Jan 2018: Today I embark on two new roles: I’m beginning a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship to investigate the consequences of changing fire regimes on plant populations and I’m joining editorial board Journal of Applied Ecology.
Fire has had a profound influence on the evolution of plant traits but fire regimes are changing rapidy, becoming more frequent and intense even in ecosystems without a long history of fire. In my FIRESCAPE genomics project, I will examine European plant species which are invasive in Australia to understand what happens to plant populations when they are subjected to more frequent fire. This should help us understand how plant species will respond to the increases in fire frequency that are occurring in Europe with climate change.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie is a hero and I am grateful to be the recipient of an award named in her honour. She had an inherent drive to discover and contribute to society in the face of intense adversity, and she did both these things without dwelling on the adversity. Even in her time, she spent a good deal of time fundraising so it’s fitting that one of our funding pathways is named for her, particularly one that is effective in providing opportunities to women scientists.

I’m looking forward to my role as Associate Editor with Journal of Applied Ecology. This is my first editorial position I’ll be learning about the process with my mentor at the journal A/Prof. Michael Bode (JCU).

November 2017: Traditionally, scientists tried to explain animal responses to fire by measuring changes in habitat structure, but complex creatures rarely follow simple habitat-based rules. My new paper in Oecologia presents a mechanistic model of post-fire population dynamics based on a decade of demographic and genetic research. The protagonist is the early-successional knob-tailed gecko, Nephrurus stellatus, a model species for fire ecology.

I presented new data showing how increases in invertebrate food during early succession made geckos grow faster and have higher body condition scores. This means that changes in trophic interactions could drive rapid growth in gecko density by contributing to previously reported enhanced reproduction and dispersal. Keep reading...

Smith AL (2018) Successional changes in trophic interactions support a mechanistic model of post-fire population dynamics. Oecologia, DOI: 10.1007/s00442-00017-04016-z. Read online.
September 2017: This month, our group held a week-long international PLANTPOPNET workshop at Trinity College Dublin, with network participants attending from Australia, USA, Finland, Italy, Germany, Ireland (Cork) and the UK.

We presented our results so far, made progress on analysis and manuscripts, overhauled the protocol and developed new projects for the future. I presented my work about how the environment shapes global genomic structure and genetic diversity in Plantago lanceolata. Dr Ruth Kelly hosted an Industry Workshop, attended by representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia, Teagasc, Gold Crop, Alltech and Science Foundation Ireland, in which we exchanged ideas about the future of plants-based industries. 

I organised and MC'd the Inaugural PLANTPOPNET Awards Ceremony. It was a celebration of the vast achievements of the network, a chance to share some memorable moments from the field and, most of all, just a good bit of craic! Check out the full ceremony here.
June 2017: Solsona, Catalonia, Spain

Fire has a profound influence on biodiversity but managing fire for biodiversity brings many challenges. Even when the science is sufficiently sophisticated it is not always sufficiently communicated to policy makers, managers and the general public. This means that people's values, environmental policy and political decisions relating to fire management often do not align with a fire regime that would conserve biodiversity. Developing generalities across ecosystems is important to establish transferrable rules but with the current state of knowledge this has potential to do more harm than good. For example, managing Mediterranean forests using principles from Northern Europe will not conserve biodiversity. The uncertainty and stochasticity that exists in flammable ecosystems also presents a major challenge. As much as we might try to manage fire, we will never have total control over fire.

These issues were discussed in depth at the Fire & Biodiversity Workshop in Solsona, led by Luke Kelly and Kate Giljohann of The University of Melbourne and Andrea Duane and Lluís Brotons of the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia. I was delighted be among 25 fire scientists and managers from around the world working to integrate ecological science, policy, management and people's values into a framework for biodiversity conservation in flammable ecosystems. Stay tuned for  the output!

April 2017: National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin, 4-6th April 2017

The BES Ecological Genetics Special Interest Group (affectionately known as EGG) meet every year and 2017 was their first meeting in Ireland. It was a strategic move from the organising team headed by Dr Gemma Beatty (Aberystwyth University) to expand their Irish membership. Keep reading...

I presented a poster with some of our simulation modelling. We parameterised the model using PLANTPOPNET demographic data to establish baseline effects of demography on genetic diversity. Our results show that 1) small changes in fecundity and survival within the observed range of P. lanceolata influence genetic diversity and 2) migration dilutes the effect of demography on genetic diversity. These results provide hypotheses for ongoing analysis of Plantago SNPs, which will ultimately reveal the demographic pathway through which the environment affects genetic diversity.

Click to see our poster and stay tuned for results from the real data... 

Nov 2016: The inaugural meeting of the Irish Ecological Association, Sligo, 24–26th November 2016

The IEA conference highlighted the huge diversity of ecological research in Ireland, including themes on farmland biodiversity, food webs and community ecology, population dynamics of threatened and invasive species, parasite ecology, evolution and macroecology, population genetics, phylogenetics and taxonomy, genetic monitoring, landscape ecology and disturbance ecology. Keep reading...

I was elected IEA Meetings Officer at the AGM. Get in touch if you want to nominate your institution as a potential venue for our next meeting (early to mid 2018).

To find out more about ecology in Ireland, read the BES Virtual Issue: Ecology and Evolution in Ireland.

Nov 2016: George Olah spent years collecting macaw DNA in south-eastern Peru and we used landscape data from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to analyse spatial patterns of gene flow. We now know that macaws have relatively few natural barriers to dispersal, except very high mountain ranges.

Our new paper provides data about natural gene flow that will serve as a baseline for monitoring and preserving connectivity across the Amazon.

Olah G, Smith AL, Asner GP, Brightsmith DJ, Heinsohn RG, Peakall R (2016). Exploring dispersal barriers using landscape genetic resistance modelling in scarlet macaws of the Peruvian Amazon. Landscape Ecology DOI: 10.1007/s10980-016-0457-8. Read online.

Check out the 3-minute video documentary about this work:

June 2016: I have just started a postdoc at PLANTPOPNET HQ Trinity College Dublin, working on demographic landscape genomics.

We will explore how the environment shapes spatial genomic patterns in Plantago lanceolata, while also examining the influence of population growth and survival rates on genomic structure. The species has an enormous distribution (here's one from my backyard in OZ) and the global scope of the network allows us to examine demographic and genomic processes in native and non-native ranges. Ultimately, we will contribute new knowledge about plant performance and adaptation under global change.

May 2016: Our new paper by honours student Alice McDougall shows how rocks are being used to restore habitat for native species in a rapidly developing urban area.

McDougall A, Milner RNC, Driscoll DA, Smith AL (2016). Restoration rocks: integrating abiotic and biotic habitat restoration to conserve threatened species and reduce fire fuel load. Biodiversity and Conservation, DOI: 10.1007/s10531-10016-11136-10534 Abstract

March 2016: ... But careful consideration must be given to the size and shape of prescription burns to ensure that species can move through their habitat.

Our new research in Proceedings B explains why:

Smith AL, Landguth EL, Bull CM, Banks SC, Gardner MG, Driscoll DA (2016). Dispersal responses override density effects on genetic diversity during post-disturbance succession. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 283, 20152934 Abstract

Check the MEDIA coverage on this paper