As one of its roles, Convocation funds the Postgraduate Research Travel Awards to assist UWA researchers in gaining additional expertise.
Tegan Davies is a PhD candidate at The University of Western Australia, examining climate change impacts on mangrove sediment carbon dynamics. In recognition of the merits of her research, Convocation recently awarded her one of 12 Convocation Postgraduate Research Travel Awards (PGRTAs) valued at $2500 each.
As the awardee with the highest score from the judging panel, Ms Davies received the award named in honour of former UWA Chancellor Geoffrey Kennedy AO.
The PGRTA funds will allow Ms Davies to travel to Sydney in February 2014 for a 10-day summer course focused on techniques in marine microbial ecology at the University of New South Wales. She will obtain new skills to enhance her thesis research. There is no comparable course in WA.
Ms Davies says mangrove ecosystems are very efficient at sequestering carbon, storing carbon underground in their root systems and organic sediments. However, mangroves are becoming increasingly threatened by climate change and coastal development, and this ability to store carbon may become compromised.
"Microbial communities are the largest processors of underground carbon in mangrove ecosystems. However, a changing climate and modified land use - through coastal and agricultural developments, for example - are likely to alter microbial communities and associated carbon emissions, altering mangrove carbon storage capacity," Ms Davies said.
"My research is investigating how these carbon processors (microbes) respond to predicted environmental changes, such as rising sea levels, lower rainfall, and changing inputs of nutrients, to help predict how climate change and development affect the carbon storage capacity of mangrove ecosystems.
"I am primarily focused on mangrove communities along a latitudinal gradient down the west coast of Australia, including the Kimberley, Pilbara, Shark Bay and Southwest regions."
She says her research is one of only a few studies worldwide assessing changes in mangrove sediment carbon dynamics in more arid regions, including sites outside of the tropics.
The marine focus of the course in Sydney suits Ms Davies' research as the mangrove sites where she is undertaking her study are located in zones regularly inundated by seawater. The course is hands on and will teach elements of microbial ecology from experimental design to phylogenetic and (meta) genomic sequence analysis. The PGRTA will allow her to learn cutting edge microbial techniques in a format that is accessible to students.
Ms Davies was also awarded a $5000 scholarship from Graduate Women WA, which was a commemorative gift in the organisation's 90th year to each of the five universities in WA. Ms Davies will use this additional funding to purchase equipment to analyse her samples using the skills and knowledge gained at the summer course at the UNSW.
The Postgraduate Research Travel Awards were presented at Convocation's annual Awards Ceremony on 1 November 2013.