Awards for top papers in 2019

Every year the Australian Rivers Institute awards one staff and one student for the best paper in 2018-2019. To be eligible the staff or student had to have led the paper.
Paper’s are assessed by a team of experts for the publication’s scientific robustness, novelty, scientific impact and potential policy or management outcomes.

This year we have three finalists in each category. The finalists present their work at our annual staff retreat before the winner is announced.

Read on to hear about the finalists and see the winners.

Student finalists

Quantifying spatial and temporal patterns of flow intermittency using spatially contiguous runoff data

Sunny Yu, winner best paper student category

Intermittent streams are streams that cease to flow for a period of time. They are widespread, ecological important, but understudied.

In Sunny’s work he used models to predict where intermittent streams are and, when and how often intermittent streams are flowing.

Much of our knowledge about streams comes from gauges that measure flow, but we tend to only measure permanent streams. So we know very little about intermittent streams.

Sunny took what data was available to test the models. He found the models could identify where intermittent streams are in his study region.

His work will help us identify and manage these important streams.

Incorporating ecological functions in conservation decision making

Emelia Decker

Efforts to protect streams and rivers need to be prioritized, because protection efforts are often constrained by cost. Emilia used tools from systematic conservation planning to look at how we protect fish species across different trophic levels.

She found that including trophic information changed the fundamental arrangement of hypothetical protected areas in the Danube basin. But, that protecting species across all trophic levels did not increase the overall cost of the reserve network.

Environmentally relevant concentrations of polyethylene microplastics negatively impact the survival, growth and emergence of sediment-dwelling invertebrates

Shima Ziajahromi winner people’s choice award for best student presentation

Researcher Shima Ziajahromi

Microplastics are now a widespread pollutant of the environment, but few studies have looked at their impacts on freshwater organisms. Shima looking at how toxic microplastics are to a type of midge, who’s larvae live in sediment where they may be exposed to microplastics.

She chose to use midges because they are a useful model organism that can be easily studied, but may indicate the impacts of microplastics on a broader range of animals.

In experiments she found that exposure to microplastics caused decreases in the size and survival of the midges.

Because Shima used realistic levels of microplastics her results are highly relevant for our streams and rivers.

Monitoring age-related trends in genomic diversity of Australian lungfish

Dr Dan Schmidt

Where are the baby lungfish? This question was first posed in 1924 when scientists were concerned that we would lose the lungfish, because no one had found any babies.

Dan used genetic methods to answer this question. What he learnt was the young lungfish grow really fast, so we just don’t see them.

He also found that genetically lungfish are doing fine. There was the expectation that there might be some inbreeding occurring- which might affect the viability of their populations.

Lungfish are threatened by other pressures, like droughts and water infrastructure. But Dan has showed that genetic viability is not a problem for them.

Highly Disturbed Populations of Seagrass Show Increased Resilience but Lower Genotypic Diversity

Professor Rod Connolly winner people’s choice award for best staff presentation

Rod say seagrass is ok
Professor Rod Connolly inspecting a seagrass meadow

A general theory that often comes up in ecology and more generally is the diversity begets resilience. This idea is seen throughout science, from studies of business (more diverse teams have greater market resilience) to ecology (more diverse ecosystems are more resilient).

Ecologists often ask this question of ecosystems – how does genetic diversity of populations affect the resilience of those populations to disturbances?

Rod took advantage of a flood that swept a plume of muddy water across Moreton Bay, in South East Queensland. The flood created an opportunity to study the resilience of seagrass meadows to the impacts of muddy water.

It turned out that the meadows that were more resilient to the flood actually had lower genetic diversity.

Rod found that if there is a single disturbance type, specialisation leads to low diversity. Many of the meadows he studied are regularly exposed to floods. This selects for individuals that are best able to cope with flooding, and higher resilience to flooding.

If the disturbances vary in their type, then genetic diversity is the key for the population surviving.

High rates of organic carbon processing in the hyporheic zone of intermittent streams

Dr Ryan Burrows winner of best paper from a staff member

Ryan studied the ecological effects of coal seam gas and mining on intermittent streams.

Industries often extract water out of the ground, which is water that continues to flow underground, even when a stream appears dry.

There was a perception in the broader community that intermittent streams do not have much ecological value. Before Ryan started his work, there was very little scientific evidence that intermittent streams have ecological value.

Ryan studied the processing of organic carbon. Organic carbon is an important food source for many creatures and also affects water quality. Organic carbon may often be processed underground, in connection with groundwater.

Ryan found that the moisture of the ground determined how much organic carbon was processed. So groundwater is really important for the processing of organic carbon in intermittent streams.

Ryan and his team then conducted a series of knowledge adoption workshops with government, to make sure that government regulators of groundwater were well informed about the importance of groundwater in intermittent streams.

His work may be used in future to help assess the impacts of proposed industries on the environment.

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