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Stable Isotopes in Biosphere Systems 2014   View Summary
2 February 2014 to 9 February 2014

A practical and theoretical short course

Hosted by the Research School of Biology, the Australian National University in collaboration with the University of Sydney.


This short-course will be taught by leading scientists with plenty of opportunities to learn from them during lectures and practical sessions. Teachers will include Margaret Barbour, John Evans, Graham Farquhar, Peter Franks, Susanne von Caemmerer and many others.

The workshop will start with introductory classes and an overview of equipment, and will progress to more detailed information and student-led, hands-on projects. We will examine isotopes of the four key elements of life - C, N, O and H - and their dynamics and interactions within the biosphere and atmosphere.

Students at all levels of learning will be able to participate - from undergraduate honours to postdoctoral fellows. Laser (CRDS and TDL) and conventional mass spectrometric instruments, as well as common support equipment such as gas-exchange systems, will be available for the projects.

Accommodation and tuition

Accommodation at the ANU will be provided on campus close to the School. Housing, food and all course expenses are included in the $1200 price. Some scholarships are expected to be available.

The deadline for application to attend the workshop is 22 November 2013 but we are happy to accept enquiries and bookings immediately!

DES Seminar by Valerie Densmore (PhD Candidate)   View Summary
7 March 2014

Mechanisms underlying the patchy regeneration of woody legumes following bushfire


Woody legumes, such as Acacia spp. are found in almost every terrestrial ecosystem in Australia. Many species are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen (N), and higher phosphatase concentrations are often associated with their rhizospheres. These characteristics may indicate the potential of woody legumes to 'restore' soil N and 'remobilise' soil phosphorus (P) following bushfire, because many species often display rapid and widespread germination following moderate- to high-intensity bushfires. However, densities of regenerating populations typically vary several orders of magnitude over small distances, producing patchy distributions that are currently unpredictable. Moreover, some ecosystems recruit woody legume species without fire. The aim of this thesis was first to characterise soil properties and climate and geographic factors that significantly influence the densities of woody legumes following bushfire. Six representative species of woody legumes that germinated following the 2009 'Black Saturday' fires in Victoria were identified growing at two to three densities. Soil samples were collected, and ArcGIS was used to analyse topographic features before ordinal logistic regression was used to analyse edaphic and geographic variables. The best predictive model selected using discriminant analysis indicated factors that indicate fire severity and the availability of P. On the basis of this finding, fine roots were collected from field species and also following a glasshouse study varying P concentrations. PCR was then used to investigate whether these woody legume species possessed and expressed genes to increase available P. In addition, optimal temperatures to germinate species from different climate zones were compared. This study helps elucidate mechanisms underlying distributions of woody legumes following bushfire or other disturbances and may support land management decisions, particularly concerning hazard-reduction burns.

All welcome to attend

DES Seminar by Jose Padarian   View Summary
14 March 2014

Provision of soil information for biophysical modelling.


Soil is an important actor in ecosystem processes and data that represents it, is not always available due to its intrinsic complexity. Several techniques have emerged to try to overcome this issue, including the use of pedotransfer functions (PTFs) and digital soil mapping (DSM).

The aim of this project is to derive a framework for addressing soil data need, using as example water holding capacity of soils: drainage upper limit (DUL) and crop lower limit (DLL).

PTFs with uncertainty assessment are not always available, hence there is a necessity to generate new ones and to identify if a PTF prediction is valid for a given soil domain. We selected Australia as example to generate a set of pedotransfer functions which predict soil water retention properties required by commonly-used biophysical models. PTFs were generated using symbolic regression and the fuzzy k-means with extragrades algorithm was used to estimate the uncertainty of prediction and identify when an observation is within the PTF data domain.

Using DSM techniques, soil avalilable water content was mapped at five depth intervals (0-5, 5-15, 15-30, 30-60, and 60-100~cm) with the help of different combinations of environmental information (topographic, climatic, soils, Landsat imagery, gamma-ray spectrometry) as covariates. The modelling techniques used were symbolic regression (GP), Cubist, and support vector machines (SVM). In addition, two averaging method were used to generate an ensemble model. The main focus was to balance model parsimony (number of covariates), accuracy (numerical performance) and realism of the visual representations (maps).

All welcome to attend

Department of Plant and Food Sciences Postgraduate Seminar Day   View Summary
14 March 2014

The seminars will be given by PhD and MPhil students. Research Proposal seminars will be 15 min + 5 min questions. Final Seminars will be 40 min + 10 min questions.

Lunch will be provided. Please bring a cake to sharefor morning tea and afternoon tea,

10:30 - 10:35 Welcome

10:35 - 10:55 Peri Tobias (PhD) The genetic basis for resistance to myrtle

rust infection in Geraldton waxflower (Research Proposal)

10:55 - 11:45 Peter Innes (MScAgr)Heat stress in Australian wheat (Final)

11:45 - 12:05 Shafeeq Ur Rehman (MPhil)How can genotype-irrigation system

interface increase water use efficiency in bread wheat? (Research Proposal)

12:05 - 12:25 Shahnoosh Hayamanesh (MPhil) Genetic and physiological basis of heat tolerance in diverse okra germplasm (Research Proposal)

12:25 - 13:15 Lunch

13:15 - 14:05 Kelly Scarlett (PhD)Epidemiology of Fusarium wilt in greenhouse cucumbers. (Final)

14:05 - 14:55 Hugh Goold (PhD) Brian Jones Lipid storage in the unicellular microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (Final)

14:55 - 15:15 Afternoon tea

15:15 - 16:05 Tuyen Vu (PhD) Comparative analysis of the soluble wheat proteins and human health (Final)

Good Food, Good Health: Delivering the benefits of food security in Australia and beyond   View Summary
17 March 2014

A multidisciplinary response to complex global challenges

Food and nutrition security is one of the major challenges facing our global community. Our modern food system is causing worldwide ill health on two fronts with chronic shortages of nutritious food causing malnutrition on one hand, and excessive consumption leading to chronic obesity on the other.

In Australia 60 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are overweight or obese. In contrast, recent estimates suggest that as much of 11 percent of gross national product in Africa and Asia is lost annually as a result of malnutrition. In addition, food systems - especially those orientated to the production of food as a commodity rather than an essential contributor to a nutritious diet - are contributing to environmental degradation in our region, putting additional pressure on land, water and food security.

This collaborative event brought to you by the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre, Marie Bashir Institute and Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, will showcase our multidisciplinary and practical response to this complex challenge in a day-long forum.

Speakers from a range of faculties and interdisciplinary centres, as well as experts from institutes around the world involved in food security, will tackle issues ranging from sustainable farming in Australia to aquaculture in Southeast Asia to associated human rights.

As well as providing a unique opportunity to engage with the latest research about food and nutrition security in Australia and neighbouring regions, this event will be an exceptional opportunity to interact with leading national and international experts on these issues.

Please download the event program here.

All participants must register here RSVP by Monday 10 March.

DES Seminar by Rob Burdock (PhD candidate)   View Summary
2 May 2014

Food production system relationships and resilience across the interacting themes of the environment, agricultural practice and produce nutrition.


The effect of climate change on food production and the impact of peak oil on the conventional industrial agricultural system will impact food security and nutrition. Much of the way food is produced is not environmentally sustainable and does not meet nutritional requirements. It is timely to explore whether or not it is possible to produce food sustainably which is resilient to the forces of nature and the limitations of the earths resources, while at the same time, achieving food security and nutrition.

This thesis builds an understanding of a systems perspective on food production. Farming systems are analysed for their health and environmental impact; food security is examined through the lens of food sovereignty; the challenges to modelling the system are explored; and a systems map of the interacting influences that support sustainable food production has been developed. To take this further, micro-nutritional flows within this system were traced to demonstrate system complexity. The systems map formed a theoretical framework to guide real-world modelling to test the sensitivity of outcomes and highlight the importance of system resilience to shocks.

Two case studies were developed for systems that have collapsed; the first for the ancient Mayan civilisation and the second for contemporary Cuba. The case studies used the system map developed for micro-nutrition and introduced the geometric framework for macro-nutrition. In the Mayan case, it was concluded that poor nutrition would have been one of several contributing factors leading to the collapse of the civilisation. In the Cuban case, the industrial agricultural system collapsed in 1990, causing a widespread food crisis. The country reinvented its rural sector, becoming the world's first nationwide experiment in agro-ecological agriculture. The Cuban system is modelled both before and after the changes of practice and then tested for climate and energy shocks with results validated using historical data. The simulations were able to show that a climate induced and/or energy crisis is significantly less severe when a community led agro-ecological farming system is practiced.

If humanity is to enjoy food security during a period of changing climate in an energy-constrained world, then we can look to the system resilience of community participation in agro-ecological food production with a focus on soil health and the recycling of biomass as an opportunity to be pursued to provide both food security and nutrition.

All welcome to attend

DES Seminar by Sam Player (PhD candidate)   View Summary
9 May 2014

The Sands of Angkor: A Sediment Record of the Later Angkorian Channel Network.


The city of Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from between the 9th-14/15th centuries CE, which at its peak covered most of mainland southeast Asia. For over fifty years, debate concerning the abandonment of the city has focused on the management of its water resource. During the city's existence a vast channel network was constructed which may have provided a means of irrigation and transportation. The long-standing debate centers around whether a "failure" of the channel system contributed to the demographic collapse of the city. This study is the first physical interpretation of the stratigraphy preserved within the Angkorian channel system and contributes to the growing understanding of the history of this complex and ancient canal system.

The Angkorian channel system has been previously mapped by archaeologists using remotely sensed imagery and forms the foundation for the current work. A study area was defined by the hydrological subcatchments that intersected Angkorian hydrological structures known to have been active during the latter phases of the Angkor Period. Numerous archaeological lineaments (presumed channels) mapped within that area were investigated using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and nine sites were selected that were found to exhibit either a surface open depression, or subsurface channel-shaped stratigraphy.

At each site, a transect was established perpendicular to the length of the mapped lineament and borehole samples were collected at topographic highs and lows. The stratigraphy was interpreted in the field and two locations selected for excavation of geological test trenches for more detailed observation and sampling. One trench was located within the presumed channel, and one at a non-channel control location. Field observation of the test trenches combined with micromorphological analyses were used to confirm or refute the occurrence of fluvially transported sediments. High-resolution particle size analysis was used to identify some of the finer details of the stratigraphy and provide an overall interpretation of the sequence of channel sedimentation.

All welcome to attend.

DES Seminar by Marshall McDaniel (Postdoctoral Research Associate at CCWF)   View Summary
16 May 2014

Crop Biodiversity in the 4th Dimension - Do Crop Rotations Enhance Soil Function?


Plant biodiversity is often considered only in the three dimensions of space. However, farmers have been using crop rotations, or biodiversity through time (i.e. the 4th dimension), since the beginning of written human history. Despite the long history of crop rotations and their prevalence in sustainable agriculture, little is known about the mechanisms through which they sequester C, N, and improve soil fertility. We used a meta-analysis and an eleven-year crop rotation experiment to tease out how crop biodiversity in the 4th dimension enhances soil health.

All welcome to attend.

DES Seminar by Nilusha Henakaarachchi (PhD candidate)   View Summary
30 May 2014

Finding an efficient method to measure soil carbon pools (in soil carbon turnover models)


Generally, soil carbon turnover models are comprised of several functional carbon pools which are modelled using different turnover rates. Currently, to parameterise each of the pools requires the physical separation of soil carbon into different fractions, which can take several days for each sample. Recently, IR spectroscopy has been used to estimate the carbon in carbon pool fractions but, this still does not remove the most time consuming phase of needing to physically separate the fractions. Therefore, this study investigated potentials to use spectroscopy techniques to measure both physically and chemically stabilized soil carbon pools from bulk soil spectra. Therefore, this study has focused on:

  1. Quantification of aggregated carbon by using Mid- and Near infrared spectroscopic techniques
  2. Investigating the potential to predict soil carbon pools in aggregate fractions by using mid infrared spectroscopy
  3. Estimate the changes of the aggregated carbon and carbon pools in incubated soils by using MIR spectroscopy

All welcome to attend.

DES Seminar by Cheryl Poon (PhD candidate)   View Summary
6 June 2014

Temporal changes in soil properties and microbial activities after prescribed burning


The effects of fire in forest ecosystems are complex and dynamic. In Australia, forest fire is an important driver above-and belowground carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) pools. Changes in soil C and N after fire can be divided into two phases: (i) immediate changes caused by direct heating of soil, and (ii) indirect medium- to long-term changes caused interaction with environmental factors. One of the most important fire-induced changes in soil C is the deposition of pyrogenic carbon (PyrC). PyrC is the partially or completely burned plant biomass remaining after fire. It is generally high in C content and largely held in a chemically-stable form (aromatic) which is highly resistance to microbial decomposition.

This study focuses on the effects of prescribed burning on soil chemistry and microbial-mediated soil processes. Soil samples were collected before nine prescribed burns in East Gippsland, Victoria, and at three times after burning (1 week, 1 month and 1 year) to investigate the changes in soil C and N, as well as microbial activity. Samples of PyrC were also collected immediately after fire. Using short- and long- term laboratory incubations, I investigated the influence of PyrC on the availability of C and soil nutrients (N and P) and microbial activity as indicated by rate of soil respiration.

This study investigated one of the processes of soil C cycling that occurs after fire. The results showed that PyrC deposition resulting from prescribed burning provides a transitory yet important source of C for soil microbes and stimulates microbial activity. On the other hand, from a management point of view, post-fire changes in soil C and N were less than seasonal or spatial variation.

All welcome to attend.

DES Seminar by Felipe Aires (PhD candidate)   View Summary
13 June 2014

Effects of woody weeds on fuels and fire behaviour in Eastern Australia forests and woodlands


Fire is a common feature in most ecosystems in Australia. The native flora is well adapted to occasional fire and recovers over time in a variety of ways. Invasive species or 'weeds' are also a common feature in most Australian ecosystems, particularly in forests and woodlands close to urban settlements. Invasive species can alter the fuel load and structure providing the fine fuel necessary for initiation and propagation of fire. Woody weeds can also provide elevated biomass to sustain fire and move it towards the canopy. When both these elements are considered there is the likelihood of alteration of the fire behaviour in weed-infested areas of forests and woodlands. This study aimed to investigate a variety of aspects on how woody weed plants change the Eastern Australian Woodlands fuel structure, load and flammability.

Two study cases investigating the effects of the invasion by African Olives in the Cumberland Plain Woodland and the Cootamundra Wattle in the woodlands of ACT show how different species alter the environment and by consequence the fire behaviour in these areas. Morphological, chemical and combustion characteristics related to flammability of fuel were measured using leaves from a range of woody weeds and compared to native Australian plants. A novel computational method was used to rank the flammability of the species tested. To date no Australian studies have used fuel data collected from the field with fire behaviour models to predict fire behaviour in areas invaded by woody weeds compared to non-invaded areas. Fire behaviour was simulated in invaded and non-invaded vegetation using the BehavePlus Fire Modeling System and compared to the predictions of fire behaviour using models currently in use by Australian fire management authorities for grassland and forest fuels.

All welcome to attend.

DES Seminar by Mirja Guldner (PhD candidate)   View Summary
27 June 2014

Impact of farm management on the diversity of desulfonation genes and 16S rRNA genes in wheat rhizospheres


Worldwide the resources for mineral fertilizer are diminishing. Growth of healthy, high-yielding crop plants requires a stable input not only of nitrogen and phosphorus, but also of sulfur (S). In natural ecosystems, nutrient cycling is mainly mediated by soil microorganisms, and much research is devoted to optimization of microbial nutrient cycling for agricultural ecosystems. Several rhizosphere microorganisms are able to mobilize plant-unavailable soil S, and two bacterial genes that may be involved in the process are atsA, which encodes arylsulfatase, and ssuD which encodes alkanesulfonatemonooxygenase.

This study investigated the impact of agricultural practices on the overall rhizosphere microbial community and on functional diversity of S-mobilizing organisms. Five wheat genotypes with different root-structures were inoculated with different strains of Azospirillum brasilense to determine the influence of wheat genotype and inoculation treatment in a continuous wheat field trial at Narrabri, New South Wales (Australia). Pot trials with vertisol soil from the field-site were carried out to investigate the effect of wheat variety and different inoculation treatments under controlled conditions. For the analysis of the ssuD-gene diversity degenerate primers were designed and tested for specificity through cloning and sequencing. Both, exploratory NMDS-Analysis and redundancy analysis (RDA) of fingerprinting profiles obtained by T-RFLP (Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism) showed that wheat variety has a significant (p< 0.05) impact on the ssuD gene diversity in the rhizosphere. A comparison of two crop rotations, (field pea/sorghum/wheat or mustard/sorghum/wheat) also showed clear differences between the 16S rRNA-gene and ssuD-gene diversity in the two treatments. Furthermore T-RFLP fingerprints of the ssuD gene diversity in wheat and canola rhizospheres were obtained across NSW and Victoria major environmental factors driving changes in ssuD-gene diversity were assessed. Optimizing farm management by taking into account the genetic potential of rhizosphere microorganisms can help to tailor more resource-efficient crop production systems.

The Quest for Quality Food 2014 Research Symposium   View Summary
15 July 2014

The Quest for quality food is a pressing challenge for the global food industry

We need to increase yields sustainably; address availability, affordability and uneven global distribution; and reduce waste and increase energy efficiency.

The Faculty of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Sydney conducts world-leading research that spans from the paddock to the plate. We recognise the importance of food systems and that now, more than ever, research is needed to ensure that we are producing sustainable, affordable and nutritious food. The Faculty has been creating solutions and making an impact on Australian agriculture for over 100 years and continues to lead the field.

The 2014 Faculty of Agriculture and Environment Research Symposium- The Quest for Quality Food- brings together international and Australian experts to present their latest research and ideas on innovations that will drive the industry's future. You will find out the newest approaches to ensuring the safety and quality of food products and developing new products for optimal health.

Professor Robyn McConchie
Chair || The Quest for Quality Food Research Symposium 2014

Department of Plant and Food Sciences Postgraduate Seminar Day   View Summary
18 July 2014

10:00 - 10:05 Welcome

10:05 - 10:25 Martha Masango: Mapping the groundnut value chain for aflatoxin contamination in Malawi (Research Proposal)

10:25 - 10:45 Naeela Qureshi: Genetic analysis and molecular mapping of rust resistance in wheat (Research Proposal)

10:45 - 11:05 Morning tea (please bring cake)

11:05 - 11:25 Pakeerathan Kandiah: Characterization of leaf rust and stripe rust resistance in wheat (Research Proposal)

11:25 - 12:15 Katrina Broughton: Cotton physiology and productivity with climate change (Final Seminar)

12:15 - 13:00 Lunch

13:00 - 13:20 Graeme Rapp: The biological and economic benefits of growing Indian Mustard (B. juncea) in north western NSW (Research Proposal)

13:20 - 14:10 Najeeb Ullah:Physiological approaches towards understanding waterlogging tolerance mechanisms in cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) (Final Seminar)

14:10 - 14:30 Afternoon tea (please bring cake)

14:30 - 14:50 Duncan Fraser: Breeding kikuyu grass for turf and pasture use (Research Proposal)

14:50 - 15:10 Vanessa Wells: Mapping of stripe rust and leaf rust resistance in wheat (Research Proposal)

DES Seminar by Maryam Montazerolghaem   View Summary
8 August 2014

Developing spatiotemporal rainfall forecasting models using historical data and climatic indices for agricultural management.


Knowledge about future rainfall would significantly benefit land, water resources and agriculture management, as this assists with planning and management decisions. Developing a spatiotemporal monthly rainfall forecasting model is one of the more difficult modelling approaches. This is especially true in Australia where there is a complex interaction between topography and the effect of Indian and Pacific Ocean.

This study aims to develop rainfall forecasting models at different timescales for Australia using historical data and climatic indices. The most important topics are:

  1. Regionalization based on historical climate data
  2. Regionalization of Australian climate drivers
  3. Development of fine spatial resolution models in different time-scales (monthly, seasonal, annual)
  4. Investigation of the change in relationship between Australian rainfall variability with climate drivers in time and space

Rainfall data was obtained from Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) from 136 high quality weather stations from the south-eastern and eastern part of Australia with monthly rainfall records from 1879 to 2012. To reduce spatial complexity of the area and improve model accuracy, spatial classification (regionalization) was first considered. Significant predictors for each sub-region selected from lagged climatic variables using Fuzzy Ranking Algorithm (FRA). Climate classification was successfully implemented to 1) identify homogenous sub-regions with similar rainfall patterns and investigate spatiotemporal rainfall variations within these areas, 2) select significant predictors for each area at a fine resolution, and 3) improve the prediction model and increase model accuracy. Results of forecast modelling will be discussed in presentation.

All welcome to attend

Seminar by Professor Dao Quoc Hy (University of Geneva)    View Summary
11 August 2014

Professor Dao Quoc Hy will shortly introduce a project on which they are currently working, i.e. translating the Planetary Boundaries approach (Rockström et al. 2009) to the Swiss national level (i.e. setting environmental limits for Switzerland, considering its environmental impacts inland and abroad). He is interested to exchange views on how to set limits for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Water, Land system and Biodiversity (see

Reference of the Planetary Boundary concept :

Rockström J., Steffen W., Noone K., Persson Å., Chapin F.S., Lambin E.F., Lenton T.M., Scheffer M., Folke C., Schellnhuber H.J., Nykvist B., de Wit C.A., Hughes T., van der Leeuw S., Rodhe H., Sörlin S., Snyder P.K., Costanza R., Svedin U., Falkenmark M., Karlberg L., Corell R.W., Fabry V.J., Hansen J., Walker B., Liverman D., Richardson K., Crutzen P. and Foley J.A. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461, pp. 472-475.

2014 Fresh Produce Safety Conference   View Summary
11 August 2014

2014 Fresh Produce Safety Conference:Accelerating Australian & New Zealand Food Safety Research, 11 August 2014, University of Sydney
Presented by the Fresh Produce Safety Centre, hosted by the University of Sydney and in partnership with PMA Australia-New Zealand

An event for your calendar is the 2014 Fresh Produce Safety Conference: Accelerating Australian & New Zealand Food Safety Research. The conference, to be held in Sydney on 11 August 2014, will address key issues in fresh produce food safety research, outreach and education. The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney, Dr Michael Spence, will officially launch the Fresh Produce Safety Centre at the conference.

Session Highlights:

  • The current state of food safety research in Australia and New Zealand
  • Headline research outputs relevant to our region from the Center for Produce Safety (USA)
  • Food safety outreach priorities
  • Active research in the food safety field including:
    • Survival of Salmonella in Soil Amended With Chicken Manure
    • Chlorine Replacement in Washwater

Featured Speakers:

  • Keynote: Timothy York, President of Markon Cooperative Inc (USA)
  • Dr Bob Whitaker, Chief Science and Technology Officer (PMA), Center for Produce Safety (USA)
  • Dr Mike Butcher, Pipfruit NZ
  • Professor Martin Cole, CSIRO
  • Ed Palmer, Coles

Conference Sponsors:

PFS Seminar by Dr Kanniah Rajasekaran (USDA-ARS, New Orleans)   View Summary
18 August 2014

"Improving Food and Feed Safety - Mitigation of Aflatoxin Contamination"

Dr. Kanniah Rajasekaran (Rajah) is currently a Senior Research Biologist with the Agricultural Research Service, USDA and is located at the Southern Regional Research Center, Food and Feed Safety Research Unit in New Orleans, Louisiana. He obtained his Bachelors and Masters in Agricultural Science from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, India and his Ph.D. from The University of Sydney under the tutelage of the Late Professor Michael G. Mullins. Since receiving his Ph.D. from The University of Sydney (1982), Rajah has continued his research on the application of cell/tissue culture and recombinant DNA technology towards genetic improvement of commercially important crops. His seminal work on experimental embryogenesis and genetic improvement of grapes, work done at the University of Sydney, and subsequent work on tissue culture regeneration and genetic transformation of a broad range of commercial cotton varieties including Upland cottons at Phytogen, a biotechnology company in California, are well known and highly cited by the international research community. As an USDA- ARS scientist, his primary research interest is in the control of preharvest aflatoxin contamination in corn, cottonseed, tree nuts, and peanuts through biotechnological means by improving host plant resistance to the saprophytic fungus, Aspergillus flavus. The current focus of his research is on development of transgenic cotton and corn to demonstrate the utility of several antifungal proteins and peptides, naturally occurring or synthetic, for effective control of several fungal pathogens, including Aspergillus flavus. So far, he has published 126 full length publications including 12 U.S. patents (plus >50 international patents), and 150+ conference abstracts. Rajah serves on the editorial boards and a frequent reviewer for several international journals. He also edited two American Chemical Society symposium series books on "Crop Biotechnology" (2002) and "Small Wonders: Peptides for Disease Control" (2012). In addition, Rajah has organized and chaired several other symposia, delivered invited lectures in many schools, universities, industry, research institutes and at national and international meetings and has published numerous invited authoritative reviews and book chapters. Along with his colleagues at SRRC, Rajah interacts with several international research institutes (ICRISAT, IITA), university, and industry collaborators in the USA on aflatoxin control in food and feed crops.

DES postgraduate research proposal seminar    View Summary
18 August 2014

1:00 pm Celia Moloney: NIR and XRF spectroscopy for improved management of contaminated soils.

1:20 pm Fiona Leech: Effect of alternative fertilizers on diversity & functionality of soil microbial communities associated with native pastures.

1:40 pm Sabastine Ugbaje: Declining vegetation/agricultural productivity in the Sudano-Sahelian region of Nigeria: deconstructing the impacts due to human activities and climate change

2:00 pm Mathew Webb: Regional and local scale climate and forecast mapping to support agriculture.

2:20 pm Shiva Bakhshandeh: Genotype × environment interactions to understand the role of wheat root traits on water and nutrient use efficiency

2:40 pm Kathryn Dumschott: Polyols as biomarkers for legume growth and yield.

3:00 pm BREAK

3:20 pm Karen Loucos:Understanding the limitations of mesophyll and hydraulic conductance to carbon and water movement in leaves.

3:40 pm Arjina Shrestha: Mechanisms of coordination between leaf mesophyll and hydraulic conductances to improve water use efficiency of grain legumes.

4:00 pmMillicent Smith: A bioenergetic approach to understanding crop responses to environmental change - impacts on yield quality and quantity.

4:20 pm Sanjeewani Pallegedara: Farm scale assessment of soil organic carbon from disaggregated regional scale models/maps.

4:40 pmPatrick Filippi: Soil change - Effects of shifting landuses and climate on soil condition at Hillston.

5:00 pm Thomas Jephcott: Novel investigations of cyanobacterial dynamics in Australia.

PFS Seminar by 4th year Faculty Students   View Summary
28 August 2014

Timor-Leste Food Security (presented by Eleanor Percival, Connie Mort, Olivia Agar)


In July 2014, students and staff from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, the Sydney Medical School, the Faculty of Education and Social Work and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (Indonesian Studies) visited Timor-Leste with a focus on food security.The program was led by faculty members from Agriculture (Daniel Tan), Medicine (Lyndal Trevena), Arts (Elisabeth Kramer) and plus 12 University of Sydney students in-country. hey participated in a week-long interdisciplinary project in the mountainous sub-district of Maubisse, approximately 3.5 hours by car from Dili. The interdisciplinary week focused on food security. Students worked in three cross-faculty groups, rotating through placements supervised by the relevant academic in clinics, schools, farms and markets.In the evenings, they gathered to discuss what they had learned and how their different backgrounds had influenced the ways in which they had interpreted their experiences. In the second week, the agriculture students went on a work placement with Rob Williams from Seeds of Life (Ministry of Agriculture) to visit farmers and research stations all the way to Betano in the South Coast, and back to Dili via the rice growing areas of Maliano and the north coast.

DES Seminar by A/Prof Budiman Minasny   View Summary
5 September 2014

How soil shapes the earth?

Much has been written about the history and evolution of the earth, however the role of soil is not much recognised. This presentation will first look at the role of soil and its processes in shaping the earth. Followed by a review on the research efforts of modelling soil genesis, and their connection with landscape formation models. Lately, landscape modellers increasingly recognise the importance of soil and need more detailed soil processes, while on the other hand the soil profile modellers need to consider material fluxes at the landscape scale. This presentation will therefore also discuss some of our work that tries to integrate both approaches.

Everyone welcome to attend.

IA Watson Grains Research Centre Field Day 2014   View Summary
10 September 2014

IA Watson Grains Research Centre Narrabri

Field Day 2014

Featuring presentations from agronomists, researchers and breeding companies on two major themes:

Crown rot and Water Use Efficiency / Heat Tolerance.

Hear about the agronomic issues, what is coming through from breeders to address these issues and the research that is underpinning genetic improvement.

Other research on display will include Faba Bean and Field Pea breeding, grain quality research and soil biology work.

Morning tea, lunch and closing drinks (provided by AGT) are included.

RSVP: 1 September 2014

DES Seminar by John Knight and Liana Pozza    View Summary
12 September 2014

Liana Pozza will present her 1st year PhD student presentation on "Novel onsite techniques for improved delineation of contaminated sites".

John Knight will talk about"Lewis Fry Richardson: Pioneer Soil Physicist"


This is joint work withPeter Raats of the Netherlands. I will discuss the history of some equations, but not their mathematical solutions.

Lewis Fry Richardson (1881-1953) was an English polymath who made important contributions to many fields including numerical weather prediction, finite difference solution of partial differential equations, turbulent flow and diffusion, fractals, and the causes of war. During World War I he invented the field of numerical weather prediction, although his methods were not successfully applied until 1950, after the invention of fast digital computers. In 1922 he published his weather work as the book "Numerical weather prediction", of which few copies were sold and even fewer were read until the 1950s. To model heat and mass transfer in the atmosphere he did much original work on turbulent flow, and defined what is now known as the Richardson number. His technique for improving the convergence of a finite difference calculation is known as Richardson extrapolation, and was used by John Philip in his 1957 semi-analytical solution of the Richards equation for water movement in unsaturated soil.

Richardson's first published papers in 1908 concerned the numerical solution of the free surface problem of unconfined flow of water in saturated soil, arising in the design of drain spacing in peat. Later, for the lower boundary of his atmospheric model he needed to understand the movement of heat, liquid water and water vapour in what is now called the vadose zone and the soil plant atmosphere system, and to model coupled transfer of heat and flow of water in unsaturated soil. Finding little previous work on this, he derived partial differential equations for transient, vertical flow of liquid water and transfer of heat and water vapour. He paid considerable attention to the balances of water and energy at the soil-atmosphere and plant-atmosphere interfaces, making use of the concept of transfer resistance introduced earlier by Brown and Escombe (1900) for leaf-atmosphere interfaces. He incorporated finite difference versions of all equations into his numerical weather forecasting model. From 1916 Richardson drove an ambulance in France in World War I, did weather computations in his spare time, and wrote a draft of his book.

Later researchers such as L.A. Richards, D.A. de Vries and J.R. Philip from the 1930s to the 1950s were unaware that Richardson had anticipated many of their ideas on soil liquid water, heat, water vapour, and the soil-plant-atmosphere system. In particular, the Richards (1931) equation should rightly be called the Richardson (1922) equation!

All welcome to attend.

PFS Seminar by Prof. David Raubenheimer (Charles Perkins Centre)   View Summary
18 September 2014

The nutritional ecology of human obesity

"Diseases of civilization" such as obesity and diabetes are a dauntingly complex problem, involving myriad links between modern lifestyles (principally nutrition) and past (evolutionary, historical and developmental) and present (e.g. physiological, behavioural, economic, cultural, political, ecological) causes. Managing these problems requires an approach in which nutritional science is integrated across a multi-disciplinary network, but such integration has been hampered by the discipline-focussed structure of academia. A goal of the Charles Perkins Centre nutrition theme is to de-emphasise subject boundaries and encourage interdisciplinary teams ("project nodes") to focus on nutrition-related challenges. In this seminar I will present a perspective from my own work, showing how nutritional ecology - the study of how animals relate to their environment through nutritional interactions - provides a framework for cross-disciplinary approaches to human nutrition. I will introduce an approach called nutritional geometry, and show how it can provide a template for linking disciplines to help understand and manage the global problem of obesity.


David Raubenheimer is a comparative nutritional ecologist. His work applies an evolutionary and ecological approach to the study of how nutrients influence the interactions of animals with their environment, including their foraging behaviour, food choices, physiological responses and health and other consequences. David is Professor of Nutritional Ecology and Nutrition Theme Leader in the Charles Perkins Centre, and Professor of Nutritional Ecology in the Faculty of Veterinary Science and School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney. He is author of over 200 journal articles and book chapters, and co-author of the book The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity (2012, Princeton University Press).

2014 Harald Jensen Lecture at the University of Sydney   View Summary
19 September 2014

The Harald Jensen Lecture is an annual lecture held by the NSW Branch of Soil Science Australia, as a forum to discuss and reflect upon contemporary and historical soil science issues. The Inaugural Lecture was given in 2005, by Dr Pat Walker, who gave an interesting presentation on the 'Soil Pioneers of Australia'.

Associate Professor Balwant Singh will deliver the 2014 Harald Jensen Lecture - "Training soil scientists for the 21st century." The evening of the Harald Jensen Lecture will also coincide with the presentation of the SSA 2013 C.G. Stephens PhD Award to Dr Brendan Malone.

The lecture will be followed by a dinner at your own expense at a local restaurant from 8.30pm.

The lecture will be 'live-streamed' from 6.30pm for those who would like to listen to the lecture but cannot make it to the venue at The University of Sydneyvia the webinar link below and can log in as a guest. Webinar link:

To attend, please register via this link

DES Seminar by Dr Barbara Drigo (Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment)   View Summary
10 October 2014

The Future of Dirt.



PFS Seminar by A/Prof Charles Warren and Dr Trevor Keenan   View Summary
22 October 2014

Associate Professor Charles Warren (Sydney Uni) will discuss his research on plant-soil interactions:

"Plants don't just passively cope with what nature dishes up, but instead actively manipulate the environment to suit themselves. One of the best examples of this is how plants interact with soil via uptake and efflux of compounds across their roots. This brief talk will describe research quantifying the simultaneous uptake and efflux of diverse compounds by roots."

Dr Trevor Keenan (Macquarie Uni) will be presenting his work on vegetation seasonality, changes in climate, and implications for the global carbon cycle:

"As the climate warms, the growing season is expected to get longer, but how much longer and what does this mean for the carbon cycle and feedbacks to climate? I will present results using long-term observations at multiple scales to show that forest phenology has responded to climate change during the past two decades, and this has led to an increase in carbon sequestration. This constitutes a negative feedback to climate change, and is serving to slow the rate of warming."

DES Seminar by Dr Sanjeev Jah (UNSW)   View Summary
24 October 2014

Dr Sanjeev Jah is currently a Senior Research Associate in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UNSW. Sanjeev has been working on several projects including the evaluation of sources of uncertainty in effective hydraulic conductivity values for deep geological formation funded by the National Institute for Communication and Technology of Australia (NICTA); the application of multiple-point geostatistics for aquifer characterization funded by the National Center for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT); and the impact of climate change on groundwater resources.



DES Seminar by Nirmala Liyanage (PhD candidate)   View Summary
31 October 2014

Scale-dependent nature of variation of soil carbon, moisture and nitrogen in a forested sub-catchment.


`Scale' is a term extensively used in many environmental-related sciences which refers to the spatial, temporal and hierarchical dimension of a phenomenon. The scale-dependent nature of the variation of soil processes and properties is a well-known phenomenon among soil and environmental scientists. Soil variation cannot be avoided therefore it is necessary to understand the dominant spatial scales of variation and focus our modelling and sampling efforts at these scales. Studies on the scale-dependent nature of variation are rare in the soil or soil moisture literature. Many of those studies measured the scale-dependent nature as a one-off evaluation and assumed that the scale-dependency is stationary for many soil properties. However this assumption can be criticised due to the dynamic nature of soil moisture in the landscape in a daily basis and its role as a driver to many soil variables. It is said that nested designs and related analysis are more suitable for studying scale-dependency as it facilitates the analysis of multiple disparate scales with fewer sampling points as compared to grid or transect sampling. The objectives of this research are to identify the dominant scales of variation for soil carbon, nitrogen and moisture and their drivers and to study the time course of scale-dependency of soil moisture in a eucalyptus forest using a nested design with the hypothesis that the variation is scale-dependent.

All welcome to attend.

DPFS Postgraduate Seminar Day   View Summary
5 November 2014



Research Supervisor



Research Proposal

or Final Seminar?

10:30 - 10:35


10:35 - 11:25

Mumta Chhetri

Harbans Bariana

Genetic characterization and molecular mapping of rust resistance in wheat

Final Seminar

11:25 - 11:45

Ahmed Al-Najim

Nabil Ahmad

A comparative study between zygotic and somatic embryogenesis in Phoenix dactylifera: molecular, biochemical and morpho-anatomical analysis

Research Proposal

11:45 - 12:35

Rodrigo Siqueira Reis

Tom Roberts

Role of double-stranded RNA binding proteins in the Arabidopsis miRNA pathway

Final Seminar

12:35 - 13:25


13:25 - 13:45

Anber Hamdani

Tariq Chattha

Water-use efficiency - Genetic and physiological basis of phenotypic variability in diverse tomato collections

Research Proposal

13:45 - 14:35

Tawanda Kapfuchira

Richard Trethowan

Genetics of biofortified wheat

Final Seminar

14:35 - 14:55

Afternoon tea (please bring cake!)

14:55 - 15:15

Usman Ijaz

Kedar Adhikari

Studies on the genetic basis of rust resistance in faba bean

Research Proposal

15:15 - 16:05

Mandeep Randhawa

Harbans Bariana

Molecular mapping of rust resistance genes in wheat

Final Seminar

DES Seminar by Tshering Dorji   View Summary
21 November 2014

Deconstructing the complex interrelationships of soil organic carbon with land use/land cover and other landscape attributes in a montane ecosystem.


Deconstructing the complex interrelationships of soil organic carbon (SOC) with environmental attributes is important for better understanding carbon dynamics. A good understanding of these interrelationships does not only make carbon accounting, C budgeting and designing C sequestration strategies easier but also more accurate. However, there are still substantial gaps in our understanding about the complex interrelationships of SOC with environmental attributes. Therefore, the main focus of this research is to deconstruct the complex interrelationships of SOC with land use/land cover (LULC) and landform attributes in a montane ecosystem of Bhutan, Eastern Himalayas. Specifically, the study aims to:

  1. determine the spatial variation of SOC stocks under different LULC types,
  2. investigate the vertical distribution of SOC density down the profiles under different LULC types, altitudinal zones and aspect directions,
  3. elucidate the complex interrelationships of SOC fractions with LULC and landform attributes and examine the aggregate associated OC and its role in soil aggregate stability under different LULC types.

All welcome to atttend.

DES Seminar by Sarah Taylor (PhD Candidate)   View Summary
28 November 2014

The Hydrogeochemistry of shallow saline groundwater in Western Sydney.

Salinity of some shallow groundwater and surface water features in Western Sydney has been observed for more than 200 years, however the cause of this salinity has never been thoroughly investigated. Many small scale hydrogeological studies of shallow groundwater have been undertaken in the region, but these have been fragmented in space and time, with a focus on determining the potential salinity risk at the site of a proposed development, and not on determining the cause and mechanisms of salinisation.

In this study, a comprehensive groundwater sampling program was undertaken in four locations across Western Sydney in conjunction with analysis of historical data, in order to identify the extent of groundwater salinity, to determine the geochemical character of the groundwater and to identify the source of salinity.

Groundwater salinity was found to be a region-wide issue. Shallow groundwater was almost always Na-Cl type and has a meteoric signature, excluding the possibility of connate or formation water being the salt source. Concentration of salts from rainfall occurs through evaporation and transpiration which is enhanced by the clay soils and underlying shale slowing water movement.

The knowledge gained from this study will be used to develop a conceptual model of shallow groundwater processes in Western Sydney. Successful salinity management requires detailed information on local causes and mechanisms of salinisation, which are currently unavailable for Western Sydney, but urgently needed as significant growth is planned for the region over the next 20-30 years.

All welcome to attend.

International Workshop on Biochar   View Summary
8 December 2014 to 9 December 2014

A workshop to discuss the state-of-the-art analytical methods to characterise biochars and soil organic carbon. International experts will provide theory and present results obtained for selected biochars.

The workshop is intended to provide standardised methods, based on traditional laboratory procedures and the state-of-the art techniques, for the characterisation of biochar.In the last decade, biochar has become a major research focus for scientists around the world. Biochar production has been proposed for long-term carbon storage, energy production, waste management, improving soil properties for crop production and environmental applications. Whilst significant research efforts have been directed towards understanding the persistence of biochar, its effect on soil properties and processes, the characterisation of biochar is often done using inconsistent and sometimes unsuitable laboratory procedures. Biochar properties obtained using variable procedures produce inconsistent data that make it difficult to compare the results of different studies and draw useful conclusions.The workshop has been organised to address this problem.

World renowned experts and researchers will come together to share procedures that are most suitable for the characterisation and application of biochars for various uses. Both theoretical and experimental aspects related to various measurements and techniques will be presented at the workshop. The intention is to compile the analytical methods that can serve as a primary source on the analytical methods for biochar characterisation.

International Perspectives on Biochar Research and Application   View Summary
10 December 2014

A group of leading biochar researchers from Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Thailand, UK and USA will be meeting at the University of Sydney to discuss methods of biochar analysis and environmental applications of biochar. We will take advantage of this international gathering to hold a one day seminar for the public to become acquainted with the present status of biochar research and bio-char use in many countries.

The speakers will discuss results and experiences of biochar applications, including environmental and socioeconomic impacts of utilizing different waste materials for biochar production and life cycle assessment of biochar implementation. Case stud-ies from several countries will be presented by leading biochar researchers. Addi-tionally, results of the application of advanced analytical techniques for the charac-terisation of biochar will be presented and related to the environmental and agri-cultural applications of biochar.

We invite researchers, land managers, regulators, students and inquisitive mem-bers of the public to attend this seminar.