Tall Poppies have big impact in ecology and health

Feature Story

World-leading work in the fields of species protection and obesity has seen two Deakin University researchers named ‘Young Tall Poppies.’

Measures to maintain biodiversity and reduce obesity are on the nation’s doorstep, thanks to outstanding researchers such as Dr Tim Doherty and Dr Kathryn Backholer, Deakin’s 2018 Young Tall Poppies.

Dr Doherty is a Research Fellow and ecologist based within the Centre for Integrative Ecology, and Dr Backholer is a Senior Research Fellow and epidemiologist based within the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention.

Presented on November 15, the Young Tall Poppy Science Awards are an initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science. They are awarded each year to Australia’s most promising early-career researchers, who have made significant discoveries and effectively communicated their science to engage the public.

Deakin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Joe Graffam said the double win cements the University’s reputation for advancing talented early-career researchers to become leaders in their field.

“With their passion for science, research expertise and ability to communicate across age groups and backgrounds, Dr Doherty and Dr Backholer are making a big difference in our world,” Professor Graffam said.

“They will now have opportunities to talk about their research with school students, teachers and communities across Australia – helping to inspire a passion for science in a new generation.”

 

Controlling the predators

Since joining Deakin in 2015, Dr Doherty has focussed his research on finding ways to reduce the impact of invasive predators on biodiversity. He is currently investigating how animal populations respond to environmental change and disturbance.

“I love the scientific method involved with my research. I really enjoy going out and collecting, analysing, and writing about data,” he said.

“Conservation biology is a mission-driven discipline and our mission is to slow down the global extinction crisis – so there’s a big imperative for doing this kind of work.”
Dr Tim Doherty
Dr Tim Doherty Centre for Integrative Ecology

His research has revealed that invasive predators, such as cats and rats, have contributed to more than 50 per cent of bird, mammal and reptile extinctions worldwide. It has played a key role in the current push to reduce feral cat impacts in Australia, providing solid evidence for investment in control measures.

“Invasive predators such as feral cats have caused the extinction of more than 20 of our native mammal species in Australia,” he said.

“Understanding feral cat behaviour is important to prevent native fauna from becoming extinct and to protect our unique species.”

Dr Doherty said the award recognises the importance of scientific outreach – connecting the academic world with the broader community.

“Science doesn’t finish just because you publish a paper in a journal. We must go beyond that idea and share our findings with members of the public,” he said. “My research has real-world outcomes that can be used to manage our ecosystems better and, hopefully, stop threatened species from going extinct.”

 

Reducing obesity

Dr Kathryn Backholer’s research uniquely addresses one of the nation’s most significant public health challenges – obesity.

After completing her PhD in Neuroscience, Dr Backholer moved into epidemiology/public health research and joined Deakin in 2016.

“My PhD was very lab-based, but I wanted to do something bigger-picture and out of the lab – looking at the prevention of disease, rather than treatment,” she said.

Dr Backholer’s research focusses on the impact of population-level nutrition policies on health and health equity. Through her research she is seeking to improve population diets and build understanding of socioeconomic inequalities in health.

“Health isn’t distributed equally through society, so it’s important we try to provide everyone with the opportunity to make healthy dietary choices, regardless of their socioeconomic position.”
Dr Kathryn Backholer
Dr Kathryn Backholer Senior Research Fellow and epidemiologist, Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE)

“As diet is the leading cause of disease burden nationally and globally, we can’t address the population burden of disease unless we address diets,” she said.

Dr Backholer is using nutrition science to develop novel methods and tools that place equity at the heart of food policy decision making. Her research is featured regularly in the media, has been used in advocacy documents and led to changes in the monitoring of health programs in Victoria.

Her research builds the necessary evidence to support equitable prevention of diet-related ill-health through policy and practice.

“Food can be a powerful game changer for human health and health inequalities. But it must be leveraged through strong, effective and equitable policy change,” she said.

“We are developing a road-map to support government decisions by demonstrating what food policies work to reduce disease, for whom, and whether these policies represent value-for-money. It’s easy to stay within your academic circles, but unless you get your research out to decision makers and the broader public in ways that are meaningful, you’ll only ever have a limited impact.”

 

Published by Deakin Research on 16 November 2018

Centre for Integrative Ecology

At the Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE), we want to know: how do living things react to change, both short term and long term? We aim to eliminate traditional borders between conventional fields of ecological research by promoting an integrative, multi-faceted, interdisciplinary research approach.