ARC Discovery grant successes

We were thrilled to learn last week that CIE members were awarded not one, not two, but THREE Discovery Project grants from the Australian Research Council.

We wish a huge congratulations to Prof Andy Bennett, Dr Mathew Berg, Prof Kate Buchanan, Dr Mylene Mariette, Dr Euan Ritchie and their collaborators on their success. Below is a summary of the three projects that will be hosted by the Centre for Integrative Ecology. Prof John Endler is also an investigator on a UQ-led project titled ‘Unravelling reef fish vision through gene-editing and behavioural ecology’. These prestigious grants are hard-won, with this year’s success rate being just 18.9%.

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Leader of the pack: social structure and predator management

  • Dr Euan Ritchie; Professor Elissa Cameron (University of Tasmania); Professor Robbie McDonald (University of Exeter, UK); Professor Darren Croft (University of Exeter, UK); Dr Jose Montoya (Stanford University, USA)
  • $424,824.00
  • This project aims to quantify the importance of the individual in behaviour and social structures when managing social predator populations to protect economic and environmental assets. Using dingoes as a model system this project will characterise social structure and behaviour under varying management scenarios. This information will be embedded within models of ecological networks to examine the effects of disrupting dingo packs on biological communities. The project expects to improve understanding of how behaviour and social interactions influence ecological outcomes, improving conservation and management.

Genomic diversity, tolerance and ecology of wildlife disease

  • Professor Andy Bennett; Professor Soren Alexandersen; Professor Scott Edwards (Harvard University, USA); Dr Mathew Berg
  • $309,762.00
  • This project aims to understand the regulation of viral disease by vertebrate hosts. Viruses are rapidly evolving threats to humans, agriculture and wildlife and understanding of these threats can be transformed by combining the latest genomic, ecological and immune-pathological approaches. This project expects to reveal how hosts manage the bad effects of viruses in natural populations and fill gaps in fundamental knowledge of virus-host evolution. Anticipated benefits include improved management, risk assessment and decision-making for animal disease and biosecurity in Australia and globally.

Revisiting the ontogeny of vocal learning in birds: from neuron to fitness

  • Professor Katherine Buchanan; Dr Mylene Mariette; Professor Robert Dooling (University of Maryland, USA)
  • $393,192.00
  • This project aims to test the hypothesis that acoustic exposure prior to hatching directly affects gene expression, neural development, behaviour and consequently fitness, in wild populations of songbirds. Recent research suggests that animals are receptive to acoustic parental signals long before birth and may use such previously unrecognised signals to make adaptive developmental decisions. This project will quantify the effect on neural development and vocal learning in embryonic birds, employing a model songbird species. The outcomes of this study will transform our understanding of the adaptive potential of prenatal vocal learning, which will have significant benefits for human speech and language development.

Women ecologists provide strength in numbers

Originally published at deakin.edu.au here

Encouraging girls into science is a tough ask, but one that surely benefits from role models. Nationally and internationally there is a recognition of the lack of representation of women in scientific jobs. However, it’s clear that the Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) is bucking that trend – with excellent female representation in traditional STEM subject areas.

The number of early and mid-career women researchers in Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) has reached a critical mass. There are currently 62 women in the CIE, out of a total of 139 members, including PhD students.

Their projects aim to build understanding of the interactions between animal behaviour, physiology and ecology, with the aim of explaining the distribution and resilience of our animals and ecosystems, particularly in the face of environmental change.

Many of CIE’s female staff and students also have young families and have had to devise creative ways to balance the challenges of family and work. These have included setting up flexible, part-time working arrangements, engaging in informal support networks, and providing grant and publication reviewing and career mentoring for one another.

The most senior female researcher in CIE, ARC Future Fellow Professor Kate Buchanan has three primary school-aged children of her own and juggles the demands of managing an active research team with a busy household. This can be stressful at times, but CIE’s critical mass of supportive, like-minded female academics reduces some of the difficulty.

“Authorship by women academics in ecology is about 30 per cent internationally,” she said. “As a proportion of the academic staff, the CIE has a higher proportion of female researchers. It’s not clear exactly why, but it’s likely to be in part a result of the supportive culture we have developed, with backing from CIE Director, Professor Marcel Klaassen, himself a father of three daughters.

“In the CIE, part-time work is commonplace, as well as working from home, working flexible hours and using whatever means we can to support our families and achieve our career goals. If women can find or invent an environment that encourages research activity within the bounds of family demands, female academics can thrive.

“Women understand the issues faced by other women. We are not born self-publicists, so we try to encourage each other to promote our work and develop our career pathways”. PROFESSOR KATE BUCHANAN, ARC FUTURE FELLOW PROFESSOR

“As a mid-career academic, I greatly appreciated participating in Deakin University’s “Academic Women Aspiring to Leadership” program and found the training and advice offered by the University very much supported my career goals. The excellent provision of on-campus childcare at the University has also been vital in allowing me to maintain my research outputs, whilst I managed young kids.”

Dr Lee Ann Rollins and Dr Mylene Mariette are successful early career researchers at the CIE, undertaking important evolution-related research. Both are recipients of prestigious ARC “Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards” (DECRAs) to support their research, and both have had their findings published in leading science journals in the past year.

A geneticist specialising in invasive species, Dr Rollins is focusing her DECRA on rapid evolution of cane toads at their invasive “front line”. She is seeking to understand whether rapid evolution occurs through genetic or epigenetic means; in other words, whether changes in organisms are caused by modification of gene expression, rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

“Cane toads in Australia have very little genetic diversity, but huge differences in phenotypes,” Dr Rollins explained.

“In Western Australia, for instance, cane toads have longer legs than those in the east. In the absence of genetic variation, it is possible epigenetic modifications underlie the rapid changes we’ve seen.

“Traditionally, epigenetic modifications were thought to drive short-term individual modification, but not evolutionary change. We are using Australian cane toads to test whether epigenetic change is influencing evolution in this system.”

Dr Rollins is the mother of two high school students, and has a “super-supportive partner” who has been their primary care-giver for the past several years. She is enthusiastic about the value of strong female role models in academia.

“Kate Buchanan has been an amazing role model and mentor to almost every female researcher in the CIE – she is especially sensitive to the issues that are important for us,” she said.

“This can make all the difference to someone’s career.”

Also researching evolution, Dr Mariette and her team have produced the first evidence that zebra finch parents can adjust the development of their offspring within the egg in response to air temperature by modifying their calls. This previously unknown ecological function for embryonic hearing abilities could prove critical for the survival of a number of bird species in a warming climate.

Associate Professor Rebecca Lester is another CIE researcher juggling family and academic responsibilities. Associate Professor Lester, based at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus, has reduced her hours to spend time with her 18-month old son. However, she is passionate about continuing her research into ways to improve freshwater and estuarine management systems, “so we can have clean drinking water, adequate irrigation and water for other uses, and keep the natural systems healthy.”

While Associate Professor Lester was on maternity leave, a postdoctoral researcher was appointed to keep her research program on track, while sessional staff covered her teaching duties.

“In the past, during maternity leave for most academics the research would have just sat there, but we managed to ‘line up all the ducks’ and get this covered,” she said.

“We hope this can become more standard support.”

The value of the work of CIE’s women researchers seems almost incalculable. Thanks to their determination and collaboration, they are providing crucial insights as to how the environment might be protected in the face of unprecedented pressures from climate change, population growth and development – so future generations can enjoy it as we do.

Metrics reveal true efforts of work and motherhood

Burwood-based conservation scientist Dr Emily Nicholson has been inspirational in her efforts to advance her career, protect the planet and support other women scientists.

Seeking a permanent research position while caring for three young sons, she encountered a career brick wall. Then she discovered that reframing her achievements could provide a way forward.

She took a scientific approach to the problem, realising that reporting her productivity metrics to account for her time away from work, including numbers of publications, citation rates and grant income – and showcasing her time away from work – would help to ensure she was judged fairly. The approach worked. She gained a tenured post in the next position she applied for, at Deakin.

More importantly, she shared her tactics in a paper in the internationally leading journal “Science” and became a role model for women across the globe. Her article has been viewed over 25,000 times since it was published in May 2015, and is in the top one per cent of all articles measured by Altmetrics for social media reach.

In 2015 Dr Nicholson was acknowledged as an outstanding female leader in STEM research through an inaugural “Inspiring Women Fellowship” a scheme funded by the Victorian Government through the Office of the Lead Scientist and delivered by veski.

She also received a 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Award, as part of the global research team that developed a new framework for ecosystem risk assessment, the Red List of Ecosystems. The Red List has been adopted as the global standard by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the world’s biggest environmental organisation – and by governments, researchers and NGOs worldwide, and has influenced Australian policy.

ABC TV Catalyst: Can Seaweed Save the World?

CIE members Dr Alecia Bellgrove and Dr Peter Macreadie recently featured in an episode of the ABC’s Catalyst program titled “Can Seaweed Save the World?”.

Professor Tim Flannery investigates how seaweed is helping to save the world – from growing the foods of the future, helping clean polluted water and even combating climate change.

Growing seaweed is now a ten billion dollar a year global industry. Tim travels to Korea to see some of the biggest seaweed farms in the world and meets the scientists who are hoping to create a seaweed revolution here in Australia.

If you missed this great episode, you can catch up on it here.

Australian Science Superheroes – Euan Ritchie

“During National Science Week in August 2016, Australia’s Chief Scientist launched the #5ScientistPledge to recognise Australian Scientists. Now, we’re shining a light on some of these Australian science superheroes with a new tag – #AusScienceHeroes.”

 

Our own Dr Euan Ritchie was featured as a Science Superhero and you can read the full profile here!

2017 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) – Register or come to show your support

Deakin’s research students will be battling it out on Wednesday 2 August at 3 pm at our 2017 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition for a chance to win a place in the Asia Pacific final.

The 3MT is an exercise in developing academic and research communication skills – HDR students have three minutes to present a compelling, plain language oration on their thesis topic and its significance. This is one of the most interesting events in the Deakin calendar and one not to miss. An overall Winner, Runner-Up and People’s Choice will be awarded at the conclusion of the 3MT so do come along and learn something new and have your say in the people’s choice winner.

To attend, please register HERE.

Date: Wednesday 2 August 2017
Time: 3 pm – 6 pm
Venue: Burwood Corporate Centre
Room: Level 2, Building BC
Campus: Melbourne Burwood Campus

To show our support for these students we would love to see the room full. If you can spare the time, please join us for a fun afternoon!

We hope to see you there!

(Posted on behalf of Professor Peter Hodgson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research)

Deakin Science and Society Network – Emerging Issues in Science and Society Symposium, July 6th 2017

Euan Ritchie, Tim Doherty, Don Driscoll and Marcel Klaassen are all part of the Deakin Science in Society Network (SSN), which brings together humanities, arts and social sciences scholars ((HASS), with physical and life sciences scientists, to find ways to best tackle and communicate some of society’s biggest challenges. The network is part of the Alfred Deakin Institue for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI).

The SSN received the tick for stage one DUCCF funding. The team has moved fast, having already had one meeting, a full day, facilitated workshop will be occurring on May 1st, and most excitingly on July 6th (9:30am-3:30pm @ Deakin Downtown, Melbourne CBD), they are going to launch the network by having an ‘Emerging Issues in Science and Society Symposium‘.

This inaugural Deakin SSN symposium is supported by the Australian Academy of Science. Euan Ritchie managed to secure Paul Willis (RiAus and Australia’s Science Channel) for this event too!

On the day, they will pair HASS scholars and scientists to discuss a hot topic (bushfires, food shortage…), where each person will have 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of discussion, with about 4-5 sessions on the day.

Prof. Marcel Klaassen hands the reigns as CIE Director to Prof. Don Driscoll

Marcel K.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Marcel Klaassen for being with the CIE from day one and to acknowledge his outstanding contribution to the Centre since then. Marcel served as Director of CIE since 2010 and worked day and night to place the centre as one of Deakin’s leading strategic research centers. He will continue to be part of the CIE as a member of the board and will continue his research work.

Don D.

Prof. Don Driscoll is taking over as the new Director of CIE. Don has a very broad interest in ecological research and a strong track record in leading people and organisations (he is also the President @ Ecological Society of Australia).

On behalf of everyone in the CIE we would like to wish Don all the best!

Dr Beata Ujvari to secure funds for the project “Nature’s solution, do immunoglobulins fight cancer in Tasmanian devils?”

Congratulations to Dr Beata Ujvari for securing funds for the project “Nature’s solution, do immunoglobulins fight cancer in Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii)?”, from Tasmanian Devil Grants, Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

The ‘Save the Tasmanian Devil Program’ is one of the largest conservation programs currently under way in Australia, and its research and management programs are significant world-class collaborations between the Tasmanian Government, the University of Tasmania and other leading research institutions.

Project grants and scholarships are funded from donations received through the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal via the Tasmanian Devil Research Advisory Committee, to support research and management programs that meet the key priority areas of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

 

Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment – Applications now open (closes 31 March)

esa-bannerThe man behind more than $1 million in funds for students, announced today by the Ecological Society of Australia, says it’s rare for philanthropists to donate for the environment.

‘The problem of managing ecological resources is very complex – more so than a simple little thing like the economy,’ says Dr Bill Holsworth, who has supported more than 830 students since starting the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment in 1990.

‘Very little philanthropy goes into funding ecological research. There are so many factors influencing the environment, but so little knowledge about what is going on. I’m hoping that in time we will not make so many stupid decisions in terms of managing the environment, wildlife, plants and animals, forests, deserts and so on.’

Bill Holdsworth

Dr Holsworth is a renowned ecologist, mammalogist, wildlife biologist and philanthropist. In 1989 Bill and his wife Carol established the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment to fund grants to universities for postgraduate students in fauna and flora. The fund is now managed through a partnership with the Ecological Society of Australia.

Professor Don Driscoll, CIE member and President of the Ecological Society of Australia, says the fund supports around 200 post-graduate students each year to conduct research in ecology, wildlife management, and natural history studies. ‘Individual grants of up to $22,500 for 3 years are available,’ says Professor Driscoll. ‘Applications are especially invited for postgraduate students doing field work on Australian native plants and animals, studies relating to the management of protected areas and rare or threatened species in Australia, and wildlife management relating to hunting, harvesting, pest control, and the effect of land management on native species.’

Students funded by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment have contributed in many areas. ‘Past students have gone in different directions, into university and school teaching, scientific research, public relations, advising governments,’ says Dr Holsworth. ‘All of these pursuits are valuable, so I couldn’t say which is my favourite. There’s a need to educate the public and politicians responsible for some of the mistakes that have been made or things that haven’t been done for the environment.’

The first round of 2017 applications are now open, and close on 31 March.

More information about the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment is available at: http://www.ecolsoc.org.au/endowments