Deforestation and desertification – caused by human activities and climate change – pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.
– United Nations

Care for the planet, its ecosystems and its people is at the core of our University philosophy and strategy.

In all that we do in our research, our teaching, on our campuses and in our local regions, we work to improve the health and wellbeing of our local and global communities, and the planet that we share.

We find practical solutions for the protection of ecosystems and human communities, collaborating with industry, Indigenous groups and government to improve life on land.

15 Life on land (tree, bird icon)

Research, engagement & education 2020-21

Research with impact

Research addressing this goal includes improving the effects of water desalination, herbicide use, and environmental-education programs in the community.

Weeds cause massive losses in crop production and threaten native species and forest ecosystems worldwide despite only comprising ~0.1% of the planet's flora. Australia is one of the top 10 wheat-producing countries in the world. A number of herbicide-resistant weeds, including Lolium rigidum (ryegrass) have emerged that threaten agricultural productivity. Ryegrass results in an estimated loss in wheat yields costing about AU$100–250/ha. The use of synthetic herbicides is a possible threat to the plant community structure, has environmental impacts and has potential health hazards. In addition, evidence suggest that herbicides may also reduce the nutritional value of crops. This study by ISILC researchers, Randall Robinson, M.A.Y.A. Harun, Joshua Johnson and M.N. Uddin looked at the potential for weed control using allelopathic plants to minimise many of negative consequences of the use of synthetic herbicides. Findings suggests that use of 10% boneseed leaf extract mixed with ¼ strength post-emergent herbicides may be more effective in controlling ryegrass, than the herbicide alone, without adverse impacts on wheat. The use of lower dose herbicides has a concomitant reduction in expense and ecological health risks linked with the practice of synthetic herbicides.

Urban greenery is an essential characteristic of the urban ecosystem, which offers various advantages, such as improved air quality, human health facilities, storm-water run-off control, carbon reduction, and an increase in property values. This project by Asim Khan, Warda Asim, Anwaar Ulhaq and Randall Robinson, working with Bilal Ghazi from the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Pakistan, developed an automated process for monitoring the health of the Eucalyptus trees to facilitate urban green management and tree planting and maintenance improvements for Councils. The research team used a deep-learning-based network, Siamese convolutional neural network (SCNN), combined with a modified brute-force-based line-of-bearing (LOB) algorithm to evaluate the health of Eucalyptus trees as healthy or unhealthy and identify their geolocation in real time from Google Street View (GSV) and ground truth images. The dataset represented Eucalyptus trees’ various details from multiple viewpoints, scales and different shapes to texture. After training on around 4500 images and testing on 500 images, the deep-learning algorithm successfully identified healthy and unhealthy Eucalyptus trees with an average accuracy of 93.2%.

ISILC researchers Md. N. Uddin and Randall Robinson teamed up with Japanese researchers to test the ‘enemy release hypothesis’ to determine the effects of native versus non-native soil microbes on plant growth. This study tested whether Lonicera japonica, as an introduced species in Australia would have better growth by escaping natural enemies in soils in its native range of Japan, and thus there was increased likelihood of invasion success. Using Australian and Japanese soils, survival rates and plant growth were measured. The results showed that the growth of L. japonica was influenced by soil microbial communities with better growth in its non-native soils. The findings are consistent with the ‘enemy release hypothesis’ and clearly indicate that plant–soil microbes’ interactions of L. japonica can play an important role in facilitating the survival and growth of L. japonica in its introduced range.

With the effects of global climate change on water availability and water quality, desalination becomes an increasingly popular option to supply high quality water and ensure the water security; however, the most widely used systems have many limitations, resulting in the negative environmental impacts. The produced desalinated water has increased approximately 300% from 2000 to 2019, and it is expected that this rapid growth will continue in the future. The Water and Waste Water Treatment researchers have been examining algae-based approach for desalination as a more energy passive and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional systems. In a study by Stephen Gray and Li Gao from VU, in conjunction with Monash, RMIT and Northwest A&F University in China, researchers problem-solve different implementation strategies for algae-based desalination systems. It is suggested that utilisation of algae for brackish water treatment could be a more viable option compared to the seawater desalination. A second study by Li Gao, Jianhua Zhang from ISILC and Gang Liu from Tianjin University, China was to investigate the environmental impacts of an algae-based desalination system. A life-cycle assessment was undertaken to assess the environmental friendliness of four approaches. Findings indicate that multi-stage microalgae-based desalination system with algal biomass reuse overall had the lowest, and a conventional Seawater Reverse Osmosis system the highest, environmental impacts, respectively. The low-impact, multi-stage microalgae-based desalination system has lower energy consumption and lower operational and maintenance requirements. Furthermore, it considers the algal biomass reuse to generate electricity through anaerobic digestion, which could offset the environmental impacts. It has approximately 50–60% of the total environmental impact of the conventional system and 70-80% of a membrane-based (reverse osmosis) system.

UNESCO declared an ancient rice terraces system with diverse sustainability values and practices in the Bali Island, called the subak system, to be a World Heritage in 2012. Gusti Agung Paramitha Eka Putri from VU joined Balinese researchers to examines the views of educated Balinese communities toward the subak ecological system. Surveys of the views 912 educated particpants indicates that their views of subak were neutral, neither displaying a strong human, nor a strong environmental orientation. Survey answers indicated a conflict in perspectives between prioritising the preservation or alternatively, the utilisation of the subak system. Findings indicate that the global education programs of UNESCO in preserving the world landscape heritage need to be better incorporated into a local cultural context.

In Nitrogen immobilization may reduce invasibility of nutrient enriched plant community invaded by Phragmites australis, Md Nazim Uddin and Randall Robinson of ISILC joined Takashi Asaeda from Japan to test whether manipulating soil nutrients (nitrogen) may be an effective management tool to control invasive species and restore the degraded ecosystems.

As many conservation targets are not well characterised genetically, Joshua Johnson and researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria examined the utility of sequencing a reduced representation of the genome to inform conservation of plant species.


Our work to support 'life on land' includes protecting Australia's native flora through direct planting schemes, and observing bushfire behaviour to inform building standards.

Victoria University planted more than 2000 seedlings  at its St Albans Campus as part of the university’s commitment to revive native wildflowers in Melbourne’s west. The planting recognised the VU Guaranteed early-entry program offering a guaranteed place to Year 11 and 12 students at more than 130 partner schools in Melbourne’s west and regional Victoria. One seedling was planted for every Year 12 student accepted into the program. A seed library, also part of the project, will assist Iramoo Nursery to propagate and preserve these native wildflower species that go by an array of charming common names including Gold Billy Buttons, Lemon Beauty-heads and Drumsticks.

Amila Wickramasinghe from the Fire Research Group is undertaking PhD study to add another level of knowledge to our understanding of bushfire behaviour. He is mapping firebrand flux and heat load on structures in the wildland-urban interface. Firebrands are the small plant particles, such as leaves, bark, cones and twigs, that originate from burning vegetation and are carried by wind and the buoyancy of the fire. Firebrands can start spot fires when they land on vegetation or the combustible part of a structure. Mr Wickramasinghe used physics-based modelling, Fire Dynamics Simulator, to research the behaviour of firebrands under different conditions. Mr Wickramasinghe explains that: “I am trying to add my findings to Australian Standard 3959 which is the prescription for constructing buildings in bushfire prone areas."

Victoria University research team, led by environmental scientist Dr Christine Connelly, is working with Bass Coast Shire Council and Phillip Island Nature Parks to minimise the high number of wildlife killed on a Phillip Island road by the installation and trial of a virtual fence. The fence, consisting of a series of flashing lights and alarms triggered by a car’s headlights, deters animals from approaching the road and being hit by vehicles.

The Green Living Lab is also used for community education, for school and other groups, on the value of green infrastructure, water run off for tank water and native flora to support biodiversity of the region.

The St Albans Campus is the access to one of the last remaining pockets of Indigenous flora and fauna of the region, the Iramoo Wildflower Grassland Reserve. To support the conservation and replanting of the indigenous flora in the region, the Iramoo Grassland Centre and Nursery at St Albans grows the original flora from the now threatened ecological communities of the region. Plants are grown to order for local councils, community groups, and local landscapers. Some of the plants are no longer available from the original source due to urban expansion, and the remaining pockets in which these local species grow naturally are fast disappearing.

Iramoo in partnership with the Department of Justice, hosts a Community Correctional team that help maintain the Grassland Centre. The team has established a Bush Food Display garden, which offers a self-guided tour for visitors, and showcases the enormous diversity of the local plants used by Aboriginal people for traditional food, weaving and for making tools.

Moondani Balluk worked with landscape architects to install a native landscape using Indigenous plants from the region at the Wunggurrwil Dhurrung Centre in Wyndham. The facility provides a dedicated space for the Aboriginal community that is culturally safe and to host community services and events. The native landscape uses roof run off to water the plants. The location of the native landscape at the Aboriginal community centre showcases the value of Indigenous flora for Aboriginal traditions, biodiversity and for water conservation.

Victoria University joined the Greater Western Water initiative Greening the West to develop green spaces in Melbourne’s west, including V4U Day plans to plant one million trees.


In addition to an environmental focus in science and education courses, the student-led program Enactus works towards a 'more sustainable' future for all.

The Bachelor of Science is focused on environmental sustainability, climate change and biodiversity with a mandatory first year unit Global Environmental Issues, a major in Ecology and Environmental Management, and minor in Environmental Science.

The Bachelor of Outdoor Education and Environmental Science and the Bachelor of Outdoor Leadership engage students in study of the natural environment, environmental rehabilitation, conservation and sustainability.

Enactus VU is a student-led program to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The program serves to enhance student leadership skills and is developing the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

small yellow native Australian flowers

Sustainability on campus

Seeds to Success is a voluntary program for VU students to produce native plants used to restore one the last remnants of native grasslands in the west of Melbourne. The program is operated through Iramoo Native Plant Nursery at the St Albans Campus.