RSNSW Clarke Lecture 2021

Distinguished Professor Michelle Leishman“From bulldozers, pests, and pathogens to climate change and urban futures: the tough life of plants”

Professor Michelle Leishman
Distinguished Professor of Biology
Director, Centre for Smart Green Cities, Macquarie University

Date: Tuesday, 24 August 2021, Time TBA 
Venue: Macquarie University and live streaming
Entry: No charge
Registration: Link to be provided
All are welcome.

The Clarke Lecture: The Royal Society of NSW and Macquarie University are pleased to present the Society’s annual Clarke Memorial Lecture which is delivered by the most recent winner of the Clarke Medal. The Clarke Medal and Lecture commemorate the memory of the Reverend William Branwhite Clarke, one of the fathers of the Royal Society of New South Wales, and an eminent geologist of his day. The Clarke Medal for 2020 was awarded to Distinguished Professor Michelle Leishman of Macquarie University—an internationally recognised researcher in the field of plant ecology.

Summary: The life of plants on our planet today is tougher than ever before. The UN FAO estimates that 1 million hectares of forest globally were cut down each year over the last decade. There are over 20,000 plant species that are considered to be threatened with extinction, and the actual numbers are likely to be far higher. In NSW alone there are 111 ecological communities and 672 plant species considered to be endangered, and yet our knowledge of their biology and ecology is surprisingly limited. Key threats to these plant species are loss of habitat, invasive species and climate change. In this talk, Professor Leishman explores these threats and asks why some plant species ‘jump the garden fence’ to become serious environmental weeds and considers how climate change may be giving them some extra help. She will also look at one of the most serious recent threats to many of Australia’s iconic plant species and communities – the invasive fungal pathogen Myrtle rust that infects species in the family Myrtaceae, including our eucalypts, bottle brushes and tea-trees. Even the plants in our urban parks and gardens are affected by weeds, pests, diseases and climate change. Prof Leishman will discuss the benefits provided by the plants in our urban green spaces, the challenges they face with increasing urbanisation and extreme climate, and ways forward to improve the resilience of our urban forests into the future.

Brief biography: Distinguished Professor Michelle Leishman is an internationally renowned ecologist who works in the fields of plant invasion biology, climate change impacts and adaptation, conservation and urban ecology. She is highly cited with more than 170 published book chapters and journal articles. She leads a research group in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University and is Director of MQ’s Centre for Smart Green Cities. Her research leadership in invasive pests and pathogens has been a driver for national strategies such as the action plan for Myrtle rust in Australia and the Gardening Responsibly initiative. She collaborates extensively with government and industry and has led the development of widely used online tools for weed management and climate change adaptation. She currently leads the Which Plant Where project which will facilitate resilient and diverse urban green spaces. Michelle is a Trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust and Chair of the Australian Institute of Botanical Science Advisory Committee. She is also on the Board of Bush Heritage Australia and is an elected council member of the Australian Flora Foundation.

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