Staff profile

Dr John W Morgan

Plant Ecologist

College of Science, Health and Engineering
School of Life Sciences
Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences

Biological Sciences II Room 466,



Membership of professional associations

Ecological Society of Australia; Australian Institute of Alpine Studies; Ecological Society of America; Internatioanl Association of Vegetation Science

Area of study


Brief profile

I am a plant ecologist interested in the long-term dynamics of vegetation.


Our aim is to understand the important role of disturbance, climate and regeneration processes on the trajectory of change in native ecosystems. This has important implications for conservation and management of biodiversity. Increasingly our work considers the effects of climate change on vegetation dynamics and response/adaptation.


We principally focus on understanding the dynamics of native plant communities in south-east Australia. Long-term studies currently running in the Lab:

(1) Wog Wog Habitat Fragmentation Experiment - see for a video of the experiment that, having been established by CSIRO in 1985, is now the focus for our work on fragmentation and vegetation dynamics.

(2) Isthmus Grassy Woodland Restoration - here, we are using fire and grazing management to recover the endangered grassy swales vegetation at Wilsons Promontory National Park

(3) Alpine Treeline Dynamics - 10 yr old transects have revealed that subalpine grassland-treeline boundaries are stable, except when the boundary is burned by fire. Then, suppressed saplings seem to 'escape' current constraints to rapidly transform the treeline boundary

(4) Temperate Grassland Dynamics – using space-for-time chronosequences, we are examining how climate change (principally warming and drying) may impact on the diversity, productivity and stability of Australia’s most threatened ecosystems. In addition, we revisit native grasslands in an urbanising land use context (west of Melbourne) to determine how biodiversity can be conserved in places dominated by social factors.

(5) Re-visitation studies - we assess Long-Term Vegetation Dynamics in grassy woodlands, coastal forests and alpine summits by re-sampling plots in studies conducted by ecologists from generations past.

(6) Restoration of grasslands- long-term studies are examining how successful the restoration of tussock grasslands has been. In essence, can we restore diverse, functional ecosystems where these have been degraded or destroyed by past land use?

In addition, we focus on:

- how snowcover duration affects alpine plant species dynamics (using snowpatches with strong melt gradients)

- understanding invasion processes in herbaceous ecosystems (using the global NutNet experiment to test ideas)

- using plant functional traits to assess impacts of land use change on ecosystem processes.   


Current Students in the Lab

Brad Farmilo (PhD) - Ecology of common plant species in fragmented landscapes: the Wog Wog Experiment

Tara Angevin (PhD) – Resilience of temperate grasslands to climate change

Seraphina Cutler (PhD) - Landscape-scale patterns of functional and floristic recovery in mountain landscapes after fire

Nathan Wong (PhD) - Vegetation dynamics in semi-arid grasslands: importance of scale and disturbance type

Ben Zeeman (Hons) – Understorey dynamics of long unburned coastal forests – 40 yrs of vegetation change at Ocean Grove Nature Reserve

Kaitlin Wright (Hons) – Grazing for biodiversity – can strategic grazing regimes enhance alpha, beta and gamma diversity in C4 grasslands?

Katie McClaren (Hons) – Are small populations of an endangered daisy more vulnerable to local extinction?



See my Blog - - for regular updates of work in our Lab.



Research interests

Alpine ecology

- Uisng gradient studies to assess change in species distributions

Fire ecology

- Fire-grazing interactions: implications for coexistence

Population and community ecology

- Tree-grass interactions; controls on species coexistence; competition ecology

Teaching units

  • BIO1PS Plant Science
  • BOT2PDE Plant Diversity and Ecology
  • BOT3ESE Ecology, Systematics and Evolution

Recent publications



1.        Grace, J.B., P.B. Adler, E. W. Seabloom, E. T. Borer, H. Hillebrand, Y. Hautier, A. Hector, W. S. Harpole, L. R. O'Halloran, T. M. Anderson, J. D. Bakker, C. S. Brown, Y. M. Buckley, S. L. Collins, K. L. Cottingham, M. J. Crawley, E. I. Damschen, K. F. Davies, N. M. DeCrappeo, P. A. Fay, J. Firn, D. S. Gruner, N. Hagenah, V. L. Jin, K. P. Kirkman, J. M. H. Knops, K. J. La Pierre, J. G. Lambrinos, B. A. Melbourne, C. E. Mitchell, J. L. Moore, J. W. Morgan, J. L. Orrock, S. M. Prober, C. J. Stevens, P. D. Wragg, J. P. and L. H. Yang. 2012. Response to comments on “Productivity is a poor predictor of plant species richness”. Science 335: 1441-1442.

2.       Lunt, I.D., S.M. Prober, and J.W. Morgan 2012. How do fire regimes affect ecosystem structure, function and diversity in grasslands and grassy woodlands of southern Australia? In: Flammable Australia: Fire Regimes, Biodiversity and Ecosystems in a Changing World. Eds. RA Bradstock, AM Gill and RJ Williams. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

3.       Morgan, J.W. and B.J. Farmilo 2012. Community (re)organization in an experimentally fragmented forest landscape: insights from occupancy–scale patterns of common plant species. Journal of Vegetation Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1654-1103.2012.01412.x

4.       Scott, A.J. and J.W. Morgan 2012. Resilience, persistence and relationship to standing vegetation in soil seed banks of semi-arid Australian old fields. Applied Vegetation Science 15: 48-61.

5.       Scott, A.J. and J.W. Morgan 2012. Dispersal and microsite limitation in Australian old fields. Oecologia doi: 10.1007/s00442-012-2285-0

6.        Adler, P. B., E. W. Seabloom, E. T. Borer, H. Hillebrand, Y. Hautier, A. Hector, W. S. Harpole, L. R. O'Halloran, J. B. Grace, T. M. Anderson, J. D. Bakker, L. A. Biederman, C. S. Brown, Y. M. Buckley, L. B. Calabrese, C.-J. Chu, E. E. Cleland, S. L. Collins, K. L. Cottingham, M. J. Crawley, E. I. Damschen, K. F. Davies, N. M. DeCrappeo, P. A. Fay, J. Firn, P. Frater, E. I. Gasarch, D. S. Gruner, N. Hagenah, J. Hille Ris Lambers, H. Humphries, V. L. Jin, A. D. Kay, K. P. Kirkman, J. A. Klein, J. M. H. Knops, K. J. La Pierre, J. G. Lambrinos, W. Li, A. S. MacDougall, R. L. McCulley, B. A. Melbourne, C. E. Mitchell, J. L. Moore, J. W. Morgan, B. Mortensen, J. L. Orrock, S. M. Prober, D. A. Pyke, A. C. Risch, M. Schuetz, M. D. Smith, C. J. Stevens, L. L. Sullivan, G. Wang, P. D. Wragg, J. P. Wright, and L. H. Yang. 2011. Productivity is a poor predictor of plant species richness. Science 333: 1750-1753.

7.       Briggs, A.L. & Morgan, J.W. 2011. Post-cultivation recovery of biological soil crusts in semi-arid native grasslands, southern Australia. Journal of Arid Environments in press

8.       Briggs, A.L. & Morgan, J.W. 2011. Seed characteristics and soil surface patch type interact to affect germination of semi-arid woodland species. Plant Ecology 212: 91-103.

9.       Firn, J., Moore, J., MacDougall, A.S., Borer, E.T., Seabloom, E.W., HilleRisLambers, J., Harpole, W.S., Cleland, E.E., Brown, C.S., Knops, J.M.H., Prober, S.M., Pyke, D.A., Farrell, K.A., Bakker, J.D., O’Halloran, L.R., Adler, P.B., Collins, S.L., D’Antonia, C.M., Crawley, M.J., Wolkovich, E.M., La Pierre, K.J., Melbourne, B.A., Hautier, Y., Morgan, J.W., Leakey, A.D.B., Kay, A., McCulley, R., Davies, K.F., Stevens, C.J., Chu, C-J., Holl, K.D., Klein, J.A.,Fay, P.A., Hagenah, N., Kirkman, K.P. & Buckley, Y.M. 2011. Abundance of introduced species at home predicts abundance away in herbaceous communities. Ecology Letters 14: 274-281.

10.   Geddes, L.S., Lunt, I.D., Smallbone, L.T. & Morgan, J.W. 2011. Old-field colonization by trees and shrubs following land-use change: could this be Victoria’s largest example of landscape recovery? Ecological Management and Restoration 12: 31-36.

11.   Morgan, J.W., Cutler, S.C. & Wong, N.K. 2011. Life-form species-area curves in temperate eucalypt woodlands. Plant Ecology

12.   Schultz, N.L., Morgan, J.W. & Lunt, I.D. 2011. Effects of grazing exclusion on plant species richness and phytomass accumulation vary across a regional productivity gradient. Journal of Vegetation Science 22: 130-142.

13.   Venn, S.E., Green, K., Pickering, C.M. and Morgan, J.W. 2011.Using plant functional traits to explain community composition across a strong environmental filter in Australian alpine snowpatches. Plant Ecology 212: 1491-1499.

14.   Wong, N.K., J. Dorrough and J.W. Morgan 2010. A conceptual model of plant community changes following cessation of cultivation in semi-arid grassland. Applied Vegetation Science 13: 389–402.

15.   Lunt, I.D., L.M. Winsemius, S.P. McDonald, J.W. Morgan and R.L. Dehaan 2010. How widespread is woody plant thickening in temperate Australia? Changes in woody vegetation cover in lowland woodland and coastal ecosystems in Victoria from 1989 to 2005. Journal of Biogeography 37, 722–732

16.   Mayfield, M. M., I. Aubin, S.P. Bonser, J.W. Morgan, S. McNamara and P.A. Vesk. 2010. What does species richness tell us about functional diversity? Predictions and evidence for species and trait diversity responses to land use change. Global Ecology and Biogeography 19, 423–431.

17.   Laliberte, E., J. Wells, F. DeClerck, D. Metcalfe, C. Catterall, C. Queiroz, I. Aubin, S. Bonser, Y. Ding, J.M. Fraterrigo, S. McNamara, J.W. Morgan, D. Sánchez Merlos, P. Vesk and M.M. Mayfield, M. 2010. Land use intensification reduces redundancy and response diversity in plant communities. Ecology Letters 13: 76–86.

18.   Price, J.N., N.K. Wong and J.W. Morgan. 2010. Recovery of understorey vegetation after release from a long history of sheep grazing in a herb-rich woodland. Austral Ecology 35, 505–514.      


Download Resume

Older publications

Morgan, J.W. and V. Carnegie. 2009. Backcountry huts as introduction points for invasion by non-native species into subalpine vegetation. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 41, 238-245.

Price, J.N. and J.W. Morgan. 2009. Multi-decadal increases in shrub abundance in nonriverine red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) woodlands occur during a period of complex landuse history. Australian Journal of Botany, 57, 163-170.

Sutton, F.M. and J.W. Morgan. 2009. Functional traits and prior abundance explain native plant extirpation in a fragmented woodland landscape. Journal of Ecology 97, 718 – 727.

Venn, S.E., J.W. Morgan, and P.T. Green. 2009. Do facilitative interactions with neighbouring plants assist the growth of seedlings at high altitudes in alpine Australia? Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 41, 381-387.

Williams, N.S.G., A.K. Hahs, and J.W. Morgan. 2008. A dispersal-constrained habitat suitability model for predicting invasion of alpine vegetation. Ecological Applications 18, 347- 359.

Price, J.N. and J.W. Morgan. 2008. Woody plant encroachment reduces species richness of herb-rich woodlands in southern Australia. Austral Ecology 33, 278-289.

Lunt, I.D., D.J. Eldridge, J.W. Morgan, and G.B. Witt. 2007. Turner Review No. 13: A framework to predict the effects of livestock grazing and grazing exclusion on conservation values in natural ecosystems in Australia. Australian Journal of Botany 55, 401-415.

Venn, S.E. and J.W. Morgan. 2007. Phytomass and phenology of three alpine snowpatch species across a natural snowmelt gradient. Australian Journal of Botany 55, 450-456.

Franco, J. and J.W. Morgan. 2007. Using historical records, aerial photography and dendroecological methods to determine vegetation changes in a grassy woodland since European settlement. Australian Journal of Botany 55, 1-7.

Williams N.S.G, J.W Morgan, M.A. McCarthy, and M.J. McDonnell M.J. 2006. Local extinction of grassland plants: the landscape matrix is more important than patch attributes. Ecology 87, 3000-3006.