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Research Institute for the Environment & Livelihoods

Applied Plant Ecology Group

Research group
hand holding wild rice seed

Our focus

The Applied Plant Ecology Group investigates the plant ecology to produce solutions to more effectively conserve and use native and introduced plant species.

Our work falls into four main themes:

  • Commercialisation of native plants - 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 - investigates efficient and effective management of rehabilitation of native plant communities following disturbance. This includes large scale mining rehabilitation and restoration of rainforest on small urban reserves.
  • Native plant biodiversity conservation - 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 - investigates the management of plants in agricultural systems in northern Australia and in South East Asia.

Specialist expertise

We have extensive experience in applied plant ecology and specialise in restoration ecology, seed biology and commercialisation of native plants. We have collaborations within CDU and with external research and industry groups.

Meet the team

This group includes among other collaborators, Dr Sean Bellairs, Dr Penny Wurm, Julian Gorman Rod Baker, Vidushi Thusithana and Evi Saragih.

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 (NT), New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

Key projects

    • Australian wild rice: a new sustainable culturally significant Australian native food

    In 2019 RIEL was part of two projects investigating native rice commercialisation. A small project with CRC NA is preparing a situational analysis for rice in the north, in a project led by Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation. RIEL was also named partner in the successful bid for the Future Food Systems CRC, securing some AUD1,800,000 over 10 years for native rice enterprise development. The RIEL project, led by Dr Sean Bellairs and Dr Penny Wurm will focus on the commercialisation of Australian native rices, focussing on Indigenous enterprise development. This work is being undertaken in collaboration with NT Indigenous enterprises, agriculture agencies and others.

    • Kakadu plum supply and value chains

    A decade of sustained community engagement has enabled a research collaboration with the Wadeye, NT, community. The 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 et al 2019a, Gorman et al 2019b).

    • 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.

    • 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 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
    • Rehabilitation of Utricularia after Sand Extraction at the Howard Springs Sand Plains
    • Seed biology research to optimise germination of local native species to support the rehabilitation of the Ranger mine site - 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 without the application of seed treatments but treatment information is lacking for NT species. This project will investigate seed collection viability germination dormancy and storage for species of KNP. It will develop seed biology protocols for northern Australian flora assisting utilisation of flora for mining rehabilitation landcare horticulture and conservation.
    • Sustainability of vegetation development on Nabarlek mine rehabilitation areas: an assessment of nutrient cycling and seed bank ecology
    • Distribution, invasiveness, biology and control of rubber bush (Calotropis procera) in northern Australia
    • Germination and dormancy in the semelparous bamboo Bambusa arnhemica
    • Temperature affects the dormancy, germination and emergence of native Australian rices in introduced para grass swards. 
    • 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. 

Interested in applied plant ecology?