Lab Members

Prof. Angela Moles | Head of Lab

I lead the Big Ecology Lab, in the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNSW Sydney. My primary research goal is to quantify the ecological strategies employed by plant species in different environments, and to better understand the selective processes underlying global patterns in ecological strategy.

Click here to to see past publications, and here for my researcher profile.

Teaching & Outreach

Courses I teach

BIOS3061: Plant Ecology

BIOS2051: Flowering Plants (from 2015)

Professional affiliations and service positions

I am an active participant in Scientists in Schools.

I am a jury member for the L’Oreal for Women in Science Fellowship scheme, a judge for the OEH Eureka prize for Environmental research, and run the Ecological Society of Australia/NSW OEH prize for Outstanding Outreach.

I regularly give public talks (e.g. Nerd NiteLinnean Society of NSWTEDxSydney)

Awards & Achievements

2017: Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence for Contributions to Student Learning.

2017: Shortlisted for the AFR Emerging Leader Award.

2017: Became a fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales

2014: Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence – Postgraduate Research Supervision.

2013: Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

2012: NSW science and engineering award for Excellence in Biological Sciences (Plant, Agriculture and Environment)

2011: Australian Museum Eureka Award for Outstanding Young Researcher

2011: Included in The (Sydney) Magazine list of the 100 most influential people in NSW

2010: Edgeworth David Medal, Royal Society of New South Wales (awarded to a scientist under the age of 35 for work contributing to the advancement of Australian science)

2009: JG Russell Award (awarded to one QEII fellow each year by the Australian Academy of Science)

2008: NSW Tall Poppy Award (awarded by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science for outstanding scientific research and communication)

2008: L’Oreal/UNESCO for Women in Science Fellowship

Joe Atkinson | PhD Student

My research attempts to understand the effectiveness of current ecological restoration taking place in Australia. It consists of revisiting restoration sites to ask a multitude of questions about both local and landscape level processes affecting restoration outcomes with the aim of improving these outcomes in the future.

Jenny Auld | Honours Student

My research is investigating the altitudinal shifts of alpine plant species over time using comparisons of historic and current data. In response to increasing global temperatures, I aim to find out if alpine plant species are moving uphill, downhill or not at all. I hope to produce an understanding of how the unique and threatened Australian alpine flora is responding to climate change and discuss how this should impact our conservation decisions.

Claire Brandenburger, PhD | Research Assistant

To what extent is evolution in introduced plant species generating unique biological entities? A study using two Australian weeds.

When European colonists introduced plants to their new homelands, they inadvertently followed a near-perfect recipe for encouraging rapid evolution. Using glasshouse experiments for two Australian weeds, the aim of this project will be to find out whether differences between source and introduced populations are heritable, and to assess the degree of reproductive isolation between source and introduced populations. This will allow us to quantify the extent to which evolution in introduced species is generating unique biological entities. One intriguing possibility is that introduced populations might eventually diverge so far from their source populations that they could be classified as new Australian natives.

Giancarlo Chiarenza | PhD Student

Hi everybody! I am Giancarlo, a PhD student in the Big ecology Lab. My research will involve studying the relationship between plants and soil at a global scale. My first project will involve assessing the relationships between delayed greening (delay in the deployment of chlorophyll in young leaves until they are mature) and abiotic factors, e.g., soil fertility and light. My second project will evaluate the most important soil properties to predict plant characteristics in different regions of the world. My third project will measure the effects of soil features on the rapid evolution of plant species.

Frederick Dadzie | PhD Student

Can native microorganisms be used to restore degraded ecosystems and improve the establishment of vulnerable plant species?

My research focuses on the target delivery of native microorganisms for the restoration of degraded areas in arid ecosystems. It involves isolating the best microbial consortia that will improve seedling emergence and establishment, improve the soil fertility & structure, and retard the growth of invasive plant species. I also attempt to assist or improve the establishment of vulnerable and endangered plant species through combined methods of soil and microbial pelleting. I aim to expand our understanding of the role of native soil microbial organisms in ecosystem restoration.

Suz Everingham | PhD Student

My research is looking at the effects of climate change on plant species. I aim to quantify changes that have already occurred in plant species due to recent climate change, to see if plants will be able to adapt rapidly to climate change into the future. Using field data, glasshouse experiments and large databases I am working to quantify changes in plant traits such as photosynthetic rate, wood density, germination rate and flowering timing.


Ashika Jagdish | Honours Student

My Honours project aims to test day-length sensitivity in seed germination of Australian plants across different ecosystems and latitudes. Currently, there is very little data available. It is unknown whether plants may be altering their photoperiod sensitivity to optimise germination under a changing climate. An inability to adapt to a changing climate increases plant vulnerability to extinction, therefore understanding photoperiod sensitivity is central for plant conservation. It is hypothesised that highly photosensitive species are at greater risk of germinating in unsuitable periods or environments and that seed photosensitivity increases closer to the equator.

Xuemeng Mu | PhD Student

I focus on studying the most vulnerable plant species in the context of increasing global warming. My first project aims at determining which plant species will be most at risk under longer heatwaves and tries to find an efficient prediction system based on species’ traits. My second project attempts to evaluate which plant seeds will be most in trouble of germination in the lack of cold stratification. Field in-situ experiments and green house experiments will be conducted for revealing real warming impacts on plants in different growth stages.

Sebastian Schwarz | Honours Student

In my honours project I am using three different approaches to further our understanding of the symbiosis between mites and angiosperms which shelter them within domatia. Firstly, I will begin by mapping where in Australia angiosperms with domatia are and comparing this to temperature, humidity, and latitude. Secondly, I will be conducting a controlled experiment to assess the effectiveness of domatia as an indirect plant defence against herbivory. Lastly, I will go into the field and measure whether plants with domatia need a thicker leaf cuticle to protect against detrimental mites, which could also benefit from these plant structures.

Alexander Sentinella | PhD Student

I’m interested in the relationships between genetics and ecology, especially  in how we can use both to understand the effect of climate change. My first project is on the broad scale latitudinal gradient of climate risk on germination, and my next project with the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney will focus on detecting landscape genetics patterns. I’m also passionate about science communication, project managing scientific displays for UNSW and co-presenting a weekly science program on community radio (“Boiling Point” on Eastside FM).

Zoe Xirocostas | PhD Student

Can enemy release be predicted from factors that affect plant-animal interactions?

My research focuses on measuring traits of European plant species that have been introduced to Australia (sites in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne & Hobart) and comparing them to those in their “native” home ranges in Europe (sites in England, Spain, France, Austria & Estonia) to see if enemy release can be predicted from the traits they possess. These traits include, leaf hairs, leaf chemicals, leaf toughness, amount of herbivory and immediate invertebrate community. I also study pollination across these plants to determine if they are able to successfully reproduce with the same (or different) insect vectors from their native range in their introduced range.

Karen Zeng | PhD Student

My research focuses on understanding what conditions allow invasive species to benefit from enemy release, and how biological controls can help mitigate this advantage. My first project involves looking at abiotic factors that affect enemy release. My second project will involve testing invasive species for enemy release and how effective biocontrol is on them. With this knowledge, I aim to improve our understanding on the relationship between biocontrol and enemy release to help limit the damage that invasive species cause.

Lillian Zhang | Honours Student

My project is about the poleward shift in distributions of plants in response to climate change. I aim to find out whether this is happening in Australia, and specifically whether plants are moving across state borders. I am also investigating whether they’re subject to extermination because of the differing state legislations that were originally created in the interest of conservation, as this may pose an extinction risk to already endangered species.