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Associate Professor Susanna Venn | Team Leader

I’m a botanist and plant ecologist with a keen interest in the processes that shape vegetation patterns in alpine areas, such as how snow influences plant community patterns, processes and community (re)assembly. My research investigates high elevation shrub encroachment dynamics, plant recruitment and regeneration, alpine treeline dynamics, long-term vegetation change on alpine summits and how alpine plants will respond to future climates which are hotter, drier, and more susceptible to frost events. Research results are applied to park management outcomes through working alongside NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Parks Victoria. 

See more at Deakin and my website.

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Dr Tricia Wevill | Team Leader

I am a plant ecologist researching the impacts of changed disturbance regimes on plant community function. Most of my current research focusses on how altered fire regimes and planned burning impact recruitment processes in biodiverse heathy woodland systems. I work mainly with honours and postgraduate students on projects developed with land management agencies. These include understanding how frequent burning influences interactions between fungal and vascular plant communities, soil seedbank dynamics and seedling recruitment after winter burns. Other projects include mapping Phytophthora cinnamomi infestations in heathy woodland systems, understanding its impact on susceptible plant communities and methodologies for restoration post infestation.  

See more at Deakin.

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Jerónimo Vázquez-Ramírez | PhD Candidate

I'm a plant ecologist and conservation biologist. My PhD research is focused on the effects of climate change on the early life-history stages of key Australian alpine plants. Using a combination of field, glasshouse and laboratory experiments, I'm trying to answer questions like:

  • How will a future drier and warmer climate affects seed germination and seedling establishment?

  • How will a future with less snow, less water and more fire affect alpine and treeline soil seed banks?

  • Does a future drier maternal environment will enhance seeds and seedlings water stress tolerance? 

 

See more at my website.

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Dr Meg Hirst | Postdoctoral Research Fellow

I am a plant ecologist, horticulturist, and trainer with specialist skills in seed banking for ex situ plant conservation through my employment in the Victorian Conservation Seedbank, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. My research interests are in the field of seed ecology, with a focus on germination and dormancy strategies of Australian alpine species. I am currently involved in an ARC linkage project Mountain Champions, exploring the germination niche breadth of key alpine species commonly used in rehabilitation programs in alpine areas.

I enjoy sharing the experience of growing plants, particularly species considered endangered in the wild and assessing their horticultural potential. This interest sparked the Raising Rarity project – a collaborative effort across conservation horticulture, seed science, genetics, and education. The project takes an integrated approach to conserving rare and threatened Victorian species in the wild, using representative populations in living collections, research plots in school grounds, and garden plots in the home garden.

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Tara Lewis | Lecturer, Environmental Science

I am a botanist and palaeoecologist who studies plant remains from environmental and archaeological records. I use plant macrofossil analysis to provide insights on plant landscapes and reconstruct vegetation history over thousands of years (Late Quaternary). The results allow me to investigate the origin status of plant species, explore biogeographic patterns and examine human impact on ecosystems, particularly islands of the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. My other research interests include soil seedbank dynamics, wetlands and plant ecology in heathlands in response to planned burning. 

 

See more at Deakin.

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Danny White | PhD Candidate

Daniel White is a PhD candidate working under the supervision of Assoc. Prof. Susanna Venn and Dr Megan Hirst. His research explores the impacts of climate change on the recruitment and survivorship of hydrologically sensitive alpine plants, and how different regenerative strategies, particularly clonal reproduction, may shape the way that we think about ex-situ conservation practices. This work includes a case study on the relationship between population genetics and recruitment potential of the Silky Snow Daisy, Celmisia sericophylla under future conditions. Daniel works as a research assistant for the Victorian Conservation Seedbank (VCS) at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Prior to working in seed ecology, Daniel completed a Master of Science (Botany) at the University of Melbourne, with a major research project looking at the impacts of disturbance on vegetation assemblages in the understory of wet sclerophyll forests. A major focus of the work was comparing plant responses based on regeneration strategy (Australian Journal of Botany 67(4)).  Daniel has also worked as a research assistant on several vegetation ecology projects at the University of Melbourne, and as a botanical consultant for three years. 

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Dr Virginia Williamson | Research Fellow

I’m a plant physiologist with a PhD in plant water stress. I’m particularly interested in plants’ physiological responses to limited water and am currently working on a three-year grant from the Hermon Slade Foundation entitled “High and Dry: Understanding alpine plant water stress in a drying climate”. This project uses rain-out (drought) shelters built by the Australian Mountain Research Facility at four locations across two States: Kosciuszko National Park (NSW) and the Bogong High Plains (Vic). I am also interested in the untapped horticultural potential of Australian alpine plants and have a small research grant aimed at bringing one of these plants into cultivation. 

See more at Deakin.

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Dr Pawel Waryszak | Research Fellow

Pawel Waryszak has joined the eXtreme Plant Ecology Research Team under leadership of Dr Susanna Venn in August 2021 as a Research Fellow. Pawel helps with management, analysis and design of two research projects on alpine plant ecology in Australia. Across vegetation on the Bogong High Plains and the Snowy Mountains we look at: 

  • how alpine shrub growth forms interact with winter processes; they can accumulate snow in their lee, thereby insulating soils from extreme winter temperatures (R-script).  

  • how alpine shrub growth forms respond to the increased air temperature in the field-based heatwave experiment (R-script).

 

See more at my website.​

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Sally Neeser | Research Assistant

I'm a Research Assistant with the eXtreme Plant Ecology Research Team as well as a recent graduate of a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Conservation and Wildlife Biology) at Deakin. As a recipient of the 2022 Associate Dean Research Summer Project Prize, I collaborated with Dr Susanna Venn and conducted my first research project focusing on plant traits in the Victorian Alpine region, contributing to the global research group TraitDivNet. I am really excited to continue expanding my knowledge and research in alpine plant ecology with an Honours project in 2024.

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Holly Mlikota | Honours Student

I’m excited to be starting my Honours this year, investigating the ecology of the five Victorian species of Celmisia snow daisies. These alpine species seem to have quite different relationships with water availability, which is reflected by differences in the types of environments they grow in. I’m interested in teasing out these differences through field and lab work to find out: 

  • How water availability shapes the functional traits of these species, particularly their root traits, in early life stages, and 

  • How these functional traits shape their distribution at state, regional, and local scales 

I hope to improve our understanding of these species’ ecology, particularly relating to water, with a view to predict how they might respond to climate change and survive under reduced precipitation and changing snow regimes. 

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Clare Vernon | PhD Candidate 

Clare Vernon is a PhD candidate working under the supervision of Assoc. Prof. Susanna Venn, as well as Prof. Emily Nicholson (University of Melbourne), Dr. Jess Rowland (Monash University) and Dr. Chloe Sato (ACT Government). Her research focuses on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems framework, the international standard for assessing ecosystem condition and seeks to improve the way we assess both ecosystems and integrate these assessments into policy and planning. This work includes assessing the risk of collapse for two alpine ecosystems (grasslands and open heathlands, and closed heathlands). Prior to working in conservation science, Clare completed a Bachelor of Environmental Systems (Hons 1) at the University of Sydney, with a major in terrestrial ecosystems and a research project focusing on differences in stomatal response and water retention of the Eucalyptus genus when responding to drought conditions. Clare has also worked as a project coordinator and project lead for a major grassroots conservation organisation and within the education sector, leading a sustainability and behaviour change program with senior NSW school students.  

See more at my website and LinkedIn.

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