Resilient environment and communities

Resilient environments and communities

The protection and restoration of ecosystems is critical to combating climate change, pollution, desertification and loss of biodiversity.

La Trobe researchers work in partnership with environment and community groups, government, industry and First Peoples to develop new approaches to ensure our ecosystems and natural resources are resilient, sustainable, biodiverse and protected. La Trobe is uniquely positioned to engage with regional communities to achieve this goal.

La Trobe's research into Resilient Environments and Communities contributes to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Selected impact stories

Leading Team: Emily Scicluna

The Fat-tailed Dunnart, a mouse-like carnivorous marsupial related to the thylacine, was assumed to be abundant in Victoria until a series of surveys undertaken by La Trobe doctoral candidate Emily Scicluna demonstrated that its numbers have steeply declined. Dunnarts are vulnerable to extinction due to introduced predators, and their grassland habitat has been turned over to crops or stifled by invasive vegetation. Over a four-year period, Scicluna surveyed more than 40 sites, with only seven showing signs that dunnarts are still present. The evidence compiled by Scicluna led the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) to add dunnarts to the Threatened Species Register in June 2023. Classified as Vulnerable, the species now qualifies for conservation measures such as habitat protection, predator control and investment in population maintenance, and they are now listed alongside other threatened species in DEECA’s 2023 Victorian Flood Recovery program.

Read more about the research behind the impact

Leading team: Professor Ian Porter, Dr Scott Mattner, and Dr Dave Riches

Wine grapes worth hundreds of millions of dollars were dumped after the 2020 Black Summer bushfires due to concerns over smoke taint in North East Victoria. Much of this loss was because wine growers had no reliable system to predict smoke taint in wine. For ten years, the La Trobe University team – Ian Porter, David Riches, Scott Mattner - have worked with the national wine industry and wine growers to design, develop, install and validate the world’s first smoke sensor and predictive system for smoke taint (internet site, dashboard and phone App) with sensors now present at 100 sites in North East Victoria. The system records the exposure of grapes to smoke (both individual events and cumulative exposure) and transmits this information back to growers through a traffic light system app, allowing them to make decisions around testing and strategies to manage smoke effects. The key impact of the system is that it removes uncertainty, allowing growers to respond effectively to fires when smoke thresholds have not been met (avoiding costs related to testing, dumping or mitigation measures, and allowing growers to confidently go to market); when thresholds are being approached (introduce mitigation to avoid losses); and when smoke thresholds have been exceeded (avoiding costs associated with netting, spraying, and harvesting). With millions of dollars in potential savings when a wildfire breaks out, the system represents a huge return on investment for growers and the industry. But aside from the financial impact, the impact on reducing stress, panic and emotional turmoil for growers cannot be underestimated. Research and development for the system continues, as does the potential for significant commercial expansion. The current network covers perhaps 10% of wine areas most at risk of smoke taint in Australia, but the technology and IP is ready for expansion into other areas in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales – as well as internationally.

Read more on the Wine Australia site

Leading team: Professor John Morgan

Yiruk or Wamoon, also known as Wilson’s Promontory, is a beloved national park on the Southern tip of Victoria. However, its fragile ecosystem can only be maintained through a program of ongoing research and restoration. Distinctive species such as coast banksia trees, for example, are at risk due to the encroachment of tea-trees that do not belong in the coastal grassy woodlands. Feral grazers such as deer are another threat.  Morgan's team regularly advise on interventions such as animal release, vegetation restoration, and fire management. They have collaborated in this way over a period of 20 years with Parks Victoria, Forest Fire Victoria, DEECA, traditional owners and community groups such as Friends of the Prom to implement a restoration and land management program for the national park. Wilson's Promontory is the only place in Victoria to have embedded such a long-term adaptive management partnership.

Explore more on ABC

Leading team: Professor Richard Cosgrove

For over fifty years, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) has stored a mass of material evidence for Aboriginal occupation gathered in the 1960s, such as fragments of shell, flint and bone. New analysis of this legacy material, along with geoarchaeology and radiocarbon dating, has prompted reinterpretation of early Aboriginal land management and resource use across Tasmania. Collaboration with Professor Cosgrove’s team and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Advisory Council enabled TMAG to systematically curate this collection and facilitated the return of knowledge to the Indigenous community. To ensure continuity, Indigenous team members received training in archaeological analysis and curation techniques. The project also delivered completed doctoral theses and reports to the Aboriginal Heritage Council, supporting the Council’s accumulation of knowledge regarding Tasmanian Aboriginal culture.

Read more - Aboriginal Heritage of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

Leading team: Professor Mike ClarkeProfessor Andrew Bennett

Researchers from the Research Centre for Future Landscapes at La Trobe University have developed a world-first set of metrics to measure and report on the effect of fire management on environmental values and ecosystem resilience. The metrics are comprehensive, capturing different components of fire regimes and of biodiversity, and provide a direct link between strategic goals and on-ground actions.  Specific, measurable and realistic targets have been set for each metric, filling a long-standing gap in the capacity of management to quantify the impact of fire management activities on biodiversity and actively promote ecosystem resilience. Application of the metrics is being trialled at Wilson’s Promontory, with the potential for long-term conservation impact. The metrics are currently under review by the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) for state-wide application in fire management and reporting policy.

Learn more about the science behind the impact

Leading team: Professor Nick Bond

Impacts of ongoing drought and the consequent effects of bushfires now pose new challenges for Australia’s freshwater systems. In 2018-2019, the Lower Darling was subject to tragic fish death events, occurring across 40 kilometres of the Darling River and downstream of Menindee Lakes. La Trobe University’s Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems contributed to an Independent Assessment of Fish Deaths on the Lower Darling for the Murray Darling Basin Authority. This report assisted the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, and the NSW Department of Environment, Industry and Planning to develop recommendations for Basin policy. As a result, the Federal Government implemented a range of recommended measures, investing over $70m in infrastructure, monitoring, and evidence-based environmental management. These strategies will enhance native fish recovery, ultimately yielding better outcomes towards conservation of freshwater biodiversity.

Read more about the Australian Government's response to the report

Leading team: Dr Greg Dingle

Dr. Dingle’s research explores the impact of climate change and its extreme weather events on sports. Dividing across three domains (people, places and organizations), climate change impacts are diverse. From heat-stressed athletes, officials and spectators (people domain) to drought-affected or flooded sport facilities (places domain) to disrupted competitions and associated lost revenues or higher financial costs (organizations domain), climate change is a phenomenon with economic, social and health implications. As a result, the focus of Dingle's work is to understand the vulnerabilities of sport to climate change, and the potential for developing resilience to climate impacts through exploration of creative options for climate adaptation. Such research reflects shifts in strategic responses to climate in the sports industry including those of FIFA, the world governing body for football. This work examines the sustainability of sports during an era of climate change, and informs organizations on present and future climate change implications.

The Sport Ecology Group

Leading team: Mr Erik van Vulpen & Mr Rei Allen Remy Garcia Fortes

A new application is pointing the way forward to the future of automated public transport for people with disability. Researchers from La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion (CTI) - led by Deputy Director Mr Erik van Vulpen - trialled the application in partnership with intelligent transport company HMI and iMOVE. The app is designed to give people with disabilities more control over their experience of autonomous transport. Using the application passengers can for instance hail the bus at the designated stop, keep doors open when boarding the bus, and assure that the bus only departs after they are safely seated; things bus drivers normally look after in conventional buses. They can also life-stream in sign language with a remote operator and obtain much more detailed route information than is available in the shuttle. Bus drivers perform an important role for people with disabilities, and solutions like this app can help fill the voids in vehicles without a driver, to allow passengers to have maximum accessibility when using the bus.

“The way I would like to position accessibility is not as an afterthought, but as an area of innovation that can open new possibilities for transport that will benefit the wider community. I would hope that all governments start looking at innovations like this.” – Mr. Erik van Vulpen.

This research is funded by iMOVE CRC and supported by the Cooperative Research Centres program, an Australian Government initiative.

Watch video of Autonobus trial

Image: Dr Rebecca Chisholm

Leading team: Dr Rebecca Chisholm & Associate Professor Joel Miller

Commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Health, the work of disease modelling researchers at La Trobe University  has been adapted to guide the COVID-19 response in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Dr Chisholm and Associate Professor Miller worked with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory group on COVID-19 (co-chaired by the Department of Health and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation) to help inform national, and local policy decisions. This work led to predictive guidance on pre- and post-vaccine outbreak planning and response in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and contributed to plain-language communications for the public, public health services and remote communities. This work helped shape the National Management Plan to protect and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from the impacts of the pandemic.

Read more about the research behind the impact

Building a robot

Leading team: Dr Simon Egerton

Robots are forecast by many people to be the next major market for technology following the smart phone, and new open-source technologies are making robotics more accessible to the public. Dr Egerton (Founder & Director of Creative Science Foundation) has developed a family of versatile and economic robot building platforms (Creative Robotix) that form an educational environment which can be customised in numerous ways ranging from designing the robot’s skin (i.e. giving the robot the appearance you want) through to designing your own software or hardware (giving the robot the functionality you want). Creative Robotix platforms can be used by teachers, parents, children, and adults to address core STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Maths) learning and making activities in a fun, hands-on, social, and interactive experience. These platforms have been trialled in schools using a Victorian Government grant to provide disadvantaged students with programming and software engineering skills and prepare them for the future. Egerton is planning to commercialise the platforms and make them more accessible to more schools across Victoria and potentially Australia.

Learn more about Creative Robotix

Leading team: Dr Simon Egerton

The prevention, detection and treatment of complications of patients pose a challenge to health professionals. Vital signs measurements are repetitive and are a burden on medical practitioners, even with hourly vital sign intervals, patients aren't monitored for most of the day and can deteriorate in between measurements. Remote wireless monitoring systems revolutionized patient vitals monitoring and care as they constantly measure physiological variables in real-time and feed the information directly to a central database. Dr Egerton developed a Remote Patient Monitoring device and partnered with Bendigo Health to trial it with real patients in regional Victoria to provide them with better healthcare service. This device is user friendly and independent of mobile phones or home connectivity; it provides a transparent process for the patients to have access to quality time with their healthcare professionals. This project was funded by Regional Development Victoria and was the first in its kind in Victoria, paving the way for future commercialisation of this device and a national rollout.

Learn more about sensor technology at La Trobe

Leading team: Professor Naveen Chilamkurti

As cyberattacks increase in scale and sophistication, network security must continually adapt. To protect data stored in cloud-based or hybrid environments, cybersecurity provider Ditno partnered with Optus and Professor Chilamkurti at La Trobe University to develop the first ever self-governing firewall. Automating cybersecurity in this way improves reliability for data protection in complex systems and alleviates the associated cost for businesses. The innovative software enables users to manage security settings via a single interface, and integrates with international storage solutions such as AWS. Since deploying the prototype in 2020, Ditno has continued to build on this integration capability, onboarding a number of new Australian clients and now expanding into the UK.

Leading Team: Dr Daswin de Silva

La Trobe University has pledged to reach net-zero energy emissions by 2029.  While the technology exists in the form of solar farms at Mildura and Bendigo with capacity to feed back into the grid, the challenge is now predicting where more energy might be needed, and identifying where it can be reduced. In response to this challenge, the La Trobe Energy Analytics Program (LEAP) was developed by the Centre for Data Analytics and Cognition to analyse and optimise energy consumption patterns across all campuses. Recognised with the TEFMA Clever Campus Innovation Award in 2021, LEAP now saves the university over $250,000 per annum in energy efficiency,  and in 2022 contributed to achieving net-zero on La Trobe’s regional campuses in Shepperton and Mildura.

La Trobe's Net Zero Projects

Leading Team: Dr James Van Dyke

Dr Van Dyke’s research aims to develop a community-based conservation model that prevents turtle extinctions in south-eastern Australia. Australia’s 25 species of freshwater turtles are declining, and, in many places, foxes are the main problem. Lethal control of foxes is not only very expensive for local authorities, but also relatively ineffective. Van Dyke’s research aims to address these problems in two ways: firstly, to identify the most effective and cost effective non-lethal fox control strategies. And secondly, through the citizen science project ‘1 Million Turtles’ and the TurtleSAT app, to collect and use community generated data on turtle populations, nests and predation, along with community training in nest and turtle protection, to help better understand turtle preferred nesting habitats and locations, the impacts of foxes on turtle nesting success, and the rate of nest depredation. The project is providing much of the national data that are being used by state and federal governments to set conservation status and recommendations, and as the project identifies strategies that work best for improving nest and juvenile survival, these are being shared with the engaged communities as actions that they can take themselves to help turtles. By mid-2022, almost 16,000 records had been created through TurtleSAT, with 255 nests and 1073 turtles saved. ‘1 Million Turtles’ won the 2023 Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science.

Visit the 1 Million Turtles website

Leading Team: Professor Nick Bond & Dr Michael Shackleton

Melbourne Water is responsible for the region’s five major catchments and their waterways, covering approximately 13,000 km2 from their upper reaches to their estuaries. To protect this complex natural environment, Melbourne Water developed a ten-year Healthy Waterways Strategy in 2018. La Trobe University’s Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems collaborated with Melbourne Water and the University of Melbourne to identify priorities for the Strategy, generating habitat models that drew on over 20 years of biological monitoring data. Spatially-explicit habitat modelling provides estimates of current biodiversity and predictions of how it might be affected by threats such as urban growth or climate change, thus determining effective forms of intervention. In 2020, this innovative approach to conservation was recognised by the Ecological Society of Australia Ecological Impact Award. Melbourne Water is now implementing the Strategy, and its progress can be monitored on a dedicated dashboard.

See the Dashboard