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Thu, 1 Jan 2015

Local researchers receive funding

JCU researchers have received almost $6 million in grants from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for 17 different projects.

First published 8 November 2012

James Cook University researchers have received almost $6 million in grants from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for 17 different projects.

The funding, which begins in 2013, covers projects including studying vulnerable species in reef ecosystems, the mating traits of closely-related species in rainforests, how fish and corals respond to the overgrowth of large, fleshy seaweeds, and the deadly disease chytridiomycosis, which is reducing frog populations across the North.

Other projects involve developing a new technology for conducting photo-induced reactions in micro-space, which is anticipated to be of pharmaceutical interest, and a project which aims to understand the human history of Barrow Island, a remote island in Western Australia, and reconstructing its climate history.

Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Cocklin congratulated JCU staff on their successful applications for the ARC’s Discovery Projects, Indigenous Discovery Projects, Discovery Early Career Research Awards, and grants for research infrastructure.

“In the highly competitive Discovery Projects, JCU researchers were awarded nine grants, a success rate of 32 per cent,” Professor Cocklin said.

“This is the second-highest success rate and well above the national average of 21 per cent.

“Our success in the Early Career Research Awards was also very pleasing with six awards, which represented a 30 per cent success rate – almost double the national average of 15.6 per cent.

“JCU was awarded one of only 10 grants made under the Indigenous Discovery Projects scheme, receiving $515,000 for a project on Indigenous youth.”

Professor Cocklin said JCU’s projects covered a wide variety of issues.

“From how and why languages change, to climate in the last interglacial period, issues of justice, coral reefs and Australian author Christina Stead, this is a diverse range of research, reflecting the strong and diverse intellectual community at JCU.”

Details of all the JCU grants and the principal researcher are listed below

Australian Research Council (ARC) funding for projects beginning in 2013

ARC grants – Townsville-based research

James Cook University researchers in Townsville have received almost $3.8M in funding for the following projects:

Dr Katia Bazaka - $375,000 over three years

Functional polymer encapsulation to enhance biological performance of implantable materials

This project will develop biomaterial films from essential oils using a low cost, environmentally friendly technology. Applied to commercially available biomaterials, these films, or coatings, will minimise infections and inflammations commonly associated with implants. The films will also facilitate the development and enable clinical use of metallic resorbable implants for tissue engineering and function restoration applications. Examples of the latter are bioresorbable vascular stents and bioresorbable fracture fixation devices.

T: 07 4781 4494 E: katia.bazaka@jcu.edu.au

Dr Nick Graham - $375,000 over three years

Ecology of novel coral reef ecosystems

Coral reef ecosystems are changing. Some of these changes are predictable, based on how species respond to climate change. This project will utilise information on species vulnerability to predict what reef ecosystems, including corals, fishes and invertebrates, will look like in future and how this will affect the benefits we gain from reefs.

T: 07 4781 6291 E: nick.graham@jcu.edu.au

Dr Megan Higgie - $373,172 over three years

Can species interactions drive diversification?

Species interactions may drive the evolution of species diversity but we currently lack the empirical evidence to demonstrate conclusively how this occurs. Using a group of closely-related species native to Australia’s rainforest, this study will test how species interactions drive the evolution of mating traits and the formation of new species.

T: 07 4781 5734 E: megan.higgie@jcu.edu.au

Dr Andrew Hoey - $375,000 over three years

Macroalgal-driven feedbacks and the dynamics of coral reef ecosystems

Coral reefs are in decline worldwide, with large fleshy seaweeds replacing corals in many locations (including the Great Barrier Reef). Consequently, seaweed overgrowth is seen as one of the greatest threats to the persistence of coral reefs. This project will investigate how fish and corals respond to increases in these fleshy seaweeds, and in particular how seaweeds influence the replenishment and growth of coral and fish communities. In doing so it will not only identify the processes that maintain seaweed dominance on coral reefs, but critically identify ways to reverse such states.

T: 07 4781 5979 E: andrew.hoey1@jcu.edu.au

Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek - $374,805 over three years

Larval dispersal: the critical connection in coral reef recovery

This project will document how larval exchange connects populations of reef-building corals in the Great Barrie Reef World Heritage Area using an innovative approach that combines genomics with modelling tools. Predictions will be tested by genetically monitoring the recovery of coral populations on reefs destroyed by Cyclone Yasi.

T: 07 4781 6294 E: vimoksalehi.lukoschek@jcu.edu.au

Professor Michael Ackland - $124,000 over three years

Christina Stead and the socialist heritage

This project explores the complex intersection of political convictions and creativity in the writing of Christina Stead, and gives due prominence to her radical, left-wing engagements, which fell from favour during and after the Cold War. It will produce the first monograph-length study devoted to this crucial aspect of Stead’s life and work.

T: 07 4781 6034 E: michael.ackland@jcu.edu.au

Professor Ross Alford - $387,000 over three years

Understanding the tipping point between epidemic and endemic disease: amphibian chytridiomycosis as a model system

A disease called chytridiomycosis has caused populations of amphibians to decline and even to go extinct in any parts of the world. In Australia, it has caused declines and extinctions of native frogs; these were particularly severe in upland areas in the Wet Tropics. The infection also occurs in lowland frog populations but usually does not cause severe disease. Differences in environmental conditions cause the infection to have different effects at high and low elevations. There is a very fine line between conditions that promote full disease and death and conditions that allow coexistence of frogs with the infection. We do not know how close lowland frog populations are to this line; severe disease outbreaks could occur in them at any time as weather conditions change. We need to understand exactly how and why conditions favour disease outbreaks so we can prevent future frog declines and extinctions and promote recovery of severely affected frog populations.

T: 07 4781 4732 E: ross.alford@jcu.edu.au

Dr Bill Leggat - $310,000 over three years

Advancing knowledge of microbial symbioses underpinning coral health and reef resilience and predicting their responses to climate change.

Coral reefs are complex, diverse ecosystems in which microbial communities form associations with host corals. However, the roles these associations play in coral stress responses are unknown. This project unlocks the black-box of coral microbial complexity and determines how the reef’s smallest members have the greatest influence on reef health.

T: 07 4781 6923 E: bill.leggat@jcu.edu.au

Associate Professor Michael Oelgemöller - $240,000 over three years

Development of micro-flow photochemistry and its application in the synthesis of platform chemicals of pharmaceutical interest (or ‘Solar chemicals from and for the Tropics’)

Light can induce chemical changes easily with a ‘flick of a switch’ and can create unusual molecules that may serve as novel drugs in the future. Despite these advantages, light-induced processes have not been embraced by the pharmaceutical industry due to the often exotic and complex equipment. Following the motto ‘only as small as is necessary’, this project will develop a new technology for conducting photo-induced reactions in micro-space and in continuous flow mode. This ‘lab & light on the chip’ approach will be used to construct a range of structurally related molecules or to produce a bulk amount of a specific target building block of pharmaceutical interest.

T: 07 4781 4543 E: michael.oelgemoeller@jcu.edu.au

Dr Nathan English - $373,679 over three years

Forecasting the future of flood and drought in Australia using multi-century tree-ring and isotope chronologies from the tropics

The effects of El Nino on Australian floods and droughts in a globally changing climate is unclear because we lack long climate records from the past. This project will measure tree-ring and isotope records using kauri pine to advance our understanding of El Nino's effects on the frequency and intensity of drought and floods in Australia.

T: 07 4781 5561 E: nathan.english@jcu.edu.au

Dr Benjamin Phillips - $485,000 over three years

Peripheral isolates as hotbeds of adaptive diversity

This project uses cutting edge molecular technology and spatial analyses to predict the location of diversity relevant to managing the impact of climate change. Knowledge generated in this project will open the door to the informed use of genetic translocation in efforts to curb expected biodiversity issues.

T: 07 4781 4557 E: ben.phillips1@jcu.edu.au

ARC grants – Cairns-based research

James Cook University researchers in Cairns have received just over $2M in funding for the following projects:

Dr Roxanne Bainbridge

Senior Research Officer, The Cairns Institute

$515,000 over three years.

Inspiring Indigenous youth

This Indigenous Discovery Project will investigate the role of mentoring in enhancing resilience and improving education and employment prospects for Indigenous youth. The research aims to contribute to improving Year 12 attainment rates and employment outcomes.

T: 07 4042 1710 E: roxanne.bainbridge@jcu.edu.au

Professor Chris Cunneen

Tropical Leader, The Cairns Institute

$429,000 over three years.

A comparative analysis of youth punishment in Australia and the United Kingdom.

This Discovery Project is a comparative investigation of penal policy and the punishment of juvenile offenders in Australia and the United Kingdom. The research analyses the changing approaches to juvenile incarceration, particularly in the context of perceived effects on crime, and the substantial public and social costs of incarceration.

Professor Cunneen is also a Chief Investigator on another Discover Project with colleagues at the University of New South Wales, on justice reinvestment.

T: 07 4042 1896 E: chris.cunneen@jcu.edu.au

Dr Susan Laurance

Tropical Leader, Tropical Biology, JCU Cairns

$365,000 over three years.

Response and vulnerability of tropical rainforest plants to experimental drought.

To discover the impacts of drought on tropical forests, this Discovery Project will artificially extend the dry season in an area of rainforest at the Daintree Rainforest Observatory. Researchers will use a canopy crane to access all vertical forest layers. This will provide unique opportunity to understand how rainforests could be affected by future climate change.

T: 07 4042 1237 E: susan.laurance@jcu.edu.au

Distinguished Professor Alexandra Y Aikhenvald

Research Leader, The Cairns Institute

$350,000 over three years

How languages differ and why

Each language is always in a state of flux. Changes may be due to: the language regularising its internal composition; borrowing words or structural patterns from another language; or developing a new linguistic tool reflecting an important aspect of lifestyle (e.g. polite pronouns which mirror an evolving social hierarchy). This Discovery Project will investigate which linguistic features are most likely to be borrowed, which are most likely to be retained, and the reasons for this. Researchers will examine the nature of linguistic diversity, with special focus on languages of New Guinea, Amazonia and Indigenous northeast Queensland. The results will be significant for understanding inter-ethnic communication, and the nature of human cognition.

T: 07 4042 1117 E: alexandra.aikhenvald@jcu.edu.au

Professor Michael Bird

Federation Fellow, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science and the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, JCU Cairns


What is ‘natural’? Locating and deciphering pre-human records of vegetation from northern Australian savannahs

This Discovery project will investigate sinkholes in the Northern Territory that represent long-term sediment traps. These sedimentary archives have the potential to provide local, dateable, high-resolution palaeoenvironmental records, extending through the last interglacial period. This data, from prior to human colonisation of the continent, will help determine the nature and magnitude of human impact across tropical Australia.

T: 07 4042 1137 E: michael.bird@jcu.edu.au

Professor Michael Bird


The Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme (LIEF) supports cooperative initiatives so that expensive infrastructure can be shared between higher education organisations and also with industry.

This project is developing a world-first: a mobile, multi-capability facility that will allow researchers to analyse isotopes in the field. It will dramatically expand the capacity of MAFIA (the Mobile Australian Field Isotope Alliance) to undertake field-based studies of environmental processes using the natural isotope tracers of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. This will enable the project to address a range of fundamental research questions in climate change, water resources, ecology and human impact in tropical Australia.

T: 07 4042 1137 E: michael.bird@jcu.edu.au

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175