Dynamic landscapes

Delivers environmental knowledge and management tools for landscapes in transition including the rehabilitation of lands and waterscapes damaged through human activities, such as mining and agriculture, and through the impacts of fire and a changing climate.

Recovering the richness of river plant communities

Federation University Australia plays a lead role in understanding the long term trajectories of change in the aquatic ecosystems of the nation’s largest catchment, the MDB, as well as a lead role in assembling records of human impact of lake ecosystems globally. The University uses many fossil indicators of change (diatoms, pollen, cladocera, stable isotopes), has recently published Australia’s first fossil pigment record and is now integrating ancient DNA into its toolkit for reconstructing the state of aquatic systems. While early regime shift is implied in many of these floodplain wetlands the attribution of the changes documented to non-linear threshold change requires a stronger documentation of changes in aquatic plant communities. Studies in select sites reveals losses of aquatic macrophytes and replacement by floating and emergent plants consistent with regime shift theory. From the 50 sites examined across the basin to date the group can extract several key sedimentary records to test the response of aquatic plant communities to the stages of wetland condition decline revealed from other proxy indicators.

Supervisors: Prof Peter Gell, Dr Michelle Casanova, Dr Giri Kattel , Dr Mike Reid (UNE, via the RUN Water Flagship)

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Investigate the biology of key weeds and impacts of crop residues on weed suppression in the southern region mixed farm and cropping system

Weeds present one of the largest costs to grain growers and are one of the biggest influences on the management of cropping systems. Their impact is multifaceted; they affect yield and management across all seasons, and sometimes crop price. Studies show that certain crop species and cultivars can consistently suppress weeds effectively at standard establishment rates. Hence, establishment of certain cultivars or cereal crops may effectively result in both in-crop and post-harvest weed suppression, in the presence or absence of use of post-emergent herbicides during the growing season. Further, little is known about the impact of long-term impacts of crop residues on weed seed bank dynamics and weed infestation. Therefore, in this project we will investigate the biology of key agricultural weeds and impacts of crop residues on weed suppression in the southern region mixed farm and cropping system. This project will also be supported by involvement in ongoing projects at Charles Sturt University.

Supervisors: Prof Singarayer Florentine, Dr Nimesh Fernando and Prof Leslie A Weston (Charles Sturt University)

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Reconstructing historical tropical cyclone records for Australia-Pacific: Making sense of climate variability and change

In recent decades, several efforts have been initiated to study past tropical cyclone activity by means of historical documentary evidence and geological proxies (referred to as 'paleotempestology') in order to extend the tropical cyclone records as far back as early Holocene (about 10,000 years ago). This is performed using various techniques including analyses of geological proxies such as oxygen isotopes in sediment cores extracted from lake beds, cave stalagmites, sediment deposits in shallow water oceans, oceanographic stratification and tree-ring chronologies. Past studies in the Pacific have primarily been on the reconstruction of general climate variability patterns and features such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). While ENSO is the major driver of inter-annual variability of tropical cyclones in the Pacific in the present climate, the extent to which it impacted tropical cyclone activity in the historic and prehistoric climatic states is not known. Given the strong relationship between ENSO and tropical cyclones in the Pacific, it is anticipated that ENSO variability derived from geological proxies can form an important statistical indicator of historical tropical cyclone activity in the Pacific.

Supervisors: Dr Savin Chand, Dr Jess Reeves, Prof Peter Gell

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Digital agriculture impacts for soil health and water management

There are a number of models that have been proposed for participatory approaches involving agricultural enterprises in the collection of farm level data for agricultural advantage and scientific research. This research will focus on supporting agricultural industry groups and their members to share the data they hold (historical and future soil test, sensor data from soil moisture probes, weather stations etc). Over time the enabling of digital agriculture will be extended to other groups such as agronomists, soil testing laboratories, the fertiliser industry. The ultimate research outcome would be a system whereby regular digital farm data contributes (seamlessly) to improving the resolution and coverage of data which is available to model trends and support sophisticated decision support and risk management tools. There will be linkages with international data exchange standards in areas such as SoilML, WaterML, SensorML and emerging global collaborations around standards for agriculture. As an outcome, productivity, public good and environmental outcomes will be substantially strengthened.

Supervisors: Assoc Prof Peter Dahlhaus, Assoc Prof Helen Thompson

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Long-term system reliability evaluation of mass movement in the covering system used in the rehabilitated mine batters

With the proposed decommissioning of brown coal power stations in the Latrobe Valley, the rehabilitation of the batters in the brown coal open cuts is an urgent issue for the mine operators in the area. During the life of a rehabilitated mine slope there are many uncertainties to be considered for design including variation of soil type, degree of soil compaction, climate, cyclic environmental actions and material responses, and the distribution of faulted zones in the covers and underlying geo-environments. All these uncertainties imply that it is necessary to adopt a probabilistic based design method for the rehabilitated slopes. The proposed research is to study the material variations in the drainage, fill and covering systems to be employed alongside the time dependent environmental processes and to propose a reliability based design method for slope stability evaluation to assist with decision making in terms of construction and maintenance costs versus failure costs.

Supervisors: Dr Jianfeng Xue, Dr Ali Tolooiyan, Prof Rae Mackay

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Revolutionising wildlife research – developing cost-effective sampling coupled with state-of-the-art DNA sequencing to save threatened species

The application of high throughput sequencing (HTS) technologies has vast potential for providing genotypic data for almost all vertebrate species. Non-invasive genetic samples (NGS) can be collected from any animal that leaves behind genetic material e.g. faecal pellets, feathers, egg shells, hair. The NGS and HTS approach holds a vast potential for improving success accuracy, efficiency, standardisation and reducing the cost of current genetic methods used in ecological studies for broad-based implementation in the ecological conservation field.

Supervisors: Dr Fiona Hogan, Prof Pierre Taberlet (French National Centre for Science), Assoc Prof Wendy Wright, Dr Simon Cook

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Firing a fire-prone landscape - protecting biodiversity or fuelling risk

As fire-induced changes in animal populations and their habitats are dynamic following fire, the landscape fire project has been designed to explore these changes in the long-term at 90 sites in southeastern Australia. From this project, significant research collaborations have been formed with fire ecologists.

Supervisors: Dr Grant Palmer, Prof Andrew Bennett

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Long-term ecological dynamics of the Gippsland Lakes

The Gippsland Lakes, Victoria’s largest Ramsar-listed wetland, is a dynamic and well-utilised estuarine environment. Extending from the large, freshwater Lake Wellington, with its fringing marshes, through to the intermittently closed and open Lake Tyers, the Lakes represent a unique opportunity to look at the response of such a strong ecological gradient to both climatic and anthropogenic influences through time. This project will use combined palaeoecological approaches (ostracods, diatoms, stable isotopes, sediment chemistry), to determine the major impacts on the Lakes over the past 1000 years and their ecological response.

Supervisors: Dr Jess Reeves, Prof Peter Gell

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How does landscape context influence flora and fauna recolonisation of rehabilitated environments?

Many mine sites are rehabilitated with the expectation that native flora and fauna will recolonise over time. However, we are still unsure of the influence of landscape context on recolonisation dynamics and community assembly. This project will investigate recolonisation of disturbed environments with a focus on the influence of broader landscape conditions. The student will analyse a combination of field, genetic and spatial data. The project will inform management expectations for the rehabilitation of disturbed environments, as well as contribute to recent theoretical research on biological community assembly.

Supervisors: Dr Nick Schultz, Assoc Prof Wendy Wright, Dr Simon Cook , Dr Fiona Hogan

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