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Research targets health of waterways and crop production


Brigid Veale
29 May 2009
Southern Cross University will receive more than $1 million for three separate research projects which will have a significant impact on the management of Australia's waterways and on cereal crop production.

The funding, through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects scheme, was announced yesterday (May 28) by Senator Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

The University has received $624,000 for a project led by Professor Richard Bush, Professor Leigh Sullivan and Dr Ed Burton, of Southern Cross Geoscience, investigating the health of the internationally recognised Peel-Harvey wetland, a 100-kilometre long estuary located in an area of high population growth south of Perth in Western Australia.

Professor Bush said the project, worth more than $800,000, would investigate the cause and impacts of massive algal blooms and sediment in the wetland system.

“This project will unravel how these sediments form to such exceptional levels and assess the environmental hazards they pose so we can develop better management practices,” he said.

The accumulation of monosulfidic sediments, a black toxic sediment, impacts on major ports and waterways around Australia including the Murray-Darling system.

“Our scientific understanding in this area has stemmed from research developed in the North Coast region. It’s the same problems that we deal with when we have massive fish kills in the Richmond River. It’s a similar symptom, although the processes of how it occurs are different and the management requirements will also be different.

“We were asked to go to Western Australia because of our expertise in this field, and the results of this project will have significance for many of the country’s waterways. It’s a good example of a national issue being resolved through the work of a regional university.”

Professor Bush said the three-year ARC project, to begin in July, was being done in collaboration with industry partners and researchers from Curtin University.

The second project to receive funding is being conducted by the Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, led by Professor Robert Henry.

Research fellow Dr Dan Waters said they had received $300,000 to look at the development of more molecular tools for the development of hybrid cereal crops.

Dr Waters said hybrid cereals had much higher yields, higher levels of adaptation to different environments and required less water and produced more grain from less land.

“However, identifying the best parent combinations for hybrid breeding is hit and miss. By developing a better molecular understanding of hybrid vigour, some of the guess work will be taken out of hybrid cereal breeding and we will develop better hybrid cereals sooner,” Dr Waters said.

Thirdly, Professor Bradley Eyre, director of Southern Cross University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry, will also receive funding as part of a project looking at the effects of river flow and nitrogen cycling on anoxia (low dissolved oxygen concentrations) in the famous Yarra River Estuary that runs through the centre of Melbourne.

Anoxia is a problem that impacts estuaries around the world, but little work on this issue has been undertaken in Australia.

This project, which has received $300,000 in funding, is being led by Monash University. Professor Eyre was invited to be part of the project team because of his international expertise on nitrogen cycling in coastal systems.

“This project will form a close collaborative partnership between Monash University, Southern Cross University, Melbourne Water and the Environmental Protection Agency that will lead to better management of the Yarra River Estuary. The knowledge gained from this project will also help set environmental flow requirements for river and estuaries around Australia and overseas,” Professor Eyre said.

Photo: A tributary of the Peel-Harvey wetland, a 100-kilometre long estuary located in an area of high population growth south of Perth in Western Australia.