Brisbane floods damage University of Queensland glasshouses, result in ‘huge loss of knowledge’
Plant scientists are starting again after losing years of agricultural research to flooding in south-east Queensland, with fears some work at Australia’s top agricultural research centre could be set back by decades.
- A lot of the research will be abandoned as there is not enough time for researchers to restart before the end of their contracts
- QAAFI research fellow Karen Massel says she had been working on improving drought resilience of barley and sorghum crops
- QAAFI professor Ian Godwin says the University of Queensland needs to consider relocating the glasshouses
When floodwaters rose around Brisbane, the University of Queensland’s St Lucia glasshouses were quickly submerged under metres of water, destroying research projects overnight.
For many doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, the flooding came right at the end of their research contracts, leaving them no time to re-establish experiments and unable to pass their findings on to industry.
Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) research fellow Karen Massel had spent the last two and a half years working on improving the drought resilience of barley and sorghum crops.
“We weren’t allowed to come to campus, but I got emails texts every day showing the water rising, “Dr Massel said.
It wasn’t until Thursday that Dr Massel was able to enter the glasshouse and assess the damage, but by then, her experiments were too far gone to salvage.
“Once the water had ruined the electricity — although maybe some of the plants may have survived the water — it was already about 50 degrees inside the glasshouses just without temperature control, and it being summer.”
“So, everything sort of went through a big shock. [The plants] were basically cooked.”
None of Dr Massel’s drought findings can be published.
She said she was just one of the hundreds of researchers at the University of Queensland impacted by the floods.
“This is going to have significant impact on my career and a lot of my students’ careers as well,” Dr Massel said.
“We may never actually get to understand exactly what we were studying in the first place, which would be just a huge loss of knowledge to the ag industry.”
Where to now?
While Brisbane River floodwater has receded and the clean-up is underway, questions are now being asked about the suitability of having Australia’s top agricultural research centre in a flood-prone area.
Director for the Centre of Crop Science with QAAFI professor Ian Godwin said the University of Queensland needed to seriously consider relocating its glasshouses.
“And a lot of the work we do [in these glasshouses] has industry partners who are relying on us to deliver the next level of a drought adaptation trait for them,” he said.
“The same thing happened in 2011, and I was involved in that post-flood recovery, and the recommendation of the committee then was that the glasshouses should have been moved.
“Once more, we will make that recommendation again. It just comes down to risk management.”
Principal research fellow at QAAFI, Lee Hickey, who leads a team looking into innovative plant breeding technologies, agrees.
“With climate change, we have to expect these extreme weather events to be occurring more frequently — just like drought in our part of the world,” Dr Hickey said.
Professor Godwin said the University of Queensland was yet to announce any plans for the future of the glasshouses.