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.

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.

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.

Rosa Earle | Honours Student

For my honours project, I am looking at how altered disturbance regimes influence the invasion of natural ecosystems. Much of the previous literature relies on the maxim ‘disturbance facilitates invasion’, but there is growing evidence that it is not disturbance per se that facilitates invasion, but change from historic disturbance regimes. I want to test this idea and see if ecosystems around Sydney and on the north coast of NSW are invaded according to how much they have changed from their historic fire frequencies.

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.