Research

Ecology and conservation

Understanding the natural world and its diverse environments

 

Ecologists study how species interact with each other, with other species, and with their physical environment. At UWA, we seek to understand the ecological and evolutionary causes of patterns of abundance and extinction, the processes that maintain the balance of natural ecosystems, and how to achieve conservation success.

The diverse landscape and extensive coastline of Western Australia provides abundant opportunities to study species in spectacular marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. We also work extensively across a wide range of environments and climates around the world.

Ecology research

Behavioural ecology

Behavioural ecology studies the ecological and evolutionary basis for animal behaviour; how animals perceive their environments, find food and mates; and how plasticity in behaviour enables them to adapt to changing selective pressures from other organisms and the environment.

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Functional ecology

Research in functional ecology focuses on physiological, anatomical, and life history characteristics of organisms to achieve a mechanistic understanding of their relationships with other organisms and the environment. Such insights link with evolutionary history and can be applied, for example, in biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration.

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Evolutionary ecology

Evolutionary ecology is the study of how form and function evolves in response to the environment and to other organisms. We investigate the natural and sexual selection pressures that generate species and population divergence in morphological traits from size, shape or colour, to the form and function of gametes. Our research also examines the genetic basis of quantitative traits, and explores patterns of gene flow within and among population that underlie population divergence and speciation.

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Population ecology

Population ecology deals with the demography and dynamics of populations, and seeks to understand the drivers of variation in population size and probability of species persistence in space and time. Population ecology is fundamental to the conservation management of threatened species.

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Community ecology

Our research in community ecology studies the interactions among species in communities at several spatial and temporal scales. Studies include assessment of the distribution, structure and abundance of communities. We investigate the important properties of interaction networks in determining the functional consequences of biodiversity loss, its implications for food web energetics and the provision of ecosystem services.

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Ecosystem ecology

A wide variety of research activities in our School utilise biogeochemical, stable isotope, genetic and molecular methods to advance our understanding of ecosystem ecology. This includes the fundamental processes controlling water, carbon and nutrient stores and fluxes in plants, soils and sediments within marine and terrestrial ecosystems. We research major ecological challenges to maintain ecosystem functioning, including advancing understanding of the processes that drive biodiversity across various scales of time and space.

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Marine ecology

Our studies of marine systems focus on determining what drives the dynamics and structure of populations and ecosystems. We work with marine flora and fauna, including the wonderful seagrass meadows of near shore environments as well as the marine megafauna such as sharks, whales and sea turtles, a major feature of Western Australian waters.

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Conservation research

Conservation genetics

Threats to the persistence of species through time are tightly linked to the genetic health of populations. We conduct field-based assessments of genetic diversity in species and populations under threat, as well as understanding the genetic basis to extinction risk in a laboratory setting.

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Global change biology

Understanding the nature of climate change and its impacts is a pressing concern for the management of threatened species and the ecosystems where they live. We use our knowledge of the behaviour and physiology of affected organisms to understand whether species can persist under current rates of climate change, or where species may live in the future. We also use our understanding of the way species respond to their environment to reconstruct past climates.

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Marine conservation

Marine animals are increasingly facing the impacts of human manipulation of the marine environment, together with more general threats such as ocean warming and acidification. Understanding how marine animals respond to changed environments is vital if we are to predict changes in distributions, growth rates, population dynamics and ecosystem sustainability. We work with threatened species but also common species that are impacted by pressures such as tourism, recreational fishing, and oil and gas installations.

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Ecosystem restoration and intervention policy

We aim to understand the processes that lead to the degradation of ecosystems and the mechanisms by which they can be conserved and restored. Our research covers a broad range of areas in ecology and natural resource management, from conceptual ecology, to environmental policy via ecosystem restoration and the management and captive breeding of rare and threatened flora and fauna.

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Groups

Our researchers work collaboratively to improve ecological understanding and conservation activities. Their work is influencing policy and driving change to reduce human impact on the environment.

Marine Futures Laboratory

Our research focuses on marine ecological questions relevant to conservation and largely explores the influence of human activities on marine ecosystems.

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Sea Around Us - Indian Ocean

We investigate, assess and communicate the impact of fisheries on the marine ecosystems of the world, and offer mitigating solutions to a range of stakeholders

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Threatened Species Recovery Hub

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub brings together leading ecological experts to carry out research that improves the management of Australia’s threatened species.

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