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

  • Managing tensions around urban flying-fox roosts

    Careful context-specific consideration is needed in decision making for urban flying-fox roosts
    Managing Australia’s increasingly urban flying-fox roosts is contentious because it requires the balancing of conservation, animal welfare, human health and amenity concerns. Attempts to move roosts have proven to be extremely costly and largely ineffective. Alternative strategies such as local management of roost vegetation; buffering communities against the impacts of droppings, noise and smell; and public education programs, may provide longer-term socially and environmentally-acceptable solutions.
  • Climate change: Alpine shrubs as ecosystem engineers

    Climate warming promotes shrub cover and range expansion via landscape flammability, snow accumulation and nutrient cycling feedbacks
    Alpine shrub cover is increasing in response to a warming climate. Shrub increases are enhanced by positive feedbacks involving fire responses, snow-drifting patterns, leaf litter decomposition and soil nutrient cycling. Critical knowledge gaps surround the rate of shrub range-expansion, the effect of shrubs on local extinctions and the future of mountain catchment water yields.
  • At high densities kangaroo grazing can reduce biodiversity

    Over-abundant kangaroos reduce the diversity of native wildlife and are a danger to threatened species
    Eastern grey kangaroos reach very high densities in south-eastern Australia due to the absence of predators and ready access to permanent water in farm dams. At high densities, kangaroos reduce abundance and diversity of plants and reptiles, degrade bird habitat and threaten an endangered mammal. Detection of the vulnerable striped legless lizard declines dramatically with high kangaroo densities. The literature recommends that grazing pressure be reduced where kangaroos are over-abundant to prevent biodiversity loss.
  • Climate Change: trees under pressure

    Climate change causes widespread tree mortality and health declines
    Trees are dying in response to gradual changes in climate and extreme climatic events. Not only are dying and dead trees visually disturbing, species dependant on trees for food and shelter are negatively affected, and carbon storage potential of forests is being lost. Climate change will continue into the future, and investigating where, when, and what kind of changes are likely to occur in the landscape through modelling will be an important research challenge and a priority for effective adaptation and mitigation.
  • Climate Change. Marine range shifts in SE Australia

    Documented range shifts already have impacts on ecosystems, human health and the economy
    The world’s oceans are warming at an accelerated rate due to anthropogenic activities. Over 100 species have undertaken polewards range-shifts along the south-east coast of Australia with expected positive and negative impacts in the invaded southern communities. Key risks of these range changes include ecosystem loss, increased risk of toxic algal blooms, and economic impacts on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture.
  • Climate change: alters plant recruitment from seed

    Climate change threatens plant communities around Australia by altering plant recruitment
    Plants use environmental cues to trigger when and where seeds germinate. Changes in local environments, such as those driven by global climate change, have the potential to disrupt recruitment patterns in plants. Altered recruitment may change plant community composition, especially after disturbance. Planning for unexpected seed responses to global warming may require seeds to be conserved in off site seed banks, with the use of assisted plant migration as a last resort.
  • Climate change: underwater forest decline

    Loss of kelp forest places commercial fisheries at risk
    Ocean warming is causing a ‘tropicalisation’ of temperate reefs in eastern and western Australia, leading to a decline in canopy seaweeds that fulfil a role similar to trees in forests. Increasing temperatures have direct negative effects on cool water seaweeds and can also increase the rate at which herbivores eat them, leading to overall seaweed decline The disappearance of canopy seaweeds changes community structure, impacts biodiversity, and can lead to the collapse of Australia's most valuable commercial fisheries
  • Invader from the dark side

    Shade-tolerant weed threatens Australian World Heritage Rainforests
    Weeds are often associated with high light and disturbed habitats but shade-tolerant weeds are gaining attention as serious invaders of rainforests worldwide The shade-tolerant Cherry Guava (Psidium cattleianum) is emerging as a serious invader of rainforest understoreys in the Wet Tropics of North Queensland, and is well-known to have the potential to displace native vegetation. The prognosis for control is good but incisive action is needed.
  • Northern Australia’s vanishing mammals

    Small to medium-sized mammals in northern Australia's vast savannas are in rapid and severe decline
    Many small to medium-sized mammals are rapidly declining in northern Australia, even in very large conservation reserves, and drivers of the decline remain uncertain. There is evidence that predation by feral cats plays a key role, especially when coupled with frequent, high-intensity wildfires, or heavy grazing by domestic stock. Management options are limited, but the high rates of decline demand immediate attempts at mitigation in key habitat (e.g. cat suppression, fire management), supported by continuing research.