Big ecology: From tundra to savanna

Why are some plant seeds very small and others large? Angela Moles tackled this simple question by compiling information on 12,669 plant species. She discovered that plant seeds in the tropics are, on average, 300 times bigger than seeds in colder places like the northern coniferous forests. She then used these data to follow the evolutionary history of seed size over hundreds of millions of years.

Angela Moles working with plants (Photo credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo)
Angela Moles working with plants (Photo credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo)

The study was the first of its kind and the results, published in Science and PNAS, have revolutionised our understanding of the factors that determine the size of offspring in plants and animals. Angela is a leader in developing a new approach to ecology—one that could allow us to accurately model and predict the impact of climate change on ecosystems.
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Could Vitamin D have a role in diabetes?

On Mondays, Jenny Gunton sees diabetes patients at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital. And from Tuesday to Friday, she heads up a diabetes research laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. She’s also the mother of two-and-a-half-year-old “Action Boy”.

Jenny Gunton, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison
Jenny Gunton, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison

Gunton is one of a growing band of physician-scientists. “It’s not a financially sensible decision, but I enjoy it,” says Gunton. “It’s also a better way for me to ask questions and attempt to answer them. And in that way, I help my patients.”

And now, with the help of her L’ORÉAL Australia For Women In Science Fellowship she will be exploring the link between Vitamin D and diabetes.

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School girls join study to understand black holes and the birth of stars

Black holes are some of the most bizarre objects in the universe. They can have as much mass as a billion stars combined. How did they form and how did they get so big?

Ilana Feain, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison
Ilana Feain, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison

“What are they doing to the galaxies in which they live?” asks Dr Ilana Feain of the CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility.

This is one of the biggest questions facing astronomers in the 21st Century. The 29-year-old astronomer will use her L’ORÉAL Australia For Women In Science Fellowship in her quest for an answer to this question.

And she is enlisting two Australian girls’ schools to contribute to a 24/7 program to observe a ‘nanoquasar’ and its associated black hole some billion billion kilometres from Earth. Continue reading School girls join study to understand black holes and the birth of stars

Life and love amongst the finches: Aggressive redheads win the best nest sites, but can the Gouldian finches survive?

Sarah Pryke has always had an eye for the shape, colour and movement of animals. After growing up surrounded by wildlife in a remote rural area of South Africa, she was employed as an illustrator by the local museum while studying for her science degree at the University of Natal.

Sarah Pryke, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison
Sarah Pryke, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison

Now, as a post-doctoral fellow of the  at Macquarie University in Sydney, she is working in the Kimberleys investigating the impact of colour on the behaviour of the Gouldian finch, a small, dazzling bird of Australia’s tropical savannah.

With the help of her L’ORÉAL Australia For Women In Science Fellowship she plans to get a better understanding of their mating success – information that could be crucial to the survival of these endangered birds. Continue reading Life and love amongst the finches: Aggressive redheads win the best nest sites, but can the Gouldian finches survive?