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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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working group convened through TERN’s ACEAS facility in 2013 sought to collate and analyse historical published and unpublished pollen count data from different regions of Australia and New Zealand.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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Vikram Dhillon lives in Auckland, New Zealand with his wife, an asthma sufferer, and his three-year-old daughter, a hay fever sufferer.  Dhillon recently contacted TERN to seek information on the distribution of pollen across Australia and New Zealand to investigate the possibility of relocating his family to a more hay fever and asthma friendly city.

‘My daughter gets hay fever during spring and Auckland’s cold and wet winters don’t help things so I am thinking of moving to Australia to help relieve her symptoms,’ writes Dhillon in his email to TERN.

‘I am doing research, mainly via Google, on what would be the best city for people who have hay fever and asthma.  Do you have any recent data that you collected for pollen levels or hay fever/asthma that would help me decide?’

Dhillon’s enquiry was timely, as it coincided with the release of TERN facilitated research on the differences in grass pollen allergen exposure across Australia.

The paper is one output from the Australian aerobiology working group convened through TERN’s ACEAS facility and presents collated and analysed historical published and unpublished pollen count data from different regions of Australia and New Zealand.
 

Click here to view the paper published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

Australia's hay fever sufferers can expect their torment to last longer and become more intense with climate change, according to researchers at home and abroad.

About one in five Australians are affected by hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, with residents of the ACT reporting the highest proportion and the 25-44 age group most affected, according to Janet Rimmer, a respiratory physician and allergist at St Vincent's Clinic in Sydney.

"Certainly allergic diseases have increased in the past 10 to 20 years," Dr Rimmer, who is also an associate professor at the Sydney Medical School, told Fairfax Media.

One factor may be the southern spread of pollen-rich subtropical grasses, such as the introduced bahia and Bermuda or couch species, which are also common on sport ovals and nature strips. 

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A nationwide program aimed at giving allergy sufferers more advanced warning about the likely seriousness of their symptoms could provide relief to Elly Kirkham and her brother Jake.

The Brisbane siblings both suffer from asthma and allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, while Elly, 18, is at risk of anaphylaxis from peanuts and Jake, 14, from shellfish.

They have suffered from constant runny noses, swelling, and itchy and watery eyes their entire lives.

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