Professor Owen K Atkin

BSc (Hons) (ANU) - 1987; PhD (Toronto) - 1993
Professor and Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology
ANU College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • Cell Metabolism 060104
  • Plant Physiology 060705
  • Terrestrial Ecology 060208
  • Global Change Biology 069902
  • Plant Cell And Molecular Biology 060702
  • Ecological Physiology 060203
  • Crop And Pasture Production 0703
  • Crop And Pasture Biochemistry And Physiology 070303

Research interests

The importance of plant respiration in determining the scale and magnitude of future global environmental change is a major focus of the Atkin lab's research. With others, we aim to quantify the climate dependence respiration, and determine the impact of variations in respiration on rates of net carbon uptake in a range of contrasting ecosystems over wide spatial and temporal scales. The impacts of nutrient gradients and variations in water availability on plant respiration and related plant metabolic pathways are being assessed. As part of this work, we are combining laboratory and field observations to establish if there are systematic patterns in how plant respiration responds to environmental gradients, and to establish the underlying factors responsible for genotypic differences in nutrient use efficiency. We are also working with modellers to improve the representation of plant respiration in global climate-vegetation models, and are investigating the physiological and biochemical basis of thermal acclimation of respiration to long-term changes in temperature. Finally, the consequences of systemic temperature signaling for plant functioning is being addressed.


Owen Atkin obtained his BSc (Hons) in 1987 (ANU) and his PhD in 1993 (Toronto). From 1993-1995 he held an EU Post Doctoral Fellowship (Utrecht).  From 1996-1999 he held an ARC Post Doctoral Fellowship at the ANU. Thereafter, he moved to UK to take up a faculty position in the Biology Dept at the University of York (1999-2008).  He then returned to the ANU in 2008 and was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship in 2009. A major focus of his research is assessing the impact of environmental gradients on plant physiological processes, particularly respiration.  He has been an Editor for New Phytologist since 2007.  In 2019, he was appointed as Vice Chancellor's Entrepreneurial Professor at ANU, and became the Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology (CEAT) - a collaboration between ANU and CSIRO, with investment from the ACT Government. 

Available student projects

Understanding how environmental gradients impact on plant performance

A wide range of student opportunities are available in the area of environmental plant physiology/physiological ecology fro 2019 onwards, including those listed below and others listed on Owen Atkin's lab-leader web page under 'Current Projects'.

Projects can be tailored to the background and interests of individual students

Please email for further details.

Below are some research areas where research projects are available to students applying in 2019:

1. Respiratory responses to environmental gradients and consequences for carbon exchange
Climate-mediated changes in leaf respiration (R) are now accepted as an important component of the biosphere's response to global climate change. Plant R releases ten times more CO2 into the atmosphere than does the burn ing of fossil fuels, with half of the respiratory CO2 being released by leaves. Therefore, variations in leaf R rate have the potential to affect the extent to which atmospheric CO2 will be sequestered by the terrestrial biosphere, in addition to affecting the functioning of individual plants and ecosystems. It is essential, therefore, that we obtain sufficient experimental data to predict inter-specific variation in environment-mediated changes in leaf R.  Student projects are available that combine laboratory and field observations to establish whether there are systematic differences in the response of plant species to nutrient gradients, drought and temperature extremes, and to determine the quantitative impact of climate-dependent changes in respiration for carbon exchange at the ecosystem and global scales.  

2. Establishing a process-based understanding of plant respiration
Although we know that climate can can substantially alter rates of plant respiration, little is known about the cellular and organelle-level modifications that underpin climate-dependent changes in plant respiration rates. In this ARC-funded project, we are combining laboratory and field experiments to establish a process-based understanding of mitochondrial and intact tissue respiratory responses to drought and global warming scenarios.  A range of student projects are available associated with the core areas of the grant research.


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Updated:  20 May 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers