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29/11/2012 Birds of a feather
28/07/2012 Aquaculture journal makes an impact
22/05/2012 Prestigious award for early-career scientist
18/05/2012 An insect's eye view of finding home
08/05/2012 Aquaculture research honoured
26/03/2012 Revolutionary research honoured
Recent findings by Alfred Deakin Professor John Endler and Dr Laura Kelley, Centre of Integrative Ecology, have been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.
Professor Endler and Dr Kelley have been studying the mating habits of the great bowerbird. Their focus has been on the importance of the visual illusions the birds create within their bowers in attracting females and ultimate mating success. (Bowers consist of a tunnel of sticks leading to a court area decorated with stones, shells and bones built specifically for mating purposes.)
Their recent findings show that while the male great bowerbird might be a master of visual trickery when it comes to luring females into their bower, they have a distinct way of decorating that they rigidly stick with, regardless of how successful they are at attracting mates.
‘We know from our previous research that the quality of the visual illusion the males create with the objects in their bowers predicts their likelihood of attracting a mate,’ Professor Endler explained.
‘We now know that each bird has a preferred approach that they stick to, even if that approach is not attractive to females, and regardless of the help we gave them in improving the quality of their display.’
Flocks of red and yellow rosellas in southern Australia are playing a leading role in helping Deakin researchers solve a longstanding riddle about the creation of new avian species.
Traditionally, it has been believed that geographical barriers were the causes of changes in species, but according to Dr Mathew Berg, School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Centre for Integrative Ecology, learned cultural characteristics, particularly birdsong, can also lead to these variations.
Reflecting the importance of this breakthrough work, Dr Berg and a team of researchers from Deakin and the CSIRO have just had a paper published in the prestigious journal PLOS ONE titled: ‘Learned vocal variation is associated with abrupt cryptic genetic change in a parrot species complex’.
‘The traditional idea of how a new species would come about is that a population would get separated by a geographic barrier,’ Dr Berg said.
‘They are physically prevented from exchanging their genes and so gradually over a period of time they will evolve to become different species.
‘We think it is not always that simple, because in southern Australia we have places where there is no physical separation between species, but where changes have occurred in the colouring of their plumage.’
Inland, the rosellas have yellow plumage, on the coast, it is red and in South Australia, there is a mix of the two colours.
‘One of the ideas proposed for this is that traits or characteristics that are transmitted culturally... these are things that are learned like language... might play an important role in triggering the process because in the early stages, they don’t rely on genetic differences for evolving,’ Dr Berg said.
‘They can change quite rapidly, and in a lot of species, vocalisations that they learn are also known to be involved in who individuals prefer to mate with.
‘So you might get these changes taking place quite quickly before any genetic changes can happen and they might cause different mate preferences or other differences between populations to take place.
‘That might then snowball, preventing the exchange of genes between certain populations in the same way a physical barrier might.’
Dr Rohan Bilney, School of Life and Environmental Sciences PhD graduate, has won the Australian Journal of Zoology’s Best Student Paper Award.
The award is presented annually to the best paper in the journal that arises from student work. Papers are judged by a panel of editors on how well they ‘make an international impact in zoological research using Australasian animals’. The editors noted that Rohan’s paper involved ‘a considerable amount of work on a difficult species and presented important findings that would likely have international interest - in addition to important conservation implications’.
Rohan’s paper - Reversed sexual dimorphism and altered prey base: the effect on sooty owl (Tyto tenebricosa tenebricosa) - was co-authored with his PhD supervisors Dr Raylene Cooke and Dr John White, also both from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
‘Australian predators, such as the Sooty Owl, are likely to have been significantly affected by declines in distribution and abundance of small mammals - which are their main dietary items - following European settlement,’ Rohan explained. ‘It is therefore important for Sooty Owl conservation that we have a detailed understanding of their diet and how they have adapted to ecological changes. An interesting aspect of their diet relates to differences between the sexes due to the significant size differences between males and females, which is the greatest of any owl species in the world.’
As well as being honoured to receive the award, Rohan said it was especially rewarding to receive recognition for his research. As part of his prize, Rohan will be profiled in an upcoming issue of the journal. Dr Cooke said the award was very much deserved.
‘Working on Australian owls is very challenging, with the Sooty Owl being no exception,’ she said. ‘Rohan worked extremely hard, in very difficult terrain, to collect data on these owls and this award is certainly deserved.’
Rohan is currently working for an environmental consultancy called Wildlife Unlimited which is based in his home town of Bairnsdale.
The news that Reviews in Aquaculture had received an Impact Factor (IF) of 4.036 in the ISI Journal Citation Reports© Ranking: 2011* was cause for celebration in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
‘Reviews in Aquaculture is a relatively new journal,’ explained Dr Giovanni Turchini, a fish nutrition scientist with the School based at Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus. ‘It was published for the first time in 2009 and was conceived and developed by Professor Sena De Silva, now Honorary Professor in the School, together with Dr Albert Tacon. The editorial manager is another Deakin staff member, Dr Thuy T.T. Nguyen.’
Professor De Silva came to Deakin in 1992 from the National University of Singapore and succeeded in building a team of researchers in aquaculture at Warrnambool, and gradually established a global reputation for its research. Until his retirement in 2006, when he opted to take up the Director General position of the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), an inter-governmental agency based in Bangkok, Professor De Silva was a leading researcher in the School and Faculty and was elected an Honorary Life Member of the World Aquaculture Society in 2005.
The ranking makes Reviews in Aquaculture, which is published by Wiley, the second highest IF journal in the category of Fisheries (and the highest of any Australian scientific journal). According to its website, the primary aim of the journal is to ‘provide a forum of reviews on developments in aquaculture techniques, policies and planning’. Professor De Silva said the ranking was particularly pleasing because Reviews in Aquaculture was indexed within three years of publication, when the average time for a journal to be indexed is seven years.
For Dr Turchini, the result was pleasing on a personal as well as a professional level.
‘I am particularly happy and proud of this result as Sena has been, is and will always be, my mentor. He is always very supportive of all research activities at the Warrnambool Campus,’ he said.
‘This is a truly fantastic journal which, I think, will increasingly be shaping the aquaculture sector globally, something which is particularly fitting for Deakin’s new worldly focus.’
* Impact Factor: 4.036 ISI Journal Citation Reports© Ranking: 2011: 2/48 (Fisheries)
Photo: (l-r) Shyamalie Senadheera, Sena De Silva, Giovanni Turchini
In a research partnership between Deakin University and Parks Victoria, marine scientists have captured rare video footage of fish and other marine creatures living on the seafloor off western Victoria.
Researchers have for the first time captured high resolution video of fish and other sea creatures in their natural habitat 100 metres below the ocean surface at Discovery Bay Marine National Park, 20 kilometres west of Portland. The video footage is part of a project to understand the links between the characteristics of the seafloor and fish communities across Victoria’s marine national parks and sanctuaries.
'Ultimately we want to know what it is about particular areas along the seafloor that attract certain fish and other sea creatures,' said Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou, from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the project’s lead researcher.
'Thanks to the latest in underwater video technology we are able to drop cameras to much lower depths than previously possible. The high resolution, continuous seafloor information we are filming is rare and for the first time we can see how marine creatures live on and near the seafloor.'
Deakin PhD graduate Dr Arati Agarwal has recently been announced as the winner of the Australian Society of Plant Scientists-Functional Plant Biology (ASPS-FPB) Best Paper Award for 2011. Presented annually by the journal Functional Plant Biology, published by CSIRO, the award recognises the best paper published in the journal in each calendar year by an early-career scientist.
Titled ‘Analysis of global host gene expression during the primary phase of the Arabidopsis thaliana-Plasmodiophora brassicae interaction’, the paper, based on Arati’s PhD research, was published in Functional Plant Biology, 2011, 38, 462-478. The paper is co-authored with an international team including Professor Jutta Ludwig-Müller of the Technical University Dresden, Germany, scientists from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries and David Cahill (Arati’s PhD supervisor) and James Rookes from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
The paper discusses a study that provided further critical insights into the biology of P. brassicae during clubroot disease development. Clubroot disease is of worldwide significance and in Australia is an economically important disease of brassica crops such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Importantly, as outlined in the paper’s conclusion, the study demonstrated that in the early stages of the interaction, suppression of defence-related genes during invasion and colonisation by the pathogen appears to be necessary for the establishment of the pathogen within host roots. This finding may allow targeting of specific genes and signalling pathways for disease control.
Arati received her PhD in 2009 and now works with the Department of Primary Industries Biosciences Research Division. She said she was very proud to receive the award, describing it as the ‘highest accolade she could have dreamt of’. She is also looking forward to attending ComBio2012 in Adelaide in September this year where she has been invited to present her work in a symposium and officially be presented with her award.
The way insects, and other animals, visually find their way back home will be the topic of an exciting public lecture at Deakin University’s Geelong Waterfront Campus in June by Professor Jochen Zeil from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.
How humans and other animals learn the location of places in the world - how to avoid some and visit others repeatedly - is crucial for their survival and reproduction. It is at the heart of feeding, finding mates, avoiding predators, defending territories and migration. Much has been learned about the sensory cues and computations needed for insects (and robots and humans) to find their way back to places. In his fascinating lecture, Professor Zeil will discuss visual homing in insects, how they do it and how this helps us understand homing in humans and other animals.
The lecture is the finale of the three-day scientific conference of the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASSAB), being hosted by Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology. Professor Zeil is President of ASSAB, and Professor of Ecological Neuroscience at ANU. Deakin’s Professor Andy T.D. Bennett, chair of the conference organising committee, said it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to host the event.
“Deakin has an excellent national and international standing in zoology, ecology, and animal behaviour,” Professor Bennett said. “We have numerous experts studying animal behaviour in the context of understanding animal colouration, migration, disease transmission, animal personality, wildlife and marine ecology, and conservation of native species, many of whom have received major recognition for their work both here in Australia and internationally.
“It is a pleasure to now be able to host this conference in animal behaviour, which brings together many of Australasia’s experts in animal behaviour and to highlight Deakin University as a rapidly growing centre of research excellence in Australia.”
The How Animals Find Home: An Insect Perspective public lecture is on Thursday 28 June at Costa Hall, Deakin University Geelong Waterfront Campus, 1 Gheringhap Street, Geelong commencing at 5.30 pm. Entry to Costa Hall is from Gheringhap Street.
Deakin staff, students and interested members of the public are most welcome to attend the lecture. There is no charge for attending. To assist with numbers, RSVPs are open. Please RSVP to Dr Pete Biro - firstname.lastname@example.org
Image courtesy Ruediger Wehner
Dr Giovanni Turchini from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences has been honoured at the Australian Aquaculture Awards.
Dr Turchini, who is based at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus, is part of a collaborative team involving researchers from the University of Tasmania, the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science which has won the Aquaculture Science Research Award.
“This is excellent news, not just as recognition for Giovanni’s outstanding research but also highlighting a really significant collaboration with two of Australia’s main Commonwealth research organisations and another university,” said Professor Gerry Quinn, Chair in Marine Biology in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
The winning project is titled Fish Oil Replacement in Australian Aquafeed and is helping Australian aquaculturists plan for a more economically and environmentally secure future by reducing dependence on imported fish oil as an ingredient in aquafeed.Read more about the award...
Deakin University's Professor John Endler has been honoured by the Australian Academy of Science. Professor Endler, a researcher within Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE), has been made a Fellow of the Academy.
Representing Australia’s leading research scientists, the Australian Academy of Science annually honours a small number of Australian scientists for their outstanding contributions to science, by election to the Academy. The Academy's citation for Professor Endler reads: Revolutionising the understanding of how animals perceive the world and pioneering the new science of sensory ecology.
Australia should consider actively conducting a large-scale project where populations of native apex predators - the dingo and the Tasmanian devil - are allowed to recolonise habitats where they once occurred as a way of restoring fragile ecosystems, Dr Euan Ritchie in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences has argued.
In an opinion piece published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, last month, Dr Ritchie and international colleagues from a number of universities argue that apex predators such as the dingo and Tasmanian devil can help ecosystems buffer against or ameliorate significant environmental challenges, including biological invasion, disease transmission and climate change.
‘I acknowledge this is a pretty radical argument and there are some negative effects that must be addressed but we believe it is something land managers need to consider, desperate times need bold measures,’ Dr Ritchie said.
Deakin University PhD candidate Dean Phillips has been awarded a $22,000 grant to support his research into ways of controlling the devastating plant disease Phytophthora, a pathogen best known for causing the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, and Dieback, which kills many Australian native plants.
Dean received the Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) Award for his research into ‘curing Phytophthora plant diseases by targeting a genetic missing link’ as part of this year’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, presented the awards at a gala dinner in Canberra recently.
Associate Professor Peter Beech, from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Burwood and Dean's PhD supervisor, describes Dean's work as potentially of great importance in the search for a cure for Phytophthora.
'This is a wonderful example of a student using novel methods - which he has largely developed himself - to open a window to future control of this very widespread pathogen,' says Associate Professor Beech.
'Phytophthora not only decimates our native flora, but it is responsible for billions of dollars in crop losses around the world each year. I also love that this is a truly cross-campus effort, with Dean having worked closely with our ever-generous colleagues in LES at Geelong: most notably Professor Dave Cahill's (Dean's co-supervisor) plant pathogen group, and the chemists Gail Dyson, Xavier Conlan and Luke Henderson. Dean's award from HAL is a great recognition of his and others' efforts and the potential of the work.'
Dean - who also did his undergraduate degree at Deakin in Environmental Management - plans to use 'cutting-edge technology' to develop targeted antibiotics to control the Phytophthora pathogen. His current research builds on his earlier discovery of a protein unique to Phytophthora.
‘I have always been intrigued by the idea of using molecular techniques more commonly associated with medical science to solve our most pressing environmental problems,’ explains Dean. ‘And I am hopeful that this research will result in a cure for this devastating disease.’
Deakin University PhD graduate Dr Daniel Priebbenow can now proudly call himself a ‘Humboldtian’, after recently being awarded a two-year, fully-funded Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship.
‘These highly esteemed fellowships are awarded purely on the basis of academic merit,’ explains Dr Fred Pfeffer, Daniel’s principal supervisor from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences. ‘The AVH scheme teams the recipients with top researchers in Germany. Around 600 are awarded annually worldwide to people from all disciplines and, since 1953, 48 recipients have gone on to become Nobel laureates.’
For Daniel, becoming a Humboldtian is an honour.
‘I was very excited and privileged to be awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship,’ Daniel says. ‘Germany is well regarded by the rest of the world as one of the leading countries for research in chemistry and, as such, this fellowship will allow me to learn from, and collaborate with, some of the most renowned organic chemists in the world.
‘The benefits of the fellowship are not just for the next two years, it will continue to provide me with incredible opportunities and support for the rest of my career.’
Daniel’s PhD research at Deakin University focussed on new and rapid ways to construct pharmaceutically important heterocyclic molecules using the transition metal Palladium as a catalyst. Dr Pfeffer says Daniel emerged from his PhD program with four internationally refereed papers, the Rex Williamson Prize, a Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) travel award to attend an international symposium in Norway, and an invited student lecture at the National Heterocyclic chemistry conference - one of only three to be selected Australia-wide. And to cap it off, Dr Pfeffer says, his thesis required no corrections prior to acceptance!
The research project Daniel will be working on in Germany will focus on combining transition metal catalysis (e.g. copper, iron and palladium catalysts) and organocatalysis (e.g. chiral phosphoric acids or proline based catalysts). The ability of dual-catalytic systems to facilitate a range of transformations, not previously possible by organocatalysts or transition-metal complexes alone, has generated a great deal of recent attention. A number of the products arising from these new reactions are valuable for the synthesis of both natural products and pharmaceuticals hence new, more efficient, pathways to access these compounds.
Put in more simple terms, Daniel will be developing cutting edge methods for the rapid construction of complex molecules for the pharmaceutical sector.
A field trip by second-year marine biology students was the topic of a news story in the Warrnambool Standard recently. Dr Alecia Bellgrove from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences said the main focus of the project was for students to sample the biodiversity of marine organisms in the local environment.
Forty-one students collected samples of organisms from a variety of different marine and estuarine habitats from Warrnambool to Port Fairy over the course of a four-day fieldtrip.