A Chinese PhD candidate at The University of Western Australia, Xixi Li, is taking a tar bush to reducing controversial agricultural green house gas emissions.
Two-thirds of Australia's agricultural emissions come from enteric methane produced during digestive fermentation in ruminants such as sheep, and accounts for about 10 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions.
Ms Li is using a 2011 Mike Carroll Travelling Fellowship to show how the Australian native plant Eremophila glabra or tar bush - when consumed by sheep - reduces methane production.
She is one of two recipients of the Fellowship, which commemorates the late Dr Mike Carroll, former Director General of the Western Australian Department of Agriculture. Recipients are chosen on their academic abilities, relevance of studies to an important area of Australian broadacre agriculture, their potential to benefit from the experience and enthusiasm to impart the findings of their travels to the scientific, farming and wider community. The other recipient is UWA PhD student Chelsea Fancote.
After screening more than 100 native plants as supplements to improve feed intake, digestibility and rumen fermentation, Ms Li and her colleagues selected E. glabra, a shrub that tolerates harsh growing conditions and could provide livestock fodder in WA, even in drought.
"I found an optimal inclusion level of E. glabra can reduce methane production by about one third while not adversely affecting general rumen fermentation," Ms Li said.
Ms Li said that E. glabra needed only to make up a part of the animal's diet to have these effects. Its value would be as a component of a more diverse mixture of plants for grazing.
"This would give us a solid base to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ruminants and contribute to developing green, sustainable and profitable grazing systems for WA sheep," she said.
Ms Li and Ms Fancote attended the 8th International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores this month in Wales, UK, where Ms Li presented a paper and discussed her UWA Institute of Agriculture (IOA) research with world-leading livestock production scientists.