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A team from Deakin University has received funding of $215,000 from the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research (VCCCAR), in the first funding to Deakin from this new government initiative established at the University of Melbourne. The project focuses on identifying impedances to integrated landscape management in Victoria.
The research team leader is Professor Andy TD Bennett of the Centre for Integrative Ecology and Head of the School of Life and Environmental Sciences. The project is jointly hosted with the Alfred Deakin Research Institute (ADRI), under the direction of Professor David Lowe, which continues to promote the role of humanities and social sciences in development and sustainability research and policy. Other Deakin academics involved include ADRI member Associate Professor Kevin O’Toole from Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus.
The interdisciplinary team will involve geographers, sociologists and economists from the University of Melbourne (Ruth Beilin and Rod Keenan), Monash (Ray Ison and Phil Wallis) and La Trobe (Farmar-Bowers) universities, Victoria University (Roger Jones), and RMIT (Michael Buxton).
“It’s exciting and challenging to be involved with such a talented interdisciplinary research team drawn from five universities, and the Alfred Deakin Research Institute. The research outcomes have the potential to significantly improve conservation outcomes and Victoria’s response to climate change,” Professor Bennett said.
“The Strategic Research Centres which Deakin has established, including the Centre for Integrative Ecology and ADRI, have been most important facilitators of this research funding success.
“A team of three professors from our school attended the initial workshops in Melbourne that VCCCAR established earlier in the year, and the outcome was funding for one of Deakin’s applications.
“Since then, with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), I have facilitated Deakin becoming an affiliate member of VCCCAR,” said Professor Bennett, “and I trust this will create new opportunities for Deakin in the climate change and sustainability area.”
The current project focuses on identifying impedances to integrated landscape management in Victoria. The team is currently recruiting a research fellow for the project, and is in consultation with State Government officials, CMAs and other stakeholders for input into the research program.
Photo: Professor Andy TD Bennett (l) and Professor David Lowe.
Researchers from the Centre for Integrative Ecology in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences (LES) achieved major successes at the International Behavioral Ecology Congress (ISBE 2010) in Perth recently.
PhD candidate Bibiana Rojas received the prize for the best poster, which was presented in front of more than 700 delegates from 32 countries.
Of 250 posters, Bibiana’s was voted by delegates to be the best. Titled ‘A potential role of colour patterns in intra-specific communication in the dyeing poison frog, Dendrobtes tinctorius , the poster summarized her PhD work to date in South America on these brightly coloured and polymorphic frogs which sequester toxins from their diet. Bibiana’s research is supervised by Professor John Endler and her winning poster will shortly be on view in the CIE corridor at the Geelong Campus in Waurn Ponds.
Professor Endler’s talk on his recent work on the use of forced visual perspective and other visual tricks by bowerbirds was given to a packed lecture theatre with no standing room and many audience members sitting on the floor, even at the front. Details of this work was recently published in Current Biology (A*, impact factor 11.0) and featured in both Nature and Science. For further details see the Current Biology web site.
Another success was Justin Eastwood’s talk on his honours project which was finished in LES in 2010. Presentations of honours research are unusual at international conferences and Justin’s talk was believed to be one of only two at this conference. His project investigated the role of the Beak and Feather Disease Virus in maintaining variation in the crimson rosella ring species complex of south eastern Australia. It was supervised by Dr Matt Berg and Professor Andy TD Bennett (LES) and Dr Ken Walder (Medical School) and grew out of a successful CRGS application by Dr Berg. Justin has now begun PhD work on this topic at Deakin.
Two other talks, by Ben Knott and Professor Andy TD Bennett on the crimson rosella species complex and its evolution and colour vision discussed two other papers recently published with co-authors Dr Berg and Dr Kate Buchanan (LES) and Dr Leo Joseph (CSIRO)in Proceedings of the Royal Society – Biological Sciences (A*, impact factor 4.7).
A discussion by newly appointed LES lecturer, Matt Symonds about his fascinating work on thermoregulation, bill size and latitude recently published in American Naturalist (A*, impact factor 4.8), was well attended in the main auditorium.
The congress provided an excellent opportunity to highlight the depth and excellence of Deakin’s research in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology and to attract new staff to the research teams.
Dr Paul Francis, a chemical scientist with Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is shedding light on science both in the lab and in the classroom.
Dr Francis has received a 2010 Young Tall Poppy Science Award which will see him spending time inspiring young people and educating the wider community about the importance of science.
He is also shining a light, literally, on a number of fields such as forensic science, environmental monitoring and medical diagnosis.
“My research explores the possibilities of chemiluminescence or chemical reactions that produce light. The luminous glow of fireflies and the brilliant blue emission of light from the spray that police use to find traces of blood at crime scenes are two well-known examples of chemiluminescence,” Dr Francis explained.
“This phenomenon can also be used to detect biomarkers of disease, illicit drugs, or traces of chemical or biological weapons in weapons by using instruments that can measure light more sensitively than the naked eye.
“Understanding how these light-producing reactions work is the focus of my research. Hand-in-hand with this work is the development of new, miniaturised devices that will allow testing to be performed more efficiently at, for example, crime scenes or a patients’ bedside.”
Over the next year, Dr Francis will be involved in a range of outreach initiatives as part of his Tall Poppy Award.
“I am really honoured to have received a Tall Poppy Science Award,” Dr Francis said.
“The philosophy behind the award fits nicely with my desire to spend more time getting young people and the broader community excited about science.
“In previous years I have run science outreach programs and demonstrations in schools, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Through the Tall Poppy campaign, I look forward to not only inspiring young people to consider science careers, but also engaging the public more broadly on science and science issues.”
Dr Craig Sherman has been awarded a grant from the Australian Academy of Science under their Scientific Visits to North America 2010-2011 program to enable him to undertake a research visit to work with world leading marine ecologist Dr James Byers at the University of Georgia.
The primary objective of the visit will be to establish a new collaborative research program on sexual selection in marine invertebrates investigating the importance of post-copulatory mechanisms of mate choice.
“Because marine invertebrates don’t have complex mating behaviours, this has led to the view that mate choice is either limited or absent,” Dr Sherman said. “However biologists now recognise that mate choice can continue to operate after copulation via sperm competition and differential compatibility between egg and sperm.
“Dr Byers and his research team have worked on a wide diversity of marine species and this new collaborative project will provide me with the opportunity to work on a different model system and learn a valuable set of new skills.
“My goal for this project is that it will substantially improve our knowledge of fertilisation processes and compatibility among mating partners in marine invertebrates.”
Professor Neil Barnett recently accepted an invitation to join the team of twelve editors of the international journal Analytica Chimica Acta, one of the world’s most respected publications in Analytical Chemistry.
Professor Barnett is only the second Australian to hold this appointment, the other being Professor Paul Haddad from the University of Tasmania. Several high profile analytical scientists from Australia have served on the journal’s Editorial Advisers Board including Professor Alan M Bond, the founding Chair of Chemistry at Deakin.
Analytica Chimica Acta has an impact factor of 3.757 and an ERA ranking of A and is listed fifth of seventy in the ISI Web of Knowledge. Since first being published in 1947 around 680 volumes have appeared, detailing many of the most significant advances in Analytical Chemistry during that time.
Professor Barnett has enjoyed a long association with the journal; his first publication during his PhD was in Analytica Chimica Acta in 1983 and describes the determination of nickel and lead in human milk. Between 2003 and 2010, Professor Barnett served on the Editorial Advisers Board of the journal and was guest editor for three volumes.
Dr Amanda Bates, a new researcher with the School of LES based at the Warrnambool Campus, is aiming to find out how animals in south-west Victoria are affected by environmental and temperature variability.
Having already conducted similar research in Canada, New Zealand and Antarctica where creatures learn to cope in the most extreme conditions, she will now turn her attention to local Warrnambool sites such as the Hopkins River.
“A lot of the research I have done so far fits into the realm of pure science, so I was excited to join the team of researchers at Deakin, who aim to solve ecologically relevant problems important to the local community,” Dr Bates said.
Dr Bates has specialised in researching how animals adapt and survive around hydrothermal vents on mid-ocean ridges where the ejection of warm fluids can drive the cold two-kilometre deep seawater temperature from two to 60 degrees Celsius.
“I’m interested in how vent animals respond to such extremes and this has led to an interest in other aquatic systems that are highly variable,” Dr Bates said.
She is also investigating links between climate and disease. In New Zealand and Canada she investigated mass mortalities of species including starfish and snails caused by disease, thought to be driven by rapid increases in temperature.
Deakin University’s Professor John Endler has played a prominent role in a new study that claims male bowerbirds deliberately decorate their bowers to make themselves look larger to females.
The discovery makes bowerbirds the only animal - in addition to humans - known to create a scene with altered visual perspective, and one constructed for viewing at a particular angle.
Professor John Endler, an evolutional ecologist who is a recent prized research recruit to Deakin’s Centre of Integrative Ecology on the Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, says he noticed a consistent geometric size pattern while studying a species called the great bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis).
He and his fellow researchers have recorded the findings in the journal Current Biology.
"It appears the males create a staged scene, only visible from the point of view of their female audience," says Endler.
"He places white and grey pebbles, bones, and shells in the court ... putting smaller objects near the front and larger ones further back.
"If you move stuff around, he'll move it back, not to the same spot as some reports claim, but certainly to the same distance from the front of the court."
Bowerbird males have long been known to make elaborate constructions full of objects to impress and attract mates.
The bowers have an avenue approximately 60 centimetres long that leads to a decorated court.
The female stands in the avenue watching the male displaying in his court.
Professor Endler says this staged scene only works from one viewing angle, which happens to be the avenue.
The forced perspective, particularly if birds see things the same as humans do, could lead females to "perceive the court as smaller than it is and therefore perhaps perceive the male as larger than he is”.
"It could make him look like a better catch or it might just make him easier to see against the background,” Professor Endler said.
Earlier research reports that colour is important to bowerbirds, white and grey objects as well as stronger colour like red and green.
"Interestingly they really seem to dislike yellow,” he said.
“That could be because they have a yellowish tinge on their chests, so they're looking for a contrast to make them stand out.
"Satin and regent bowerbirds like blue and yellow, which is why you see things like blue clothes pegs in their bowers. In the days before blue plastic they decorated their bowers with blue feathers and fruits like blue quandong."
Endler says it's too early to say whether the male feels for the female perspective.
"He spends 70% of time arranging the bower, so it could just be a case of decorating the bower to suit his own tastes rather than doing it to impress the females."
The researchers are now conducting further tests to see if these visual tricks to enhance the impression of size are related to success with mating.
Postgraduate student Daniel Priebbenow has recently been awarded the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) Graduate Student Travel Award (worth $2000) to attend and present the results of his research at the 18th International Conference on Organic Synthesis in Bergen, Norway. Daniel has also been awarded the postgraduate student award to attend the Southern Highlands Conference on Heterocyclic Chemistry in Moss Vale, NSW, where he has been invited to give a 40 minute presentation on his research.
Daniel’s current research includes the development of Domino Heck-aza-Michael reactions to access particular molecular scaffolds used in a number of potential pharmaceutical agents. A domino process occurs when two or more bond-forming reactions take place in a single reaction. Domino reactions allow rapid synthesis of complex molecules and are much more efficient than traditional methods, save time and energy and reduce waste, making them environmentally friendly.
Daniel's research has been conducted in collaboration with Scott Stewart (University of Western Australia).
The photo shows Daniel (on the right) and supervisor Dr Fred Pfeffer (on the left).
Deakin University now has the largest aggregation of avian biologists in Australia following the arrival of three leading researchers at the new Centre for Integrative Ecology.
“It is something of a coup that we have been able to recruit Professors Marcel Klaassen, John Endler and Bill Buttemer to Deakin,” said DVC (Research), Professor Lee Astheimer.
“They will be a vital part in our new centre, in shaping its direction and in turn attracting more top researchers in this field.”
Recruited from The Netherlands Institute of Technology, Professor Klaassen will head up the centre.
Professor Klaassen has developed broad research interests including theoretical, experimental and observational studies on numerous animal, plant and microbe taxa. Throughout this, his focus has primarily been on bird migration and nutritional ecology issues. To gain a better understanding of the behaviour and functioning of animals, he uses the rate of energy intake and the economy of its use for life processes as an index of fitness.
Professor Endler comes to from the University of Exeter in England and has broad interests in the area of overlap between Evolution, Ecology, Animal Behaviour, Sensory Ecology, Sensory Physiology and Environmental Biophysics. His main interest is in the joint effects of these factors on adaptation and using integrated principles from all of these fields to make and test explicit predictions about the direction of evolution under specified and changing environmental conditions.
Professor Buttemer, from the University of Wollongong, has a broad background from ecology to comparative physiology that includes examination of the physiological and behavioural responses animals display towards their natural environment as well as physiological appraisal of life-history strategies.
These studies have required a highly integrative research approach that combines many fields: physics to quantify the physical environments of animals (particularly heat-transfer theory), physiological assessment (endocrinology, biochemistry, immunology, and metabolic assessment), and ecology to place these interactions into an evolutionary context.
Professor Buttemer’s research has been global in both scope and location; ranging from biochemical to behavioural and from the Arctic to the Antarctic, with many tropical, temperate, and arid-zone locations in between. His expertise in animal ecophysiology is well recognised internationally and has resulted in invitations to present his research at world congresses of herpetology, endocrinology, ornithology and physiology.
“All our new Strategic Research Centres, which were announced late last year, have a key role to play in the future of Deakin as a research institution,” Professor Astheimer said.
“Even at the early stages, we are seeing tremendous growth in our research capacities right across the University.”
Professor Klaassen said that bringing researchers together helped to push the frontiers of knowledge.
“There is a lot to gain from integrating knowledge,” he said.
“A university, naturally, has a lot of very smart people working across a range of disciplines and one way of encouraging high standards in research and academic achievement is to create an environment that allows these people to come together to collaborate and learn from one another.
“If you want to push the knowledge frontier of course you look at what your direct colleagues are doing, but I also believe there is much to be gained from looking more widely at what is being done in your field.
“John, Bill and I are very much looking forward to working with our Deakin colleagues, as well as with colleagues in organisations and institutes outside of the University, to establish it as a centre for ecological research excellence.”
Imagine a non-stop 10,000-kilometre trip without in-flight movies and meals and solicitous cabin crew to bring you a pillow or a rug.
Welcome to the world of a brave little bird, the sharp-tailed sandpiper – and Professor Marcel Klaassen.
Professor Klaassen is the newly installed Director of Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology, and is regarded as one of the University’s key signings as it enters its next era of research growth under DVC (Research) Professor Lee Astheimer.
One of Professor Klaassen’s major research streams looks at the energy intake and the economic use of it by these marvellous little birds that each year make the trip from Siberia – sometimes via Alaska - to Australasia, and then back.
To do that research he has travelled to Siberia, to Alaska – and now to south-eastern Australia, to which the sandpipers fly each year to get away from the Siberian winter.
“The principle behind my research is simple: All animals must obtain and convert energy from their environments for everyday use, to fend off illnesses and to reproduce,” Professor Klaassen said.
“if they are good at that, they are successful, if not, they succumb.”
“My research involves mainly birds and focuses on their reproductive, migratory and foraging behaviours and specifically how well these creatures cope with changes in their environment.
“So that’s a big part of the research I will be doing at Deakin.
“Some species cope with change, others don’t.
“The challenge is to find out how the species that do cope with change achieve that and see if we can use that information to mitigate the negative impacts on those that aren’t coping so well.”
Professor Klaassen’s journey to Australia with his family was a little more comfortable than the sandpipers.
He arrived in January from The Netherlands, where he was the Professor in Animal-Plant Interactions at the University of Utrecht and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.
The choice of Australia was made at both the professional and the personal level.
“The job here was quite amazing,” he said of the offer to head up the Centre for Integrative Ecology.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially when the University is making such a substantial investment in ecology.
“At times I am overawed by the challenge, at other times I am really excited by it.”
Professor Klaassen believes that in many respects, Australia is a huge and relatively untouched canvas in the field of ecology.
“There has already been a lot of good work done here in Australia,” he says.
“But a lot of ecological research over the years still has a European and American bias.”
Excitement also filters into the personal reasons for coming to Australia – and Deakin’s Waurn Ponds Campus in particular.
Professor Klaassen’s former colleagues in The Netherlands provided an unusual farewell gift for all of his family – surfing lessons.
Having just bought a block of land at Jan Juc, one beach away from the fabled Bells Beach, they are well placed to benefit from them.
“In the Netherlands I was a speed skater,” Professor Klaassen grinned.
“But I think I will stand a chance on a surf board. Already my daughter Hiske has been riding a wave board and I have been practising standing up on it.”
Professor Klaassen has two other daughters, Anna and Puck.
As well as their individual lessons, the Klaassen’s took in expert tips from the world’s best during the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach.
“We bought a family ticket for the whole event,” Professor Klaassen said, proudly showing the purple wristband that allowed him in to see the likes of Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore.
It is apparent already the Klaassen’s will enjoy the warmth of southern hemisphere summers as much as the sharp-tailed sandpipers.
Deakin University’s DVC (Research) Professor Lee Astheimer was one of the key plenary speakers at last month’s meeting of ACEDD, the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors.
Held on Deakin’s Waterfront Campus at Geelong, the meeting took its main theme from the United Nations Year of Biodiversity, but also looked at research directions in Australian universities relating to ERA, the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative driven by the Australian Research Council.
The delegates from universities from all over Australia also heard from Professor Rod Keenan, the Director of the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation, and Simon Smith from the Department of Sustainability and Environment.
Mr Smith is the Director, Biodiversity Policy and Programs.
Professor Astheimer spoke about the impact of ERA on research generally, but specifically on ecological and environmental issues.
“Professor Astheimer has great expertise in this area, especially some of the new ways of measuring research,” said Professor Peter Nelson, the founding chair of ACEDD.
“Her address, and that of the other two speakers, were certainly illuminating for all the delegates.”
Professor Astheimer also spoke about some of the exciting ecological research initiatives at Deakin in 2010, including the establishment of the Centre for Integrative Ecology, headed by Professor Marcel Klaassen.
Professor Andy T.D. Bennett, Head of the School of Life and Environmental Sciences who initiated and hosted the meeting, said it was important for the members of ACEDD to learn up close the quality and diversity of research in the life and environmental sciences and how Deakin contributes at a national level.
“All 38 member universities will have a role to play in developing the knowledge we need to deal with the multiple environmental issues now challenging the world,” he said.
“It is important that we all understand each university’s capabilities, and have good communication, and it was with some pride that we at Deakin were able to bring the other delegates up to date with our research and teaching capability and initiatives here at Deakin. We did this whilst showcasing the wonderful facilities available to students and researchers at Deakin, and I am confident delegates, who are in key positions at Australia’s universities, went back with a most positive view of what is happening at Deakin.
“I think everyone agrees that ACEDD has a key role to play in the future of environmental research in Australia and also in environmental policy development.”
ACEDD is an association of academics drawn from Australian universities and with line responsibility for environmental science and/or environmental studies programs and endeavours.
It began informal operations in July 2008 and was formally constituted in March 2009.
ACEDD’s vision is to be the peak professional advocate for excellence in environmental sciences and environmental studies in Australian higher education and to effectively represent the interests of these fields and the sector among government, non-government and private sectors.
The organisation was founded on the idea that ecological and environmental science and environmental studies are crucial fields of higher education, and that the interests of environmental education, research and research training, and community engagement in these fields are to be served in many ways, one of which is by advocacy among peers in the sector.
ACEDD’s mission is to be such an advocate and to effectively represent the interests of the field and sector, basing its actions on the principles of good governance for collegiality, communication and capacity building.
For more information on ACEDD, please refer to www.sarahterkes.com/node/22
Researchers from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and School of Medicine believe they have discovered how the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can help prevent brain cells from dying - a finding which could have implications for reducing the risk of brain function loss associated with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
"Previous research has suggested that there is a link between low levels in the brain of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA and Alzheimer's disease," explains project leader Professor Leigh Ackland (School of Life and Environmental Sciences).
The researchers found that when the level of DHA in neuronal cells (the cells responsible for transmitting signals in the brain) drops, the level of zinc rises. "The higher levels of zinc can be toxic, resulting in cell death. This type of cell death is a key feature of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's."
"We believe that having omega-3 fatty acids in the diet helps keep the levels of zinc in the brain in balance and helps prevents the increase in levels that triggers cell death," says Professor Ackland, adding "to the best of our knowledge this is the first time a direct link has been demonstrated between the levels of DHA and zinc in neuronal cells."
"Alzheimer's disease is a complex disorder and it is unclear what causes it, although dietary factors are implicated in its development. Our work provides insights into how fatty acid nutrition may prevent the development of Alzheimer's and could lead to new treatments that prevent zinc-induced brain damage," says Professor Ackland.
To view these findings please visit FEBS Letters
PhD student Jacquomo Monk (School of Life and Environmental Sciences) has won the 2009 Australasian Hydrographic Society Education Award. The education award, which is open to students studying within a broad range of maritime disciplines, is to the value of $2,500.
The title of his PhD research project being undertaken is 'Understanding demersal fish-habitat associations using video observations and sonar imaging'. Supervised by a team led by Daniel Ierodiaconou (School of Life and Environmental Sciences), the project utilises the recent advances in underwater remote sensing (such as acoustic positioning, multibeam sonar and remotely operated underwater video) to generate detailed data to investigate the spatial relationships between the seafloor and marine coastal fishes in southwest Victoria.
The group's achievements have been previously recognised by the Australian Hydrographic Society in 2006 with the presentation of a Scientific and Technical Achievement Award for their development of new techniques for coastal habitat mapping. Jacquomo is using predictive modelling techniques to get a greater understanding of these relationships. This information is essential to better manage these vulnerable, rare and ecologically important communities.
The funds provide the opportunity for Jacquomo to present his work at the GeoHab (Marine Geological and Biological Habitat Mapping) Conference in Wellington, New Zealand in May, and to the Hydrographic board in Sydney later in the year.