Monday, 21 November 2011

Four scientists at The University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute have been awarded Australian Research Council Future Fellowships totalling more than $2.8 million to carry out work of national importance.

The projects will investigate the effects of climate change on seaweed; how reef systems shape and protect our coastline; the ability of organisms to detect light and their implications for treating some human diseases; and research looking at how the brain processes information under natural conditions.

Two of the fellowships were awarded to:

  • Research Assistant Professor Thomas Wernberg, of UWA's School of Plant Biology and the Australian Institute of Marine Science;
  • Associate Professor Ryan Lowe, of UWA's School of Earth and Environment;

Two other Fellowships were awarded to researchers who have been attracted to the Oceans Institute to undertake their projects.  They are:

  • Dr Wayne Davies (of the University of Oxford); and
  • Dr Jan Hemmi (Australian National University).

The Federal Government awards Future Fellowships to outstanding scientists to promote research in areas of critical national importance as an incentive to conduct their work in Australia.

Assistant Professor Wernberg was awarded $697,000 over five years for his research involving seaweeds.

"More specifically, I will be testing the capacity of seaweeds, and kelps in particular, to adjust physiologically and ecologically to changes in environmental conditions - especially increasing temperatures," he said.

"This work will increase our understanding of the capacity of these ecologically important organisms to adjust to ocean warming."

As well as in WA, the work will be undertaken in several other States (including NSW, South Australia and Tasmania), as well as internationally (South Africa, Norway, Portugal, Denmark and New Zealand).

Associate Professor Lowe was awarded $681,000 over five years for his work investigating the hydrodynamics - the effects of waves, currents and water levels - on complex coastal reef environments.

"The Fellowship will enable me to establish a major new research program devoted to the remote and poorly studied coral reef systems in NW Australia, with particular focus on the Kimberley region," he said.

"This project will significantly advance our understanding of coastal processes within reef environments, thus improving predictions of the impacts of extreme storms and climate change on our coasts."

The research will also enable Associate Professor Lowe to build strong links with leading coastal research groups in the US, Europe and across Australia.

Dr Wayne Davies will receive $714,000 over five years to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying non-visual photoreception and their implications in the treatment of human neurological disease.

The ability of organisms to detect light is fundamental for survival and has been a major driver in evolution.  The research will involve a range of marine animals including hagfishes, sharks and sea snakes (in addition to mammals and birds).

"I am honoured to be awarded such a prestigious fellowship and its undertaking in the unique setting of Professor Shaun Collin's neuroecology group at UWA will ensure its success," Dr Davies said.

"I am very much looking forward to the exciting opportunities ahead."

Dr Jan Hemmi will receive $712,000 over five years for his neuroecology research looking at how the brain processes information under natural conditions.

In collaboration with researchers from the UK and South America, this project will investigate how the environment affects brain function.

"We will analyse functional changes at an ecological, neural and algorithmic level and the results will then be implemented on an autonomous robot for testing. "

"The research will help explain why even those animals with the smallest brains, such as fiddler crabs, are much more versatile and robust than our most advanced robots."

The Director of The UWA Oceans Institute, Professor Carlos Duarte, congratulated his OI colleagues on the awards.

"I am delighted to see our Oceans Institute scientists recognised as ARC Future Fellows, and that we are continuing to attract quality researchers to Perth from interstate and around the world," Professor Duarte said.

"The new Fellows are set to make key contributions to furthering our understanding of these important areas of ocean research and their wider implications."

He said the fellowships are further evidence of the world-class research being undertaken at The UWA Oceans Institute and follow announcements earlier this month that OI researchers had received research funding of more than $4.5 million.

Media references

Assistant Professor Thomas Wernberg (UWA Oceans Institute)  (+61 8)  6369 4047
Associate Professor Ryan Lowe (UWA Oceans Institute)  (+61 8)  6488 2706
Dr Wayne Davies (University of Oxford, UK)  (+44 0) 1865 234 781
Dr Jan M. Hemmi (The Australian National University)  (+61 2)  6125 8561
Professor Carlos M. Duarte (UWA Oceans Institute)  (+61 8)  6488 8116  /  (+61 4) 27 133 066
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs)  (+61 8)  6488 3229  /  (+61 4) 00 700 783


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