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Senior LecturerRalf-Ohlemuller-head

Diplom Biologe(Bonn)

Richardson Building, room 4C22
Office Hours: email to make an appointment
Tel +64 3 479 8784


  • ENVI 211 Environmental History of New Zealand (contributor)
  • ENVI 311 Understanding Environmental Issues (contributor)
  • GEOG 101 Physical Geography (contributor)
  • GEOG 201 Field Research Methods (contributor)
  • GEOG 287 Plants, People and the Environment (coordinator)
  • GEOG 301 Field Research Studies (coordinator)
  • GEOG 393 Plants, People and the Environment (coordinator)
  • GEOG 459 Biogeography (coordinator)
  • GEOG 470 A Research Topic in Geography (contributor)
  • GEOG 490 Dissertation (contributor)

Research interests

The main motivation behind my research is to understand the environmental drivers of the spatial distribution of life. My research interests are in all aspects of biogeography and climate change and most of my work follows three main lines of research:

The geography of climate change
Climate is one of the main drivers of the geographic distribution of life; it determines not only spatial patterns but also temporal changes in the distribution, performance and function of species and ecosystems. Much of my work involves developing and mapping ecologically relevant climate change indices at a range of spatial scales.

Vegetation and climate change
Plants are the foundation of most ecosystems and perform many of the functions and services that ecosystems provide. My work investigates how spatial patterns of plant biodiversity and community structure, in particular in fragmented environments, came about through past changes in climatic conditions and what might happen to these patterns in the future.

Ecological variation in space and time
Understanding heterogeneity at different levels of ecological organisation is crucial for understanding a system's response to environmental change. I am interested in trying to understand the interplay of ecological variation (e.g., within-species genetic and phenotypic variation, seasonal processes) and geographical variation (e.g., microclimate, environmental gradients) in shaping biological communities and their response to changing environmental conditions.

Potential student projects

If you are thinking about doing an MSc or PhD on research questions related to biogeography, climate change, ecology or vegetation science, please get in touch. I am always interested to speak to potential candidates about project ideas. The University offers a range of competitive postgraduate scholarships.
View the scholarships webpage

Postgraduate supervision

Current postgraduate students

  • Xiaobin Hua (PhD; primary supervisor) Changing landscapes: Compositional and phenological shifts in New Zealand's natural grasslands.
  • Miki Nomura (PhD; primary supervisor) Past and current drivers of species climatic niches and geographic distributions.
  • James Hunter (PhD; co-supervisor) Spatially explicit modelling of Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri) reintroduction
  • Nariefa Abrahim (PhD; co-supervisor) Determining the atmospheric footprint on glacier mass balance in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
  • Duncan Nicol (MSc) Spatial niche and geographic patterns in a diverse lineage of endemic alpine daisies (Celmisia spp.) in New Zealand.
  • Nora Schlenker (MSc) Climatic niches of extinct vs extant plant genera in New Zealand.

Past postgraduate students at Otago

  • Sven Stadtmann (PhD; co-supervisor) Finding a home: An ecological and economic framework for selecting species translocation sites.
  • James Tweed (MSc) The response of moth communities to ecosystem restoration.
  • Robbert McCann (MAppSci) Soil moisture and decomposition rates along elevational and microclimate gradients.
  • Lily Burrows (BSc Hons) Stomatal density along elevational and microclimate gradients.
  • Chaz Forsyth (MSc) Annual growth rate of silver beech (Lophozonia menziesii) across a gradient of climatic suitability.
  • Daniel Basubas (MSc) Microclimate and flowering phenology in alpine vegetation.
  • Amy Clarke (MSc) Climate drivers of alpine plant diversity in the South Island of New Zealand.
  • Dwayne Daly (MPlan) Planning for Underwater Anthropogenic Noise in New Zealand's Coastal Marine Area.


Hua, X., Ohlemüller, R., & Sirguey, P. (2022). Differential effects of topography on the timing of the growing season in mountainous grassland ecosystems. Enviromental Advances, 8, 100234. doi: 10.1016/j.envadv.2022.100234 Journal - Research Article

Hua, X., Sirguey, P., & Ohlemüller, R. (2021). Recent trends in the timing of the growing season in New Zealand’s natural and semi-natural grasslands. GIScience & Remote Sensing, 58(7), 1090-1111. doi: 10.1080/15481603.2021.1969629 Journal - Research Article

Khan, M. S. I., Ohlemüller, R., Maloney, R. F., & Seddon, P. J. (2021). Monitoring dynamic braided river habitats: Applicability and efficacy of aerial photogrammetry from manned aircraft versus unmanned aerial systems. Drones, 5(2), 39. doi: 10.3390/drones5020039 Journal - Research Article

Hunter-Ayad, J., Jarvie, S., Greaves, G., Digby, A., Ohlemüller, R., Recio, M. R., & Seddon, P. J. (2021). Novel conditions in conservation translocations: A conservative-extrapolative strategic framework. Frontiers in Conservation Science, 2, 691714. doi: 10.3389/fcosc.2021.691714 Journal - Research Article

Huntley, B., Allen, J. R. M., Forrest, M., Hickler, T., Ohlemüller, R., Singarayer, J. S., & Valdes, P. J. (2021). Projected climatic changes lead to biome changes in areas of previously constant biome. Journal of Biogeography, 48, 2418-2428. doi: 10.1111/jbi.14213 Journal - Research Article

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