Research & Other Activities

Research projects

 1. New tools to detect ecological effects of contaminants in estuaries

This is an ARC Linkage project lead by Chief Investigators Prof Mick Keough and Prof Malcolm McConville from University of Melbourne along with Partner Investigators Dr Anthony Chariton (CSIRO) and Melbourne Water. Dr Sara Long (CAPIM, Bio21 Institute) and I are postdocs working on the project that is combining metabolomics and metabarcoding as new pollution detection tools in estuaries.


Watsons Creek estuary, Western Port

2. Investigating individual behaviour and physiological responses to pollution in estuaries

This project includes the research currently being undertaken by the two PhD students I co-supervise. We are focussing on two commonly occurring species in estuarine soft sediments – a hydroiid (Salinator fragilis) and nereid worm (Simplisetia aequisetis), and using a combination of field and laboratory experiments to understand how these species respond to specific pollutants (copper, zinc and pesticides). Once we understand how these species respond to the pollutants under controlled experimental conditions we aim to develop in situ bioassays that can be used as monitoring tools in polluted estuaries.

Collaborators: Mick Keough (Melbourne University), Sara Long (CAPIM/Bio21), Liz Morris (CAPIM)

3. Merging citizen science and eDNA to monitor the health of estuaries

This project is in collaboration with Rose Herben at the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, who is the State Coordinator of the EsturayWatch citizen science monitoring program. It is funded by a University of Melbourne Melbourne Engagement Grant  in the “Communities of Place and Interest” category. The aims of the project are to engage with community groups that monitor environmental conditions of estuaries in Victoria and establish the foundations required for an on-going partnership between the University and EstuaryWatch.

4. Predicting population-level consequences of pollution in aquatic environments

This project is in collaboration with Jian Yen (School of Biosciences) and is funded by the School of BioSciences Robert Johanson and Anne Swann Fund Award to early career researchers. The aim of their project is to incorporate population dynamics into ecotoxicological research. It will involve engaging with industry partners and develop this collaborative field of research at the interface of experimental ecology (O’Brien) and population modeling (Yen).

Past projects

Western Port – a biodiversity assessment to inform environmental decision-making

This project is funded by a McCoy Grant and is a collaboration between University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria. Dr Robin Wilson (Senior Curator at the Museum Victoria) and I developed a project based on our common interests in the biology and ecology of marine polychaete worms and as a starting point to better understand changes in marine biodiversity in Western Port. The project also involves understanding historical patterns and the in-fill history of Western Port, involving the expertise of Dr David Kennedy (School of Geography, University of Melbourne). The project will be completed by mid-2015 but has already shown some promising results that will hopefully lead to a larger project involving Port Phillip Bay and other coastal embayments across south-eastern Australia.

Identifying the impacts of pollution on the Watsons Creek estuary, Western Port

This project was funded by Melbourne Water in response to the concern that upstream sources of pollution were affecting the estuarine habitat and associated invertebrates and fish in Watsons Creek estuary. The condition of Watsons Creek estuary was of particular interest as it connects with the large intertidal mudflats in Yaringa Marine Protected Area. Fieldwork and data collection was undertaken by a group of CAPIM researchers – November 2013 to June 2013.

Collaborators: Kathryn Hassell, Dave Sharley, Simon Sharp, Vin Pettigrove (CAPIM/Melbourne University)

Nutrient dynamics in Western Port, Victoria

The Western Port Scientific Review highlighted what little information is known about the nutrient dynamics in Western Port. The aims of this project was to address this knowledge gap by measuring denitrification process in key benthic habitats found in Western Port – seagrass, unvegetated sand, subtidal channels. I was involved in collecting and identifying macrofauna found in these habitats and relating it to the sediment biogeochemistry and denitrification processes.

Collaborators: Mick Keough (Melbourne University), Perran Cook, Victor Evrard (Monash University), Jeff Ross (University of Tasmania).

Other activities

I co-supervise two PhD students, Gigi Woods and Lee Engelstad, as well as one Masters student, Georgia Sinclair (2016-current).

I was a sub-editor for Biological Conservation, assisting Tracey Regan (2013-2016) and Mark Burgman (2010-2012) in their roles as Indo-Pacific Editors for the journal.

I regularly reivew papers for Marine and Freshwater Research, Marine Ecology Progress Series and Marine Environmental Research.

I was co-coordinator of Global Environmental Change with Eric Treml and Tim Dempster, a Semester 1 Masters of Environment subject at Melbourne University, in 2013 and 2015.


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