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 R.Standish@murdoch.edu.au).

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.
  • Fire-driven loss of obligate seeder forests in the Alps

    Since 2003, multiple high-severity wildfires in short succession have locally eliminated obligate-seeding alpine ash forests in parts of the Australian Alps.
    Since 2003, multiple high-severity wildfires in short succession have locally eliminated obligate-seeding alpine ash forests in parts of the Australian Alps. Aerial seeding of burnt areas can re-establish alpine ash in the winter following fire, but it is costly and depends on harvested seed stores: seed supplies are probably negatively affected by climate change. Regenerating forests are vulnerable to wildfire, made more likely under climate change. Protecting surviving mature forests must be a management priority.
  • 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.