Speed Dating at La Trobe Uni

Published 17 Apr 2014 

Bush Heritage was invited to participate in a Research Forum hosted by La Trobe University as part of their Research Focus Area: Securing Food, Water and the Environment. The day was structured as an interchange of ideas and opportunities, with La Trobe researchers giving short presentations on research initiatives funded by the Securing Food, Water and the Environment RFA (an internal La Trobe program to build research capacity and outcomes). This was interspersed with agencies and NGOs (Arthur Rylah Institute, Greening Australia, Parks Vic, Museum Vic, Trust for Nature and Bush Heritage) spruiking their wares as potential research partners.

The SFWE RFA has three major themes, two of which are highly relevant to Bush Heritage:

  • Safeguarding and improving environmental integrity and provision of ecosystem services.
  • Enhancing the communication and application of knowledge to influence policy, planning and decision making when resolving competition over natural resources and their allocation.

Bush Heritage has already been approached by La Trobe to assist with including the Open Standards in their undergraduate teaching, so the opportunity to strengthen our research ties was welcome.

Several projects piqued my interest:

  • Development of low-cost sensors to monitor soil nutrients, coupled with wireless systems for continuous in situ monitoring. The major application for this will be in the agricultural systems but there is clearly a need for this information to maximise restoration success.
  • Maternal signalling behaviour in bridled nail-tail wallabies. Apparently, BNTW at Scotia have lost the foot-thumping predator alarm signalling behaviour making them more susceptible to predation once released from the predator-proof enclosure. This research is exploring whether foot-thumping can be learnt by cross-fostering BNTW joeys with tamar wallabies (who still foot-thump obviously) to see if the young BNTW can (a) learn the behaviour, and then (b) are more successful upon release. This resonated given our stake in BNTW recovery through Goonderoo, and the potential opportunities there.Which witchetty-grub is which? Not surprisingly, traditional owners recognise over 20 different types of witchetty grubs across the country. Western science recognises many of the adult moths the grubs become but only a very few of the larvae species. This PhD project is looking to match up the traditional knowledge of witchetty-grubs to classify and describe the corresponding larvae and match them to the known adult moths. This also has an important conservation angle because many species are becoming commercially valuable (bush tucker and the like) yet the status of the many different species that are lumped under the term “witchetty grubs” is unknown. An increase in harvesting may inadvertently be preferentially selecting one or more species, potentially having an impact on their viability. The project is looking for TO partners that could help put names to grubs, and for sites from which to collect specimens. Reckon we can help on both fronts. Pretty cool project I reckon.