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Max Day Award recipients

Two early-career environmental scientists are receiving a boost from the Australian Academy of Science with funding for their projects to conserve one of our most endangered animals, and to enable bushfire risk to be mapped from space.

Mr Nicholas Leseberg from the University of Queensland and Dr Marta Yebra from the Australian National University are the first two recipients of the Academy’s Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award.

The Max Day Award provides up to $20,000 to support early-career researchers working on the conservation of Australia’s flora and fauna, ecologically sustainable use of resources, protection of the environment and ecosystem services.

“Not only was Max Day a champion of entomology, conservation and forestry, at 101 he is also the oldest and longest-serving Fellow of the Academy. I am very proud that we can provide this support to early-career researchers in his honour,” said Academy President Professor Andrew Holmes.

How do you help a bird that hides from you to fight extinction?

That’s the challenge being faced by PhD student Nick Leseberg from the University of Queensland who will use his Max Day Award to investigate the ecology of the elusive and endangered Night Parrot.

The Night Parrot is a shy, nocturnal bird that lives mostly on the ground in arid regions of Australia and after a severe decline in the late-19th and early-20th centuries was thought by some to be extinct.

First photographed in 2013, it’s still notoriously difficult to see and very difficult to study.

Nick hopes to use acoustic recorders and GPS tracking to build a better picture of how these birds use their environment.

From this, Nick will develop a comprehensive habitat model that may enable researchers to find more populations, and effectively conserve those they already know about.

“Birds are my passion, and while the opportunity to conduct essential research into one of Australia’s most high-profile threatened bird species is daunting, it also promises to be the experience of a lifetime,” said Nick.

Can we predict bushfires from space?

Australia’s forests are among the most fire-prone in the world and satellite monitoring could greatly help to predict and mitigate bushfires before they occur.

This space-based monitoring will be one step closer thanks to upcoming research from Dr Marta Yebra of the Australian National University.

Marta will use her Max Day Award funding to conduct experiments at the National Arboretum Canberra to determine the moisture content of Australia’s native forests.

Moisture content is particularly important to predicting bushfires on a large scale as it affects the likelihood of ignition occurring, as well as the severity and spread of the fire.

This real-world data will be incorporated into new models that can be used to predict bushfires.

“I feel honoured and excited on receiving this award which signifies the importance that Australia places on the bushfire research I do,” said Marta.

Both Nick and Marta will receive their awards at the Academy’s annual signature science event Science at the Shine Dome on 24 May 2017.

In addition to the winners, the research of three other applicants was deemed ‘highly commended’ and they will also be invited to attend Science at the Shine Dome.

They are:

  • Dr Hugo Harrison from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University for his project ‘Connecting reefs in the Anthropocene: Managing Australia’s coral reefs for recovery and persistence
  • Dr Kerensa McElroy from CSIRO for her project ‘TheDNA footprint’ of near extinction: interrogating 100 years of black-throated finch decline by sequencing contemporary and historical specimens
  • Mr Max Worthington from Flinders University for his project ‘Renewable Polymers for Agriculture and the Environment’.


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