Small habitats matter for conservation of biodiversity and rare and endangered species

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1. Project summary (maximum 150 words)

My research focuses on understanding the key processes that cause biodiversity to form in space and time. I am passionate about this area of research, as I want to be able to help humans better manage the remaining wild places on earth. I also hope to provide valuable information that might allow ecological restoration of damaged ecosystems both now and in the future.

 For my research I tested one of the oldest theories in ecology, the theory of island biogeography. The central principle of this theory is that larger habitats should correspondingly contain more species. However, this is not always the case. In my PhD research, I did find some evidence that larger habitats contained more species. However, levels of biodiversity were more strongly related to other factors I measured.

2. How does your project benefit Queensland? (maximum 500 words)

For my PhD, I investigated two rarely-studied ecological communities which occur within marine and terrestrial locations in Queensland. The first was an examination of pumice-rafted marine communities which arrive on the east coast of Australia every 5 to 10 years. This study was one of the only studies of this unique phenomenon, which is thought to allow the dispersal and colonisation of many of the sedentary species which form the Great Barrier Reef and other shallow marine communities throughout the Pacific. Here I discovered that pumice rafting is allowing the dispersal of corals and other molluscs from tropical and subtropical climes to temperate areas such as Tasmania. This previously unknown dispersal mechanism might be critically important in the context of a changing climate. For example, it may potentially allow species to escape abiotic conditions which exceed their physiological tolerances, such as increased temperatures.

The second study I completed, investigated the drivers of ecosystem resilience and regeneration within critically endangered forests formed by the tree Melaleuca irbyana within south-eastern Queensland. Here I discovered that small remnant forests provide greater opportunities for seedling recruitment of this endangered ecosystem. Hence, protection of even small habitat patches provides large opportunities for conservation of rare species and biodiversity. This information is important, as currently both local, state and federal legislation is geared towards the protection of large remnant patches. While small patches are often easily cleared for development purposes, such as new roads or housing estates. While I completely support the protection of large habitat patches. My findings indicate that we should not overlook small remnant patches. This is because they provide critical refugia for rare and critically endangered species such as Melaleuca irbyana.

My research interests offer insights into the ways we can continue to conserve biodiversity within Queensland and provides information on the restoration of degraded communities in the future. My research also provided new knowledge on two rarely-studied ecosystems within Queensland.

3. What STEM promotion/engagement activities do you do/have you done? (maximum 500 words)

Scientific Communication Experience


Invited to be a part of the ‘Flying Scientists’: Meet a scientist in schools’ program. Provides students at local schools to engage with a ‘real’ scientist and be inspired by your research.


Invited to provide a lecture to a visiting college of undergraduate students from Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon. Provide a one-hour basic lecture on the organisation of biological communities and ecosystems.


Invited to present a speednote plenary at the Ecological Society of Australia’s annual conference. Presentation: Pumice rafting: a hitchhiker’s guide to marine biodiversity.


Invited to be part of Foxtel’s History Channel ‘Coast Australia 3’ airing on Foxtel and BBC2 in 2017 (Interview and filming occurred on Hinchinbrook Island April 2016): This segment of the highest rated Fox History Channel Documentary series features me in a segment, where I am interviewed by Professor Tim Flannery regarding my research on pumice rafting.


National Finalist, State Finalist (Qld) and People’s Choice Award: The British Council’s FameLab (

Finalist: Fresh Science Southeast Queensland (

Interviewed by Kathy McLeish ABC News Online: regarding my research into pumice rafting (


Invited to present at NASA’s (QUT alumnus’) Abigail Allwood’s key note address: “Brisbane to NASA: My Research Journey”, July 2015. QUT, Brisbane, Australia. Here I presented a short piece on my career to date and also my FameLab presentation into my research on pumice rafting.


Invited to speak on ABC radio: Spencer Howson’s morning show, Brisbane region. Interview regarding my research into pumice rafting: ‘A Hitchhiker’s guide to pumice rafting’ and my participation in the State finals of FameLab.


QUT 3-minute Thesis Competition: Runner up for the Faculty of Science and Engineering component of this competition.


 Invited to present at QUT SEF HDR Students’ Induction Program (2014): Invited to present a 10-minute seminar to new HDR students on the topic “Life as a post-graduate student”

Conference presentations

2018               Velasquez, E. M., Bryan, S., Ekins. M. and Firn, J. (2018) Invited to present a plenary speed-note and poster: Pumice rafting: A hitchhiker’s guide to marine biodiversity. The Ecological Society of Australia, Ecology in the Anthropocene.

2016               Velasquez, E. M., Bryan, S. and Firn J. (2016) Speed talk: Pumice rafting: A hitchhiker's guide to marine biodiversity. Society for Conservation Biology 4th Oceania Congress, July 2016. Brisbane, Australia. 2016           Velasquez, E. M. and Firn, J. (2016) Poster presentation: Melaleuca irbyana: does reserve size drive seedling recruitment in a critically endangered tree? The 2nd International Conference on Urban Tree Diversity, February 2016. Melbourne, Australia.

2015               Velasquez, E. M., Bryan, S. and Firn, J. (2015) Contributed Talk: Havre pumice rafts: A unique test of the theory of island biogeography. The Student Conference on Conservation Science, February 2015. The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane.

2015               Velasquez, E. M., Bryan, S. and Firn, J. (2015) Contributed Talk: Havre pumice rafts: A unique test of the theory of island biogeography. The International Biogeography Society – 7th biennial Conference, January 2015. Bayreuth, Germany. 



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