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Convenor's Corner by Professor Ray Rodgers
I am RHA's new co-convenor with Jock Findlay who was my Masters supervisor and co-supervisor for my PhD many years ago. Since then I have been an active researcher in reproductive biology of sheep, cattle and humans.  I am a firm believer in using data and evidence, and where you do not have this option, being flexible and monitoring and adjusting decisions.

We have seen a lot of this approach with our handling of the COVID pandemic this year.  Australia is lucky in many ways and I think Victoria was just a bit unlucky with its second wave. Ahead of us is the promise of a vaccine, living with the virus and dealing with any life-long consequences.  The silver lining is that governments may be more willing to listen to researchers and their conclusions and not their own constituencies. With the bush fires and droughts having ravaged Australia, one would hope for a well-reasoned plan for the way forward. 

This should include research into reproduction. Without this knowledge it’s hard to plan or mitigate future disasters. Without an audience willing to listen to that knowledge is of no practical use.  I am confident the advocacy activities of Reproductive Health Australia can move our country forward.

If you have not yet taken the RHA survey please do so and have your voice heard! We need the numbers to be able to claim respectability in any future advocacy. Take the survey here:  

Professor Ray Rodgers
NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Robinson Research Institute, University of Adelaide

An interview with Professor Bob Wong

School of Biological Sciences, Monash University

“I’ve always loved animals and am fascinated by the natural world. The opportunity to understand how our activities can affect the world around us and contribute to the evidence base that can inform better management practices is a powerful motivator.”

If you’ve ever had the good fortune of meeting Professor Bob Wong, you’ll know he stands out from the crowd. With an enormous amount of will and humility, he’s the perfect example of a great leader. It’s not surprising that his outstanding work has been recognised by the award of a prestigious ARC Future Fellowship. As Executive Champion of the Reproduction and Environmental Sustainability theme of RHA, he is devoted to advocating for how research in reproduction can have major benefits for protecting our wildlife and unique ecological systems.
Q. What do you believe is the main achievement of your reproductive research?
“I’m a behavioural ecologist which means I’m interested in understanding animal behaviour from an ecological and evolutionary perspective. I was initially drawn to reproductive research because I am interested in understanding the behavioural strategies that animals use to maximise their reproductive payoffs – from the way animals compete for mates to the way they look after their young. However, during the course of my research career and travels to exotic field locations around the world, I became increasingly interested in how human-induced environmental change can disturb wildlife behaviours and what the ecological and evolutionary consequences might be. Major achievements, in this regard, are the insights my research has provided into how disturbed reproductive behaviours can lead to ecological dysfunction and even alter the course of evolution itself. For example, work I carried out in Mexico showed how chemical pollution led to the breakdown of premating reproductive isolation in two species of freshwater fish, resulting in hybridisation between the two species and the loss of biodiversity. More recently, my work on pharmaceutical pollution shows that exposure to human and veterinary medicines can impinge on both male and female reproductive behaviours in fish, with implications for the quality and quantity of offspring that are produced.”

Q. How has your research contributed to reproductive health in a practical sense?
“Pharmaceutical pollutants have serious ecological, health, and economic implications for our country, resulting in recent export bans on tainted Australian produce and concerns over the contamination of domestic drinking water supplies. As in other parts of the world, Australian freshwater environments are common repositories for the discharge of large volumes of domestic, agricultural, and industrial wastewater, which can account for a significant proportion of the flow entering our freshwater systems – notably during periods of drought when natural freshwater inputs are low. This problem is likely to be compounded by the ephemeral nature of many of our aquatic systems, the predicted effects of climate change, and our increasing reliance on recycled wastewater for irrigation. Yet relatively few studies (in Australia or overseas) have addressed the risks and potential impacts of pharmaceutical pollutants entering the environment. Considering the in­creasing pressures on our water resources, and the unique aquatic organisms supported by these systems, it is especially prudent in Australia to conduct research toward defining the issue of pharmaceutical contamination. My findings are relevant to a range of ecological contexts. They will enable predictions of behavioural and evolutionary consequences from pharmaceuticals in our fragile ecosystems, and contribute valuable information for the management of Australia’s freshwater resources.”
Field research

Q. Where do you see this research going and how will you go about it?
“To generate both mechanistic understanding and predictive value in the real world, my ambition is to develop a program of research that integrate studies across different spatial scales and levels of ecological complexity – from controlled experiments in the laboratory to innovative use of tracking devices to monitor the fate of animals in the wild.”
Q. What do you think are the most challenging issues or gaps in knowledge facing your particular area is today?
“A big challenge is simply to highlight the pervasive ecological and evolutionary impacts of pharmaceutical pollutants on wildlife and the environment. Drugs in the environment have been linked to a range of direct adverse physiological effects in exposed organisms – from feminisation of male fish to death in vultures. What is not so well appreciated is that such changes can cascade well beyond the initial disturbance, highlighting the unpredictable consequences pharmaceutical pollutants can bring for species and ecosystems, including changes mediated through disturbances in animal reproductive behaviour.”
 Q. Why is science advocacy important?
“As researchers it is not enough to merely engage with our scientific peers. With the bulk of our work funded by the public purse, we owe it to the wider community to be able to effectively communicate and share our discoveries with the broader public. Most people in the community, including many of our political leaders, are not trained in the language of science. Here, scientists have an important role to play in communicating our research and in promoting evidence-based decision-making by policy makers and regulators.”
Catch up on Bob Wong’s recent work….
Aulsebrook et al 2020. Reproduction in a polluted world: implications for wildlife. Reproduction 160: R13.
Bertram et al  2019. Disruption of male mating strategies in a chemically compromised environment. Science of the Total Environment. 703: 134991.
Martin et al 2019. Impact of the widespread pharmaceutical pollutant fluoxetine on behaviour and sperm traits in a freshwater fish. Science of the Total Environment. 650: 1771
Further reading
Cook et al 2020. Long-term maternal exposure to atrazine in the drinking water reduces penis length in tammar wallaby macropus eugenii.  Reproduction Fertility and Development.  32.1099.

Bushfires, Bristle Birds and a Dramatic Rescue

This is a story about seared landscapes, a helicopter rescue and the extraordinary effort to save an endangered species, the brown bristle bird. Scientists involved in the rescue effort have kindly given us permission to share their story, recently published in The Conversation. This article was co-authored by ecologist Dr Rohan Clarke (Drone Discovery Platform and Senior Lecturer, Monash), Dr Katherine Selwood (Threatened Species Biologist, Zoos Victoria) and Dr Rowan Mott (Biologist, Monash).

As we stepped out of a military helicopter on Victoria’s east coast in February, smoke towered into the sky. We’d just flown over a blackened landscape extending as far as the eye could see. Now we were standing in an active fireground, and the stakes were high.

Emergency helicopter rescues aren’t usually part of a day’s work for conservation scientists. But for eastern bristlebirds, a potential disaster loomed.

Our mission was to catch 15-20 bristlebirds and evacuate them to Melbourne Zoo. This would provide an insurance population of this globally endangered species if their habitat was razed by the approaching fire. 

Read the full article here  

Aussie Kids say Thank You to their Science Superstars

650 heart-warming letters, written by kids from Malvern Primary School, have been delivered to scientists all over Australia and here are a few for RHA members to enjoy!

Now, more than ever, the world looks to scientists to solve the big problems; species extinction, curing diseases, feeding the population… and of course finding a vaccine for Covid-19. The kids at Malvern Primary School wanted to show their appreciation of Australia’s hard-working scientists to give them a much-needed morale boost during this difficult time.

The Gratitude Project was initiated by RHA Executive member, Dr Sarah Meachem, during the first remote learning period of 2020, to showcase how much kids value scientists for improving the planet, their lives and their futures.


Reproductive Sciences Student Essay Writing Competition
A big congratulations to Madina Sarwari, who's essay was just one of many great entries to an essay writing competition run by the Graduate Diploma of Reproductive Sciences (GRS) course, Monash University, and RHA.
First offered through Monash University 32 years ago, the Graduate Diploma of Reproductive Sciences fosters students' interest in human fertility/ infertility, agricultural production, and wildlife conservation and the environment. Each year we proudly produce between 30-40 graduates that enter all facets of the reproductive science community here in Australia, and further abroad for our international alumni. 
This year was a tough one for our students. The world in which they enrolled in this degree will not look the same as the one they will graduate into. Moving a largely practical course online to accommodate for the lockdown restrictions placed on Victorians has been a challenge to educators and students alike. However, it has also forced us to work in new and innovative ways. From starting crowdsourcing campaigns that fight for social justice in women's health, to creating podcasts and video abstracts, the graduating year of 2020 knows how to be adaptive, resilient and savvy when faced with challenging circumstances. 
To promote student motivation alongside our crowdsourcing campaign with Marie Stopes, which aims to generate funding that will allow women who have had an abortion to access long-acting reversible contraceptives for free, we teamed up with RHA to create an essay competition.
(By Dr Kiri Beilby, Senior lecturer and GRS course coordinator)

Madina's winning essay addresses the question:
If we know that contraceptives are physiologically 99.7% effective, why do 51% of pregnancies remain unplanned in Australia? 

“National surveys have reported that 51% of pregnancies are unintentionally conceived each year, with part of this statistic reflecting women who were taking at least one form of contraception at the time of the unplanned pregnancy. This statistic is reflected in both Australian and American studies (1, 2). Improving accessibility and education of contraception, for both women of reproductive age and healthcare providers, is essential in preventing unplanned pregnancy”.
Read the rest of Madina Sarwari's essay here
Congratulations to the following RHA members
Associate Professor Simon de Graaf from the School of Life and Environment Sciences, University of Sydney, was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of News South Wales, in recognition of his substantial contribution to the field of animal reproduction and the development of reproductive technologies for animal agriculture. 
Simon has also been awarded the title of 2020 Fellow of the Society for Reproductive Biology 

Ms Nicola Rivers, a  member of STEM women and final year PhD student in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, has achieved first place in the Monash Visualise Your Thesis competition and now qualifies for the finals to be held in October. Good luck Nicola! See here for Nicola's brilliant example of a 1 min thesis.
Dr Mark Green from The University of Melbourne who has been awarded the title of 2020 Fellow of the Society for Reproductive Biology

Professor Brett Nixon (one of the foundation members of RHA) from the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle announced as the incoming President of the Society for Reproductive Biology.
What’s On
Due to ongoing COVID-19 disruptions, major adjustments have occurred. Updates below.
  • Virtual, Endocrine Society of Australia annual meeting, 31 October-1 November, 2020.
  • Cancelled Australian Reproductive Update, November 2020. 2021 dates pending
  • Cancelled ESA-SRB-APEG Annual Scientific Meeting, 1-4 November, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Student Research Zoomsposium, Australian Society for Medical Research 17 November 2020
  • Virtual meeting. National Scientific Conference, Australian Society for Medical Research 18-19 November 2020
  • Postponed. ASMR Medical Research Week® until November 2020
  • Date change. Digital Andrology 2020 12 International, 11th European and 32nd German Congress of Andrology 5-9 December, Munster, Germany.
  • Moved.  International Congress on Animal Reproduction (ICAR) 27th June – 1nd July 2021
  • Moved. Fertility Society of Australia conference 11-15 September 2021, Sydney
  • Moved. International Federation of Placenta Associations, Dates pending, 2022, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Moved. Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry World Congress, 4-8 September 2022, Singapore, Mary Bay Sands.
  • Moved. International Society for Behavioural Ecology Congress, 11-16 September, 2022, Melbourne, Australia.
RHA Executive Champions
Professor Eva Dimitriadis, The University of Melbourne (Human Health)
Professor Michael Holland, University of Queensland (Agricultural Productivity)
Professor Bob Wong, Monash University (Environmental Sustainability)
RHA Office
Professor Jock Findlay AO FAHMS (Co-convenor)
Professor Ray Rogers (Co-Convenor)
Dr Sarah Meachem (Executive Officer)
Dr Liza O’Donnell (Manager)
Ms Nicola Rivers (Early career representative)
For RHA Steering group members see here
For RHA Supporters and Affiliates see here
Copyright © 2020 Reproductive Health Australia, All rights reserved.

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