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Meet Johan, one of our newest HDR scholarship recipients


We are delighted to announce one of our newest scholarship recipients of the HDR scheme (Higher Degree by Research) – Johan Wasserman.

Johan is a PhD student at the Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, where he is part of Iluka Chair in Vegetation Science and Biogeography team. His research is in collaboration with Iluka Resources and Alcoa Australia.

With a research background and plant ecology and environmental management. Johan’s experience lies in estuarine ecology, and past research focused on habitat mapping, investigating anthropogenic impacts on ecological processes, and exploring ecological restoration for the provision of multiple ecosystem services (like carbon sequestration, water quality regulation, and habitat provision).

Growing up in a scenic coastal town surrounded by mountains, forests, and heathlands, he spent a lot of time outdoors and from a young age developed an interest in ecology. Further pursuing this interest at university, he enrolled in an environmental science program where he was lucky enough to be shown the possibilities of a research career. Johan’s inspiration comes from a feeling of fulfilment – being able to contribute to the understanding of how ecosystems work and to the conservation of natural spaces, all while seeing beautiful landscapes and working with interesting people.

Johan’s current research ‘Dark diversity in the context of species pools and functional pools: patterns, processes, and applications’ applies the concepts of species pools and dark diversity as monitoring tools to inform post-mining vegetation restoration. A species pool is the set of all species in a region that share ecological requirements and thus occur together in a specific habitat (like a forest or a seasonal wetland). Dark diversity refers to the set of species that are absent from an area even though they could occur there (in other words, the locally absent members of the species pool). While vegetation surveys conventionally record how many and which species are present, determining which species are absent also has meaningful implications for ecologists. For example, in a restoration context, dark diversity can reveal which species are absent following restoration and how far restored sites are from reaching their potential biodiversity (known as community completeness).

The research uses analytical tools to explore species pools and dark diversity patterns in two distinct vegetation types in southwestern Australia: kwongan shrublands and jarrah forest. Long-term monitoring datasets are being utilised to investigate: 1) how dark diversity and community completeness patterns compare among natural and restored sites; 2) how these patterns differ across different ecological contexts and environmental gradients; 3) which species are missing from restored sites and why; and 4) how species pools and dark diversity change over time. Taking this a step further, plant functional traits will be incorporated into the analyses to develop a novel functional approach to the species pool, dark diversity and community completeness concepts. Looking at functional trait patterns is useful for understanding the ecological processes shaping plant communities and the resilience of communities to disturbances – important considerations in the management and planning of restoration programmes.

The goal of this research is to use innovative analytical tools to provide a scientific basis for guiding ecological restoration practices towards creating resilient ecosystems. This research will show how these tools can be used to quantify the amount and identity of species and functional groups that can reasonably be expected to occur in a restored habitat; and how many/which species and groups are missing after restoration. By applying these tools across different vegetation types and temporal scales, new perspectives about vegetation recovery dynamics under different ecological context will be unveiled. These insights will have direct implications for monitoring restoration success, and decision-making and target setting in the restoration process.