Major conservation program activates ecology lab at Flinders

Professor Corey Bradshaw at the SA Museum Flinders Ranges fossil exhibition.

Flinders will play a key role in a new $45.7 million Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage.

An international research team based at the University of Wollongong in NSW will join forced with seven other Australian universities and other research organisations to shed light on Australia’s unique biodiversity and Indigenous heritage in a seven-year, multi-disciplinary quest.

The Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) aims to “add to better environmental understanding and have a positive impact on the lives of Australians”.

The first continental-scale project of its kind in the world, CABAH will pioneer a new understanding of the natural and human history of Australia, Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia from 130,000 years ago until European arrival.

CABAH will take an innovative, transdisciplinary approach, bringing world-leading researchers from science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines (spanning the natural sciences) together with scholars from the humanities and social sciences, such as archaeology and Indigenous studies.

Flinders Professor Corey Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Fellow in Global Ecology, will lead the Modelling Node for the new national Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage.

“We will be responsible for the modelling or ‘glue’ that binds together the different themes (fossil distributions, human occupation, climate),” says Professor Bradshaw, who is keen to hear from anyone interested in joining the new Flinders research project.

“My lab, the Global Ecology Laboratory, is now in the process of hiring postdoctoral and appointing PhD students to get work under way here.”

The initiative is funded by a $33.75 million grant from the ARC, $1 million from the NSW Government, and $11 million from participating universities, museums and other organisations. The funds will support at least 40 new research positions and more than 50 new research students over the life of the program.

The other universities involved are James Cook University, the University of NSW, Australian National University, The University of Adelaide, Monash University and the University of Tasmania. They will join forces with partners such as the Australian Museum, South Australian Museum, Queensland Museum and State Library of NSW.

CABAH also has strategically important international partners in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, France, Germany, Denmark, the UK and the USA.

The Centre’s leader, Distinguished Professor Richard Roberts, from the University of Wollongong Centre for Archaeological Science, says Australia’s environmental history and Indigenous heritage are fundamental to understanding the story of humanity’s spread across the globe, adaptations to changing environments and interactions with past landscapes and ecosystems.

“Australia boasts an array of fauna and flora that exists nowhere else on Earth,” Professor Roberts says.

“It has some of the world’s most ancient landscapes and deeply weathered and depleted soils, and is home to Indigenous peoples whose genetic and cultural history extends back many tens of millennia.

“But we still do not have answers to some of the most fundamental questions about this continent or its people, such as the timing and routes of their dispersal around the continent, the timing and extent of major changes in climate and fire regimes, or how landscapes, plants and animals responded to the altered conditions.”

The ARC Centres of Excellence scheme fosters significant collaborations between universities, publicly funded research organisations, other research bodes, governments and businesses in Australia and overseas, all to support outstanding research.

The ARC’s Acting Chief Executive Ms Leanne Harvey says the CABAH’s main aims are to “transform our understanding of Australia’s ancient Indigenous heritage and environmental past, and improve our understanding in order to help future-proof Australia’s unique biodiversity and cultural heritage”.

“It will support revolutionary transdisciplinary research collaborations across diverse fields including earth sciences, ecology, genetics, archaeology and Indigenous studies,” Ms Harvey says.

“The ARC Centre will also equip a new generation of researchers with the range of skills needed to traverse the interface between STEM and humanities, arts and social sciences.”




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