Australasian Weeds Conference, Melbourne

Last week I attended and presented some of my research at the Australasian Weeds Conference in Melbourne. I feared that the program might be dominated by acronym-laden government speak, herbicide hard-sells and over-parameterised models but this was unfounded. Instead we were treated to some terrific varied plenaries, a lively forum and some genuine exchanges amongst people working in weed policy, operations and research.

I think that some of the plenary speakers showed real vision for the future of weed management in Australia. Richard Hobbs and John Dwyer entreated us to shift away from assuming that all native species are good and all non-natives are bad, to a more holistic consideration of a species’ context, role, value and impact as well as the impact of any interventions we might make. (Dwyer boldly likened some current attitudes and activities to war-time xenophobia and propaganda.)

“Transformers are the bad guys” – Richard Hobbs.

Paul Martin focused more on issues of governance and funding. He believes that public funding for weeds research isn’t likely to reach Weeds CRC heights again any time soon, and suggests we harness private wealth and community interest. He’s further concerned about poorly coordinated governance, high transaction costs and weak motivational arrangements, and calls for more research into the social dimensions of weed management.

Presentations by Chris Johnson and Jarvis Weston were just plain cool. They spoke, respectively, about Australia’s megafauna (tree-stripping snub-nosed kangaroos! geese bigger than emus!) and restoration of penguin nesting sites on Phillip Island (including the twenty-year buy-back and stripping of an entire housing estate).

Another highlight of the conference was the forum on Ecology of Invasive Species: bridging the gap between research and practice. Many of the future directions suggested echoed the plenary presentations – understanding the values and motivations of private citizens, modelling social groups as weed vectors, focusing on asset protection by understanding the variable (positive and negative) impacts of weeds across space. As for ‘bridging the gap’, it seems that there’s no substitute for establishing direct partnerships between researchers and practitioners. I listened to others’ stories and frustrations and it dawned on me just how rare and effective the Hawkweed Linkage has been these past few years. In fact, I was sitting next to my DPI counterpart Karen Herbert exchanging whispered comments throughout the afternoon. The collaborative one-on-one relationship that Karen and I have forged has really bridged a research-practice gap for hawkweed management, and it has been underpinned by a formal Linkage partnership specifying research and funding obligations. This has allowed us both to dedicate time and effort to a partnership as part of our job descriptions.

Our eradication target, orange hawkweed, photographed by Jo Caldwell

Hawkweeds had a pretty high profile at the conference. They featured in:

  • a poster about NSW orange hawkweed management from Jo Caldwell and her NSW Environment & Heritage colleagues,
  • a poster on Victorian hawkweed management from Karen Herbert (DPI) and Iris Curran (Parks Victoria),
  • a poster on using adapted eradographs to track eradication progress from Susie Hester (UNE) and Karen Herbert,
  • Linkage CI Roger Cousens‘ talk on next-generation models simulating King Devil hawkweed seeds dispersing by wind,
  • my talk about the hawkweed detection experiment I ran in January 2012.

It was great to speak to an audience of practitioners as well as academics. They really got the hang of what I was doing, asked some clever questions and put me on to some related projects and references that I would probably not have otherwise found. There might even be another gap-bridging collaboration in the works!

For the conference proceedings I wrote an article entitled Designing a detection experiment: tricks and trade-offs, co-authored by Jos Moore, Kate Giljohann, Georgia Garrard and Mick McCarthy. Email me if you’d like a copy.

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