The chance to tap into research expertise in ecological approaches to pest and disease management has seen Dr Chitra Shanker travel from India to Orange NSW to work with Graham Centre member Dr Geoff Gurr and his team.
Dr Shanker is from the ICAR-Indian Institute of Rice Research and her four-month visit was part of the Australian Government’s Endeavour Leadership Program (ELP).
She said the visit has been an opportunity to acquire skill and lay the foundation for future collaborative research.
“Australia is a pioneer of habitat management strategies and Professor Gurr’s research on ecological engineering for crop pests has been an inspiration for me,” Dr Shanker said.
“My work in India is focussed on harnessing beneficial biodiversity of rice fields through conservation techniques like ecological engineering in the larger perspective of ‘Integrated pest management’ under the changing scenario of climate change.”
During her visit Dr Shanker has been researching new approaches for enhancing biological control of crop pests.
“I have been working within the Hort Innovation Project on habitat management strategies in Brassicas” she said.
“I am studying the relative preferences of parasitoids to the flowering plants, sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), cornflower (Centaurea cyanus L) and buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), when planted in a strip adjacent to the crop.
“I am also assessing the possible variations in herbivore induced plant volatiles in brassica cultivars to infestation by aphids and its attraction to the aphid parasitoid.”
Dr Shanker has also visited farms as part of the Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers and the Hort Innovation projects.
“It was exciting to interact with the farmer Sally Kirby who plays an active part in the Dung beetle Ecosystem Engineers project as a stakeholder and educator,” she said.
“Another inspirational person I have met here is Dr Cilla Kinross. I have been a part of her tree planting drive and accompanied her on bird surveys around the Charles Sturt University campus and at Spring Creek Reservoir.
“The flora and fauna of this place amazes me. I have been on field trips with the Orange field Naturalists and conservation society to study the endangered ecological communities during the weekend and endangered Orchid surveys at Mount Canobolas.
“Birding on weekends has given me the opportunity to make a friend for life in Ms Tiffany Mason, a senior ecologist working with the Biodiversity Conservation Trust.”
Dr Shanker said there are many benefits to an international study program.
“On the professional front, it will help me to learn how research is done in a different hemisphere and continent. I can use that to fine tune my research back in India and also teach the students I guide in the field of habitat management,” she said.
“On a personal front, it is a source of pride to my family and friends that I have been selected for this prestigious fellowship and am traveling overseas.
“I will also gain respect among my peers as the woman who has travelled to learn and upgrade her skills.”
She said everyday has been a new experience.
“Australia is a land of diversity – people, flora and fauna. For a nature lover like me it is heaven.
“I love the woodland and surrounding mountains of Orange. The peace and quiet here is so removed from the hustle and bustle of city life where I come from,” Dr Shanker said.