From Spain to Horsham
Spain and the Wimmera might be a world apart but for Spanish PHD student Ana Moreno de la Fuente, it is their similarities that will help her to better understand the effects of climate change on agricultural systems.
Ms Moreno, mid-way through a PHD examining the effects of climate change on crops, said Agriculture Victoria’s Horsham site was the ideal location to continue her studies.
“The Mediterranean climate and the crops grown in the Wimmera are very similar to what we have in Spain,” she said.
“Also, there has already been a lot of research into the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on crops carried out in the Horsham region through the recently concluded 11-year Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment, AGFACE, program.
“We don’t have a FACE facility in Spain and the novel and important research in Horsham will give me an understanding of future climate affecting agriculture in both countries and the opportunity to make a difference.”
Ms Moreno arrived in Horsham in June for a six-month research placement based at Grains Innovation Park as part of her doctoral studies, which she is completing through the School of Agriculture, Food and Biosystem Engineering at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid.
Agriculture Victoria vector-borne disease researcher Dr Piotr Trebicki, who has spent eight years studying the impact of climate change on pests and diseases, is supervising Ms Moreno’s work in Horsham.
The focus of Ms Moreno’s PHD is assessing the impact of climate change on the biological control of pests.
While in Horsham she will be specifically researching the effect of elevated carbon dioxide and higher temperatures on wheat crops, aphids and their natural enemies, or ‘beneficials’.
Ms Moreno will carry out a range of field and lab-based experiments in a bid to better understand how aphids and the viruses they transmit, such as barley yellow-dwarf virus, respond under predicted future climatic conditions.
She will also look at what effect higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels have on parasitic wasps, Aphidius colemani, the natural enemy of the aphid. “I am looking to compare how effectively beneficial wasps control wheat pests under current carbon dioxide levels and temperatures – 400 ppm and 20°C – with future predicted conditions, when carbon dioxide levels will reach 800 ppm and the temperature will be 2°C hotter,” Ms Moreno said.
To complete her PHD, Ms Moreno will need to publish a thesis and several articles in scientific journals.
This is often one of the biggest challenges for PHD students, but there will be another layer to this task for Ms Moreno as she intends to publish her research in English, rather than her first language of Spanish.
“It is not necessary to publish in English, but I think my research will be more widely accessible if I do,” she said.
Ms Moreno expects to complete her doctoral studies in 2020.
EXPLORATION: Spanish PHD student Ana Moreno sets up an experiment that will assess the behaviour of aphids and the impact they have on wheat plants grown under future predicted climatic conditions.