Associate Professor Samantha Setterfield, School of Biological Sciences
See Sam’s full research profile here.
What are your research interests as they relate to northern Australia?
I have over 25 years experience in tropical ecology focussed on three interrelated areas of research: tropical savanna and wetland ecology, invasive plant ecology, and weed risk management.
I have collaborated extensively with Natalie Rossiter-Rachor, Michael Douglas, and Lindsay Hutley on these projects. We continue to have significant breakthroughs in understanding the impact of invasive grasses (particularly Andropogon gayanus – gamba grass) on nutrient cycling, biodiversity and fire regimes. We demonstrated that some weed species in tropical savannas are operating as ecosystem transformers by initiating a self-perpetuating grass-fire cycle of degradation. Our research has predicted the long-term implications of these changes to Australia’s tropical ecosystem structure and function, and the cost and approaches of effective management. This has been achieved by detailed ecological studies and incorporation of this knowledge into innovative spatially-explicit weed spread and management models.
A major focus of current research is on the ecology of rivers and wetlands in northern Australia and potential impacts on ecological and social values from water extraction, plant invasions and climate change. Research is also assessing the impact of fire on riparian zones, which are critical refuges in these ecosystems that experience annual drought and frequent fire.
What do you love about working in northern Australia?
The north is a really exciting place to do research, with so many interesting scientific questions still to answer. Our northern savannas are vast and beautiful, and still relatively healthy. The colours, complexity and life in these landscapes is stunning, and the changes from the dry season to the monsoonal downpours is dramatic. I particularly love the Darwin woollybutt and stringybark savanna woodlands of the Top End – especially those that haven’t been invaded by gamba grass or other weeds! And the people living and working in places like Kakadu, Litchfield and Mary River National Parks – everyone from Traditional Owners to park managers and rangers to other researchers – are so dedicated to maintaining these healthy ecosystems that it makes it a pleasure to do research there.