I’m an integrative plant biologist at the University of Sydney. My research focuses largely on improving understanding of how plants respond, acclimate and adapt to environmental change and stress, and how to represent these processes using biophysical models that can inform irrigation scheduling, pre-breeding and fundamental research. I have a particular interest in how leaf stomata coordinate many influences on carbon gain and water loss at the leaf, whole-plant and stand or farm scale. Much of my work is aimed at improving how we define, interpret and quantify “traits” in the context of pre-breeding and physiological ecology.
I believe the huge challenges posed by climate change and population growth can only be tackled if we stop the hollowing-out of the vital center of plant biology. Interest and funding have shifted dramatically away from intermediate scales of organization — particularly towards the molecular scale, where new technologies are generating a flood of information. Progress demands a greater focus on rigorously bridging up to the leaf and whole plant scales, where traits can be measured and interpreted in relation to physiological constraints and environmental influences. To this end, all of my research involves a close interplay between field and lab experiments and formal process-based modeling across scales.
Current projects range from fundamental research on the ecophysiology of plant growth and light competition in stressful environments (in both natural and managed systems), to detailed analysis of the biophysics of water and heat transport within leaves and how they influence stomatal function and whole-plant hydraulics, to pre-breeding research, including screening diverse genotypes of wheat for variability in the efficiency of canopy structure and N distribution and exploring the mechanisms of heat tolerance.