Skip to main content
Start of main content

Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods

Applied plant ecology

Research group
hand holding wild rice seed


The Applied Plant Ecology Group applies understanding of plant ecology to develop solutions to conserve and utilise native plants, and to manage introduced species.

Commercialisation of native plants theme investigates commercial production from native plant species, including producing high value culturally identified grain from native rice, fruits from Kakadu Plum and products from other species.

Mining and disturbed land rehabilitation theme investigates the efficient and effective management of rehabilitation of native plant communities following disturbance. This includes projects ranging from large scale mining rehabilitation to restoration of rainforest on small urban reserves.

Native plant biodiversity conservation theme investigates the biology of native plant species with the aim to understand their ecology to manage their environment and promote their conservation.

Agricultural Systems and Rural Livelihoods theme investigates the management of plants in agricultural systems in northern Australia and in South East Asia.

Specialist expertise

  • Extensive experience in applied plant ecology and specialist expertise in restoration ecology, seed biology and commercialisation of native plants.

  • Active collaborations with external research and agencies in northern Australia, Timor-Leste and eastern Indonesia.

Key achievements and impacts

  • Our work contributed to the CDU ERA assessment which achieved scores of 5 in environmental science and management.

  • Sean Bellairs has been sponsored to carry out research into the establishment of native flora communities on disturbed lands by mining companies, government agencies and the Australian Research Council, at sites in the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

  • Penny Wurm has collaborated on award winning educational field activities, positioned at the research-teaching nexus, with research education and community partners in eastern Indonesia.

Key projects

Commercialisation of native plants theme
  • Australian wild rice: a new sustainable culturally significant Australian native food

    In 2019 the RIEL Applied Plant Ecology group was part of two projects investigating native rice commercialisation. A small project with CRC NA produced a situational analysis report for rice production in northern Australia, including Australian native rice. This was a collaboration with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.

    Dr Sean Bellairs and Dr Penny Wurm also participated in the successful Future Food Systems CRC bid, achieving 10 years of funding support for CDU. In 2020, the group commenced research on the agronomy of Australian native rice for enterprise development. The Future Food Systems CRC project, led at CDU by Dr Sean Bellairs and Dr Penny Wurm, aims to commercialise Australian native rices, with a focus on Indigenous enterprise development. The project is collaborative with: NT Department of Primary Industries and Resources; Queensland University of Technology; Graham Kenyon and Lynette Kenyon (Pudukul Aboriginal Cultural Tours); Olive Vale Pastoral Pty Ltd; and Myera Group.

    More information about the wild rice commercialisation project


  • Kakadu plum supply and value chains

    A decade of sustained community engagement has enabled a research collaboration with the Wadeye, NT, community. Led by Julian Gorman, this collaboration aims to support community efforts to establish an enterprise based on abundant sources of Kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana) on traditional clan estates. This work is investigating the role of supply chain actors and external factors that have influenced the direction of enterprise development, alongside community aspirations for the development of Kakadu plum enterprises (Gorman 2020; Gorman et al 2019a,b; Gorman et al 2020a,b).

    More information about the Kakadu plum commercialisation project


  • Green plum, Buchanania obovata - Variation of fruit yield and vegetative habit

    Rod Baker, Sean Bellairs and Julian Gorman investigated the yield of the native Australian bush mango (Buchanania obovata) to determine whether yield was affected by regional and fire regime variation.

Mining and disturbed land rehabilitation theme
  • Seed biology research to optimise germination of local native species to support the rehabilitation of the Ranger mine site by Sean Bellairs, Melina McDowell and others.

    Successful rehabilitation of wildlife habitat requires establishment of a functioning vegetation community including understorey and overstorey species. Establishing a range of native flora species at Ranger mine is vital to create functional rehabilitation that blends aesthetically with Kakadu NP. Most Australian species have poor germination unless the seeds are treated appropriately but seed treatment information is lacking for NT species. This five year project investigated seed collection viability germination dormancy and storage for species of KNP. It developed seed biology protocols for northern Australian flora assisting utilisation of flora for mining rehabilitation. The information is also applicable for landcare, horticulture and conservation.

  • Role of cattle on vegetation development on gold mine rehabilitation.
    This PhD project by Evi Saragih on gold mines between Darwin and Katherine investigated the impact of cattle on native species recruitment, weed control and sustainability of rehabilitation.

  • Seed biology and establishment ecology for coastal vine forest rehabilitation

    This PhD project by Vidushi Thusithana investigated the seed biology and establishment ecology of coastal vine forest at East Point, Darwin.

  • Controlling the soil seedbank of gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus) on mine sites.
    This BSc (honours) project by Linda Luck investigated the use of a range of physical and herbicide treatments for the control of gamba emergence from the soil seed bank at the Rum Jungle mine site south of Darwin.

  • Treatments to improve seedling establishment of woody species in gravel extraction sites. This was a collaborative project with Greening Australia and NT Government for the NT Extractive Minerals Association, and monitoring has been followed up by CDU restoration ecology coursework students.

  • A BSc (honours) project by Megan Parry investigated treatments to improve establishment of understorey species at the Ranger mine.

  • Rehabilitation of Utricularia after Sand Extraction at the Howard Springs Sand Plains.

  • Sustainability of vegetation development on Nabarlek mine rehabilitation areas: an assessment of nutrient cycling and seed bank ecology.

Native plant biodiversity conservation theme
  • Landscape ecology of invasive para grass (Urochloa mutica) on monsoonal wetlands, Kakadu National Park, Australia (Boyden et al. 2013; Boyden et al. 2018; Boyden et al. 2019) and Mary River NT (Bellairs et al. 2015; Wurm 2007)

  • Distribution, invasiveness, biology and control of rubber bush (Calotropis procera) in northern Australia, a PhD project by Enock Menge.

  • Germination and dormancy in the semelparous bamboo Bambusa arnhemica by Sean Bellairs, Don Franklin and Nick Hogarth.

  • Temperature affects the dormancy, germination and emergence of native Australian rices in introduced para grass swards by Sean Bellairs, Penny Wurm and Beckie Kernich.

  • Seed biology of native plant species

    We have investigated the seed viability, germination, dormancy and longevity of over a hundred species of native trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses.

Agricultural Systems and Rural Livelihoods theme
  • Income generation in a vegetable-rice cropping sequence in Timor-Leste through soil improvements and vegetable species choice, a PhD project by Acacio da Costa Guterres.

  • Knowledge transfer and uptake of new practices for pest management in irrigated areas, NTT, Indonesia (Plant Biosecurity CRC).

  • Improving Infrastructure in Irrigation Areas: Towards Greater food and Water Security in Eastern Indonesia (IndDFAT)

  • The Vulnerability of Groundwater Resources to Climate Change in Timor-Leste. (Commonwealth Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency)


Interested in applied plant ecology?

Back to top