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Research and Innovation

Professor Karen Gibb

Higher Degree by Research
Karen Gibb

Professor Karen Gibb is an environmental microbiologist with 30 years of research experience. 

Professor Gibb is Director of the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods and is an active researcher in the Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology Unit (ECMU). The ECMU is a research and commercial unit that has research strengths in determining the source of contaminants and interpreting changes in marine, estuarine and aquatic environments. 

ECMU’s research has supported important improvements in the methodologies and policies that underpin the sustainable management of marine, estuarine and aquatic systems across northern Australia. Government now mandates some of the methodologies developed by ECMU for environmental monitoring.

The core research strengths of the ECMU are:

  • the use of trace metal and nutrient data combined with stable isotope data to determine the source of industrial and urban contaminants in tropical marine and terrestrial environments

  • molecular and environmental microbiology and genomics to track the sources of biological contaminants in tropical aquatic environments.

Professor Gibb’s personal scientific output includes 136 refereed papers, over 3,000 citations and an h-index of 32. She has been Chief Investigator on $6 million of research projects and in 2006 was awarded the Northern Territory Research and Innovation Tropical Knowledge Award for Research. Professor Gibb serves on several committees including as Chair of the Darwin Harbour Advisory Committee.

HDR project opportunities

Water and land stewardship

Professor Gibb and her team are interested in developing and evaluating efficient tools and protocols for mapping and monitoring environmental values relating to biodiversity and water. This will involve remote sensing and direct terrestrial biodiversity and water research to underpin metrics for biodiversity market development. At demonstration sites, Professor Gibb’s team aim to quantify existing biodiversity and water-related environmental values on country under different land uses and evaluate gains resulting from management interventions. What land management activities provide greatest biodiversity return on investment?

The team will analyse site-level assessment to track signatures of different inputs from various sources such as land runoff, creeks, or wetlands into a river. The signatures are based on microbial DNA and how changes in management practises such as reduced stocking and fencing of riparian zones can result in a measurable reduction in signatures from a source,which can result in a management gain.

A PhD project linked to this project would involve developing bacterial indicators specific for different faecal sources such as cattle, feral animals and wildlife which allow the differentiation and semi-quantification of faecal matter in the river,compromising water quality.

In a second project, the team is interested in site-level assessments of fish species diversity—baseline data with an option for more detailed assessment if further funding is sourced. The rationale is that fish species diversity is an important metric for water quality and alternative income opportunities such as ecotourism or fishing.

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