Skip to main content
Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Photo of Professor David Watson Professor David Watson

BSc (Hons) Monash, PhD Kansas

For the past 20 years or so, I have been engaged in ecological research, both within Australia and in various parts of the Neotropics.  My current research interests fall into four broad areas: the biological consequences of habitat fragmentation' ecological interactions between plants and animals with an emphasis on parasitic plants, biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes, and biodiversity survey methods. Combining community-scale descriptive work with species-specific studies, most of my work is restricted to vertebrates, although I recognize the central role that arthropod and microbial assemblages play in these systems. I have complemented this community-level descriptive approach with a resource-based experimental approach, treating mistletoe and other parasitic plants as model systems. Some of my research has been conducted in national parks, travelling stock reserves and other public lands, but most of my field sites are on private land and I work closely with natural resource agencies, regional bodies and individual landholders to convert my findings into practical on-ground outcomes.

Personal Web page for David m Watson and the Watson lab:

Full list of Publications:

Google Scholar Profile and publications:


Top of page


Current Subjects Taught
  • GEO105 Australian Environments
  • BIO216 Conservation Biology
  • BIO431 Avian Systematics
  • BIO433 Ornithological Methods

In addition, Dave is the Course Coordinator for the Ornithology Programme, and leader of the Ecology and Biodiversity Groups within the Institute for Land, Water and Society

Top of page


Research Students
Research Interests

Most of Dave's research is centred around a deceptively simple question: "Why are there more species in some areas than others?" This issue is at the centre of community ecology, and he have addressed it in a number of ways-detailed community-level field studies in Australia and Latin America, species-specific studies of distribution and abundance, theoretical advances, empirical studies based on previously published data, and synthetic reviews consolidating existing information and proposing new hypotheses to guide future research. Most of this work has been conducted in fragmented landscapes-both anthropogenic and natural-and he has stressed the importance of temporal scale in sculpting observed patterns. He has complemented this community-level distributional approach with a resource-based approach, treating mistletoe as a model system. While representing a different approach to scholarship, involving experimental methods and inter-disciplinary collaboration, the fundamental goal remains the same-resolving the unequal distribution of organismal diversity on the planet. While some of Dave's research is theoretical, most is applied and has a direct influence on improving our understanding of natural systems and enhancing their management. His work has informed conservation and management policy in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Mexico and the "Standardized Search" approach to conducting bird surveys he developed has gained international prominence. In addition to community and species-level ecology, part of his research programme also relates to evolutionary biology. Implicit in any ecological research is the assumption that the units being evaluated 'species' are valid and correctly diagnosed. Dave explored this assumption in detail, and suggested that the number of bird species currently recognized may greatly underestimate their actual diversity.

Recent and Ongoing Projects
  • The standardized search: a patch-scale approach to conducting bird surveys, using results-based stopping rules to standardise sample completeness
  • A conceptual framework for the study of islands, fragments and other patchy ecosystems, highlighting the crucial role of temporal scale
  • Determinants of diversity in fragmented landscapes, especially involving resource-based approaches
  • The relationship between body mass and clutch volume across birds
  • Mistletoe as a determinant of diversity in woodlands and forests worldwide, including studies of litterfall, canopy arthropod communities, vertebrate richness and nutrient dynamics
  • In addition to these ongoing projects, I encourage prospective students to contact me and discuss potential projects.

Top of page

Selected Publications

  • Watson DM. 2011. Mistletoes of  Southern Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne. 200pp.
Peer-reviewed  book chapters
  • Watson,  DM. 2010. From pattern to process: towards understanding drivers of  diversity in temperate woodlands. In: Temperate Woodland Conservation and  Management, ed. D Lindenmayer, A Bennett, R Hobbs, CSIRO Publishing,  Melbourne. Pp. 159–166.
  • Watson,  DM. 2009. Continental Islands. Pp 180–188 in Encyclopaedia  of Islands, ed. R Gillespie, D Clague. University of California  Press, Berkeley
  • Watson,  DM. 2004. Mistletoe—a unique constituent of canopies  worldwide. In: Forest Canopies. 2nd Edition (fully  revised), ed. M Loman, B Rinker. Academic Press, New York. Pp 212–223.
  • Restrepo  C, Sargent S, Levey D, and Watson DM. 2002. The role of vertebrates  in the diversification of New World mistletoes. In: Seed Dispersal and  Frugivory; Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, ed: DJ Levey, WR Silva, M  Galetti. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire. Pp 83–98.
Peer-reviewed articles
  • Rawsthorne  J, Watson DM and Roshier DA In press. Implications of movement patterns  of a dietary generalist for mistletoe seed dispersal. Austral Ecology MS  #AEC-10-010-OA.R2
  • Burns,  A. E., Cunningham, S. A. & Watson, D. M. In press Arthropod  communities in tree canopies: an ordinal comparison between assemblages on  mistletoes and their eucalypt hosts. Australian Journal of Entomology MS  #AEN-OA-Jul-2010-4114
  • Watson,  DM. 2011. A productivity-based explanation for woodland bird declines: poorer  soils yield less food. Emu  MS #09109
  • March  WA, Watson DM. 2010. The  contribution of mistletoes to nutrient returns in a temperate eucalypt forest:  evidence for a critical role in nutrient cycling. Austral Ecology 35: 713–21
  • Watson,  DM. 2010. Optimizing inventories of diverse sites—insights from Barro Colorado  Island birds. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 1: 280–291
    Podcast available at
  • Watson  DM. 2009. Parasitic plants as facilitators: more Dryad than Dracula? Journal  of Ecology 97:1151–9
  • Watson DM. 2009. Determinants of parasitic plant  distribution: the role of host quality. Botany 87: 16–21
  • Sass  S, Watson DM and Wilson A. 2008. The reptile fauna of the upper Billabong  Creek catchment area, NSW. Herpetofauna 38: 41–50
  • Mathiasen  RL, Nickrent D, Shaw DC, Watson DM. 2008. Mistletoes: their pathological  effects, molecular systematics, ecological importance, and management. Plant  Disease 93: 988–1002
  • Cooney  SJN, Watson DM. 2008. An experimental approach to understanding the use  of mistletoe as a nest substrate for birds: nest predation. Wildlife  Research 35:65–71
  • Sass  S, Watson DM. Herring M. 2007. A range extension for the blotched blue-tongue  skink (Tiliqua nigrolutea; Scincidae) and implications for it's future  survival. Herpetofauna. 37: 21–5
  • Barea  L, Watson DM. 2007. Temporal  variation in food resources determines onset of breeding in an Australian  mistletoe specialist. Emu 107: 203–9
  • March  WA, Watson DM. 2007. Parasites boost productivity: effects of mistletoe  on litter dynamics in a temperate Australian forest. Oecologia 154: 339–47
  • Watson  DM, Tack EJ. 2007. Vocal diversity patterns. Frontiers in Ecology and the  Environment 5: 406
  • Green  R, Turnbull R, Watson DM 2007. An inland record of the Pacific baza at  Tibooburra, far north-western New South Wales. Australian Field Ornithology 24: 26–29
  • Watson  DM, Roshier DA and Wiegand T. 2007. Spatial ecology of a root  parasite—from pattern to process. Austral Ecology 32: 359–69
  • Watson  DM and Herring M 2006. Of mistletoe and mechanisms—drivers of declining  biodiversity in remnant woodlands. Proceedings of Veg Futures  Conference: 1–7
  • Stevens  HC and Watson DM. 2006. Effect or rainfall on breeding of grey  shrike-thrushes Colluricincla harmonica. Corella 30: 16–20
  • Cooney  SJN, Watson DM, Young J. 2006. Mistletoe as a nest site for Australian  birds—a review. Emu 106: 1–12
  • Cooney  SJN and Watson DM. 2005. Diamond firetails Stagonopleura guttata preferentially nest in mistletoe. Emu 105: 317–22
  • Stevens  HC and Watson DM. 2005. Breeding biology of the grey shrike-thrush, Colluricincla  harmonica. Emu 105: 223–31
  • Maron  M, Lill A, Watson DM, Mac Nally R. 2005. Temporal variation in bird  assemblages: how representative is a one-year snapshot? Austral Ecology 30:  383–94
  • Watson  DM 2005. Response from Watson. BioScience 55:389.
  • Watson DM. 2005. Diagnosable versus distinct: evaluating species limits in birds. BioScience 55: 60-68. (PDF) [Appendix 1] [Appendix 2]
  • Watson, DM 2004. Beyond impact factors: using the media to ensure our research has real impact. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2: 289-291. (PDF)
  • Watson, DM 2004. Comparative evaluation of new approaches to survey birds. Wildlife Research 31: 1-11 (PDF)
  • Watson DM. 2003. Invited book review. Foundations of Tropical Forest Biology: Classic Papers with Commentaries. Austral Ecology
  • Green DG, Watson DM. In press. Interspecific relationships. In Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Biodiversity and Conservation. Editor G. McKay. Cambridge University Press.
  • Watson, DM. In press. Mistletoe-a unique constituent of canopies worldwide. In: In Forest Canopies. 2nd Edition (fully revised), ed. M Loman, B Rinker, 17 ms pp. Academic Press.
  • Watson, DM. 2003. The "standardized search": an improved way to conduct bird surveys. Austral Ecology 28: 515-525. (PDF)
  • Watson DM. 2003. Long-term consequences of habitat fragmentation: highland birds in Oaxaca, Mexico. Biological Conservation 111: 283-303. (PDF)
  • Watson DM. 2002. Effects of mistletoe on diversity: a case-study from southern New South Wales. Emu 102: 275-81. (PDF)
  • Watson DM. 2002. A conceptual framework for the study of species composition in islands, fragments and other patchy habitats. Journal of Biogeography 29: 823-34. (PDF)
  • Restrepo C, Sargent S, Levey D, and Watson DM. 2002. The role of vertebrates in the diversification of New World mistletoes. In: Seed Dispersal and Frugivory; Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, ed: DJ Levey, WR Silva, M Galetti. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire. Pp 83-98.
  • Watson DM. 2001 Mistletoe-a keystone resource in forests and woodlands worldwide. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 32:219-49. (PDF)
  • Watson DM. 2001. Mistletoe-a natural part of our forests and woodlands. Bogong (The journal of the Canberra and South-east Region Environment Centre 22(2):10-12
  • Watson DM. 2001. Mistletoe-nature's one-stop shop. Wingspan 11(3):8-11
  • Watson, D. M., R. C. Mac Nally, and A. F. Bennett. 2000. The avifauna of remnant Buloke (Allocasuarina luehmanni) woodlands in western Victoria. Pacific Conservation Biology 6: 46-60.
  • Watson, D. M. 1999. Observations of pine-oak forest birds in southern Mexico. Cotinga 12: 66-69.
  • Watson, D. M. and Peterson, A. T. 1999. Determinants of diversity in a naturally fragmented landscape: bird faunas of humid montane forests in Mesoamerica. Ecography (Copenhagen)22: 582-589. (">PDF)
  • Watson, D. M. and Benz, B. W. 1999. The Paint-billed Crake breeding in Costa Rica. The Wilson Bulletin 111: 422-424.
  • Peterson, A. T. and D. M. Watson 1998. Problems with areal definitions of endemism: the effects of spatial scale. Diversity and Distributions (formerly Biodiversity Letters) 4: 189-194. (PDF)
  • Watson, D. M. 1998. Invited book review; Tropical Forest Remnants: Ecology, management and conservation of fragmented communities. Journal of Mammalogy 79: 1084-1088.
  • Watson, D. M. 1997. The importance of mistletoe to the White-fronted Honeyeater Phylidonyris albifrons in Western Victoria. Emu 97: 174-177. (PDF)
  • Mac Nally, R.C. and D. M. Watson. 1997. How does habitat-island area affect species richness? Birds in Victorian Buloke remnants. Australian Journal of Ecology 22: 227-232
  • Watson, D. M. 1995. Black Honeyeaters in the Wimmera. Australian Bird Watcher 16: 166-167.
Selected Presentations
  • 2002: Towards an improved approach to terrestrial bird surveys. Second joint conference of the Ecological Society of Australia and the New Zealand Ecological Society. Cairns.
  • 2002: The relationship between body mass and clutch volume in birds. Co-authored with, and presented by Susan E. Anderson. XXIII International Ornithological Congress, Beijing China.
  • 2002: Mistletoe as a keystone resource-a progress report. 3rd International Canopy Conference, Cairns.
  • 2001: The relationship between body mass and clutch volume in birds. Co-authored with, and presented by Susan E. Anderson. Inaugural Australian Ornithological Conference, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst.
  • 2001: Effects of mistletoe on diversity: an experimental vignette from southern New South Wales. Inaugural Australian Ornithological Conference, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst.
  • 2001: Avian dynamics in an open forest fragment: insights from a 27-year banding study. Co-authored with Andrew Fisher and David Goldney, presented by Andrew Fisher. Inaugural Australian Ornithological Conference, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst.
  • 2001: Fragments, Islands and the neglected role of history. Featured in introductory session of Ecology of Insular Biotas Conference, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
  • 2000: Mistletoe-a determinant of diversity in forests and woodlands? 2nd Southern Hemisphere Ornithological Congress, Griffith University, Brisbane.
  • 1999: Determinants of diversity in Mesoamerican highland birds: history, ecology, and latitude. Joint meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Society of Naturalists. University of Wisonsin, Madison.
  • Long-term effects of habitat fragmentation: bird faunas of montane forests in Oaxaca, Mexico. 117th Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
  • 1998: The importance of temporal scale on the effects of habitat fragmentation: an overview. North American Ornithological Congress, St. Louis, Missouri.
  • The long-term effects of habitat fragmentation: a review. 83rd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in conjunction with the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Baltimore, Maryland.
  • The application of habitat ordinations to ornithology: botany for birders. 50th Annual Meeting of the Kansas Ornithological Society, Lawrence, Kansas.
  • 1997: Mistletoe: a key determinant of bird diversity in Australian woodlands. 78th Annual Meeting of the Wilson Ornithological Society and the Annual Spring Meeting of the Kansas Ornithological Society, Manhattan, Kansas.
  • 1996: Bird faunas of the humid montane forests of Mesoamerica: an analysis of distribution and diversity patterns. 114th Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union and 1996 meeting of the Raptor Research Foundation, Boise Idaho.
  • 1995: The dynamics of bird communities in a fragmented landscape - a case study from southern Australia. 113th Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, Cincinnati Ohio.

Top of page