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Daniels' urban eco-mission

by Geraldine Hinter

The Torrens RiverIn moving forward to achieve sustainability in our city, UniSA’s new Chair of Urban Ecology, Professor Chris Daniels, says we should be also looking back to early Adelaide households, particularly those built after the turn of the twentieth century.

Because of water shortages in creeks and streams, homes at that time had large rainwater tanks to collect water for drinking and washing. Add a vegetable patch and a chicken run, and a backyard begins to play an important part in a sustainable household.

"People dealt with water shortages then, but stopped dealing with them when reticulated water and later River Murray water were piped in. Despite the pipeline being a short-term solution, rainwater tanks started to disappear and so did people’s ability to be self sufficient," Prof Daniels said.

"Now we’re looking to return to what we had 100 years ago."

He is a big believer in the bottom-up approach to change, influencing people and reminding them about what their grandparents had. And he sees his recent appointment as a wonderful opportunity to tackle large-scale problems like the state’s water supply and wildlife conservation from a multidisciplinary approach.

Urban ecology focuses on individual animals or plants through to communities, pollution and related issues like water and fire, as well as looking into the future social structure of communities.

The co-author of a book on the historical analysis of Adelaide as a natural ecosystem, Daniels, who is also Professor of Environmental Ecology in the School of Natural and Built Environments, has already established a baseline for Adelaide’s urban ecology.

Professor Chris Daniels"Adelaide is a great model for looking at large-scale problems," Prof Daniels said.

"It is a city in a Mediterranean environment, which is very rich in biodiversity.

"One of the city’s large-scale problems is water, which is a very crucial part of the Adelaide community, and it is also a big issue for life. How we manage water is not only crucial to our survival, but is vital for our agricultural base and for our biodiversity.

"Water is used for many different and sometimes conflicting demands. If used upstream for agriculture and for all of our drinking, not enough comes downstream to support estuarine habitats, so we need to look at ways to rehabilitate habitats through wetlands or reuse of water.

"This requires multidisciplinary approaches to water management, looking at areas such as how we structure our linear parks and deal with issues like cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and other pollutants in our rivers and streams, in the context of multiple uses.

"We also have to interact more strongly with eastern states regarding supplies upstream from the Murray and Darling rivers."

As a zoologist with an abiding interest in reptiles, particularly lizards, Prof Daniels is also interested in the conservation status of endangered animals and how we use ecology to develop wildlife conservation principles, and understand the biology of the animals and plants that are here with us.

Through teaching programs, education and research, Prof Daniels aims to impact scientifically on urban ecology, and also on policy that he believes will lead to better management of natural resources and change people’s attitudes towards wildlife conservation and the environment.

He is excited to be at UniSA because of all of the opportunities to work on large-scale projects in a multidisciplinary school that covers many different aspects of built environment from engineering, reticulated water and urban planning through to environmental biology.

"I am looking forward to focusing on urban ecology issues with the benefit of a strong team of water researchers, water engineers and biologists interacting with town planners and other engineers who have links to transport, as well as many industry partners who focus on wildlife conservation," Prof Daniels said.