Research Theme Fellow: Environment and Sustainability

Dr Sebastian Pfautsch

School of Social Sciences

Dr Sebastian Pfautsch is a tree physiologist and Senior Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences. His research investigates effects of global change and extreme climate events on plants in natural and urban ecosystems.

Dr Pfautsch studied Forest Science and Management before completing his PhD ( summa cum laude ) at the Albert-Ludwig-University of Freiburg, Germany. In his doctoral work he studied water and nitrogen cycles of water catchments near Melbourne, Australia. Upon its completion, Sebastian migrated to Australia and has since held several positions (University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney) centred on field studies in ecohydrology. He spent five years as a Research Fellow at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) where he studied effects of drought, heat and elevated carbon dioxide on growth and water transport in trees.

In mid-2017 he was appointed as Senior Research Fellow for Environmental Sustainability at Western Sydney University.

After studying native trees and forests for 10 years, Sebastian’s current research examines effects of rising temperature on urban environments. “Western Sydney is experiencing increasingly higher temperatures and more frequent and longer lasting heat waves. These extreme conditions are predicted to become even more severe,” says Dr Pfautsch. “I’m really interested in how we can use trees effectively for shading and cooling our cities. We are talking with local councils and developers to find strategies for mitigating this heat and reducing costs for energy consumption. One way of course is to plant more trees, but the question is not only which species to plant, but where to best position them, and how to maintain their access to water in cement-laden streetscapes.”

Sebastian led the development of Western Sydney University’s first Drone Research and Teaching Unit which launched in early 2018. Stemming from his interest in aerial thermography (heat mapping), Sebastian says the program will improve access to the latest remote piloted aircraft (RPA) technologies at the University. “It opens new possibilities for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. Drones can be used for studies in the arts, creative industries, engineering, forensics, social and environmental sciences, tourism, urban planning, and much more.”

Dr Pfautsch’s high quality of work has been widely acknowledged, receiving the Maxwell Jacobs Award (Institute of Foresters of Australia, 2008), a fellowship from the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (2012) and the prestigious Scientific Mobility Award (French Embassy & Australian Academy of Science, 2013). In addition to his own research, he lectures in tree physiology, urban and forest ecology at the University, offers research projects, and supervises students at Honours, Master and PhD levels. He also delivers seminars and training to government agencies and industry partners.