Finalists for our Best Paper Award 2017

Every year we hand out an award for the Best Paper in 2017 led by an Australian Rivers Institute Student and another award for the best paper led by a staff member. We select 6 finalists who present at our annual staff retreat, before the two winners are announced.

Last year we had a diverse range of studies from field work on coral reefs to modelling of fish populations.

Here are the 2017 finalists on what they did.

Congratulations to Sarah Engelhard and Chris Brown, who took out the student and staff awards respectively; and Amanda Neilen and Cath Leigh who won the people’s choice awards.



Sarah Engelhard: Prioritizing seascape connectivity in conservation using network analysis

Journal of Applied Ecology

Dr Engelhard used network analysis to show how plans for marine reserves can consider connections between different types of habitats that fish use. A reanalysis of the Moreton Bay marine reserves showed that it does not protect habitat connections, so fish may be vulnerable to fishing pressure during their migrations between different habitats.

Shannon Klein: Symbiodinium mitigate the combined effects of hypoxia and acidification on a non-calcifying cnidarian

Global Change Biology

Dr Klein describes her paper:

Over 10 years ago, climate-change induced ocean acidification was recognized as ‘the other CO2 problem’ alongside ocean warming, however, new research shows oceans are also deoxygenating at an alarming rate. We have shown that coastal reef corals may be specially equipped to tolerate this ‘trio of climate stressors’.

Endosymbiotic algae (or zooxanthellae) fundamentally drive productivity and health of corals that build tropical reefs to sustain 0.5B people on Earth. These symbionts can come at a cost- when corals are exposed to stress, they become toxic and are expelled, resulting in bleaching. We report on new findings that these symbionts may in fact act play an important role in keeping corals, anemones and jellyfish oxygenated that is critical in resisting climate stressors.

Dr Klein is now employed as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Red Sea Research Center
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

coral reef
Coral reef impacted by regular hypoxic upwelling in the Red Sea. Photo: Shannon Klein

Amanda Neilen: Phytotoxic effects of terrestrial dissolved organic matter on a freshwater cyanobacteria and green algae species is affected by plant source and DOM chemical composition


Ms Neilen on her paper:

Key findings in my manuscript are that plant species choice in a catchment has a potential to affect algal assemblages via the source effects on dissolved organic matter chemical composition and toxicity. These findings have broad implications when it comes to keeping our waterways free from blue-green algae blooms. This paper will have an impact in future discussions on how catchment plants should be selected when the goal is bloom mitigation.




Dr Steve Melvin: H-1 NMR-based metabolomics reveals sub-lethal toxicity of a mixture of diabetic and lipid-regulating pharmaceuticals on amphibian larvae

Aquatic Toxicology

Dr Melvin on his paper:

This study, funded by a Griffith University New Researcher Grant, is important because it established a very rapid, robust and inexpensive workflow for performing untargeted metabolomics on biological samples.

Very broadly, this has allowed us to expand the technique to other species and systems to gain a wealth of information about how environmental pressures influence physiological and metabolic processes in wildlife. We currently have projects where we are adapting the approach to study sea turtles, sea grass, fish, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates including daphnia and jellyfish polyps.

A more specific finding from the present study (which we consider a proof-of-concept paper) was that not only are environmental pollutants capable of causing alterations to physiological endpoints, but these types of low-level alterations to metabolites correspond with higher-level effects on growth and development in frog tadpoles.


Dr Cath Leigh: Drying as a primary hydrological determinant of biodiversity in river systems: a broad-scale analysis


Here is an excerpt from Dr Leigh’s full blog on this article:

A huge diversity of plants and animals live in and near rivers, and they all get affected by how and when rivers flow. I asked how important these ‘drying’ events are for biodiversity. In my analysis I found that even drying-events were the most important predictors of river biodiversity. This means we need to think just as much (if not more) about the effects of drying on river biodiversity, as we do floods when studying and managing rivers for better biodiversity outcomes.


dry river bed
A dry river bed in Australia is not that unusual! The Todd River, Alice Springs. Photo: Catherine Leigh

Dr Chris Brown: Tracing the influence of land-use change on water quality and coral reefs using a Bayesian model

Scientific Reports

Dr Brown on his paper:

Logging, mining and agriculture can all cause sediment to run-off of land and into the ocean where it can impact coral reefs. We often don’t know where we should conserve forests, or restore them, because it is unclear which reefs are affected by run-off from which areas.

We developed a new method that traces sediment from catchments to coral reefs. Importantly it uses freely available global data sources, so it can be rapidly applied in regions with limited data.

We applied our method to link logging in catchments in Fiji to sedimentation on reefs. This work is helping inform the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop a community-led plan to mitigate the impact of logging on reefs.

reefs and rivers
Coral reefs near to rivers in Fiji. Photo: Chris Brown

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