Associate Professor Christian Kull

  • Just launched:  a new website called Trans-Plants that asks “what can we learn about humans through plant movements, weeds, and invasive aliens?”  It is a joint venture between Priya Rangan, Christian Kull, and their collaborators on three ARC-funded research projects and on all the activities that have spun-off from there. The “acacia exchanges” project examines the history of multi-directional ... Read more
  • The thorny bush Lantana camara, with its attractive pink, yellow, and orange flowerlets, covers vast areas of forest understory, fallow lands, and hedges in the hilly mountains fringing the southern end of Karnataka state, India. These upland areas are also home to several marginalized cultural groups (‘scheduled tribes’, or ‘indigenous people’) as well as a ... Read more
  • Oil palm gets all the attention, but what about acacia?  Oil palm has become synonymous with deforestation in Indonesia and resulting losses of orang-utan habitat, increased carbon emissions, and unhealthy smoke haze.  But equally large areas of peatland are being converted to pulp and paper plantations of tropical salwood wattles like Acacia crassicarpa and A. magnum, trees that now ... Read more
  • Invasion biology has been a remarkably active branch of the life sciences in the past two decades.  My itinerary first crossed this field when I noticed, at the time of my move to Melbourne, that the ‘precious’ mimosas (acacias, wattles) of the Madagascar highlands were called ‘green cancer’ in South Africa, and in both cases ... Read more
  • I’ve finally received my copy of the new edited book Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, edited by Ivan Scales of Cambridge University. This will be a fantastic resource for scholars of Madagascar new and old, as well as more broadly. It includes chapters on a full array of topics: on biodiversity, palaeoecology, and archaeology, ... Read more
  • If stated often enough, a fact becomes truth. That seems to be the case with the oft-repeated figure that “Madagascar has lost 90% of its original forest cover”. The problem, as Bill McConnell of Michigan State University and I point out in a letter just published in Science magazine, is that this fact cannot be ... Read more
  • There are three main types of fire in Fiji.  Sugar cane farmers burn their fields to facilitate hand harvesting.  Village farmers clear forest plots, fallow fields, and secondary vegetation for diverse crops using fire.  And finally, the fires that cover the most ground are those set in the grasslands of the drier, lee-side of the ... Read more
  • Is everything becoming a ‘Science’ these days? Land change science, sustainability science, conservation science, invasion science… what is behind all these new labels? This phenomenon seems to have somewhat contradictory drivers: one is an appeal to interdisciplinarity and crossing the natural-social divide; the other is a rhetorical or strategic retreat to the authority of Science-with-a-capital-S. ... Read more
  • Every once in a while, it is worth reflecting on concepts that have become so central to discourse that they are repeated ad nauseum but without any novelty. So it goes with ‘interdisciplinarity’, a pet term of any university or research administrator. It is widely desired or required, without much thinking about what it means. ... Read more
  • The team of our current ARC-funded project on local knowledge and uses of environmental weeds recently assembled in Kununurra, far northwest Australia.  The project will compare local people’s views of “weeds” across four case studies in four countries around the Indian Ocean – India, South Africa, Madagascar, and Australia.  My colleague Priya Rangan and I ... Read more
  • How did forty years of rural development, population growth, and conservation action transform the landscapes of highland Madagascar? My recently published  analysis of a region-wide sample of air photos from circa 1950 and 1991 document several key trends: crop fields, settlements, and exotic trees are replacing open grassland, while irrigated rice is expanding at ... Read more
  • Indonesia‘s courts recently recognised community forests (or customary ‘adat‘ forests) as distinct from state forests (i.e., government land). This is a landmark decision, as shown in an excellent analysis by Elizabeth Kahurani .  It overturns a presumption that the state is first and foremost the guardian and manager of forests, and vests more rights in ... Read more
  • An exciting archaeological find by Bob Dewar , suggests four thousand years of people living, burning, cultivating, shaping, transforming, and developing the island’s environment, ... Read more
  • Imagine two 9 year-old children.  One gets driven across town to a school that his parents find best fits his learning needs, or social values, or cultural community.  He barely knows the kids on the street where he lives, as they all go to other schools.  He sits in traffic everyday, contributing carbon to the ... Read more
  • As the international development community gears up to renew a global plan for improved ‘disaster risk reduction’ from 2015 (the ‘post-Hyogo’ framework), it is striking to reflect on how central the idea of disaster risk reduction has become in the development industry.  Boosted in no small measure by attention to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, ... Read more
  • What happens when you combine human labour, introduced plants, and particular societal histories and structures in a certain tropical landscape?  You end up with anthropogenic or cultural landscapes – the “matrix” in current ecological jargon – such as the domesticated forests1 of southeast Asia, the tree gardens of Caribbean or Pacific islands, the shambas of ... Read more
  • Who controls Madagascar’s flora, fauna, and landscapes?  How, and for whom, are its forests, grasslands, and waters governed?  Over the past three decades, Madagascar’s local environments have become more and more internationalized – subjected to western worldviews and gazetted into protected areas with foreign funding. While social scientists have described how international conservation has sometimes ignored ... Read more
  • Are Australian acacias planted overseas miracle plants for rural development, or are they the worst kind of environmental weeds?  The battle lines appear rather stark at times.  At least when one reads environmentalist Tim Low’s rebuttal to a critique that Jacques Tassin and I wrote of his views.  We thought our statement to be tempered and tried ... Read more
  • During a live radio interview today on Radio France Culture (info / listen), the host Sylvain Kahn put me on the spot, asking whether, as an Australian geographer I thought that French geography was missing out on the environment question.  I deflected the question, not feeling qualified to judge an entire disciplinary tradition I have ... Read more
  • The landscapes that characterize different places on the earth, and from which many people earn their livelihoods and their sense of place, and which support diverse flora and fauna, are often built with a mix of local and introduced plants.  Sometimes, introduced plants succeed so wildly in their new home that people come to see ... Read more
  • As a geographer, I feel obliged to register a complaint about the proliferating and geographically criminal use of “the Global South” to refer to what others call poor countries, the developing world, or the Third World.  To any resident of Australia or New Zealand, the expression jars.  It must do the same to those in ... Read more
  • The prehistoric dynamics of fire, vegetation, and humans in Madagascar are still not resolved, though one might get a different impression from the simplified narrative told to galvanise conservation action.  Clearly, humans visited, hunted, and eventually settled the island over the last several thousand years, and lit the vegetation on fire throughout.   But what ... Read more
  • Hot off the press:  a paper that Priya Rangan and I wrote on the acrimonious battle over which continent’s trees should keep the latin name “Acacia“.  It is a topic on which we wrote several blogs last year in the run-up to the Melbourne IBC conference: 1 The Acacia name change – botany and emotion 2 More on ... Read more
  • During the closing ceremony of the 2011 International Geographical Union (IGU) regional meeting in Santiago, Chile, two students discretely entered and distributed small flyers alerting attendees to the conference venue’s history of torture during the regime of Pinochet (see images below).  They were gently escorted out by military officers in white dress uniforms.  After a ... Read more
  • It is usually the rich and unique endemic vegetation of Madagascar that gets all the attention from tourists, biologists, and conservationists.  Yet the species that humans brought to the island also deserve attention as plants emblematic of human history and as builders of societies and environments.  What would the island be without rice, litchi, and ... Read more
  • Mozambique rarely appears in the worldview of people in Madagascar, despite straddling the same latitudes just across the water from each other. Yet the two countries have much in common, as I discovered on a recent road trip with Priya Rangan to gather botanical samples and stories about baobabs. First, Mozambique’s landscape burns at least as ... Read more
  • Today’s attention-grabbing environmental issues in Madagascar are certainly different than a decade or two ago.  At the time, deforestation and biodiversity conservation dominated attention, and social justice researchers worried about how the establishment of new parks and forest-use regulations affected rural communities living off the land.  Today, we add to these concerns a burgeoning litany ... Read more
  • One of the key questions of our current research project is how, when, and why the ‘mimosa bush’ or ‘cassie’ tree got to Australia.  Acacia farnesiana, also known as Vachellia farnesiana (if you agree with the splitting of the acacia genus) is presumed by many botanists to be native to a broad swath of the ... Read more
  • For the fifth time since 2004, earlier this year I travelled to Mpumalanga province, South Africa, to co-lead a field study program with my colleague Priya Rangan of Monash University. Two dozen students from Australia, and each day a new fascinating topic and field site visits. Some links:  My photos from 2011     Field ... Read more

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