sustainability through science & innovation

our people

Paul Umina

Director

Growing up on a farm meant that Paul’s fascination with the natural world began at a young age and was the driving force behind his decision to study biological sciences. Since completing his PhD in entomology, Paul has spent the last 15 years helping Australian farmers achieve a balance between profitability and environmental sustainability. He does this by developing new ways to combat the insect pests which plague their livelihood.

Paul is passionate about seeing valuable scientific endeavours adopted in the real-world. It was this desire that lead Paul to team up with Andrew Weeks to form cesar in 2007. To this day, Paul works to ensure research findings are communicated and translated into practical outcomes for Australian agriculture.

Paul oversees the Sustainable Agriculture division at cesar. He is an accomplished leader in pest management in Australia and internationally, regularly presenting at conferences, workshops and industry meetings. He is the inaugural chair of the grains National Insecticide Resistance Management (NIRM) committee, and the creator of PestFacts south-eastern, the highly successful newsletter recieved by over 1,500 people working with broadacre crops and pastures.

His achievements in research and communications are well-recognised, with the University of Melbourne awarding Paul a Staff Excellence Award in Engagement (2011) and the Deans Award for Excellence in Engagement (2015). In 2012, he was named the Victorian Young Tall Poppy of the Year.

Away from work, Paul loves nothing more than spending time with family and getting out and about in the great outdoors. Whether that means heading back to the family farm, going hiking, travelling to new places or riding his bike around the foothills of Melbourne.

 


Andrew Weeks

Director

For over 15 years Dr Andrew Weeks has worked as an international research scientist in Australia, The Netherlands and the USA. Over this time he has developed expertise in a broad range of fields including conservation genetics, wildlife ecology, environmental monitoring, sustainability management, and agricultural pest management. In 2007 Andrew teamed up with Dr Paul Umina to form cesar, with the goal of creating an innovative science based consultancy that could assist government and private sector clients to achieve sustainable outcomes using the latest scientific research and principles.

Andrew oversees the Genetic Insights and Wildlife Ecology divisions at cesar, and works closely with the managers of each division to ensure quality of service for Clients. His passion for wildlife combined with his experience in population and ecological genetics has resulted in the development of unique conservation strategies that aim to maximise species resilience. Realising genetic issues are often not considered in conservation strategies Andrew has become actively involved in providing expertise in genetics to a number of threatened species programs throughout Australia.

Andrew’s early research career led to the discovery of several new species of earth mites and to the development of new strategies for their control in Australian broad acre agriculture. He has conducted research on a broad range of Australian and international pests of agriculture, using his skills as an ecological geneticist to gain insight into aspects of their biology. Andrew has contributed substantially to our understanding of the evolution of asexuality, demonstrating that asexuals are more likely to be pests in agricultural contexts.

More recently, Andrew has been integral in developing novel translocation strategies for the conservation of Australian native species. In 2010 he led a research team who undertook the first ‘genetic rescue’ of an endangered mammal in Australia, the mountain pygmy possum found in the alpine areas of Victoria.

Andrew is a member of the Australian Wildlife Management Society, the Ecological Society of Australia, the International Society for Conservation Biology and the National Invertebrate Pest Initiative. He is an expert international reviewer for the Australian Research Council and also reviews grant applications for international organisations such as the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. Andrew is a member of three State Recovery Teams, and a board member of the Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre at Little River in Victoria, one of the states premier wildlife conservation parks.

Andrew's research has been published in many of the most prestigious international scientific journals, including Science, PLoS Biology, Ecology Letters, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Genetics, Evolution and Biology Letters. He has authored over 70 scientific publications in peer reviewed international journals and more than 30 consultancy reports for a broad range of government and private sector clients.

 


Josh Griffiths

Senior Wildlife Ecologist

Josh is passionate about the conservation of Australia’s unique wildlife. This motivation is at the core of his personal and professional actions. In his (limited!) spare time, Josh enjoys a variety of outdoor pursuits including camping, hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking. This constant immersion in nature is an important time for Josh to unwind, while also allowing him to pursue his love of wildlife photography.

Josh completed his Environmental Biology degree in Adelaide, and has worked in diverse landscapes from arid South Australia, the highlands of Victoria, and Tasmania’s river systems. His ecological knowledge and extensive field experience allows him to design and implement projects that ensure clients get the information required to develop better management plans, and to understand the effectiveness of those plans. Most importantly to Josh, he interacts with a variety of people from Government agencies, industry and the broader community to share ideas and develop innovative solutions to Australian conservation issues.

Josh also recognises the importance of communicating scientific research to the public and can often be found in front of a community group talking about his specialty species – the platypus!

 


Siobhan de Little

Senior Consultant 

Whether it’s in the field or lab, Siobhan works hard towards understanding insecticide resistance in crop pests. Her current research is on insecticide resistance in aphids across Australia, and developing management strategies to help growers and advisers control resistant pests.

From experimental design to statistical analyses, Siobhan is passionate about delivering good science. Her PhD research involved investigating the effectiveness of different control methods for mosquitoes, which ultimately sparked her interest in integrated pest management. During her PhD, Siobhan developed statistical models to provide insight into ecologically informed pest control procedures, and designed field trials to explore different pest control options.

Siobhan’s career has taken her to diverse areas of ecology and environmental management, from fieldwork in tropical northern Australia and the Namib Desert, to statistical modelling using Bayesian and information-theoretic methods to describe ecological relationships. Dr. de Little has a strong publication record and has been awarded several prizes for her conference presentations. In 2017 she was nominated for AUSVEG Victorian Researcher of the Year.

 


Anthony van Rooyen

Consultant

Anthony van Rooyen provides critical genetic analysis, research and innovation at cesar. His portfolio includes projects on animal health, biosecurity, monitoring, genetic rescue and insect pest management. He loves that his work involves a wide variety of projects, which has meant that he has been able to get out in the field and apply technology to many different areas.

While Anthony has a broad skillset and knowledge of contemporary genetics, his real skill is in applying these genetic “toolkits” for positive outcomes in sustainability and conservation. He likes to do this by working with clients and researchers from a diverse range of disciplines, and will always spend time with them first get a thorough understanding of their needs.

Anthony grew up on a picturesque farm nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Southern alps which nurtured a strong interest for agriculture and environment. This lead him to Lincoln University, Canterbury where he achieved First Class Honours in Biochemistry. Prior to joining cesar he was part of a research team investigating the effects of ocean acidification on seafloor ecosystems in Antarctica, although, by being based in temperature/pH controlled labs in New Zealand he missed out on those Antarctic conditions.

 


Alana Govender

Consultant

With a strong passion for agriculture and the natural environment, Alana aims to help farmers and agronomists better understand the ecology of invertebrates in their crops to bring about more sustainable cropping practices. At cesar, Alana divides her time between invertebrate identification for large-scale surveys and product development and testing.

Alana has completed both Honours and PhD in the field of agricultural entomology, specifically on biological pest control. During these projects, Alana conducted large-scale invertebrate collections, which improved her taxonomic skills and gave her an appreciation for the complexities of pest/beneficial invertebrate ecology. 

Currently in a part-time role, Alana spends the rest of her week looking after her toddler.

 


James Maino

Senior Consultant

James uses mathematics and computer modelling to develop tools that help us better manage some of our most notorious crop pests. Recently he assisted in creating a tool to predict the lifecycle events of key broadacre pests based on climate data. James’ work also includes monitoring and predicting the evolution of insecticide resistance in the infamous redlegged earth mite.

James is passionate about food security, environmental sustainability, and biodiversity preservation. His role at cesar provides him a unique opportunity to apply his expertise at the interface of these pressing issues.

James’ academic contributions have enhanced our predictive power around insect responses to changing environments. James' accomplishments in this field have been acknowledged by various honours, including the prestigious Elton Prize from the British Ecological Society in 2014, and the Chancellor's Prize from the University of Melbourne in 2016 for Excellence in the PhD thesis.

In his spare time, James enjoys hiking around Australia’s wide and diverse landscapes, while taking note of the smaller natural wonders that lurk underneath his feet. 

 


Julia Severi

Consultant 

Julia is the first port of call for growers and advisors seeking help with broadacre crops and pasture critters. Whether it’s by mail, twitter or phone, she loves the challenge of identifying invertebrate pests and beneficials found on farm. She is also a writer and editor of PestFacts south-eastern, and is passionate about communicating clear and impactful messages about sustainable pest management.

It was Julia’s fascination with the journey of food from paddock to plate that inspired her to study a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences (Honours) and international development. At university, she was particularly captivated by pest and disease management and soil science. Prior to joining cesar in 2016, she could be found assessing crops and running field trials as a graduate research agronomist with Agriculture Victoria.

 


Lisa Kirkland

Consultant 

Lisa manages the product development and testing space at cesar. Whether she’s out in the field collecting insects, in the lab running a bioassay, or in the shadehouse tending to semi-field microcosm trials, Lisa loves getting up close and personal with invertebrates. This work suits her well, as she is always the one her family calls to remove critters from the bathroom.

Lisa has an insatiable interest in the ecology and behaviour of all creatures great and small. This lead her to study invertebrate ecology, biosecurity, and biodiversity conservation at the University of Auckland, and to volunteer at the zoo. She went on to gain First Class Honours studying the biological clock of the honey bee.

Lisa is passionate about protecting beneficial invertebrates by assisting our clients to select the most effective ‘soft’ pesticides in the battle against crop pests. She revels in the challenge of designing experiments to answer clients’ questions about their products, and enjoys the balance of hands-on science and computer-based work throughout her day.

When she’s not at work, Lisa can be found playing with her two puppies, Milhouse and Eevie.

 


Katie Robinson

Senior consultant

Katie manages the DNA-based multispecies detection service offered by cesar. She determines which species are present at a site, using cutting-edge sequencing technology to analyse the DNA ‘evidence’ found in simple environmental samples, such as water gathered from rivers, ponds or streams.

A lifelong fascination with the natural world led Katie to study a Bachelor of Science, where she was drawn to genetics and molecular biology. She has spent much of her career exploring what these small-scale systems can tell us about the bigger picture, and has applied her expertise to better understand the behaviour and ecology of microbes, insects, native mammals and plants. During her PhD, she investigated the genetic regulation of swarm formation behaviour in locusts. She has also used molecular tools to study native marsupial diets, genetic diversity in bees, environmental microbiology, and antimicrobial resistance in bacteria. 

Katie feels fortunate to work in a role that combines her passion for conservation and sustainability, with her love of getting to the bottom of a mystery. She enjoys using her molecular toolkit to equip managers to make decisions, and act to protect our environment. 

 


Elia Pirtle

Consultant

Elia develops surveillance and management tools to help prepare Australia for incursions of exotic insect pests, such as the vegetable leafminer fly. She also runs microcosm studies to determine the efficacy of pest control options. Elia loves being part of a team that has a strong focus on practical research outcomes.

Elia grew up in the desert surrounded by a menagerie of animals, and has since been passionate about environmental sustainability and conservation. After graduating from her Bachelor’s degree with First Class honours, she left her hometown of Reno, Nevada for Australia, to pursue a PhD at the University of Melbourne. Here she studied how reptiles stay cool and hydrated under extreme environmental conditions, using a combination of laboratory and field experiments, and computer modelling. Her research took her to remote parts of the North American and Australian desert ecosystems, which suited her well as she loves nothing more than working out in the field.

Elia is passionate about making science accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds. She also loves to explore the ways that science can be communicated through art.

 


Frances Morell

Administration manager

Frances grew up in a green wedge in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs. With the pristine natural environment at her door step, sustainability was very much at the core of her upbringing. From a young age, she learnt the value of conservation. 

Frances supports the cesar family with business and project administration, human resources, and financial management, as well as providing executive assistance to Paul and Andrew.

Prior to joining cesar, Frances worked for a small, family owned, Melbourne based retail business. In her 5 years with them, she progressed from production to store management, to an inventory management role. She has extensive experience in people management, organisation, and planning, all of which she brings enthusiastically to her role at cesar.

 


Sue Vern Song

Sue completed a Bachelor of Science with majors in genetics and computer science. Her fascination with genetics arose out of a desire to understand how information was inherited in living organisms. Her interest in computer science was likely the result of her family's excitement over getting their very first dialup modem in 1996 and discovering the wonders of the internet and email.

Sue worked as an analyst programmer for a bank in Southeast Asia before being drawn back to the world of biology. Her past projects include investigating cold tolerance in Drosophila melanogaster (a well-studied vinegar fly that has long been used in genetic research) and population genomics of the cotton bollworm (a pest of several economically important crops). Her work on genomics ignited her interest in working with the increasingly large datasets generated by new sequencing technologies, which neatly led her to her current role with cesar.