William K. Cornwell's research while affiliated with UNSW Sydney and other places

Publications (186)

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Deadwood is a large global carbon store with its store size partially determined by biotic decay. Microbial wood decay rates are known to respond to changing temperature and precipitation. Termites are also important decomposers in the tropics but are less well studied. An understanding of their climate sensitivities is needed to estimate climate c...
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Coevolution has driven speciation and evolutionary novelty in functional traits across the Tree of Life. Classic coevolutionary syndromes such as plant–pollinator, plant–herbivore, and host–parasite have focused strongly on the fitness consequences during the lifetime of the interacting partners. Less is known about the consequences of coevolved tr...
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Microbial organisms, environmental conditions, and their interactions govern many ecosystem processes. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of priority effects, that is, the identity of potential decomposers present early in community assembly, in determining resulting decay rates especially for wood. In diverse forests, available woody s...
Preprint
Animals, such as termites, have largely been overlooked as global-scale drivers of biogeochemical cycles 1,2 , despite site-specific findings 3,4 . Deadwood turnover, an important component of the carbon cycle, is driven by multiple decay agents. Studies have focused on temperate systems 5,6 , where microbes dominate decay ⁷ . Microbial decay is se...
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Typically, termites are treated as a single guild, which ignores important internal diversity, including diverse feeding and nesting traits. These termite traits are crucial for both ecosystem‐level fluxes and trophic webs, with implications for vertebrate species. Despite their ecological importance, the large‐scale distribution of termite feeding...
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Fire occurs naturally in many ecosystems and is predicted to increase in frequency and severity with climate change. The 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season was extreme, unprecedented in scale and severity, burning almost 19 million ha. This included half of the Gondwanan rainforests in eastern Australia, an ecosystem with no documented record of...
Preprint
Taxonomic bias is a known issue within the field of biology, causing scientific knowledge to be unevenly distributed across species. However, a systematic quantification of the research interest that the scientific community has allocated to individual species remains a big data problem. Scalable approaches are needed to integrate biodiversity data...
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We introduce the AusTraits database - a compilation of values of plant traits for taxa in the Australian flora (hereafter AusTraits). AusTraits synthesises data on 448 traits across 28,640 taxa from field campaigns, published literature, taxonomic monographs, and individual taxon descriptions. Traits vary in scope from physiological measures of per...
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Large and severe fires (‘mega-fires’) are increasing in frequency across the globe, often pushing into ecosystems that have previously had very long fire return intervals. The 2019–2020 Australian bushfire season was one of the most catastrophic fire events on record. Almost 19 million hectares were burnt across the continent displacing and killing...
Article
1. Biocrusts are an extensive autotrophic groundcover but are regularly excluded from ecosystem models. One rational for their exclusion is that their contributions to C and N cycles are negligible in comparison to vascular plants. Here we estimated the magnitude of the biocrust contribution to nutrient cycling in functional terms, comparing tissue...
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Overgrazing by introduced herbivores is widely recognized as a threatening process in Australia's semi-arid rangelands. Comparatively, grazing by native herbivores is generally considered to have benign effects. Populations of introduced herbivores are controlled in conservation reserves, but populations of native kangaroos and wallabies are seldom...
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To understand how ecological communities will respond to global change we need new tools and datasets on species across large spatial and temporal scales. Hyperspectral reflectance ‘spectra’ capture a promising set of traits that show potential to be scaled up in time and space via remote sensing. Thus far, spectra have been shown to distinguish th...
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Significance For the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation, abundance estimates of organisms are essential. Quantifying abundance, however, is difficult and time consuming. Using a data integration approach integrating expert-derived abundance estimates and global citizen science data, we estimate the global population of 9,700...
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ContextTrophic cascade theory predicts that predators indirectly benefit plants by limiting herbivore consumption. As humans have removed large predators from most terrestrial ecosystems the effect of their absence is unrecognized.ObjectivesA manipulation of dingo populations across Australia’s dingo-proof fence, within the Strzelecki Desert, was u...
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The diets of many animals are influenced by resource availability, competition, and evolutionary selected traits enabling the utilization of palatable foods. Omnivores are species that maintain their macronutrient balance by supplementing highly abundant but poor nutritional quality food items, with sporadically available but high nutritional quali...
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• Color research continuously demands better methods and larger sample sizes. Citizen science (CS) projects are producing an ever‐growing geo‐ and time‐referenced set of photographs of organisms. These datasets have the potential to make a huge contribution to color research, but the reliability of these data need to be tested before widespread imp...
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Aim As urban areas continue to expand, it is increasingly important to quantify species‐specific responses to urban environments, and how these change across the full annual cycle. Our objective was to quantify urban tolerance for North American birds across the time. We tested (a) whether intra‐annual variability of urban tolerance differed betwee...
Preprint
Aim: Our objective was to quantify urban tolerance for North American birds across the full annual cycle. We tested (1) whether intra-annual variability of urban tolerance differed between migrants and residents and (2) whether intra-annual variability of urban tolerance was phylogenetically conserved. We then assessed how the relationship between...
Preprint
Competition is a key biotic factor that often structures natural communities. Many attempts to disentangle how competition shapes natural communities have relied on experiments on simplified systems or through simple mathematical models. But these simplified approaches are limited in their ability to represent the complexity seen in more natural se...
Preprint
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We introduce the AusTraits database - a compilation of measurements of plant traits for taxa in the Australian flora (hereafter AusTraits). AusTraits synthesises data on 375 traits across 29230 taxa from field campaigns, published literature, taxonomic monographs, and individual taxa descriptions. Traits vary in scope from physiological measures of...
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Cities are novel environments compared with the evolutionary history of the species that reside within them. Collectively, cities and their fauna can be thought of as ecosystems, recognized as playing a critical role in supporting global biodiversity, but they are fundamentally a combination of 'old species' surviving or thriving in a new environme...
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Despite impressive growth in global biodiversity data, knowledge about the occurrence of species in many parts of the world remains incomplete because of major gaps in the underlying data. This can lead to ill-informed conservation decisions. The collective effort of citizen scientists can generate a great deal of data quickly, but how might we pri...
Article
Citizen science is fundamentally shifting the future of biodiversity research. But although citizen science observations are contributing an increasingly large proportion of biodiversity data, they only feature in a relatively small percentage of research papers on biodiversity. We provide our perspective on three frontiers of citizen science resea...
Preprint
Large and severe fires (“mega-fires”) are increasing in frequency across the globe, often pushing into ecosystems that have previously had very long fire return intervals. The 2019-20 Australian bushfire season was one of the most catastrophic fire events on record. Almost 19 million hectares were burnt across the continent displacing and killing u...
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Full-text available
Fires change ecosystem composition and influence species extinction risk, yet information on the impact of fire on biodiversity is scant. The bushfires in southeastern Australia during the summer of 2019/20 were unprecedented in their extent and intensity, and postfire management decisions have been hindered by a lack of knowledge of the impact of...
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Background and aims: Lessons from above-ground trait ecology and resource economics theory may not be directly translatable to below-ground traits due to differences in function, trade-offs and environmental constraints. Here we examine root functional traits within and across species along a fine-scale hydrological gradient. We ask two related qu...
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The unprecedented scale of the 2019–2020 eastern Australian bushfires exemplifies the challenges that scientists and conservation biologists face monitoring the effects on biodiversity in the aftermath of large-scale environmental disturbances. After a large-scale disturbance, conservation policy and management actions need to be both timely and in...
Preprint
The unprecedented scale of the 2019-2020 eastern Australian bushfires exemplifies the challenges that scientists and conservation biologists face monitoring the effects of biodiversity in the aftermath of large-scale environmental disturbances. After a large-scale disturbance there are conservation policy and management actions that need to be both...
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An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.
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Airborne dispersal is a key part of the life history of many saprotrophic fungi. Theory suggests a transition from growth and resource capture to airborne dispersal at some point as the resource availability in a patch declines, but in the absence of an experimental model system this theory has not been empirically tested. For saprobes, resources a...
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Research Highlights: To better understand within-community variation in wood density, our study demonstrated that a more nuanced approach is required beyond the climate-wood density correlations used in global analyses. Background and Objectives: Global meta-analyses have shown higher wood density is associated with higher temperatures and lower ra...
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The use of functional information in the form of species traits plays an important role in explaining biodiversity patterns and responses to environmental changes. Although relationships between species composition, their traits, and the environment have been extensively studied on a case-by-case basis, results are variable, and it remains unclear...
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Plant traits—the morphological, anatomical, physiological, biochemical and phenological characteristics of plants—determine how plants respond to environmental factors, affect other trophic levels, and influence ecosystem properties and their benefits and detriments to people. Plant trait data thus represent the basis for a vast area of research sp...
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Large urban trees have many benefits. However, falling branches pose a serious hazard to both people and infrastructure. In several tree species, aerial roots grow down from branches to the ground. These roots are capable of thickening to support the branches, lessening the risk of tree failure. Unfortunately, in urban environments most aerial root...
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Understanding species‐specific relationships with their environment is essential for ecology, biogeography and conservation biology. Moreover, understanding how these relationships change with spatial scale is critical to mitigating potential threats to biodiversity. But methods which measure inter‐specific variation in response to environmental pa...
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Saltmarshes provide many valuable ecosystem services including storage of a large amount of ‘blue carbon’ within their soils. To date, up to 50% of the world’s saltmarshes have been lost or severely degraded primarily due to a variety of anthropogenic pressures. Previous efforts have aimed to restore saltmarshes and their ecosystem functions, but t...
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High-throughput sequencing (e.g., amplicon and shotgun) has provided new insight into the diversity and distribution of fungi around the globe, but developing a framework to understand this diversity has proved challenging. Here we review key ecological strategy theories developed for macro-organisms and discuss ways that they can be applied to fun...
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Fungi play many essential roles in ecosystems. They facilitate plant access to nutrients and water, serve as decay agents that cycle carbon and nutrients through the soil, water and atmosphere, and are major regulators of macro‐organismal populations. Although technological advances are improving the detection and identification of fungi, there sti...
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We are currently in the midst of Earth's sixth extinction event, and measuring biodiversity trends in space and time is essential for prioritizing limited resources for conservation. At the same time, the scope of the necessary biodiversity monitoring is overwhelming funding for professional scientific monitoring. In response, scientists are increa...
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The era of big biodiversity data has led to rapid, exciting advances in the theoretical and applied biological, ecological and conservation sciences. While large genetic, geographic and trait databases are available, these are neither complete nor random samples of the globe. Gaps and biases in these databases reduce our inferential and predictive...
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Citizen science is mainstream: millions of people contribute data to a growing array of citizen science projects annually, forming massive datasets that will drive research for years to come. Many citizen science projects implement a "leaderboard" framework, ranking the contributions based on number of records or species, encouraging further partic...
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Environmental forces and biotic interactions, both positive and negative, structure ecological communities, but their relative roles remain obscure despite strong theory. For instance, ecologically similar species, based on the principle of limiting similarity, are expected to be most competitive and show negative interactions. Specious communities...
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1.Habitat fragmentation and land degradation, directly and indirectly caused by urbanisation, are drastically altering the world's ecosystems and are therefore driving an imperative for ecological restoration within the world's cities. Current methods for the implementation and monitoring of restoration are limited. Restoration ecology needs cost‐e...
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The sharing and re-use of data has become a cornerstone of modern science. Multiple platforms now allow easy publication of datasets. So far, however, platforms for data sharing offer limited functions for distributing and interacting with evolving datasets— those that continue to grow with time as more records are added, errors fixed, and new data...
Preprint
Understanding species-specific relationships with their environment is essential for ecology, biogeography, and conservation biology. Moreover, understanding how these relationships change with spatial scale is critical to mitigating potential threats to biodiversity. But methods which measure inter-specific variation in responses to environmental...
Article
Full-text available
• Fungal communities often form on ephemeral substrates and dispersal is critical for the persistence of fungi among the islands that form these metacommunities. Within each substrate, competition for space and resources is vital for the local persistence of fungi. The capacity to detect and respond by dispersal away from unfavorable conditions may...
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Aim Plant functional groups are widely used in community ecology and earth system modelling to describe trait variation within and across plant communities. However, this approach rests on the assumption that functional groups explain a large proportion of trait variation among species. We test whether four commonly used plant functional groups rep...
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Identifying which ecological and life history traits influence a species’ tolerance to urbanization is critical to understanding the trajectory of biodiversity in an increasingly urbanizing world. There is evidence for a wide array of contrasting patterns for single trait associations with urbanization. In a continental‐scale analysis, incorporatin...
Article
For the majority of plant species in the world, we know little about their functional ecology, not even one of the most basic traits – the species’ growth habit. To fill the gap in availability of compiled plant growth form data, we have assembled, to our knowledge, the largest global database on growth form as a plant trait. From 163 data sources...