Megan is a Lecturer in the UTS School of Life Sciences and the Subject Coordinator for 91159 Environmental Remediation. She is also the Course Director for the BSc Honours Environmental Science stream.
Megan's research lab investigates the effectiveness of phytoremediator plant species in heavy metal-contaminated ecosystems - terrestrial and aquatic. She is also developing and comparatively testing new crude oil absorption technologies via laboratory simulations. Megan has previously explored the introduction, reproduction, and life-history traits of invasive plant species in Australia.
For more information on her lab's research, please visit The Phyto Lab's website: www.thephytolab.com
Can supervise: YES
Megan's research 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 and laboratory projects are run in the UTS Ultimo Campus Science Building.
Please contact Megan for more information on current and future research projects.
91159 Environmental Remediaton - A third year elective subject for UTS Environmental Science students
Krix, DW, Phillips, ML & Murray, BR 2019, 'Relationships among leaf flammability attributes and identifying low-leaf-flammability species at the wildland-urban interface', International Journal of Wildland Fire, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 295-297.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2019 IAWF. Leaf flammability is a multidimensional plant functional trait with emerging importance for wildfire risk management. Understanding relationships among leaf flammability attributes not only provides information about the properties of leaves as fuels in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), it can also offer an effective way to identify low-leaf-flammability species. We examined relationships between leaf ignitibility, sustainability and combustibility among 60 plant species of the WUI of eastern Australia. We found that leaf ignitibility and sustainability worked in opposition to each other as dimensions of flammability. Species with leaves that were slow to ignite were those with leaves that sustained burning for the longest, whereas species with leaves that were fast to ignite had leaves that burned for the shortest periods of time. Low leaf combustibility was related to short leaf burning sustainability but not to ignitibility. We created an overall leaf flammability index (OLFI) to rank species on emergent properties of ignitibility, sustainability and combustibility attributes in combination. We found that low-leaf-flammability species with low OLFI values had small leaf area, high leaf mass per area and high leaf water content. Our findings have implications for species selection for green firebreaks in the WUI.
Murray, BR, Martin, LJ, Brown, C, Krix, DW & Phillips, ML 2018, 'Selecting low-flammability plants as green firebreaks within sustainable urban garden design', Fire, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-4.View/Download from: Publisher's site
In response to an increasing risk of property loss from wildfires at the urban–wildland interface, there has been growing interest around the world in the plant characteristics of urban gardens that can be manipulated to minimize the chances of property damage or destruction. To date, considerable discussion of this issue can be found in the ‘grey’ literature, covering garden characteristics such as the spatial arrangement of plants in relation to each other, proximity of plants to houses, plant litter and fuel reduction, and the use of low-flammability plants as green firebreaks [1,2,3,4]. Recently, scientific studies from a geographically wide range of fire-prone regions including Europe , the USA , Australia , South Africa , and New Zealand  have been explicitly seeking to quantify variation among plant species with respect to different aspects of their flammability and to identify low-flammability horticultural species appropriate for implementation as green firebreaks in urban landscapes. The future prospects of this scientific work will ultimately depend on how successfully the results are integrated into the broader context of garden design in fire-prone regions at the urban–wildland interface. Although modern design of urban gardens must consider more than just the issue of green firebreaks, we and others [10,11] believe that selection of low-flammability plants should be high on the priority list of plant selection criteria in fire-prone regions.
Pagnucco, R & Phillips, ML 2018, 'Comparative effectiveness of natural by-products and synthetic sorbents in oil spill booms', Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 225, pp. 10-16.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Sorbent booms are considered a ‘first line of defence’ technology used for containing and minimizing the impacts of crude oil spills. Booms containing human hair waste as sorbent were compared to other natural sorbents, including cotton by-product, recycled cellulose, as well as booms containing synthetic polypropylene, in order to evaluate their effectiveness in adsorbing petroleum crude oil pollution, remaining buoyant, and adsorbing seawater. A series of oceanic mesocosm experiments were used to simulate oil spill pollution events and to test sorbent effectiveness. Hair by-product was found to be significantly better at adsorbing crude oil on average (i.e. 0.84 g of crude oil per 1 g of sorbent) than all other materials, although it had wider variation in adsorbency likely associated with the non-homogeneous nature of mixed human hair. Hair sorbent was also observed to be less naturally buoyant than other materials, potentially due to low surface tension or increased porosity.
Murray, BR, Martin, LJ, Phillips, ML & 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
Murray, BR, Hardstaff, LK & Phillips, ML 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
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.
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.
Simberloff, D, Alexander, J, Allendorf, F, Aronson, J, Antunes, PM, Bacher, S, Bardgett, R, Bertolino, S, Bishop, M, Blackburn, TM, Blakeslee, A, Blumenthal, D, Bortolus, A, Buckley, R, Buckley, Y, Byers, J, Callaway, RM, Campbell, F, Campbell, K, Campbell, M, Carlton, JT, Cassey, P, Catford, J, Celesti-Grapow, L, Chapman, JC, Clark, P, Clewell, A, Canning Clode, J, Chang, A, Chytry, M, Clout, M, Cohen, A, Cowan, P, Cowie, RH, Crall, AW, Crooks, J, Deveney, M, Dixon, K, Dobbs, FC, Cameron Duffy, D, Duncan, R, Ehrlich, P, Eldredge, L, Evenhuis, N, Fausch, KD, 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, PE, Griffen, B, Grosholz, ED, Hewitt, C, Hierro, JL, Hulme, P, Hutchings, P, Jarosik, V, Johnson, C, Johnson, L, Johnston, EL, Jones, CG, Keller, R, King, CM, Knols, BG, Kollmann, J, Kompas, T, Kotanen, PM, Kowarik, I, KÃ¼hn, I, Kumschick, S, Leung, B, Liebhold, A, MacIsaac, H, Mack, R, McCullough, DG, McDonald, R, Merritt, DM, Meyerson, L, Minchin, D, Mooney, HA, Morisette, JT, Moyle, P, MÃ¼ller-SchÃ¤rer, H, Murray, B, Nehring, S, Nelson, W, Nentwig, W, Novak, SJ, Occhipinti, A, Ojaveer, H, Osborne, B, Ostfeld, RS, Parker, J, Pederson, J, Pergl, J, Phillips, M, Pysek, P, Rejmanek, M, Ricciardi, A, Ricotta, C, Richardson, DM, Rilov, G, Ritchie, E, Robertson, PA, Roman, J, Ruiz, GM, Schaefer, H, Schaffelke, B, Schierenbeck, KA, Schmitz, DC, Schwindt, E, Seeb, J, David Smith, L, Smith, GF, Stohlgren, T, Strayer, DL, Strong, D, Sutherland, WJ, 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, LM, 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, DM, Wilson, JR, 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: 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: 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.
Nevill, JC, Hancock, P, Murray, B, Ponder, WF, Humphreys, WF, Phillips, M & Groom, PK 2010, 'Groundwater-dependent ecosystems and the dangers of groundwater overdraft: a review and an Australian perspective', Pacific Conservation Biology, vol. 16, pp. 187-208.
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.
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.
Phillips, ML, Murray, B, Leishman, MR & 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: 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.
Stohlgren, T, Pysek, P, Kartesz, J, Nishino, M, Pauchard, A, Winter, M, Pino, J, Richardson, DM, 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, Waltham, MA, USA, pp. 700-706.
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, ML 2016, 'Oceanic oil spill simulations provide memorable disaster preparedness training', Intersections in Simulation and Gaming (LNCS), Annual Simulation Technology and Training Conference, Springer, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, pp. 292-301.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018. Oceanic crude oil spills continually threaten species health and ecosystem integrity. Remediating oil-impacted regions is often time consuming and labour intensive for disaster response teams. Crude oils contain multiple hazardous compounds, are often odorous, sticky and viscous, and may adhere easily to sand, rocks and biological tissues. Such properties make crude oil contamination very difficult to clean from shoreline communities. In order to provide an effective and memorable training experience for senior-year university students, a hands-on laboratory simulation was developed to realistically recreate both the impacts of an oceanic oil spill as well as the disaster management procedures required to remediate affected regions. Students were tasked with creating their own microcosm-scale coastal ecosystems, complete with seawater, sediment, plants, model animals and a replica shipping vessel. A quantity of medium-weight crude oil was then spilled from the replica ship’s location and tidal forces were mimicked to disperse the oil. Students were provided with small-scale remediation equipment in order to practice their own management strategies for cleaning and extracting oil from their ecosystems, as well as protecting natural and assets. At the completion of the simulation, participants were asked to reflect on their experience and to extrapolate their microcosm experiment to full-scale oil spills. Learning and teaching educators noted a high level of enthusiasm and engagement from students. Student Feedback Surveys across multiple years also revealed consistently high student satisfaction and strong positive feedback from students, in regard to learning from the experience. This laboratory simulation proved to be a very effective educational tool which also creates a fun and memorable experience for university science students.
Phillips, ML 2016, 'Intentional Small-scale Disasters: Simulating Oil Spills to Develop Hands-on Remediation Experience', http://www.simulationcongress.com/wp-content/uploads/ASC_2016_Proceedin…, Australasian Simulation Congress, Simulation Australasia, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, pp. 518-521.
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, ML 2010, 'Phylogenetically-independent contrasts of seed traits between invasive and non-invasive plant species', Ecological Society of Australia Annual Conference, ANU, Canberra.