Professor Sarah Bekessy

Research Staff

Sarah leads the Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science). She is a Professor and ARC Future Fellow at RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and a researcher in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and in two National Environmental Science Program (NESP) hubs (Threatened Species and Clean Air and Urban Landscapes).  She is interested in the intersection between science and policy in environmental management and is currently involved in an interdisciplinary range of research and consulting projects, including an ARC Future Fellowship titled ‘Socio-ecological models for environmental decision making’. Her research interests include threatened species management, environmental decision analysis, population and landscape modelling, urban ecology and education for sustainability.

Dr Holly Kirk

Research Staff

Holly is a postdoctoral research fellow working on Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design. As an ecologist, Holly is fascinated by how animals move around their environment, from foraging fairy-wrens to migrating monarch butterflies. She has been using this knowledge to plan cities that support and enhance urban biodiversity. Most recently Holly has been developing a tool to quantify ecological connectivity and applying this within the BSUD framework to several development projects, including the renewal of Fishermans Bend (Melbourne). Holly is passionate about translating scientific theory into positive on-ground action for people and nature.

Dr. Casey Visintin

Research Staff

Originally trained as an architect and urban planner, Casey Visintin has ten years of experience working in a multinational firm on large urban development and sustainable building projects. He is a LEED-accredited professional and has completed two gold-certified institutional buildings – both from the programming/schematic design phase through construction and post-occupancy evaluation. He obtained post-graduate qualifications (M. Env – Wildlife Conservation; PhD – Applied Ecology) to support his passion for biological conservation. Casey’s current postdoctoral research focuses on improving biodiversity outcomes in the built environment by integrating the disciplines of architecture and ecology.

Cristina Hernandez


Cristina is a PhD student investigating strategies to translate ecological knowledge to support ‘place’ for both humans and non-humans to coexist. Specifically, she aspires to merge the idea of participatory design with ecology by incorporating the voice and needs of the non-humans and using this knowledge to increase the resilience of our urban areas. Cristina has a background in ecology from the University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico and a Master of Environment (Sustainable Cities, Sustainable Regions) from the University of Melbourne. Across the years since she first completed her bachelor’s degree, she has avidly worked to bring together ecology and design as well as creating partnerships between academy and industry.

Beth Kiss

PhD Student

Beth comes from the Architecture and Planning industry, having spent some years working in consultancy and private practice. Her interdisciplinary skill set is applied to her PhD research which forms part of the ARC Discovery Grant ‘Beyond Green Facades’, which aims to deliver improved biodiversity outcomes at the Architecture and Urban Design scale.   

Dr Ascelin Gordon

Research Staff

Ascelin is a Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow with ICON Science.  He works as part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and the National Environmental Research Program.  Ascelin’s research focuses on developing modelling approaches for understanding the impacts of environmental policies on biodiversity values in the landscape.  His research interests include conservation planning and spatial prioritisation, dealing with uncertainties in conservation, setting priorities for conservation investment, population modelling and conservation on private land.

Dr Nita Lauren

Research Staff

Nita is a social scientist with a background in social psychology and behaviour change. She is an expert in behavioural spillover, which is the notion that engaging in an environmental behaviour increases motivation for and engagement in other environmental behaviours. Nita enjoys using experimental research and evidence reviewing to promote adoption of behaviours with positive environmental impacts. 

Dr Jacinta Humphrey


Jacinta is a postdoctoral researcher with ICON Science working on Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design. Her work explores how the physical properties of urban landscapes, such as the cover of houses and trees, influence the occurrence of individual species and the diversity and composition of biotic communities. Jacinta applies this knowledge to find opportunities to enhance and create habitat for native wildlife in residential neighbourhoods, urban parks, schoolyards and private gardens. She is a passionate science communicator who enjoys sharing her research with the broader community.

Hugh Stanford


Hugh’s research focuses on urban planning and how cities can be better designed to improve urban biodiversity and open space outcomes in the face of urban development and inner-city densification. He is currently investigating how informal and neglected urban spaces can play a role in improving urban biodiversity outcomes and how urban governance can facilitate this in practice.

Fiona Hoegh-Guldberg


Fiona is a PhD candidate investigating synergies and tradeoffs between biodiversity, climate mitigation and human wellbeing. Her research forms part of the ARC Discovery Project ‘Onsets not offsets for real Biodiversity gains.’ Fiona recently completed a Masters of Environment at the University of Melbourne studying ‘Sustainable Cities, Sustainable Regions’ and ‘Climate Change Mitigation.’ She has a background in Marine Science and Zoology (BSc Honours), and completed her honours research project in 2019 on the bioacoustic breeding behaviours of female Kangaroo Island glossy black-cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami). She is very passionate about interdisciplinary solutions where biodiversity conservation, climate action and human wellbeing unite.

Stephanie Wong

PhD Student

Stephanie is a PhD candidate exploring leakage in conservation interventions. Her project investigates the relationship between intervention impact and leakage, and how spatial and temporal leakage can undermine the net outcome of different conservation interventions at varying scales using a conceptual framework. She will further investigate how conservation interventions that carry minimal leakage risks can be prioritized.

Prior to joining the Centre for Urban Research, Stephanie worked in environmental consultancy as a geospatial consultant. She has a master’s degree in environmental science and technology from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree from the National University of Singapore.

Dr Alex Kusmanoff

Research Staff

Alex has much experience working in government across various policy areas, and is currently a Senior Behaviour Change Adviser with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning. He also continues to dabble in academia with research chiefly related to behaviour change and message framing to support conservation.

Dr Nerkez Opacin


Dr Nerkez Opacin is a research fellow at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University. As a multidisciplinary researcher and educator, he has extensive experience in analysing intervention programmes focusing on community engagement and vulnerable communities as well as competence in working on conflict resolution and peacebuilding approaches. At present, Nerkez is engaged in the RECETAS project, overseen by Professor Sarah Bekessy and Professor Katherine Johnson. The initiative aims to examine and enhance nature-based interventions as a means to alleviate the experiences of loneliness and societal disconnection among individuals who identify as LGBTIQA+ asylum seekers and refugees.


Dr Opacin’s research interests span across social anthropology, global studies, and peacebuilding. He utilises a variety of qualitative research methods such as ethnography and participatory action research, in conjunction with quantitative data analysis techniques, to create research findings that can be employed to guide practice, program design, and policy.

Dr Thami Croeser

Research Staff

Thami is an urban planner and spatial analyst with a specialist interest in urban greening, with a history of delivering greening projects and policy in Melbourne’s most urbanised spaces. He currently is part of an international project team advising the European Union on planning for urban greening.

Dale Wright


Dale’s love for birds from an early age led him to a career in biodiversity conservation. His experience in applied conservation includes working as the manager of a protected area in Tanzania, an extension officer on WWF-SA’s Biodiversity & Wine Initiative and as the national IBA Conservation Implementation Manager for BirdLife South Africa. However, he also enjoys conservation research, completing an MSc in Conservation Biology and collaborating on several ornithological and conservation policy related research projects. He joins ICON Science as a PhD candidate on the ARC Coffee Linkage project, investigating how sustainable agriculture can support biodiversity conservation. 

Dr Emily Gregg

Adjunct member

Emily’s work looks to improve communications in order to increase community buy-in to threatened species conservation. In addition to her PhD (with ICON), she has a Bachelor of Science (Zoology) and a Master of Science (Zoology) from the University of Melbourne, where she investigated the feasibility of a ‘waterless barrier’ in halting toad spread through Western Australia.