What we do

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The big issues facing the world today: building sustainable food, water and energy supplies, will not be solved by single-focus, reductionist approaches. We need a multi-disciplinary approach, in which various environmental and related specialisations can be integrated in collaborative projects that aim to find solutions to secure a sustainable future.

Combining their respective expertise, various members of the Department of Environmental Sciences have formed the groups that create the core research capability of the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food. It’s an approach we believe positions us to deliver faster, deeper and more meaningful research outcomes.

Research Groups


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What we can learn from nutrient cycling and interactions between plants and soils to help restore and sustain the terrestrial environment.

Our research concentrates on nutrient cycles (chemical, energy and water) that affect the ability of farmland, grassland and forests to grow and thrive. One significant focus is how these cycles affect the retention (sequestration) and emission of carbon in the soil and the atmosphere. That includes looking at the effects of the chemical and other cycles caused by large-scale man-made and natural events such as climate change and fires, as well as at the effect of the various chemical and other changes that arise as a result of land management such as cropping and grazing.

Group Leader: Dr Feike Dijkstra

Forests and Fire

Expanding our knowledge of fire and its effects will help us better protect life, property and the natural environment.

Fire is a key feature of Australian ecosystems, with most native forest and savannah species having evolved specific strategies to cope with fire. Our research explores the responses of plants, animals, soil microorganisms and human communities to fire, including the effects of smoke, the fire itself and regeneration after fire.

Group Leader: Dr Tina Bell

Environmental Plant Biology

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Finding more about how plants respond to the environment and using this information to lessen carbon impacts while increasing agricultural efficiency.

Understanding how plants respond to their environment contributes to addressing the most important environmental issues facing humans at present: how different will the climate be when our great-grandchildren are born; to what extent can terrestrial ecosystems help to mitigate human-induced climate change; how can we manage our agricultural systems to achieve environmental sustainability while still feeding the global population? Our research focuses on plant biophysical and biochemical processes, spanning from deep geological time to future climates, and working from the sub-cellular scale to the assessment of whole ecosystems.

Group Leader: A/Prof Peter Franks

Soil Security

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Healthy soil maintains plant life, holds water and retains carbon, so keeping it healthy is central to securing the world’s food, water and energy supplies.

Soil is central to global sustainability and is integrally linked to food, water and energy availability along with the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem services. However, current and past practices to secure food and energy have been detrimental to our soil. With the increasing human population, there is a critical need to address the future health of soils throughout the globe – and that is the focus of our research.

Group Leader: A/Prof. Budiman Minasny

Precision Agriculture

Minimising resource use and environmental impacts while maximising outputs from farming offers the best hope of long-term sustainable food security.

Precision agriculture offers the possibility of growing better quality crops, while optimising the use of inputs and minimising environmental impacts. It is a revolution in agriculture brought about by the application of information technology. Precision agriculture will become essential for sustainably managing all inputs, natural retentions and emissions across the world’s agricultural operations.

More about the Precision Agriculture Lab ›

Group Leader: Dr Brett Whelan