Awards & prizes

2012 ESA Gold Medal - Dr Michael Keough

Mick Keough is a marine ecologist who has been based at the University of Melbourne for the past two and a half decades, where he is currently a Professor of Zoology.  He was trained to PhD level in 1981 at the University of Adelaide under the supervision of Alan Butler and subsequently held positions in California and Florida before returning to Australia in 1986. 

Mick’s influence on marine ecology in particular but the field of ecology more generally has been profound.  His formidable international reputation is based on research exploring two main areas: the influence of disturbances, both natural and anthropogenic, in biotic communities; and the role that larval behaviour and other early life history processes play in the demography and community of structure of marine organisms.  The former interest leads to a concern for improving the ways we study human impacts upon aquatic habitats, whereas the latter interest leads directly to issues of how evolution has shaped the biology of complex life histories.  His approach is to experimentally test, both in the field and laboratory, the ideas coming from either ecological theory or observations of natural history, in an attempt to show what aspects apply in real-world situations.  It is notable that he has had continuous funding from the ARC since 1988 for this research as well as winning other grants from funding bodies like R & D corporations, to form a diverse portfolio of research support.

Beginning in 1978 (when he described the world’s smallest seastar from South Australia), he has published 115 papers on these subjects in the top ecological journals and these are heavily cited in the wider literature.  In addition, several very influential reviews as book chapters have driven thinking in these subject areas since the 1980s.  Furthermore, two textbooks published a decade ago and both with Cambridge University Press have guided younger scientists and managers.  One is a very successful statistics text written with Gerry Quinn that covers biological examples in general, as well as treating ideas of experimental design and the display of data with examples taken from the published literature.  It is a notable book for establishing the principles as well as giving numerous worked case studies across many biological questions and statistical techniques.  This highly accessible but thorough treatment was road-tested for many years with classes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels as well as many workshops run as consultancies – many of us look forward to a second edition soon.  The other book is less well-known and written with seven other Australian ecologists.  It provides practitioners and managers with the principles and procedures for monitoring flowing waterbodies in effective ways.

That commitment to teaching best practice has also led to Mick supervising some 39 research higher degree students plus a plethora of post-docs, several of whom now occupy senior positions in universities in Australia or overseas, as well as key roles in government research organisations.  This strong commitment to research training is thus a major contribution from Professor Keough.  He continues fruitful collaborations with a wide range of other scientists and managers placed in all levels of decision making.  For many decades he has given frank and fearless scientific advice to all levels of government, private enterprise and public authorities, thus contributing to much better use of science in environmental management.

For more on his work click here.