Presentation to the Environmental Protection Authority

I’ll be presenting the findings of my PhD research to the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in early December 2016. The EPA has statutory obligations under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 to conduct environmental impact assessments, initiate measures to protect the environment from environmental harm and pollution and to provide advice to the Minister on environmental matters generally.

This will be an excellent opportunity to disseminate my research and influence policy and decisions relating to conservation of Western Australia’s considerable biological assets.

Keren Raiter_PhD flier.png

Posted in blog | Leave a comment


I’m pleased to announce that the University of Western Australia has accepted my thesis as satisfying the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. You can now call me Dr. 🙂

PhD front page

My thesis is now available online at  _PHILOSOPHY_RAITER_Keren_Gila_2016.pdf

One of the most incredible things about doing this PhD has been experiencing the sheer breadth and depth of generosity, support and interest that I have been so fortunate to receive along the way, and which have made this journey not only possible, but profoundly enriching. It is my hope that I have done all of it justice with this thesis and its associated outcomes and will continue to do so with the knowledge and experience that I now carry.
Firstly, I had the honour of receiving unwavering support from a diverse and distinguished team of supervisors, who were skilled at encouraging me to think broadly and explore the frontiers of what conservation needs, as well as always being present with my research even while they were stretched across the continent, and often the globe. Richard, I learnt so much from your wise advice and pragmatic approach to the unfolding of the research mystery. I also really appreciated the independence you gave me to follow my ‘researcher nose’, and your support to attend a number of very useful conferences. Suzanne, you have been a real role model for me, and your knowledge of the Great Western Woodlands and its stakeholders, as well as your thoughtful and encouraging feedback on my work have really benefited me. Hugh, your ability to turn a problem (“most of the impacts are too subtle to be visible”) into a conceptual framework that set the stage for my whole thesis was a huge gift for me, as was your encouragement to do conservation powerfully (“try to channel Attila the Hun or Napoleon on your rewrite”). Leonie, you were a later addition to my supervisory team and I really appreciated your enthusiasm and support for the predator investigation, as well as your help in developing the methods.
I feel extremely privileged to have conducted my field work in the largest and most intact
remaining temperate woodland on earth, work which would not have been possible without the funding, support, and assistance of many organisations and people. I am extremely grateful to the Wilderness Society for providing the funds for the field work and some of the motion-sensor cameras and to Gondwana Link for inspiring this work in the first place and then helping me to finish it with completion funding. The Great Western Woodlands Collaboration which consisted of Gondwana Link, The Wilderness Society, Pew Trusts and The Nature Conservancy also provided invaluable inspiration and information. I thank the University of Western Australia for bestowing me with the Robert and Maude Gledden Research Scholarship and providing me with its research infrastructure. I thank the School of Plant Biology for providing funds and support that assisted me to conduct my research, and the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions for providing me with a top-up scholarship. I thank CSIRO for providing me with a studentship and a spacious and quiet desk with a great garden view that was the setting for many productive work days.
I feel fortunate to have been part of the Ecosystem Restoration and Intervention Ecology
research group at UWA, led by Richard Hobbs. Our weekly meetings, social gatherings and office camaraderie have been educational, supportive and fun. Thanks to Mandy Trueman, Cristina Ramalho, Bridget Johnson, Dawn Dickinson, Jodi Price, Heather Gordon, Rebecca Campbell, Tim Morald, Maggie Triska, Michael Wysong, Joanna Burgar, Rachel Standish, Melinda Moir, Mike Craig, Mike Perring, Jelena May, Todd Erickson, Erika Roper, Hillary Harrop, Christine Allen and others for being part of this. Thanks also to UWA academic support staff who have played a role in my academic development, especially Joanne Edmonston. Krystyna Haq, and Michael Azariadis. I have also been fortunate to be affiliated with the Land and Water team led by Suzanne Prober and others at CSIRO in Floreat, and thank Nat Raisbeck-Brown, Carl Gosper, Georg Wiehl, Garry Ogston, Anna Simonsen, Emma Woodward, Craig MacFarlane and others for your friendly inclusion, assistance and advice. In addition, I have been privileged to be part of a wider network of researchers in the Environmental Decisions Group, led by Hugh Possingham at University of Queensland, and thank this network for its insights and support.
Cliffs Natural Resources provided immense support and assistance on field trips. Thank you to Johnny Prefumo, Nicole Harry, Jeremy Shepherdson, Rob Howard, Kylie Wilkinson, Chris Dart, Neil Smith, Lorna McDonald and Belinda Madigan of the Cliffs Environment team who were incredibly helpful and responsive in this regard. The Department of Parks and Wildlife have also supported the fieldwork with approvals and licences, pertinent information and regular fire safely check-ins; thanks to Keith Morris, Julie Futter, Vanessa Jackson, Jennifer Jackson, David Algar, Sarah Comer and others. Thank you also to doggers Gordon Anderson and Stuart McEwan who were both very helpful, taught me to identify predator prints and scats and provided valuable insights into predator behaviour. Thanks also to Gorgeanna Story for doing the scat analysis.
Heartfelt appreciation also goes to Sue and Rolf Meeking who provided unique insights, local advice and wonderful hospitality both on their farm and in the bush, as well as logistical assistance which came during a difficult time and helped me to stay on track with my fieldwork. Other local contacts Coral Carter of Kalgoorlie, Rev. Dr Anna Killigrew and Rev. Peter Harrison of Koora Retreat, and John and Bernadette Cashmore also provided much appreciated hospitality along the way.
Discussions with Keith Bradby, Peter Price, Amanda Keesing, Wayne O’Sullivan, Megan Evans, Judith Harvey, Shapelle McNee, Peter-Jon Waddell, James O’Connor, Barry Traill, Mark Gardener, Charles Roche, Liz Fox and others throughout the course of this research helped me to better understand the conservation situation and needs of the GWW and direct my research focus. Workshops organised by Megan Evans and Kerrie Wilson of University of Queensland and Liz Fox and Cheryl Gole of Birdlife Australia were also immensely useful in this regard.
Much of the work presented in this thesis was performed with the assistance of a suite of volunteers. I wish to thank my intrepid field volunteers, Fiona Westcott, Kieran Golby, Stewart Bayford, Neal Birch, Ophir Levin, Bridget Johnson, Rebecca Campbell, Joanna Burgar and Michael Wysong for their eagerness to leave their creature comforts behind and join me on these remote trips. I also thank them for their interest in the research and for their many questions and ideas that helped me to develop the investigations; for their humour and good company that made these trips unforgettable, and for their hard work and dependability that ensured successful completion of the work and safe homeward returns. I also wish to thank the team of volunteers who helped me to digitize the disturbance footprint of vast swathes of the Great Western Woodlands over many hours: Ophir Levin, Julia Waite, Brad Desmond, and Rachel Omodei.
Thank you to other friends and colleagues Jaya Penelope, Krishna Rose, Ronen Steingold, Kiran Kigs, Kieran Golby, Naomi and Yonatan Li’el, Tegan Rourke, Cherie Carlo, Cristina Ramalho, Jocelyn Peyret, Asael Greenfeld, Ayala Ben Yosef, Judith Harvey, James O’Connor, Alison Hurst Emma Jack, Terry Farrell and others who have been so supportive and understanding and contributed to me having a wholesome life outside of my PhD. Thank you also to the other members of the Tealeaf Troubadours – Jaya Penelope, Jesse Williamson and Alex Hey and the poetry community, especially Jackson and Elio Novello for tolerating my busyness, engaging with my science poems and providing a creative outlet that has been an important part of the journey. Thank you to professionals Laura Harvey, Maria Arora and Hala Bitdorf who helped and taught me along the way.
Thanks to Tom Brooks, Peter Muirden, and Tim Sparks at Department of Water for their understanding and flexibility regarding work arrangements to facilitate field work and timely completion of my PhD. Thanks also to friends and colleagues at the Department; Gill White, Frances Miller, Renee Dixon, Shafiq Alam, Sue Tillman, Georgina Evans, Jaci Moore and others for their interest and encouragement.
Finally, I heartily thank my family for their support. Thank you to my amazing parents, Raul and Lesley, who taught me that I can do anything I wanted and then supported me morally and practically to do so, especially with nourishing food and funds when the going got tough. Thanks to my sister, Perla, for your understanding, the use of your car, and those wonderful Shabbat dinners that were the best antidote to a long hard week. Thank you to my lively little nieces, Izabell, Katana and Scarlett, who provided embodied reasons to work towards a more ecologically harmonious future, and persuaded me to play even when I hadn’t finished that manuscript. Thanks also to my family around the world for their love, encouragement, and understanding, especially the Abuahrons, the Cheniks, and the Glazners. Mbapani Ngitoria was a great support in my process of embarking on this PhD journey and choosing the project that I would pursue. Sunny Blundell-Wignall held my hand through the last part of this journey, and gave me steadfast support as well as helping me to balance work with rest and play. I thank him and also his family for putting up with my absences and being so understanding.



Posted in blog | 1 Comment

PhD completion seminar – March 14 2016

It is with great pleasure that I invite all interested people to attend my PhD completion seminar on Monday 14th March. The seminar will be a one-hour overview of my PhD research on the enigmatic ecological impacts of mining and linear infrastructure in the Great Western Woodlands of southwestern Australia.

When: 4pm Monday 14th March 2016

Where: Botany Seminar Room, Botany Building, The University of Western Australia

Why: To share the insights and results emerging from a mammoth research project that I have undertaken over the last four years.

Keren Raiter PhD completion seminar

Posted in blog | 1 Comment

Art and inspiration, Bungalbin

I was recently invited to contribute to the Wilderness Society’s exhibition of art inspired by the Great Western Woodlands, as part of an event held to celebrate the incredible but threatened Helena-Aurora Range, and gather support for its protection. To learn more about the event, the need for protection of Helena-Aurora Range, and ways of supporting its protection, click here.

The images and text that I exhibited and performed follow.


Many-limbed. Photograph © Keren Gila Raiter

Sunrise over Helena-Aurora. Photograph by Fiona Westcott (reproduced with permission)

Sunrise over Helena-Aurora. Photograph © Fiona Westcott (reproduced with permission)

Dianella revoluta – blueberry lilly. Photograph © Keren Gila Raiter

Moonrise almost as old as the moon fresh as the last burn


almost as old as the moon
fresh as the last burn

2. Verticordia chrysantha

Verticordia chrysantha

This is not the middle of nowhere
it’s the centre of everywhere
the sweet space between wet forests and dry deserts
where there’s more eucalypts than there’s elements in the periodic table;
more flowering plants than in the UK
where banded iron never goes out of fashion
with water in rocky cracks and rare views over subtle topography
what’s more, it’s my home

3. Bungalbin


by the time we reached Bungalbin
we had forgotten what a hill looks like
and a range seemed impossible in this flat expansiveness
but the earth reaching skyward was unmistakable

We camped in Helena and Aurora’s wide embrace
long ironstone arms stretched out around us
striped with geology

4. Night creature

Night lacewing (Myrmeleontidae family)

the creatures of the night
remind me of the mystery
of life
of ecosystems
of the things that are hidden from our view
but that are nevertheless
essential parts of our existence

Abandoned mine

Abandoned mine

after the minerals have been traded
profits spent
workers retrenched, or retired
that water will still be a strange shade of green

6. red legged- arachnid

Red-legged arachnid

I walked a thousand kilometres
till my legs were red and hairy
I lost and found myself
in between these leaves and branches
and I won’t forget

It's us who decide 1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4

All photographs and text © Keren Gila Raiter except where noted

Posted in blog | 6 Comments

Protecting the Helena Aurora Range: art, inspiration, and action

On the 19th of February the Wilderness Society teamed up with the Wildflower Society of Western Australia, Helena and Aurora Range Advocates, Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council, Perth Bushwalkers, Gondwana Link, the Conservation Council of Western Australia and others to host a very special evening. The evening was dedicated to celebrating and protecting the stunning Helena Aurora range in the Great Western Woodlands, a special place that has been the highlight of my field trips in the area for the last two years.

2014 autumn field trip GWW (144)

The range, which is also known by the Aboriginal name for its highest hill – Bungalbin, is currently under threat of mining for iron ore. The Environmental Protection Authority recently ruled that mining the range is ‘environmentally unacceptable’, but ultimately it is up to the Western Australian Environment Minister Albert Jacobs to reject the current mining proposal, and to do this, the public needs to send a clear message of support.

This is not the first time that the Helena-Aurora Range has been under threat of destruction by mining, and in the long run, the many different organisations involved in organising this event are calling for the range and its surrounds to be protected forever in a Class A National Park. It is a jewel in the landscape and worth much more than the amount of iron ore it holds.

I performed a poem entitled ‘It’s us who decide’ and also exhibited a series of photographs with accompanying poetry texts, from and inspired by my extensive trips to the area. Click here to see the images and text.

To sign the online petition to Western Australia’s premier Colin Barnett urging him to protect the range, click here.

Watch this 7 minute story featured on ABC’s landline which summarizes the feelings of the local community wanting protection of the range. As Gary Kenward, local business owner put it – It’s our Mona Lisa in our backyard – and we need to protect it.

To read more about the Helena Aurora Range, and learn about things you can do to stand for its survival, click here to visit the Wilderness Society’s Helena Aurora information page, or click here to visit Helena and Aurora Range Advocate’s website.

In the meantime, enjoy this youtube video of the range:

2015 Bungalbin event poster

Posted in blog | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

My research in simple English

I’ve taken the challenge of describing my research in the 1000 most-used words in the English language. Here goes…

I am asking: what does mining do to the land and living things in the Great Woods, far away from the city?

First, I built a picture of what types of problems might happen that we can’t see very well, or that our approaches to finding problems can’t pick up very well.

Then, I looked at what mining builds and found that it builds lots of roads and the like.

Second, I asked, how do roads change how the animals that eat other animals move? I found that the animals that eat other animals like using roads. A lot! There are a lot more animals that eat other animals on roads than across the rest of the land. This means lots of dead smaller animals that live near the roads. It would also mean less smaller animals if they become scared of roads and run away, or if they can’t cross the road to find other small animals to make babies. Roads also bring lots of other animals that shouldn’t be there (and also some that should).

Third, I asked what roads and the like do to water moving across the land. I looked at water ways and also at the roads themselves, and found that sometimes the roads make the water stop, and sometimes the roads make the water go too fast and take away the ground, and sometimes the roads make the water go a different way, so it doesn’t get to where it needs to go (and to the living things that need it).
We need to understand that while mining makes lots of money, it also leaves a lot of problems for the land and growing things. We can plan and act carefully to avoid some of these problems make some of the other problems smaller.


Posted in blog, research | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Enigmatic ecological impacts: what to do with what’s under our noses

In our paper just published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, my co-authors Professor Hugh Possingham, Dr Suzanne Prober, and Professor Richard Hobbs and I present a conceptual framework of enigmatic ecological impacts: impacts that tend to pass under the radar of impact evaluations, and evade being considered in environmental impact assessments, offset calculations, and conservation or land-use plans. The problem with these impacts is that they undermine the potential for successful impact mitigation.

For example, a government agency might allow a mining operation to go ahead based on the information provided in the environmental impact assessment that states that the total environmental impact of the mine consists of clearing a given amount of natural vegetation and pumping a given amount of groundwater into a nearby wetland. The agency might consider that in fact the area that the proponent proposes to clear is only 0.001% of the total amount of vegetation, and the groundwater to be pumped is also relatively little in the grand scheme of things, and give approval for the mine to go ahead. However, there are a suite of ways in which the natural environment may be negatively affected that go far beyond the impacts identified in the impact assessment, and ultimately these ‘hidden’ or ‘enigmatic’ impacts may lead to much more environmental degradation that what the agency fathomed.

There are a plethora of different types of ecological impacts that are not systematically accounted for in impact evaluations. We’ve classified them into categories based on the ways in which they tend to get overlooked, but note that whether any particular impact fits into a category depends on its context. I’ll illustrate them with annotated sketches.

Cumulative impacts: death by a thousand cuts

The first category of enigmatic impacts refers to the sum of individual impacts that alone are considered negligible, but accumulate over space and/or time and are so numerous that they are significant when considered in totality. Like eating one small block of chocolate will probably not kill you, but eating thousands each day will certainly lead to severe health complications. In the example of a mining operation, the direct footprint of the mine might be made up of exploration gridlines and access roads, drill pads, mining pit, administration offices, a mine workers village, possibly a processing plant and tailings storage facility, and haul road (Figure 1)…

cumulative impacts a

Now this operation is pretty big, especially when we’re talking about mine pits that are kilometres wide and deep and waste rock dumps that are even wider, but often these operations appear quite small, and even negligible, relative to the region they are in or the amount of vegetation that is left:

cumulative impacts b

That is, until you consider the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of these types of impact across the landscape, and little is done to account for the cumulative effects of these multiple disturbances…

cumulative impacts c

This is an issue all around the world.

Cumulative impacts d

We next see that cumulative impacts are just the beginning of the story. In reality the disturbance doesn’t end at the edge of the obvious disturbance footprint. Offsite impacts are those that are overlooked because they are outside of the immediate location of the development, the designated project area or jurisdiction.

offsite impacts a

For example, threatened woodland caribous in Alberta, Canada, avoid roads and drill pads by 1km, and that roads further fragment habitat by acting as semi-permeable barriers to movement. With the growth of roads and well pads as you can see in the image on the right, it’s not hard to imagine how it was projected that oil sand drilling will reduce effective caribou habitat in the region from 43 to 6% of the landbase over the next 20 years.

offsite impacts b

But wait, there’s more. Cryptic impacts are those that generally pass unaccounted for because available methods, time, technology, scientific and regulatory approaches and resource constraints preclude them from being detected.

They’re hidden impacts, that pass unnoticed because we didn’t look hard enough or didn’t look through the right lenses, or simply weren’t able to pick them up:

cryptic impacts a

The effects of low frequency marine noise on cephalopods is an example of cryptic impacts, recently discovered in Spain. According to the researchers, the kind of low frequency noise that is generated in marine environments all over the world by shipping, fisheries, offshore industries, and naval maneuvers, produces permanent, substantial alterations of the structures responsible for the cephalopod’s sense of balance and position. That equals dead cephalopods and potentially dire consequences for the marine food web worldwide, particularly with increasing marine industries.

cryptic impacts b

Next, secondary impacts are impacts that are not directly caused by the development, but are facilitated by it. Third parties such as four wheel drive clubs and other recreationalists, prospectors, loggers, poachers, graziers, arsonists, land speculators, and even researchers (like me), can gain access to previously inaccessible areas due to a development, and unavoidably some of these will result in their own suite of impacts. Thus they are also sometimes referred to as ‘human invasions’.

secondary impacts a

A sadenning example of this lies in the central African rainforest, where a newly-built road from Bangui to Bambio in the Central African Republic allowed ivory poachers to access an area that was previously inaccessible. As a result, the forest elephant population in that area declined by 40%. The road may have been regarded as essential to promote much-needed economic development, but we can see that the impact of the road extended far beyond the loss of that slither of vegetation.secondary impacts b

And just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, we must remember that nothing exists in isolation; we are likely to experience multiple synergies between the different impacts, including between historical impacts and those occurring now and in the future.

synergistic impacts

So this cat’s breakfast of scribbles represents what might remain of a landscape in which 0.01% has been cleared for mining.

enigmatic impacts orthophoto

So what can we do about these impacts? the answers are not obviously simple, but there is hope.

The difficulty of accounting for enigmatic impacts is not the only hurdle to achieving credible impact evaluations. The effectiveness of many impact evaluations can be undermined by a suite of political and economic constraints including corruption, poor governance, attitudes of governments and regulatory agencies, and persistent weaknesses in rigorous scientific input and meaningful public participation.

Effectively accounting for and mitigating enigmatic ecological impacts to conserve what remains of our incredible natural heritage requires strategic and large-scale evaluation and planning, mechanisms to manage and concentrate impacts in areas that are already disturbed, protect relatively undisturbed areas, and conserve wilderness or intactness. It also requires governments, development proponents, and other stakeholders to address historical impacts, mitigate co-occurring impacts, manage access, and enhance impact evaluation practices by improving ethical and professional scientific practice, integrate available knowledge, precautions, decision-support tools, and projections, and conduct long-term research to establish baselines and early warning indicators. Lastly, governments and proponents must address the triple bottom line by improving transparency and public participation, and developing mechanisms to shift risks from society to the marketplace, such as mandatory environmental insurance schemes.

This has been a short summary of the paper – for further information read the paper itself, available here; email me for a free copy (email address available through the link to the paper).

The images posted in this post are extracted, with some modifications, from talks that I have presented to my lab group and various conferences and workshops during the development of this conceptual framework. I thank the Ecological Restoration and Intervention Ecology research group, headed by my primary supervisor Prof. Richard Hobbs, as well as many others along the way, for feedback that has helped and encouraged me to portray the story with textas and pictures. Further acknowledgements regarding support for this research are included in the paper.

Posted in blog, research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paper published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

The paper Under the radar: mitigating enigmatic ecological impacts, by myself, Hugh Possingham, Suzanne Prober and Richard Hobbs has just been published online by the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution (DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2014.09.003): (this link will provide you with free access to the full article till 10th December 2014).

  • There are ecological impacts that are overlooked by standard impact evaluations.
  • These ‘enigmatic’ impacts can be cumulative, offsite, cryptic, or secondary.
  • Enigmatic impacts can act synergistically and are hard to detect and mitigate.
  • Potential solutions include strategic assessments and insurance schemes.

Identifying the deleterious ecological effects of developments, such as roads, mining, and urban expansion, is essential for informing development decisions and identifying appropriate mitigation actions. However, there are many types of ecological impacts that slip ‘under the radar’ of conventional impact evaluations and undermine the potential for successful impact mitigation (including offsets). These ‘enigmatic’ impacts include those that are small but act cumulatively; those outside of the area directly considered in the evaluation; those not detectable with the methods, paradigms, or spatiotemporal scales used to detect them; those facilitated, but not directly caused, by development; and synergistic impact interactions. Here, we propose a framework for conceptualising enigmatic impacts and discuss ways to address them.

Posted in blog, research | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mining the landscape: presentation at Ecological Society of Australia Conference

On the 29th of September I’ll be presenting a talk at the Ecological Society of Australia’s annual conference in Alice Springs. The talk is entitled Mining the landscape: a spatial analysis of enigmatic impacts.

My presentation forms part of the open session entitled ‘Desert Ecology’, and will take place at 5pm in Ellery Room D, at the Alice Springs Convention Centre. The session will be chaired by Louise Emmerson, Senior Research Scientist from the Australian Antarctic Division. Other presenters in that session are: Dr Kimberley Maute (University of Wollongong), Claire Runge (University of Queensland), Aaron Greenville (Desert Ecology Research Group), and Natasha Cadenhead, (University of Melbourne). More information about the conference can be found at

I’ll be presenting hot-off-the-press findings from my spatial analysis on how ecological impacts of mining and exploration can be understood, quantified and modelled for the largest remaining temperate woodland on earth: the Great Western Woodlands of south-western Australia. My particular focus is on what I call ‘enigmatic ecological impacts’: ecological impacts of development that tend to ‘pass under the radar’ of impact evaluations such as environmental impact assessments, biodiversity offset calculations, and land-use plans. Such impacts are hard to detect and manage, but they ultimately undermine the potential for successful impact mitigation. 

Understanding how ecological impacts manifest across large landscapes is essential for managing them, deciding on the best courses of action for conservation activities, and preventing future impacts. Strategic, regional approaches to planning and managing development and ecological impact mitigation strategies can also benefit developers by providing security of tenure in approved development zones and supporting their ‘social licence to operate’.

20140320 spatial analysis summary

Posted in blog | Leave a comment

Systems thinking: a cautionary tale by Borneo Futures

Click here to go to the Borneo Futures website

Posted in blog, sustaining ecology | Leave a comment