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Dr EN Marks Sustainability Award Winners

Since 2008, QUT's Institute for Future Environments has presented an annual award to recognise outstanding contributions to sustainability made by QUT students working at the Samford Ecological Research Facility (SERF).


2015 winner
Russell Beddoes, Bachelor of Science (Environmental Science)

Winner Russell Beddoes receiving his award from Distributed Sites Manager Dr Juan Cooper
L-R: Winner Russell Beddoes receiving his award from Distributed Sites Manager Dr Juan Cooper

'Evaluating accuracy of infrared thermography for estimation of animal abundance'

Russell’s research project studied the use of thermal imaging for ecological surveys, and in particular, examined the effect of interference in thermal images and the detection errors this could lead to for ecological surveys. The research was carried out both in controlled laboratory conditions and in the field at SERF. Russell is now part of QUT's Quantitative Applied Spatial Ecology research group and will commence his Masters studies in 2017.

2014 winner
Matthew Keir, Bachelor of Applied Science (Environmental Science) graduate

Matthew Keir with the award beside Juan Cooper (left) and Dr Ian Williamson (right)
L-R: Distributed Sites Manager Dr Juan Cooper, Matthew Keir (winner), and Dr Ian Williamson

‘Spatial distribution of the arboreal termite Microcerotermes turneri (Infraorder: Isoptera) in a eucalypt forest’

Termites are important members of terrestrial ecosystems given their role in nutrient cycling and soil formation, but there is surprisingly little information about some groups, particularly arboreal termites. Matthew’s study examined the spatial distribution of the arboreal termite across a number of spatial scales to assess whether nests are distributed at random across the forest, and to identify ideal microhabitats. Data collection took place at SERF, surveying 15.6 hectares of eucalypt forest.

From analysing marked GPS coordinates taken during systematic transect surveys, termites were found to have a slightly aggregated distribution, implying the colonies were not in competition with one another and may be part of the same budding supercolony. Comparing the frequencies of host tree species with representative forest samples revealed that 50 per cent of nests were found in Eucalyptus crebra trees, which was disproportionate to their small overall frequencies in the forest (5 per cent). Statistical tests indicated that the bark type and size of trees were the driving factors for host species “selection”. Nests were placed non-randomly on the tree in terms of both height and orientation, likely to maximise sun exposure, though this was counteracted by nest placement increasing the risk of destruction by nesting kingfishers and goannas.

Matthew’s ecological study of arboreal termites conducted at SERF provided important baseline information about an arboreal termite species and serves as an excellent foundation for more detailed studies of these important members of forest ecosystems. This information could prove useful in future rehabilitation efforts given the importance to nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems.

2013 winner
Isabelle de Haviland, QUT Bachelor of Applied Science (Environmental Science)

Isabelle de Haviland
2013 award winner Isabelle de Haviland

'The influence of vertical microphone placement on acoustic bird species richness estimates: developing a methodology for soundscape recordings'

During a Vacation Research Experience Scholarship field project in December 2012, Isabelle studied how the properties of birdsong and the positioning of automated birdsong recorders might influence species detectability made a useful contribution to environmental monitoring programs at SERF.

The study compared acoustic recordings made at upper canopy and ground height in open forest to determine whether bird species detection differed according to sensor height. The study tested whether differences in bird call frequency, call loudness, size, social behaviour and habitat preference influenced detectability. Her findings indicated that both louder and larger species were most likely to be missed by sensors at ground level.

2012 winner
Jaye Newman, Bachelor of Applied Science (Ecology)

Prof. Peter Grace and Jaye Newman
L-R: SERF Director Prof Peter Grace and Jaye Newman

Ant functional groups as bio-indicators of anthropogenic disturbance: Issues with interpreting predictability at the local scale

In Australia, ants are used as bio-indicators of habitat disturbance and stress within the ecosystem. During a short research project at SERF, Jaye studied the behaviour of ants involving assessing functional ant groups within three habitats of different levels of disturbance - forest, edge and pasture. The study found no significant difference between the ant communities at each site. This result could have implications for environmental impact assessments for mining companies, early warning systems for habitat degradation and general conservation strategies.

2011 winner
David Benfer, QUT Bachelor of Applied Science (Ecology)

Prof. Peter Grace and David Benfer
L-R: SERF Director Prof Peter Grace and David Benfer

Effective control or pathway to invasion? Recruitment of native and Lantana camara L. seedlings after a low intensity burn

During his third year as an undergraduate student, David undertook a short research project to examine the recruitment of native and lantana seedlings after a low-intensity burn to provide information about how fire might impact on lantana and native species, and how fire might best be used as a management tool. This study benefits SERF's understanding of the ecology of its native plants, and the long-term management of problem weeds. Basing weed management on sound scientific knowledge allows more sustainable management outcomes for native plants and animals.

Read David Benfer's student paper (PDF, 248KB)

2010 winner
Jason Wimmer, QUT PhD student

Prof. Peter Grace and Jason Wimmer
L-R: SERF Director Prof Peter Grace and Jason Wimmer

Refining acoustic sensing techniques to improve their capability to monitor and study the impact of climate change and loss of habitat on native Australian fauna

Jason has a computing background, and is currently completing a PhD at QUT focusing on environmental acoustic sensing. His research is cross-disciplinary involving both IT and ecological research, as he is passionate about the environment and committed to making a significant contribution to sustainability.

Jason is involved in a number of ongoing projects, working with ecologists and biologists to refine acoustic sensing techniques to improve their capability to monitor and study the impact of climate change and loss of habitat on native Australian fauna.

At SERF, he undertook a research project to assess the effectiveness of various recording schedules and devices in detecting bird species, and comparing these results with manual species survey methods. This project involves deploying 3G-based sensor devices and standalone recording devices throughout the Samford facility, and assisting in conducting manual bird species surveys.

2009 winner
James Tilbury, Bachelor of Civil Engineering (Economics Minor)

Viability of collecting organic waste from households and converting it into compost and energy

Prof. Peter Grace and James Tilbury
L-R: SERF Director Prof Peter Grace and James Tilbury

For his undergraduate thesis, James researched the viability of collecting organic waste from households and converting it into compost and energy for farmers. The study revealed that there is a market for the compost and that it was economically feasible to collect the organic waste, however, the benefits of using compost from organic waste needed to be quantified to entice farmers to change their practices. In addition, James designed an eco-village for the SERF property involving site analysis, site investigation and planning for sustainable development.

During his time at QUT, James founded the QUT Chapter of Engineers Without Borders which ran a number of aid projects and sustainability initiatives such as:

James was also involved as a student representative in the Vice Chancellor's Sustainability Working Party. This group actively promotes, implements and develops environmentally sustainable practices within QUT and across the broader university community as well as promoting a culture of awareness of environmental sustainability issues within the university.

Matthew Rodgers with the award beside Professor Grace (left) and Paul Den Ronden (right)
L-R: SERF Director Prof Peter Grace, Matthew Rodgers (winner), and lecturer Paul Den Ronden

2008 winner
Matthew Rodgers, QUT Bachelor of Urban Development (Construction Management)

Facilitating an independent rainwater supply system for SERF

Capitalising on his trade background with 12 years' experience as a plumber, drainer and gasfitter, Matthew was able to gain a greater understanding of urban development and buildings.

Matthew designed an independent rainwater supply system for SERF as the property is not connected to town water. He achieved this by calculating the annual rainfall which could be harvested against the potential consumption of the building's facilities. Matthew replaced the existing lead flashings on the roof to provide a potable supply of rainwater without potential contamination, retrofitted the Barracks with water conservation fixtures and installed a suitable size water tank to collect the rainwater from the roof to service the building.