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Students gain research expertise in Central Australia

Desert Ecology students investigate arid zone flora and fauna
Ecology students investigate arid zone flora and fauna in the Finke River system

Equipping students with the skills and confidence to conduct research in the Territory is the aim of a week-long research intensive being undertaken by university students, thanks to Charles Darwin University.   

A group of more than 25 Environmental Science students are in Alice Springs for a Desert Ecology Intensive, with CDU students joining Sunshine Coast University students to experience conducting research in the unique environment of Central Australia.

The students have been collecting data for three different studies at sites across the MacDonell Ranges, monitoring native bird populations in river red gum woodlands, looking at the dispersal of native plant seeds in buffel grass and the health of aquatic fauna in arid waterbodies.

The data is incorporated into long-term data sets that have been used to create a baseline for the researcher and be able to compare the different sets per year.

Environmental Discipline Chair and arid zone ecologist Dr Christine Schlesinger, who leads the yearly intensives, said the program allows for sustained monitoring and data collection at sites in the Todd and Finke River systems, which helps to capture crucial data and provides valuable information.

“Bird communities in the rivers transform under different conditions and in response to disturbances. The research the students are conducting is helping to untangle these patterns,” Dr Schlesinger said.

“It’s inspiring working with students in the field and in our incredible Central Australian landscapes to teach them research methods and share this special place.”

Darwin based CDU Environmental Science student Sara Maxsted said she has quickly gained a better understanding of what data sets are, how to collect them and research methodology in just a few days in the field.

“We have been learning how to identify arid zone birds while documenting how they use these habitats,” Ms Maxsted said.

“I’ve really enjoyed working in such beautiful landscapes and it has really solidified my passion for land management and conservation.”

This is the sixth year the Desert Ecology Field Intensive week has been available to CDU students allowing Environmental Science students to experience an environment which is unique, not just to Australia, but to the world.