Melissa Gerwin

UTAS Home Ms Melissa Gerwin

Melissa Gerwin

PhD Candidate

Room 216 , Life Sciences Building

Extreme Climatic Events and the Future of Alpine Plant Coexistence

A well-established aspect of the changing climate is an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme climatic conditions, often called “Extreme Climatic Events” or ECEs. Because of a lack of experimental investigations into ECEs, we are only just beginning to understand the impact they are having on the way that terrestrial ecosystems function. Of vital importance is exploring the consequences of ECEs in alpine plant communities, as in Australia and globally, these communities provide essential water filtration and carbon storage services and are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

My research will utilise the most recent advancements in plant coexistence theory to explore how alpine plant communities respond to ECEs, advancing our mechanistic understanding of how communities assemble and ultimately providing us with more informed management strategies. More specifically, I will use the recently-established Australian Mountain Research Facility (AMRF) to experimentally manipulate temperature and rainfall patterns experienced by alpine plant communities across Tasmania and the Australian highlands, to simulate extreme high temperature and drought conditions. I will then use functional trait measurements to quantify the effects of extreme climatic conditions on plant fitness by observing changes in the network of interactions with neighbouring plants.

Finding definitive links and generalities between plant traits, the environment and species fitness is the first step towards predicting community responses to global change, and has direct application to invasion biology and conservation.

View more on Miss Melissa Gerwin in WARP

Fields of Research

  • Terrestrial ecology (310308)
  • Forest ecosystems (300703)
  • Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation (410102)
  • Community ecology (excl. invasive species ecology) (310302)

Research Objectives

  • Expanding knowledge in the environmental sciences (280111)
  • Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems (180601)
  • Ecosystem adaptation to climate change (190102)
  • Rehabilitation or conservation of terrestrial environments (180604)


Total publications


Journal Article

(2 outputs)
2020Gerwin MR, Brinkhoff R, Britton TG, Porter M, Mallett RK, et al., 'Testing the impact of community composition on the productivity of a cool temperate eucalypt forest: The Australian Forest Evenness Experiment (AFEX)', Australian Journal of Botany, 68, (4) pp. 310-319. ISSN 0067-1924 (2020) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1071/BT19131 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1

Co-authors: Brinkhoff R; Britton TG; Porter M; Mallett RK; Hovenden MJ


2018Lunn TJ, Gerwin M, Buettel JC, Brook BW, 'Impact of intense disturbance on the structure and composition of wet-eucalypt forests: A case study from the Tasmanian 2016 wildfires', PLoS One, 13, (7) Article e0200905. ISSN 1932-6203 (2018) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200905 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 2Web of Science - 2

Co-authors: Lunn TJ; Buettel JC; Brook BW


Grants & Funding

Funding Summary

Number of grants


Total funding



How influential are plant neighbourhood interactions in community responses to extreme climatic events? (2021 - 2023)$17,563
In Australia and globally, high-altitude ecosystems are vulnerable to the direct effects of climate change owing to dispersal limitations, and native and exotic species invasions. The subalpine grasslands of Tasmania are of particularly high conservation value as they are important areas for carbon storage and are host remarkable levels of floristic diversity. To protect this diversity and the ecosystem services that it sustains, my research will investigate plant interactions networks in a Tasmanian subalpine grassland to ascertain the community response to experimentally induced extreme future climate scenarios.
Australian Flora Foundation ($17,563)
Administered By
University of Tasmania
Research Team
Hovenden MJ; Gerwin MR
2021 - 2023