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Early career and early stage researchers
Early career researchers are researchers who are in the first five years of their research careers from the time they are awarded their PhD. Members of the Australian Seed Bank Partnership are committed to fostering the careers of a growing number of early career and young researchers in the field of seed science. The research being undertaken is both of major importance in the field of seed science and of benefit to Australian plant conservation, restoration and the maintenance of Australia’s plant diversity.
Early career scientists are the cornerstone and the future of Australia’s seed science programs
Professor Kingsley Dixon (Director of Science, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, WA)
Prepared by Donald Kerr
Scientists sow seeds of success
'From small things, big things grow,' so the song goes, and some Australian plant researchers want to use their knowledge and skills to help seed banking yield a large harvest for the world's future. The song's authors, Kevin Carmody and Paul Kelly, did not know they might have unwittingly chosen an anthem for the researchers: all of whom are starting their careers in an exciting new field for them.
The four researchers, Andrew Crawford (Western Australia), Peter Cuneo (NSW), Lydia Guja (ACT) and Megan Hirst (Victoria), have either recently completed their PhDs or are part-way through their studies. All of the scientists are early career researchers in the plant sciences. Some are heading into science for the first time, while others have changed direction part-way through their research careers. A love of the bush, determination, patience, and sharp eyes are their tools. For some of the early career researchers, environmental science was their first choice of a job, while others first worked in different fields. They have shared their stories with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership to inspire others about the joys of a career working with plants.
We still have a great deal to learn about seeds, including the mechanisms that govern seed dormancy, germination and death. It is therefore essential that we engage and attract early career research scientists to seed science as a discipline. With an estimated 380,000 species of seed-bearing plants, many of which we are dependent on for our food, water, oxygen and other ecosystem services, there is plenty to do!
Dr Paul Smith (Head of Seed Conservation Department & Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)
Andrew Crawford is a research scientist at the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s Threatened Flora Seed Centre (TFSC), which is housed in the Keiran McNamara Conservation Science Centre in Western Australia. Andrew commenced working for the department in 2001 when he was employed as a technical officer as part of the department’s collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. In 2004, in response to the suggestion that the storage conditions used by conservation seed banks may not be broadly applicable to Australian plants, Andrew began a part-time PhD examining seed storage and longevity in the Australian flora, in addition to continuing in his role as a technical officer at the TFSC. This research resulted in three scientific papers. Andrew completed his thesis ‘Storage and longevity of Australian plant species’ in 2012 and had the thesis accepted in 2013. Andrew continues working at the TFSC as a research scientist where his primary role is still the collection and storage of seed of Western Australia’s conservation significant plant species and the day-to-day running of the centre, as well as providing seed related advice and training to departmental staff.
African olive (Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata) is a highly invasive tree throughout western Sydney and the Hunter Valley, where it threatens endangered remnant bushland areas. In response to large areas of olive forest at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan (ABGMA), Peter’s PhD research, awarded in 2013, has been driven by the need to understand African olive weed ecology to guide control and management techniques. The research project has documented the key aspects of African olive ecology, which are now being applied at landscape scale throughout the ABGMA. With over 45 ha of olive now removed at ABGMA, the current research phase is to develop systems that restore the original native plant diversity, through broad scale direct seeding once African olive has been controlled. A NSW Environmental Trust grant is being used to develop restoration techniques and improve native vegetation and habitat at ABGMA. This work will involve the use of native seed collections held at the Australian PlantBank.
Lydia Guja is the Seed Conservation Biologist at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) in Canberra. She recently took up this position while also working to complete her PhD at Curtin University and Kings Park and Botanic Garden in WA. She is just about to submit her PhD thesis titled 'The influence of morphological and physiological seed traits on oceanic dispersal and germination in saline coastal environments.' Her thesis research spans a number of fields including dispersal ecology, seed germination biology, seed physiology and the application of x-ray mapping techniques to understand salt tolerance of plant seeds. Her love of heath has moved with her across the country and her main research at ANBG is focussed on the conservation and germination of plants from the endangered ecological community ‘Alpine Sphagnum bogs and associated fens.’ This research project aims to conserve in ex situ conservation the plant species of the community, and to understand the ecological drivers of germination and seed persistence in the field.
Megan Hirst is the Seed Bank Officer with the Victorian Conservation Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and is completing her PhD in the Department of Genetics at the University of Melbourne. Megan is studying how the key Australian plant genus Brachyscome (native daisies) adapts to climate change. This research will help scientists better understand how our native flora will fare in a changing world. This genus of more than eighty species has a wide geographic distribution and can be found growing in various habitats from the high rainfall zones of coastal and alpine areas to the arid regions of Central Australia. These native daisies provide a unique opportunity to investigate the relative susceptibility and adaptability of plant species to a changing climate.