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Category Archives: Environment

“Get out of the water!” Monster shark movies massacre shark conservation

University of South Australia Media Release

Undeniably the shark movie to end all shark movies, the 1975 blockbuster, Jaws, not only smashed box office expectations, but forever changed the way we felt about going into the water – and how we think about sharks.

Now, more than 40 years (and 100+ shark movies) on, people’s fear of sharks persists, with researchers at the University of South Australia concerned about the negative impact that shark movies are having on conservation efforts of this often-endangered animal.

In a world-first study, conservation psychology researchers, UniSA’s Dr Briana Le Busque and Associate Professor Carla Litchfield have evaluated how sharks are portrayed in movies, finding that 96 per cent of shark films are overtly portraying sharks as a threat to humans.

Dr Le Busque says sensationalised depictions of sharks in popular media can unfairly influence how people perceive sharks and harm conservation efforts.

“Most of what people know about sharks is obtained through movies, or the news, where sharks are typically presented as something to be deeply feared,” Dr Le Busque says.

“Since Jaws, we’ve seen a proliferation of monster shark movies – Open Water, The Meg, 47 Metres Down, Sharknado – all of which overtly present sharks as terrifying creatures with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. This is just not true.

“Sharks are at much greater risk of harm from humans, than humans from sharks, with global shark populations in rapid decline, and many species at risk of extinction.

“Exacerbating a fear of sharks that’s disproportionate to their actual threat, damages conservation efforts, often influencing people to support potentially harmful mitigation strategies.

“There’s no doubt that the legacy of Jaws persists, but we must be mindful of how films portray sharks to capture movie-goers. This is an important step to debunk shark myths and build shark conservation.”

Note:

Shark Week is 12-18 July 2021

Shark Awareness Day is 14 July 2021

 

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Conservation concern as alien aphid detected on Kangaroo Island

University of South Australia Media Release

An invasive species of aphid could put some threatened plant species on Kangaroo Island at risk as researchers from the University of South Australia confirm Australia’s first sighting of Aphis lugentis on the Island’s Dudley Peninsula.

It is another blow for Kangaroo Island’s environment, especially following the Black Summer bushfires that decimated more than half the island and 96 per cent of Flinders Chase National Park.

Collected by wildlife ecologist Associate Professor Topa Petit and identified by colleagues from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, the black aphids were found feeding on seedlings of Senecio odoratus, a native species of daisy, commonly known as the scented groundsel.

Of 16 native Senecio species on the island, at least ten are of conservation concern.

Originating from North America, the sap-sucking black aphids have spread across multiple continents over the past 20 years. This first record of the pest in Australia.

Assoc Prof Petit says the alien aphid species could threaten plants in the Compositae (daisy) family.

“Aphids were tended by several species of native ants that were feeding on their honeydew, showing easy integration for the pest in its new environment,” Dr Petit says.

“The presence of Aphis lugentis on Kangaroo Island could have serious consequences on seedling survival of Senecio and related species – as well as unknown ones for native ant communities.”

Currently, 1,257 of Australia’s threatened and endangered species are directly affected by 207 invasive plants, 57 animals and three pathogens. The most recent estimates found the cost of controlling invasive species and economic losses to farmers in 2011-12 was A$13.6 billion.

Once established across Australia, invasive species can be very difficult to eradicate.

Entomology diagnostician, Cameron Brumley from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in Western Australia, and geneticists Monica Kehoe and Cuiping Wang, examined the aphid and found matching DNA in a collection from Hurstville, NSW, indicating the greater spread of aphid across Australia. Authorities have been alerted.

“It is still unclear how some fragile species of Kangaroo Island are coping following last year’s bushfires, so I recommend that attention be paid to aphids present on plants related to daisies, on the island, but also on the mainland considering the likely presence of the aphid in other states. Its distribution needs to be mapped,” Dr Petit says.

“This aphid was probably introduced to Australia on ornamental plants. Locally native plants and native gardens offer better habitats for native wildlife and lower invasion risks. We need to learn to appreciate our remarkable native flora.”

Further Notes

Australia has a long history of invasive species, with more than 3000 species introduced to Australia since 1770. Some of the most notorious examples of invasive species include:

The CANE TOAD – Introduced to Australia in the 1930s as a biological control for sugar cane beetles, its population has grown from 102 to more than 200 million, wreaking havoc on the Australian ecosystem at a rate of 50km every year.

PATERSON’S CURSE (or Salvation Jane) – This purple-flowering plant was introduced to Australian gardens in the 1880s, but quickly became a rampant weed. Now a target for biological control, it costs the Australian economy more than $250 million annually through lost productivity in pastures, control costs, and wool contamination.

EUROPEAN RABBITS – Introduced for hunting and food in the 1850s, Australia’s new rabbit population exploded, destroying crops, native flora, and land. Biological controls including the Myxoma Virus and the Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus have helped control populations.

RED FIRE ANTS – Native to South America, these are highly invasive, aggressive ants that have a venomous and repetitive sting that can cause painful pustules, and anaphylaxis. The Federal Government now has a ten-year, $411 million plan to eradicate red fire ants from Southeast Queensland.

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Undersea features provide best protection targets for oceanic sharks

University of Western Australia Media Statement

Underwater footage of sea life from one of the world’s most remote marine parks has shown protected areas must include a range of ocean features to maximise marine biodiversity protection.

The footage was recorded as part of an international expedition, which included researchers from The University of Western Australia, working in collaboration with National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project, to help find and inspire the protection of the ocean’s last wild places.

The research, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, examined the effect of various geographical ocean features, including seamounts, islands and oceanographic fronts, on marine wildlife at Ascension Island, a remote and recently protected UK territory in the tropical Atlantic.

The researchers found these ocean features had a significant influence on the distribution, diversity, abundance, size, and composition of the marine communities observed there.

The types of marine life varied markedly among different physical and oceanographic features.

The waters close to the island were most important for turtles, dolphins, and smaller fishes, while seamounts – underwater mountains formed by volcanic activity – were particularly important for ocean predators, including several threatened species such as silky sharks.

In particular, two shallow seamounts in the south of the territory harboured large groups of sharks and large pelagic fishes like tuna and wahoo, making up more than 99 per cent of the amount of animals in that area.

Mr Chris Thompson

These congregations may be driven by opportunities to forage, clean and socialise.

Lead author, Research Fellow Christopher Thompson from UWA’s Marine Futures Lab, said the results showed that including multiple features in conservation efforts increased biodiversity protection.

“Our findings highlight the value of including features like seamounts and islands in our marine protected areas,” Mr Thompson said.

“Much of Australia’s marine parks network is located in offshore deep waters and it is important that we ensure that productive shelfs, canyons and seamounts are also protected.

“The marine park at Ascension Island sets a great example for marine protection efforts worldwide and our work provides a benchmark of marine wildlife status which can be used to track the changes moving forward.”

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Australians concerned about effects of deforestation and its links to future pandemics

Rainforest Alliance Media Release

New research by the Rainforest Alliance reveals that 83% of Aussies are concerned about the global effects that the destruction of the world’s rainforests is having on the planet. This comes following reports that rates of deforestation have accelerated in recent years. With scientists also warning that the current rates of deforestation could make us more vulnerable to future pandemics, 79% of Australians say this is something they are worried about.

This World Rainforest Day, the Rainforest Alliance is reminding consumers that everyone can do something to help through their individual actions, no matter how small, and that there is power in the collective.

Melanie Mokken, Markets Transformation Manager Australia/New Zealand for the Rainforest Alliance said;

“Unfortunately, deforestation rates are accelerating – triggering a global chain reaction of increased greenhouse gas emissions, rising temperatures, and devastating forest fires. Nearly half of the Earth’s original forest cover has already been lost, and each year an additional 32 million acres are destroyed. In Australia alone, an area of forest and bushland the size of Melbourne Cricket Ground is destroyed every two minutes which is astounding.

“Deforestation puts not only the health of our planet at risk, it also puts human health at risk. This has been made even more apparent during the current COVID-19 pandemic, which leaders at the UN, WHO and WWF, amongst many others, agree is linked to deforestation. When forests are destroyed, it misplaces wildlife species, putting them in closer proximity to each other and also to humans. Scientists have been warning for years that this can increase human exposure to new infectious diseases and make us more vulnerable to pandemics similar to what we have experienced with COVID-19. By reducing deforestation of tropical forests and supporting the communities that live there, it is possible to reduce the risk of future pandemics,” said Ms Mokken.

Agriculture is one of the largest drivers of deforestation, responsible for over 80 % of tropical deforestation alone. With an exploding global population (projected to reach 9 billion by 2050), it is profitable for businesses to cut down forests to plant ‘cash crops’ such as soy and oil palm.

“The best thing we can do to fight climate change is keep forests standing. We often hear that our individual actions don’t matter, however that is not the case. Everyone can make a difference in the fight to save forests and it can be as simple as making informed daily choices. There is great power in the collective, and when we act together it is possible to make a difference. We can do this by amplifying each other’s voices and signalling to political and business leaders that sustainability is important to us and by making small changes in our everyday lives.

“The Rainforest Alliance works with farmers to advance a variety of strategies, such as increasing productivity (growing more food on less land), and with traditional forest-dwellers to develop livelihoods that protect forests and ecosystems. By looking for products with the Rainforest Alliance green frog seal consumers can be assured that the product is sourced from producers committed to using land management practices that protect nature while boosting rural livelihoods, said Ms Mokken.

The Rainforest Alliance also works with governments, companies, and local and international civil society organisations to advance far-reaching policies that support rural producers who invest substantial time, labour, and financial resources in sustainability transformation. Our work with both public and private-sector stakeholders aims to raise awareness and influence decision makers to support change.

An example of this is the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, of which Rainforest Alliance is a supporting partner: a multi-stakeholder initiative including the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and 35 leading cocoa and chocolate companies. This includes Australian favourites such as Haigh’s, Whittaker’s and Palmer’s, as well as international brands such as Mars, Ferrero and Nestlé who also source Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. Together they aim to end deforestation and restore forest areas.

What you can do today to help

Purchase mindfully

By buying foods grown on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms and products which show the Rainforest Alliance’s green frog seal, consumers can be confident they are making choices that are better for people, and for nature. Coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas and other fresh fruit products that bear this seal all come from more sustainable farms where nature is protected and communities thrive.

The Rainforest Alliance has just launched its Take Action platform, Let’s Grow Together, providing consumers with the inspiration and tools they need to make more sustainable choices and changes every day on an individual, collective and global level. This practical platform provides guidance on a range of topics, including choosing certified products, sustainability at home and using your voice.

Note: An independently commissioned piece of research was conducted in June 2021 involving 1,001 respondents aged 18-65+ across all states in Australia.

About Rainforest Alliance:

The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organisation working in more than 70 countries at the intersection of business, agriculture and forests. The Rainforest Alliance is creating a more sustainable world by using social and market forces to protect nature and improve the lives of farmers and forest communities. By bringing farmers, forest communities, companies and consumers together it addresses some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges of today. The organisation changes the way the world produces, sources and consumes, with a focus on cocoa, coffee, tea, bananas, forest products and palm oil through its certification program, tailored supply chain services, landscape and community work and advocacy. In 2019, more than five million hectares of land and more than two million​ farmers were certified according to the Rainforest Alliance or UTZ standards, which are designed to improve economic, environmental and social sustainability.

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Conserving coastal seaweed: a must have for migrating sea birds

University of South Australia Media Release

As Australia officially enters winter, UniSA ecologists are urging coastal communities to embrace all that the season brings, including the sometimes-unwelcome deposits of brown seaweed that can accumulate on the southern shores.

While tidal seaweed (or sea wrack) may seem unsightly – especially at beach-side tourist destinations – new research from the University of South Australia shows that it plays a vital role for many migratory seabirds and should be protected.

In the first study of its kind, UniSA researchers show that beach-cast seaweed provides shelter, and a range of microclimates, in addition to food, that ensure the survival of many shore-bird species.

Specifically, sea wrack acts like a reverse-cycle air conditioner creating cooler conditions when the weather is hot and warmer conditions when it is cold, helping seabirds regulate their body temperatures.

UniSA researchers, Tim Davis and Associate Professor Gunnar Keppel, say that councils, residents and tourists must be educated about the ecological role of sea wrack and how removing it from beaches can have a significant impact on the environment and the survival of bird species.

“Australian beaches are renowned for stretches of golden sand – it’s one of the main drawcards for tourists – so it’s not altogether surprising that beachside destinations tend to favour a seaweed-free coastline,” Davis says.

“The challenge is, however, that while people may see beach-cast sea wrack as an eye-sore, it actually has an ecological role to fulfill, particularly for migratory shorebirds.

“Our research shows that sea wrack provides important microclimates to help seabirds regulate their body temperatures – they mostly forage, rest and roost in the older, dryer wrack, which is warm throughout most of the day. However, they also seek refuge among fresh wrack in the early mornings when it is the warmest habitat available.

“Shore birds move between the different wrack types depending on the prevalent weather conditions. This helps them conserve and build sufficient energy stores for successful migration and reproduction in overseas breeding grounds.

“When sea wrack is removed, then so too are the habitats of these sea birds, and this can have a devastating impact on their populations.”

Globally, beach-cast wrack is removed from many beaches worldwide, either for aesthetic reasons to increase tourism, for fertilisers, or to extract alginate for applications in the food and beverage industry, and the biomedical and bioengineering fields.

Currently, Australian has no guidelines for harvesting wrack.

“Sustainable management of all aspects of coastal environments is essential if we are to conserve the livelihoods of the species that rely upon them,” Davis says.

“Until a code of practice is established, our coastal ecosystems will remain under threat.”

This study was undertaken at Danger Point in South Australia, an important non-breeding ground for migratory shorebirds such as the Double-banded Plover (which migrates to New Zealand) and the Red-necked Stint (which migrates to Siberia).

Note: World Ocean’s Day is 8 June https://www.un.org/en/observances/oceans-day

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Of Plagues and Rodents: Australia’s War Against Mice

Not a day goes by these days without a casual remark about animal extermination in Australia. Mice have moved to the front of the queue in terms of animal species Australians would most like to liquidate. The language used has various registers: sombre and regretful; grave and scientific; panicked and bloody.

This is all ordinary fare and is characterised by ignoring the anthropogenic nature of the problems. Behind every pest outbreak on the Australian continent is a human hand operated by a muddled mind. In Australia, that hand has been particularly busy in negligence. Since the eighteenth century, animal species have been introduced inadvertently or through design affecting and in many instances devastating the continent’s ecosystem.

Some have been introduced with the purpose of neutralising other designated pest species, the most calamitous example being that of the cane toad. Introduced by agricultural scientists of the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations in 1935, the toad’s intended target was scarab beetles whose root-feeding larvae delighted in commercial agriculture, notably sugarcane crops. Famously, the toad preferred different sources of food and proceeded to prey on other species with gusto, including native predators. The species flourished.

The humble house mouse is said to have arrived with the British First Fleet in 1788 but some speculation abounds that the introduction might have come via Dutch ships charting the coast of “New Holland” in the 1600s. A 2011 study on that question found that “a British Isles origin of Australian mice is the most reasonable interpretation of our results.”

Mice populations have recently soared, notably in New South Wales and southern Queensland, given drought breaking rains. Crops have been attacked and animal food reserves contaminated. There have been instances of infection, notably leptospirosis. As Danica Leys of the Association of Rural Women sees it, “It is an economic and health crisis. From the contamination of food and water by mice, to the diseases they spread, this pest is affecting more than crops, not to mention the stress it causes.”

The rise in numbers has made an impression on foreign press outlets. The London-based Express wrote of an infestation of tens of millions of mice. Australians had “reported the mice terrorising their lives, creeping over their faces as they sleep, biting them, invading classrooms and even nibbling at patients in their hospital beds.” It did not take long for these militant rodents to be seen as a threat to Australia’s most populous city. Channel 10 News Sydney had warned about a potential mice “march.”

The hearty solution, as always with the next pest, is mass extermination. Australia’s deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack expressed the widely held view that, “The only good mouse is a dead mouse.” To that end there is seemingly no end to the devilish applications of human ingenuity in destroying or regulating a species. Modern mice killers try to sound like educated middle managers, flirting with scientific rationalist inquiry. Can we be more modern in the ways we massacre them? Take, for instance, the next generation of “gene driven” technology, with the New South Wales government promising AU$1.8 million for the venture. (The total mouse control package comes to AU$50 million.)

The most important feature of this technology is inducing infertility, a soft, tender gloved version of dispatch. This form of extermination is clean, avoids killing other species on route, and sits well with the bio-controllers. “We have modelled it already,” Paul Thomas of the University of Adelaide states, “and it should cause the population to crash over time.” Thomas is also delighted by the “X-shredder” approach, which involves targeting the X chromosome carrier, namely, the sperm of the mice.

You might be forgiven for thinking that a daring experiment for the betterment of humanity was in the offing. “Mice arrived in Australia with the first fleet,” trumpeted the NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall, “and from then until now the best control methods we have been able to come up with have been baiting and trapping.”

The less modern aspect of this inspired strategy is the use of a particular poison, bromadiolone, which has been likened by Marshall to the use of “napalm.” (Should we be worried?) The factsheet of the National Pesticide Pest Centre is cheery about its effects. “Unlike some other rat poisons, which require multiple days of feeding by an animal, bromadiolone can be lethal from one day’s feeding.”

With such sinister war metaphors involved, even the bio-control boffins are concerned that this was going too far. Species murder is acceptable, but, as with some genocidaire types, it comes with ceremonial restraint. Killing mice with such poison would insert the substance into the food chain, endangering predators.

Peter Brown, who heads the rodent management research team at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), notes that “anti-coagulants can accumulate up through the food chain, and so birds of prey or other animals can be feeding on dead mice and they could potentially get a lethal dose themselves through secondary poisoning.”

Evidence of bird deaths arising from the ingestion of poisoned bait has already been found in the central west of NSW. And that’s in connection with the less toxic and commonly used zinc phosphide. Kelly Lacey, a volunteer for the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Services (WIRES), found 100 dead galahs in a cemetery in Parkes at the end of last month. It was particularly galling for her, seeing as she had been involved in rehabilitating and releasing a good number of the birds around the area.

Bait poisonings of household pets and working animals have also been recorded. Peter Best, a veterinarian based in South Tamworth, estimated that one in 15 admissions to his practice had involved poisoned animals.

Such facts could only make another researcher at the CSIRO sigh. “If it’s used properly,” observed Steve Henry, “it should be a very, very low risk that a bird should find one of those grains of zinc phosphide and eat it.” The bait was sound. The same could not be said for those using it. “Why birds start falling out of the sky is [that] people do inappropriate things.” Such people used the bait in ways “not described on the label, or people make up their own baits.”

When asked about her attitude to the problem, Healthy Rivers Dubbo convenor Melissa Gray suggested, with no detectable irony, that everybody wanted “the mouse plague gone, but there’s no silver bullet.” No silver bullets, maybe, but virtually everything else in the armoury of extermination. For the president of the NSW Farmers Association, the mayhem caused by such a poison as bromadiolone was worth the effort. Showing the somewhat patchy wisdom of his forebears, he accepted the lethal calculus. “It will cause poisoning in animals that eat the dead mice.” That, however, “was the lesser of two evils.”

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Sunlight to solve the world’s clean water crisis

University of South Australia Media Release

Researchers at UniSA have developed a cost-effective technique that could deliver safe drinking water to millions of vulnerable people using cheap, sustainable materials and sunlight.

Less than 3 per cent of the world’s water is fresh, and due to the pressures of climate change, pollution, and shifting population patterns, in many areas this already scarce resource is becoming scarcer.

Currently, 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children – live in areas of high, or extremely high, water vulnerability, and that figure is expected to grow in coming decades.

Researchers at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute have developed a promising new process that could eliminate water stress for millions of people, including those living in many of the planet’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

A team led by Associate Professor Haolan Xu has refined a technique to derive freshwater from seawater, brackish water, or contaminated water, through highly efficient solar evaporation, delivering enough daily fresh drinking water for a family of four from just one square metre of source water.

“In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on using solar evaporation to create fresh drinking water, but previous techniques have been too inefficient to be practically useful,” Assoc Prof Xu says.

“We have overcome those inefficiencies, and our technology can now deliver enough fresh water to support many practical needs at a fraction of the cost of existing technologies like reverse osmosis.”

At the heart of the system is a highly efficient photothermal structure that sits on the surface of a water source and converts sunlight to heat, focusing energy precisely on the surface to rapidly evaporate the uppermost portion of the liquid.

While other researchers have explored similar technology, previous efforts have been hampered by energy loss, with heat passing into the source water and dissipating into the air above.

“Previously many of the experimental photothermal evaporators were basically two dimensional; they were just a flat surface, and they could lose 10 to 20 per cent of solar energy to the bulk water and the surrounding environment,” Dr Xu says.

“We have developed a technique that not only prevents any loss of solar energy, but actually draws additional energy from the bulk water and surrounding environment, meaning the system operates at 100 per cent efficiency for the solar input and draws up to another 170 per cent energy from the water and environment.”

In contrast to the two-dimensional structures used by other researchers, Assoc Prof Xu and his team developed a three-dimensional, fin-shaped, heatsink-like evaporator.

Their design shifts surplus heat away from the evaporator’s top surfaces (i.e. solar evaporation surface), distributing heat to the fin surface for water evaporation, thus cooling the top evaporation surface and realising zero energy loss during solar evaporation.

This heatsink technique means all surfaces of the evaporator remain at a lower temperature than the surrounding water and air, so additional energy flows from the higher-energy external environment into the lower-energy evaporator.

“We are the first researchers in the world to extract energy from the bulk water during solar evaporation and use it for evaporation, and this has helped our process become efficient enough to deliver between 10 and 20 litres of fresh water per square metre per day.”

In addition to its efficiency, the practicality of the system is enhanced by the fact it is built entirely from simple, everyday materials that are low cost, sustainable and easily obtainable.

“One of the main aims with our research was to deliver for practical applications, so the materials we used were just sourced from the hardware store or supermarket,” Assoc Prof Xu says.

“The only exception is the photothermal materials, but even there we are using a very simple and cost-effective process, and the real advances we have made are with the system design and energy nexus optimisation, not the materials.”

In addition to being easy to construct and easy to deploy, the system is also very easy to maintain, as the design of the photothermal structure prevents salt and other contaminants building up on the evaporator surface.

Together, the low cost and easy upkeep mean the system developed by Assoc Prof Xu and his team could be deployed in situations where other desalination and purification systems would be financially and operationally unviable.

“For instance, in remote communities with small populations, the infrastructure cost of systems like reverse osmosis is simply too great to ever justify, but our technique could deliver a very low cost alterative that would be easy to set up and basically free to run,” Assoc Prof Xu says.

“Also, because it is so simple and requires virtually no maintenance, there is no technical expertise needed to keep it running and upkeep costs are minimal.

“This technology really has the potential to provide a long-term clean water solution to people and communities who can’t afford other options, and these are the places such solutions are most needed.”

In addition to drinking water applications, Assoc Prof Xu says his team is currently exploring a range of other uses for the technology, including treating wastewater in industrial operations.

“There are a lot of potential ways to adapt the same technology, so we are really at the beginning of a very exciting journey,” he says.

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Standard digital camera and artificial intelligence to monitor soil moisture for affordable smart irrigation

UniSA Media Release

Researchers at The University of South Australia have developed a cost-effective new technique to monitor soil moisture using a standard digital camera and machine learning technology.

The United Nations predicts that by 2050 many areas of the planet may not have enough fresh water to meet the demands of agriculture if we continue our current patterns of use.

One solution to this global dilemma is the development of more efficient irrigation, central to which is precision monitoring of soil moisture, allowing sensors to guide ‘smart’ irrigation systems to ensure water is applied at the optimum time and rate.

Current methods for sensing soil moisture are problematic – buried sensors are susceptible to salts in the substrate and require specialised hardware for connections, while thermal imaging cameras are expensive and can be compromised by climatic conditions such as sunlight intensity, fog, and clouds.

Researchers from The University of South Australia and Baghdad’s Middle Technical University have developed a cost-effective alternative that may make precision soil monitoring simple and affordable in almost any circumstance.

A team including UniSA engineers Dr Ali Al-Naji and Professor Javaan Chahl has successfully tested a system that uses a standard RGB digital camera to accurately monitor soil moisture under a wide range of conditions.

“The system we trialled is simple, robust and affordable, making it promising technology to support precision agriculture,” Dr Al-Naji says.

“It is based on a standard video camera which analyses the differences in soil colour to determine moisture content. We tested it at different distances, times and illumination levels, and the system was very accurate.”

The camera was connected to an artificial neural network (ANN) a form of machine learning software that the researchers trained to recognise different soil moisture levels under different sky conditions.

Using this ANN, the monitoring system could potentially be trained to recognise the specific soil conditions of any location, allowing it to be customised for each user and updated for changing climatic circumstances, ensuing maximum accuracy.

“Once the network has been trained it should be possible to achieve controlled irrigation by maintaining the appearance of the soil at the desired state,” Prof Chahl says.

“Now that we know the monitoring method is accurate, we are planning to design a cost-effective smart-irrigation system based on our algorithm using a microcontroller, USB camera and water pump that can work with different types of soils.

“This system holds promise as a tool for improved irrigation technologies in agriculture in terms of cost, availability and accuracy under changing climatic conditions.”

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Renewables added capacity and carbon units issued break records in 2020

Media Release from the Clean Energy Regulator

The December Quarter 2020 Quarterly Carbon Market Report released today by the Clean Energy Regulator shows two records were achieved last year, with 7 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity delivered across Australia and 16 million Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) issued.

David Parker, Chair of the Clean Energy Regulator said the continued rapid growth in rooftop solar PV in the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) contributed 3 GW of the new renewable energy capacity, with the remaining 4 GW coming from power station accredited under the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target.

“Sustained low technology costs, increased work from home arrangements and a shift in household spending to home improvements during COVID-19 played a key role in the increase of rooftop solar PV systems under the SRES,” Mr Parker said.

Mr Parker highlighted that the 7 GW of new renewable energy capacity delivered across Australia in 2020 exceeded the Clean Energy Regulator’s original estimate of 6.3 GW.

“Several utility-scale power stations commencing generation and being accredited towards the end of 2020 rather than in early 2021 were the primary drivers for the increase,” Mr Parker said.

The report also confirms Australia has met its Large-scale Renewable Energy Target of 33,000 gigawatt hours (GWh). The Clean Energy Regulator expects eligible generation could reach 40,000 GWh in 2021.

Australia has added on average more than 6 GW of renewable capacity each year since 2018. This level of investment is expected to continue through to 2022, reshaping Australia’s electricity sector.

“It comes as no surprise that total renewable generation in the National Electricity Market (NEM) has climbed to over 30% at the end of 2020, up 5% compared to the previous year,” Mr Parker said.

2020 also saw a record 16 million ACCUs issued owing to a 25% increase in crediting for savanna burning and 17% increase in crediting for vegetation projects.

“This was an 8% rise from 2019, a trend we are expecting to continue in 2021,” Mr Parker said.

Quarter 4 2020 saw the highest quarterly registration (71 projects) since Quarter 3 2015, taking total project registrations for the year to 158.

“In 2020 we had four times as many project registrations as 2019 and the second highest registrations since the establishment of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). This is an incredibly pleasing achievement, as these new projects will potentially result in 50 million tonnes of emissions reductions over their lifetime,” Mr Parker said.

“Voluntary emissions reduction activity continues to gain momentum, with corporations and state and territory governments surrendering 4.9 million Australian units and certificates to offset emissions in 2020, a four-fold increase compared to 2019.”

“Over 156,000 LGCs were voluntarily surrendered in Quarter 4 2020, up 84% compared to the same period in 2019. This increase was primarily driven by surrenders for renewable energy commitments by corporate entities,” Mr Parker said.

Increased transparency in relation to offsetting activities is being sought by supply chains, businesses, shareholders and the public.

That is why the Clean Energy Regulator is consulting on the design of a new Corporate Emissions Reduction Transparency report to help National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting corporations show how they are meeting their voluntary emissions reductions goals.

Funding the Clean Energy Regulator to accelerate the emergence of an exchange traded market for offset units will also act as a catalyst for further private sector investment.

More information can be found in the Clean Energy Regulator’s Quarterly Carbon Market Report – December Quarter 2020.

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Jellyfish, not jaws what we fear in the ocean

University of South Australia Media Release

As the weather heats up this week, shark sightings and the possibility of an encounter will again become a popular topic of conversation. And if mass media accounts are anything to go by, you would be forgiven for thinking we all share this fear of potentially meeting Jaws on our next trip to the beach.

But according to new University of South Australia research, it is drowning and other animals – such as jellyfish, crabs, and stingrays, not an encounter with Jaws, that people fear when they take a dip.

In a survey of 400 participants who were prompted to explain why they were afraid of going in the ocean, sharks appeared well down the list, coming in fourth behind drowning, other animal encounters and deep water.

UniSA Online course facilitator for psychology, Dr Brianna Le Busque says the results of the study are surprising, given the media’s portrayal of shark-human interactions and the animal’s vilified status in popular culture.

“We’ve all seen Jaws and read the sensationalised headlines about shark “attacks” – given sharks’ representation in the mass media, it would be easy to assume that everyone’s biggest fear is an encounter with a shark,” she says.

“In reality, our study found more people fear drowning than sharks when it comes to swimming in the ocean.

“It’s promising to see that people’s fears are actually aligned with the statistical chance of these threats, given many more people drown per year compared to fatal shark interactions.”

The results are good news for shark conservation as they indicate a shift in public perception, according to Dr Le Busque. She says changing people’s perception of sharks is critical to protect them, with many species experiencing population decline.

“Even though many shark species are at risk of extinction, mass media still tends to focus on threats from sharks to humans, rather than from humans to sharks,” she says.

“This can have devastating consequences for the world’s shark population with effects we will all feel.

“Sharks play an integral role in our marine ecosystem. They have been around for more than 400-million years keeping our ocean habitats intact, which is important as oceans provide much of the oxygen we need to live.

“We know that people are less likely to support conservation initiatives and more likely to support potentially harmful mitigation strategies if they fear sharks. To support shark conservation, we need to reduce the perception of risk sharks pose to better reflect reality.

“That’s not to say we need to get rid of this fear altogether, but we need the fear to be proportionate to the threat.”

Dr Le Busque, whose research focuses on the psychology of shark conservation, says another interesting finding from the study was that 22 per cent of respondents had experienced a known encounter with a shark in the wild.

“This number was far higher than we expected – almost one in every four people had seen a shark in real life,” she says.

“In a way, this finding reaffirms the need for us to reframe how we view shark and human interactions – most sharks species are not known to harm humans.”

The results from the study were published in Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences in a paper titled ‘People’s fear of sharks: a qualitative analysis’.

 

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Cleaning up renewable energy: stewardship strategies for solar panels and wind turbine blades

University of South Australia Media Release

Researchers at the University of South Australia are leading a national push to ensure the dream of renewable energy doesn’t become a nightmare of waste management.

Australia has the highest proportion of household photovoltaic (PV) systems in the world, with more than 21 per cent of homes – or around 2.59 million – now possessing a solar energy system.

With most PV systems paying themselves off in three to five years, the average 25-year life span of solar panels makes them an excellent investment, delivering a good return for decades after their cost is recovered.

Eventually, however, all good things come to an end, and increasingly, industry experts are starting to ask what we’re going to do with all these solar panels when they are due to be replaced.

In Australia alone it is estimated more than 100,000 tonnes of solar panels will enter the national waste stream by 2035.

Solar energy expert, Professor Peter Majewski, is leading research at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute (FII) to help establish a lifetime stewardship scheme for Australia’s PV industry, ensuring end-of-life strategies are in place long before solar waste peaks.

“We have time to plan for this and ensure the processes are in place, but we have to start acting now, as the right practices may take some time to implement,” Prof Majewski says.

“There are good stewardship programs in place for products such as paint and tyres in Australia, and we would like to see a similar system in place for solar, where the disposal process is pre-planned as an integral part of the product lifecycle.”

While retired solar panels are relatively safe and stable, they are classified as e-waste, meaning they cannot be put into landfill in Victoria. With similar bans likely to follow in other states, the need for alternative solutions is clear.

One major challenge facing the solar industry is the low recycle value of PV panels, coupled with the high energy requirements of the currently available collection and recycling processes.

“There is only a little over $5 in recyclable materials in each panel at current market value,” Prof Majewski says.

“The high volume of panels will eventually offset this low value to an extent, but at the moment, we can’t expect market forces alone to drive recycling, and investment is needed to establish a waste management scheme and to improve the technology available for that process.”

Prof Majewski’s team at FII are currently working on developing both policy and technological solutions to PV’s end of life problem, and he believes the integration of both dimensions will be key to a successful stewardship scheme.

“Regulation around collection and recycling targets will be important to drive the process initially, but developing the best disposal techniques is essential, and this may even influence manufacturing techniques and what goes into the panels to start with.”

End-of-life management for PV isn’t the only challenge facing the renewables industry, and a similar disposal problem exists in relation to the blades of wind turbines, which are large and notoriously difficult to recycle.

“These blades are the size of an airliner wing, and they have been built to withstand hurricane-force winds, so they are a big challenge when they get to the end of their life,” Prof Majewski.

“As with solar panels, that disposal challenge requires planning and preparation, but approached the right way it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable problem, and we are beginning to look at strategies for how to deal with these blades as they come offline.”

 

(Professor Peter Majewski is Research Professor in Advanced Materials at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute).

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Climate Change Submission

By Keith Antonysen

Below is my submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry of Zali Steggall’s Climate Bill.

The science of climate change has a long history with it beginning in the 1820s through Joseph Fourier. In 1856 Eunice Foote began experimenting with carbon dioxide and water vapour, three years before John Tyndall. By the 1970s the science of climate change was quite well developed, it has become far more sophisticated since through the development of major technologies such as satellites; and the ability to understand ice cores, pollen, tree rings, coral, soil, rocks and more exhibiting huge age ranges.

Physics and Chemistry have enabled scientists to understand what had occurred in past epochs, knowledge created through paleoclimatology has developed to very impressive levels over the last few years. In other words, the steady increase in understanding of climate means that lay person sceptics have nothing to offer in relation to the science. Sceptical opinion by lay people is worthless in relation to Physics, Chemistry and other supporting science disciplines.

Fifty years ago, when I was twenty-one years old scientists spoke about what we could expect, we are now seeing those predictions happening.

Yale Connections has provided the costs of major extreme events in September and October of 2020. Extreme events are amplified by climate change, for example, a months’ worth or even several months’ worth of rainfall can occur within a few hours causing extreme flooding. There are many examples continually occurring. Appropriately qualified fire fighters around Earth agree that fire seasons are becoming longer, and wildfires are becoming much fiercer. Droughts are also creating huge costs, even in the Amazon Basin.

While there are huge financial costs, at times causing multiple billions of dollars of damage per event; these costs do not take into account the health and psychological damage done to communities and individuals.

One of many references in relation to the speed of climate change stated by climate scientist Scott Denning where he states … “At the end of the last Ice Age, 18,000 years ago, the world warmed about 5 degrees Celsius (10 F) over 10,000 years. That’s a rate of 0.1 degree per century.” Other epochs display similar worrying far slower changes in temperature increase compared to current times.

Since the Industrial Revolution global temperature has increased by 1 degree Celsius, in some regions the temperature has exceeded the 1 degree Celsius range.

While COVID-19 has caused huge costs in a short period, climate change promises higher costs over a long term; with time the risk factors increase. The hope is the Committee will endorse Zali Steggall’s Climate Bill, the evidence is in that climate change is happening at an increasing rate; and we owe it to our children and young people generally to take action.

Bibliography

Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago, Scientific American, October 26, 2015.

How Antarctic ice can help us travel back in time, Science Focus, January 15, 2021.

Amazon Fires Cause Brazil’s CO2 Emissions to Jump Amid Pandemic, Bloomberg Green, November 07, 2020.

Getting to the Heart of the (Particulate) Matter: NASA’s MAIA to Study How Particulate Matter Air Pollution Affects Our Health, NASA, October 21, 2020.

Report shows climate change imperils the U.S. financial system, PHYS ORG, October 30, 2020.

Clouds of Concern Linger as Wildfires Drag into Flu Season and Covid-19 Numbers Swell, Inside Climate News, October 24, 2020.

State of the climate: 2020 on course to be warmest year on record, CarbonBrief, October 23, 2020.

Driver of the largest mass extinction in the history of the Earth identified, PHYS ORG, October 19, 2020.

‘Apocalyptic’ fires are ravaging the world’s largest tropical wetland, nature, September 25, 2020.

Demand for cooling is blind spot for climate and sustainable development, CarbonBrief, October 19, 2020.

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Environmental Capitalism and Climate Change Wars: Australia in 2000

The Australian was convinced. “Australia could have avoided two decades of climate change wars had the Howard government pushed ahead with its majority view of an emissions trading scheme (ETS), newly released documents reveal.” Historian Chris Wallace is not as unequivocal in this assertion, but nonetheless observes in The Conversation that “a working consensus among cabinet ministers” is discernible, “with one exception, that an emissions trading scheme (ETS) was not only a possible but a likely route by which Australia would eventually fulfil its international environmental obligations.”

These views came in light of the release by the Australian National Archives of the 2000 cabinet papers. Climate change sceptics are not in the ascendant; the Australian Greenhouse Office is working on a variant of the ETS, and requested funding for its operations in the May budget.

This is a far too rosy reading. The Howard government had already argued in December 1997 at Kyoto (Conference of the Parties COP3) that greenhouse gas emissions growth would be permitted to 108% of its 1990 baseline. Along with Iceland and Norway, it was one of three countries granted an increase in emission levels from its 1990 base. To this could be added Australia’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, though Prime Minister John Howard was still boastful of his environmental measures, including the creation of the Australian Greenhouse Office.

How to even meet Australia’s singularly generous targets was a source of concern among ministers. Environment minister Robert Hill’s submission in May to his colleagues drew attention to two projects – the coal-fired Kogan Creek power station in Queensland and Comalco Alumina – that would together account for 25% of emissions growth allowed by the Kyoto undertakings.

Issues of efficiency were raised: the Kogan Creek power station would only be half as efficient as a gas-fired version. Hill suggested the imposition of various conditions, one of which would be a commitment to abate the carbon arising from the projects. Three departments – the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury and the Department of Finance – pooh-poohed the idea. In the curt response from PM&C, it was “desirable to clarify future greenhouse policies as soon as possible to reduce the uncertainty faced by investors in projects such as these.”

But there was one figure looming large, an aggressive paladin for the resource sector sceptical about the climate change narrative. Nick Minchin was the Howard government’s Industry and Resources Minister. He had big, aggressive dreams for gas. His goal: to blunt any emissions trading scheme through large compensation packages across carbon-intensive industries.

This is not to say that any ETS would not have been gravely deficient in either its philosophy or its realisation. At COP6 at The Hague, a vocal lobby for the marketing of greenhouse gases, groups seeking to corporatize the ostensible reduction of emissions through free trade environmentalism, were much in evidence. These included the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The Kyoto Protocol risked becoming a corporate friendly charter.

Australia’s less than heroic contribution at The Hague was important in ensuring that no agreement was reached between participating countries, largely due to disagreements between the US and European Union. Hill was charged with easing his country’s feather light burden of environmental responsibility further, with a brief that would seek additional carbon sinks already agreed to under the Kyoto negotiations.

The minister would “minimise the cost of implementing Kyoto and the impact on Australian trade competitiveness.” Should the spectre of disproportionate costs to Australia arise at the COP6 negotiations, Hill was to become a committed saboteur, working “with like-minded countries to block consensus or failing this, make a statement of Australia’s position.” Australia, as part of an Umbrella Group including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Iceland, Norway and Iceland duly concurred with US proposals favouring the use of carbon sinks.

The fact that Minchin would not even accept a market model for emissions trading suggested an encampment, an ideology pre-heliocentric in nature. Most of the cabinet ministers in the Howard government did, on some level, accept the gravity of anthropogenic induced climate change. But a survey of Minchin’s opinions over the years reveals how his militant stance on climate has become the orthodoxy of Australian governments from Abbott to Morrison. Along with Abbott, he is a fan of carbon dioxide, “more of a friend than an enemy to the earth’s flora and fauna.” Climate change was a natural process of complexity requiring “prudent and cost-effective adaptation.” He remained unconvinced “about the theory of anthropogenic global warming.”

In July 2013, Minchin launched Taxing Air: Facts & Fallacies About Climate Change. Written by Bob Carter and a host of other sceptics, including Stewart Franks and Bill Kininmonth, Minchin was “flattered” at being asked to launch a book he felt should be “in every school, every university and every community library.” Carter was “a terrific and leading voice in combating the scare mongering we have all been subjected to on the theory of anthropogenic global warming.”

In 2009, Minchin was a cardinal knife wielder in the Liberal Party coup against then leader and future prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull was an ETS convert; his replacement, a certain climate change denialist Tony Abbott, was not. Abbott became prime minister in 2013 cresting on promises to dismantle carbon-pricing schemes. Australian climate change policy, flawed as it was, had been effectively, and comprehensively, jettisoned.

In 2021, Minchin’s legacy is holding firm and fast. Australia retains a near manic ambivalence to the reduction of emissions. The mining lobbies remain boisterously strong, the environmental portfolio in the Morrison cabinet, weak. The government’s lack of ambition has seen it keep company with Saudi Arabia and Brazil in being excluded from the latest United Nations Climate Action Summit. That trend was already set at the start of the new millennium.

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Economies of scale, glacial progress and a heatwave!

What the hell is all that about???

Those are the thoughts, linked together under the theme of devastation as a consequence of global warming, which are buzzing around in my head at present.

In 42 days’ time, I shall be celebrating having lived in Darwin, the capital of the NT, for 50 years.

Arriving in the early stages of the wet season, forewarned about daytime temperatures reaching into the low 30s, and leaving snow on the ground when I left London (Heathrow) Airport, I acclimatised rapidly.

I never want to be near snow again! Living in the tropics, and not being addicted to travel, I doubt whether I shall ever be likely to do so!

By June, 1971, when, on the rare cloudy, ‘dry’ season day, temperatures struggled to reach 30˚C, and dropped well below 20˚C on many nights, I complained of the cold!

We are now in the build up to our ‘wet’, season, and have just set a record in Darwin of 11 consecutive days of temperatures reaching 35˚C or more!

And, because Darwin is so near the Arafura Sea, we are fortunate to not (yet) experience the extremes of temperature which are the norm for those who live further from the coast.

Yesterday we saw, in the ABC News, an example of flexible solar film which is enabling solar ‘panels’ to be glued to surfaces which are not smooth and flat, opening up possibilities of a far greater use of solar energy.

Incidentally, solar film can be floated on water, with efficiency of production being potentially enhanced by the contact with water in cooler areas, while evaporation of the water is reduced – win/win! Alternatively, it can be used on a swimming pool to both produce electricity and raise the temperature of the pool water!

It can also be used on windows and let this freak you out!! …

 

 

If the current Coalition government is making any progress at all towards accepting the need for adopting renewable energy on a sufficient scale, it is making, ironically, glacial progress. In fact, the existing glaciers are melting faster than Morrison and Co are moving towards recognising the bleeding obvious!

So where do the economies of scale come in?

Just hang in there a bit longer.

The many critics of solar power – and they are both many, and misguided in intent – express concern (not necessarily in any order of priority) over issues like:

  1. Solar panels have a limited life and will be hard to recycle;
  2. Energy produced is intermittent, which puts pressure on the grid to even out the flow of electricity;
  3. Solar power is only available while the sun is shining.

All true – BUT:

  1. We are currently struggling to recycle massive amounts of waste, so the government should, as a priority, be putting money into the CSIRO and research facilities in universities to facilitate rapid development of recycling systems for all waste products. Plus, the flexible solar system might be less problematic than the glass panels;
  2. The energy should be directed into storage from which it can be fed into the grid in a continuous stream, and
  3. This can occur, irrespective of whether of not the sun is shining – which is where economies of scale come in.

Replacing PV panels by the flexible model will massively enhance the range of use of solar power, as it can be used on trains, roads and roofs. This will make it more cost effective, while exactly the same applies to batteries, currently more costly because of insufficient demand.

I have not mentioned wind but it has a place in the scheme of things, as the Netherlands and other Scandinavian countries will bear witness.

Now all the naysayers will jump in with negative comments which will further delay progress in dealing with a problem which is, inexorably, becoming more and more intransigent.

Do you really think last bush fire season was an anomaly?

Think again!

How long did the recent drought last? And have the rivers and dams yet been replenished?

What is the status quo in the Murray Darling Basin, where water intended to support the environment is being stolen, and corporations are growing water-hungry crops for profit, ignoring the detrimental effect this will have on production of essential foods?

For those people who still commute to work by car, leaving their vehicles to bake in the sun – what about this?

Put a roof over all parking lots, and cover the roof with solar panels. Not only will the cars be less likely to be overheated, but the power generated will be available for lighting at night, to provide greater security for those using the park after dark.

There are loads of people out there who are aching to produce even more valuable ideas to both tackle global warming and simultaneously make life more comfortable during the interim period.

Conflict of interest is ignored, when governments allow those profiting from fossil fuels to persuade them (how, I sometimes wonder? Does money change hands, or promises of future employment in a lucrative sinecure?) to use gas as a means of transitioning from coal – only we will still need to use coal for some time to keep Joel Fitzgibbon happy.

If the Opposition Leader had any sense, he would reduce the white-anting phenomenon by sacking Fitzgibbon from the ALP.

You cannot hope to satisfy everyone, but big, bold policies, which echo successes elsewhere in the world, would surely have to produce some converts.

Millions of people have suffered in one way or another through COVID-19. They should not be expected to put up with further pain because we have a government which picks and chooses which science it will pay heed to.

We need to look forward to a Happy Christmas in a few weeks’ time.

Would it not be marvellous – not to say a miracle – if that happiness came from hearing that Scott Morrison has seen the light and will take serious action on global warming?

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Truffle munching wallabies shed new light on forest conservation

Edith Cowan University Media Release

Feeding truffles to wallabies may sound like a madcap whim of the jet-setting elite, but it may give researchers clues to preserving remnant forest systems.

Edith Cowan University researcher Dr Melissa Danks led an investigation into how swamp wallabies spread truffle spores around the environment, and results demonstrate the importance of these animals to the survival of the forest.

“There are thousands of truffle species in Australia and they play a critical role in helping our trees and woody plants to survive,” she said.

“Truffles live in a mutually beneficial relationship with these plants, helping them to uptake water and nutrients and defence against disease.

“Unlike mushrooms where spores are dispersed through wind and water from their caps, truffles are found underground with the spores inside an enclosed ball – they need to be eaten by an animal to move their spores.”

Dr Danks and colleagues at the University of New England investigated the role of swamp wallabies in dispersing these spores.

“Wallabies are browsing animals that will munch on ferns and leaves as well as a wide array of mushrooms and truffles,” she said.

“This has helped them to be more resilient to changes in the environment than smaller mammals with specialist diets like potoroos.

“We were interested in finding out whether swamp wallabies have become increasingly important in truffle dispersal with the loss of these other mammals.”

Conservation by poo tracking

The team fed truffles to wallabies and timed how long it would take for the spores to appear in the animals’ poo. Most spores appeared within 51 hours, with some taking up to three days.

Armed with this information, the researchers attached temporary GPS trackers to wallabies to map how far they move over a three-day period.

Results showed the wallabies could move hundreds of metres, and occasionally more than 1200 metres, from the original truffle source before the spores appeared in their poo, which makes them a very effective at dispersing truffles around the forest.

Dr Danks said this research had wide ranging conservation implications for Australian forests.

“As forest systems become more fragmented and increasingly under pressure, understanding spore dispersal systems is really key to forest survival,” Dr Danks said.

“Many of our bushland plants have a partnership with truffles for survival and so it is really critical to understand the role of animals in dispersing these truffle spores.

“Our research on swamp wallabies has demonstrated a simple method to predict how far an animal disperses fungal spores in a variety of landscapes.”

Modelling mycorrhizal fungi dispersal by the mycophagous swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor)’ was published in Ecology and Evolution and can be read on the website.

 

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