Frontiers in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management were the themes for eight presentations by postgraduate research students from the four schools within the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (FNAS), The University of Western Australia (UWA).
Yesterday, at the opening of the 2008 UWA Institute of Agriculture Postgraduate Showcase, Professor Don Markwell, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education, said UWA was deeply committed to fostering research and the event highlighted recent developments and brought together staff, students, industry and potential employers.
Perennial pastures, crop root systems, on-farm animal welfare, grainbelt drainage, natural resource management and disease resistance in crop plants and animals were covered.
Andrew Williams presented his research on mechanisms of scouring in parasite resistant merino sheep.
He said scouring was a major health issue for sheep in southern Australia and by breeding sheep that were naturally resistant to parasitic nematodes, the life of worming agents, or anthelmintics, could be extended.
Aprille Chadwick, who began her Animal Science Masters Degree in 2007, is researching the animal welfare aspects of semen collection in cashmere goats.
Her research has demonstrated that using an electrode to stimulate ejaculation by bucks, rather than an artificial vagina, was more stressful to the animal's physiology and general well-being.
Two years into his PhD, Richard Bennett has demonstrated that some species of legumes in the genus Cullen have potential as perennial pastures for areas with acidic soil and low rainfall.
"Trials using Cullen species at Buntine in WA's north-east, on deep acid sand with an annual average rainfall of 320 millimetres, but less than 200 millimetres in 2007, have been promising," he said.
According to Mr Bennett, the limitations of existing perennial pastures, such as lucerne, are that they do not tolerate dry conditions or highly acidic soils.
He described his study as at an early stage of development and said the wild germplasm of Cullen had been collected from sites throughout Australia.
PhD student Natasha Teakle, raised on a farm at Cunderdin and with a personal interest in salinity, has been studying how the perennial pasture legume, Narrow-leafed bird's foot trefoil or Lotus tenuis, tolerates salinity and waterlogging.
She said that L. tenuis, naturalised in the Pampas region of Argentina, had been identified as a priority species by the Cooperative Research Centre for Future Farm Industries.
Ms Teakle has demonstrated that the gene NHX bestows salt tolerance and improves sodium transport in the plant.
For her PhD study, Harsh Garg is investigating the fungal disease Sclerotinia sclerotiorium, which poses a serious threat to canola production and can cause yield loss of up to 100 per cent.
"I'm looking for novel sources of resistance and a rapid method of screening for the disease," she said.
Ms Garg has successfully developed a method of screening plants for their resistance to Sclerotinia based on using the cotyledons of an emerging plant.
"By inoculating cotyledons with the disease, screening can occur in the laboratory within 16 days, meaning screening time is reduced and we don't need to kill the entire plant," she said.
Georgie Holbeche indicated there was more than 100,000 kilometres of drainage in WA's grainbelt and she was investigating, using x-ray diffraction, the mineral content of soils in agricultural drains.
She aims to identify the preferred soil characteristics for drain construction, as drains are very expensive and any savings in efficiency will assist farmers.
For his PhD project, Craig Scanlan focused on how crops change the way water is stored and flows through soils and he is assessing where this has a positive or negative effect on crop growth.
Mr Scanlan aims to identify situations where crop management can be changed to either maximize the positive effect or avoid the negative.
Helena Clayton discussed how landholders might be motivated to participate in environmental conservation and natural resource management.
Ms Clayton's research involves looking at a trial of an auction, which provides economic incentives to motivate farmers to undertake on-farm projects that will achieve specific environmental outcomes.
Professor Lyn Abbott, Interim Dean of FNAS, summed up the Showcase by saying that UWA had a reputation for leading edge scientific research linked with industry priorities and was highly ranked world-wide for agricultural science, in particular.