HDR Symposium #2

Open to students and Academics, the Symposium showcases the TPRs, MTRs and Final presentations of HDR students of the FENNER SCHOOL OF ENVIRONMENT & SOCIETY. Other seminars from friends of the School will be presented.

(a) feel free to attend any or all of the talks;

(b) please remain muted unless you would like to ask a question;

(c) feel free to ask a question via the Chat function at any time; and

(d) raise your “Zoom hand” during question time (at the end of the talk) if you would like to ask a question or comment.


Link: https://anu.zoom.us/j/91003180673


9:00-9:45              Yizhi Li                  Thesis Proposal Review

Integration of vegetation remote sensing into a probabilistic drought forecasting framework

The timely measure of drought condition and skilful drought impact forecasting is considered very important to provide the earlier and tangible information for stakeholders to implement proactive drought preparedness and mitigation plan, especially in water-limited areas. Apart from the delayed detection of agricultural drought onset, the forecasting of agricultural drought impact within present-day drought early warning systems (DEWS) is also less developed globally. The early warning capability of DEWS should be improved to ensure food security and minimize the degradation of ecosystem.

With the technological advances in satellite-based remote sensing observations and computational capacity, there are several opportunities of developing skilful agricultural drought impact forecasting with sufficient lead-time, including: (a) data assimilated soil moisture datasets as better initial condition; (b) various remote sensing of vegetation conditions; (c) machine learning algorithms for optimistic selection of variables; (d) probabilistic prediction based on multilmodel ensemble weather and climatic forecasts.

The proposed thesis will explore how useful satellite-driven vegetation conditions may be for detecting the onset of agricultural drought and further develop a probabilistic drought forecasting system for assessing the risk in vegetation conditions.


9:50-10:35           Maria Askildsen                               Thesis Proposal Review

Improving parameter estimation for water quality modelling in the Great Barrier Reef

The Paddock to Reef (P2R) catchment water quality modelling aims to estimate catchment-derived baseline loads of key pollutants; and assess the efficacy of land management practices to improve water quality entering the GBR. For modelling to be used effectively in management and decision-making, confidence in model performance is imperative. Robust calibration including uncertainty analysis of model parameters can help to identify potential issues within measured data, provide information on model structure, and promote critical evaluation of parameter estimates and the model inputs. 

Statistical methods such as Bayesian inference, Generalised Likelihood Uncertainty Estimation (GLUE), and Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) have been used to calibrate hydrological models and for estimating uncertainty. However, implementation of uncertainty analysis in water quality modelling is limited.

The proposed thesis intends to explore the operational feasibility of various statistical methods in calibrating GBR water quality models. An important operational aspect is the effective use of measured data in model development. Therefore, investigation of the impact of data scale and noise on predictive uncertainty will be a key component of the work.


10:35-10:45         Break   


10:45-11:30         Takuya Iwanaga                               Final Presentation          

Integrative development of environmental system models: considerations towards robust futures

Management of socio-environmental systems (SESs) requires holistic assessment of the range of possible outcomes of interest and flow-on effects. Integrated environmental models (IEMs) are often used to support such planning to identify actions and decisions which lead to desirable outcomes under a range of plausible future conditions. Such pathways are described as being “robust”. IEMs are typically constructed by integrating (“connecting together”) multiple models, allowing representation of system interactions and assessment of their effects. Integrated modelling, however, is complex and intellectually demanding as it necessitates incorporation and synthesis of knowledge and perspectives from a variety of disciplines. These include the social, economic, ecological, agricultural, (geo)hydrological and climatic, as well as the software engineering that binds the computational representations together and the mathematical tools that supply the scientific rigour. Perhaps most importantly, modellers must consider and communicate the systemic uncertainties which may influence the path taken. The thesis explores how an integrative process that leverages multi-disciplinary perspectives lowers barriers to the management of model and input uncertainty and eases roadblocks to support identification of robust futures.


11:35-12:10         Isobel Bender                    PhB ASC Presentation  

Snowy River environmental flows post-2002: Lessons to be learnt

In 2002, after a series of negotiations, the New South Wales, Victoria and Commonwealth government of Australia agreed to return and deliver environmental flows to the Snowy River. This agreement was entrenched in the Snowy Water Inquiry Outcome Implementation Deed, with the aim to deliver the environmental flows from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme in the Australian Alps. This report establishes whether the delivery of environmental flows has honoured the intent of this agreement in the context of what was legally agreed to and what the expectation and understanding was of those involved. This was achieved through triangulation of analysis of relevant government documents, semi-structured interviews with relevant involved stakeholders and flow data since 2002. One conclusion is the delivery has not honoured the intent of the agreement. However, the agreement and delivery has provided insights into the trade-off in values made in this battle to use water from the Snowy River, which subsequently has implications for future restoration agreements. Thus, this report concludes with what lessons can be learnt from this agreement and its implementation to try and enhance future restoration agreements.


12:10-12:25         Break                   


12:25-1:10           Yuqing Chen                      Thesis Proposal Review

How can ecosystem accounting support natural resource management and environmental protection in the Australian Capital Territory and beyond?

Environmental-economic accounting measures the interactions between the environment and the economy. It has developed over more than 30 years and was adopted as an international standard in 2012. The use of environmental-economic in decision making has been limited but there are examples of it being used to support natural resource management and environmental protection. Ecosystem accounting is an extension of environmental economic accounting and measures ecosystem condition and extent as well as ecosystem services. It is not yet an international standard and existing studies use a range of data sources and methods to build accounts. 

In 2018, the Australian Government and all states and territories agreed on a plan to implement environmental-economic accounting. A first iteration of environmental-economic accounts was produced for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to support the State of the Environment reporting, but further work is needed to produce ecosystem accounts for the ACT and assess how the accounts could be used in policy and planning.

In my research I aim to: (1) investigate what data could be used to produce ecosystem accounts in the ACT and beyond; (2) measure the impacts of land-use change on the ecosystems and ecosystem services in the ACT; (3) support the decision-making processes on land use planning and natural resource management in the ACT; (4) determine to what extent the ACT experience with ecosystem accounting can support land use planning and natural resource management in other parts of Australia; and (5) how the ACT and broader experience can support the development of international standards for ecosystem accounting. As part of this I will produce a range of accounts beginning with accounts for the ACT and including accounts for: land cover and land use, ecosystem services (beginning with those for water provisioning and filtration and carbon sequestration), carbon, biodiversity and urban areas. These accounts will then be analysed to see how they could be used in the decision-making processes of government and others involved in natural resource management.


1:15-2:00              Chitresh Saraswat            Thesis Proposal Review

Do New Water Governance Systems Deliver Innovation and Performance to accelerate transitions towards water security in India? 

Amidst of increasing call for innovation to support the transition towards water security and sustainable future, this study critically evaluates the hypothesis that advancing innovation capabilities accelerates transitions towards sustainability in the water sector. To conceptualize innovation capabilities and water governance configurations, this research draws on water governance, organizational innovation literature, and sustainability transition theory, introducing the concept of “Sustainability-induced Innovation Capabilities (SIC)”. SIC is defined as the internal abilities and external competencies of an organization to deal with environmental change, to design strategies to adapt and to create services or processes strictly driven by sustainability perspectives. The study employs examples from four case studies to illustrate review and synthesis. Selected four case-studies of water utilities are operating under different water governance configurations in India: the public, the public-private-partnership (PPP), public-public-partnership (PuP) and community-led. Water utilities manage and operate at the local level and are an important entity for introducing sustainability in the water sector. First, research draws an analytical framework with governance configurations as the independent variable and SIC as the dependent variable to assess the degree of innovation uptake and capability development. Second, research collects data from semi-structured interviews, archives, reports, and documents for the analysis. The study performs in-depth review of case studies to evaluate and compare the potential of governance configurations in developing SIC and accelerating transitions. The research will discuss which water governance configurations are more conducive in development of SIC and establishes SIC as an enabling factor for sustainability transitions in water management in India.


2:05-2:50              Renee Hartley                   Mid Term Review           

The effects of grazing mammals on the Endangered alpine she-oak skink and its habitat

 Ecosystems in the Australian alpine region are facing increasing pressures, including human disturbance, fire and climate change. Invasive herbivores can have severe and sustained impacts on these sensitive ecosystems. The Endangered alpine she-oak skink (Cyclodomorphus praealtus) occurs in the alpine region of New South Wales and Victoria, with populations in the two jurisdictions thought to be genetically distinct. The species’ conservation status and habitat requirements are poorly understood in New South Wales, despite much of its range occurring in Kosciuszko National Park. Its primary habitat is subalpine grasslands, which are key grazing habitat for invasive herbivores. This research addresses important knowledge gaps for managing the unique Australian subalpine grasslands and the alpine she-oak skink by quantifying the impacts of native and invasive herbivores and determining the habitat and detectability of the alpine she-oak skink.


2:50-3:00              Break   


3:00-3:45              Matt Chard                         Mid Term Review           

Fire, Fauna and Fuel: How herbivores respond in a fire-prone landscape and how potential feedbacks may influence future bushfire risk

Macropods are Australia’s largest native herbivore and have the potential to alter vegetation structure and function. This effect is even more pronounced within fire-prone landscapes as fire promotes new growth which is highly sought after by herbivores (pyric herbivory). The potential feedbacks on fire risk in ecosystems which are subject to both fire and herbivory has yet to be quantified within coastal ecosystems where the threat of bushfire is greatest for both recovering biodiversity and human life. How does the fire history of an area influence the spatial presence of macropods in an ecosystem? How is both fire and macropods altering vegetative communities? And will this impacted vegetation have a higher or lower risk of contributing to future bushfires in an area? And what are the ethical issues surrounding the employment of macropods as firefighters in today’s job market? What size jackets do we need to order for macropods? And do people often reach the end of an abstracts description? Some of these questions may be answered in my MTR.


3:50-4:35              Meena Sritharan              Mid Term Review           

What makes plants rare?

Understanding the drivers of plant rarity over spatial and temporal scales is a question that continues to puzzle ecologists. As rare species can decline under altered climatic conditions and common species can be susceptible to becoming rare, understanding the mechanisms of how and why rare species persist is central to conservation. Plant traits can have profound effects on the abundance of species but cannot be used to identify a rare plant or the drivers of species rarity. Environmental conditions such as disturbance or biotic factors may instead play a key role in driving plant rarity. In the past year, I have been looking at  (i) how fire regimes influence plant rarity across different vegetation communities and (ii) how plant interactions, species co-occurrence, and vegetation composition influence plant rarity. My findings show that determining how disturbance and plant interactions drive and influence species rarity may bring us closer to answering the question, "What makes a species rare?".





Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels