New paper: Biodiversity responds to increasing climatic extremes in a biome-specific manner

Authors: Aaron C. Greenville, Emma Burns, Christopher R. Dickman, David A. Keith, David B. Lindenmayer, John W. Morgan, Dean Heinze, Ian Mansergh, Graeme R. Gillespie, Luke Einoder, Alaric Fisher, Jeremy Russell-Smith , Daniel J. Metcalfe, Peter T. Green, Ary A. Hoffmann, and Glenda M. Wardle.

Published in: Science of the Total Environment (Special edition & invited paper (23 accepted from 50 submissions) by the International Long Term Ecological Research Network).


An unprecedented rate of global environmental change is predicted for the next century. The response to this change by ecosystems around the world is highly uncertain. To address this uncertainty, it is critical to understand the potential drivers and mechanisms of change in order to develop more reliable predictions. Australia’s Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN) has brought together some of the longest running (10–60 years) continuous environmental monitoring programs in the southern hemisphere. Here, we compare climatic variables recorded at five LTERN plot network sites during their period of operation and place them into the context of long-term climatic trends. Then, using our unique Australian long-term datasets (total 117 survey years across four biomes), we synthesize results from a series of case studies to test two hypotheses: 1) extreme weather events for each plot network have increased over the last decade, and; 2) trends in biodiversity will be associated with recent climate change, either directly or indirectly through climate-mediated disturbance (wildfire) responses. We examined the biodiversity responses to environmental change for evidence of non-linear behavior. In line with hypothesis 1), an increase in extreme climate events occurred within the last decade for each plot network. For hypothesis 2), climate, wildfire, or both were correlated with biodiversity responses at each plot network, but there was no evidence of non-linear change. However, the influence of climate or fire was context-specific. Biodiversity responded to recent climate change either directly or indirectly as a consequence of changes in fire regimes or climate-mediated fire responses. A national long-term monitoring framework allowed us to find contrasting species abundance or community responses to climate and disturbance across four of the major biomes of Australia, highlighting the need to establish and resource long-term monitoring programs across representative ecosystem types, which are likely to show context-specific responses.


Greenville A.C., Burns, B., Dickman, C.R., Keith, D.A., Lindenmayer, D.B., Morgan, J.W.,  Heinze, D., Mansergh, I., Gillespie, G.R., Einoder, L., Fisher, A., Russell-Smith, J., Metcalfe, D.J., Green, P.T., Hoffmann, A.A., and Wardle, G.M. (2018). Biodiversity responds to increasing climatic extremes in a biome-specific manner. Science of the Total Environment 634: 382–393.


Posted in Ecology, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New paper: Interactions between wildfire and drought drive population responses of mammals in coastal woodlands

Authors: Mathew S. Crowther, Ayesha I. Tulloch, Mike Letnic, Aaron C. Greenville, & Chris R. Dickman

Published in: Journal of Mammalogy (Feature article)


Fire is an ecologically important process in many habitats. Increases in the frequency and intensity of wildfires due to anthropogenic activity or future changes in the global climate are suspected to impact heavily on components of the biota in fire-dependent landscapes, but there is almost no knowledge of how changes to fire regimes interact with other stressors such as drying environments. We used live-trapping techniques to investigate the effects of wildfire and drought on the abundance of 3 species of small mammals in coastal woodland in southeastern Australia. We used a generalized linear mixed effects model design to compare 4 years of post-fire trapping results with pre-fire data on both burned and unburned sites. Numbers of all small mammal species were declining due to drought prior to an extensive wildfire. Wildfire significantly exacerbated the decline in abundance of small mammals in the year after fire. A return to wetter climatic conditions was accompanied by a recovery in small mammal numbers, which was faster in unburnt sites than burnt sites. Our results demonstrate a strong linkage between climatic conditions, fire, and mammal assemblages, and emphasize the need for long-term research to disentangle the interactive effects of these factors on wildlife.


Crowther, M.S, Tulloch, A.I., Letnic, M., Greenville, A.C., & Dickman, C.R. (2018). Interactions between wildfire and drought drive population responses of mammals in coastal woodlands. Journal of Mammalogy,

Posted in Conservation, Ecology, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book review: The Biology of Deserts

David Ward, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016. xv + 370 pp.

First published in Austral Ecology.

Contrary to the popular perception that deserts are wastelands, they house some of the most diverse communities of flora and fauna of any environment on the planet. Thus, deserts provide biologists and ecologists an ideal setting to explore and test many ecological, behavioural, ecophysiological and evolutionary theories. Or as Professor
David Ward writes, we can view ‘deserts as laboratories of nature, where natural selection is exposed at its most extreme’. The Biology of Deserts provides a significant summary of the abiotic and biotic processes, which operate in arid environments, and represents one of the few general texts on desert biology (also see Whitford 2002).

Read the full review here.



Whitford W. (2002). Ecology of Desert Systems. Academic Press, San Diego.

Greenville A.C. (2017). The Biology of Deserts – David Ward , 2nd edition. Austral Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/aec.12523

Posted in Ecology, Publications | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

New book: Lake Eyre basin rivers: environmental, social and economic importance.

Lake Eyre Basin Rivers outlines the environmental, social and economic values of the rivers from a diverse range of perspectives, including science, tourism, economy, engineering, policy, Traditional Owners and pastoralists. It describes the current state of the environment and the past and ongoing threats to the river systems, drawing on stories from the Murray-Darling Basin. It also provides direction for ensuring that the rivers remain free-flowing to service the environment and future generations.

I had the opportunity to contribute to one of the chapters.

Chapter 6: Developing the desert: potential effects on wildlife.

In this chapter we discuss the potential consequences of irrigation and mining developments on wildlife in arid Australia.


Dickman C. R., Greenville A. C. & Wardle G. M. (2017) Developing the desert: potential effects on wildlife. In: Lake Eyre Basin rivers: environmental, social and economic importance. (ed R. T. Kingsford) pp. 63-74. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New paper: Desert mammal populations are limited by introduced predators rather than future climate change

Authors: Aaron C. Greenville, Glenda M. Wardle & Chris R. Dickman

Published in: Royal Society Open Science


Feral cat shows off the native mouse it caught to our remote camera trap in the Simpson Desert, Queensland.

Climate change is predicted to place up to one in six species at risk of extinction in coming decades, but extinction probability is likely to be influenced further by biotic interactions such as predation. We use structural equation modelling to integrate results from remote camera trapping and long-term (17–22 years) regional-scale (8000 km²) datasets on vegetation and small vertebrates (>38 880 captures) to explore how biotic processes and two key abiotic drivers influence the structure of a diverse assemblage of desert biota in central Australia. We use our models to predict how changes in rainfall and wildfire are likely to influence the cover and productivity of the dominant vegetation and the impacts of predators on their primary rodent prey over a 100-year timeframe. Our results show that, while vegetation cover may decline due to climate change, the strongest negative effect on prey populations in this desert system is top-down suppression from introduced predators.


Greenville A.C., Wardle G. M. & Dickman C. R. (2017). Desert mammal populations are limited by introduced predators rather than future climate change. Royal Society Open Science, 4: 170384.

Further reading:

My PhD journey comes to an end: the role of ecological interactions

Of mice and dogs

Greenville A. C., Wardle G. M., Dickman Christopher R. (2012). Extreme climatic events drive mammal irruptions: regression analysis of 100-year trends in desert rainfall and temperature. Ecology and Evolution, 2, 2645-2658.

Greenville A. C., Dickman C. R., Wardle G. M. & Letnic M. (2009). The fire history of an arid grassland: the influence of antecedent rainfall and ENSO. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 18, 631-639.

Top Dog: How Dingoes Save Native Animals. Australasian Science, November 2014.


10 best Sydney science discoveries 2017, University of Sydney Media, December, 2017.

Feral animals worse than climate change, Country Today, November 2017.

Feral foxes and felines more dangerous to our desert dwellers than climate change. Scimex, November, 2017.

Feral cats, foxes a greater threat in Outback than climate change. University of Sydney Media, November, 2017.

Feral foxes, desert cats pose more threat to Aussie animals than climate change: expert. Xinhua (China), November, 2017.

Feral animals pose major threat to Outback, climate change study finds. Jersey Tribune, November, 2017.

Feral animals pose major threat to Outback, climate change study finds., November, 2017.

Feral animals pose major threat to Outback, climate change study finds. EurekAlert!, November, 2017.

Cats, foxes pose bigger risk to native wildlife than climate change in the outback. ABC News, November, 2017.

702 ABC Radio Sydney, November 2017 (at 47 min).

Füchse und Katzen schlimmer als Klimawandel?  (Germany), November, 2017.

Posted in Conservation, Ecology, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New book: Monitoring threatened species and ecological communities

A new book is coming that aims to improve the standard of monitoring for Australia’s threatened biodiversity and I had the opportunity to contribute to one of the chapters:

Chapter 21: Determining trends in irruptive desert species


Populations of many desert-dwelling organisms show ‘boom and bust’ dynamics, irrupting briefly following rain-driven pulses of productivity before collapsing again to low numbers. Determining population trends for such organisms poses unique challenges. This chapter describes population booms and busts in two species of dasyurid marsupials monitored over 22–27 years at nine sites in arid central Australia and uses these species to gain insight into how population trends in irruptive species might be discerned. The brush-tailed mulgara Dasycercus blythi increased predictably after heavy rainfall at all sites before again becoming scarce, whereas the lesser hairy-footed dunnart Sminthopsis youngsoni fluctuated asynchronously at all sites, with no population drivers identified. These disparate patterns indicate that monitoring programs (survey timing, number and placement of monitoring sites) should be designed with respect to the natural history of the target species to reveal trends in their populations. Environmental factors and known or putative threats to the target species also should be monitored, and appropriate models to assess the robustness of population trends and key drivers should be constructed to assist in making decisions about management intervention. More resources and input from stakeholders are needed to lift monitoring of threatened, irruptive desert species above current levels.


Dickman C. R., Greenville A. C. & Wardle G. M. (2018). Determining trends in irruptive desert species. In: Monitoring threatened species and ecological communities (eds S. Legge, D. B. Lindenmayer, N. Robinson, B. Scheele, D. M. Southwell and B. Wintle) pp. 281-92. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Posted in Conservation, Ecology, Publications | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New paper: Save Australia’s ecological research

Long-term research has revealed that ‘booms’ in productivity from extreme rainfall events also bring risks from introduced predators in Australian desert environments. Photo by Aaron Greenville

I was one of 69 authors on a letter published in Science calling for Australia to save its Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN). The network comprises more than 1100 long-term field plots within temperate forests, rainforests, alpine grasslands, heathlands, deserts, and savannas, with an unparalleled temporal depth in biodiversity data.  We are now experiencing some of the greatest ecological change that humans have ever experienced, and now, more than ever, Australia needs to expand its capacity in biodiversity monitoring, not end it. The decommissioning of LTERN will also end Australia’s ability to contribute to the International Long Term Ecological Research Network. On a personal level, LTERN was the only mechanism within Australia for early career researchers to develop their careers in long term research.

The letter has been featured in a news piece in Science titled: “Australia to ax support for long-term ecology sites” and Nature titled: “Ecologists protest Australia’s plans to cut funding for environment-monitoring network“.

Hopefully, the decision to decommission LTERN will be reversed, as ecological processes work on longer time scales than the traditional 3 to 5 year  funding cycles.


Lindenmayer D., Burns E. L., Dickman C. R., Green P. T., Hoffmann A. A., Keith D. A., Morgan J. W., Russell-Smith J., Wardle G. M., Gillespie G. R., Cunningham S., Krebs C., Likens G., Pauw J., Troxler T. G., McDowell W. H., Catford J. A., Hobbs R., Bennett A., Nicholson E., Ritchie E., Wilson B., Greenville A. C., Newsome T., Shine R., Kutt A. S., Tulloch A., Thurgate N., Fisher A., Auty K., Smith B., Williams R., Fox B., Metternicht G., Bai X., Banks S., Colvin R., Crane M., Dovey L., Fraser C., Foster C., Heinsohn R., Kay G., Ng K., MacGregor C., Michael D., O’Loughlin T., Portfirio L., Robin L., Salt D., Sato C., Scheele B., Stein J., Stein J., Walker B., Westgate M., Wilson G., Wood J., Venn S., Vardon M., Legge S., Costanza R., Kenny D., Burnett P., Welsh A., Moore J., Sgrò C. & Westoby M. (2017). Save Australia’s ecological research. Science 357, 557.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment