About JCU Sustainability 2022 in review Environmental and Sustainability Science

Environmental and Sustainability Science

For many years, JCU has remained committed to addressing the complex, trans-disciplinary, increasingly urgent and interconnected issues of sustainability science development in the Tropics.

These seminars bring together international, Australian, and local JCU researchers to share their knowledge and experience with the broader JCU and northern Queensland community.

Please note these are all previous events, held during 2022. For upcoming events check the JCU Events calendar.

Events that related to activities that contributed to JCU's pursuit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) feature icons for the relevant SDGs.

Speaker: Prof Michael Archer | Head of the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory, Earth and Sustainability Science Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, UNSW.

Abstract: The Australia Mammal Fossil Site – Riversleigh World Heritage Area is in north-western Queensland on Waanyi Country. The Waanyi peoples are First Nations peoples and are the traditional owners of this land. About 40 million years ago, Australia finally broke away from Antarctica, fracturing the last remnant of the super-continent Gondwana. Isolated on the northward-drifting Australian continent, the evolving inhabitants of this landmass diversified during millions of years of environmental change. Prof Michael Archer with his Team from the University of New South Wales has been studying the fossils since 1978. These finds have enabled many scientists to improve our understanding about evolution, ecology, climate change and geological processes occurring in Australia over the last 25 million years. At last count, research at Riversleigh - a combined effort involving more than 100 scientists in more than 30 institutions and 10 countries around the world – has resulted in hundreds of scientific papers and more than trebled previous knowledge on the subject. There are some alarming synergies in terms of understanding what happened in the deep past at Riversleigh and what is happening today in the Wet Tropics.  A comparable cycle of temperature rises and falls occurred which left a clear record in Riversleigh’s rocks documenting the impact of climate changes on biodiversity. Deductions and conclusions can be drawn about the future of wildlife communities in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area based on work at Riversleigh. Prof Archer will also outline innovative and hopefully successful ways to use the fossil record to save critically endangered species from going extinct as temperatures continue to rise—in Australia and elsewhere around the world. His presentation will overview progress on the Riversleigh Project, and the Burramys Project which has proposed conservation translocation of the critically endangered Mountain Pygmy-possum from the alpine zone.

Biography: Professor Mike Archer AM, FAA, DistFRSN, FRZS, FACE, FWAAS (BA, Princeton Univ.; PhD, UWA) was born in Australia in 1945 but grew up in the USA. Since 1967 he has been a Fulbright Scholar, Research Assistant in the Western Australian Museum, Curator of Mammals in the Queensland Museum, Director of the Australian Museum in Sydney, Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales and currently Professor at UNSW. His research has focused on fossil deposits particularly those in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area since 1976, developing innovative strategies to save endangered living species such as the critically endangered Mountain Pygmy-possum, and efforts to bring iconic Australian species such as the extinct Gastric-brooding Frog back to life. He has supervised/co-supervised more than 100 Honours, MSc and PhD research students and produced >300 scientific publications and books.

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Speaker: Lucy Graham | Director CAFNEC |

Abstract: CAFNEC is going from strength to strength after operating in FNQ for 41 years. FNQ holds some of the most incredible environments in the world and like most precious things, has depended on the protection and stewardship of people. Lucy Graham, CAFNEC Director, will be highlighting the important work that CAFNEC volunteers and members are doing to take action and protect our environment and people. Climate action, biodiversity conservation, citizen science and more.

Biography: Lucy was born here at the Cairns Base, and grew up on the Atherton Tablelands. She has a deep love for our World Heritage Areas and the wide ranging nature that our region has. Prior to her appointment at CAFNEC in August 2019, Lucy has been actively involved with CAFNEC for more than five years, as a volunteer, management committee member and representative. Lucy has strong networks with a wide range of organisations and community groups in Far North Queensland, as well as in State and National spheres. Lucy has a B. Sustainability from JCU, and has trained with The Change Agency and for many years worked in Outdoor Education and Tourism. Lucy has worked with organisations such as The Wilderness Society, GetUp and the Queensland Conservation Council and brings knowledge and experience valuable to CAFNEC.

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Speaker: Dr Meghna Krishnadas | Senior Scientist | Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR)

Abstract: Ecological communities assemble as an outcome of abiotic and biotic processes acting at multiple spatial scales. What processes act in which way to filter species in a habitat or mediate coexistence of competing species is highly pertinent today—to understand how communities and ecosystems will respond to the massive changes occurring globally. I seek to understand the impacts of global change by applying fundamental ecological theory to understand and predict species responses and interactions. In my past work, I found that proximity to forest edges in human-modified forests alters the role of insects and fungi in mediating plant diversity. This empirical data combined with modelling and simulations showed that edge effects disrupt mechanisms that stabilize diversity of plant communities. My lab also employs a trait-based approach to understand plant species’ responses to abiotic and biotic factors. For instance, we have examined the extent to which key plant traits explain differences in seedling recruitment along an edge-to-interior gradient in forest fragments. Recently, we have delved deeper into uncovering the implications of intraspecific (within species) trait variation—a concept known since Darwin and re-emphasized recently in community ecology—for species’ response to environmental gradients. In this talk, I will share with you insights from my work in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot on how key abiotic factors and biotic interactions mediate assembly of plant communities at spatial scales ranging from the local to landscape.

Biography: As an ecologist, I investigate the mechanisms that maintain diversity in ecosystems. In a different life past, I was a medical doctor, but I left the hospital halls to walk the forest trails. My transition to ecology began with the realization that biodiversity was being lost at alarming rates. I went from activist to scientist because I felt that knowledge was essential to action, but I was also increasingly driven by intellectual curiosity about the complexity of life around us. When not thinking of science and conservation, I like to run, practice yoga and try out new fitness regimens. Good books, great conversation, and gastronomy rank high in my life agenda and someday I would like to farm (at least some of) my own food. I am currently in the process of setting up my research program at the Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB; Hyderabad India).

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Speaker: Dr Kevin Tao | Lecturer | JCU (Nguma-bada campus)

Abstract: Artificial intelligence (AI) might be no longer unfamiliar to you as it has been widely used around us. For example, when you receive an email, the email application might generate several reply options for you to choose from based on the content of the received email. In addition, in some professional applications, AI can be used to assist, for example, biologists in performing image analysis and predicting protein structure. Usually, training those AI systems requires a supervised deep learning approach, which requires a large amount of labelled data. Obtaining large amounts of labelled data is an expensive exercise, especially for applications requiring specialized domain knowledge. The contrastive learning technique, proposed in the research community in recent years, is a self-supervised learning method without the need for labels. In this talk, we will firstly introduce deep learning and latent space. Then we will introduce the contrastive learning technique. Finally, at a high level, we will show our recent work that uses contrastive learning for Radar detection points-based instance segmentation. Hopefully, by the end of this seminar, you can see the potential of contrastive learning and are motivated to think about how to adopt this technique to assist your domain research.

Biography: Tao Huang (Kevin) received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He received his M.Eng. degree in Sensor System Signal Processing from The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia. He received his B.Eng. Degree in Electronics and Information Engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China. Dr Huang is a lecturer in Electronic Systems and IoT Engineering and the program coordinator for the Master of Engineering (Professional) (Internet of Things and Data Engineering) at James Cook University, Cairns, Australia. He was an Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Research Fellow, a visiting scholar at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, a research associate at the University of New South Wales, and a postdoctoral research fellow at James Cook University. He has co-authored a Best Paper Award from the 2011 IEEE WCNC, Cancun, Mexico. He is a co-inventor of one patent on MIMO systems. He has served in several international conferences as TPC chair, track chair, program vice chair, and local chair. Dr Huang is a senior member of IEEE, serving as the MTT- S/Com Vice-Chair and Young Professionals Affinity Group Chair for the IEEE Northern Australia Section. He is a member of the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society and the Communication Society. He is a topic editor of Electronics MDPI. Before academia, Dr Huang held various positions in the industry, such as senior software engineer, senior data scientist, project team lead, and technical advisor. His research includes wireless communications, IoT, and interdisciplinary research that requires deep learning, such as object detection, instance segmentation, remote sensing, image processing, computer vision, and pattern recognition. More about his recent research work can be found at https://research.jcu.edu.au/portfolio/tao.huang1/ and the Intelligent Computing and Communications Lab https://www.taoicclab.com/

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You’ll hear four professionals share their experiences protecting our environment outside the traditional ‘environmental’ field. If you’re a student looking to expand the horizon of your career opportunities – this is the event for you! If you’re someone who loves hearing from diverse, inspiring changemakers – this is perfect for you! These leaders in their field will share their story and some tips for making an impact before giving you the opportunity to ask them question. This event is a collaboration with the student- led JCU Nature And Adventure Collective.


Dr Nicole Sleeman is a Cairns-based General Practitioner, and active member of Doctors for the Environment Australia. She is passionate about raising awareness of the connection between human health and the health of planetary ecosystems we depend on. She believes that health professionals have a Hippocratic responsibility both inside and outside of the consult room, to take part in caring for and regenerating the earth's ecosystems, and advocating for urgent action on climate change, for the sake of human health.

Irene is the chair of the Circular Economy FNQ and has been using data and atmospheric methane as guideposts to build a data-driven case to push for a ban of organics disposal in landfill by 2030.  Her passion for flora and fauna originates from growing up in Innisfail and spending time at Josephine Falls, Golden Hole, and Etty Bay in her youth.  She first became aware of the impacts of climate change in 1995 and has since lived an alternative lifestyle by exploring veganism, zero toxins and buying better and less.  She brings her data and analysis skills to social marketing to create behavioural change around waste, centring on the idea of waste as a resource.

Naim is a Solicitor with the Environmental Defenders Office. He grew up in Townsville, studying a joint Arts-Law degree at James Cook University, graduating with Honours in both Arts and Law. He began at the Environmental Defenders Office as a volunteer and was offered a paid position when he was admitted as a solicitor in 2019. In his 3 years of practice, Naim has provided members of the public and community groups free legal advice on public interest environmental matters, from protest and freedom of speech to cultural heritage, climate change and the Great Barrier Reef. He engages in seeking change to our environmental laws; authoring reports and submissions to proposed laws and appearing before parliamentary committees. His most recent report focused on how flying-foxes can be managed sustainably by co-designing and implementing management plans in accordance with local First Nations Cultural Protocols.

Aaron McDonald, is a Sustainability Officer at  Cairns Regional Council, where he works on projects to make the Council’s operations more efficient. He and his team deliver the Ecofiesta event every year and recently developed the Climate Change Strategy 2030, in which Council committed to reach net zero emissions for their operations by 2030. The sustainability team also support an array of community organisations to implement sustainability projects, including wildlife rehabilitation, Traditional Owner revegetation efforts, clean-ups, and renewable energy installations. In his personal life he has participated in environmental and social justice activism, community education, and eco-conscious event production, as well as running as a political candidate for the Greens in two state elections.

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Speaker: Kenny Peavy | Educator and author

Abstract: We are rapidly losing our connection with the natural world. A combination of urbanization, ubiquitous digital devices, lack of access to wild areas, and decreasing emphasis on natural sciences and field courses in schools are contributing factors. During his talk Kenny will share his experiences leading thousands of students outdoors for experiential expeditions that encompass adventure, cultural immersion, environmental education, ecology, and service learning throughout Southeast Asia. We’ll explore the impacts of playing and learning outdoors on students’ physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing. Using research-based evidence and personal anecdotes Kenny will underscore the benefits of teaching and learning outdoors. We will discover why parents and educators should encourage kids of all ages to unplug from their devices and get outside to explore and discover Nature while making deep connections with the natural world for a more sustainable future.

Biography: Kenny is originally from Georgia, USA. He’s been living and teaching overseas for 23+ years in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. He’s led thousands of students on Education Outside the Classroom Expeditions for cultural immersion, ecology, adventure and service learning throughout Southeast Asia. Kenny is currently the Head of Curriculum and Learning at Green Camp at Green School Bali. In his current role, he teaches science, math and English as a Second Language in an experiential outdoor setting. He’s ridden a bamboo bicycle from Thailand to Bali to raise awareness for sustainability in Southeast Asia and circumnavigated Phuket Island in Thailand in a kayak to spotlight marine conservation issues in the region. He is author of The Box People- Out of the BOX! An illustrated children’s book focused on sustainable communities with the message to get out of your box and play outside to make deep connections with Nature! As a result of his dedication to the environment, environmental education and conservation he’s been awarded Volunteer of the Year by both the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream Organization in the USA and the Malaysian Nature Society in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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Speaker: Prof John Terborgh | Duke University | Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences

Abstract: The anecdotes of old-timers like myself combine with hard data in pointing to a broad collapse of smaller fauna across North America (birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods). The list of possible causes is long and includes both direct and indirect pathways. Different groups of organisms may be experiencing different stressors, creating a complexity that offers no simple solution. At present there is no consensus in the scientific community, either as to what has gone wrong or what to do about it. We need a crash program, something akin to the Manhattan Project, to identify the key stressors and find solutions.

Biography: John Terborgh is James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science in Duke University and has current affiliations with the University of Florida – Gainesville and James Cook University, Cairns, Australia. His work focuses on tropical ecology, particularly plant-animal interactions and trophic cascades. He has published more than 300 articles and 8 books. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He was awarded a Pew Fellowship In 1992 and became a MacArthur Fellow in the same year. He was awarded the Daniel Geraud Elliot Medal by the National Academy of Sciences in 1996. He has served on the boards of numerous conservation organizations and in 1999 he founded ParksWatch, an organization dedicated to monitoring and publicizing the status of parks in developing countries. He remains active in research and conservation to the present.

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Speaker: Prof Martine Maron | UQ - School of Earth and Environmental Sciences Faculty of Science

Abstract: The birds of Australia are in peril. This is not surprising, since many landscapes across the temperate and subtropical parts of the continent landscapes have little habitat left, and habitat destruction continues apace. But as in many parts of the world, the bird communities that inhabit even the remaining potential habitat are degraded and impoverished. With conservation focus mainly on individual threatened species, or on ecological communities defined primarily based on their floristic composition, declines of faunal communities can easily be overlooked. Yet faunal community decline results in functional disruption that presages—and precipitates—broader ecosystem collapse. I’ll describe the continuing decline of woodland bird communities in Australia, its cause, its consequences, and what we need to do about it. A central character in the story is the remarkable noisy miner Manorina melanocephala, a native, territorial, highly social honeyeater which is highly effective at physically excluding most other bird species. Their territories are expanding due to subtle and not-so-subtle habitat shifts caused, in turn, by livestock grazing, fragmentation, fire and climate change. Managing this web of interconnected factors will be central to conserving and recovering the classic Australian bird community and the ecological functions it provides. But to support this recovery, we need to be able to define, measure and track the condition of the bird community. I’ll describe current research to develop a bioregionalisation of Australian bird communities and associated metrics of community condition. With the global success and wide coverage of citizen science databases, and the rapid expansion of acoustic monitoring, we may not be long away from being able to track in near real time the condition—and, let’s hope, the recovery—of bird communities at continental scales.

Biography: Martine Maron is Professor of Environmental Management at The University of Queensland, Australia. Her research group works on problems in environmental policy and conservation ecology, particularly the conservation and recovery of Australia’s threatened birds and woodland bird assemblages, and biodiversity offset policy. Martine chairs the IUCN’s Impact Mitigation and Ecological Compensation Thematic Group and is currently President of BirdLife Australia.

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Speaker: Dr Lisa Davenport | Research Scientist | University of Florida, Gainesville

Abstract: Since 2008, Dr Lisa has led teams at 6 sites across Amazonia (and adjacent lowland habitats) to track sandbank-dependent waterbirds, most notably the Orinoco Goose (Neochen jubata) and the Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger). The goals are: 1) to document intra-tropical migration strategies used by sandbank-dependent waterbirds; 2) to understand stopover ecology, and 3) to determine critical conservation implications under a context of strong government pressure for regional development, including dams. They have used several technologies with varying degrees of success, including tracking with satellite transmitters, GSM collars, remotely downloaded antennae systems, and ICARUS tags that communicate with the International Space Station. Satellite tracking tag systems have outperformed other methods considerably in our remote field sites, so are ultimately worth the high purchase costs to deploy. New migration systems have been uncovered for both the Orinoco Goose and the Black Skimmer, including what appear to be an “explosive” dispersal pattern for Black Skimmer from the best studied sites to date. High fidelity to both nesting grounds and certain stopover locations are observed in both species, offering opportunities to contribute to conservation needs. Orinoco Geese differ in their migration strategies geographically, probably as a result of cavity nest site limitation in sites with more open savanna and grassland habitats. The geese require safe moulting grounds and are already adapting to many human-dominated landscapes including cattle production areas and ricefields, which may be altering their movement ecology in certain areas.

Biography: Lisa has been working for over 20 years on studies of animal behaviour, ecology and limnology in the tropics, including studies on otters, elephants, birds, and oxbow lake ecology. She is a Research Scientist in the Department of Biology and the Museum of Natural History at University of Florida, Gainesville, and pre-COVID, had a yearly association with the College of Marine and Environmental Sciences at James Cook University as a Research Fellow. She has a keen interest in translating science into conservation, particularly on the issue of “paper parks” in tropical regions. In the course of this work, she has led expeditions in many countries, including in Peru, Brazil, Gabon, and in northern peninsular Malaysia. Recently she has been concentrating on studying intra-tropical migration in South American birds and is managing 6 collaborative teams that work in several South American rivers, including the Manu River in Peru, the Araguaia, Branco and Juruá rivers, plus the Pantanal wetland in Brazil, and the Meta River in Casanare, Colombia. Lisa is a National Geographic Explorer, a former councillor of the Association for Tropical Biology, and a co-founder of the Juruá Institute in Manaus, Brazil. She is also a founding member of ParksWatch with her husband, Dr. John Terborgh.

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Speaker: Dr Jamie Cleverly | Senior Research Fellow | JCU (Nguma-bada campus)

Abstract: Ecological and hydrological studies are becoming the focus of JCU's Fletcherview Tropical Rangeland SuperSite.  With co-investment from the State of Queensland and the Commonwealth's National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, as administered through the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, Fletcherview is becoming a hub of research activities in biodiversity, the study of ecosystem carbon and water cycles, forage dynamics, phenology of the vegetation, soil science, remote sensing of ecosystem properties and modelling.  In addition, Fletcherview is a site in Australia's burgeoning Critical Zone Observatory, with infrastructure soon to be installed to provide data and samples from the soil surface, through the vadose zone, and within the groundwater. In combination with the SuperSite, the Critical Zone Observatory will identify critical processes related to ecosystem processes from the top of the Reid River Box canopy to the groundwater below. This presentation will explore the activities and data collected thus far at JCU's Fletcherview Tropical Rangeland SuperSite and Critical Zone Observatory.

Biography: Dr Jamie Cleverly obtained her PhD at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in ecology (plant physiological ecology and community ecology), soil science and statistics.  Currently, Jamie is a Senior Research Fellow at James Cook University Cairns Nguma-bada campus, and the PI for TERN’s Ecosystem Processes sites in central Australia - the Alice Mulga SuperSite - and the new Fletcherview Tropical Rangeland SuperSite in north Queensland.  She is currently standing as co-chair of the global FLUXNET community council, director of the Australian and New Zealand flux research and monitoring network OzFlux, and Chief Editor of the international journal Advances in Meteorology.  Dr Cleverly’s research interests include the land - atmosphere exchange of carbon and water - and ecosystem ecology more generally - ecohydrology, ecophysiology, meteorology, climate, statistics and agronomy.

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Speaker: Dr Umesh Srinivasan | Indian Institute of Science |

Abstract: Earth is currently undergoing its sixth ever mass extinction, driven primarily by anthropogenic climate change and habitat loss. The biodiversity of the Himalayas is at special risk because of a rate of warming thrice as fast as the global average coupled with rapid forest loss. To conserve the exceptional biodiversity of the Himalayas therefore requires an understanding of how species’ traits (e.g., physiology, behaviour) influence their responses to climate warming and forest loss and degradation (e.g., agriculture, logging). I use a combination of comparative data from the western and eastern Himalayas and long-term demographic data from an intensive study site in the eastern Himalayas to investigate three key research themes: (a) the role of temperature in structuring bird communities (and how species’ thermal niches influence their ability to cope with forest loss), (b) the impacts of selective logging on the survivorship of Himalayan birds, and (c) how synergies between climate change and forest degradation affect the viability of Himalayan bird populations. I will discuss results from these research projects as well as the implications of these results for conservation.

Biography: Umesh Srinivasan is an applied ecologist at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore India. His work deals primarily with understanding climate and land use change impacts on biodiversity. In addition, he partners with tribal communities in the Eastern Himalayas on conservation projects.

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Speaker: Professor Hugh Possingham | Queensland Chief Scientist |

Abstract: Prof Hugh will discuss several experiences of how science has impacted policy and management, or not, over the past 30 years in various Australian states or federally. These stories may cover: rezoning of the Greater Barrier Reef, Commonwealth marine parks, the Brigalow Declaration, the Long Paddock Statement, Threatened Species Policy, EPBC Act biodiversity offsets, Monitoring and Evaluation, NSW biodiversity policy reforms, state forestry policy and regional planning. We can suggest improvements for the future.

Biography: Hugh is a conservation scientist and mathematician who has held positions in the university, public and not-for profit sectors.  He is a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. He completed his PhD at Oxford University in 1987 as a Rhodes Scholar and was most recently the Chief Scientist at The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organisation operating in 79 countries. A winner of two Eureka Prizes, his most significant contribution to conservation was the co-development of Marxan, software first used to rezone the Great Barrier Reef, and now used in almost every country in the world to inform the expansion of their marine and terrestrial protected area systems. Hugh has worked with all levels of government and many not-for-profit organisations, pro bono, to improve the state of Australia’s threatened species and habitats. He is currently on the board of directors of BirdLife Australia. Hugh has supervised over 200 honours students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows. He has published >650 peer-reviewed publications, >30 in Nature and Science.

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  • introduction by Prof Bill Laurance | JCU Nguma-bada campus
  • Tasmin Rymer: Cool thing we can do in science
  • TropEco: Sustainability in Action
  • Camila Lopes: What do you know about Flying Foxes?
  • Matthew Connor: Finding new species in your backyard

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Speaker: Dr Brian Roberts | Retired Ecologist | Cairns

Abstract: This work exposes the floristic change and climatic trends over half a century. A definite conclusion is difficult as the processes are still ongoing, and the authors found appropriate to summarize the factual findings rather than to attempt to close up the 50-years of dynamic study. Some of the finding over the course of the study are: mean annual temperature has increased by about +0.200C for the half century; the generally expected trend toward more drought-resistant plants has not been detected by the vast number of observations (up to 2021); and annual rainfall has decreased by an average of 1.0mm per decade over the past 13 decades.

Biography: Brian Roberts trained in Agricultural Ecology in South Africa and worked in Southwest Queensland from 1972 before he focused on establishing the National Landcare movement. Brian has held several professorial and published several books, first on grasses, then on Indigenous future, having grown up with tribal people. Dr Brian pays his respects to the Badjiri people of his study area.

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Speaker: Dr Tasmin Rymer | Senior Lecturer (JCU Nguma-bada campus)

Abstract: Mammalian paternal care is rare in nature, occurring in only 5-10% of species. It is also varied across mammalian taxa, and, consequently, there is no definitive ‘one size fits all’ hypothesis that adequately explains the evolution of mammalian paternal care. In 1963, Tinbergen described an integrated approach to understanding animal behaviour broadly. The proximate questions consider the mechanisms and development of behaviour, which are hard to untangle, and can collectively be described as the behavioural machinery. The ultimate questions consider the evolution and adaptive significance of behaviour, which are again difficult to untangle. In this talk, Tasmin will use this integrated approach as a useful framework for exploring mammalian paternal care broadly, providing evidence for some components from her work on the African striped mouse, Rhabdomys pumilio, and suggesting possible future avenues for exploration.

Biography: Tasmin Rymer is an animal behaviourist with a particular interest in the development and expression of behaviour and cognition. She has worked on a range of different species, including reptiles, various rodents, flying foxes and spiders. She obtained a BSc with Honours from the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002 in Zoology and Ecology, Environment and Conservation working on interspecific interactions of Kalahari tree skinks, pygmy falcons and sociable weavers. Thereafter, she obtained her MSc in African Mammalogy in 2003 from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, working on population modelling of African eland in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. She returned to WITS in 2005 to complete her PhD in Animal Behaviour, working on paternal care in the African striped mouse. In 2012, she moved to JCU to take up a position within the Zoology and Ecology group.

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Speaker: Professor Robert Wasson | Emeritus ANU, Adjunct JCU and UKM

Abstract: Oil palm plantations have contributed to increasing suspended sediment fluxes in rivers in the global south, threatening both fresh and coastal water quality. Erosion is also a limit to productivity in the oil palm industry of Southeast Asia and is a threat to below-ground biodiversity. Attempts to re-establish some of the ecosystem service of erosion control have focused overwhelmingly on one kind of erosion, namely that by sheet flow, with some attention to gullies. But catchment-wide changes to the erosion-sediment yield system in oil palm plantations has received little attention. This system has been investigated in a sub-catchment in the headwaters of the Johor River in Peninsular Malaysia by taking a sediment budget and historical approach, placing the last century of plantation agriculture in the context of the past five millennia. Before plantation establishment, first of rubber then oil palm, the sub-catchment was a sediment trapping system under lowland rainforest. After removal of the rainforest, greater runoff and the construction of drains led to valley incision, converting the sub-catchment to a sediment exporting system. As oil palm plantations are developed on steeper land, and for those already on steep land, an understanding of how to mitigate this kind of system change is crucial.

Biography: Professor Robert (Bob) Wasson is a geomorphologist who has studied desert dunes, palaeoenvironmental change on centennial to millennial timescales, fluvial systems, mass movements, cross-disciplinary methods, and extreme flood histories and flood mitigation strategies. He has held senior positions in CSIRO, at the Australian National University (Head of Geography, Director Centre for Environmental and Resource Studies, Dean of Science) and Charles Darwin University (Deputy Vice Chancellor Research). He joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2011 where he carried out research in India and Thailand on flood history and mitigation policy. He has done research in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, China, and Myanmar. He is Adjunct Professor at JCU and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and is Professor Emeritus at ANU.

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Abstract: Agriculture in rural China is undergoing monumental reform. The government narrative suggests that farmers are abandoning their land to live in cities and therefore the government is restructuring agriculture to achieve ‘appropriate scale farming’. Presented as a win for farmers and agricultural efficiency, the central government is encouraging smallholders to transfer their land operational rights to new agricultural operators (NAOs) - agribusiness, large family farms and farmer cooperatives. At the same time these new entities are being presented as “greener” than “poorly educated” and “backward” smallholders to progress a shift from agrochemicals to more organic agriculture. Drawing on data collected in the provinces of Hubei, Yunnan and Shaanxi through an ARC Discovery Project (DP180100519), the panel will discuss how farmers are responding to state ambitions for large-scale green agriculture.


Sarah Rogers is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Melbourne's Asia Institute and part of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies. She is a geographer who studies social, environmental and political change in China, predominantly in rural places. Her current research projects focus on agrarian change (through an ARC Discovery Project), the hydropolitics of mega water infrastructure (through another ARC Discovery Project), as well as the politics of poverty alleviation and resettlement.

Brooke Wilmsen is a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University, Australia. She is the Director of the Master of International Development and Convenor of the Major in Sustainability and Development offered in the Bachelor of Arts. A former ARC DECRA holder and current ARC DP awardee, her research interests include forced displacement, involuntary resettlement, climate adaptation, social protection and agrarian change. She predominantly works in China, although she has been involved in research in West Africa, South-East Asia, Australia and most recently, Maldives.

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Speaker: Mr Robin Hicks (editor of Eco-Business)

Abstract: Mr Robin Hicks will speak on his journalism career writing on sustainability issues. The topics include deep-sea mining, palm oil, meatless meat, plastic pollution, and the debate over carbon credits and conservation. He will also speak on his voluntary work in the weekends, and occasionally during the week for emergency cases, in an animal rescue team, called Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES). ACRES receives around 60 calls a day from concerned members of the public, and helps to rescue Singapore's wildlife from injury, dislocation, and human-animal conflict. Animals he has rescued include King cobras, pangolins, long-tailed macaques, colugos, monitor lizards, and hornbills.

Biography: Robin Hicks has worked as a journalist for 20 years, covering sustainability for the past 5 years, with a focus on Asia Pacific, the world's most climate-vulnerable region. Robin has a degree in Zoology from the University of Bristol in the UK.

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Speaker:  Dr Lyanne Brouwer | Lecturer, (JCU Bebegu Yumba)

Abstract: Social animals typically occur in viscous populations where limited dispersal allows individuals to benefit from cooperating with relatives. Despite these benefits, living with kin inevitably leads to competition for food and space, and may cause inbreeding with associated costs for populations. In this talk Lyanne will present results from long-term field studies, experiments and comparative approaches showing some of the sophisticated behaviours that birds have evolved to deal with these issues, which may help them to cope with ongoing environmental change.

Biography: Lyanne Brouwer is a behavioural ecologist with a particular interest in social behaviour of animals, and how such animals adapt to environmental change, like climate change and urbanization. After completing her PhD at the U. of Groningen, Netherlands she stayed at institutes in Norway, Germany and the UK. She subsequently moved to ANU and established a new field-based study system on fairy-wrens to study the risk of inbreeding in social species, initially supported through a Rubicon fellowship from the NL and subsequently by an ARC DECRA. A EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship brought her to Radboud University (NL) to study how urbanization affects avian population dynamics, before returning to Australia, where she is now lecturer in Zoology & Ecology at JCU Townsville.

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Speaker:  Dr Zoe Wang | Lecturer, James Cook University (JCU Nguma-bada)

Abstract: China’s countryside is changing. Long a smallholder dominant economy with small and fragmented farms, a suite of policies, regulations, and financial instruments are being mobilised to drive larger-scale, more commercialised, and more industrialised farming in China. Larger operators are transforming production and supply chains, while the operational rights and titles over farmland are being formalised so that smallholders can more easily transfer their land to large-scale producers. While land transfer is encouraged by the state, and existing research tend to hold the view that rural land transfer is a widespread phenomenon countrywide, is this the case? In this talk Zoe will present the extent and nature of land transfer in China by exploring its dynamics in inland provinces. Overall, land transfer from smallholders to other operators is generally quite limited a finding which highlights the ongoing viability of specialised smallholder farming and other site-specific barriers to scaling up.

Biography: Zoe is a Lecturer in Environment and Development at JCU, with a PhD in Human Geography from the University of Sydney, a Master in Environmental Management from Yale University and a Bachelor in Science from National Taiwan University. She is an interdisciplinary expert on environmental governance, natural resource management, agrarian change and rural development, with a strong focus on community-based and participatory approach. She has long time research experience in southwest China, a fascinating area with very high diversity of culture and nature.  In addition to China, her research area includes Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Australia. Zoe's research is based on extensive fieldwork and her analysis primarily adopts political ecology approach. For the most of Zoe’s research career, she has been conducting research looking at the influence of various environmental, development and agrarian interventions (e.g. NGO project, government policy and commodity market) on natural resource uses in China. Prior to joining JCU, her professional experience included Research Fellow at University of Melbourne and Visiting Fellow at City University of Hong Kong.

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Speaker: Associate Professor Tanya Jakimow | ARC Future Fellow, Australian National University (ANU)

Abstract: On May 21, Australians will go to the polls to elect the 47th Parliament of Australia. To date, Australia has failed to elect a Parliament that reflects the broader population by gender, cultural and ethnic diversity, age, socio-economic class and (dis)ability. The same is true of all levels of government across Australia, including the local level where opportunities for descriptive representation are higher due to smaller electorates and a greater number of positions. A/Prof Tanya will present ethnographic research conducted on NSW councils—including the 2021 local government elections—to shed light on why political representation remains ‘male, pale and stale’ in Australia. She will start by identifying the nature of the problem, then interrogate the ‘common-sense’ reasons for the overrepresentation of ‘white men’. She will then draw attention to lesser-known and (wilfully) ignored factors that need to be addressed to diversify local government. Then, Tanya will conclude by arguing for interdisciplinary research linked to social action for meaningful change.

Biography: Tanya Jakimow is Associate Professor of Anthropology in the College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU. She is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, working on a project examining women’s political labour and pathways to politics in Medan, Indonesia, and Dehradun, India. Her research has recently extended to examine representational practices in New South Wales, Australia, including the possibilities and barriers to political participation at the local level. She collaborates with scholars and practitioners in Indonesia, India and Australia, aiming to make theoretical contributions to the anthropology of politics (through an intersectional lens) and to enhance understandings about the enduring problem of political over-/under-representation in local government.

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Speaker: Laura Lopresti (JCU, PhD Candidate)

Abstract: Rainforests are experiencing the continued effects of habitat fragmentation, resulting in isolated populations with decreased genetic variation and increased competition from introduced plant species. The effects of this habitat destruction are a particular problem within the Rutaceae family in the Sydney Basin Bioregion. We investigated the reproductive biology of three rainforest Rutaceae species: White Aspen (Acronychia oblongifolia), Bauerella (Sarcomelicope simplicifolia subsp. simplicifolia)and the rare and threatened Illawarra Zieria (Zieria granulata), with the intent of improving conservation and restoration outcomes. Components of the floral biology were quantified to infer the pollination syndrome and likely breeding system of each species. A comprehensive investigation of the biotic and abiotic pollination vectors were undertaken, in conjunction with a manipulative hand pollination experiment to confirm the breeding systems. The results from this study depict the Rutaceae species examined require a pollination vector for the persistence of these populations and, these species rely on a broad suite of insects to set seed. The results will assist in the conservation and restoration of these rainforest species.

Biography: Laura Lopresti is an ecologist with a particular interest in the reproductive ecology of plants, including pollination ecology, and floral and seed biology. Laura completed a Bachelors in Conservation Biology (Honours) at the University of Wollongong, including a research component on viable seed production in rainforest Rutaceae. She has three years’ experience in the environmental consulting industry (NSW) working as an Ecologist and Project Manager on various restoration, conservation and sustainable development projects. Laura is a current PhD candidate at JCU where she aims to investigate what factors contribute to the reproductive success of invasive plants that have specialized plant-animal relationships.

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Speaker: Prof Gabriel Filippelli | IUPUI School of Science

Where: Crowther Theatre (A3.003, JCU Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield)

Abstract: Pollution from multiple sources causes significant disease and death worldwide. Some sources are legacy, such as heavy metals accumulated in soils, and some are current, such as particulate matter. Because the global burden of disease from pollution is so high, and so unequally distributed, it is important to identify legacy and current sources and to develop and implement effective techniques to reduce human exposure. ​One technique is through citizen-science, which is helping communities without adequate resources measure their own environments, and in this way gain agency in controlling local pollution exposure sources and/or alerting authorities to environmental hazards. This approach can yield a low cost, high access pollution sensing network at the scale of where people live, providing relevant personal environmental exposure data, engaging participants in the scientific process, and yielding valuable research results. Dr Gabriel and team have employed community-engaged research and citizen science, through the lens of lead poisoning, on a number of fronts. Several of them have developed and deployed large-scale garden soil programs to map the signature of lead contamination and to develop clear messaging to participants to mitigate hazards where needed. Additionally, they co-developed a global partnership to explore the indoor exposome (Map My Environment) which is already yielding scientific insights into potential indoor risks from exposures. Through engagement with communities, particular low-income communities of colour, they are attempting to eradicate environmental injustice and racism, enhance opportunities for training and youth development, and reach across the abyss that exists between universities and the very communities surrounding them. The future of GeoHealth will depend on building on these developments and others to protect a growing population from multiple pollution exposure risks.​

Biography: Dr Gabriel Filippelli is a Chancellor’s Professor of Earth Sciences and Executive Director of the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute. Filippelli is a biogeochemist with broad training in climate change, exposure science, and environmental health. Filippelli has published broadly, including publications in Science, Nature and Geology as well as in specialty journals and in popular press. He has personally directed over $9M of research funding over his career. He is the Editor-in-Chief for the journal GeoHealth, published by the American Geophysical Union. Filippelli is a Fellow of the International Association of Geochemistry, a 2022 Fulbright Distinguished Chair, and former National Academy of Sciences Jefferson Science Fellow, where he served as a Senior Science Advisor for the U.S. Department of State.

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SpeakerProfessor John Connell | University of Sydney

Abstract: The lives and livelihoods of the people of Siwai were first recounted in Douglas Oliver's A Solomon Island Society (1955) based on his fieldwork in 1938. Prof John first stayed there in 1974-76 and returned on several subsequent occasions, most recently in 2016. Thus a partial, fragmented 78-year-old ethnography exists: unusual in Oceania. This enables reflections on the long-term longitudinal study of a people whose lives have obviously changed substantially over that period, and the various interlocking strands, such as cash-cropping to the Kingdom of Papaala, of what constitutes the frustrating search for 'development'.

Biography: John Connell completed his PhD at University College, London in the late 1960s. In 1970, Prof Fred Fisk at the Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU, offered John a research job in Bougainville, PNG (John recalls ‘when I found where it was on the map I was sold’). This led to extended field work among the Siwai which fuelled many of John’s key research interests in development. In 1977 John took up a lecturing post at the University of Sydney, where he has remained ever since – apart from three years on secondment at the South Pacific Commission in Noumea (1981-84). John was elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia in 2000 and in 2007 won the NSW Geographical Society’s McDonald Holmes Medal, and in 2009 was award the AUSTRALIA-INTERNATIONAL MEDAL by Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG). In 2021 John was the recipient of Member (AM) of the Order of Australia. John has published extensively, especially on the Pacific, in total more than 40 books and 250 articles.

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Speaker: Dr Brooke Williams (Post Doctoral Research Fellow) | University of Queensland

Abstract: Human activities are encroaching further into Earth’s remaining intact ecosystems to utilize finite natural resources, resulting in profound losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services. As such, it is now crucial that patterns of human pressure on the environment are both well understood and well documented so that humanity can plan for the conservation and restoration of intact ecosystems. Where this is not possible, it is essential sustainable development occurs that balances multiple objectives within the regions that retain high levels of ecosystem integrity, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. In this seminar Dr Brooke will discuss work from her PhD where she analysed patterns of recent human pressure across Earth, and developed novel planning frameworks to help guide the conservation of intact ecosystems. She’ll discuss conservation planning in the post-2020 era of conservation, and what she’ll be working on over the next few years at the University of Queensland (UQ).

Biography: Dr Brooke research interests are in finding solutions to challenging problems that balance conservation objectives with human needs. Her PhD at the University of Queensland focussed on assessing the state of intact or under-developed landscapes and how to plan for their conservation considering competing objectives. She’s been lucky to work on several conservation and planning projects globally and across Australia, Central and South America, and Africa with various conservation groups including the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, and the International Institute for Sustainability Australia. Dr Brook is now working as a postdoctoral researcher with the Sustainable Landscapes Group focusing on private land conservation, modelling, and improving decision making considering ecosystem service flows.

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Speaker: Dr Claire Gely (Post Doctoral Research Fellow) | (JCU Nguma-bada campus)

Abstract: With climate change, droughts are predicted to become more frequent and severe in many tropical rainforests around the world. This is worrisome for rainforest trees because such trees are adapted to high rainfall, and drought-stressed trees may be more susceptible to insect attack. In temperate forests, millions of trees have been affected by bark beetle attack following drought events. So how will increased drought affect insect communities and insect attack on trees in tropical rainforests? For a long time, drought studies have been limited to glasshouse experiment using seedlings or saplings, but more recently a few large-scale drought experiments have been developed in order to study the impact drought may have on a forest ecosystem. One such experiment was established in the Daintree rainforest, in Cape Tribulation, in 2015. An infrastructure of plastic sheets was set up to cover about half a hectare of rainforest understory in order to simulate the effect of a decrease in rainfall. The Daintree drought experiment is the first drought experiment in the world to include a canopy crane allowing to collect samples from the forest canopy. In this seminar, Dr Claire Gely will present how this unique experimental set-up provides insights into the effect of drought on canopy and ground insects. We examine how drought affects insect abundance, diversity, community composition, and wood-boring insect attack. The Daintree drought experiment revealed major differences between drought effects in canopy and ground insects. The experiment also revealed an important increase in wood-boring attack on drought-stressed trees. There is a critical need for more tropical forest-scale drought experiments in order to better understand how drought will affect tree health through changes in herbivorous insect communities.

Biography: Dr Claire Gely is an ecologist with a special interest in climate change, rainforest ecology, and entomology. After completing her masters in Environmental Sciences in France, Claire completed her PhD in Biological Sciences at Griffith University in 2021. During her PhD she investigated how drought affects insect communities in Australian tropical rainforests. After working a few months as a research assistant at JCU, Claire is now a postdoctoral research fellow working for the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, JCU. Her current research is focused on the effect of drought on insect herbivory, wood-boring attack, and plant chemical defences against insect attack.

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Speaker:  Associate Professor Paul Nelson | (JCU Nguma-bada campus)

Abstract: Sustainable soil management means improving or maintaining soil quality and preventing degradation, so crop production can be maintained indefinitely. But we have known that for many years, so why is soil degradation still an issue? We now know that sustainability also involves maintaining functions of soil other than crop growth; helping prevent degradation of atmospheric composition and the state of downstream aquatic ecosystems in particular. But pollution of the atmosphere and water continues. Furthermore, agriculture is spreading and rapidly displacing vastly more diverse ecosystems in the tropics; what are the implications of that for sustainable soil management and vice versa? This seminar tackles the questions of why we have not achieved sustainability and what is needed to get there, focusing on the tropics.

Biography: Paul Nelson’s main interest is helping find more productive and sustainable ways to manage soil and water in agricultural systems. He obtained a Bachelor of Agricultural Science in 1987 and after working in soil microbiology and soil management groups in Europe he returned to Australia to obtain a PhD in Soil Science from the University of Adelaide in 1997.  Upon completion he was drawn to the tropics because everything is more diverse, productive, challenging, rapid and interesting here. After working as a Research Officer in the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations in Ayr and CSIRO in Townsville, he took up leadership of the Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association’s Agronomy group in 2000. In 2004 he moved to a joint position with JCU (Cairns) and the Qld Department of Natural Resources (Mareeba) and in 2010 he became a full-time academic at JCU. He is currently Associate Professor in the College of Science and Engineering in Cairns.

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SpeakerDr Noel Preece | Adjunct A/Prof (JCU Nguma-bada)

Abstract: Northern Australian savannas hold exceptional biodiversity values within largely intact vegetation complexes, yet many of the 180+ mammal species, and some other taxa, found in the region when Europeans colonized Australia are Endangered. Recently, 10 mammal species were added to the 20 or so already listed in the Australian endangered category, one up-listed to Critically Endangered, one to Extinct, 2 un-listed, 2 down-listed to Vulnerable and so on. Current predictions suggest that 9 species of mammal in northern Australia are in imminent danger of extinction within 20 years. We examined the robustness of the assumptions of status and trends in light of the low levels of monitoring of species and ecosystems across northern Australia, including monitoring the effects of management actions. The causes of the declines include a warming climate, pest species, changed fire regimes, grazing by introduced herbivores, and diseases. Conservation scientists and recovery teams are working to help species and ecosystems recover. Indigenous custodians who work on the land can provide significant skills and resources to save species. If Traditional Owners combine forces with non‐Indigenous researchers and conservation managers – and with adequate support and incentives – we could make substantial ground. Indigenous Protected Areas, national parks and private conservation areas provide some protection, but this network needs expansion. We propose establishing a network of monitoring sites by prioritising particular bioregions. Building a network of monitoring sites would not just help prevent extinctions, it would also support livelihoods in remote Northern Australia. Policies determining research and monitoring investment need to be reset, and new approaches implemented urgently. Crucially, funding must be adequate for the task. The funding needs to be returned to levels adequate for the task. At present resourcing levels, species are likely to become extinct through an avoidable attrition process.

Biography: Dr Noel Preece is an environmental scientist, conservation practitioner and researcher working in northern Australia and has been an environmental consultant for over 30 years. Noel holds a PhD from Charles Darwin University, is an Adjunct Associate Professor with Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at James Cook University and with the Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods at Charles Darwin University and has published more than 200 papers and reports. Noel was a Chief Investigator on a JCU ARC Linkage project on secondary regrowth in Nth Qld, is researching and implementing large-scale rainforest restoration (ARC-Linkage Principal Investigator) and is studying faunal declines, forest restoration, endangered species and fire management. Noel was a Director of the Ecological Society, Councillor of Australian Ecosystem Science Council and is a member of the Spectacled Flying-fox Recovery Team.

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Speaker: Dr Andrew Dennis  (Project Leader - Biodiversity) | (TERRAIN NRM)

Abstract: The Anthropocene has brought with it an extinction crisis. Many species have become extinct and many more are threatened with extinction. Using IUCN guidelines, Queensland and Federal governments are using Common Assessment Methods to estimate the risk of extinction for species. This assessment, and the subsequent investigation of threatening processes and recovery planning, generally requires a solid underpinning of sufficient data. Often it is researchers that provide this evidence. However, recovery plans and teams involve a wide range of stakeholders engaged in efforts and on-ground actions. In this talk, I will review several decades of effort expended on the recovery of two threatened mammals in the Wet Tropics – the Northern Bettong and the Mahogany Glider – and examine where and how research efforts have been used to guide on-ground actions to facilitate the recovery of these threatened species. Unfortunately, both species remain at severe risk, so it is timely to reconsider how to align and integrate research directions and on-ground actions.

Biography: Dr Andrew Dennis is Project Leader – Biodiversity, with Terrain NRM, Chair of the Northern Bettong Recovery Team and Coordinator of the Mahogany Glider Recovery Team. He is an ecologist with a special interest in managing threatened species. After completing a PhD with JCU studying the ecological role of Musky rat-kangaroos, he went on to conduct research on a range of taxa in the wet tropics, including frogs, mammals and birds, and spent 6 years with CSIRO studying vertebrate seed dispersal in rainforests – a threatened ecological process. His focus now is to facilitate Terrain’s efforts to get on ground outcomes for threatened taxa through ensuring appropriate questions are asked and good science is integrated into a natural resource management framework that continues to engage all stakeholders.

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Speaker: PhD Candidate Jayden Engert (JCU Nguma-bada)

Abstract: Loss and degradation of habitat is a key threat to the majority of terrestrial plant and animal species in Australia and globally. The importance of ecological restoration in mitigating these threats has led to a proliferation of national and international programs to restore the planets declining systems, as well as a dramatic increase in research outputs focused on restoration planning. However, restoration planning studies tend to focus on optimal site selection and often ignore barriers to restoration or drivers of funding allocation. By comparing successful and unsuccessful grant applications under the 20 Million Trees Land-care Program, a federal government ecological restoration initiative, we identified factors that drove restoration funding. We then assessed the influence of these drivers on the Programs ability to provide benefits for threatened species. Our results show that biases in awarding of funding for ecological restoration can significantly reduce the benefits delivered by said programs

Biography: Jayden Engert is an applied ecologist with a particular interest in human impacts, ecological restoration, and forest conservation. He completed a Bachelors in Zoology and a Masters in Protected Area Management at James Cook University, including a research component on tropical forest restoration. He has spent years working as a Geospatial Technician on various land management and conservation research projects. Jayden is a currently a PhD candidate at JCU where he aims to predict the environmental impacts of proposed large-scale infrastructure development projects across the Asia-Pacific region.

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SpeakerDistinguished Professor Michael Bird (JCU - Nguma-bada)

Abstract: The carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of human and animal tissues encodes dietary information. We transformed the isotope compositions of 13,666 modern and ancient analyses of bone collagen and hair keratin to make them comparable on a common scale. This reveals that the dietary breadth of modern humans is highly compressed when compared to populations predating the development, in 1910, of modern industrial fertilizer by the Haber-Bosch method. However, modern humans that still use ‘traditional’ subsistence strategies retain remarkably similar dietary breadth to pre-Haber-Bosch human populations. Increased reliance on industrial agriculture and pastoralism is resulting in a cascade of ‘rewiring’ to remaining food webs globally that can reduce the resilience of global ecosystems in the face of accelerating environmental change. Having established the global range of isotope variability in ancient populations, we demonstrate the archaeological utility of this approach using a subset of ~1000 analyses of human bone collagen from the British Isles spanning the last 5000 years. We compare this to ~4,000 analyses of potential dietary items, also from the British Isles, informed by our understanding of the contemporary controls on the stable isotope composition of the base of terrestrial and marine foodwebs in the British Isles. This reveals large and overlapping ranges in the isotope composition of many potential food items, making detailed ‘dietary reconstruction’ problematic at the local level. It also reveals significant temporal shifts in diet at the population level, particularly post-dating the Norman conquest.

Biography: Michael Bird trained as a geologist at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University, obtaining a PhD in isotope geochemistry in 1988. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, he returned to Australia as research Fellow, Queen Elizabeth II Fellow and Fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University. In 2000 he took up an Associate Professorship in Singapore and in 2004 moved to the Chair in Environmental Change at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He returned again to Australia in 2009 to take up an Australian Research Council Federation, then Laureate Fellowship. He is currently Distinguished Professor in the College of Science and Engineering at James Cook University (Cairns campus). He leads a research group focused terrestrial biogeochemistry and environmental change in tropical Australia and Southeast Asia. He is a co-investigator with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH).

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