Christine Fifield Scholarship

Projects and Initiatives:


Engineering the regeneration niche for the restoration of native grasslands in Mulligan’s Flat Woodland Sanctuary (Rachael Robb/Christine Fifield Scholarship/ANU Fenner School)

Most native grasslands in conservation reserves have a history of pastoral and other agricultural uses, and have consequently lost a significant component of their plant diversity. This project investigates the regeneration niche of native grassland forbs using a field experimental approach. Recent research has suggested that natural bettong diggings can create a functional regeneration niche for native forbs when compared to undisturbed areas.  The reintroduction of bettongs into Mulligans Flat provides an opportunity to study their effect on the ecosystem and their potential for use as a tool to restore degraded grasslands. This involves the provision of seed and creation of various types of disturbance through artificial and natural means, including mimicking natural bettong diggings. The relative success of seedling establishment of both native and exotic species will be examined, helping to inform future management of the reserve. This experiment will also enable treatments to be refined for larger- scale restoration work planned for the reserve in the future, including rare forb re-introductions. The results from this project will provide a better understanding of and provide recommendations for the restoration, regeneration, and management of grasslands in the Capital Region.

Germination biology of grassy woodland forbs for use in restoration (Joshua Hodges / Christine Fifield Scholarship / CSU / ANU)

Temperate grassy woodlands are threatened in south eastern Australia, and their once broad distribution has been severely reduced by clearing and land use changes. Remaining remnants are often degraded due to trampling and grazing by introduced stock, presence of invasive species, fertiliser addition, and inappropriate fire regimes. Fire regimes can have a particularly big impact on grassy woodlands since the habitat type is adapted to regular fire and this is one mechanism for maintaining plant diversity. To prevent further declines in the extent and quality of woodland understoreys, NRM agencies and Landcare groups have undertaken various restoration activities. Broad-scale restoration relies on direct seeding, but limited understanding of species’ reproductive biology often restricts the efficiency of restoration practice. Generally, only 10% of seed used in restoration results in mature, established plants. To maximise efficiency of seed use, it is necessary to understand characteristics such as seed dormancy and germination cues. This Honours project aims to explore seed dormancy and germination cues of several species that are presently difficult to establish. Exploring seed dormancy and germination requirements is an essential first step in assessing the suitability of species for use in restoration.

Assessing the Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation program: putting scattered trees back into paddocks in the Capital Region. (Miriam Adams – Schimminger / Christine Fifield Scholarship / ANU Fenner School)

In the past, trees have been returned to windbreaks, crests of hills, and along fence lines; thereby increasing the cost of fencing while leaving the land bare of trees on a paddock scale. The Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation program run by Greening Australia (Capital Region) is an innovative way of increasing paddock health by returning trees on the paddock scale. The program allows farmers to use their land for production while increasing biodiversity and enabling healthy ecosystem functions. This Honours research project contributed valuable knowledge to this program; it was the first time a census of eucalypts was undertaken on these paddocks, and the first time stakeholders were formally interviewed about the program. By evaluating the findings against the literature and stakeholders’ knowledge the research was both theoretically and practically grounded.

Researching historical and contemporary understandings of landscape restoration and how these might need to evolve to integrate changing social, cultural and environmental needs. (Lilian Pearce / Christine Fifield Scholarship / ANU Fenner School)

Restoration ecology works towards returning landscapes to historical or idealised states following significant change. A range of factors informs restoration: historical baselines, place-based experience, colonial narratives and different knowledge types. With increased recognition of human processes shaping land, restoration through the lense ‘naturalness’ or ‘wilderness’ has increasingly limited utility. Historically informed ecological baselines are also potentially inappropriate as ecosystems adapt to changes in climate. Ensuring that restoration projects are well thought out is critical, as the narratives around landscape states and belonging, and the practice itself have social, ecological and political implications.
This PhD research project is using environmental history and humanities approaches, complimented by ecological science, to consider how contrasting ideas of nature and the human relationship with place and country form existing perspectives on restoration. It is exploring Australian restoration history, and considering how we have, and how we might integrate different human-place relations and landscape processes into restoration practice.