ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Professor David Watson

Professor David Watson

Professor David M Watson's research falls into three principal areas: managing biodiversity in agricultural landscapes; measuring and predicting the biological effects of habitat fragmentation; and the ecology of parasitic plants. His research has been conducted through 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; & synthetic reviews consolidating existing information and proposing new hypotheses. Most of his research is applied, improving our understanding and management of natural systems. He has developed a new way of conducting bird surveys; articulated a generalised explanation for distribution patterns of parasitic plants; demonstrated parasitic plants boost productivity in their communities; & suggested changes in productivity and food availability underlie woodland bird declines.

Research Interests

  • Managing biodiversity in agricultural landscapes
  • Measuring and predicting the biological effects of habitat fragmentation
  • Ecology of parasitic plants

Bachelor of Science (Hons) (1st class), Monash University, 1994
PhD, The Univesity of Kansas, USA, 1999

External Appointments & Memberships

Technical Advisory Group (member) for the Great Western Woodlands Project (jointly managed by Birdlife Australia and the Nature Conservancy)

Slopes to Summit Partnership (regional hub of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative)( founding member and senior ecologist)

Wirraminna Environmental Education Centre (member of the management committee)

Editorial roles on journals

Austral Ecology (Associate editor)

Selected Publications

Peer Reviewed Papers

Mellado, A., Hobby, A., Lázaro‐González, A. & Watson, D.M. (2019) Hemiparasites drive heterogeneity in litter arthropods: Implications for woodland insectivorous birds. Austral Ecology. doi:10.1111/aec.12748

Gosper, C.R., Fox, E., Burbidge, A.H., Craig, M.D., Douglas, T.K., Fitzsimons, J.A., McNee, S., Nicholls, A.O., O'Connor, J., Prober, S.M., Watson, D.M., Watson, S.J., & Yates, C. J. (2019) Multi-century periods since fire in an intact woodland landscape favour bird species declining in an adjacent agricultural region. Biological Conservation, 230: 82-90. doi:

Davis, R. A., & Watson, D. M. (2018) Vagrants as vanguards of range shifts in a dynamic world. Biological Conservation, 224, 238-241. doi:

Watson, D. M., Znidersic, E. & Craig, M. D. (2018) Ethical birding call playback, and conservation. Conservation Biology.  doi:10.1111/cobi.13199

Towsey, M., Znidersic, E., Broken-Brow, J., Indraswari, K., Watson, D.M., Phillips, Y., Truskinger, A. & Roe, P. (2018) Long-duration, false-colour spectrograms for detecting species in large audio data-sets. Journal of Ecoacoustics 2  DOI :

Thomsen, M.S., Altieri, A.H., Angelini, C., Bishop, M.J., Gribben, P.E., Lear, G., Qiang He., Schiel, D.R., Silliman, D.R., South, P.M., Watson, D.M., Wernberg, T., Zotz, G. (2018) Secondary foundation species enhance biodiversity. Nature Ecology & Evolution. Doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0487-5

Griebel, A., Watson, D. & Pendall, W.  (2017) Mistletoe, friend and foe: synthesizing ecosystem implications of mistletoe infection, Environmental Research Letters 12, No 11

Watson, D.M., Doerr, V.A.J., Banks, S.C., Driscoll, D.A., van der Ree, R., Doerr, E.D., Sunnucks, P. (2017) Monitoring ecological consequences of efforts to restore landscape-scale connectivity. Biological Conservation 206: 201–09

Watson, D.M., Milner, K.V., Leigh, A. (2017) Novel application of species richness estimators to predict the host range of parasites. International Journal for Parasitology 47: 31–39

Watson, D. M. (2016) Fleshing out facilitation – reframing interaction networks beyond top-down versus bottom-up. New Phytol, 211: 803–808. doi:10.1111/nph.14052

Watson, D.M. (2015) Disproportionate Declines in Ground-Foraging Insectivorous Birds after Mistletoe Removal. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0142992. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0142992

Watson, D.M. & Watson, M.J. (2015) Wildlife restoration: Mainstreaming translocations to keep common species common. Biological Conservation.

Watson, D.M; Anderson, S.E., & Olson, V. (2015) Reassessing Breeding Investment in Birds:Class-Wide Analysis of Clutch Volume Reveals a Single Outlying Family. PLoS ONE 10(1): e0117678. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117678

Watson, S.J., Luck, G.W., Spooner, P.G., Watson, D.M. (2014) Land-use change: incorporating the frequency, sequence, time span, and magnitude of changes into ecological research. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 241–249.

Luck, G., Spooner, P., Watson, D.M., Watson, S., Saunders, M. (2014). Interactions between almond plantations and native ecosystems: lessons learned from north-western Victoria. Ecological Management and Restoration. Vol 15, Issue 1, pp 4-15.

Watson, D.M. & Herring, M. (2014) On pluralism in ecology: seeing the forest and the trees. Proc. R. Soc. B 22 vol. 281 no. 1777.

McBride, M. F., Garnett, S., Ritchie, E.G., Nimmo, D.G., Bradshaw, C.J.A., Burgman, M.A., Martin, J.K,, McCarthy, M.A,, Parris, K.M,, Dickman, C.R., French, K., Hobbs, R., Hughs, L., Johnson, C.N., Johnston, E., Laurance, W.F., Lindemayer, D., Lunt, I.D., McIntyre, S., Possingham, H.P., Pressey, B., Watson, D.M., & Woinarski, J. (2013) Relaxed laws imperil Australian wildlife. Nature 498: 434.

Watson, S., Luck, G., Spooner P., & Watson, D.M. (2013) Deconstructing human-induced land-cover change: incorporating the interacting effects of frequency, sequence, time-span and magnitude of changes on biota. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.  (#13FRN0097)

Ritchie, E. G., Bradshaw, C. J. A., Dickman, C. R., Hobbs, R., Johnson, C. N., Johnston, E. L., Laurance, W. F., Lindenmayer, D., McCarthy, M. A., Nimmo, D. G., Possingham, H. H., Pressey, R. L., Watson, D. M. and Woinarski, J. (2013) Continental-Scale Governance and the Hastening of Loss of Australia's Biodiversity. Conservation Biology, 27: 1133-1135

Watson, D.M., Rawsthorne, J. (2013) Mistletoe specialist frugivores: latterday 'Johnny Appleseeds' or self-serving market gardeners? Oecologia 172:925–932.

Barea, L., Watson, D.M. (2013) Trapped between popular fruit and preferred nest location—cafeterias are poor places to raise a family. Functional Ecology 27:766–74.

Stevens, H.C., Watson, D.M. (2013) Reduced rainfall explains avian declines in an unfragmented landscape: incremental steps toward an empty forest? Emu: Austral Ornithology 113:112–121.

Watson, D.M. & Herring, M. (2012) Mistletoe as a keystone resource: an experimental test. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 279: 3853–3860.

McBride, M.F., Garnett, S.T., Szabo, J.K., Burbidge, A.H., Butchart, S.H.M., Christidis, L., Dutson, G., Ford, H.A., Loyn, R.H., Watson, D.M., and Burgman, M.A. (2012)  Structured elicitation of expert judgments for threatened species assessment: a case study on a continental scale using email. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 3:906–920.

Watson, D.M.. (2012) The relative contribution of specialists and generalists to mistletoe dispersal: insights from a Neotropical forest. Biotropica 45, 195–202

Razeng, E. & Watson, D.M. (2012) What do declining woodland birds eat? A synthesis of dietary records. Emu: Austral Ornithology 112(2) 149-155.

Rawsthorne J, Watson, D.M., & Roshier D.A. (2012) The restricted seed rain of a mistletoe specialist. Journal of Avian Biology 43:9–14.


Watson, D.M. (2011) Mistletoes in Southern Australia. CSIRO

Book Chapters

Burns, A.E., & Watson DM. (2013) Islands in a sea of foliage: mistletoes as discrete components of forest canopies. Pp. 215–222 in Treetops at Risk: challenges of Global Canopy Ecology and Conservation, ed. M Lowman. Springer, New York.

Watson, D.M. (2012) Painted Honeyeater. Pp. 149–152 in: Queensland's Threatened Animals, eds.  Curtis, L.K., Dennis, A.J., McDonald, K. R., Kyne P.M., & Debus, S.J.S. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Conference Papers

Watson, D. (2017) Establishing a national acoustic observatory – listening in to Nature at the continental scale, Eco TAS 2017 The Ecological Society of Australia  and the New Zealand Ecological Society joint conference, Hunter Valley, NSW, Nov 26 to Dec 1

Znidersic, E., Towsey, M., Truskinger, A., Watson, D.M., Roe, P. (2017) Sounding out marsh birds—automated classification techniques for acoustic data.  International Bioacoustic Congress, Haridwar, India. October 8-13

Znidersic, E., Towsey, M., Truskinger, A., Watson, D.M., Roe, P. (2017) Sounding out marsh birds—automated classification techniques for acoustic data.  Australasian Ornithological Conference, Geelong, Australia. November 8-11

Watson, D. (2016) The secret life of mistletoe—advances in understanding their ecological role and ecosystem function. Openating keynote presented at Mistletoes: Pathogens, Keystone Resource and Medicinal Wonder (an IUFRO working group conference), July 18-21, Ashland, Oregon, USA

Watson, D. (2016) On tropical mistletoes—noteworthy advances. Recent insights, emerging opportunities. Closing plenary presented at Mistletoes: Pathogens, Keystone Resource and Medicinal Wonder (an IUFRO working group conference), July 18-21, Ashland, Oregon, USA

Watson, D. (2016) Monitoring ecological consequences of efforts to restore landscape-scale connectivity. Presented at the Species on the Move conference, Hobart, February 9-12, 2016.

Watson, D. (2015) Wildlife restoration: applying lessons learned from revegetation to safeguard native animal populations, at Ecological Society of Australia Annual Conference, Nov 29 to Dec 3, Adelaide, South Australia

Watson, D.M. (2015) Wildlife restoration: applying lessons learned from revegetation to safeguard native animal populations. 6th Biodiversity Across the Borders Conference 2015, Federation University, Ballarat, June 12.

Watson, D.M. (2015) Methodological norms in terrestrial bird surveys--current approaches are incomplete, inconsistent and unreliable. Presented at the 52nd Association for Tropical Biology & Conservation conference, Honolulu, Hawaii, July 12-16

Opinions Pieces

The Conversation, Nov 30 World first continental acoustic observatory

Current Projects

How do sandalwoods (Santalum spp.) affect desert communities: integrating above-ground patterns with below-ground processes. Watson, D., Price, J., Frew, A. (2018-2021) Hermon Slade Foundation, $89,522

Acoustic Observatory: a network to monitor biodiversity across Australia. (2017-2020) ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities project ($900,000) led by Queensland University of Technology with ILWS team members Watson, D., Luck, G. & Nimmo, D.

Bio-Acoustic Observatory: Engaging Birdwatchers to Monitor Biodiversity by Collaboratively Collecting and Analysing Big Audio Data. Roe,P., Brereton, M., & Watson, D,M. (2014-2017) ARC Discovery grant, $477,000 Project details

Next generation tools for environmental monitoring in remote and limited access locations. Watson, D.H., Massaro, M., Luck, G., & Finlayson, M. (2015) Research Infrastructure Block Grant (RIBG), $33,583

What's in the wetland- Investigating distribution and ecology of secretive wetland birds. (2016) Watson, D. & Znidersic, E. (PhD student). NRM North, $3250

Internal Grants

Next generation tools for environmental monitoring in remote and limited access locations, Watson, D.H., Massaro, M., Luck, G., & Finlayson, M. (2015) Research Infrastructure Block Grant, $33,583

Completed Projects

Investigating habitat preference and use by the Lewin's rail (Lewinia pectoralis brachipus).Watson, D & Znidersic,L. (2012). Australian Geographic Society Seed grant.