Life and Environmental Sciences news
06/2014 Frogs have hunters on the hop
04/2014 New life for the Colorado
04/2014 Beyond the impasse
02/2014 Different cultures, same outcome
01/2014 Give predators a chance
Dr Bob Brown, former Leader of the Australian Greens and prominent environmentalist and author, is giving a guest presentation at Deakin University’s Melbourne Burwood Campus on Monday 25 August 2014, starting at 6pm.
Titled ‘Environmental Sustainability: Making a Difference!’, this event celebrates 30 years of environmental science courses at Deakin University and its predecessor Victoria College.
Since his retirement from Australian politics in 2012, Dr Brown has established The Bob Brown Foundation which aims to raise awareness and organise campaigns in relation to environmental issues affecting ecosystems and species around Australia and in Antarctica.
The presentation is free, but places are limited. For more information and to register by Monday 4 August 2014 visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/environmental-sustainability-making-a-difference-tickets-12086261333
(Image supplied with permission from the Bob Brown Foundation)
Dr Nicholas Porch will be travelling to Germany after receiving an Australian Academy of Science grant in support of a project to bring together data on Australian diving beetles with the aim of predicting how they may be affected by global change.Deakin University palaeoecologist and beetle researcher
An ARC DECRA Fellow in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and a member of the Centre for Integrative Ecology, Dr Porch was one of thirteen researchers awarded grants under the German-Australian Mobility Call for Collaboration in Science and Technology in Biodiversity and Preventative Health in 2013-2014. Dr Porch’s project, ‘Predicting Global Change impacts on Australian aquatic biodiversity’, will bring together data on the diversity, biogeography and phylogeny of Australian diving beetles (Dytiscidae) with the aim of predicting the impact of global change on this ‘diverse, largely endemic, and ecologically significant part of the Australian fauna’.
Diving beetles are key predators in aquatic ecosystems across the planet and are extensively used in monitoring water quality, human impact, and climate change.
In Germany Dr Porch will be working with researchers led by Dr Michael Balke from the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich.
‘Dr Balke works extensively on Australian, Asian and Pacific water beetles, and their relationships,’ Dr Porch explains.
‘I’ve met him in several places over the years, particularly in relation to the Pacific region, which is where much of my research happens, and I have co-authored a paper with Dr Balke and his collaborators.
‘Basically we have parallel interests: the crew in Germany in terms of the taxonomy and phylogeny, which means the names and evolutionary relationships of the species, and me in terms of the distribution and the long term impacts of climate change on the fauna.
‘This project will enable us to integrate data that we have in Australia and in Germany - they have >10,000 specimens of Australian beetles in their collections - so what we want to do in this first stage is consolidate this, which will allow a much better understanding of these organisms, and then move on for further detailed analyses.’
Dr Porch is planning to travel to Germany in November this year.
The value of Australia’s newly established network of marine parks has been highlighted by an international project that used satellites to track the vulnerable flatback sea turtle.
Researchers from Deakin University, Swansea University (United Kingdom) and Pendoley Environmental consultancy used advanced satellite tracking systems to record the passage of more than 70 flatbacks off the north-west Australian coastline.
A high value migratory corridor, more than 1,000 kilometres in length, was pinpointed, with about half the corridor contained within the network of marine reserves.
‘Our findings show that much of the flatback turtle’s transit passage - between its breeding colonies and foraging grounds - falls within the newly established Commonwealth Marine Reserve network,’ Deakin University animal movement expert Professor Graeme Hays says.
‘These findings will help refine ongoing conservation planning to protect this wide-ranging turtle species using the Australian coast, including the identification of high use areas outside the existing reserve network.’
Read more about the research in the full media release.
Watch an interview with Professor Hayes on the ABC news website.
A record rainfall event in Western Australia’s Goldfields region in early 2014 gave Deakin University PhD student Reece Pedler a rare opportunity to witness a breeding event of the small wading bird that is the focus of his research - the Banded Stilt.
Thousands of the birds headed to Lake Ballard in WA to breed when this lake and dozens of others filled after receiving an entire year’s rainfall in just a few days.
Mr Pedler, from the Centre for Integrative Ecology in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, travelled to the area following the exceptional rainfall to search for breeding events.
‘Banded Stilts spend a lot of time in saline wetlands near the coast; however, they save up their breeding opportunities for times when exceptional rainfall events fill up inland salt lakes,’ Mr Pedler explains.
‘Stilts are known for their uncanny ability to detect these events from hundreds of kilometres away, disappearing from their coastal haunts to breed in colonies on islands in these lakes, with breeding pairs sometimes numbering tens of thousands.
‘Only a handful of breeding events have been recorded for this species given that they nest in some of the most remote parts of Australia’s arid inland. After rainfall, these areas are even more difficult to access and we think the stilts’ rapidly completed breeding colonies often go undetected.’
After learning of this rainfall event, Mr Pedler contacted the large network of bird watchers and shorebird conservation volunteers involved with his project.
‘All reported back that the thousands of Banded Stilts which had been at their local lakes had suddenly disappeared,’ Mr Pedler says.
‘Knowing that the stilts had all moved and that there was water at some of the Goldfields salt lakes, we put two and two together and also headed inland. With some fantastic collaboration and support from local Department of Parks and Wildlife staff and air charter operator Goldfields Air Services, we hit the jackpot, finding a breeding colony of about 5,000 pairs on a tiny island in Lake Ballard during a flyover.
‘Despite freshly filled swamps and boggy ground, we managed to get on the ground to collect data from the colony and also to attach satellite transmitters to 12 of the adult stilts. These have since dispersed to other salt lakes all over inland Western Australia and we are getting some fantastic insights into the movement behaviour of this enigmatic species.’
The title of Mr Pedler’s thesis is ‘Movements and ecology of the Banded Stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus)’ and his supervisors are Professor ATD Bennett, Dr RFH Ribot, Dr M Weston, Professor B Buttemer and Associate Professor DC Paton.
Photo credit: Lynn Pedler
Deakin University chemical scientist Associate Professor Paul S. Francis has been admitted as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC). This follows his election to Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (FRACI) in late 2013, in recognition of his authoritative international standing in the field of chemistry.
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is described as the world's leading chemistry community, with over 48,000 members.
‘I feel really honoured to be recognised in this way,’ Associate Professor Francis says.
‘I have been a member of the RSC for over a decade and I believe that they play an important role, not only in the field of chemistry, but also in the communication of scientific research to the wider community.’
Associate Professor Francis’ path to becoming a chemical scientist began in 1995 as an undergraduate in Deakin’s Bachelor of Science course, followed by a PhD, which he completed in 2003. He continued his research at Deakin, first as postdoctoral research fellow, and then as a Lecturer in Chemistry in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences in 2010.
He currently holds a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, administered by Deakin, with La Trobe University and the University of Manchester involved as host institutions. His current program of research is focused on the development of highly sensitive luminescence-based detection systems for applications in areas such as clinical diagnostics and illicit drug screening.
Associate Professor Francis has over 100 research publications and has been recognised with honours such as a Victorian Young Tall Poppy Science Award (from the Australian Institute of Policy and Science), and the RACI Robert Cattrall Medal for early career excellence in analytical chemistry.
World renowned zoologist and ecologist Professor Lord Krebs Kt FRS FMedSci will talk to Deakin University undergraduates, PhD students and young researchers, including via a Question and Answer session.
Lord Krebs began his research career in zoology. His early research was on the function of bird song, and decision rules that animals use for finding food. During this time, he largely created the field of behavioural ecology, for which he has written four editions of the key textbooks in the area. He has also conducted pathbreaking work in other areas of ecology and neuroscience, and has authored over 300 papers.
Currently, he chairs the UK’s House of Lords Select Committee for Science and Technology. He also sits on the UK Climate Change Committee, chairs its Adaptation Sub-Committee, and is also Principal of Jesus College, Oxford. Before this period, he was Chief Executive of the UK Natural Environment Research Council, and inaugural head of the UK’s Food Standard Agency. He has also been President of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, President of the British Science Association, is a foreign Fellow of the US National Academy of Science, and a Fellow of the Royal Society in London.
Three main events are planned involving Deakin University:
At the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus on the morning of Tuesday 18 March, from 11.00 to 11.45, Lord Krebs will speak to Deakin Zoology and Animal Science undergraduates - and other interested undergraduates, postgraduates and postdocs - on ‘My Zoological Life’. This will be a wonderful opportunity for students to hear Lord Krebs talk about his life experiences as a zoologist and ecologist and to ask him questions. The location for this talk is room na1.417 in the Geelong Technology Precinct (GTP) building.
In the afternoon from 2.00 to 2.50, Lord Krebs will have a Question and Answer session with young researchers (i.e. PhD students, postdocs, honours students). This session will be in room ka4.207 (the Green Room), also on the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.
On Wednesday 19 March, he will give a public lecture, ‘International and national perspectives on adapting to climate change: a conversation between ABC’s Robyn Williams and Professor Lord Krebs’. This will take place at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne. The lecture is sponsored by Deakin University and the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research. More information can be found on the LES event webpage.
A paper co-authored by Deakin University researchers and published in the The Journal of Experimental Biology (JEB) about how parrots see their colours was also selected as that issue’s cover story and featured in the journal’s ‘Inside JEB’ section.
Dr Ben Knott, Dr Mathew Berg, Associate Professor Kate Buchanan and Professor Andy T. D. Bennett from the Centre of Integrative Ecology in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences collaborated with colleagues from Western Australia and the United Kingdom on the paper, which was published in JEB’s 1 December 2013 issue.
‘We were studying the colour vision of the Adelaide rosella to lead in to a bigger study assessing whether the considerable colour differences in plumage observed in the crimson rosella - a single species group in south-eastern Australia that comprises crimson, yellow and Adelaide rosellas - corresponded to differences in how the birds perceived colour,’ Dr Knott explains.
‘First, using custom-built microspectrophotometers in London and at the Waurn Ponds campus, we measured the colour sensitivity of individual cells in the rosella retina. Following this, we sequenced the light-sensitive proteins in the eye, and found sequences that could potentially affect the function of these proteins, and that were unique not only to birds, but unique to all vertebrates. These sequences are now the basis for an ongoing comparative study.’
On the basis of the paper, a photograph of an Adelaide morph of the crimson rosella by Deakin Research Fellow Dr Raoul Ribot was chosen to appear on the front cover of the issue.
Follow this link to the issue on the JEB website.
Knott, B., Davies, W. I. L., Carvalho, L. S., Berg, M. L., Buchanan, K. L., Bowmaker, J. K., Bennett, A. T. D. and Hunt, D. M. (2013). How parrots see their colours: novelty in the visual pigments of Platycercus elegans. Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 4454-4461.
Professor John Endler, Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology, is co-author of a paper which could have implications for the way archaeologists analyse ancient ceramics.
‘How Can Ten Fingers Shape a Pot? Evidence for Equivalent Function in Culturally Distinct Motor Skills’ was published in the online journal PLOS ONE in November 2013. Co-authors with Professor Endler were Enora Gandon, Reinoud J. Bootsma and Leore Grosman.
A media release about the paper was also featured on the ScienceDaily research website.
‘We examined the use of hand positions by potters in French and Indian cultural settings, making pots of a common simple shape they do not normally make, in order to investigate whether or not culture influences motor patterns and the outcome of motor patterns - the final shape of the pots,’ Professor Endler explains.
‘We used a mathematical description of shape called the elliptical Fourier transform to describe the shapes of each pot made by each potter in each culture. We found that although the potters did use different, largely culture-specific, hand positions, the end result was the same shape.
‘So different cultures are using different methods to arrive at the same solution. This means that a lack of difference in archaeological pottery samples does not necessarily mean the samples came from the same culture.’
Professor Endler says the study used a method he originally devised to describe the shapes of biological samples.
‘My part was to do the shape analysis and relate it to the rest of the study. I devised the method many years ago to describe the shapes of leaves and other biological samples, so it is pleasing to see it applied to human artefacts too. It fits into my research in that I am generally interested in the interaction between form and function.
‘Most of my work has dealt with visual signals, although my recent work with bowerbirds also deals with (bowerbird) artefacts,’ Professor Endler says.
Gandon E, Bootsma RJ, Endler JA, Grosman L (2013) How Can Ten Fingers Shape a Pot? Evidence for Equivalent Function in Culturally Distinct Motor Skills. PLoS ONE 8(11): e81614. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081614.