RD Watt Annual Lecture: Lessons from the Australian High Country

28 February 2012

The annual RD Watt Lecture commemorates the first lecture delivered to University of Sydney agriculture students in March 1911 by Australia's first Professor of Agriculture, Robert Dickie Watt. It is a tribute to his strong vision and leadership as the first Dean, as well as to 100 years of world-changing Agriculture at Australia's first University. Watt developed courses and a strong scientific content which became a characteristic of the Sydney degree.

This year's lecture will be delivered by internationally renowned researcher Professor Mark Adams, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Professor Adams will outline some of the recent research that he and his colleagues have conducted at a range of sites in the high country of South East Australia, and how this relates to other major programs of research within the Faculty. The high country provides much of the water for the Murray Darling Basin and parts of it (e.g. the Monaro) are important agricultural districts in their own right. The research covers aspects of soil carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, catchment hydrology, plant physiology and production, biodiversity and even animal behaviour. Along the way we have had to develop new ways of measuring things in order to overcome and capture the effects ofdroughts, bushfires and, most recently, heavy rainfalls, in addition to the many features of vegetation and soils that setAustralian ecosystems apart from those elsewhere. Given the dominance of urban ideals and thinking, the research outlined here tells a story of the science Australian farmers will need to back their efforts to remain amongst the world's most progressive and productive.

About the Presenter

Mark has held Professorial appointments at the University of Western Australia, the University of Melbourne, and at UNSW, and publishes widely with a focus on sustainability and biogeochemistry of natural and managed ecosystems. His published work includes more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, a major text on nutrition of eucalypts, and many commissioned reports for governments and industries. He led the first state-based assessment of forest carbon stocks, conducted for the then State Electricity Commission of Victoria and published in the Australian Journal of Botany in 1992. He was also responsible for the carbon component of the assessment of Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management for the WA State Government as part of expert panels between 1998 and 2003.

Fire has been a constant element of Professor Adams's research since the 1982 and 1983 fires burnt his PhD study sites on the outskirts of Melbourne. His current research focuses on water, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and how these are affected by climate and fire. He is particularly concerned that the general public are better informed about the need for human engagement in management of terrestrial ecosystems, as opposed to philosophies that suggest 'nature rules'. A passionate believer in "conservation through use", Mark enjoys working with students and with people who live on and work the land.

His recent book, Burning Issues, co-authored with Dr Peter Attiwill, looks at the science and the politics of burning the Australian landscape to reduce bushfire risk and promote biodiversity. In Burning Issues, they describe the history and role of fire in Australia's ecosystems and how fire can be managed for both safety and ecological diversity, with the aim of changing public attitudes to fire and to influence and encourage changes in land management by government agencies. The science of fires is very complex as it affects many aspects of forest health, including the nutrient balance of soils, the distribution and ages of the vegetation, animals and insects. It also affects the carbon balance, with a resulting impact on the debates around greenhouse gas emissions

Audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions at the conclusion of the lecture.

FREE event.

Complimentary refreshments will be available.

Event details


Tuesday 3 April 2012

6.15 for 6.30pm start


MacLaurin Hall, The University of Sydney

RSVP: by 28 March 2012

Contact: Ms Skaidy Gulbis

Phone: 02 8627 1006

Email: 001a271c171a050b1d2e385c1c34430e341c2109623d103f6d2632