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University shares in $1.6m worth of ARC Linkage research funding


Sharlene King
2 July 2013
A project linking landscapes to Australia’s emerging low-carbon economy by investigating how land management practices in a river catchment can be improved through payments for ecosystem services has received funding through the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Led by Southern Cross University, the ‘Water, carbon, and economics: resolving complex linkages for river health’ project was successful in receiving $354,740 in funding through the ARC Linkage Projects scheme announced last week by ARC chief executive officer Professor Aidan Byrne.

University researchers are also contributing their expertise to three other separate projects that have received a combined $1,234,440 worth of funding through the ARC Linkage Projects scheme.

‘Water, carbon, and economics: resolving complex linkages for river health’ will see SCU partner with Rous Water, Richmond River County Council, CSIRO, The Water and Carbon Group, Sub Tropical Farm Forestry Inc, Charles Sturt University and the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“The project will be centred on the Richmond River catchment on the NSW Far North Coast,” said lead investigator Caroline Sullivan, Associate Professor of environmental economics and policy at the School of Environment, Science and Engineering. Professor Sullivan is also a member of the University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre.

“With a focus on water and carbon, the main goal is to develop mechanisms to support integrated land and water management, at the catchment scale.”

Professor Sullivan said ecosystem services would be trialled as a tool to support management and governance of the Richmond River catchment.

Ecosystem services are generated from healthy ecosystems and provide valuable benefits to society. The ecosystem services in the Richmond River catchment would include water filtration and carbon sequestration, as well as fisheries protection and provision of habitats for biodiversity.

“Recreational values from healthy ecosystems are important in this catchment, and there is much potential for capturing carbon values from the rich landscape of this region,” said Professor Sullivan.

“We will combine biophysical understanding of aquatic and riparian systems with socioeconomic values associated with land and water management. The aim is to build a robust framework of payments for freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem services, and to support more economic and ecologically sustainable land management.

“The project is significant as it will contribute an explicit methodology of assessment of how water and land conservation strategies deliver quantifiable economic benefits. The expected outcome of the project will be more effective implementation of sustainable integrated water resources management practices in multifunctional rivers.”

Southern Cross University will collaborate with local, national and international organisations during the life of the project.

“Collaboration with several organisations in this project, as well as other internationally known researchers, will provide the opportunity to address management challenges found in river systems around the world,” Professor Sullivan said.

Professor Sullivan’s interdisciplinary team of researchers at SCU includes Dr Amanda Reichelt-Brushett, Professor Doug Sheil, Associate Professor Isaac Santos, Dr Lyndon Brooks, Dr Kathryn Taffs and Dr Kevin Glencross, with technical support from Dr Graeme Palmer.

Southern Cross University researchers are also contributing to other collaborative research projects that will receive a total of $1,234,440 worth of funding following last week’s ARC Linkage Projects scheme announcement:

• ‘Durability and debonding resistance of composite based strengthening techniques for deteriorated structures’, $210,000 – led by RMIT, with expertise from SCU Foundation Professor of Engineering Scott Smith from the School of Environment, Science and Engineering
Project summary: Australia has many concrete structures exposed to aggressive environments that are deteriorating prior to their intended design life due to durability issues. Externally bonded fibre reinforced polymer composite applications are emerging as a method of structural rehabilitation. This project will provide safe and reliable strengthened structures.

• 'The recovery of seagrass beds: the role of catchments and options for management responses’, $465,440 – led by Monash University, with expertise from Associate Professor Isaac Santos from the SCU Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research
Project summary: Seagrass beds once dominated tidal flats but are disappearing at an increasing rate due to human actions, both in Australia and around the world. This project will develop an understanding of the processes that cause these losses, the factors that prevent seagrass bed reestablishment, and provide a framework for evaluating alternative management options.

• ‘Learning catalysts: improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children’, $559,000 – led by the University of Queensland, with expertise from Professor Anne Graham, director of the SCU Centre for Children and Young People
Project summary: This project will identify what works to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged young people. In so doing, this project will contribute to Australia's prosperity and social wellbeing, and help address problems such as unemployment and homelessness, that arise when a large proportion of young Australians is denied an effective education.

The ARC Linkage Projects scheme supports collaborative research projects between higher education researchers and partner organisations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Partners must make a significant cash and/or in kind contribution to the project. ARC funding is awarded on a basis of a competitive process and rigorous assessment to support the highest-quality researchers and research projects across disciplines.

ARC CEO Professor Byrne said collaboration for quality research and development was fundamental to transforming industries, building communities and strengthening the Australian economy.

“We need to encourage collaboration between researchers, industries, and communities to work together and find solutions to real, everyday challenges and issues,” Professor Byrne said.

“It’s about bringing together the scientists in our research institutions with industry, business and community organisations - those who can apply the outcomes of research - to tap into research expertise and share knowledge.”

Photo: Associate Professor Caroline Sullivan