Associate Professor Stephen Bonser
Field of Research: 
Plant ecology, evolutionary ecology, life history, ecological strategies
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 3863

Room 430, D26 Building
UNSW, Kensington 2052


Research & Current Projects


My research focuses on what makes plants good at surviving and flourishing in their environments, and how they adapt to environmental change.  In particular, I explore and identify ecological strategies across variable and complex environments.  Ecological strategies allow us to interpret and predict variability in fitness with species and patterns of species diversity, coexistence and diversity both within and between habitats. 

I have broad research interests in ecology and have been involved on studies (frequently with research students) in areas such as: Community responses to anthropogenic disturbances; plant regeneration in fragmented landscapes; the ecology of fire disturbed communities; and the evolution of geographic range size.

Current Projects

I have several current research directions:

  1. The importance of sex in plants – Many plants are capable in of both sexual and clonal reproduction.  I am currently testing hypotheses on the environmental conditions that favour sexual reproduction
  2. Evolutionary ecology of invasive species – I am investigating how rapid adaptive evolution in invasive species in Australia are promoting local adaptation to novel environments and changing the dynamics of species invasions. 
  3. The interactions between plants and their competitors and enemies – Competition, predation, and parasitism are major selective forces driving plant adaptation and diversification.  I examine how these interactions change across environments
  4. The evolution of ecological strategies – I examine how variability in life-histories (the schedule of growth and reproduction) and growth form within and between species are related to the capacity for plants to persist and flourish across environments.



Dr Brenton Ladd
Visiting Academic

Dr David Pepper
Room 433, Biological Sciences Building
9385 3860


Research Students


Faith Fazlioglu (PhD candidate)

Joshua Griffiths (PhD candidate)

Ali Namazi (PhD candidate)

Susan Rutherford (PhD candidate)

Justin Wan (PhD candidate)

Wendy Kinsella (MPhil candidate) – A tale of two rats



BIOS1101             Evolutionary and Functional Biology

BIOS2051             Flowering Plants

BIOS3061             Plant Ecology



Moles A.T., Bonser S.P., Poore A.G.B., Wallis I.R., Foley W.J. (in press) Latitudinal gradients in plant defence and herbivory.  Functional Ecology.

Forster M.A., Ladd B., Bonser S.P. (in press) Optimal allocation for resources in response to shading and neighbours in the heteroblastic species Acacia implexaAnnals of Botany.

Nicotra A.B. Atkin O.K. Bonser S.P. Davidson A. Finnegan E.J. Mathesius U. Poot P. Purugganan M.D. Richards C.L. Valladeres F. VanKleunen M. (in press) Plant Phenotypic plasticity in a changing climate.  Trends in Plant Science.

Weinberg A., Gibbons P., Briggs S., Bonser S.P. (in press) Patterns of natural regeneration in a fragmented landscape.  Biological Conservation.

Mallitt K.L., Bonser S.P., Hunt J. (in press) The Plasticity of phenotypic integration in response to light and water availability in the pepper grass, Lepidium bonarienseEvolutionary Ecology.

Bonser S.P., Ladd B., Monro K., Hall M.D., Forster M.A. (2010) The adaptive value of functional and life history traits across fertility treatments in an annual plant.  Annals of Botany 106: 979-988.

Ladd B., Larson J.R., Bonser S.P. (2010) Do tree guards promote tree seedling establishment in a restoration setting?  Ecological Management and Restoration 11: 75-76.

Mayfield M.M., Bonser S.P., Morgan J.W., Aubin I., McNamara S., Vesk P.A. (2010) What does species richness tell us about functional diversity?  Predictions and evidence for species and trait diversity responses to land use change.  Global Ecology and Biogeography 19: 423-431.

Ladd B., Pepper D.A., Bonser S.P. (2010) Competition intensity at local versus regional spatial scales.  Plant Biology 12: 772-779.

Laliberte E., Wells J., DeClerck F., Metcalfe D., Catterall C., Queiroz C., Aubin I., Bonser S.P., Ding Y., Fraterrigo J., McNamara S., Morgan J., Sanchez-Merlos D., Vesk P., Mayfield M. (2010) Land use intensification reduces response diversity in plant communities.  Ecology Letters 13: 76-86.

Forster M.A., Bonser S.P. (2009) Heteroblastic development and shade-avoidance response to blue and red light signals in Acacia implexa.  Photochemistry and Photobiology 85: 1375-1383.

Chew S.J., Bonser S.P. (2009) The evolution of growth rate, resource allocation and competitive ability in seeder and resprouter tree seedlings.  Evolutionary Ecology.

Ladd B., Bonser S.P., Peri P.L., Larsen J.R., Laffan S.W., Pepper D.A., Cendon D.I. (2009) Towards a physical description of habitat: quantifying environmental adversity in temperate forest and woodland ecosystems.  Journal of Ecology 97: 964-971.

Bonser S.P., Aarssen L.W. (2009) Interpreting reproductive allometry: Individual strategies of allocation explain size-dependent reproduction in plant populations. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 11: 31-40.

Forster M.A., Bonser S.P. (2009) Heteroblastic development and the optimal partitioning of traits among contrasting environments in Acacia implexa.  Annals of Botany 103: 95-105.

Moles A.T., Gruber M.A.M., Bonser S.P. (2008).  A new framework for predicting invasive plant species.  Journal of Ecology 96: 13-17.

Bonser S.P. (2006) Form defining function: Interpreting leaf functional variability in integrated plant phenotypes.  Oikos 114: 187-191.

Bonser S.P., Aarssen L.W. (2006) Meristem allocation and life history evolution in herbaceous plants.  Canadian Journal of Botany 84: 143-150.

Thompson W.A., Eldridge D.J., Bonser S.P. (2006) Structure of biological soil crust communities in Callitris glaucophylla woodlands.  Journal of Vegetation Science 17: 271-280.