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Plenary 1 | Wilderlands: Protecting Victoria’s Biodiversity, one square metre at a time

Ash Knop

Co-founder, Wilderlands

Ash Knop co-founded Wilderlands after 20 years in the impact sector, leading partnerships and operations in a range of not for profits, as well as founding businesses in the health and travel sectors.

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Deanna Marshall

Lead Ecologist, Wilderlands

​Deanna Marshall is an experienced conservationist involved in the protection of threatened species and ecological communities in north west Victoria for the past 20 years. Deanna has a Bachelor of Science with Honours from La Trobe University.

Plenary 2 | Network for Ecological Research on Artificial Light (NERAL): Taking a collaborative, cross-realm approach to mitigate impacts of light pollution on wildlife

Dr Kaori Yokochi

Lecturer, Deakin University

Kaori Yokochi is a Lecturer in Ecology and Conservation Biology at Deakin University. Originally from Japan, Kaori moved to Australia to complete Bachelors, Honours, and PhD at the University of Western Australia, before relocating to Melbourne to pursue her academic career at Deakin University. Her research so far has focused on Urban Ecology, especially on finding ways for humans and Australian terrestrial wildlife to coexist in our towns and cities, in presence of impacts of human infrastructure such as roads, light, and noise. She aims to broaden her research further, and started investigating impacts of urbanisation and light pollution on microbat communities in the last few years. Kaori joined the Network for Ecological Research on Artificial Light (NERAL) in 2020.

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Dr Emily Fobert

Research Fellow, University of Melbourne, and

NERAL Coordinator, Network for Ecological Research on Artificial Light

Emily Fobert is a Melbourne University Research Fellow. She began her research career working on freshwater fish in Canada and Europe, before migrating to the ocean, and to Australia for her PhD. Her research interests fall at the intersection of marine ecology and environmental change, with a particular focus on human impacts (climate change, fishing, light pollution) on coral and temperate reefs. Her research incorporates aspects of behaviour, physiology, and life-history, and at various biological scales (individuals to metapopulations) to explore impacts of environmental change and management or mitigation strategies. Emily is also the co-founder and coordinator of the Network for Ecological Research on Artificial Light (NERAL).

Alicia Dimovski

PhD Candidate, La Trobe University

Alicia Dimovski is a PhD candidate with the Research Centre for Future Landscapes and Reproductive Ecology group at La Trobe University. Her research examines the ecological and health consequences of artificial light at night on Australian mammals and evaluates options for “wildlife-sensitive” lighting. During her PhD Alicia has worked with federal government to identify the impacts of artificial light on Australian mammals and develop management strategies. Alicia is a member of the Network for Ecological Research on Artificial Light (NERAL) Steering Committee and an ambassador for the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance (ADSA).


Plenary 3 | Genetic management of wildlife in a changing world


Prof. Paul Sunnucks

Co-leader, Wildlife Genetic Management Group

Paul’s training led him to the intersection between conservation biology and evolutionary genetics.  A Zoology degree at Oxford University was followed by a PhD at University College London applying genetic markers to understanding animal population biology. This prepared him for joining one of the first conservation genetics groups in the world, at the Institute of Zoology, London, applying genetics for conservation of endangered species.  Since that exciting time, his career has been spent in Australia, working with many national and international collaborators applying genetic and evolutionary thinking to conservation of threatened species.  Paul’s team, the Wildlife Genetic Management Group co-led with Sasha (Alexandra) Pavlova, works closely with wildlife management agencies and other biodiversity stakeholders, participating in threatened species policy and planning.

Plenary 4 | The dark side of bright nights: the ecological impact of urban light pollution

A/Prof. Therésa Jones

Principal Investigator, Urban Light Lab

Therésa Jones trained as an evolutionary and behavioural ecologist. She has worked on more than 15 invertebrate species (and the odd vertebrate) exploring the evolution and maintenance of life history traits and mating systems. Over the past ten years she has broadened her research interests, applying her fundamental knowledge to an increasing global issue: the ecological impact of artificial light at night. She is currently one of the leaders in this field in Australia. In her talk, she will present a potted history of light pollution focusing on its current and future ecological impact. Along the way, she will (hopefully) weave a narrative explaining her own potted history with a particular focus on her transition from fundamental to applied science.

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Panel Discussions

At VicBioCon 2023, our expert panels will be discussing the following topics:
Panel 1 | ‘No new extinctions? Implications for threatened species policy and practice’



Moderator: Dr Carla Archibald (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University)

Prof. Brendan Wintle

Professor in Conservation Science, University of Melbourne

Professor Brendan Wintle is a global leader in conservation ecology and ecological modelling research toward species conservation. He is a Professor in Conservation Ecology at the University of Melbourne, recent Director of the National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub, and one of the Principal Investigators in the Quantitative and Applied Ecology group (QAECO). He is also a lead councillor for the newly established Biodiversity Council. His research supports decision making and policy development for biodiversity conservation.

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James Todd

Chief Biodiversity Officer, Department for Energy, Environment and Climate Action

James has spent nearly 35 years working in the biodiversity sector in Victoria within private industry, not-for-profit and government. With a technical background in botany and ecology, he has spent over 23 years with the Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (and predecessors) working in biodiversity policy, strategy, program design and implementation – including in areas such as threatened species, native vegetation, forests and wildlife. Most recently he spent three years as Executive Director Biodiversity – including leading the response to Victoria’s 2019/20 bushfires - and in July 2022, was appointed as the Department’s inaugural Chief Biodiversity Officer. James’ focus throughout his public service career has been on applying the best available science to inform Victorian Government biodiversity policy, planning, regulations and investment programs -including the goals, targets and priorities under Victoria’s Biodiversity 2037 strategy. The importance of this and James’ abilities in this area have been recently recognised by his appointment as Chief Biodiversity Officer that is providing leadership of biodiversity science and information within the Department and across the portfolio to help deliver better outcomes for Victoria’s biodiversity and the citizens of Victoria.

Dr Kita Ashman

Threatened Species & Climate Adaptation Ecologist, WWF-Australia

Kita has a PhD in wildlife ecology and has more than 10 years’ experience surveying, tracking, and handling wildlife. Through her previous work with the Victorian and South Australian government, Zoos Victoria and the Australian National University, Kita has worked in a range of environments on field-based research and management programs for threatened species such as koalas, glossy black cockatoos, Leadbeater’s possum, greater gliders, and other forest dependent fauna. Kita is currently employed as a Threatened Species & Climate Adaptation Ecologist for WWF Australia; in this role she continues to implement field-based projects to monitor and mitigate the impacts of climate change on threatened species.

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Dr Rebecca Spindler

Executive Manager, Science and Conservation, Bush Heritage Australia

Dr Rebecca Spindler is the Executive Manager for Science and Conservation for Bush Heritage Australia. She has over 20 years of conservation science experience, working to improve the reproduction, health and conservation of rare and endangered species. Rebecca has managed extensive science programs in China, Brazil and the United States through the Smithsonian Institution and led an active, multi-disciplinary conservation science team at Taronga Conservation Society for 10 years.

Dr Carla Archibald

Research Fellow, Planet A Lab, Deakin University

Dr Carla Archibald is a Research Fellow in the field of nature conservation and sustainability within the School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. Her research aims to understand the impact of land use & climate change on biodiversity within food and agricultural systems. She is currently working under the Land Use Future project, which aims to provide pathways towards sustainable environmental and food futures for the Australian agricultural landscape.


Panel 2 | ‘Out of the box thinking: Ethics of controversial conservation approaches’



Moderator: A/Prof. Jen Martin (Associate Professor in Science Communication, University of Melbourne).

Prof. Andrew Pask

Professor in Epigenetics, and Head, Thylacine Integrated Genomic Restoration Research (TIGRR) Lab, University of Melbourne

Dr Andrew Pask is a Professor in the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on Evolution and Development (Evo-Devo) and Reproduction, using marsupial, mouse and human models in his research. His lab sequenced the genome of the extinct thylacine and is using this data to understand more about the biology of this unique marsupial predator. The recently established TIGRR lab is also developing methods to examine the possibility of de-extinction for this species as well as tools to help preserve and conserve current threatened and endangered marsupial species.

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Prof. Euan Ritchie

Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Deakin University

Prof. Euan Ritchie’s research spans behavioural, community, evolutionary, landscape and population ecology. His aim is to better understand species’ niches, interactions, and ecosystem dynamics, and in turn, use this information to inform more effective conservation, policy and management.

Prof. Madeleine van Oppen

ARC Laureate Fellow, University of Melbourne

Professor Madeleine van Oppen is an ecological geneticist with an interest in microbial symbioses and climate change adaptation of reef corals. Her work has been published in >250 peer reviewed papers, books and book chapters  and is widely cited (h-index = 78, 21,535 citations). Her early career focused on evolutionary and population genetics of algae and fish, and subsequently corals. She obtained a PhD in the molecular ecology of macroalgae in 1995 (U Groningen, Netherlands) and is currently an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow with halftime positions at the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Her team is using bioengineering approaches aimed at increasing coral climate resilience. These interventions include bacterial probiotics, experimental evolution of microalgal symbionts, and host hybridisation and conditioning.


Dr Emily Gregg

Research Assistant, ICON Science

Emily is an ecologist turned conservation social scientist, with a particular interest in conservation messaging. She recently completed her PhD exploring a strategic communication approach to biodiversity conservation, including work on ethical considerations, barriers to engagement, and message framing and narratives. She is passionate about applying knowledge from the social sciences to improve outcomes for nature and people. Emily is currently coordinating the Kangaroo Partnership Project led by the South Australian Arid Lands Landscape Group, a program aiming to assist in managing the significant threat to the environment posed by unsustainably high populations of certain kangaroo species in regional South Australia. She is also a Research Assistant at the ICON Science group at RMIT University working on various social science projects.

A/Prof Jen Martin

Leader, Science Communication Teaching Program, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Jen Martin (@scidocmartin) spent many years working as a field ecologist until she decided the most useful thing she could contribute as a scientist was to teach other scientists how to be effective and engaging communicators. Jen founded and leads the University of Melbourne's acclaimed Science Communication Teaching Program and is deeply committed to helping scientists develop the skills they need to be visible, make connections and have impact. She also practises what she preaches: for 18 years she’s been talking about science each week on 3RRR radio, she writes for a variety of publications, hosts podcasts and MCs events. Jen was named the 2019 Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication and is Ambassador for The Wilderness Society’s Nature Book Week. Jen’s first popular science book, ‘Why am I like this? The science behind your weirdest thoughts and habits’ was published in 2022.

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