as vehicles to streamline data into ecological modelling tools and analytics to solve environmental problems with the goal of bending the curve of biodiversity degradation. Before we can reverse the biodiversity crisis we need to understand and track the current and future status of species trends, communities and ecosystems. This requires the compilation of biodiversity monitoring, remote sensing and climate change data. VLs are a one-stop-shop to bridge from data to research to decision-making. This symposium will demonstrate interdisciplinary approaches which have married up cloud-based technological innovation to aid environmental problem solving in ecology and conservation. Ultimately, it will showcase how VLs reconnect science & tech innovation to achieve research with impact and evidence-based decision-making.

This Symposium is part of the official launch of EcoCommons Australia delivering the platform of choice for environmental problem solving. The Symposium will also showcase the new Marxan on Azure which will make spatial prioritisation tools more widely available and demonstrate how the Open EcoAcoustics project revolutionises national biodiversity monitoring through capture and analysis of sound. Speakers include Champions in VL development and those who are using them. TEarly Career Researchers, PhD students, and practitioners are encouraged to submit abstracts on how they are putting those tools to work.

Australian 2019/20 Bushfires. National synthesis of biodiversity responses.

Convenors: Professor Don Driscoll, Deakin University; Dr Libby Rumpff, University of Melbourne
Wednesday 30 November, 1100-1300; Wednesday 30 November, 1400-1530

The Australian 2019-20 megafires were unprecedented in extent and their effect on ecosystems are likely to be felt for decades. Hundreds of ecologists across Australia have assessed the aftermath and in 2022, we have had the unique opportunity to take stock of this research across a broad range of ecosystems and taxa. This symposium will present findings from two major synthesis projects, supported by a set of case studies that illustrate important emergent discoveries and recommendations.

Millions of dollars were invested in biodiversity after the 2019/20 megafires. Two major synthesis efforts are evaluating this investment. First, an upcoming CSIRO book focuses on the broad impacts, management responses, lessons and recommendations. Second, the Australian Megafire Synthesis is taking a quantitative approach based on a suite of field campaigns across the country. These syntheses will provide critical new insights and highlight emergent lessons for researchers, policymakers and managers. This symposium provides the perfect medium for communicating those lessons and for engaging the research community in ongoing discussion.

This symposium will bring together the massive collaborative effort in data collection by ecologists working in universities, industry and government and helps translate that for policymakers. Megafires of 2019/20 still harness substantial interest in the media and are the focus of many ongoing projects by ecologists and land managers around the country. Many people will have a direct stake in the symposium, and many others will be interested in new insights and understanding of fire effects across diverse taxa, ecosystems and regions that we present.

A new vision and pathway for conservation

Convenors: Professor Euan Ritchie, Deakin University; Dr Megan Evans, UNSW; Dr Dan Rogers, Department for Environment and Water SA
Wednesday 30 November, 1100-1300; Wednesday 30 November, 1400-1530

Australia is a global biodiversity hotspot, home to an extraordinary array of unique species and diverse, iconic ecosystems. Tragically, Australia’s contemporary conservation record is abysmal, characterised by exceedingly high rates of extinction and widespread evidence of ecosystem decline and collapse. How and why has this happened, and what changes are needed to realise a brighter future for nature? Our symposium will bring together expertise spanning ecology, land management and conservation, Indigenous knowledge, environmental law and governance, finance, and across social sciences, communication and behaviour change, emphasising the connections across these areas and the need for conservation to operate in a more integrated, inclusive and interdisciplinary fashion. During the symposium we will reflect upon the questions posed above, synthesise knowledge, and outline a pathway towards positive futures for conservation and nature.

Nature conservation requires collaboration across a wide range of human endeavours. This symposium will discuss the broad social, cultural, economic, legal and environmental drivers of biodiversity loss, and what fundamentally needs to change to progress and deliver better environmental outcomes, and more broadly, benefit society. Disciplines and perspectives will be integrated, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous viewpoints. This symposium is relevant to ecologists, conservation and environmental scientists, practitioners, industry, and government and non-government organisations.

Australian ecosystems at +3oC and beyond

Convenors: Professor Mark Westoby, Macquarie University; Daniel Falster, UNSW; Distinguished Professor Ian Wright, Western Sydney University
Wednesday 30 November, 1400-1530; Wednesday 30 November, 1600-1730

This symposium will focus on what Australian ecosystems might become in the event that we experience warming by 3 C or more during the second half of the century, which many would argue is now a distinct possibility.

A group review by Bergstrom et al (2021) did consider consequences of 3 C warming, but their conclusions were framed in terms of collapse or drastic change in current ecosystems. In contrast this symposium will focus on what sort of ecosystems might emerge; with special interest in situations where there might be alternative possibilities, and human intervention might make a difference.

Future scenarios necessarily arise from models, and talks about different modeling strands will be included. It is important also to hear from vegetation scientists about what they would see as high-priority features for the models to predict. This symposium brings together different strands of modeling and of empirical knowledge with a view to focused discussion of best paths forward.

Emotions in Ecology

Convenors: Chantelle Doyle, Dr Mark Ooi and Dr Ryan Tangney, UNSW; Assoc Professor Jen Martin, University of Melbourne
Thursday 1 December, 1100-1300

In the sciences, emotions as a decision tool may run second to data. But this belies the very human element of what motivates and engages researchers, community scientists, volunteers, and citizens of planet earth. Curiosity drives our research, anxiety and despair can give rise to community science initiatives, passion and care protects our most valued places and anger can reinvigorate. Equally our emotions can paralyse action, contribute to stagnation or undermine goals. This symposium aims to bring the best of emotional learning in the ecological sciences and invites all disciplines to share how emotions have shaped projects, teams and people.

This symposium is truly interdisciplinary and contributions from ecological researchers, community scientists, conservationists, and Traditional Custodians, as well as less expected fields such as psychology, and economics are invited, to discuss how recognising emotions can inhibit or accelerate conservation and project success.

Contributions of relevant research, as well as practical examples of personal and professional experience are welcome. A key focus is valuing volunteers, engaging the missing middle, connecting with places, spaces and things, and the power of emotion to catalyse or paralyse change.

Ecologists and conservationists do not work in isolation and preserving the species, places and spaces we value requires engaging with other people and organsiations, often connected through shared emotions. In an environment of increasing uncertainty (fire, flood, disease) it is the emotional response and shared connection which will catalyse change. Emotions are powerful intrinsic drivers and propel community uptake of concepts, projects, ideas and participation. Meeting and recognising emotional drivers is key to retention and engagement of volunteers, teams and provides avenues for conflict resolution, but is not explicitly addressed as part of studies or workplace training.

In acknowledging the role of emotion in ecology we hope to strengthen and galvanise our community. Catalysing, not paralysing.

Ecological connections: Informing Recovery from Natural Disasters

Convenors: Dr Samantha Lloyd, Healthy Land and Water, Qld; Dr Sacha Jellinek, University of Melbourne; Lincoln Kern, ESA Practitioner Engagement Working Group; Hannah Etchells, The Nature Conservancy.
Thursday 1 December, 1100-1300

Natural disasters are a feature of the Australian landscape. However, human-induced climate change and landscape conditions are increasing the frequency, extent and intensity of natural disasters with catastrophic outcomes. The devastating bushfires experienced across much of Australia during Black Summer, and the 2022 floods across south east Queensland and NSW are recent examples. Understanding how collaborative research and practitioner ecological projects may assist in the recovery of natural systems is an important factor in mitigating disaster risk and improving recovery and resilience post-disaster.

Ecological practitioners play an increasingly significant role in the preparedness, restoration and recovery of ecological systems following disturbance and disaster. This symposium, initiated by the ESA Practitioner Engagement Working Group (PWEG), will explore and showcase the role of applied ecological projects in facilitating the recovery and restoration of ecological communities following natural disasters. It will highlight the role of applied ecology and practitioner knowhow in natural disaster recovery and feature successful partnerships grown out of collaboration between researchers and practitioners.

Featured image credit: Islay McDougall