Ensuring pollen data aren't gone with the wind

In this article we take a behind-the-scenes look at a group of Australian ecosystem scientists struggling with real-life problems of data management – a story that has a happy ending, thanks to data infrastructure provided through TERN.

The Australian aerobiology working group convened through TERN’s ACEAS facility in 2013 sought to collate and analyse historical published and unpublished pollen count data from different regions of Australia and New Zealand. Their intent was to use this synthesised dataset to investigate a number of important questions, including how “pollen rain” changes with urbanisation and other changes in land use, and the likely impacts of climate change on seasonal peaks in allergenic pollen production.

The dataset would provide the platform for establishment of a national pollen monitoring program, to assist with management of patients with allergic respiratory diseases such as hay fever and asthma triggered by airborne pollens.

“Of course, we knew this was going to be a challenging project,” commented Dr Janet Davies of the University of Queensland, Principal Investigator for the group. “But we felt the benefits of this multidisciplinary collaboration – involving medical professionals, botanists, and climate change modellers, among others – would make the challenges worthwhile.”

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An Interview with Dr Janet Davies

ACEAS’s science communicator Jo Savill spoke with Dr Janet Davies from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Queensland, who is the principal investigator for the ACEAS working group Australian aerobiology to monitor environmental change. 
 
The Aerobiology working group brought together students, scientists and clinicians spanning very diverse fields, from public health and immunology through to ecology, climate science and archaeology, most of whom had never worked together before. 
 
The diversity of the group became their strength, according to the PI, Dr Janet Davies. 
 
“We evolved into a team committed to collecting, collating, formatting and analysing the airborne pollen datasets from Australia and New Zealand. We built a valuable large data resource from which to probe, for the first time ever, different questions regarding pollen aerobiology in Australasia,” said Janet. 
 
Without the assistance of ACEAS, gathering such a diverse group would not have been possible. “ACEAS provided us with the infrastructure and support so we could focus on the research,” said Janet. “It was almost a luxury for many of us to be able to focus on the work disengaged from our other responsibilities."

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Students key to synthesis success

Nowhere is inclusive student involvement in ACEAS more clear than in the Australian aerobiology working group led by Dr Janet Davies of the University of Queensland. The group is collating and analysing historical published data and unpublished pollen-count data from regions of Australia, New Zealand and France to help answer a number of questions. Firstly, they want to understand phenological patterns, land-cover changes and pollen aerobiology; secondly, to gain insights into how the grass-pollen season is driven by current meteorology, and thus future climates. And, finally, they hope to establish a national pollen-count monitoring program to assist those who suffer from allergic respiratory disorders such as hay fever and asthma.

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