Biodiversity expert joins fight against invasive plants in Australia

Date 11.12.2019

An expert from the University of Northampton is part of a team that’s hoping to lead the fightback against the spread of invasive plants in Australia.

By encroaching on agricultural and wilderness areas, invasive plants are costing the country millions of dollars a year and having a huge impact on Australia’s biodiversity.

The University’s Professor of Biodiversity, Jeff Ollerton, is part of a research team that’s working on an Australian Research Council-funded project studying invasive plants.

Prof Ollerton is spending a little over two months Down Under working on the project, in his capacity as a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney.

The team will be looking at whether species interactions affect the invasibility of plants native to Europe that are running wild in Australia. It is a test of the ‘enemy release hypothesis’ (leaving behind the herbivores and parasites which would limit population growth) but with the addition of a ‘making new friends’ hypothesis, that is, gaining native pollinators to ensure reproduction.

Leading the team is Prof Angela Moles, together with UNSW academic Dr Stephen Bonser and Australian PhD researcher, Zoe Xirocostas. Zoe surveyed plant populations in Northampton, Spain, France, Austria and Estonia over the summer. She is now back in Australia and in the middle of surveying in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

Prof Ollerton said: “As well as working on the project, I will spend time finalising my forthcoming book, and collecting data on the pollination ecology of plants in the region to add to a global data set that I’m compiling. It’s going to be a busy time.”

Prof Ollerton’s not been back to Australia since 1994, when he did a short postdoctoral research project at Macquarie University, and is fascinated to see how the country has changed, particularly in relation to the drier, hotter environment that is fuelling such devastating bush fires.

He will be updating his blog as the work progresses.

Prof Ollerton is pictured examining two invasive plant species on the coast at Coogee Bay, Sydney: Common Lantana (Lantana camara) and Cruel Vine (Araujia sericifera).