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ACEAS is growing up…

Welcome to the first Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (ACEAS) newsletter!

ACEAS joined the world of Synthesis Centres, incubators for high-level, innovative thinking, in early 2010. This newsletter is designed for ACEAS participants and alumni, and is therefore internal (and exclusive). I hope the newsletter will encourage dialogue, expand opportunities for innovative thinking, as your opinions will help define and develop ACEAS. It will, of course, serve the basic purpose of a newsletter, namely let ACEAS ‘family’ members know of upcoming events and how the various parts of ACEAS are going. We are hoping that by providing a ‘news and views’ page on the aceas.tern wiki, you will make lots of comments to this end.

It has been a privilege to be involved in providing the mental and physical space for teams of extraordinary people to engage in analysis and synthesis. It has been wonderful for two reasons: (a) it is rare to be able to do the ‘so what’ bit in our busy lives, and without that, I am firmly convinced, we cannot make wise decisions for our future, and (b) it has been fantastic to meet and assist so many interesting people. It is a real achievement for the Principal Investigators to pull the teams together, and we really love supporting you: we watch with delight the frank discussions, and celebrate your achievements almost as much as you do (sometimes more). We look forward to continuing this into 2012.

Over the last eighteen months I have seen many potential opportunities for cross-fertilisation between groups. How to bridge the gap and encourage new communication and new critical analyses? In 2012 I hope to increase opportunities for that, through activities such as the very exciting ‘grand workshop meeting’ at the Royal Institute of Australia in March around the two themes that emerged from rounds 1 and 2: ‘extinction’ and ‘landscape transformation’. I anticipate a lively and frank debate, and a synthesis paper from this encounter. We shall shortly be contacting each of those groups for your 5 final nominees for participation. Others, please stay posted for twittering opportunities at the Q & A session on the 27th March. More details on the ACEAS web page soon! For later groups, we are already working on a similar opportunity for 2013.

At the close of 2011, I must acknowledge the tremendous input of the ACEAS team, Estelle Weber, Liz Cuffe, Siddeswara Guru, the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) office, and my various ‘providers’ that help us so well. And to you, thankyou for your investment in ACEAS, and I wish you a very regenerating holiday season and a productive and rewarding 2012.

Alison Specht

The ACEAS experience: Beverley Henry talks about her experience.
Beverly Henry is the leader of the ACEAS Working Group on C&N Dynamics: Improving long-term predictions of carbon and nutrient dynamics in Australia's agroecsystems.

Beverley Henry with members of her Working Group at their last meeting at Linnaeus.

From left to right:
Craig Thornton, Leigh Hunt, Richard Conant, Bill Slattery, Andrew Moore, Stephen Reeves, Murray Uncovich, Bill Parton and Stephen Clark.

Field trials are expensive to run, so the rare ones that are run long-term provide extremely valuable records to support understanding of key ecosystem functions, notably carbon and nutrient dynamics under different management treatments. However, the synthesis of data and metadata from these trials is often limited by time, resources and staff turnover.

This ACEAS Working Group is collating data and metadata from five long-term trials that have been maintained for periods of up to four decades. The trials have collected data in formats that make them easy to use in process models, which are used in a range of industry and policy productivity and climate change applications. The Working Group activities are enabling model validation and improvements, and are providing some understanding of differences between models. 

Our ACEAS Working Group has enabled experts from different areas - field technicians, data custodians, modellers and end users - to come together in dedicated workshops to share data and knowledge in an environment where open discussion and cooperation are encouraged. For the post-graduate and post-doctoral members, it is a unique opportunity to work closely with leading national experts and two high profile international scientists.

I have learnt many things from my ACEAS experience - including a greater appreciation and respect for the range of skills that need to combine to get the full value from research such as long-term field trials. All the participants have learnt a lot through working with the complementary skills of those involved - those who collect and carefully document and quality-check repeated field measurements, alongside the expertise and persistence of modellers - and embedding an understanding of end-use applications.

Our Working Group is probably typical of others supported by ACEAS. Without the structure and funding provided by ACEAS there would not have been the opportunity for the range of participants to dedicate time to collate and add value to data from long-term experimental trials, thus increasing returns on the original investment.

Support for this type of data synthesis exercise is a real contribution by ACEAS, in our case to better understanding of carbon and nitrogen dynamics and the policy and industry decisions that rely on understanding the impact of alternative management practices. Hopefully the ACEAS investment will lead to greater recognition and support to continue this work. 

The C&N Dynamics working group held their last meeting in early December. For more information on the working group, please visit their ACEAS webpage

Beverley Henry can be reached via her QUT profile.

Examining the extinction risks of frogs under climate change.

The overall aim of this group is to utilize a recently developed innovative modelling technique to explore and devise appropriate climate change adaptation strategies that minimize risk of extinction. This group assembles a team of population and biophysical modellers, frog ecologists and managers, population and biophysical modellers from various research institutions and government agencies around Australia. The group has only had one meeting, and, as many groups have experienced, despite lots of forward planning, spent a large part of the first meeting working out how much was actually achievable in terms of data, modelling, and in their case, threat definition. The mixture of expertise really made the difference to their achievements, and it seems the next workshop couldn’t come soon enough for this enthusiastic team.

Click here to learn more about the group.

Dave Keith (far right) with attendees at their first meeting.

From left to right:
Matt West, Jane Elith, Tracey Regan, Michael Kearney, Nicki Mitchell, Dave Hunter, Trent Penman, John Baumgartner, Ben Scheele, Michael Mahony, Harry Hines, Geoff Heard, Chris Tracy.

WIN a $50 Book Voucher!

If you have not already got a request from Lucy, or have overlooked it, this is your chance to provide really valuable input for the whole ecosystem science and management community.

It is widely accepted that interdisciplinary collaboration is critical for understanding and addressing complex environmental problems – but we don’t know much about collaborative behaviour among Australian ecosystem scientists and managers.

Lucy Keniger, a Master of Science candidate at the University of Queensland, is researching the factors associated with collaboration in interdisciplinary research in this diverse community. The project is sponsored by the Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (ACEAS) and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).

Lucy’s objectives are to:
•   describe the ecosystem science and management community in Australia;
•   understand community members’ collaborative behaviour and their attitudes to collaboration; and
•   identify the main factors that are associated with those attitudes and behaviours.

Lucy said TERN and ACEAS wanted to understand the perceived risks and benefits of collaborative behaviour in the context of ecosystem science, because of the importance of collaboration in research, analysis, synthesis and management.

She has developed a questionnaire for people who are directly involved with ecosystem science or management in Australia, and encourages anyone from this community to complete it.  If you are interested in participating in the survey please follow this link:

Names and contact details are not required however if you choose to provide your contact details then you will automatically be entered into the draw to win a $50 book voucher. The results of the research project will be made available on the ACEAS and TERN websites.

Lucy said the study adhered to the guidelines of the ethical review process of the University of Queensland. For more information on the study, contact Lucy Keniger or ACEAS Program Manager Alison Specht, or, for ethics matters, the university Ethics Officer on (07) 3365 3924.

We are excited to hear your ACEAS stories for 2011 or questions about what is to come in 2012! Now you can create or contribute to cross group and topic based discussions!

Discussion thread 1 – ACEAS 2011:
What is your most valuable memory from 2011 at ACEAS?

Discussion thread 2 – Group learning:
What happened within your group that surprised you?

Discussion thread 3 – Another year:
What do you hope to experience or achieve in 2012?

Find our new News and Views page on your working group wiki homepage.

Data are very important to ACEAS and TERN. Providing better data access for the wider ecosystem science and management community is one of the key aspects for TERN. It is felt that better science and management outcomes will emerge with a more comprehensive data foundation. Many international funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation (USA), are requiring that grant applications contain data management plans, and being in ACEAS gives you good training for this.

But why have one? Well, data organisation is critical when handling data, and forestalls some nasty repercussions and messy outcomes. A Data Management Plan (DMP) makes you plan ahead about what policies will apply to the data, who will own and have access to the data, the data management practices that will be used, what facilities and equipment will be required, and who will be responsible for each of these activities. The DMP is adjustable during the life of the project.

Siddeswara Guru, the ACEAS-TERN Data Integration and Synthesis Coordinator, has developed guidelines for the creation of Data Management Plans specifically for ACEAS groups, and offers assistance to the group Data Manager in preparing it. In addition, we have a hotlink to the on-line tool for creating a DMP provided by the California Digital Library

Other sites to learn more about DMPs are:

Next edition: metadata descriptions!

Confirmed workshop and working group meetings and other important dates for the next few months are as follows. More will join these soon as dates firm for 2012. Check out the ACEAS web site for meeting updates and reports as they come to hand.

Here are some anonymous quotes about ACEAS from our surveys.

An opportunity to collaborate
"We were a medium sized group that brought together experts from two complementary areas of ecology: those with expertise on the ecology of species, and those able to turn that knowledge into models and predictions. It is the sort of collaboration that ecology needs more of."

A distraction-free environment
"The environment was good: we were allowed considerable freedom to pursue the work, and were very well looked after so that the logistics of the exercise did not weigh us down."

"By organising workshops away from daily office distractions, ACEAS has managed to get the best out of me, and I'm sure other members of the group. Getting out of the workplace into the relaxed Linnaeus Estate has been very important."

Getting work done
"Not having to worry about funding and booking for travel and venue means that I can devote 100% of my time to the workshop while I'm there. The common theme of the group and a common direction are good for getting things done. Other collaborations are often very one way, where people just want something and often don't engage."

"The working groups are not just about talking but for actually working. For our C&N Dynamics group, working on datasets in the room allows immediate discussion with experts on issues that would otherwise be put aside."

Contact: Alison Specht | ACEAS Program Manager |

TERN is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Super Science Initiative.


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