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From amazing to the Amazon, Aleicia deserving of Alumni Award

Published:16 October 2015

Dr Aleicia Holland is pictured collecting water from Brazil's Rio Negro River during the wet season.

CQUniversity's latest Young Achiever Alumni Award winner Dr Aleicia Holland is currently based in Brazil, where she is examining the influence of dissolved organic carbon on the toxicity of copper and nickel in the waters of the Amazon Basin.

Dr Holland is based in Manaus, Brazil, at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (described by a World Bank report as one of the two most important science centers in the Amazon).

Thanks to a successful application for a coveted international Science Without Borders Young Talent Postdoctoral Fellowship, she is working with the world-renowned researcher and former Director of the INPA, Dr Adalberto Val, and another leading researcher in his field, Professor Chris Wood from the University of British Columbia.

Despite having only completed her PHD in 2014, Dr Holland's research has already had an impact on government policy and environmental activities in her field.

While still a student, she contributed to a project that investigated the effects on a range of aquatic animal and plant life, of using a certain herbicide (glyphosate) to control the aquatic weed Hymenachne amplexicaulis, which is a declared Class 2 pest plant.

This work was very important in Queensland because it enabled weed control officers to spray the weed more effectively, saving time and resources. It also helped in the management of the weed in the area of permits associated with the spraying, since there had been some doubt about the effects of the spraying on non-target organisms.

Dr Holland has over seven years' experience working within the freshwater ecology and aquatic toxicology field and, as well as being lauded for the quality of her thesis, she has had nine papers published as a result of her PhD studies and thesis.

One of the papers produced during this time dealt with conceptual models about linkages between wallum (naturally acidic) streams and land management and has been put forward as part of a toolbox of information to help the Queensland Government manage these threatened ecosystems.

Another paper focused on field work completed during her project, which involved studies of wallum stream systems including the one she studied during her Honours year. It included studies of macroinvertebrates and fish as biological indicators. This paper too has been added to the toolbox of information used by the Queensland Government to manage our wetlands.

In recent news, Dr Holland has gained $368,394 through a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council grants program.

This project aims to characterise the types of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) found within Australian freshwaters and investigate how these influence metal toxicity to organisms. DOC has the ability to decrease the toxicity of metals to organisms in natural waters, and the intensity of the decrease is related to the type of DOC. Information regarding the types of DOC commonly found within Australian waters is lacking, and their impact on metal toxicity to Australian biota is unknown. This project aims to characterise DOC from different Australian eco-regions and investigate the influence of different DOCs on metal toxicity. The expected outcomes are better predictive toxicity models and better assessment of risks associated with metal contamination.

CQUniversity Associate Professor Dr Susan Kinnear said that, during her doctoral candidature, "Aleicia was involved in the preparation of grant proposals for industry partners (e.g. natural resource management organisations), as well as assisting with undergraduate teaching duties in the School of Medical and Applied Sciences".

"Aleicia voluntarily made herself available to discuss her research at regular engagement evenings with industry partners, as well as at other events, and was also a student representative on the Research Higher Degrees committee, one of the University’s key research governance bodies, which is further evidence of her willingness to be involved in all aspects of a research career."