Dr Megan McNellie

BSc (Hons) James Cook University
Honorary Senior Lecturer

I am a landscape ecologist and a spatial analyst. I am working as an Biodiversity Modeller in the Science Division of the New South Wales NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment. Both my work and my PhD are looking at delivering spatially explicit models of landscape condition over broad scales. I am undertaking this research in collaboration with CSIRO and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Victoria). Prior to working as a spatial modeller, I was a field botanist in NSW, and prior to that, I worked as a remote sensing and GIS analyst in the Northern Territory.

Research interests



Predicting spatial patterns in vegetation across landscapes: from structure and composition to condition and change.


Mapping change and trends in the state of vegetation can be used to gauge where and how much of the landscape has been modified. This information can be used to support evidence-based decisions for conservation and land management. However, mapping change can be challenging because quantities long-term, site-based data are limited; vegetation communities can be structurally and compositionally complex; defining reference states from which to measure change is context-dependent and different vegetation attributes respond differently to disturbance.

This research aims to address these challenges. We propose that archived site-based floristic data (n = 7234) can be assimilated into discrete structural or compositional components for different plant growth forms (trees, shrubs, grass and grass-like, forbs, ferns and remaining ‘others’). With this information we will explore patterns in structural complexity and composition of plant growth forms and assess change relative to their empirical benchmarks.

The outcomes of this research will support conservation practitioners, planners and policy makers to make informed decisions and contributes to the New South Wales government policy in the ‘NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 No 63 Part 6 Division 2 - Biodiversity assessment method’ (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/2016/63/part6/div2)

McNellie, M.J., Oliver I., Ferrier S., Newell G., Manion G., Griffioen P., White M. and Koen T. (submitted) Extending site-based observations to predict the spatial patterns of vegetation structure and composition. Ecological Indicators

Yen J. D. L., Dorrough J., Oliver I., Somerville M., McNellie M.J., Watson C.J., Vesk P.A. (submitted) Modelling biodiversity benchmarks in variable environments. Ecological Applications

McNellie, M.J., Dorrough, J. & Oliver, I. (2019). Species abundance distributions should underpin ordinal cover-abundance transformations. Applied Vegetation Science. http://doi.org/10.1101/535948

Oliver, I., McNellie, M.J., Steenbeeke, G., Copeland, L., Porteners. M.F & Wall, J. (2019). Expert allocation of primary growth form to the NSW flora underpins the Biodiversity Assessment Method. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management. http://doi.org/10.1080/14486563.2019.1595186

Travers, S.K., Dorrough, J., Oliver, I., Somerville, M., Watson, C.J. & McNellie, M.J. (2018). Using tree hollow data to define large tree size for use in habitat assessment. Australian Forestry 81: 186-195. http://doi.org/10.1080/00049158.2018.1502736

McNellie, M.J., Oliver, I. & Gibbons, P. (2015). Pitfalls and possible solutions for using geo-referenced site data to inform vegetation models. Ecological Informatics 30: 230-234. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoinf.2015.05.012

Oliver, I., Broese, E.A., Dillon, M.L., Sivertsen, D. & McNellie, M.J. (2013). Semi-automated assignment of vegetation survey plots within an a priori classification of vegetation types. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 4: 73-81. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.2041-210x.2012.00258.x


Megan J McNellie, Ian Oliver, Josh Dorrough, Jian Yen, Michael Somerville & Chris Watson “Empirical benchmarks are necessary for effective conservation, restoration and management in contemporary landscapes”. Ecological Society of Australia, Brisbane, August 25-29th 2018

Megan J McNellie, Ian Oliver, Josh Dorrough, Jian Yen, Michael Somerville & Chris Watson “Empirical benchmarks are necessary for effective conservation, restoration and management in contemporary landscapes”. Ecological Society of America, New Orleans August 5th – 11th 2018

Megan J McNellie, Simon Ferrier, Ian Oliver, Graeme Newell, Matt White and Philip Gibbons. Defining reference conditions and determining change using discrete vegetation attributes at landscape scales. Ecological Society of America, Baltimore August 8th – 16th 2015

Megan J McNellie, Ian Oliver, Simon Ferrier, Graeme Newell, Glenn Manion, Peter Griffioen, Matt White, Philip Gibbons. A solution to modelling vegetation condition for whole-of-landscape conservation planning. Spatial Ecology and Conservation Conference Presentation, University of Birmingham, 17-20th June 2014