Media & events

Hot Topics

Hot Topics in Ecology are evidence-based syntheses of topics that are relevant to environmental policy development, land management and to broadening the community's ecological knowledge base. Hot Topics aim to deliver timely, factual overviews that promote the application of scientifically defensible ecological knowledge in public debate.

Each Hot Topic consists of a one-page summary and a database of peer-reviewed literature. Arguments put forward in the one-page summary are supported by evidence listed in the literature database.

ESA members can contribute to Hot Topics by:

  • Creating a Hot Topic (suggest new Hot Topic button above)
  • Contributing new research to a Hot Topic (submit supporting evidence button on each Hot Topic summary page)
  • Communicating an existing Hot Topic, online or through other media

ESA members who contribute new reviews to existing Hot Topics should notify the primary author if the 300 word summary requires updating in light of the new evidence (cc to

Hot Topics is governed by an editorial board consisting of ecologists from around Australia.

Chair, Hot Topics Editorial Board

  • A/Prof. Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University, NSW

Managing Editor

  • Dr Judith Walters

Editorial Board

  • Prof. Don Driscoll, Deakin University, Vic
  • Dr David Duncan, University of Melbourne, Vic
  • Dr Rodrigo Hamede, University of Tasmania, TAS
  • Dr Brett Murphy, Charles Darwin University, NT
  • A/Prof. Euan Ritchie, Deakin University, Vic
  • Dr Daniel Rogers, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, SA
  • Dr Christine Schlesinger, Charles Darwin University, NT
  • A/Prof. Peter Vesk, University of Melbourne, Vic
  • Prof. Glenda Wardle, University of Sydney, NSW
  • Dr Holly Kirk, RMIT, Vic
  • Dr Megan Good, The University of Melbourne, Vic
  • Dr Ryan Tangney, Department of Fire and Emergency Services, WA
  • Dr Lizzy Lowe, Macquarie University, NSW

Current hot topics

  • The ecological, ethical and economic evidence for removing feral horses from Australia’s alpine environments

    Removing feral horses from Australia’s alpine environments helps to conserve native species
    The evidence shows that maintaining feral horse populations is inconsistent with biodiversity conservation. By degrading vegetation communities and waterways, feral horse activity may increase the extinction risk of already threatened species and ecosystems, including 23 plant species in NSW and vulnerable and endangered mammals, amphibians, fish and reptiles. Experimental and observational studies concur that management intervention is necessary to address the negative ecological impacts of feral horses on alpine and subalpine plant and animal communities. Aerial culling is the most cost- and ecologically-effective and humane method for managing feral horses in Australia’s alpine and subalpine regions.
  • Australia’s species extinction crisis in numbers: 2019

    Australia’s extinction crisis: 2019
    100 Australian species are listed as extinct since European colonisation Further extinctions are predicted in the coming decades As of 2019, a total of 1790 species are listed as threatened with extinction Australia needs to increase investment in species conservation and reduce the prevalence and impacts of threats to avoid deepening Australia's extinction crisis.
  • The impacts of artificial light on marine turtles

    Light pollution threatens marine turtles
    Hatchling marine turtles are vulnerable to light pollution as it disrupts the natural light cues that they use for dispersal. Lights along the coast can cause hatchlings to travel landward instead of seaward, or they can be attracted to lights on boats or jetties, which can cause them to perish from exhaustion or predation. Light pollution can also deter nesting turtles. The Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy is developing guidelines to reduce the impacts of lights on marine turtles and other wildlife.
  • Amphibian chytrid fungus: impacts on Australian frogs and ongoing conservation challenges

    43 Australian frog species have declined due to chytrid fungus, including seven extinctions and six species at high risk of extinction Captive breeding has been established for at risk species, but new approaches are needed to ensure self-sustaining wild populations Increased biosecurity is crucial to prevent spread into naïve regions in Australia (e.g. Cape Melville), and the introduction of novel chytrid lineages Current management focuses on decreasing environmental suitability for chytrid and reducing other threats
  • Removal of critical rock habitat threatens biodiversity

    The conservation role of paddock rocks is underappreciated
    Exposures of bedrock in production landscapes represent a distinct habitat of high conservation significance. Over 200 threatened Australian plants and animals are dependent on rocky environments. A recent resurgence in the broad-scale removal of surface rock from agricultural landscapes will exacerbate biodiversity loss. There is urgent need to map small-scale rock formations, produce detailed species inventories and develop guidelines to prevent the removal of critical rock habitat in production landscapes.
  • Getting the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on track

    Are politicians pulling the plug on the reforms needed to improve the health of the MDB?
    Five years in, the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan (2012–2026) to improve the health of Australia’s largest and most agriculturally important river basin has stalled, and is now at risk of failure. Water reforms since 2004 have contributed towards river basin recovery, however, progress since 2012 has slowed to a trickle, and basin-wide improvements in river health are not yet evident. Large-scale improvements in river health are unlikely given the recent Senate decision to allow irrigators to retain 605 GL of water which would have been recovered for the environment.
  • Demise of the dingo

    This updated Hot Topic incorporates 17 new papers that improve understanding of dingo ecology and management, particularly in the area of dingo predation of feral animals and overabundant kangaroos.
    Dingoes are persecuted for similar reasons to the extinct Tasmanian tiger. Dingoes are controlled to reduce stock losses, in turn reducing the range of dingoes. The dingo provides positive conservation benefits to biodiversity, through suppression of feral cats, red foxes and over-abundant native herbivores and omnivores. Alternatives to lethal control and the dingo fence exist, with potential benefits to farmers and biodiversity alike.
  • Full ecological impacts of resource development

    Impacts are missing from conventional impact assessments
    Resource development is expanding worldwide with far-reaching consequences for native ecosystems. Some ecological impacts tend to slip under the radar of conventional impact assessments. Identifying, measuring, and addressing the full range of ecological impacts is essential for mitigating ecosystem degradation and for conserving biodiversity.
  • Digging deep for biodiversity

    Applying plant-soil-microbe research to conservation and restoration
    Conservation and restoration of Australia’s ecosystems is an urgent matter. Outcomes of conservation and restoration efforts are varied. Soil microbes have critical roles in soil function (e.g., nutrient cycling) and plant interactions, both positive and negative. These roles are important for maintaining and restoring function and biodiversity. Research to realise the potential contribution of soil microbes to conservation and restoration is needed.
  • What does the Paris agreement mean for Australia’s ecosystems?

    Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C could significantly reduce climate impacts
    The aim of the Paris agreement is to keep global temperature increases well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and aim for a lower limit of 1.5 degrees C. On our current emissions path, it is likely that global temperatures will exceed the 1.5 target by the early 2030s. Australian heat extremes, similar to the record hot “Angry Summer” and high sea surface temperatures that killed Great Barrier Reef coral in early 2016, would be much more likely in a 2 degree C world than a world at 1.5 degree C.
  • A drop in the ocean: marine fish releases in Australia

    More fish in can mean more fish out
    Declining fish landings and increasing recreational fishing create an impetus to increase marine fish production through wild release of fish grown in aquaculture. Recent release programs, informed by ecological knowledge and quantitative models, have shown that recruitment, competition with the same species and predation greatly influence the survival of released fish to capture. Management policies are encouraging release programs that are monitored, evaluated and adaptively managed so that “more fish in can mean more fish out”.
  • Regional Forest Agreements fail to meet their aims

    Species declines and unsustainable forestry evident under RFAs
    The 20-year Regional Forest Agreements between State and Commonwealth governments are due for renewal. They aim to allow native forest harvesting while providing for conservation and future industry. RFA legislative framing precludes important federal legislation, reducing protection for native species of conservation concern. RFAs have comprehensively failed to achieve their key aims. Instead, vertebrate species declines, timber overharvesting, and forest instability is evident. Industry future is uncertain.
  • Australia’s Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests need attention

    Research on this underappreciated Australian biome lags behind rainforest and savanna
    Seasonally dry tropical forests are gaining international prominence as an endangered biome, but their status in Australia is underappreciated These forests often occur in unusual landscape settings and harbor unique and threatened biodiversity. The original extent of these forests is reduced and greater public awareness of their international significance and conservation value is needed Research is still needed to properly delimit these forests and to understand their resilience to climate change and other threats
  • Managing fire for plant and animal conservation

    Putting fire to work for conservation requires local knowledge
    Some studies show that more plant and animal species live in landscapes with a high diversity of fire histories, while others show no such relationship. The variation in fire regimes that will promote plant and animal conservation depends on the type of ecosystem. Fire management will be most effective when it is guided by local knowledge of plants, animals and and the habitats they depend on.
  • Fire-driven loss of obligate seeder forests in the Alps

    Since 2003, multiple high-severity wildfires in short succession have locally eliminated obligate-seeding alpine ash forests in parts of the Australian Alps.
    Since 2003, multiple high-severity wildfires in short succession have locally eliminated obligate-seeding alpine ash forests in parts of the Australian Alps. Aerial seeding of burnt areas can re-establish alpine ash in the winter following fire, but it is costly and depends on harvested seed stores: seed supplies are probably negatively affected by climate change. Regenerating forests are vulnerable to wildfire, made more likely under climate change. Protecting surviving mature forests must be a management priority.
  • Managing tensions around urban flying-fox roosts

    Careful context-specific consideration is needed in decision making for urban flying-fox roosts
    Managing Australia’s increasingly urban flying-fox roosts is contentious because it requires the balancing of conservation, animal welfare, human health and amenity concerns. Attempts to move roosts have proven to be extremely costly and largely ineffective. Alternative strategies such as local management of roost vegetation; buffering communities against the impacts of droppings, noise and smell; and public education programs, may provide longer-term socially and environmentally-acceptable solutions.
  • Climate change: Alpine shrubs as ecosystem engineers

    Climate warming promotes shrub cover and range expansion via landscape flammability, snow accumulation and nutrient cycling feedbacks
    Alpine shrub cover is increasing in response to a warming climate. Shrub increases are enhanced by positive feedbacks involving fire responses, snow-drifting patterns, leaf litter decomposition and soil nutrient cycling. Critical knowledge gaps surround the rate of shrub range-expansion, the effect of shrubs on local extinctions and the future of mountain catchment water yields.
  • At high densities kangaroo grazing can reduce biodiversity

    Over-abundant kangaroos reduce the diversity of native wildlife and are a danger to threatened species
    Eastern grey kangaroos reach very high densities in south-eastern Australia due to the absence of predators and ready access to permanent water in farm dams. At high densities, kangaroos reduce abundance and diversity of plants and reptiles, degrade bird habitat and threaten an endangered mammal. Detection of the vulnerable striped legless lizard declines dramatically with high kangaroo densities. The literature recommends that grazing pressure be reduced where kangaroos are over-abundant to prevent biodiversity loss.
  • Climate Change: trees under pressure

    Climate change causes widespread tree mortality and health declines
    Trees are dying in response to gradual changes in climate and extreme climatic events. Not only are dying and dead trees visually disturbing, species dependant on trees for food and shelter are negatively affected, and carbon storage potential of forests is being lost. Climate change will continue into the future, and investigating where, when, and what kind of changes are likely to occur in the landscape through modelling will be an important research challenge and a priority for effective adaptation and mitigation.