UTS site search

Dr Megan Phillips


Megan is a Lecturer and the Subject Coordinator for 91107 The Biosphere and 91159 Environmental Remediation.

Her research focuses on plant species in contaminated surface landscapes. She has previously explored the reproduction and life-history traits of invasive species and phylogenetically-related, non-invasive species in Australia.
For more information, please visit website: www.thephytolab.com

She is the academic co-chair of the UTS Environmental User Group.

She is the Project Manager for the UTS Environmental Science Student Communities and the UTS Environmental Internships and Volunteers initiative.
Image of Megan Phillips
Lecturer, School of Life Sciences
BSc Environmental Biology, Plant Ecology
+61 2 9514 8012

Research Interests

Megan's lab is broadly interested in developing new methods and technologies to reduce terrestrial and aquatic land contamination in a safe, cost-effective and non-destructive way.

Research projects are conducted within urban areas of the Sydney catchment, as well as coastal and regional New South Wales. Manipulative glasshouse projects are run in the rooftop facilities of the UTS Science Building.

Their research in contaminant phytoremediation considers all stages of the plant life cycle; from seed ecology to seedling growth and plant reproductive cycles.

Please contact Megan for more information on current research projects.

Can supervise: Yes

91107 The Biosphere - A first year core subject for all Environmental Science students at UTS

91159 Environmental Remediaton - A third year environmental elective subject for UTS Science students


Stohlgren, T., Pysek, P., Kartesz, J., Nishino, M., Pauchard, A., Winter, M., Pino, J., Richardson, D.M., Wilson, J., Murray, B., Phillips, M., Celesti-Grapow, L. & Graham, J. 2013, 'Globalization Effects on Common Plant Species' in Simon Levin (ed), Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, Elsevier Inc., Waltham, MA, USA, pp. 700-706.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS
The trade of goods by humans has bridged the continents, in effect restoring the old supercontinent of Pangaea. In the past century, humans have been responsible for an exponential increase in plant migrations, moving plant species around the globe for food, fuel, forage, horticulture, landscaping, and medicines. Trade within and among continents is breaking geographic barriers and providing long-range dispersal for seeds and propagules at unprecedented rates (Richardson et al., 2000; Wilson et al., 2009). Here, the authors provide a brief review of the globalization effects on common plant species and ââhomogenizationââ of the worldâs plant communities.


Phillips, M.L. 2016, 'Intentional Small-scale Disasters: Simulating Oil Spills to Develop Hands-on Remediation Experience', http://www.simulationcongress.com/wp-content/uploads/ASC_2016_Proceeding..., Australasian Simulation Congress, Simulation Australasia, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, pp. 518-521.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS
Oil spills pose substantial threats to ecosystem structure and function, and remediating ecosystems can be both time consuming and labour intensive. Crude oils contain hazardous heavy metal compounds, can be odorous, sticky and viscous, and may adhere easily to sand, rocks and biological tissues. Such properties make crude oil contamination immensely difficult to clean from shoreline communities. In order to provide an effective and memorable learning experience for university students enrolled in the subject 91159 Environmental Remediation, a laboratory simulation experiment was developed to realistically recreate both the impacts of an oceanic oil spill and the procedures required to remediate ecosystems at a microcosm scale. Students were tasked with creating their own miniature coastal ecosystems, complete with seawater, rocks, sediment, plants, small-scale model animals and a model shipping vessel. A small quantity of crude oil was then spilled from the model ship's location and tidal forces were mimicked. Students were provided with an arsenal of remediation equipment in order to enact their own realistic management strategies for cleaning and extracting oil from their ecosystems, as well as protecting natural and assets. At the completion of the simulation, students were asked to reflect on their experience and to extrapolate their microcosm experiment to real world, full-scale oil spills. Learning and teaching educators noted a high level of enthusiasm and engagement from students. The Student Feedback Survey at the end of semester also revealed high student satisfaction and strong positive feedback from students in regard to managing the simulated oil spill. This laboratory simulation proved to be a very effective educational tool which also created a fun and memorable experience for university science students.
Phillips, M.L. 2010, 'Phylogenetically-independent contrasts of seed traits between invasive and non-invasive plant species', Ecological Society of Australia Annual Conference, ANU, Canberra.

Journal articles

Murray, B.R., Martin, L.J., Phillips, M.L. & Pyšek, P. 2017, 'Taxonomic perils and pitfalls of dataset assembly in ecology: a case study of the naturalized Asteraceae in Australia', NeoBiota, vol. 34, pp. 1-20.
View/Download from: Publisher's site
The value of plant ecological datasets with hundreds or thousands of species is principally determined by the taxonomic accuracy of their plant names. However, combining existing lists of species to assemble a harmonized dataset that is clean of taxonomic errors can be a difficult task for non-taxonomists. Here, we describe the range of taxonomic difficulties likely to be encountered during dataset assembly and present an easy-to-use taxonomic cleaning protocol aimed at assisting researchers not familiar with the finer details of taxonomic cleaning. The protocol produces a final dataset (FD) linked to a companion dataset (CD), providing clear details of the path from existing lists to the FD taken by each cleaned taxon. Taxa are checked off against ten categories in the CD that succinctly summarize all taxonomic modifications required. Two older, publicly-available lists of naturalized Asteraceae in Australia were merged into a harmonized dataset as a case study to quantify the impacts of ignoring the critical process of taxonomic cleaning in invasion ecology. Our FD of naturalized Asteraceae contained 257 species and infra-species. Without implementation of the full cleaning protocol, the dataset would have contained 328 taxa, a 28% overestimate of taxon richness by 71 taxa. Our naturalized Asteraceae CD described the exclusion of 88 names due to nomenclatural issues (e.g. synonymy), the inclusion of 26 updated currently accepted names and four taxa newly naturalized since the production of the source datasets, and the exclusion of 13 taxa that were either found not to be in Australia or were in fact doubtfully naturalized. This study also supports the notion that automated processes alone will not be enough to ensure taxonomically clean datasets, and that manual scrutiny of data is essential. In the long term, this will best be supported by increased investment in taxonomy and botany in university curricula.
Murray, B.R., Hardstaff, L.K. & Phillips, M.L. 2013, 'Differences in Leaf Flammability, Leaf Traits and Flammability-Trait Relationships between Native and Exotic Plant Species of Dry Sclerophyll Forest', PLOS ONE, vol. 8, no. 11.
View/Download from: Publisher's site
Phillips, M. & Murray, B. 2012, 'Invasiveness in exotic plant species is linked to high seed survival in the soil', Evolutionary Ecology Research, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 83-94.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS
Background: Exotic species often do no harm for many generations and then become invasive. The science of invasion ecology seeks to determine the nature or causes of this change. Among the possibilities is that soil-borne fungi play a significant role in reducing the potential for invasiveness in the introduced range. Predictions: The seed survival of invasive species in the soil exceeds that of non-invasives. Seed survival, both in invasives and non-invasives, is higher in the presence of fungicide, but fungicide improves the seed survival of non-invasives more than that of invasives. Methods: A common garden experiment under field conditions to compare seed survival in the soil between invasive and non-invasive exotic plant species. We contrasted seven congeneric pairs of invasive and non-invasive species. The species in each pair originated from the same donor continent, shared similar growth form, habitat occurrence, and residence times in Australia. The addition of fungicide was used as an experimental treatment. Results: Seed survival was significantly higher in invasive species. The addition of fungicide improved seed survival. However, there was also a significant interaction: the fungicide treatment had a significantly stronger effect on the seed survival of non-invasive species. Seed mass differences between congeners did not provide a consistent, significant explanation of seed survival differences. Conclusion: The seeds of invasive species are better equipped to survive in the soil than those of non-invasive species. Moreover, soil-borne fungi play a key role in the lower seed survival of non-invasive species.
Murray, B. & Phillips, M.L. 2012, 'Temporal introduction patterns of invasive alien plant species to Australia', NeoBiota, vol. 13, pp. 1-14.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS
We examined temporal introduction patterns of 132 invasive alien plant species (IAPS) to Australia since European colonisation in 1770. Introductions of IAPS were high during 18101820 (10 species), 1840 1880 (51 species, 38 of these between 1840 and 1860) and 19301940 (9 species). Conspicuously few introductions occurred during 10-year periods directly preceding each introduction peak. Peaks during early European settlement (18101820) and human range expansion across the continent (1840-1860) both coincided with considerable growth in Australias human population. We suggest that population growth during these times increased the likelihood of introduced plant species becoming invasive as a result of increased colonization and propagule pressure. Deliberate introductions of IAPS (104 species) far outnumbered accidental introductions (28 species) and were particularly prominent during early settlement. Cosmopolitan IAPS (25 species) and those native solely to South America (53 species), Africa (27 species) and Asia (19 species) have been introduced deliberately and accidentally to Australia across a broad period of time. A small number of IAPS, native solely to Europe (5 species) and North America (2 species), were all introduced to Australia prior to 1880. These contrasting findings for native range suggest some role for habitat matching, with similar environmental conditions in Australia potentially driving the proliferation of IAPS native to southern-hemisphere regions.
Simberloff, D., Alexander, J., Allendorf, F., Aronson, J., Antunes, P.M., Bacher, S., Bardgett, R., Bertolino, S., Bishop, M., Blackburn, T.M., Blakeslee, A., Blumenthal, D., Bortolus, A., Buckley, R., Buckley, Y., Byers, J., Callaway, R.M., Campbell, F., Campbell, K., Campbell, M., Carlton, J.T., Cassey, P., Catford, J., Celesti-Grapow, L., Chapman, J.C., Clark, P., Clewell, A., Canning Clode, J., Chang, A., Chytry, M., Clout, M., Cohen, A., Cowan, P., Cowie, R.H., Crall, A.W., Crooks, J., Deveney, M., Dixon, K., Dobbs, F.C., Cameron Duffy, D., Duncan, R., Ehrlich, P., Eldredge, L., Evenhuis, N., Fausch, K.D., Feldhaar, H., Firn, J., Fowler, A., Galil, B., Garcia-Berthou, E., Geller, J., Genovesi, P., Gerber, E., Gherardi, F., Gollasch, S., Gordon, D., Graham, J., Gribben, P.E., Griffen, B., Grosholz, E.D., Hewitt, C., Hierro, J.L., Hulme, P., Hutchings, P., Jarosik, V., Johnson, C., Johnson, L., Johnston, E.L., Jones, C.G., Keller, R., King, C.M., Knols, B.G., Kollmann, J., Kompas, T., Kotanen, P.M., Kowarik, I., Kühn, I., Kumschick, S., Leung, B., Liebhold, A., MacIsaac, H., Mack, R., McCullough, D.G., McDonald, R., Merritt, D.M., Meyerson, L., Minchin, D., Mooney, H.A., Morisette, J.T., Moyle, P., Müller-Schärer, H., Murray, B., Nehring, S., Nelson, W., Nentwig, W., Novak, S.J., Occhipinti, A., Ojaveer, H., Osborne, B., Ostfeld, R.S., Parker, J., Pederson, J., Pergl, J., Phillips, M., Pysek, P., Rejmanek, M., Ricciardi, A., Ricotta, C., Richardson, D.M., Rilov, G., Ritchie, E., Robertson, P.A., Roman, J., Ruiz, G.M., Schaefer, H., Schaffelke, B., Schierenbeck, K.A., Schmitz, D.C., Schwindt, E., Seeb, J., David Smith, L., Smith, G.F., Stohlgren, T., Strayer, D.L., Strong, D., Sutherland, W.J., Therriault, T., Thuiller, W., Torchin, M., van der Putten, W., Vila, M., Von Holle, B., Wallentinus, I., Wardle, D., Williamson, M., Wilson, J., Winter, M., Wolfe, L.M., Wright, J., Wonham, M. & Zabin, C. 2011, 'Non-natives: 141 scientists object', Nature, vol. 475, pp. 36-36.
Stohlgren, T., Pysek, P., Kartesz, J., Nishino, M., Pauchard, A., Winter, M., Pino, J., Richardson, D.M., Wilson, J.R., Murray, B., Phillips, M., Ming-yang, L., Celesti-Grapow, L. & Font, X. 2011, 'Widespread plant species: natives versus aliens in our changing world', Biological Invasions, vol. 13, pp. 1931-1944.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Estimates of the level of invasion for a region are traditionally based on relative numbers of native and alien species. However, alien species differ dramatically in the size of their invasive ranges. Here we present the first study to quantify the level of invasion for several regions of the world in terms of the most widely distributed plant species (natives vs. aliens). Aliens accounted for 51.3% of the 120 most widely distributed plant species in North America, 43.3% in New South Wales (Australia), 34.2% in Chile, 29.7% in Argentina, and 22.5% in the Republic of South Africa. However, Europe had only 1% of alien species among the most widespread species of the flora. Across regions, alien species relative to native species were either as well-distributed (10 comparisons) or more widely distributed (5 comparisons). These striking patterns highlight the profound contribution that widespread invasive alien plants make to floristic dominance patterns across different regions. Many of the most widespread species are alien plants, and, in particular, Europe and Asia appear as major contributors to the homogenization of the floras in the Americas. We recommend that spatial extent of invasion should be explicitly incorporated in assessments of invasibility, globalization, and risk assessments.
Murray, B. & Phillips, M. 2010, 'Investment in seed dispersal structures is linked to invasiveness in exotic plant species of south-eastern Australia', Biological Invasions, vol. 12, no. 7, pp. 2265-2275.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Naturalized plant species disperse their populations over considerable distances to become invasive. We tested the hypothesis that this shift from naturalization to invasion is facilitated by increased investment of resources in seed dispersal appendages, using an assemblage of naturalized plants of southeastern Australia. Compared with non-invasive species, we found in both cross-species and independent- contrasts analyses that invasive species invested more heavily in seed dispersal appendages, regardless of the structure present on the seed associated with the mode of dispersal (e.g., wings versus fleshy fruits). Invasive species such as Lonicera japonica, Hedera Helix and Acetosa sagittata were found to invest as much as 60 - 70% of total diaspore mass in dispersal appendages. The positive relationship between dispersal investment and invasion success was still prevalent after controlling for the effects of plant growth form, seed mass and capacity for vegetative growth. Our findings demonstrate that a plant's investment in dispersal appendages helps to overcome the dispersal barrier in the shift from naturalization to invasion.
Phillips, M.L., Murray, B., Leishman, M.R. & Ingram, R. 2010, 'The naturalization to invasion transition: Are there introduction-history correlates of invasiveness in exotic plants of Australia?', Austral Ecology, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 695-703.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Of the large number of exotic plant species that become naturalized in new geographic regions, only a subset make the transition to become invasive. Identifying the factors that underpin the transition from naturalization to invasion is important for our understanding of biological invasions. To determine introductionhistory correlates of invasiveness among naturalized plant species of Australia, we compared geographic origin, reason for introduction, minimum residence time and growth form between naturalized non-invasive species and naturalized invasive plant species. We found that more invasive species than expected originated from South America and North America, while fewer invasive species than expected originated from Europe and Australasia. There was no significant difference between invasive and non-invasive species with respect to reason for introduction to Australia. However, invasive species were significantly more likely to have been resident in Australia for a longer period of time than non-invasive species. Residence times of invasive species were consistently and significantly higher than residence times of non-invasive species even when each continent of origin was considered separately. Furthermore, residence times for both invasive and non-invasive species varied significantly as a function of continent of origin, with species from South America having been introduced to Australia more recently on average than species from Europe, Australasia and North America.
Nevill, J.C., Hancock, P., Murray, B., Ponder, W.F., Humphreys, W.F., Phillips, M. & Groom, P.K. 2010, 'Groundwater-dependent ecosystems and the dangers of groundwater overdraft: a review and an Australian perspective', Pacific Conservation Biology, vol. 16, pp. 187-208.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS
In many parts of the world, access to groundwater is needed for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses, and global groundwater exploitation continues to increase. The significance of groundwater in maintaining the health of rivers, streams, wetlands and associated vegetation is often underestimated or ignored, resulting in a lack of scrutiny of groundwater policy and management. It is essential that management of groundwater resources considers the needs of natural ecosystems, including subterranean. We review the limited Australian literature on the ecological impacts of groundwater overdraft and place Australian information within an international context, focusing on lentic, lotic, stygobitic and hyporheic communities as well as riparian and phreatophytic vegetation, and some coastal marine ecosystems. Groundwater overdraft, defined as abstracting groundwater at a rate which prejudices ecosystem or anthropocentric values, can substantially impact natural communities which depend, exclusively or seasonally, on groundwater. Overdraft damage is often underestimated, is sometimes irreversible, and may occur over time scales at variance to those used by water management agencies in modelling, planning and regulation. Given the dangers of groundwater overdraft, we discuss policy implications in the light of the precautionary principle, and make recommendations aimed at promoting the conservation of groundwater-dependent ecosystems within a sustainable use context.
Phillips, M., Murray, B., Pysek, P., Pergl, J., Jarosik, V., Chytry, M. & Kuhn, I. 2010, 'Plant species of the Central European flora as aliens in Australia', Preslia, vol. 82, no. 4, pp. 465-482.
View/Download from: UTS OPUS
The Central European flora is an important source pool of plant species introduced to many regions throughout theworld. In this study,we identified a total of 759 plant species of the Central European flora that are currently recognized as alien species in Australia. We explored temporal patterns of introduction of these species to Australia in relation to method of introduction, growth form, naturalization status and taxonomy. Across all species, substantially larger numbers of species were introduced between 1840 and 1880 as well as between 1980 and the present, with a small peak of introductions within the 1930s. These patterns reflect early immigration patterns to Australia, recent improvements in fast and efficient transportation around the globe, and emigration away from difficult conditions brought about by the lead up to the Second World War respectively. We found that the majority of species had deliberate (69%) rather than accidental (31%) introductions and most species have not naturalized (66% casual species, 34% naturalized species). A total of 86 plant families comprising 31 tree species, 91 shrub species, 533 herbaceous species and 61 grass species present in Central Europe have been introduced to Australia. Differential patterns of temporal introduction of species were found as a function of both plant family and growth form and these patterns appear linked to variation in human migration numbers to Australia.