The Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) has awarded a 2021 ESA Gold Medal to Prof. Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Sydney. Each year, the ESA recognises the impact of the work of leading Australian ecologists by awarding Gold Medals.

Prof. Kingsford has made a significant contribution to understanding the impact of water resource developments on rivers and wetlands. He has worked extensively across the wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre Basins.

UNSW Dean of Science, Professor Emma Johnston congratulated Prof. Kingsford on the award. She said: “Richard is one of Australia's finest and most forward-thinking ecologists. His dedication to data collection, stakeholder consultation, mentoring and disseminating the findings of his research continue to have a substantial positive impact on the management of Australia's ecosystems.”

Prof. Kingsford said he was grateful for the recognition from his peers. “I think an award from your peers is very special. They are inevitably the harshest judges because they are in the business, so I am particularly thrilled to get this award.” 

He recently led a project on the impact of dams on downstream platypus populations. The three-year study resulted in a submission for threatened species status for the platypus.

Prof. Kingsford is leader of the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey, which has been running since 1983 and covers about a third of the continent. The survey provides one of Australia’s most important long-term datasets on the health and biodiversity of the country’s river and wetland areas.

In his role as leader of the Wild Deserts project, Prof. Kingsford has worked towards the reintroduction of locally extinct mammals into Sturt National Park. This decade-long project in north-western NSW has already returned two of the intended seven species of locally extinct mammals – the Greater Bilby and crest-tailed mulgaras – with more coming every year.

Focusing on river systems and wetlands is increasingly important, Prof. Kingsford said.

“The impacts of climate change make it even more relevant, but we are also having a major impact through projects that take water out of our rivers, such as dams.

“There is no more important time to be doing ecological research on the challenges for our environment, our communities and governments. Evidence-based scientific research, which informs policy and management, is essential for our future environments and their sustainability.

“Hopefully, environmental scientists will get the same level of recognition of their work reflected in government policies and decisions that our medical colleagues currently enjoy.” 

Prof. Kingsford’s work has received Eureka and Banksia Awards and he is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of NSW and the Australian Zoological Society.

This year the ESA awarded Gold Medals to both Prof. Kingsford from UNSW and Professor Kristine French from the University of Wollongong.

ESA President Dr Bek Christensen said: “Both Professor Kingsford and Professor French have made sustained and invaluable contributions to the understanding of Australian ecology. They have been pioneers and world leaders in their respective fields and have moved our knowledge of environmental management forward through their work.”