Environment Institute eNewsletter September 2014

Environment Institute
5. September 2014


Here is a snapshot of what’s been happening at the Environment Institute in 2014:




Prof Alan Cooper awarded prestigious Laureate Fellowship

Congratulations to Professor Alan Cooper who has been awarded a prestigious Laureate Fellowship.

Professor Cooper’s new project, funded by the ARC, will use ancient microbiomes and genomes to reconstruct human history and generate unprecedented insights into the current distribution of modern humans, including indigenous Australians.

Alan Cooper is the only recipient in the state to receive the prestigious award in 2014.

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Internationally renowned Richard Fortey to give keynote lecture at Adelaide University

The Environment Institute is honoured to present a public lecture by one of the most accomplished science writers and biologists of this time, Richard Fortey.

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Natural History of Spencer Gulf Book Launched by Minister Brock

The Natural History of the Spencer Gulf has been documented in a new book that was launched recently. The book has been written by over 60 marine and social science experts.

Prof Bronwyn Gillanders from the Environment Institute’s Marine Biology program and lead scientist of the Spencer Gulf Ecosystem Development Initiative is one of the Editors and has also authored a chapter on the giant Australian cuttlefish.

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Future Fellowship Success

Dr Simon Baxter, Associate Prof Lian Pin Koh and Dr Damien Fordham have been awarded future fellowships.

Simon Baxter’s project aims to strengthen insect pest control strategies and improve bio-insecticide use in agriculture through better understanding of the mode of action of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticides.

Lian Pin Koh’s project aims to frame the issues of food security, rural development, carbon emissions and biodiversity loss from the perspective of ecological and economic theory.

Damien Fordham’s project aims to use models linked to past responses imprinted in species genes to resolve whether the disparity between observed and predicted extinction rates comes from models over-predicting species loss due to climate change.

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Linkage Grant Success

The Environment Institute received $1,472,000 out of the total awarded to the University of Adelaide of $3,859,717 or just over 38% of the total funding. Congrats to all involved!

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Longest-lived animal survivor known to science now under threat

The Nautilus has long been prized for its unique shell, to be found in Renaissance Cabinets of curiosities and now sold on eBay for as much as AU$200.

Professor Peter Ward, of the Environment Institute at Adelaide University, is an internationally renowned palaeontologist and world authority of the Nautilus. He has called for a global ban on the trade of the Nautilus seashell.

“Nautilus has survived every single mass extinction event that’s been thrown at it over half a billion years, now it’s being wiped out by humans to sit on a bathroom shelf or as a pretty button on someone’s shirt,” he says.

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Professor Andrew Lowe leads new 2.5m DNA Barcoding project

Did you know that over 400 new species were discovered in the Amazon between 2010-2013 alone? This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Professor Andrew Lowe of the Environment Institute says: “Of the estimated 10 million species that exist on our planet, only just over a million have so far been identified and described”.

Lowe will lead a 2.5 million dollar project that uses “DNA barcoding” to rapidly and accurately identify key animal and plant species. He predicts that it would take at least another 2000 years to identify Earth’s remaining species using traditional taxonomy.

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Animal Armageddon scientist descends on Adelaide. Welcome to Peter Ward.

You may come to the conclusion that the research of Peter Ward is somewhat fatalistic. He did after all, coin the term Medea Hypothesis, which proposes that multicellular life as we know it is suicidal. However, the very poison of complex life may also be able to save it.

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TED Speaker and “Drones Ecologist” Lian Pin Koh joins the Environment Institute 

His research has been featured in National Geographic, presented at TED Global 2013, named by Scientific American as in the Top 10 of “World Changing Ideas” and has been listed in the Nominet Trust “100 of the World’s Most Inspiring Social Innovations” list.

So it is no surprise that the Environment Institute is very excited to welcome Lian Pin Koh in 2014!

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Assoc Prof Mike Lee’s Science publication explains how birds evolved from the T-Rex

It is hard to believe that a small bird alive today could have evolved from an enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex. The story of the incredible shrinking dinosaurs has been published today in the journal Science.

In the abstract Associate Professor Mike Lee and his team assert:
“recent discoveries have highlighted the dramatic evolutionary transformation of massive, ground-dwelling theropod dinosaurs into light, volant birds.”

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Dr Lee Arnold uncovers clues to evolution in the Sima de los Huesos (pit of bones)

Scientists have proposed that the most recently discovered ancient human relatives – the Denisovans – somehow managed to cross one of the world’s most prominent marine barriers in Indonesia, and later interbred with modern humans moving through the area on the way to Australia and New Guinea.

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New Zealand claims back the Kiwi after ancient DNA testing

Almost 20 years ago, Alan Cooper from the Australian Centre of Ancient DNA found that the Kiwi might actually originate from Australia.

Alan Cooper is from New Zealand himself and says: “This was a huge psychological blow in New Zealand and extremely unpopular”.

A new paper published today in Science sets the record straight. Alan Cooper and his team have been able to analyse the ancient DNA of two extinct birds from Madagascar and have found the Kiwis to be their closest relatives.

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Water Wednesday: Unconventional Gas seminar presentations now online

The presentations from the Water Wednesday on June 18 are now online.

The seminar was presented by the Water Research Centre in conjunction with SA Branch of the Australian Water Association and showcased presentations from Professor Martin Kennedy, Mr Colin Cruickshank and Prof Craig Simmons.

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Warming and Ice Melt on the Antarctic Peninsula – Dr Nerilie Abram Presentation Now Online

The presentation by Dr Nerilie Abram (ANU), entitled: “Warming and ice melt on the Antarctic Peninsula” presented by the Sprigg Geobiology Centre is now online.

The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed faster than any other region of the southern hemisphere over the past 50 years. But the short observational records of Antarctic climate don’t allow for an understanding of how unusual this recent climate warming may be. In this seminar I will present reconstructions of temperature and melt history from a highly resolved ice core record from James Ross Island on the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula.

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NRM Science Conference Presentations now online

Presentations from the DEWNR NRM Science conference can be accessed on the website.

There is a category to view presentations from Environment Institute researchers.

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