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Richard J. Hobbs: How one ecologist has influenced the way we think about restoration ecology



Professor Richard Hobbs has had a profound influence on the development of the discipline of restoration ecology. With more than 300 publications spanning a broad scope of applied ecological sciences, he has collaborated with hundreds of researchers. His sometimes‐provocative insights, balanced by extensive empirical research, will have a lasting impact by encouraging people to think more broadly about the science and practice of ecological restoration. Here, on the eve of his retirement, some of his staff and students, past and present, take a retrospective look at his contributions to restoration ecology both as a scientist and as a mentor. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Short Communication for Restoration Ecology (1984 words)
Title: Richard J. Hobbs: How one ecologist has influenced the way we think about restoration ecology
Running head: Retrospective of works by Richard J. Hobbs
Authors: Leonie E. Valentine1, Nancy Shackelford2, Bridget A. Johnson1, Michael D. Craig1,9, Michael P.
Perring1,3, Kristin B. Hulvey4, Lauren M. Hallett5, Rebecca Campbell1, Joan Dudney6, Todd E. Erickson1,7,
Alison Ritchie1, Hilary Harrop-Archibald8, Cristina E. Ramalho1 and Rachel J. Standish9*
1School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.
2School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria BC, Canada.
3Forest & Nature Lab, Department of Environment, Ghent University, Belgium.
4Working Lands Conservation, Logan, UT 84341, USA.
5Department of Biology and Environmental Science Program, University of Oregon, Eugene OR 97403,
6Department of Plant Sciences, University of California Davis, Davis CA 95616, USA.
7Kings Park Science, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Kings Park WA 6005,
8Parks Canada, Office of the Chief Ecosystem Scientist, Halifax NS B3J 1S9, Canada.
9Environmental and Conservation Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia.
*Corresponding author:
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Author contributions: LEV conceived the idea; LEV, RJS designed the structure and content; NS
contributed Figure 1 and Table 1; BAJ, RC, NS contributed Figure 4; all authors contributed ideas and
Professor Richard Hobbs has had a profound influence on the development of the discipline of
restoration ecology. With more than 300 publications spanning a broad scope of applied ecological
sciences, he has collaborated with hundreds of researchers. His sometimes-provocative insights,
balanced by extensive empirical research, will have a lasting impact by encouraging people to think
more broadly about the science and practice of ecological restoration. Here, on the eve of his
retirement, some of his staff and students, past and present, take a retrospective look at his
contributions to restoration ecology both as a scientist and as a mentor.
Key words (5 to 8): disturbance, ecologist, fragmentation, intervention ecology, landscape ecology,
research significance, science policy gap.
Conceptual Implications
Richard J. Hobbs has co-authored 333 publications since embarking on a career in Restoration
Ecology. Most publications and citations are for his contributions to restoration ecology,
conservation biology, disturbance, invasion biology, biodiversity, fragmentation and
landscape ecology. In total, his publications have been cited over 21 000 times (Scopus, 27
April 2020).
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Richard’s greatest hitspublications with more than 500 citationsare predominantly
reviews and syntheses, yet his body of empirical research has informed these publications.
While the perils of survivorship bias in science and academia make it difficult to draw lessons
from Richard’s career, it seems apparent that capacity for life-long learning, collaboration,
observation and conceptual thinking, have been key to Richard’s influence on restoration
Richard J. Hobbs, the most highly-cited author in the field of restoration ecology, past president of the
Ecological Society of Australia, lifetime member of the Ecological Society of America and past Chief
Editor of Restoration Ecology, will retire this year. While he will likely keep writing and mentoring
through his retirement, we, his past and present students and postdocs, would like to honour his
career achievements. Engaging in a retrospective, meaning to look back, is something restoration
ecologists do to understand the history of a landscape and how to restore degraded ecosystems
(Higgs et al. 2014). Yet rarely do we look back on the careers of living ecologists to assess their
scientific, cultural, and creative contributions to our young discipline. This article is intended to
capture Richard’s ‘greatest hits’ in the same way a retrospective album is a compilation of a
musicians greatest hits. We also reflect on Richard’s approach to research and some of the
leadership attributes that have made him so influential.
Richard has published 333 journal articles, book chapters and books between 1981 and 2019 (Figure
1). Reflecting the broad scope and quality of his contributions, his published articles have appeared in
over 90 journals, including several of the discipline’s most respected journals, such as Trends in
Ecology and Evolution (n= 13 articles), Frontiers in Ecology and Environment (n= 10) and Nature
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journals (n= 7). With a massive 21 856 citations, he has a particularly loyal following in the USA and
Australia (7 372 and 4 099 citations respectively), and his h-index is 73 (Scopus, 27 April 2020). The
origins and development of the discipline of restoration ecology can be traced and understood
through his publication history (Figure 1).
Contributions to restoration ecology
Solving problems and understanding complex socio-ecological systems is fundamental to ecological
restoration. Restoration ecologists tend to rise to this challenge by working across disciplines. Richard
has set a very high benchmark in this regard, drawing on social science, philosophy and economics, as
well as exploring the full gamut of complexities within his own discipline of ecology. His ability to
integrate across disciplines has led to landmark contributions in the field of restoration ecology,
including the incorporation of threshold dynamics, landscape processes and resilience theory into
restoration models and the recognition of paleo-ecological and social perspectives for restoration
goal-setting (Figure 1). He has explored these topics through field-based research in heathlands of his
native Scotland, Californian grasslands and the woodlands of south-western Australia (Figure 2).
Additionally, Richard’s contributions have been inspired by his observations of landscapes elsewhere
and by conversations with people working in these landscapes. He clearly had lots of conversations
about restoration ecology, with no less than 221 co-authors over 36 years!
Data from down under
In addition to restoration ecology, Richard has made significant contributions to the allied topics of
conservation biology, disturbance, invasion biology, landscape ecology and fragmentation (Figure 1).
These contributions were heavily informed by his response to the hyper-diverse yet highly modified
native ecosystems he encountered on arrival in south-western Australia in 1984. Here, he started
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research on familiar topics fire and weeds (Hobbs & Atkins 1988; 1990; 1991) and, as his ecological
knowledge expanded, he tackled the pressing environmental issues devastating the landscape and its
peoplefragmentation (Saunders et al. 1991; Hobbs 1993), secondary salinity (Cramer & Hobbs
2002; 2005), lock-in traps (Allison & Hobbs 2004) and land-use legacies (Standish et al. 2006; 2008). In
the beautiful yet imperilled wheatbelt landscape of south Western Australia he had found his muse.
He shared some of these findings with the lucky undergraduate students who took his classes in
restoration ecology at Murdoch University between 2000 and 2005. More broadly, his collaborative
datasets from down-under provided some unique tests of ecological theory (e.g., Hobbs & Mooney
1998; Hobbs 2001; Craig et al. 2012) and provided new insights to the rapidly developing field of
restoration ecology (e.g., McIntyre & Hobbs 1999; Suding & Hobbs 2009).
From data to conceptual frameworks
Indeed, over time, Richard began to increase his contributions to the conceptual development of
restoration ecology. The depth and breadth of his empirical research provided a solid foundation from
which to make conceptual advances including synthetic articles on restoration and conservation (e.g.,
Hobbs & Harris 2001; Hobbs et al. 2018), wilderness stewardship (Hobbs et al. 2010), and novel
ecosystems (Hobbs et al. 2006; 2009). Whom among restoration ecologists hasn’t read his first paper
to be published in Restoration Ecology (Hobbs & Norton 1996) on a conceptual framework for the
discipline? Richard has an ability to distill key findings and perspectives from seemingly complicated
datasets or disparate viewpoints. This ability sets him apart from most as an effective science
communicator. He writes well (particularly when unconstrained by the traditional bounds of scientific
writing e.g., his contributions to the Bulletins of the British Ecological Society as their Southern
Correspondent and more recently, his blogs at He uses the
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same storytelling style for oral presentations, using clever word play and strong take home messages
to communicate ecology in a manner that invites rich discussions and inspires the audience to do
great science.
Environmental policy
Effective science communication has paved the way for his more recent influence on environmental
policy (Figure 1). While Richard recognised early on in his career the need to bridge the gap between
science and policy to make gains in biodiversity conservation, he believed politicians would be more
likely to listen to a scientist with a body of evidence and lifetime experience than to one without (RJ
Hobbs 2005, personal communication). So, he focused on data first and policy later in his career. Over
time, the data he collected made him acutely aware of the rapidly changing nature of the world
(Hobbs & Hopkins 1991; Hobbs 1994; Harris et al. 2006; Hobbs et al. 2011; Weins & Hobbs 2015). For
Richard, ‘doing something about it’ involved applying science to inform management interventions
and policy (e.g., biodiversity offsets; Thorn et al. 2018). No doubt the birth of his children and his
involvement in local environmental issues provided impetus too (Figure 3). A decidedly pragmatic
response to an escalating crisis.
Richard as collaborator and mentor
Richard leads his staff and students by example. Generous with his ecological insights, he explores the
world by conducting inclusive scientific research with integrity, compassion and humour. Most of
Richard’s contributions are collaborative efforts (88%), and his role as a mentor has shaped a global
network of former staff and students (Figures 4, 5). Richard has broad visions of the power of
scientific ideas and he encourages thinking about ‘the big picture’. He has demonstrated that there is
no ‘one way’ to do science, encouraging researchers to tread their own path, an exhilarating
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experience for early career researchers. Richard values the power of ‘new eyes’ critically examining
old concepts and beliefs. One of the first things you notice when working with Richard, apart from his
humility, is his warmth. He is unflappable in his support of staff and students. He generously shares
scientific connections with his mentees and supports emerging scientists when they tackle leadership
roles. Richard values a fulfilling life outside of work and recognises the importance of maintaining a
healthy work-life balance. This makes him compassionate when life doesn’t go according to plan.
Last words
As a highly-cited researcher, Richard has had a disproportionately large effect on the field of
restoration ecology, helping to shape and advance the concepts of this discipline. Indeed, if
restoration ecology were an environment, Richard may well be one of its keystone species. On the
eve of his retirement, he leaves a lasting legacy of pertinent ecological ideas for future restoration
ecologists to build upon. Moreover, Richard, you have inspired all who have worked with you to adopt
your considered, encouraging and collaborative approach to science. For this we thank you.
Allison HE, Hobbs RJ (2004) Resilience, adaptive capacity, and the "lock-in trap" of the Western
Australian agricultural region. Ecology and Society 9(1):3
Craig MD, Hardy GEStJ, Fontaine JB, Garkakalis MJ, Grigg AH, Grant CD, Fleming PA, Hobbs RJ (2012)
Identifying unidirectional and dynamic habitat filters to faunal recolonisation in restored
minepits. Journal of Applied Ecology 49:919928.
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Cramer VA, Hobbs RJ (2002) Ecological consequences of altered hydrological regimes in fragmented
ecosystems in southern Australia: impacts and possible management responses. Austral
Ecology 27:546564.
Cramer VA, Hobbs RJ (2005) Assessing the ecological risk from secondary salinity: a framework
addressing questions of scale and threshold responses. Austral Ecology 30:537545.
Harris JA, Hobbs RJ, Higgs E, Aronson J (2006) Ecological restoration and global climate change.
Restoration Ecology 14:170176.
Higgs E, Falk DA, Guerrini A, Hall M, Harris J, Hobbs RJ, Jackson ST, Rhemtulla JM Throop W (2014) The
changing role of history in restoration ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Hobbs RJ (1993) Effects of landscape fragmentation on ecosystem processes in the Western
Australian wheatbelt. Biological Conservation 64:193201.
Hobbs RJ (1994) Dynamics of vegetation mosaics: can we predict responses to global change?
Ecoscience 1:346356.
Hobbs RJ (2001) Synergisms among habitat fragmentation, livestock grazing, and biotic invasions in
southwestern Australia. Conservation Biology 15:15221528.
Hobbs RJ, Atkins L (1988) Effect of disturbance and nutrient addition on native and introduced
annuals in plant communities in the Western Australian wheatbelt. Australian Journal of
Ecology 13:171179.
Hobbs RJ, Atkins L (1990) Fire-related dynamics of a banksia woodland in south-western Western
Australia. Australian Journal of Botany 38:97110.
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Hobbs RJ, Atkins L (1991) Interactions between annuals and woody perennials in a Western Australian
nature reserve. Journal of Vegetation Science 2:643654.
Hobbs RJ, Arico S, Aronson J, Baron JS, Bridgewater P, Cramer VA, Epstein PR, et al. (2006) Novel
ecosystems: theoretical and management aspects of the new ecological world order. Global
Ecology and Biogeography 15:17.
Hobbs RJ, Cole DN, Yung L, Zavaleta ES, Aplet GH, Chapin FS, Landres PB, et al. (2010) Guiding
concepts for park and wilderness stewardship in an era of global environmental change.
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 8:483490.
Hobbs RJ, Hallett LM, Ehrlich PR, Mooney HA (2011) Intervention ecology: Applying ecological science
in the twenty-first century. BioScience 61:442450.
Hobbs RJ, Harris JA (2001) Restoration ecology: repairing the earth’s ecosystems in the new
millennium. Restoration Ecology 9:239246.
Hobbs RJ, Higgs E, Harris JA (2009) Novel ecosystems: implications for conservation and restoration.
Trends in Ecology and Evolution 24:599605.
Hobbs RJ, Hopkins AJM (1991) The role of conservation corridors in a changing climate. Pages 281
290 In: Saunders DA, Hobbs RJ (eds) Nature Conservation 2: the role of corridors. Surrey
Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, New South Wales.
Hobbs RJ, Mooney HA (1998) Broadening the extinction debate: Population deletions and additions in
California and Western Australia. Conservation Biology 12:271283.
Hobbs RJ, Norton DA (1996) Towards a conceptual framework for restoration ecology. Restoration
Ecology 4:93110.
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Hobbs RJ, Valentine L, Standish RJ, Jackson S (2018) Movers and stayers: novel assemblages in
changing environments. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 33:116128.
McIntyre S, Hobbs RJ (1999) A framework for conceptualizing human effects on landscapes and its
relevance to management and research models. Conservation Biology 13:12821292.
Saunders DA, Hobbs RJ, Margules CR (1991) Biological consequences of ecosystem fragmentation: a
review. Conservation Biology 5:1832.
Standish RJ, Cramer VA, Hobbs RJ (2008) Land-use legacy and the persistence of invasive Avena
barbata on abandoned farmland. Journal of Applied Ecology 45:1576–1583.
Standish RJ, Cramer VA, Hobbs RJ, Kobryn HT (2006) Legacy of land-use evident in soils of Western
Australia’s wheatbelt. Plant and Soil 280:189207.
Suding KN, Hobbs RJ (2009) Threshold models in restoration and conservation: a developing
framework. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 24:271279.
Thorn S, Hobbs RJ, Valentine LE (2018) Effectiveness of biodiversity offsets: An assessment of a
controversial offset in Perth, Western Australia. Biological Conservation 228:291300.
Weins JA, Hobbs RJ (2015) Integrating conservation and restoration in a changing world. BioScience
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Figure 1. Richard J. Hobb’s 333 publications between 1981 to 2019 categorised by key topics (left) and
his 11 greatest hits (publications with more than 500 citations; right). Red asterisks and numbers on
the timeline indicated when the greatest hits were published. Data retrieved from Scopus on 31
January 2020. Key words that define each topic are listed in Table S1.
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Figure 2. Richard collecting data at what was to become a long-term experiment at Jasper Ridge
Biological Preserve, California. He recently gifted the experiment to Lauren Hallett. Photo provided by
Gillian Henderson.
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Figure 3. Richard and his daughter Katie protesting the clearing of native banksia woodland for a new
road near their home. Photo provided by Gillian Henderson.
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Figure 4. Map showing places where Richard has lived and worked (in black) and the current locations
and vocations of his former staff and students.
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Figure 5. Richard’s research group at its peak in 2014, at The University of Western Australia. Front
row: Rebecca Campbell, Tanya Hevrøy, Hilary Harrop-Archibald, Juan Garibello Peña, Mandy
Trueman, Keren Raiter, Peter Grose, Kris Hulvey. Back row: Sueli Amprino, Mike Wysong, Christine
Allen, Maggie Triska, Simon Kilbane, Melinda Moir, Sue Yates, Leonie Valentine, Michael Craig,
Richard, Joanna Burgar, Jodi Price, Todd Erickson, Rachel Standish, Mark Gardener, Tim Morald, Lori
Lach and Mike Perring.
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Full-text available
In the face of rapid environmental and cultural change, orthodox concepts in restoration ecology such as historical fidelity are being challenged. Here we re-examine the diverse roles played by historical knowledge in restoration, and argue that these roles remain vitally important. As such, historical knowledge will be critical in shaping restoration ecology in the future. Perhaps the most crucial role in shifting from the present version of restoration ecology ("v1.0") to a newer formulation ("v2.0") is the value of historical knowledge in guiding scientific interpretation, recognizing key ecological legacies, and influencing the choices available to practitioners of ecosystem intervention under conditions of open-ended and rapid change.
Environmental offsets are used increasingly as a conservation tool to balance demands of development and environment but there is little evidence that offsets are effective. Our study assessed the effectiveness of the offset package developed for the Roe Highway Extension, in Western Australia, for Carnaby's black cockatoo, red-tailed black cockatoo and southern brown bandicoot. Black cockatoos were accounted for in the offset requirements, while Southern brown bandicoots were accounted for in the mitigation requirements of the approval but not the offset requirements. The development was cancelled after partial clearing and has not been completed. Pre-development consultant surveys were examined in relation to the offset requirements. Fieldwork was conducted at the offset sites to ground-truth habitat qualities where possible. The offset package was then compared to the principles of Australian Commonwealth and State offset policies. We found the offset package did not completely satisfy Commonwealth or State offset requirements, showed inconsistencies with the policies and produced net loss of environmental value. The offset sites provided 64% of the black cockatoo habitat required by the Commonwealth offset requirements, and were of a lower quality. Similarly, undergrowth vegetation (<1 m; used by southern brown bandicoots) varied between the development and offset sites, indicating the offset proposal approval criteria ‘similar or better quality’ was not met. Like for like is not always required by offset legislation, but it was required in the approval criteria for this development project. The offset sites had previously been deemed unfit for development by the EPA, resulting in little additionality, a fundamental factor in ensuring true gains to compensate for the loss. To improve the suitability of offsets as a conservation tool we strongly encourage a checking process to confirm ecological outcomes of an offset, a contingency plan for if the offset doesn't provide sufficient ecological outcomes, greater consideration of requirements of species affected and stricter adherence to the wider principles of offsets. The use of biodiversity offsets is nearly inevitable given current development policies and processes; however, the application of offsets can be substantially improved to reduce further net loss of environmental value.
A clean, transition metal‐ and oxidant‐free photochemical protocol was described for the direct trifluoromethylation of coumarins with Togni reagent. The reaction proceeded smoothly under mild condition to afford regioselective 3‐trifluoromethyl coumarins, moreover novel bis‐trifluoromethylated coumarins were formed. Preliminary bioactivity evaluation on some products showed potential antifungal activities. Free, free, free! A clean, transition metal‐ and oxidant‐free photochemical protocol was described for the direct trifluoromethylation of coumarins with mild reaction conditions and good substrate tolerance.
Increased attention to species movement in response to environmental change highlights the need to consider changes in species distributions and altered biological assemblages. Such changes are well known from paleoecological studies, but have accelerated with ongoing pervasive human influence. In addition to species that move, some species will stay put, leading to an array of novel interactions. Species show a variety of responses that can allow movement or persistence. Conservation and restoration actions have traditionally focused on maintaining or returning species in particular places, but increasingly also include interventions that facilitate movement. Approaches are required that incorporate the fluidity of biotic assemblages into the goals set and interventions deployed.
The role of corridors in assisting migration in response to climate change is uncertain. They may facilitate movement of the more mobile components of the biota, including weedy components, but do little for species with poor dispersal and establishment abilities. A network or web of corridors should be aimed at, allowing migration in any direction. If this is not possible, corridors along major bioclimatic gradients should be established. -from Authors
Increasingly, attempts are being made to predict the responses of natural ecosystems to global changes in climate and land use. It is argued that the model of vegetation dynamics underlying much of the current debate is too simplistic to yield predictions that will be useful at a scale relevant to most land-use decisions. A useful modeling approach will use the state and transition approach to modify transition probabilities in a standard Markov formulation. By linking this approach into a GIS (Geographic Information System) format, spatially-explicit landscape modeling which incorporates spatial and temporal changes in transition probabilities is possible. -from Author
Conservation biology and restoration ecology share a common interest in maintaining or enhancing populations, communities, and ecosystems. Much could be gained by more closely integrating the disciplines, but several challenges stand in the way. Goals differ, reflecting different origins and agendas. Because resources are insufficient to meet all needs, priorities must be established. Rapid environmental changes create uncertainties that compromise goals and priorities. To realize the benefits of integration, goals should be complementary, acknowledging the uncertainties that stem from temporal and spatial dynamics. Priorities should be established using clearly defined criteria, recognizing that not everything can be conserved or restored; some form of triage is inevitable. Because goals and priorities are societal concerns, conservation and restoration must include people as part of—rather than separate from—nature. A more meaningful and integrated approach will blur disciplinary boundaries, focus on outcomes rather than approaches, and use the tools of both disciplines.
The major challenge to stewardship of protected areas is to decide where, when, and how to intervene in physical and biological processes, to conserve what we value in these places. To make such decisions, planners and managers must articulate more clearly the purposes of parks, what is valued, and what needs to be sustained. A key aim for conservation today is the maintenance and restoration of biodiversity, but a broader range of values are also likely to be considered important, including ecological integrity, resilience, historical fidelity (ie the ecosystem appears and functions much as it did in the past), and autonomy of nature. Until recently, the concept of “naturalness” was the guiding principle when making conservation-related decisions in park and wilderness ecosystems. However, this concept is multifaceted and often means different things to different people, including notions of historical fidelity and autonomy from human influence. Achieving the goal of nature conservation intended for such areas requires a clear articulation of management objectives, which must be geared to the realities of the rapid environmental changes currently underway. We advocate a pluralistic approach that incorporates a suite of guiding principles, including historical fidelity, autonomy of nature, ecological integrity, and resilience, as well as managing with humility. The relative importance of these guiding principles will vary, depending on management goals and ecological conditions.
We studied the post-fire vegetation development of a low open woodland dominated by Banksia attenuata and B. menziesii near Perth, Western Australia. Two similar stands burned in autumn and spring displayed different regeneration patterns, with seedling regeneration occurring only in the autumn burn area. Vegetative regrowth was more rapid and post-fire species numbers were higher in the spring burn area. Introduced annuals increased significantly in the autumn fire area. Longer-term vegetation development was studied in a series of stands ranging in age since last fire from 1 to >44 years. Species richness was greatest in the 5-year-old stand, and many shrub species were most abundant 2-5 years after fire. Non-native annuals were found only in stands less than 5 years old since last fire. Dominance by the shrub Eremaea pauciflora increased with stand age, although shrub structure and total biomass did not vary greatly except in the oldest stand studied. The proportion of total shrub biomass accounted for by leaves declined with stand age. Both the two major Banksia species had mixed size structures with seedlings present in all stands, indicating that neither is dependent on fire for recruitment. The results indicate that while autumn burns promote seedling regeneration they may also increase invasion by non-natives, and spring burning may be preferable in these Banksia woodlands. Burning rotations longer than those required for fuel reduction purposes are necessary to maximise conservation values.