Charles Darwin University
enews home

Awards for top ecology student

By Patrick Nelson

Andrew Schubert measures the bark of a corkwood near Alice Springs Andrew Schubert measures the bark of a corkwood near Alice Springs

A Central Australian ecology student will be presented with a Chancellor's Medal at Charles Darwin University’s graduation ceremony in Alice Springs this month.

Honours graduate Andrew Schubert will receive the prestigious Chancellor’s Medal for Higher Education, in recognition of achieving one of the highest grade point averages among students from the Faculty of Engineering, Health, Science and the Environment.

It is Mr Schubert’s second award in a month. The mature-age student last month won the Territory Natural Resource Management Award for outstanding Academic Achievement in the Bachelor of Science Honours.

The long-time Central Australian last year completed a study on how bark thickness in trees and shrubs changed with fire and rainfall across the southern half of the Northern Territory.

“I measured the bark thickness of almost 100 species across an area stretching from the South Australian border to Elliot,” Mr Schubert said.

“I would have measured more than 2000 individual trees and shrubs.”

Mr Schubert found that bark was thicker on trees where fire was more prevalent.

“The thinnest was red mulga on the edge of the Simpson Desert where it hardly ever rains and fire is extremely rare, while the thickest species were the rusty bloodwoods near Elliott, where fires occur every few years,” he said.

“There was a strong trend for bark thickness to increase from south to north, but only when comparisons were made within similar vegetation types.”

He said the trend was even stronger when he compared bark thickness within closely related species such as the Eucalypts, implying thick bark is an evolutionary adaption to frequent fire.

“The conclusion was that fire rather than rainfall was the biggest driver of thick bark across the region.”

Head of the School of Environment Professor Andrew Campbell congratulated Mr Schubert on the quality of the study, “Does fire or productivity drive relative bark thickness from desert to savannah in Northern Australia?”

“His Honours thesis was outstanding and we wish him well in his future endeavours,” Professor Campbell said.

“With a First Class Honours degree from CDU he is now well placed to undertake a Higher Degree by Research if he wishes, and we’d love to see him continue on to do a PhD with us at CDU.”