Hot Topics

Hot Topics

Hot Topics in Ecology are evidence-based syntheses of topics that are relevant to environmental policy development, land management and to broadening the community's ecological knowledge base. Hot Topics aim to deliver timely, factual overviews that promote the application of scientifically defensible ecological knowledge in public debate.

Each Hot Topic consists of a one-page summary and a database of peer-reviewed literature. Arguments put forward in the one-page summary are supported by evidence listed in the literature database.

ESA members can contribute to Hot Topics by:

  • Creating a Hot Topic (suggest new Hot Topic button above)
  • Contributing new research to a Hot Topic (submit supporting evidence button on each Hot Topic summary page)
  • Communicating an existing Hot Topic, online or through other media

ESA members who contribute new reviews to existing Hot Topics should notify the primary author if the 300 word summary requires updating in light of the new evidence (cc to

Hot Topics is governed by an editorial board consisting of ecologists from around Australia.

Chair, Hot Topics Editorial Board

  • Dr Rachel Standish, Murdoch University, WA

Editorial Board

  • Prof. Don Driscoll, Deakin University, VIC
  • Dr David Duncan, University of Melbourne, VIC
  • Dr Rodrigo Hamede, University of Tasmania, TAS
  • Dr Brett Murphy, Charles Darwin University, NT
  • A/Prof. Euan Ritchie, Deakin University, VIC
  • Dr Daniel Rogers, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, SA
  • Dr Christine Schlesinger, Charles Darwin University, NT
  • A/Prof. Peter Vesk, University of Melbourne, VIC
  • Prof. Glenda Wardle, University of Sydney, NSW

Current hot topics

  • Getting the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on track

    Are politicians pulling the plug on the reforms needed to improve the health of the MDB?
    Five years in, the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan (2012–2026) to improve the health of Australia’s largest and most agriculturally important river basin has stalled, and is now at risk of failure. Water reforms since 2004 have contributed towards river basin recovery, however, progress since 2012 has slowed to a trickle, and basin-wide improvements in river health are not yet evident. Large-scale improvements in river health are unlikely given the recent Senate decision to allow irrigators to retain 605 GL of water which would have been recovered for the environment.
  • Demise of the dingo

    This updated Hot Topic incorporates 17 new papers that improve understanding of dingo ecology and management, particularly in the area of dingo predation of feral animals and overabundant kangaroos.
    Dingoes are persecuted for similar reasons to the extinct Tasmanian tiger. Dingoes are controlled to reduce stock losses, in turn reducing the range of dingoes. The dingo provides positive conservation benefits to biodiversity, through suppression of feral cats, red foxes and over-abundant native herbivores and omnivores. Alternatives to lethal control and the dingo fence exist, with potential benefits to farmers and biodiversity alike.
  • Full ecological impacts of resource development

    Impacts are missing from conventional impact assessments
    Resource development is expanding worldwide with far-reaching consequences for native ecosystems. Some ecological impacts tend to slip under the radar of conventional impact assessments. Identifying, measuring, and addressing the full range of ecological impacts is essential for mitigating ecosystem degradation and for conserving biodiversity.
  • Digging deep for biodiversity

    Applying plant-soil-microbe research to conservation and restoration
    Conservation and restoration of Australia’s ecosystems is an urgent matter. Outcomes of conservation and restoration efforts are varied. Soil microbes have critical roles in soil function (e.g., nutrient cycling) and plant interactions, both positive and negative. These roles are important for maintaining and restoring function and biodiversity. Research to realise the potential contribution of soil microbes to conservation and restoration is needed.
  • What does the Paris agreement mean for Australia’s ecosystems?

    Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C could significantly reduce climate impacts
    The aim of the Paris agreement is to keep global temperature increases well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and aim for a lower limit of 1.5 degrees C. On our current emissions path, it is likely that global temperatures will exceed the 1.5 target by the early 2030s. Australian heat extremes, similar to the record hot “Angry Summer” and high sea surface temperatures that killed Great Barrier Reef coral in early 2016, would be much more likely in a 2 degree C world than a world at 1.5 degree C.
  • A drop in the ocean: marine fish releases in Australia

    More fish in can mean more fish out
    Declining fish landings and increasing recreational fishing create an impetus to increase marine fish production through wild release of fish grown in aquaculture. Recent release programs, informed by ecological knowledge and quantitative models, have shown that recruitment, competition with the same species and predation greatly influence the survival of released fish to capture. Management policies are encouraging release programs that are monitored, evaluated and adaptively managed so that “more fish in can mean more fish out”.
  • Regional Forest Agreements fail to meet their aims

    Species declines and unsustainable forestry evident under RFAs
    The 20-year Regional Forest Agreements between State and Commonwealth governments are due for renewal. They aim to allow native forest harvesting while providing for conservation and future industry. RFA legislative framing precludes important federal legislation, reducing protection for native species of conservation concern. RFAs have comprehensively failed to achieve their key aims. Instead, vertebrate species declines, timber overharvesting, and forest instability is evident. Industry future is uncertain.
  • Australia’s Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests need attention

    Research on this underappreciated Australian biome lags behind rainforest and savanna
    Seasonally dry tropical forests are gaining international prominence as an endangered biome, but their status in Australia is underappreciated These forests often occur in unusual landscape settings and harbor unique and threatened biodiversity. The original extent of these forests is reduced and greater public awareness of their international significance and conservation value is needed Research is still needed to properly delimit these forests and to understand their resilience to climate change and other threats
  • Managing fire for plant and animal conservation

    Putting fire to work for conservation requires local knowledge
    Some studies show that more plant and animal species live in landscapes with a high diversity of fire histories, while others show no such relationship. The variation in fire regimes that will promote plant and animal conservation depends on the type of ecosystem. Fire management will be most effective when it is guided by local knowledge of plants, animals and and the habitats they depend on.