Major grant provides research opportunities for SA’s talented young scientists

29 September 2015

Fiji students

South Australian students and lecturers in Fiji

In a move that bolsters Australia’s status as a hub of scientific excellence, a Federal Government grant will give 120 South Australian science students hands-on experience in an international conservation and biodiversity research project.

The $396,000 New Colombo Plan project will be conducted in Fiji from 2016-2019, with students learning biodiversity survey techniques and monitoring processes related to bees, birds and plants.

Five scientists will accompany the students on this life-changing journey – Associate Professor Mark Stevens from the South Australian Museum and the University of South Australia, Associate Professor Mike Schwarz and Professor Sonia Kleindorfer from Flinders University, and Dr Gunnar Keppel and Dr Sharolyn Anderson from the University of South Australia. Students and scientists will work closely with Marika Tuiwawa and Professor Juergen Boehmer from the University of the South Pacific.

Team at the dig site

Professor Kleindorfer, who leads the project, said that this prestigious career-development opportunity will be coveted by undergraduate and honours science students.

“By taking part in the project, students will enjoy having the opportunity of their first co-authored papers published in peer-reviewed journals,” she said.

Students will be afforded the opportunity to build on existing scientific partnerships between Australia and the South West Pacific, and forge ongoing beneficial relationships with their international peers.

Mark Stevens from the South Australian Museum “has already undertaken similar projects in Fiji, with great outcomes for the young students involved,” said Professor Kleindorfer.

One of these young students, Scott Groom, was recognised as a finalist in the prestigious 2015 South Australian Research Excellence Awards for PhD research excellence.

“Dr Groom’s award winning PhD research was based on what he learnt taking part in the Fijian project as a postgraduate, and other young South Australian scientists are already following in his footsteps,” said Associate Professor Stevens.

“Ella Deans and Celina Rebola, two current science undergraduates taking part in an existing Fiji project, have already discovered several new Fijian bee species, and another student, Carmen da Silva, has explored the spread of an invasive Asian bee in Fiji and its potential to disrupt native ecosystems.”

“Many further important discoveries lie ahead,” said Associate Professor Stevens.

This remarkable opportunity for 120 of South Australia’s keenest young scientists will span over three years, with the first group of students travelling to Fiji in April 2016.

The selection criteria for inclusion in the project will be available early 2016.