Kalimantan floods – understanding just how seriously they affect lives and livelihoods

Borneo_Flooding_C_HutanRecent research published by Dr Jessie Wells & colleagues in Environmental Research Letters is one of the first to gather data on flooding in Indonesian Borneo.  Over 360 interviews were conducted and news archives examinedto analyse the impact of flooding on lives, livelihoods and then environment.

A YouTube video has also been produced on this work.

See the full publications online HERE

Liz Law accepted into UQ’s Future Leaders Program

Congratulations to Liz Law, who has been included in this year’s UQ Future Leaders Program!

The UQ Future Leaders program recognises graduating students who have gone beyond their typical program of studies to make a positive impact on campus, their community and even the world. Only a small proportion of the near 10,000 new alumni each year are recognised for demonstrating a superior commitment to leadership, enriching the student experience and advancing the UQ community….read more at UQ

Biodiversity loses when the term ‘degraded’ is loosely defined

What is the best form of management to protect tropical rainforests? CEED researchers (from the Wilson lab) recently set out to answer this question for Kalimantan. In the process they discovered that the manner in which the Indonesian government defines ‘degraded land’ is critical to conservation outcomes in the region…read more

Undergraduate story: Ariana Magini attends Students for Sustainability


By Ariana Magini

I was extremely grateful to be granted the opportunity of being flown down to Sydney to present my research at the national Students for Sustainability conference. The conference was held at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus on September 15th and 16th, and was attended by over 100 delegates, representing 17 universities from around Australia. The theme for the conference was “HOPE for the Future”, and presentations explored the social and environmental impacts of our current society and where the youth can lead it into the future. Thirty current undergraduate and honours students presented their projects of sustainable and innovative ideas and solutions to issues related to the environment, food, and/or ethics. Six keynote speakers, including Christine Milne (former Australian Greens leader), and Stephanie Lorenzo (CEO of Project Futures), shared their expertise and advice for how to apply sustainable changes and told of their experiences on doing so.

Christine Milne and UQ students (Sook Kuan San, Christine Trompe, Ariana Magini and Brendan Fugate)
Christine Milne (centre) with Ariana Magini (second from right) and fellow UQ students (L-R) Sook Kuan San, Christine Trompe and Brendan Fugate).

I attended this conference unaware of what to expect, but returned full of inspiration and newfound knowledge. It is easy for young people to feel powerless in the face of the huge challenges that our society is experiencing. Yet this convergence of proactive students demonstrated that we are not limited by the out-dated and unsustainable practices of past generations- there is much room for improvement, and we have the intelligence to make the necessary changes. Something that really resonated with me were Stephanie Lorenzo’s words, “our generation sees that purpose is more important than profit”. In my opinion, the days of professions that seek only to bring wealth are numbered, while I see more and more youth actively pursuing careers that allow them to “be the change [they] wish to see in the world,” (Gandhi). That is my ambition anyway.

The sustainable solutions presented were far-reaching. Presentations related to food addressed the issues of food security, with solutions including changing the education system and food industry in order to improve the mainstream understanding of agricultural practices; reduce food waste; and transition to more sustainable methods, including the potential for insect protein. Solutions to environmental issues included the need to transition away from fossil fuel energies and move towards technologies such as renewable-based smart grids, with more consumer autonomy of electricity use; and evaluating the laws of property rights for land with conservation significance could allow for successful maintenance of biodiversity. Ethical sustainability may be improved with online mental health screening surveys that allow for easy diagnosis and referral of patients that are otherwise without contact.

Delegates of the Students for Sustainability conference 2015
Delegates of the Students for Sustainability conference 2015

My presentation considered the challenges faced within conservation science and the improvements required for effective protection of biodiversity and natural systems. I worked with Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson, in collaboration with six other researchers, on the first comprehensive global database analysis of conservation research within the literature. We analysed 8,111 publications, of the year 2014, from 274 countries, and found several trends of bias within the literature that obstructed the implementation of effective conservation practice. Biases include the lack of: open access journals, and the underrepresentation of developing countries; countries of high conservation importance; and authors led in-country. Our study did however find evidence of hope for solutions. There exists an emerging trend of increasing numbers of open access platforms. Additionally, the countries that spend more money on education and research produce more conservation research led in-country. Therefore my presentation concluded that knowledge is power, and our best chance of creating change and conserving natural systems is with improved education and awareness.


PhD project: Learning from success and failure in threatened species conservation

We seek to understand the reasons behind success and failure of threatened species management in Australia. This project will examine the regulatory and policy instruments and governance processes that have influenced on-ground recovery of threatened species. The project is part of Theme 6 of the National Environmental Science Programme Threatened Species Recovery hub. Successful applicants will have a demonstrated capacity and aptitude for conducting research and a general interest in environmental governance. It is also desirable that they possess or seek to obtain skills in social network analysis and expert elicitation.

Applicants must possess a Bachelor’s or equivalent degree with first-class Honours, Master of Science or MPhil with significant research components. Prospective applicants should apply for or be the recipient of an APA (or equivalent) scholarship.

Interested students should provide a professional CV and a short letter of interest to Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson (k.wilson2@uq.edu.au).

Student research opportunity: Smart Allocation of Restoration Funds

The emerging imperative in Australia and globally for restoring ecosystems requires smart investment of limited funds available for conservation and natural resource management. Student research projects are available as part of a broader ARC Linkage project that involves researchers with expertise in applied conservation and restoration ecology and restoration managers and practitioners at the City of Gold Coast.

The overarching goal of the project is to explore the trade-off between minimising risk and maximising the return on investment in the context of restoration. The successful candidates will assess the relationships between vegetation recovery and time, for different types of restoration actions. The project is suitable to projects at undergraduate, honours and post-graduate level and can involve both field research and elicitation of information from experts.

Successful applicants will have a demonstrated capacity and aptitude for conducting research. The candidate will work jointly with scientists at The University of Queensland, Griffith University and City of Gold Coast. The supervisory team will include: Assoc Prof Kerrie Wilson (UQ), Dr Luke Shoo (UQ), and Professor Carla Catterall (Griffith University).

Prospective PhD applicants should apply for or be the recipient of an APA (or equivalent) scholarship. Interested students should provide a professional CV and a short letter of interest to Dr Kerrie Wilson (k.wilson2@uq.edu.au).


Land management strategies to enhance ecosystem services in production landscapes

We seek to understand how production landscapes can be most effectively managed to enhance the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. Contrasting options to achieve this goal are referred to as land sharing and land sparing, which represent endpoints of a continuum of land management strategies. As part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project, our aim is to undertake a rigorous assessment of the environmental and economic implications of land management strategies across three continents.

Student research projects are available to develop and apply new decision-support technology to evaluate land management strategies over whole landscapes for multiple ecosystem services. The project could potentially involve a range of techniques including landscape modelling, land use optimisation, scenario analysis, generation of data on ecosystem service benefits, regional climate modelling, and elicitation of information from experts. The successful candidate will focus on the intensive agricultural zone of continental Australia, with particular focus on the Brigalow Belt bioregion of Queensland. There will also be opportunities to be involved in projects undertaken in Central Kalimantan and British Columbia.

Candidates from diverse disciplines are welcome to apply. Successful applicants will have a demonstrated capacity and aptitude for conducting research and it is desirable that they possess or seek to obtain skills in ecological and economic modelling, and spatial and statistical analysis. The candidate will work jointly with scientists across multiple disciplines (including biodiversity conservation, geography, environmental science and environmental economics) at The University of Queensland, CSIRO and University of British Columbia. The supervisory team will include: Assoc Prof Kerrie Wilson (UQ), Prof Clive McAlpine (UQ), Dr Elizabeth Law (UQ/UBC), and Dr Brett Bryan (CSIRO).

Prospective PhD applicants should also apply for or be the recipient of an APA (or equivalent) scholarship. Interested students should provide a professional CV and a short letter of interest to Assoc Prof Kerrie Wilson (k.wilson2@uq.edu.au).


Advice to PhD applicants

Advice to PhD applicants: choosing and being chosen for PhD research

Over the past three months Liz, Luke, and myself have been considering applications for two recently advertised PhD projects in our lab. Although we will be recruiting over the coming year, the UQ graduate school has four discrete rounds and the second round closes in May. We’ve had a fantastic amount of interest in our positions, and a handful of prospective candidates are currently finalising their proposals for the UQ Graduate School. In the process of reading all of the applications that we received we noted a few things and thought we might share some of our insights. The following aims to capture both tips for thinking about undertaking PhD research and tips for enhancing your competitiveness for PhD programs. We hope you find it useful.

Deciding why, when, and where to do a PhD 

  1. Know what you’re in for. We assume you’ve already heard about all the reasons not to do a PhD. If not, research them now by talking to a range of academic and non-academic colleagues.
  1. Don’t be too rushed to set off on a PhD. Remember, you will likely only get one opportunity to do this, so you want to make sure you are going into a project you are really interested in, with the experience, skills, and mindset to pull off a really great project. In particular, if you’ve gone straight through from high school to university, all full-time, consider taking a break now. Consider taking time off, to work a little, travel a little, find out who you are, what you want to be, what makes you tick. Some people get a job for a year or two as a research assistant, with government, in a non-government conservation organization, or perhaps go do some voluntourism at international conservation projects or in a local conservation organisation. Gaining that on-ground experience in the real world challenges of conservation (and life) will give your future research more nuance and credibility and will help you develop and articulate more compelling ideas for future research. This experience might also help you clarify if and why you want to undertake PhD-level research and what it is that you want out of it (e.g. develop specific technical skills or solve a particular problem). Keep this in mind when you are deciding which research labs/potential supervisors to approach and be prepared with satisfactory answers to these questions as they may be raised by potential supervisors.
  1. Scope out a number of potential labs and projects. Don’t focus on only the most well-known researchers or the first ones you find. You are the best judge of what interests you most, what personalities suit you best. Read widely. Look up the authors from your favourite papers, but also check out other resources, such as http://theconversation.com/au, or http://decision-point.com.au/. A really great way to work out where and who might suit you best is to go to (and present at) a conference. Examples within Australia include the Ecological Society of Australia (to be held in Adelaide in 2015), the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania (to be held in Brisbane in 2016), MODSIM (to be held on the Gold Coast in 2015) or other conferences more relevant to your interests. This will give you a quick overview of some of the main people and developments in the field, give you an opportunity to introduce yourself in person to potential supervisors, and chat with their current students. Let prospective supervisors know that you have read some of their research and describe why you would like to undertake PhD-level research in their group. Try to visit the labs that most interest you in person if you can, or at least get in contact with past or current lab members to obtain insights into the research environment and the supervisory styles of the lab leader and senior research staff.
  1. Consider publishing from your Honours/Master’s work. This can establish your early credibility as a researcher, and increase competitiveness for scholarships, especially if you did not receive first class honours. There is also a big difference between a thesis and a published manuscript, and showing prospective supervisors that you have already published is one of the easiest ways to demonstrate your capacities as a researcher. It’ll also be of benefit to your Honours supervisors too, a great thank you for the people who dedicated their time to getting you through!


Developing a competitive application

  1. Research, research, research! After all, that’s what you want to do, isn’t it? Your PhD will be more independent than your honours research: you will be responsible for developing your project, finding your own relevant literature, and teaching yourself the skills you need. You want to clearly demonstrate to your potential supervisor (and yourself) that you care capable of research, including not only the technical side of things, but also capacities for developing projects, writing proposals and funding applications, and networking.
  1. Do some research on how to craft your PhD proposal Read guides on “how to write a research proposal”, or “how to apply for science jobs”, etc. (for example, in the latest Science.mag there is an article on graduate school applications, http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2015_04_23/caredit.a1500101, and there are other “how-to” guides related to science research http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/tools_tips/how_to_series).
  1. And do research for your proposal. Generally, a graduate school proposal needs to clearly identify the problems to be solved, detail the methods that will be used, identify the outcomes, and show that the latter are novel, innovative, and feasible. Turn to databases (such as Biosis or Web-of-Knowledge) to find a range of relevant research – don’t expect the potential supervisor to provide you this, show you can find it yourself. And always write and cite formally in proposal text.
  1. Jump at opportunities, reply promptly to any responses and respond directly to any specific requests for further information from potential supervisors. Don’t cut deadlines too tight. This shows not only your interest but also reveals your dedication and organisation/communication skills.


Links to further information:

More detailed information on the whole of the PhD process can be found through UQ student services (https://www.uq.edu.au/student-services/phdwriting/), or for a more humorous insight, the beloved PhD Comics (www.phdcomics.com/).


New publication: ‘Making decisions for managing ecosystem services’

Numerous assessments have quantified, mapped, and valued the services provided by ecosystems that are important for human wellbeing. However, much of the literature does not clarify how the information gathered in such assessments could be used to inform decisions that will impact ecosystem services. We propose that the process of making management decisions for ecosystem services comprises five core steps: identification of the problem and its social–ecological context; specification of objectives and associated performance measures; defining alternative management actions and evaluating the consequences of these actions; assessment of trade-offs and prioritization of alternative management actions; and making management decisions. We synthesize the degree to which the peer-reviewed ecosystem services literature has captured these steps. For the ecosystem service paradigm to gain traction in science and policy arenas, future ecosystem service assessments should have clearly articulated objectives, seek to evaluate the consequences of alternative management actions, and facilitate closer engagement between scientists and stakeholders…read more

Martinez-Harms, M.J., Bryan, B.A., Balvanera, P., Law, E.A., Rhodes, J, Possingham, H.P., and Wilson, K.A. Making decisions for managing ecosystem services. In Press (accepted January 2015). Biological Conservation.

New paper: Restoring degraded tropical forests for carbon and biodiversity

by Sugeng Budiharta, Erik Meijaard, Peter D Erskine, Carlo Rondinini, Michela Pacifici and Kerrie A Wilson

View PDF – Read more about the Borneo Project and Restoration Prioritisation research

Read article in the Jakarta Globe


The extensive deforestation and degradation of tropical forests is a significant contributor to the loss of biodiversity and to global warming. Restoration could potentially mitigate the impacts of deforestation, yet knowledge on how to efficiently allocate funding for restoration is still in its infancy. We systematically prioritize investments in restoration in the tropical landscape of East Kalimantan, Indonesia, and through this application demonstrate the capacity to account for a diverse suite of restoration techniques and forests of varying condition. To achieve this we develop a map of forest degradation for the region, characterized on the basis of aboveground biomass and differentiated by broad forest types. We estimate the costs of restoration as well as the benefits in terms of carbon sequestration and improving the suitability of habitat for threatened mammals through time. When the objective is solely to enhance carbon stocks, then restoration of highly degraded lowland forest is the most cost-effective activity. However, if the objective is to improve the habitat of threatened species, multiple forest types should be restored and this reduces the accumulated carbon by up to 24%. Our analysis framework provides a transparent method for prioritizing where and how restoration should occur in heterogeneous landscapes in order to maximize the benefits for carbon and biodiversity.


Budiharta S., Meijaard E., Erskine P.D., Rondinini C., Pacifici M. & Wilson K.A. 2014. Restoring degraded tropical forests for carbon and biodiversity. Environmental Research Letters, 9, 114020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/9/11/114020


Map of forest condition across forest types in East Kalimantan. The study area is restricted to the Forest Estate with native vegetation under the authority of the Ministry of Forestry and excluded areas of Non-forest Estate, ITP (industrial timber plantation), mangroves, and water bodies.
Map of forest condition across forest types in East Kalimantan. The study area is restricted to the Forest Estate with native vegetation under the authority of the Ministry of Forestry and excluded areas of Non-forest Estate, ITP (industrial timber plantation), mangroves, and water bodies.