In Situ Science Research Excellence Awards

In Situ Science has partnered with the School of Environmental and Rural Sciences at the University of New England to recognise its excellent postgraduate research students. Three students at UNE have been awarded an In Situ Science Research Excellence Award to support their research. Each recipient will receive $1000 in research funding and will have a short film made about their research by In Situ Science.

We’re very proud of our first ever grant recipients and are very excited to be sharing their stories of exploration and discovery. Learn more about their ambitious projects below and follow In Situ Science to keep up to date with their discoveries.

 

Todd Elliot – Dietary analysis of rare and poorly studied vertebrates

Fungi provide vital ecosystem functions by forming mycorrhizal associations with plants and are vital to the overall health of forest ecosystems. Many of the fungi that form these associations are below-ground and rely on mycophagous (fungus-eating) animals to dig them up and ingest their spore-containing tissues. Spores are then dispersed through scats as animals move through the forest. The importance of these associations for plant nutrient and water uptake has been relatively well studied; however, the role these same fungi play in the diets/nutrition of vertebrates and how these vertebrates contribute to fungal dispersal has been overlooked in many animals. Funding from this project will allow me to travel to the Australian Museum in Sydney, where I will take gut samples from specimens in this collection and evaluate the role fungi are playing in the diets of rare and poorly studied vertebrates.

 

Lindsey Frost – How do wetland ecosystems respond to environmental flows?

Freshwater ecosystems have been significantly altered by water management for human use. In particular, flow regulation has resulted in enormous declines in both the extent and health of wetlands. To reduce negative impacts of river regulation, managers use environmental flows (“e-flows”). However, our limited understanding of how complex floodplain wetlands respond to e-flows inhibits the successful prediction of ecological responses. I will investigate the ecosystem processes that govern the production and transfer of energy in a floodplain wetland, and how these respond to changes in inundation. I will use this to model the carrying capacity of a wetland under different e-flow scenarios to answer the question “How much water does it take to grow a duck?”.

 

Klinton Wesley-McCafferty – The energy effects of supplemental protease in broiler chicken diets

A large proportion (20%) of dietary protein fed to broiler chickens are unavailable to endogenous digestive enzymes and are subsequently unabsorbed and excreted in the waste. These unabsorbed protein fractions represent a significant proportion of diet cost and may have negative effects on broiler gastrointestinal health and performance. Moreover, decreasing protein excretion is important for reducing the environmental impact of production. Protease enzymes target these unavailable protein fractions and increase overall protein digestion and absorption, leading to improvements in broiler growth performance. However, neither the magnitude of these energy-sparing effects nor the mechanism through which proteases elicit these responses have been established in the literature. The primary focus of this research will be quantifying the dietary energy effects of supplemental protease and establishing a basic understanding of the mechanism by which proteases contribute to increased energy utilisation in growing broiler chickens.

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