RD Watt Centenary Lecture 2011

16 February 2011

To bring year-long Agriculture Centenary celebrations to a close the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Professor Mark Adams, invites you to attend the inaugural RD Watt Centenary Lecture, commencing at 6pm for 6.45pm, on Thursday 10 March 2011 in MacLaurin Hall, The University of Sydney.

This annual lecture commemorates the first lecture delivered to University of Sydney agriculture students in March 1911 by Australia's first Professor of Agriculture, Robert Dickie Watt.It is a tribute to his strong vision and leadership as the first Dean, as well as to 100 years of world-changing agriculture at Australia's first University.

Glasgow-bred Watt commenced duty on 20 February 1910 at the age of 28, setting out to single-handedly design a curriculum that would educate students to become agricultural scientists rather than farm managers. He taught much of the course himself, ably assisted by one full-time staff member, Mr Gilbert Wright. Four adventurous young men (JO Henrick, ES Southee, HS Stephens, and HA Wenholz) were the first students, graduating in 1914, a few months before the outbreak of war. Watt championed the construction of the iconic RD Watt Building, and the establishment of an agriculture faculty, of which he became the first Dean in 1920. Through Watt's inspiring leadership the Faculty had gained by 1946 (on his retirement) an outstanding reputation for teaching and research including leading the world in breeding rust resistant wheats, conducting Australia's first Biometry courses, mapping of the soils, and establishment of a Plant Breeding Institute. This pioneering work, undertaken during times of severe financial hardship and war, was to lay the foundations for the significant growth of Australian agriculture in the 1950s and 1960s.

Watt received the Farrer Memorial Medal in 1950, and was knighted in 1960.

"Watt developed courses and a strong scientific content which became a characteristic of the Sydney degree," Professor Les Copeland, '75 Years of Agriculture'.


Steve Archer is a Professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment , The University of Arizona, and an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow. His expertiselies in plant ecology and ecosystem science, plant-animal interactions, ecology of grasslands and savannas

Currrent Research

Grasslands and savannas throughout the world have been replaced by shrub- and woodlands in recent history. This shift in vegetation structure has implications for the sustainability of pastoral and commercial livestock production systems and may influence climate and atmospheric chemistry via impacts on the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles. Documentation of shifts in woody plant abundance is poor and causes are not well understood. As a result, our ability to anticipate the rate, direction and magnitude of future changes is limited. My research has concentrated on interactions between grasses and woody plants in relation to soils, climate and disturbance. Population, transition probability and dynamic ecosystem simulation models are used in conjunction with remote sensing, GIS, dendrochronology and stable isotope chemistry to reconstruct vegetation history and to examine potential, impending changes and the consequences of such changes on sustainability of grazing systems, ecosystem biogeochemistry and land surface-atmosphere interactions. Field and laboratory experiments on the population biology of grasses and shrub growth forms are emphasized in the context of landscape ecology, succession and historical land-use practices.

Lecture Topic Title:

Woody Plant Imperialism: New Perspectives And Current Challenges


The balance between woody and graminoid life forms has shifted in recent decades, resulting in widespread tree/shrub proliferation in the world's grasslands and savannas. Reasons for this, which are varied and the topic of active debate, will be reviewed. This phenomenon has long been recognized as a threat to livestock production; and managing the woody-herbaceous mixture to balance wildlife conservation and livestock production goals is controversial. More recently, woody plant proliferation has emerged as a threat to the conservation of grassland and savanna ecosystem types and the plants and animals endemic to them. Furthermore, woody plant proliferation may have significant impacts on global biogeochemical cycles and land surface-atmosphere interactions. Policy and management issues related to grazing land conservation thus extend well beyond the traditional concerns of wildlife conservation and livestock production to include effects on stream flow and ground water, carbon sequestration, biological diversity and impacts on atmospheric chemistry and the climate system. This talk will discuss challenges facing research community in quantifying and monitoring these varied impacts; challenges facing the management community in achieving woody-herbaceous vegetation mixtures in configurations that satisfy competing objectives; and pitfalls facing policy makers that fail to take a wide view.

Click here for Professor Archer's CV.

WHAT: Lecture and Cocktail Reception

ON: Thursday 10 March 2011

AT: 6pm for 6.45pm (Refreshments will be available from 6pm)

IN: MacLaurin Hall, The University of Sydney

COST: Free event

RSVP: Essential by March 7 at or telephone (02) 8627 1006

ENQUIRIES: as above