Samantha Travers


PhD, University of New South Wales (2013)
BEnvSc (Hons) in Physical Geography, University of New South Wales 2008


Litter dynamics across the landscape function continuum

I am looking at factors that influence leaf litter (and associated nutrient) distribution and decomposition in semi-arid Australia and its relationship to landscape function. The decomposition of organic matter is critically important in many ecosystems, particularly those that are resource-limited, such as the arid and semi-arid regions of Australia. Decomposition of organic matter is an important component of the biogeochemical cycle as it controls soil nutrient availability which consequentially affects ecosystem productivity and vegetation composition.

Landscape function is a measure of how water and nutrients (from leaf litter) are captured and retained within a particular landscape. Landscapes can vary across a continuum of functional to dysfunctional, with functional landscape able to capture, retain and utilise water and nutrients more efficiently than dysfunctional landscapes. My research will examine how litter capture and decomposition in the foraging pits of native animals (bilbies, bettongs and echidnas) in functional landscapes compares to exotic rabbit diggings in dysfunctional landscapes, and ultimately how this affects landscape-level nutrients.

My study site is at the Scotia Sanctuary in western NSW and adjacent grazing properties. Parts of this project are in collaboration with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

I am focusing on several factors that influence litter dynamics. In particular my study will consider:

    • Spatial and temporal variation in litter fall across two dominant vegetation communities.
    • The effects of vegetation and geomorphic variation on litter distribution
    • The relative effects of termites, microbes and fungi in the decomposition process using a comprehensive litter-bag study
    • Litter decomposition rates of native plant species in the foraging pits of native vs. exotic animals.
    • Temporal changes in C:N across stages of the nutrient cycle between functional and dysfunctional landscape

Litter trap under Senna artemisioides


Travers, S.K. and Eldridge, D.J. (2013) Increased rainfall frequency triggers an increase in litter fall rates of reproductive structures in an arid eucalypt woodland. Austral Ecology, 38, 820-830.Download PDF

Travers S. K. and Eldridge D. J. (2012). Landscape modulators and resource accumulation in a post-fire eucalypt woodland. Forest Ecology and Management. 285, 11-9.Download PDF

Travers, S.K., Eldridge, D.J., Koen, S.B. and Soliveres, S. (2012). Animal foraging pit soil enhances the performance of a native grass under stressful conditions. Plant and Soil 352, 341-351. Download PDF