Research Themes

ICON Science takes an interdisciplinary approach to the complex problem of local and global biodiversity loss. We work across many different fields, from urban ecology to the social sciences. While our work is quite varied, our current research focuses primarily around the following themes.

1. Planning for nature in cities

Urban biodiversity weaves through the fragmented landscapes of our towns and cities. Biodiversity is inherently important and a key contributor to human and environmental health. Yet urbanisation is a major driver of biodiversity loss.


Image: Thami Croeser

At ICON Science we work toward building a better understanding of urban socio-ecosystems, their dynamics, and opportunities to improve their health. We study the human-nature interface to evaluate and develop strategies for the conservation of urban biodiversity and enrichment of human life through involvement with nature. We focus on ways to contribute to environmental decision-making, planning and community engagement.

Examples of questions we are currently working on:

  • How do plant choice, design and context influence plant-insect interactions in urban greenspaces? (Katherine Berthon, PhD Candidate)
  • How to design urban green spaces for human well-being and biodiversity (Freya Thomas, Research Fellow)
  • How can we maximise wildlife connectivity in the urban matrix using spatial modelling tools? (Holly Kirk, Research Fellow)
  • Biodiversity sensitive urban design: How can we plan, design and build cities so that they make a positive, on-site contribution to biodiversity and encourage everyday access to nature for residents? (Georgia Garrard, Holly Kirk & Sarah Bekessy)
  • How can we prepare effective plans for urban green infrastructure at the local government level? (Thami Croeser, PhD Candidate) 
Nat_bee_mating on oxalis_DSC_6241

Image: Katherine Berthon

For collaboration or further information about current projects under this theme please contact the relevant lab member above. 

This theme is supported by the NESP CAUL Hub, the Ecological Society of Australia, an Ian Potter Foundation grant, a Myer Foundation grant, and The City of Melbourne ARC Linkage Grant. 

2. Human behaviour and communication for biodiversity

To be most effective, conservation decisions need to consider people’s values, attitudes and behaviours. We are therefore interested in understanding these human elements of biodiversity conservation in order to inform public and stakeholder engagement strategies.

We use three approaches to explore this human side of conservation: behaviour change, strategic communications (including message framing), and education.

Examples of questions we are currently working on:

  • Targeting Australia’s highest biodiversity impact behaviours (Georgia Garrard & Sarah Bekessy) Link to NESP project description
  • How can we prioritise human behaviours for conservation on a local and national scale? (Matthew Selinske, PhD candidate)
  • What are the environmental and cultural benefits of reconnecting primary school students with local biodiversity and cultural heritage? (Natasha Ward, Michael Harrison, Sarah Bekessy) Link to NESP project description
  • Message framing for biodiversity conservation (Alex Kusmanoff)
  • Are optimistic or pessimistic messages more effective in inspiring behaviour change? (Lindall Kidd, PhD candidate)
  • How can we be more strategic about planning and designing conservation messages? (Emily Gregg, PhD candidate)
  • How do people emotionally respond to small green spaces in urban areas? (Freya Thomas, Research Fellow)

For collaboration or further information about current projects under this theme please contact the relevant lab member above. 


This theme is supported by the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub (Project 6.3) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions

3. Resource allocation and decision-making

The goal of environmental decision science is to drive more efficient environmental management, for example, determining how to best distribute finite environmental budgets to most cost effectively reduce biodiversity loss. The discipline of environmental decision science has matured rapidly over the past decade, with Australia establishing global leadership, through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and other centres.

Our decision science research incorporates a range of quantitative approaches including spatial prioritization and conservation planning, ecological population modelling, and modelling of development and change vegetation condition through time. Our work has had a significant impact on practice in governments and NGOs. 

Examples of questions we are currently working on:

  • How does optimizing resource allocation in the presence of uncertainty magnify that uncertainty, and result in a greater propensity for negative surprises? (Ascelin Gordon)
  • How should activities to reduce illegal poaching of jaguars in the Brazillian Atlantic Forest be deployed to minimize the losses in population size? (Ascelin Gordon)
  • How can conservation planning move away from a focus on maximizing the representation of  biodiversity features, and move towards maximizing the impact of conservation actions? (Ascelin Gordon)

For collaboration or further information about current projects under this theme please contact the relevant lab member above. 

4. Policy evaluation and biodiversity offsetting

Human activity is one of the main drivers of biodiversity and ecosystems decline. Policy instruments such as environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment aim to manage human impact on the environment, while interventions like protected areas and biodiversity offsets seek to contribute to biodiversity conservation. We have multiple research projects studying the impact of (or changes attributable to) various types of conservation interventions and policies.  Our research examines whether policy instruments and interventions achieve their intended goals, and investigate ways in which they could be improved.

Examples of questions we are currently working on:

  • How can we predict the net outcomes of biodiversity offset policies that account for the losses of biodiversity from development and the gains associated offsets? (Ascelin Gordon, Senior Research Fellow)
  • In modelling the growth of Sydney and associated biodiversity offsets, how does this impact the endangered Cumberland Plain Woodlands community? (Ascelin Gordon, Senior Research Fellow)
  • What difference are various mechanisms for conservation on private land (such conservation covenants) having in reducing biodiversity loss? (Ascelin Gordon)
  • What are the tradeoffs and synergies between biodiversity and ecosystem services in the context of offsetting? (Ascelin Gordon)
  • What are the impacts of protected areas on environmental and social outcomes? (Roshan Sharma, PhD Candidate)
  • What outcomes, opportunities and risks does strategic environmental assessment present to biodiversity and ecosystem services? (Marco Gutierrez, PhD Candidate)

For collaboration or further information about current projects under this theme please contact the relevant lab member above. 

This theme is supported by an ARC Discovery Project: Evaluating environment policy that has immediate costs but long-term gains.

5. Private land conservation

Conserving species and ecosystems on private land is increasingly recognised as important not only for its ecological benefits, but also for economic and social reasons. The key to private land conservation is motivating and enabling private landholders to get involved in conservation activities, and keeping them involved over time, in ways that benefit nature. Our research takes an interdisciplinary approach to understand the interactions between the ecological, social and economic factors that deliver conservation on private land.


Other research questions

  • Can we use novel modelling techniques and animal movement data to predict more accurate species distributions? (Holly Kirk, Research Fellow)

We at ICON Science acknowledge the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct our research, teaching and service.