Dr James Michael Robert Brock

PhD, MSc (Dist), BSc (Hons)

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Professional Teaching Fellow


I completed my undergraduate at the University of Wales, Bangor, finishing in 2000, and working on plant ecology, then undertook a Masters degree at Coventry University in 2004. I worked as an ecological consultant on major infrastucture projects for Ove Arup, as well as for Wildlife Trust consultancies before moving to New Zealand to undertake a PhD in forest ecology in 2013. I have been a post-doctoral research fellow studying fern ecology in New Zealand for two years, and am now teaching biodiversity, and plant and landscape ecology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland.

Research | Current

I am interested in how the composition and structure of vegetation communities are influenced by abiotic and anthropic factors, and have a specific interest in fern ecology. I work with field and modelled data to examine aspects of community assembly, identify processes that drive species co-existence. Current areas of research include:

Cold-tolerance in fern sporophytes - Along with Bruce Burns and a PhD candidate in the School of Environment (André Bellvé), I am working on identifying cold-tolerance traits across the New Zealand tree fern flora including Cyathea smithii - the world's most high-latitude tree fern.

Gametophyte ecology - Our experimental work to date has shown that gametophyte establishment patterns may be driven by priority effects. To establish this in the laboratory and in the field, we are undertaking experimental work with multi-species communities of gametophytes. This work is a collaboration with Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research.

Modelling invasive plant impacts - working with George Perry (SE), and Narkis Morales (Universidad Mayor, Santiago) we are developing a spatially explicit individual-based model of New Zealand indigenous forest to establish the long-term impacts of invasive plant species on the structure and composition of these forests.

Fire and ferns - Alongside George Perry (SE) I am looking at the effects of fire on the soil spore bank through fire experiments.

Spore ecology - More generally, I work on understanding two areas of fern spore ecology - dispersal and persistence/tolerance. The aim of the dispersal project is to develop fern spore dispersal kernels to understand how far these propagules will disperse using air currents. I am also looking into the possibility of migratory and sea birds being vectors for ferns around the Pacific, and am examining how tolerant fern spores are to fresh and salt-water immersion, and freezing to consider limitations of dispersal. Spore persistence (temporal) is also being established be extracting spores from soil cores.

Tree fern phenology and growth modelling - along with Bruce Burns, I am establishing the frond and spore phenology of the iconic silver fern, a prominent native understorey species. We are using the morphological and phenological data to derive a model by which it will be possible to establish the approximate age of a tree fern from height data.

Fern ecophysiology - With colleagues at AUT and the University of Otago, I am working on comparing the physiological niche of both gametophytes and sporophytes of New Zealand fern species.

Tree fern epiphytes - Epiphytes on tree ferns contribute significantly to forest composition and several native New Zealand tree species habitually establish epiphytically on tree ferns. WE have undertaken a latitudinal study of tree fern prevalance with the aim of establishing the contribution that woody epiphytes of tree ferns play in forest community structure.

Teaching | Current

BioSci734: Terrestrial plant ecology

BioSci323: Plant diversity

BioSci396: Terrestrial ecology

BioSci206: Principles of ecology

BioSci108: Biodiversity: Patterns of life (Aulin College, NEFU, China)


BSc(Hons) 2.1 Plant Biology; University of Wales, Bangor (2000)

MSc (Dist) Environmental Management; Coventry University (2005)

PhD Biological Sciences; University of Auckland (2018)


SBS Equity Committee (Professional Teaching Fellow & Rainbow Network representative)

Course co-ordinator of BioSci108: Biodiversity: Patterns of life (UoA & NEFU)

Areas of expertise

Tree fern ecology

Forest ecology

Landscape ecology

British plant community ecology

Planning, development and the environment

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Full Member of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

Technical Editor for New Zealand Journal of Ecology

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Brock, J. M. R., Morales, N. S., Burns, B. R., & Perry, G. L. W. (2019). The hare, tortoise and crocodile revisited: Tree fern facilitation of conifer persistence and angiosperm growth in simulated forests. Journal of Ecology10.1111/1365-2745.13305
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Bruce Burns, George Perry
  • Brock, J. M. R., Burns, B. R., Perry, G. L. W., & Lee, W. G. (2019). Gametophyte niche differences among sympatric tree ferns. Biology Letters, 15 (1).10.1098/rsbl.2018.0659
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Bruce Burns, George Perry
  • Bellve, A., Burns, B., Perry, G., & Brock, J. (2018). The role of perching lilies (epiphytic Astelia spp.) as habitat-formers in northern New Zealand forests. Paper presented at New Zealand Ecological Society conference, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. 25 November - 29 November 2018. Related URL.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Bruce Burns, Andre Bellve, George Perry
  • Brock, J. M. R., Perry, G. L. W., Burkhardt, T., & Burns, B. R. (2018). Forest seedling community response to understorey filtering by tree ferns. Journal of Vegetation Science, 29 (5), 887-897. 10.1111/jvs.12671
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Bruce Burns, George Perry
  • Burns, B. R., Brock, J., Ryder, J., & Perry, G. L. M. (2018). Effects of Phytophthora agathidicida infection on the composition and structure of Agathis australis forest. Nathan Homestead, Manurewa, Auckland. 21 July - 21 July 2018. Related URL.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Bruce Burns, George Perry
  • Simpkins, C., Lee, F., Powers, B., Anderson, S., Asena, Q., Brock, J., & Perry, G. (2018). Population viability analyses in New Zealand: a review. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 42 (2).10.20417/nzjecol.42.32
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Finnbar Lee, George Perry, Sandra Anderson
  • Brock, J. M. R., Perry, G. L. W., Lee, W. G., Schwendenmann, L., & Burns, B. R. (2018). Pioneer tree ferns influence community assembly in northern New Zealand forests. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 42 (1), 18-30. 10.20417/nzjecol.42.5
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Bruce Burns, George Perry, Luitgard Schwendenmann
  • Brock, J. M. (2017). The influence of tree ferns on the composition and structure of New Zealand native forests The University of Auckland. ResearchSpace@Auckland.

Contact details

Primary office location

Level 1, Room 111C
New Zealand

Web links