Young environmental scientists gather

Debate about ecological and environmental action may be changing, but it remains a key issue for young people and future generations.

Plant ScienceLa Trobe University is holding a major conference on Monday 11 November for Victorian graduate and postgraduate science students to discuss and promote their own research findings in the fields of ecology and environmental science. 

The La Trobe Students’ Conference for Ecology and the Environment has been organised by PhD scholars Jen Wiltshire, Nicole Coggan and Lara Bereza-Malcolm from the University’s Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution Group (BEEG@L).  

It will be held at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS), on the Melbourne Campus at Bundoora, highlighting the work of outstanding PhD scholars from La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash and Swinburne universities. 

Ms Wiltshire says: ‘The conference aims to foster novel approaches in ecological and environmental research, issues which are facing great challenges in Australia including recent significant cuts to science funding.

‘We hope to connect students from different departments and universities across Melbourne to help foster future collaborations which will tackle the big environmental issues of the day and into the future.’

Ms Wiltshire is a member of La Trobe University’s environmental microbiology research group, a team of doctoral scholars whose work ranges from the use of bacteria for microbial fuel cells to developing new biological sensors for detecting dangerous contaminants. 

Her research involves using plants and the microbes around their roots to clean up heavy metal pollution, a process known as phytoremediation. 

She will be speaking about plant-microbe interactions and how these could help develop new ‘green technology’ to combat toxic metal contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. 

Fellow microbiologist Lara Bereza-Malcolm will describe her work in a revolutionary new field called ‘synthetic biology’ and its application to ecological science. She is harnessing harmless bacteria to act as ‘sniffer dogs’ to help identify dangerous and toxic compounds in the environment.

Both these research projects were recently featured on ABC Radio National’s Science Show. 

La Trobe conservation ecologist Luke O’Loughlin will talk about a successful community conservation research project on Christmas Island which involved unravelling how invasive species, including giant African land snail and the yellow crazy ant, interact with other species on the island and the impact they have on this unique ecosystem. 

Fresh water ecologist Stephanie Suter, from La Trobe’s Albury-Wodonga campus, will explain how leading-edge physical science using the Australian Synchrotron can advance ecological research whilst zoologist Nicole Coggan will discuss insect-marsupial interactions in conservation sanctuaries.

Melbourne University botanist Kylie Soanes will present a study into animals and humans co-existing safely through the use of wildlife crossings.

Swinburne University biotechnologist Shanti Joseph will present research into how acacia plants can be used to help fight dryland salinity, a major issue for Australian agriculture.

Keynote speaker will be Madelaine Willcock from Monash University. Cited as one of  ‘Melbourne’s most influential, inspirational, provocative and creative people’ by The Age newspaper in 2011, she works on volcanic ecology and will provide valuable insight to prospective students with her talk: ‘Things I wish they had told me during my PhD’.

Conference details 

What: 2013 La Trobe University Student Conference for Ecology and the Environment

When:  Monday 11 November 2013, from 12noon to 6pm 

Where: Hoogenraad Auditorium, La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, La Trobe University  Melbourne Campus, Bundoora

Media contact 

Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, M: 041 226 1919