Talitha Santini

Associate Professor

  • The University of Western Australia (M089), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


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Personal profile


Dr Santini joined the University of Western Australia's School of Agriculture and Environment as a Senior Lecturer in August 2018, after five years as a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Sciences and Management at the University of Queensland. She is Director of the UWA Mining Innovation Network (http://www.uwa.edu.au/mine) and leads a multidisciplinary research program focussed largely on environmental management in the mining industry.

Her research interests are centred on soil formation and weathering, geochemistry, mineralogy, and microbiology; in particular, the interactions between abiotic and biotic processes that drive soil development and global biogeochemical cycles. She pursues this research across a variety of environments including both naturally formed and anthropogenic systems (mine wastes, tailings, and organic wastes). Much of Dr Santini's research focusses on the rehabilitation of mine sites, tailings, and soils impacted by mining and refining activities, as well as 'extreme' soils derived from natural processes (acid sulfate soils, salinised farmlands, etc.).

Research interests

--- Land rehabilitation and management of mine wastes and byproducts ---

Mining is a major contributor to the Australian economy, and careful management is required to balance the benefits of resource extraction against potential environmental impacts. My research in this area focusses on land-based impacts, examining the efficacy of rehabilitation strategies applied within mine sites and within tailings storage areas in addressing issues such as extremes of pH, high salinity, poor structure, and nutrient deficiencies/metal toxicities, and identifying opportunities to improve current rehabilitation practices. My research also develops novel methods for treatment of liquid and solid byproducts of mineral processing, and avenues for reuse of these byproducts.


--- Geomicrobiology and microbial ecology ---

Soils can harbor highly diverse microbial populations that play key roles in nutrient cycling, soil weathering, and development of soil structure. Modern DNA and RNA sequencing tools (metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approaches) that enable culture-independent analysis of microbial communities now allow us to link the structure, diversity, and functional capacity of microbial communities to environmental conditions such as soil pH, salinity, aeration, temperature, and nutrient availability. Elucidating the links between environmental conditions and microbial community structure and function may contribute to improved land management practices, particularly in degraded or extreme environments. My research in this area primarily focusses in microbial community establishment and succession in tailings and mine wastes; however, I also work in other degraded and extreme environments (agricultural lands impacted by secondary salinity; salt/soda lakes; acid sulfate soils) as natural analogues of mining environments, and to identify common processes across these natural and engineered systems.


--- Soil formation and development in natural and engineered systems ---

In natural systems, soil formation is typically a process that occurs over geological timescales; however, in engineered systems such as mine sites and tailings, soil formation and development occurs much more rapidly (<100 years). Materials present in engineered landscapes are far from equilibrium with soils in the surrounding environment, due to their extreme chemical (very low or very high pH, high salinity), physical (structureless, very fine or very coarse grained), and biological (low diversity, limited functional capacity) properties, and these materials weather rapidly during exposure to natural processes such as rainfall percolation and atmospheric oxidation and carbonation. Natural weathering processes may be assisted by amendments which target key thresholds in soil formation processes to accelerate remediation progress, and allow the engineered landscape to support a vegetation cover or other end land use in a shorter timeframe. My research focusses on the evaluation of soil formation in mine wastes and tailings, and identification of likely pedogenic trajectories in response to natural weathering processes and applied amendments.


--- Soil mineralogy ---

In both natural and engineered systems, the mineral assemblages in soil strongly influence soil chemical, physical, and biological properties; however, quantification of mineral concentrations is often hindered by the variety of minerals present in any one sample (typically >10) and structural imperfections and substitutions in the crystal lattices of these minerals. I use the Rietveld refinement technique in my research to quantify mineral concentrations in soil samples based on X-ray diffraction patterns, which enables quantification of mineral concentrations in complex samples. My interest in soil mineralogy ties in with evaluation of soil formation (identifying horizons based on changes in mineralogy with depth; tracking dissolution and precipitation of minerals over time), rehabilitation efficacy (linking changes in mineralogy to applied amendments and weathering), and geomicrobiology (identifying the influence of microorganisms on mineral precipitation and dissolution processes).


Key research skills and expertise include:

- Soil chemical, physical, and microbiological analysis

- Mineral synthesis, dissolution and precipitation experiments (including hydrothermal environments), quantitative mineralogical analysis, XRD, XAFS

- Molecular biology and microbiology - including DNA/RNA extraction and sequencing, real-time PCR, microbial culturing and enrichment, bioinformatics and biostatistics (metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, multivariate statistical analyses including PERMANOVA, dbRDA, etc)

- Bioremediation system development and upscaling

- Development of waste reuse options

Roles and responsibilities

- Member, University Research Committee

- Member, University Research Entities Committee

- Member, UWA CZO Steering Committee


- Unit coordinator and lead lecturer for:

EART3339 Land Rehabilitation

ENVT5515 Environmental Management in Mining

ENVT5517 Ecological Rehabilitation

- Guest Lecturer in:

SCIE1500 Science, Society and Data Analysis

ENVT5005 Waste and the Circular Economy


Previous positions

2016-2018: Senior Lecturer, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Queensland, Australia

2013-2016: Lecturer, Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation/School of Geography, Planning, and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, Australia

2012-2013: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, McMaster University, Canada


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

External positions

Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, University of Queensland

27 Jul 2018 → …

Senior Lecturer, University of Queensland

30 Sept 201327 Jul 2018

Industry keywords

  • Environmental
  • Mining and Resources
  • Biotechnology
  • Agriculture and Food

Research expertise keywords

  • soil science
  • mineralogy
  • microbiology
  • microbial ecology
  • geomicrobiology
  • geochemistry
  • land rehabilitation
  • environmental science
  • environmental management

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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