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Dr Julia Cooke

Profile summary

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Professional biography

I am a plant ecologist, who uses traits to explore plant ecological strategies, with a primary interest in plant silicon. I teach at all undergraduate levels, with both face to face and distance teaching experience and specialise in engaging, innovative approaches encouraging student-led exploration and learning. 

Research interests

I am a plant functional ecologist, interested in the different roles species play in ecosystems. I use plant trait analysis as a powerful tool to compare the functions of different species and describe ecological strategies. 

In brief, my interests are:
  • silicon functional ecology
  • invasive plant biology
  • plant-insect interactions
  • plant trait analysis
  • comparative ecology
  • growth-trait relationships
  • plant physiology and climate change

A main research interest is the functional ecology of plant silicon, that is, how plants use silicon. I brought together information from agronomy and palaeontology to argue that plant ecology is more siliceous than we realise (Cooke and Leishman, 2010), and contributed to a more quantitative, ecoogical exploration of why plants silicify (de Tombeur et al 2022). I illutrated that silicon could be part of the leaf dry mass economics spectrum, by showing Si accumulation is higher in shorter lived leaves (Cooke and Leishman, 2011). I combined data from multiple studies, in meta-analyses, to show clear patterns in responses of stressed plants to silicon fertiliser (Cooke and Leishman, 2016), and that stress alters the role of silicon in controlling water movement (Cooke and Carey, 2023). Working with students, we showed that flowers accumulate silicon and suggests potential functions (Schoelynck et al. 2023) and how Si isotpes contribute understanding Si use in papyrus (Lodi et al, in review). In 2016 I co-edited two journal special issues on plant silicon in Functional Ecology and Frontiers in Plant Sciences and podcasts about my siliceous research are here and here. I also co-manage Siliceous Plants, a website about plant silicon research. 

My research on invasive species encompasses the introdcution and spread (Cooke, Groves and Ash, 2011) and population dynamics (Cooke, Ash and Groves, 2012) of an Australian semi-arid weed (Ward's Weed, Carrichtera annua), as well as carbon capture (Leishman, Thompson and Cooke, 2009), growth (Leishman, Cooke and Richardson, 2014) and reproductive (Mason et al, 2008) strategies of diverse weeds across the globe. I contributed to the study of the rapid evolution of leaf physiology in a weedy beach daisy (Brandenburger et al. 2019).

At the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at the University of Western Sydney, I examined the effects of elevated CO2 on photosynthesis in trees (Gimeno et al, 2015) and understorey plants (Pathare et al, 2017) at the EucFACE facility, phosphorus recycling in photorespiration (Ellsworth et al, 2014) and determinants of stomatal conductance in forest systems.  With Dr Ian Wright, I examined changes in relationships between leaf traits, biomass allocation and tree growth rates in savannah ecosystems (Wright et al, 2018). Working with Prof. Angela Moles  at the University of New South Wales we explored if Australia is different to other continents (Flores-Moreno et al. 2023), and studied how to make Christmas trees last longer with school students (Akres et al. 2016).  

I have also published on scribbly gum moths (Cooke and Edwards, 2007), pitcher plants (Cooke, 2010), and algal balls (Cooke et al, 2015).

Teaching interests

I am a Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE. I co-led a horizon scan of emerging challenges and solutions in teaching and learning in ecology (Cooke et al, 2020) and a book chapter on ethics in fieldwork teaching (in press). I will shortly be interim-Chair of the British Ecological Society's Education and Careers Committee. 

I taught at Macquarie University, Sydney, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, from 2012-2015. At The Open University, I have been involved in the production of new science modules and pioneering ways of increasing access to field studies for distance education students through remotely-accessed student-led field investigations. 

112 Science: concepts and practice

  • A module team member, and was involved in writing and developing this module
  • Developed Space-Time scales (Space-Time Explorer, an interactive featuring 13 mini-documentaries with associated activities), Environmental Cycles (FluxCity interactive), and Ecological Interactions.

S206/SXF206 Environmental Science

  • Contributed to residential field schools
  • Developed fieldcasts which teach the process of an ecological investigation and increase access to field work. More about the fieldcasts is available here and here.

SDT306 Environment: Response to Change

  • A module team member, and was involved in writing and developing this module
  • Co-designed and wrote the Biodiversity and Conservation block with Phil Wheeler
  • Developed the Dinner Plate Diversity interactive - an interactive that plots of the species you eat on a circular phylogenetic tree of edible species. You can access this interactive as part of a free OpenLearn module.

Impact and engagement

I regularly contribute to external engagement activities including:

I am a committee member of the British Ecological Society Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group, BES Education and Careers committee and an associate editor for Functional Ecology

As an academic advisor for OU-BBC co-productions I contributed to multi-award winning The Green Planet and Earth from Space, as well as the OU poster and articles that accompany the series. As Media Fellow (2019-2023), was responsible for co‐ordinating and leading free learning and broadcast in the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Faculty. I supported academic contributions to the television programmes Springwatch, Frozen Planet 2, Perfect Planet, The Universe, Our Coast, Greta Thunberg: A year to save the world, Countryfile: Plant Britain, The Real CSI, The Truth About Your Immune System and Wild Isles as well as Inside Science on Radio 4. 

Externally funded projects

CENTA 2017 intake
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Oct 201731 Jul 2022NERC Natural Environment Research Council

CENTA is a geographically and scientifically coherent consortium offering a wide range of excellent NERC science embedded in a vibrant multidisciplinary environment. The Universities (Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Open and Warwick) and Institutes (British Geological Survey and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) have a strong track record of producing PhD graduates fit for further research or other relevant employment. The Open University STEM Faculty has match-funded 3 studentships in the 2017 intake.


Stress alters the role of silicon in controlling plant water movement (2023-12)
Cooke, Julia and Carey, Joanna C.
Functional Ecology, 37(12) (pp. 2985-2999)

Is there silicon in flowers and what does it tell us? (2023-10-17)
Schoelynck, Jonas; De Block, Petra; Van Dyck, Eva and Cooke, Julia
Ecology and Evolution, 13, Article e10630(10)

Why do plants silicify? (2023-02-14)
de Tombeur, Felix; Raven, John A.; Toussaint, Aurèle; Lambers, Hans; Cooke, Julia; Hartley, Sue E.; Johnson, Scott N.; Coq, Sylvain; Katz, Ofir; Schaller, Jörg and Voille, Cyrille
Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 38(3) (pp. 275-288)

Is Australia weird? A cross-continental comparison of biological, geological and climatological features (2023)
Flores-Moreno, Habacuc; Dalrymple, Rhiannon; Cornwell, Will; Popovic, Gordana; Nakagawa, Sinichi; Atkinson, Joe; Cooke, Julia; Laffan, Shawn; Bonser, Stephen; Schwanz, Lisa; Crean, Angela; Eldridge, David; Garratt, Michael; Brooks, Robert; Verges, Adriana; Poore, Alistair; Cohen, David; Clark, Graeme; Gupta, Alex; Reich, Peter; Cornelissen, J. Hans; Craine, Joseph; Hemmings, Frank; Kattge, Jens; Niinemets, Ullo; Penuelas, Josep and Moles, Angela
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 11 (p 1073842)

The combined use of silicon and arbuscular mycorrhizas to mitigate salinity and drought stress in rice (2022-09)
Etesami, Hassan; Li, Zimin; Maathuis, Frans J.M. and Cooke, Julia
Environmental and Experimental Botany, 201

Teaching and learning in ecology: a horizon scan of emerging challenges and solutions (2021-01)
Cooke, Julia; Araya, Yoseph; Bacon, Karen L.; Bagniewska, Joanna M.; Batty, Lesley; Bishop, Tom R.; Burns, Moya; Charalambous, Magda; Daversa, David R.; Dougherty, Liam R.; Dyson, Miranda; Fisher, Adam M.; Forman, Dan; Garcia, Cristina; Harney, Ewan; Hesselberg, Thomas; John, Elizabeth A; Knell, Rob; Maseyk, Kadmiel; Mauchline, Alice L.; Peacock, Julie; Pernetta, Angelo P.; Pritchard, Jeremy; Sutherland, William J.; Thomas, Rebecca L.; Tigar, Barbara; Wheeler, Philip; White, Rachel L.; Worsfold, Nicholas T. and Lewis, Zenobia
Oikos, 130(1) (pp. 15-28)

Biochar affects silicification patterns and physical traits of rice leaves cultivated in a desilicated soil (Ferric Lixisol) (2021)
de Tombeur, Felix; Cooke, Julia; Collard, Laurie; Cisse, Drissa; Saba, Fatimata; Lefebvre, David; Burgeon, Victor; Narco, Hassan Bismarck and Cornelis, Jean-Thomas
Plant and Soil, 460(1-2) (pp. 375-390)

Rapid evolution of leaf physiology in an introduced beach daisy (2019-08-21)
Brandenburger, Claire R.; Cooke, Julia; Sherwin, William B. and Moles, Angela T.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286, Article 20191103(1909)

Stem diameter growth rates in a fire-prone savanna correlate with photosynthetic rate and branch-scale biomass allocation, but not specific leaf area (2019-04)
Wright, Ian J.; Cooke, Julia; Cernusak, Lucas A.; Hutley, Lindsay B.; Scalon, Marina C.; Tozer, Wade C. and Lehmann, Caroline E. R.
Austral Ecology, 44(2) (pp. 339-350)

Shoot growth of woody trees and shrubs is predicted by maximum plant height and associated traits (2018-02-07)
Gleason, Sean M.; Stephens, Andrea E. A.; Tozer, Wade C.; Blackman, Chris J.; Butler, Don W.; Chang, Yvonne; Cook, Alicia M.; Cooke, Julia; Laws, Claire A.; Rosell, Julieta A.; Stuart, Stephanie A. and Westoby, Mark
Functional Ecology, 32(2) (pp. 247-259)

Water availability affects seasonal CO2-induced photosynthetic enhancement in herbaceous species in a periodically dry woodland (2017-11-13)
Pathare, Varsha S.; Crous, Kristine Y.; Cooke, Julia; Creek, Danielle; Ghannoum, Oula and Ellsworth, David S.
Global Change Biology, 23(12) (pp. 5164-5178)

Elevated CO2 does not increase eucalypt forest productivity on a low-phosphorus soil (2017-04)
Ellsworth, David S.; Anderson, Ian C.; Crous, Kristine Y.; Cooke, Julia; Drake, John E.; Gherlenda, Andrew N.; Gimeno, Teresa E.; Macdonald, Catriona A.; Medlyn, Belinda E.; Powell, Jeff R.; Tjoelker, Mark G. and Reich, Peter B.
Nature Climate Change, 7(4) (pp. 279-282)

The functional ecology of plant silicon: geoscience to genes (2016-08)
Cooke, Julia; DeGabriel, Jane L. and Hartley, Susan E.
Functional Ecology, 30(8) (pp. 1270-1276)

Consistent alleviation of abiotic stress with silicon addition: a meta-analysis (2016-08)
Cooke, Julia and Leishman, Michelle R.
Functional Ecology, 30(8) (pp. 1340-1357)

Editorial: Plant Silicon Interactions between Organisms and the Implications for Ecosystems (2016-07-15)
Cooke, Julia and DeGabriel, Jane L.
Frontiers in Plant Science, 7, Article 1001

Conserved stomatal behaviour under elevated CO2 and varying water availability in a mature woodland (2016-05)
Gimeno, Teresa E.; Crous, Kristine Y.; Cooke, Julia; O'Grady, Anthony P.; Ósvaldsson, Anna; Medlyn, Belinda E. and Ellsworth, David S.
Functional Ecology, 30(5) (pp. 700-709)

The Christmas tree project: comparing the effects of five treatments on the health of cut Christmas trees (Pinus radiata, Pinaceae) (2016-02-05)
Akres, Olyvea; Cavallaro, Isabella; Cheng, Cynthia; Dixon, Madison; Goddard, Darcy; Hofbauer, Tamara; Mahr, Sidney; Mason, Taylor; Miskin, Lulu; Morgan, Chloe; Nettleton, Eleanor; Purseglove, Amelia; Rosenberg, Bella; Salgado, Lucia; Sardi, Jasmin; Scarlis, Emily; Snyman, Sophie; Spagnardi, Isabella; Swinson-Dulhunty, Oona; Szentmariay, Lilla; Zimmerman, Nikki; T. Moles, Angela and Cooke, Julia
Australian Journal of Botany, 64(1) (pp. 15-19)

The unusual occurrence of green algal balls of Chaetomorpha linum on a beach in Sydney, Australia. (2015-10)
Cooke, Julia; Lanfear, Robert; Downing, Alison; Gillings, Michael R.; Poore, Alistair G. B.; Goodwin, Ian D.; Waldron, Liette S.; Phillips, Aaron; Metti, Yola and Bulbert, Matthew W.
Botanica Marina, 58(5) (pp. 401-407)

Phosphorus recycling in photorespiration maintains high photosynthetic capacity in woody species (2015-05-04)
Ellsworth, David S.; Crous, Kristine Y.; Lambers, Hans and Cooke, Julia
Plant, Cell & Environment, 38(6) (pp. 1142-1156)

Evidence for shifts to faster growth strategies in the new ranges of invasive alien plants (2014-11)
Leishman, Michelle R.; Cooke, Julia and Richardson, David M.
Journal of Ecology, 102(6) (pp. 1451-1461)

Population dynamics of the invasive, annual species, Carrichtera annua, in Australia (2012-12-03)
Cooke, Julia; Ash, J. E. and Groves, R. H.
Rangeland Journal, 34(4) (pp. 375-387)

Tradeoffs between foliar silicon and carbon-based defences: evidence from vegetation communities of contrasting soil types (2012-12)
Cooke, Julia and Leishman, Michelle R.
Oikos, 121(12) (pp. 2052-2060)

Silicon concentration and leaf longevity: is silicon a player in the leaf dry mass spectrum? (2011-11-09)
Cooke, Julia and Leishman, Michelle R.
Functional Ecology, 25(6) (pp. 1181-1188)

The distribution of Carrichtera annua in Australia: introduction, spread and probable limits (2011-03-23)
Cooke, Julia; Groves, R. H. and Ash, Julian
Rangeland Journal, 33(1) (pp. 23-35)

Is plant ecology more siliceous than we realise? (2011)
Cooke, Julia and Leishman, Michelle R.
Trends in Plant Science, 16(2) (pp. 61-68)

Native and exotic invasive plants have fundamentally similar carbon capture strategies (2010-01)
Leishman, Michelle R.; Thomson, Vivien P. and Cooke, Julia
Journal of Ecology, 98(1) (pp. 28-42)

Reproductive output of invasive versus native plants (2008-08-12)
Mason, Robert A. B.; Cooke, Julia; Moles, Angela T. and Leishman, Michelle R.
Global Ecology and Biogeography, 17(5) (pp. 633-640)

Growth and survival of riparian plantings in relation to Weeping Willow canopy in the Upper Hunter River (2008-07-14)
Kyle, Garreth; Schmidt, Tatjana; Cooke, Julia and Leishman, Michelle R.
Ecological Management & Restoration, 9(2) (pp. 154-156)

The behaviour of scribbly gum moth larvae Ogmograptis sp. Meyrick (Lepidoptera: Bucculatricidae) in the Australian Capital Territory (2007-10-04)
Cooke, Julia and Edwards, Ted
Australian Journal of Entomology, 46(4) (pp. 269-275)

Stress exposure alters the role of silicon in controlling plant water movement (2022-06-14)
Carey, Joanna and Cooke, Julia
In : 10th Isotopes in Biogenic Silica (IBiS) (14-16 Jun 2022, Lund University, Sweden)

Transpiration and transporters: teasing apart passive and active transport of plant silicon (2020)
Cooke, Julia and Carey, Joanna
In : EGU General Assembly 2020 (4-8 May 2020, Online)

Broadcasting from the field: enabling student-led investigations by distance (2020)
Cooke, Julia; Wheeler, Philip; Maseyk, Kadmiel; Davies, Sarah-Jane; Collins, Trevor; Bradshaw, Kate; Hawkridge, Ben; Valentine, Chris and Morgan, Gwyneth
In : Enhancing Fieldwork Learning 2020 (8 Sep 2020, Online, United Kingdom)

Plant silicon content vs phytolith abundance: uses, differences and their power combined (2019)
Cooke, Julia
In : European Geophysical Union General Assembly 2019 (8-12 Apr 2019, Vienna, Austria)

Silicon accumulation in wood varies across taxa, with relationships to wood traits as yet unclear. (2019)
Cooke, Julia
In : British Ecological Society Annual General Meeting (10-13 Dec 2019, Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Live, interactive fieldcasts: How flexible and robust is our technology and teaching design to multiple changes? (2019)
Cooke, Julia; Wheeler, Philip; Maseyk, Kadmiel; Davies, Sarah and Collins, Trevor
In : The 8 th eSTEeM Annual Conference 2019 - STEM Scholarship: From Inquiry to Implementation (8-9 May 2019, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)

Building on a publication provides a fast, authentic research experience: a green and fuzzy case study for distance students (2018)
Cooke, Julia
In : Advancing the synergies between teaching and research in ecology: Symposium of the Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group of the British Ecological Society (27 Apr 2018, Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Widening access to fieldwork for large numbers of students with interactive livecasts (2018)
Cooke, Julia; Wheeler, Phil; Collins, Trevor; Maseyk, Kadmiel and Davies, Sarah
In : Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Showcase 2018 (3-4 Sep 2018, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom)

Live field broadcasts: Moving from optional additions to required assessment (2018)
Collins, Trevor; Cooke, Julia; Wheeler, Philip; Maseyk, Kadmiel and Robson, Julie
In : The 7th eSTEeM Annual Conference 2018 - STEM Futures: Delivering Excellence Through Scholarship (25-26 Apr 2018, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)

Evaluating remote access to fieldwork with interactive fieldcasts for distance learning students (2017)
Robson, Julie; Cooke, Julia; Wheeler, Philip; Maseyk, Kadmiel and Collins, Trevor
In : The 6th eSTEeM Annual Conference (25-26 Apr 2017, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes)

Plants and Silicon: A Modern Ecological Perspective (Invited Presentation) (2017)
Cooke, Julia
In : Geological Society of America Conference (22-25 Oct 2017, Seattle)

Alleviation of abiotic stress by silicon: what can a meta-analysis of agricultural studies tell us about ecology? (2016-12-12)
Cooke, Julia and Leishman, Michelle R.
In : British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2016 (11-14 Dec 2016, Liverpool, UK)

Widening access to fieldwork with interactive livecasts (2016-09)
Cooke, Julia; Wheeler, Philip; Maseyk, Kadmiel and Collins, Trevor
In : Enhancing Fieldwork Learning Showcase 2016 (12-13 Sep 2016, Reading, UK)

Plant traits and stomatal sensitivity to water deficit contribute to optimising carbon-water economics in plants (2015-12)
Cooke, Julia; Bourne, Aimee; Medlyn, Belinda and Ellsworth, David
In : British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2015 (13-16 Dec, Edinburgh, UK)

Teaching Ecology in the cost of living crisis (2024-03)
Worsfold, Nicholas; Mauchline, Alice and Cooke, Julia
The British Ecological Society, London, UK.