Trans-disciplinary research in synthesis of grass pollen aerobiology and its importance for respiratory health in Australasia.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
The Science of the total environment, 2015, 534 pp. 85 - 96
Issue Date:
2015-11
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Grass pollen is a major trigger for allergic rhinitis and asthma, yet little is known about the timing and levels of human exposure to airborne grass pollen across Australasian urban environments. The relationships between environmental aeroallergen exposure and allergic respiratory disease bridge the fields of ecology, aerobiology, geospatial science and public health. The Australian Aerobiology Working Group comprised of experts in botany, palynology, biogeography, climate change science, plant genetics, biostatistics, ecology, pollen allergy, public and environmental health, and medicine, was established to systematically source, collate and analyse atmospheric pollen concentration data from 11 Australian and six New Zealand sites. Following two week-long workshops, post-workshop evaluations were conducted to reflect upon the utility of this analysis and synthesis approach to address complex multidisciplinary questions. This Working Group described i) a biogeographically dependent variation in airborne pollen diversity, ii) a latitudinal gradient in the timing, duration and number of peaks of the grass pollen season, and iii) the emergence of new methodologies based on trans-disciplinary synthesis of aerobiology and remote sensing data. Challenges included resolving methodological variations between pollen monitoring sites and temporal variations in pollen datasets. Other challenges included "marrying" ecosystem and health sciences and reconciling divergent expert opinion. The Australian Aerobiology Working Group facilitated knowledge transfer between diverse scientific disciplines, mentored students and early career scientists, and provided an uninterrupted collaborative opportunity to focus on a unifying problem globally. The Working Group provided a platform to optimise the value of large existing ecological datasets that have importance for human respiratory health and ecosystems research. Compilation of current knowledge of Australasian pollen aerobiology is a critical first step towards the management of exposure to pollen in patients with allergic disease and provides a basis from which the future impacts of climate change on pollen distribution can be assessed and monitored.
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