Gunnar’s Lab

The underlying philosopy of our lab group is to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment to allow its members to reach their full potential as developing researchers. We undertake various projects that investigate aspects of the distribution, ecology and conservation of biodiversity in Oceania. Curently there is a strong focus on unserstanding the phenomenon of dieback in woody plants and the impact of cyclones on forest structure and function. The group is led by Gunnar Keppel and is based at the Mawson Lakes Campus of the University of South Australia.


Gunnar Keppel (group leader)

Chloe Bentze (PhD student, UniSA) – Project: The ecology of stringybark dieback in the Mount Lofty Ranges.

Donna Fitzgerald (PhD student, UniSA) – Project: Quantifying dieback of stringybarks in the Mount Lofty Ranges using remote sensing.

Michael Otasowie Eguagie (PhD student, UniSA) – Project: Cyclone impacts on the functioning of rain forests.

Alivereti Naikatini (PhD student, University of the South Pacific): Behavioural ecology of Fiji’s woodland songbirds.

Siteri Tikoca (PhD student, University of Adelaide). Foraging habitats of an endangered Fijian cave roosting bat.

Stephen Fricker (Masters student, UniSA) Seasonal variation of mosquito assemblages in the Murraylands.

Shaun O’Sullivan (Masters student, UniSA) Arthropod diversity in native and artificial vegetation remnants.


Current and Future Impacts of Tropical Cyclones on Forests

Tropical cyclones are frequent, large-scale events that cause severe damage to nature and ecosystems. They are predicted to increase in intensity and to occur at higher latitudes dues to anthropogenic climate change. This project investigates the impacts of tropical cyclones on the structure and functioning of rain forests and how these are likely to change as a result of climate change. Functional trait data will be related to cyclone intensity to infer how affect the functioning of forests. Key collaborators are: Thomas Ibanez (University of Hawaii), John Dwyer (University of Queensland), Peter Vesk (University of Melbourne), Christophe Menkes (IRD Noumea), and Dan Metcalfe (CSIRO). Funding for the project is provided by the Hermon Slade Foundation.

Dieback of Stringybarks in the Mount Lofty Ranges

Three species of stringybarks occur in South Australia: the red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha), the messmate stringybark (E. obliqua), and the brown stringybark (E. baxteri). Dieback, often related to drought events, has been reported for all three species but details about its extent and causes are lacking. This project aims to build this basic knowledge to enable improved management. Key collaborators are: Greg Guerin (University of Adelaide), Stefan Peters (University of South Australia), and Trees for Life.

Red stringybark dieback in Spring Gully Conservation Park, Clare Valley, September 2021. Photo: Gunnar Keppel

Microclimate and Biodiversity

Microclimate can have profound impacts on the distribution of biodiversity. Despite this we know little about how vegetation modifies prevalent conditions to create unique microclimates. This project investigates how native vegetation is moderating microclimate in South Australia. We have established a network of five sites that consist transects starting at the edge of vegetation and equipped with temperature and humidity sensors in the air and soil to determine how vegetation moderates prevalent climates. The project is based at the University of South Australia and multi-disciplinary. Key collaborators are John Boland and Stefan Peters, both at the University of South Australia.

The edge of a woodland in the Fleurieu Peninsula. Photo: Gunnar Keppel

Refugia and their Importance under Anthropogenic Climate Change

Refugia are locations that facilitate the persistence of biota when the surrounding landscape becomes inhabitable for a species due to environmental change. The ability to foster the persistence of biodiversity is facilitated by refugia their ability to buffer environmental change, often as result of topographic complexity. Given the rapid ongoing changes caused by anthropogenic climate change, refugia have received considerable attention for their potential to facilitate in situ persistence of biodiversity. This project investigates the role of refugia in facilitating the persistence of biodiversity under anthropogenic climate change.

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