Ecological Society of Australia honours leading conservation scientist


Professor David Keith
Yolande Hutchinson
Yolande Hutchinson,

UNSW Professor David Keith has been awarded a prestigious 2023 ESA Gold Medal.

The Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) has awarded a 2023 Gold Medal to Professor David Keith from UNSW Science. Each year, the ESA recognises the career impact of leading Australian ecologists by awarding the Gold Medal.

Prof. Keith’s research focuses on plant ecology, fire ecology and conservation biology in a diverse range of ecosystems from the arid to the alpine. His extensive fieldwork, including long term ecological studies and data analysis, mapping, modelling and national syntheses of vegetation and ecosystems, has contributed immeasurably to knowledge of Australian biota.

UNSW Dean of Science Scientia Professor Sven Rogge congratulated Prof. Keith on the award:

“David is an international leader in ecosystem management. His dedication to biodiversity risk assessment and new approaches to conserving, restoring, and sustainably using ecosystems are having a substantial impact on the management of ecosystems globally.”

Prof. Keith said he was grateful for the recognition from his peers.

“There are so many colleagues that I've come to know through the ESA, working with quite a few of them and becoming close friends with some, that to be recognised in this way is really something very special,” he said.

Leader in conservation planning and biodiversity risk assessment

Prof. Keith’s work has informed systematic conservation planning, biodiversity risk assessment, the development of frameworks for fire management, and processes to support the listing of threatened species and ecosystems. Internationally, he has led the development of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Ecosystems and created a new global framework for classifying and describing the ecosystems of the world. 

His advice to young and emerging ecologists is to “never lose your enthusiasm for nature and learning how it works.”

“Enthusiasm for nature and good science are the foundations - master those and people will want to work with you to make great contributions to public good,” Prof Keith said.

Prof. Keith is a member of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW. He has been recognised by two Eureka Prizes for Environmental Research (2015 and 2021), the 2017 Clarke Medal from the Royal Society of NSW, the 2019 NSW Premier's Prize for Environmental Science and the 2020 Luc Hoffmann Award for Excellence in Ecosystem Management.

From the ESA, he has received the Australian Ecology Research Award (2013) and the Ecological Impact Award (2022), as part of the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Partnership. Last week, he was appointed a 2023 Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. 

Prof. Keith served on the ESA Board for eight years, including six years as Vice President responsible for policy development and student affairs. In recognition of this contribution, he received the ESA Member Service Award in 2005.

2023 ESA Gold Medal

This year the ESA awarded Gold Medals to both Prof. Keith from UNSW and Professor Dieter Hochuli from the University of Sydney.

ESA President Dr Bek Christensen said: “Both Professor Keith and Professor Hochuli are pioneers and leaders in their fields.

“They are inspirational ecologists whose innovative approaches to science, dedicated mentorship to emerging ecologists and highly engaging communication skills generate both excellent science and an increased understanding of ecology.”

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For inquiries about this story and interview requests please contact Yolande Hutchinson

Tel: 0420 845 023