Zeinab Ghasemzadeh

University of the Sunshine Coast
Carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling in Queensland subtropical, coastal peatlands

Zeinab Ghasemzadeh


This project investigates the poorly Understudied subtropical peatlands of SE Queensland and this is part of a larger project on peatland ecology and peat resource estimation from drone mapping and ground penetrating radar, specifically to an understanding of subtropical peatlands, their significance in carbon sequestration and ecosystem services, and the role of fire. The project will also investigate vegetation composition, as well as the structure and functions of the microbial communities. Peatlands play a critical role in carbon sequestration globally, and with the effects of climate change, the risk of carbon release is increasing. These peatswamps are unusual in that fire is a regular occurrence and we hypothesize that fire is essential to their ecological functioning. The project will investigate the peat accumulation rates, stratigraphic geometry, degree of peat humification/decomposition and microbial nutrient cycling. Additionally, the study will explore the changes in microbial community structure, geochemistry, and carbon storage potential. 


The project has significant importance for climate change as it focuses on the study of subtropical peatlands, which are poorly understood but have the potential to store and release a significant amount of carbon. As the peatlands of boreal regions and the tropics are already known to store large amounts of carbon, understanding the composition and carbon storage potential of subtropical peatlands can help us assess the role of these ecosystems in mitigating climate change. Further, unlike boreal and tropical peatlands for which fires are catastrophic, these peatswamps are naturally subject to regular wildfires and it appears that fire is important in their ecology.

The project will investigate the structure and functions of microbial communities in subtropical peatlands and their roles in energy production and nutrient cycling. This understanding  aids the assessment of the stability of these ecosystems and their potential for carbon sequestration. Additionally, the study will determine how the nutrients are available for the unique flora of subtropical peatland ecosystems which are nutrient poor environments; and if the flora has adapted independently or in synergy with the evolving microbial community. This understanding can help us predict how the flora will respond to changes in climate and assess the potential for these ecosystems to adapt and continue to sequester carbon pollution.

Furthermore, the study will investigate the peat stratigraphic geometry and how peat accumulation rates change over time at various locations in SE Queensland (i.e., Mooloolah River National Park). This information can help us understand the long-term potential of these ecosystems for carbon storage and assess the impact of climate change on the accumulation rates. Additionally, the study aims to identify fire frequency/intensity in the past by identifying and dating charcoal layers within the peat stratigraphy. This information can help us assess the potential impact of increased fire activity due to climate change and the release of additional carbon from peatlands.

Overall, the project's findings can help us understand the role of subtropical peatlands in mitigating climate change, assess their potential for carbon storage, and predict their response to changes in climate and fire regimes. This understanding can inform policy and management decisions to protect and preserve these ecosystems for their valuable ecosystem services.

Role Model

As an Iranian woman, I have experienced numerous challenges related to gender inequality in Iran, and these experiences have shaped my journey as a researcher in STEM fields. One significant challenge that I faced in Iran was that I was not allowed to leave the country without my father's approval. This rule meant that I missed out on opportunities like attending a seminar in Georgia when I was a mature master's student. This rule also meant that women in Iran cannot continue their education abroad without their father or their husband's approval, which creates a significant barrier for women who aspire to pursue their education or career goals.
Additionally, after marriage, my ability to work, pursue education, and travel abroad was dependent on my husband. Despite these challenges, I was lucky enough to have a thoughtful and supportive partner who helped me come to Australia to pursue a Ph.D. in STEM. It was a significant turning point in my life, and it allowed me to break free from the constraints that had held me back in Iran. Despite these challenges, I am determined to make a positive impact in STEM fields and serve as a role model for other women and girls who may face similar obstacles. My journey is a testament to the importance of education and perseverance in overcoming cultural and societal barriers and promoting gender equality in STEM fields.
Another challenge that I faced in Iran was the inequality between men and women in accessing higher education. Men were allowed to enter universities with fewer qualifications than women, making it harder for women to pursue their academic aspirations. However, I was able to overcome this barrier and completed my Master's degree in Microbiology.
My research work in carbon sequestration and microbial diversity in peatlands on K’gari will be a significant contribution to the scientific community. The project will advance our understanding of the environment and how to preserve it for future generations, I believe that my work can inspire other women to contribute to STEM fields and make a positive impact on the world.
Furthermore, as an Iranian woman who has experienced firsthand the challenges faced by women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields, I am passionate about promoting diversity and inclusivity in these fields. By sharing my experiences and advocating for equity and justice in STEM, I hope to remove the barriers that prevent women and other underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential in STEM fields.


As a STEM researcher at the University of Guilan in Iran, my focus was on promoting and engaging with both scientific and non-scientific audiences, with a particular emphasis on women and girls. I have organized and participated in various events, including a seminar on soil biotechnology organized by the Biotechnology Research Institute in Rasht, Iran in December 2018. During the seminar, I presented my research on soil bio-remediation and highlighted the significance of STEM research, especially in the fields of agriculture and environmental studies. I also emphasized the need for greater participation of women in solving environmental problems, given the dominance of men in these fields.
Moreover, I've participated in mentoring and outreach initiatives with the objective of motivating and inspiring young women in Iran to pursue STEM careers. Additionally, I have taken part in outreach programs, organized by the University of Guilan, which involve interacting with school students and advocating for STEM education, especially young girls, annually on the occasion of Girls' Day in Iran.
As a woman researcher in STEM, I have also attended and participated in women in STEM events in Iran where I have shared my experiences and discussed the challenges and opportunities in the field. These events like “The Women's Organization of Iran” are a great platform to inspire and encourage young girls to pursue careers.
Additionally, I have a strong enthusiasm for science communication and have authored articles that cater to both scientific and non-scientific audiences in Iran. For instance, I wrote an article about "food security in Iran" that was published in Ofough Journal's 9th edition on July 11, 2020. Furthermore, I have presented talks and delivered speeches at different events, including science festivals such as the Caspian Sea Pollution Review Meeting, to interact with the public and highlight the significance of STEM research, particularly my work on tackling eutrophication in the Caspian Sea, which was presented in September 2020.
Lastly, I have played an active role in arranging and attending workshops and training programs centered on soil biotechnology in Iran, with the objective of advancing STEM education and honing scientific abilities among young girls. These initiatives have proven especially beneficial for women and girls aspiring to pursue careers in STEM.


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