Staff profile

Dr John W

Dr John W Morgan

Plant Ecologist

College of Science, Health and Engineering

School of Life Sciences

Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution

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


Ben Zeeman (PhD) – Conservation of urban grasslands in the face of multiple change drivers

Simon Heyes (MSc) - Recruitment bottlenecks in a once common grassy woodland tree

Nick Moore (Hons) - Native grass response to experimental fire - how phylogeny, plant strategy and drought stress affect resprouting

Alex Keirsten-Wakefield (Hons) - Timing of rainfall assembles annual plant communities in different ways



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

  • ENV1CSS Climate, Society and Science
  • BOT2PDE Plant Diversity and Ecology
  • BOT3EEC PLant Evolution, Ecology and Conservation

Recent publications

~~1. 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. Global assessment, using standardised experiment, examining the controls on native and exotic diversity in herbaceous ecosystems, challenging long-held beliefs about the humped-back response between richness and productivity. [IF: 31.027; ERA Ranking A*; Times cited 144; Listed in Faculty of 1000 “Must Read”]

2. Laliberte, E., J. Wells, F. DeClerck, D. Metcalfe, C. Catterall, C. Queiroz, C., I. Aubin, S. Bonser,Y. Ding, J.M. Fraterrigo, S. McNamara, J.W. Morgan, D. Sánchez Merlos, P. Vesk, and Mayfield, M.M. 2010. Land use intensification reduces redundancy and response diversity in plant communities. Ecology Letters 13: 76-86. From ARC-NZ Vegetation Network working group. A meta-analysis of 18 datasets from around the globe using a novel approach to examining functional redundancy and response diversity under land use change. [IF 17.949; ERA A*; Times Cited 134; ISI journal ranking for Ecology 1/136; 8th most downloaded Ecology Letters paper of 2010]

3. Firn, Moore, MacDougall, Borer, Seabloom, HilleRisLambers, Harpole, Cleland, Brown, Knops, Prober, Pyke, Farrell, Bakker, Halloran, Adler, Collins, D’Antonio, Crawley, Wolkovich, La Pierre, Melbourne, Hautier, J.W. Morgan, Leakey, Kay, McCulley, Davies, Stevens, Chu, Holl, Klein, Fay, Hagenah, Kirkman and Buckley. 2011. Abundance of introduced species at home predicts abundance away in herbaceous communities. Ecology Letters 14: 274-281. An international experiment testing bottom-up versus top-down controls on diversity in herbaceous ecosystems. We show abundance of exotics in the new range is best predicted by home range abundance. [IF 17.949; ERA A*; Times Cited 38; ISI journal ranking for Ecology: 1/136; Faculty of 1000 rated as “Must Read”]

4. Mayfield, M. M., I. Aubin, S.P Bonser, J.W. Morgan, S. McNamara, and P.A. Vesk, P. (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. Product of ARC-NZ Vegetation Network working group - theoretical paper on assumptions made in the study of human-altered landscapes, coupled with a new model on trait change with land use. [IF: 7.223; ERA A*; Times Cited 89; ISI Journal ranking for Ecology: 13/136; Faculty of 1000 rated as “Must Read”]

5. Fordham, D.A., Akcakaya, H.R., Araujo, M.B., Elith, J., Keith, D.A., Pearson, R., Auld, T.D., Mellin, C., Morgan, J.W., Regan, T.J., Tozer, M., Watts, M.J., White, M., Wintle, B.A., Yates, C. and Brooks, B.W. 2012. Plant extinction risk under climate change: are forecast range shifts alone a good indicator of species vulnerability to global warming? Global Change Biology 18: 1357-1371. Product of an ARC-NZ Vegetation Network working group, integrating long-term plant demography and stochastic processes into climate change models for effective scenario forecasting. [IF: 6.91; ERA Ranking: A*; ISI Journal ranking for Ecology: 9/136; Times Cited 78; one of the top 25 most downloaded articles in 2012 in Global Change Biology. ISI ranking is 1st in biodiversity conservation]

6. 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. [IF 5.431; ERA Ranking A; Times Cited 14]. We incorporate functional traits and prior abundance to predict how plant species persist in long-fragmented ecosystems, showing how both parameters determine outcomes for plant species. [IF 5.431; ERA Ranking A; ISI Journal ranking for Ecology: 14/136. Times Cited 23]

7. Williams N.S.G, J.W. Morgan, M.J. McDonnell, and M.A. McCarthy. 2005. Plant traits and local extinctions in natural grasslands along an urban - rural gradient. Journal of Ecology 93, 1203-1213. We show that probability of native plant persistence in remnant native grasslands depends on plan traits such as height/life form and the type of land use that surrounds the remnants. [IF 5.431; ERA A; ISI journal ranking for Ecology: 14/136; Times Cites 106]

8. Morgan, J.W. 1999. Effects of population size on seed production and germinability in an endangered fragmented grassland plant. Conservation Biology 13, 266-273. Demonstrated that small populations suffer reduced reproductive output in some, but not all years, and that these reductions in fitness affect some (but not all) aspects of plant fitness. [IF 4.355; ERA A*; ISI journal ranking for Ecology: 23/136; Times cited 144]

9. 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. This study confirms the observation from many local, small-scale studies that woody plant encroachment into grassy ecosystems occurs at much larger, landscape-scales in response to recent land use changes. [IF 4.863; ERA A; Times Cited 26; ISI journal ranking for Ecology: 25/136]

10. Williams N.S.G, J.W. Morgan, M.A. McCarthy, M.J. McDonnell. 2006. Local extinction of grassland plants: the landscape matrix is more important than patch attributes. Ecology 87, 3000-3006. Probability of local extinction in remnant grasslands depended on land use context in which remnant vegetation is imbedded. Edge effects were of less importance than land use in community re-assembly. [IF 4.849; ERA A*; ISI journal ranking for Ecology: 29/136; Times Cited 54]



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