IAE research facilities
The Institute for Applied Ecology carries out leading-edge research in six primary research laboratories:
- Biodiversity Laboratory
- EcoChemistry Laboratory
- Freshwater Ecology Laboratory
- GIS Facility
- Sedimentology Laboratory
- Wildlife Genetics Laboratory
In addition to these laboratories, the IAE has equipment and facilities that can be utilised by staff and students to enhance research effectiveness for field work. This includes 4WD vehicles, quad bikes, boats and portable equipment such as traps.
The Biodiversity Laboratory provides support for a range of whole animal studies in the laboratory and in the field. Laboratory facilities include incubation chambers for constant and programmed fluctuating temperature regimes, X-ray and laparoscopy equipment, compound and stereo-microscopy facilities, growth cabinets, small-animal holding facilities and a glasshouse. An animal house is being constructed and will come on line in 2010.
The laboratory has a full range of equipment in support of field work, including four-wheel-drive vehicles, boats, trailers, differential GPS, satellite phones, portable O2/CO2 monitors, radiotelemetry equipment, and camping equipment.
In recent years, the lab has supported substantial research projects and postgraduate students in Canberra and environs, Arnhem Land, the Lower Murray, Cooper Creek, Jervis Bay, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. The University of Canberra has a field station at Jervis Bay in Booderee National Park.
The Ecochemistry Laboratory is a specialised facility for the analysis of chemical species in biological tissues, waters and sediments from aquatic ecosystems. The Ecochemistry laboratory is the only lab in Australia that is able to undertake chemical speciation analysis in water, sediments, soil, animal and plant tissues.
The staff within the Ecochemistry Laboratory are responsible for the design of environmental sampling and analysis programs, undertaking the chemical analysis of food and environmental samples and routinely perform physiochemical, nutrient, trace metal and metalloid analysis.
In addition to this research consultancy activity, the EcoChemistry Lab conducts extensive research into the bio-geochemical cycling of nutrients, trace metals and metalloids in freshwater and marine ecosystems in order to understand the fate and effects of chemical contaminants in these systems.
Research programs focus on how aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems cycle trace elements and the ability of organisms to cope with contaminants. This information is used for the development of national guidelines for the protection of aquatic ecosystems. As part of these programs, many innovative methods have been developed to quantify the total amounts and chemical species in these systems.
The focus of research is in seven areas:
- Understanding the biological factors such as growth, age, sex, sexual maturity and seasonal influences that control the uptake and retention of metals and metalloids by gastropods, molluscs and fish in the estuaries and intertidal zones of Eastern Australia and Papua New Guinea.
- Understanding the strategies marine organisms used to store and detoxify metals and metalloids such as incorporation into metallothioneins and other proteins and granules. A necessary part of this is the elucidation of the chemical forms of elements.
- Understanding the transfer, bioaccumulation and biomagnification and associated changes in chemical forms of metals and metalloids in marine food webs.
- Understanding the effects chemicals have on the health of aquatic organisms such as enzyme changes and subcellular damage by metals and metalloids.
- Understanding the reactivity of carbon in aquatic systems and the roles of carbon plays in the release of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen from benthic and suspended particles (and subsequent algal problems).
- The development of water and sediment quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic ecosystems.
- The use of microwave-assisted and hyphenated techniques (HPLC-ICPMS, HPLC-MS, FIA-ICPMS) for the measurement of chemical species in water, biota and sediments.
Freshwater Ecology Laboratory
The IAE Freshwater Ecology Laboratory offers the assessment of human impact on stream or lake ecological conditions (including macroinvertebrates and fish) and water quality.
The laboratory is currently assessing environmental flows on the ecological conditions of the Cotter River in the ACT and monitoring the effects of ski resorts on alpine stream ecological condition in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains. The effects of the enlargement of the Cotter Dam on endangered Macquarie Perch populations and other threatened fish are another area of research activity undertaken.
The laboratory is equipped with macroinvertebrate and fish sampling equipment. In addition, the lab contains 6 Leica microscopes, including 2 microscopes capable of species level macroinvertebrate identification and 2 drying ovens. Equipment used for measuring water quality include instruments that measure algal biomass and chlorophyll concentration, hydrolabs and loggers that automatically measure turbidity and conductivity.
The newly equipped lab houses five new high end computers each with a second monitor linked to digitisers, plotters and a large format colour printer. A Ultra Mobile laptop is also available for loan to take into the field. The facility includes ergonomic workstations and large flat tables to place maps for viewing and digitising. Smartboard will be added to the suite of facilities as an interactive whiteboard to enable electronic capture of sketches as well as a projector system.
This GIS Research Facility is to enable Honours, Masters and PhD students a location where they can produce geospatial products in both hardcopy and electronic form. The high-end computers are capable of geospatial analysis and modelling having all applications of the ArcMap 9.3 suite of programs.
The IAE Sedimentology Laboratory is a large area containing a special storage area for drill-core samples and equipment for efficient analysis of sediments including two drying ovens.
Wildlife Genetics Laboratory
Research in the Wildlife Genetics Laboratory focuses on Australian wildlife and includes conservation and biological studies of Australian native fauna including marine and freshwater turtles, dragon lizards and forensic studies of Australian mammals and parrots, as well as population genetics of invasive animals including foxes in Tasmania, feral cats, fallow deer and pigs.
The Wildlife Genetics Lab is a modern, purpose designed molecular biology lab. It contains 22 individual working benches for staff and students as well as communal areas for specific procedures and equipment. A separate lab allows for the physical separation of pre- and post- PCR functions in order to reduce sample contamination and equipment bottlenecks.
Facilities include are equipped for post-PCR procedures including DNA sequencing, genotyping and cloning, a suite of 5 PCR machines, a capillary electrophoresis analyser for microsatellite genotyping and sequencing, and automation for precision high throughput reaction setup and processing, as well as all the standard requirements of a modern molecular biology laboratory. The Wildlife Genetics Lab has PC2 (Physical Containment 2) level certification, which allows for cloning and genetic modification.
A secure and restricted Trace DNA facility in a separate building is isolated from all other DNA work. This facility is used for genetic analysis of samples such as scats, hair, bone etc where DNA quantity is low and hence the potential for contamination significant.
The Wildlife Genetics Lab also houses a Genotyping Facility for the Invasive Animals CRC. Research projects using this facility are typically carried out in collaboration with external wildlife management agencies.