The mission of The Applied Ecology and Environmental Change Research Group (AEEC) at VU is to provide high-quality multidisciplinary scientific research that is relevant, practical and applicable.

Our goal is to achieve environmentally sound solutions at the local, national and international level.

Research focus

The health of many species, ecosystems and human societies worldwide is threatened by unprecedented environmental change, including increased habitat loss, overexploitation, pest species invasions and climate change.

In Australia, protection of threatened species and ecosystems is a priority that has been enshrined in legislative acts, and climate change is identified as the greatest threat to human health.

Improving decision-making to mitigate the effects of ongoing species loss and climate change requires applied research that addresses the cumulative impacts of environmental change.

Our research, therefore, has a practical focus, resulting in quantitative information provided to state, federal and international environmental agencies. It is used to positively influence the protection, rehabilitation and resilience of threatened species, ecosystems and human communities to climate change and other environmental hazards.

Research in this area focuses on:

  • Grassland and woodland ecosystems
  • Inland and coastal wetland systems
  • Estuaries
  • Pest plant and animals
  • Population genetics
  • The use of fire as a management tool
  • Interactions between management and plant/animal populations
  • Indigenous ecological knowledge relating to weather and climate
  • Landscape fragmentation
  • Urban ecology

Research in this area focuses on:

  • Endangered species recovery (Spiny Rice-Flower, Spider Orchids)
  • Orchid population ecology
  • Plant and crop genetics
  • Weed Ecology
  • Phytophthora cinnamomi infection in grass trees
  • The use of sea grass as a bioindicator of heavy metals in marine ecosystems

Research in this area focuses on:

  • Climate change impacts and societal adaptations using multiple ecological knowledge systems
  • Pollution monitoring and mitigation
  • How invasive species impact the environment

  • Sustainable marine practices
  • Striped legless lizard ecology and management
  • Trace metals in marine wildlife (Bio-indicators)
  • Wildlife response to fire
  • Conservation, behaviour and ecology of the critically endangered black rhinoceros
  • Rescue and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife
Randall Robinson, VU researcher

Research opportunities

  • Indigenous weather and climate knowledge for increased community climate resilience
  • Large mammal ecology and conservation
  • Phytophthora cinnamomi infection in grass trees
  • eDNA


We have expertise in these areas:

  • Ecology and management of inland and coastal wetlands
  • Grassland and orchid ecology, genetics and management
  • Molecular markers and candidate gene identification to assist accelerated crop breeding in agronomically important plants and endangered species conservation.
  • Striped Legless Lizard ecology and management.
  • Citizen Science: community engagement and co-created project development
  • Indigenous knowledge for improved climate resilience 
  • Population genetics and gene flow in fragmented landscapes
  • Behavioural ecology with a focus on interspecific interactions
  • Spatial ecology: GIS, home range, species distribution and landscape connectivity modelling
  • Multidisciplinary research and collaboration
  • Remote fieldwork
  • Applied conservation management
Rhino environmental protection work

Track record & international reputation

Applied Ecology and Environmental Change has been a key distinctive research area at Victoria University for well over a decade.

Our reputation for applied research has attracted a large cohort of research students from various countries around the world, including Germany, Bangladesh and Thailand.

Publications & editorial boards

We publish widely and are particularly well recognised in the applied areas of wildlife behaviour, ecology and management, human-wildlife conflict, Indigenous Ecological Knowledge, molecular biology and ecology, ornithology, botany and the impacts and management of pollution.

Members are on editorial panels of several internationally recognised journals, and participate regularly in international conferences. 


Our researchers are members of various international and national committees and industry bodies, including:

  • Species Identification Task Force of the American Orchid Society
  • Cymbidium Society of America
  • Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors.

All of our members represent our group on industry consultative committees and scientific advisory committees. We are committee members of the:

  • Society of Conservation Biology (SCB)
  • Ecological Society of Australia (ESA)
  • Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA)
  • Indigenous Weather and Climate Special Interest Group for the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS) Indigenous Knowledge of climate and weather in the Pacific.

Industry engagement

State & federal organisations

We have worked closely with a range of state and federal organisations.

Of note is our work with the following groups:

  • Murray Darling Commission
  • Bureau of Meteorology
  • The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (VIC)
  • Parks Victoria
  • Melbourne Water
  • Zoos Victoria
  • Phillip Island Nature Parks
  • Department of Natural Resource Management (WA).

We have obtained grants from all of the above organisations to address specific management driven research.

We are a member of the Victorian Marine Science Consortium and as such work with a large group of universities and government organisations to achieve strong marine-based research outcomes.

Community engagement

Community engagement is a particular focus of the Applied Ecology and Environmental Change Research Group, with members regularly interacting with community and industry groups including:

  • Greening Australia
  • Trust for Nature
  • Victorian National Parks Association
  • Greening Australia
  • The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria
  • EarthWatch (ClimateWatch) and BirdLife Australia
  • Cymbidium Society of America.


Plotz, R.D. & Linklater, W.L. (2020). Oxpeckers Help Rhinos Evade Humans. Current Biology. 30(10), 1965-1969, e2.

Chambers, L.E., Plotz, R.D, Lui, S., Tofaeono, T., Hiriasia, D., Finaulahi, S., Fa'anunu, O., Pulehetoa-Mitiepo, R., Aiono, F. & Willy, A. (in-press). Enhancing climate resilience in the Pacific: Assessment of a participatory approach to improve climate communication. In The Palgrave Handbook of Climate Resilient Societies, Editor, Brears, R. Palgrave Macmillan Publications. ISBN 978-3-030-42463-3. 

Dargahi, N., Johnson, J. and Apostolopoulos, V., 2020. Streptococcus thermophilus alters the expression of genes associated with innate and adaptive immunity in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. PloS one, 15(2), p.e0228531.

Khan, A., Ulhaq, A., Robinson, R. and Rehman, M.U., 2020. Detection of Vegetation in Environmental Repeat Photography: A New Algorithmic Approach in Data Science. In Statistics for Data Science and Policy Analysis (pp. 145-157). Springer, Singapore.

Piyadasa, C., Yeager, T. R., Gray, S. R., Stewart, M. B., Ridgway, H. F., Pelekani, C., & Orbell, J. D. (180301). Antimicrobial effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields from commercially available water treatment devices - controlled studies under static and flow conditions. Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology, 93(3), (871-877). 10.1002/jctb.5442

Piyadasa, C., Yeager, T. R., Gray, S. R., Stewart, M. B., Ridgway, H. F., Pelekani, C., & Orbell, J. D. (2017). The influence of electromagnetic fields from two commercially available water-treatment devices on calcium carbonate precipitation. Environmental Science: Water Research and Technology, 3(3), 566-572 doi: 10.1039/c7ew00060j

Uddin, M.N., Robinson, R.W. and Asaeda, T., 2020. Nitrogen immobilization may reduce invasibility of nutrient enriched plant community invaded by Phragmites australis. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1-16.

Chambers L.E., Lui, S., Plotz R.D., Hiriasia D., Malsale, P., Pulehetoa-Mitiepo, R., Natapei, M., Sanau, N., Waiwai, M., Tahani, L., Willy, A., Finaulahi, S., Loloa, F. and Fa'anunu, O. (2019). Traditional or contemporary weather and climate forecasts: reaching Pacific communities. Regional Environmental Change, 19(5), 1521-1528.

Dargahi, N., Johnson, J., Donkor, O., Vasiljevic, T. & Apostolopoulos, V. (2019). Immunomodulatory effects of probiotics: Can they be used to treat allergies and autoimmune diseases? Maturitas, 119, 25-38.

Di Lorenzo, T., Di Marzio, W.D., Fiasca, B., Galassi, D.M.P., Korbel, K., Iepure, S., Pereira, J.L., Reboleira, A.S.P., Schmidt, S.I. and Hose, G.C., 2019. Recommendations for ecotoxicity testing with stygobiotic species in the framework of groundwater environmental risk assessment. Science of the Total Environment, 681, pp.292-304.

Guinness, S., Van Dongen, W.F., Guay, P.J., Robinson, R.W. and Weston, M.A., 2019. Evaluating How the Group Size of Domestic, Invasive Dogs Affect Coastal Wildlife Responses: The Case of Flight-Initiation Distance (FID) of Birds on Southern Australian Beaches. In Impacts of Invasive Species on Coastal Environments (pp. 413-424). Springer, Cham.

Lavers, J.L., Dicks, L., Dicks, M.R. & Finger, A., 2019. Significant plastic accumulation on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Australia. Scientific reports, 9(1), p.7102.


Bernard, G.E., van Dongen, W.F., Guay, P.J., Symonds, M.R., Robinson, R.W. & Weston, M.A., (2018). Bicycles evoke longer flight-initiation distances and higher intensity escape behaviour of some birds in parks compared with pedestrians. Landscape and urban planning, 178, 276-280.

Dargahi, N., Johnson, J., Donkor, O., Vasiljevic, T. & Apostolopoulos, V. (2018). Immunomodulatory effects of Streptococcus thermophilus on U937 monocyte cell cultures. Journal of Functional Foods, 49, pp.241-249.

Hayward M.W., Ripple W.J., Kerley G.I.H., Landman M., Plotz R.D. & Garnett S.T. (2018). Neocolonial conservation: is moving rhinos to Australia conservation or intellectual property loss. Conservation Letters, 11 (1), 1-7 (e12354).

Malsale P., Sanau N., Tofaeono T.I., Kavisi Z., Willy A., Mitiepo R., Lui S., Chambers L.E. & Plotz R.D. (2018). Protocols and partnerships for engaging Pacific Island communities in the collection and use of traditional climate knowledge. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 99(12), 2471-2489.

Montano, V., Van Dongen, W.F., Weston, M.A., Mulder, R.A., Robinson, R.W., Cowling, M. and Guay, P.J., 2018. A genetic assessment of the human‐facilitated colonization history of black swans in Australia and New Zealand. Evolutionary Applications, 11(3), pp.364-375.


Bigger, S. W., Ngeh, L. N., Dann, P., & Orbell, J. D. (2017). Towards a quantitative indicator of feather disruption following the cleansing of oiled birds. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 120(1-2), (268-273). doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.04.051

Chambers L.E., Plotz R.D., Dossis T., Hiriasia D.H., Malsale P., Martin D.J., Mitiepo R., Tahera K. & Tofaeono T.I (2017). A database for traditional knowledge of weather and climate in the Pacific. Meteorological Applications, 24 (3), 491-502.

Finger, A., Lavers, J. L., Dann, P., Kowalczyk, N. D., Scarpaci, C., Nugegoda, D., & Orbell, J. D. (2017). Metals and metalloids in Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) prey, blood and faeces. Environmental Pollution, 223 (567-574). doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.01.059

Plotz R.D. & Chambers L.E. (2017). Linking forecasts and end users: perspectives from a Pacific Aid Program. Bulletin of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (BAMOS), 30 (4), 26-29.

Plotz R.D., Chambers L.E. & Finn C.K. (2017). The best of both worlds: a decision-making framework for combining traditional and contemporary forecast systems. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 56 (8), 2377-2392.

Plotz R.D., Grecian W.J., Kerley G.I.H. & Linklater W.L. (2017). Too close and too far: quantifying black rhino displacement and location error during research. African Journal of Wildlife Research, 47, 47-58.

Uddin, M.N. and Robinson, R.W., (2017). Responses of plant species diversity and soil physical-chemical-microbial properties to Phragmites australis invasion along a density gradient. Scientific reports, 7(1), pp.1-13.

Media interest

Connelly, C. Virtual Fencing Keeping Australian Wildlife off the Road. The Wire:

Connelly, C. Wildlife Fence Trial Underway in Queensland & Phillip Island, ABC news:

Plotz, R. Niue Trials Use of Yam Crops for Weather Forecasting, ABC Radio Australia, Pacific Beat:

Plotz, R. Bird Calls Warn Black Rhinos of Human Poachers, National Geographic:

Plotz, R., Birds on Rhinos Back Help Them Avoid Poachers, Scientific American:

Finger, A. Australian islands home to 414 million pieces of plastic pollution: Eureka Alert:

Plotz R. (2016) Plan to fly rhinos to Australia comes under fire, Nature News:


Find out about our staff and read their biographies via the links. Read about our current student research projects.

Projects undertaken by our current research students.

Name Thesis title
Harun Abdullah (PhD) Population dynamics of the endangered Melaleuca wimmerensis.
Mary Cowling (MSc) Management of seal tourism in New Zealand - tourism and the New Zealand fur seal in the Bay of Plenty
Nicole Filby (PhD) Whistle production in free-ranging bottlenose dolphins in response to vessel traffic.
Annett Finger (PhD) Trace metals in Little Penguin populations along the Victorian coastline.
Rachael Keefe (PhD) The Brandy Creek early Eocene macroflora.
Chutima Kongjaroon (PhD) Investigations into the use of molecular methods to distinguish between species of Caladenia subgenus Calonema
Sylvia Osterreider (PhD) Conservation ecology and human disturbance of Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) in Western Australia
Wendy Probert (PhD) An investigation of the population ecology of Pterostylis cucullata R. Brown: implications for management
Claire Rawlinson (PhD) The conservation of Victoria's only endemic butterfly, the golden-rayed blue.
Deborah Reynolds (PhD) Population biology and ecology of the endangered grassland species Pimelea spinescens (Spiny Rice-flower).
Marta Slawuta (PhD) Bird distribution and abundance in relation to climate change in coastal ecosystems.
Kirby Smith (PhD) Diving tourism and the behavioural ecology of the Australian east coast population of grey nurse sharks(Carcharias taurus).
Richard Stafford-Bell (PhD) Population ecology of seagrasses of South-eastern Australia
Alice Taysom (PhD) Hybridisation of Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) and Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).
Nazim Uddin (PhD) Ecological implication of allelopathic interferences with reference to Phragmites australis.

Contact us

Dr Roan Plotz
Leader, Applied Ecology & Environmental Change Research Group
Phone: +61 3 9919 5709
Email: [email protected]

Dr Christine Connelly
Deputy Leader, Applied Ecology & Environmental Change Research Group
Phone: +61 3 9919 5836
Email: [email protected]