Spring forth and eat dung

A male Onthophagus vacca dung beetle

Onthophagus vacca – getting into it in WA

There are about 28.5 million head of cattle in Australia. Each one produces between ten and 12 cowpats a day, at an average 2.5kg each. Over a 14-day period, that’s about 14 million tonnes of dung. And every one of those cowflops can generate about 3000 flies in that time. But you may have noticed that Australia hasn’t been buried in manure or completely blanketed in flies. That’s because, for more than 40 years, we’ve been working to make sure cow dung doesn’t hang around, polluting pastures and waterways and providing the ideal breeding ground for flies.

This is a special week for us. One of our two new species of European dung beetle is ready for field release. The other is planned for release in 2015.

Our scientist, Dr Jane Wright, personally carried her shy but important companions, Onthophagus vacca, (a native of France and Spain) from Canberra to Western Australia. The spring-active dung beetles will be burrowing into new homes at field sites around Kojonup in Western Australia. These sites were chosen because they are home to numerous large herds of cattle, which means a lot of cow dung is available.

Here they are, making themselves at home.

Up until now, there has been a gap between one species of beetle settling down for a well-earned break and the next gearing up for action. These new beetles have been carefully selected to fill the seasonal break in activity in early spring across southern and western Australia. By introducing the spring-active beetle, the long term goal is to ensure dung is buried in early spring, getting the nutrients into the ground and accessible to the plant roots. The result is increased pasture productivity and reduced runoff of nutrients into waterways.  Another benefit is that the beetles will compete with bush flies for the dung, thus slowing the buildup of fly numbers over spring, enabling the existing beetles to have a greater impact on fly populations over summer.

With financial support from Meat and Livestock Australia and WA Agriculture and Food, we imported two new species of dung beetle in 2012. These were placed in quarantine and set up to breed. Then their eggs were surface-sterilised following AQIS protocols. Following that the eggs were taken into the laboratory outside quarantine and transferred to artificial brood balls. These beetles were the start of a laboratory colony that has allowed us to produce sufficient beetles for field releases, like this one.

If you’d like to learn more about these little scuttling wonders, there’s a more in-depth article over at The Conversation.

Bungees get wet – for science

Bungee jumper

Not this kind of bungy. Image: Flickr/fauzay

When you hear the word ‘bungee’ you don’t immediately think of ocean research. But the daredevil’s rubbery, stretchy friend is now doing its bit to assist in ocean and coastal science.

In order to hold monitoring equipment in place, marine and aquaculture researchers currently use chain to attach their equipment to moorings anchored to the ocean floor.

This is effective, but it can have some undesirable side effects. Marine chain is heavy. It has to be to withstand the power of the ocean. Unfortunately, this means that the weight of the chain moorings can damage the delicate sea floor, gouging bits out as it drags along.

Chain also takes up a lot of space. Because there needs to be some give (to prevent it from snapping), the chain needs to be much longer than the depth of the water. This is also a factor for aquaculture – the more ocean floor real estate occupied by chain, the less room they have for their production.

So what if there were a mooring that dispensed with the need for all that chain? A little lateral thinking, and … meet our home-grown bungee mooring, developed in partnership with Hobart-based company Specialised Industrial Products.

Just the same way as a standard bungee cord stretches and stretches and S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-S, so does the rubber cord attached to the mooring hardware – up to five times its length at rest. This allows it to move with the dynamics of the water, instead of resisting it. As a result, the mooring can be smaller, lighter and take up less space on the ocean floor.

A bungee that goes UP.

A bungee that goes UP.

Not only that – the slimline design means it’s less vulnerable to fouling, which is the encrusting of small marine animals, plants and algae on the surface. That reduces the drag and load even further. Stretching instead of straining also lessens the stress on the coupling points, saving investment costs, maintenance cost and downtime. Our new bungee cords are estimated to have twice the working life of a traditional chain mooring, at about the same initial cost – around $1000 each.

This is just one of a, er, raft (see what we did there?) of marine innovations we have made in collaboration with industry. For more information contact Tim Lynch on tim.lynch@csiro.au or (03) 6232 5239.

3D printed bling!

Here at our titanium 3D printing facility Lab 22, we print all sorts of things. From biomedical devices like this sleep apnoea mouth guard, to titanium lugs for this bicycle manufacturer.

We do this because 3D printing has a bucket load of advantages over traditional manufacturing methods. It reduces wasted material, brings down costs, speeds up development and allows for product customisation. It’s a technology that is already opening up doors in the automotive, aerospace and health industries.

Now, Australia’s local design community is jumping on 3D printing. With rapid prototyping, the technology is allowing designers to bridge the gap between the conceptual and tangible with a press of a button.

As part of the Sydney Design Festival, underway this week, the Third Dimension Pop Up exhibition is showcasing what Australian designers are achieving with this innovative technology. Here’s one of the titanium pieces we printed at Lab22 for local designer Caitlin Dubler. We think it’s pretty cool.

Read more about our 3D printing facilities on our website.

Dropping a bombshell on women in science

By Emily Lehmann

Cathy Foley

Dr Cathy Foley

If you thought Wikipedia had everything covered, then you were wrong.

Online activists have dropped the bomb that women scientists, despite their long history of achievements, are underrepresented on the site.

To ‘write’ this wrong and give greater recognition to women in science, the activists fired Australia’s first Wikibomb.

As part of National Science Week, 140 people from across the country bombarded Wikipedia with entries about Australian women in science – old and new.

Not only have these activists got Wikipedia up to speed, they’ve also helped highlight an important issue for science in Australia: the gender gap. There are significantly fewer females working in science than males. There are even fewer women in leadership positions and some areas of physics and engineering have as little as five per cent female participation.

One of Australia’s leading scientists and Science Director for our Manufacturing Flagship, Dr Cathy Foley, has written about the number of reasons for this.

There are practical reasons, such as women departing the workforce to have children. Many of these women change careers and move away from science.

There are also cultural reasons. Science can be ‘blokey’ and very competitive. Often women don’t get the same kinds of accolades and awards, don’t apply for the same jobs, grants, prizes and can’t progress in the same way.

So why bridge this gap?

There is strong evidence that companies operating with a gender-balance actually enhance their ability to innovate and gain a competitive advantage.

If we want to solve the biggest problems we need to have all the best minds working towards it, including men and women.

Speaking recently at the 2014 Ruby Payne-Scott Lecture at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, Cathy shared her thoughts on women in science and what can be done to bridge the gap:

View the transcript.

Mixing ancient knowledge with new to understand biodiversity

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 6: Indigenous perspectives

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right across Australia have close connections with the native species that inhabit their customary land and sea estates (or ‘Country’), and these connections form a vital part of their diverse cultures—whether they happen to live in the desert, on an island or in the city.

Street art image of a bird on a wall in Melbourne's Union Lane

Gamilaraay artist Reko Rennie represents biodiversity and his culture in the laneways of Melbourne – freyapix/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Indigenous people shaped the pre-colonial environments of Australia for 50,000 years. Today, formalised Indigenous land and sea management programs are an increasingly significant part of environmental management in Australia, with vast tracts of the country being managed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander custodians.

This sustained residency, along with long-term observations and oral histories, mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have unique knowledge systems and perspectives on Australia’s biodiversity and its management—a dynamic mix of old and new knowledge.

In the sixth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Fiona Walsh talks about some of the perspectives that have been shared with her by Aboriginal knowledge holders she has worked with:

You might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book to find out more about the unique perspectives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples bring to understanding and caring for our biodiversity—including those of Dr Walsh’s co-authors on the chapter, Sandra McGregor and Peter Christopherson.

Last week’s video looked at the role of national parks and reserves in protecting our biodiversity. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.

Ghostbusting in the Gulf

By Eamonn Bermingham

scissors cutting turtle net

A rescued turtle off the Northern Australian coast.

The Gulf of Carpentaria off Australia’s northern coast has one of the highest rates of abandoned fishing nets, or so-called ghostnets, anywhere in the world.  In fact, up to three tonnes of netting washes ashore each year for every kilometre of coastline.

Unfortunately, all of these nets can have a big impact on our marine life.  Getting caught in nets is one of the most common causes of death for marine turtles in Australia. Ghostnets have also been known to catch dugongs, sharks, and fish species and cause damage to coral reefs and seabeds. What’s more, they can create shipping lane hazards and introduce alien species into vulnerable ecosystems.

While ghostnets can cause big issues, the good news is that our researchers have found a way to tackle the problem.

Working with Ghostnets Australia and Indigenous rangers, we analysed data from more than 8,000 ghostnets retrieved from the region’s coastline over a seven year period. We found that 5000 to 15000 turtles had been caught in the nets during this time.

According to lead scientist Dr Chris Wilcox, as well as quantifying the problem for the first time, the team was able to find a solution that will allow regulators to manage the issue more effectively.

“Using the data collected and oceanographic modelling we’ve identified a pinch-point at the north-eastern section of the Gulf near Weipa where nets can be intercepted and removed relatively cheaply – before they reach high-density turtle areas,” he said.

Northern Australia map

The Gulf of Carpentaria has one of the highest rates of abandoned fishing nets in the world.

As well as creating a healthier marine environment and a more sustainable fishing industry in the region, the study will improve our understanding of the overall global threat from marine debris. This will inform regulation, enforcement, and conservation action.

If you’re interested in finding out more about marine debris, check out our website.

Ghostnets Australia is an alliance of indigenous communities stretching across Northern Australia from the Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Kimberleys.

Sorry Nanna: Study focuses on draughts those snakes can’t keep out

As much as we love those draught-busting door snakes our nannas knit, it is safe to say they aren’t the most scientific solution when it comes to stopping draughts coming through windows or doors. But in the spirit of keeping wintry draughts out, we are launching Australia’s first study of air leakiness in Australian homes.

Door snake

Door snake, just like nanna used it knit. Flickr/The Bunny Maker


The aim is to create a snapshot of the energy efficiency of  newer homes in different Australian cities.  The study will assess 140 homes in capital cities across Australia. Volunteers are being sought to take part in the study which will focus on seals around doors and windows and insulation quality.

Energy efficiency experts will conduct a blower door test to assess the air tightness of the building  and carry out an insulation inspection using thermal imaging of each home to identify hotspots for heat loss/gain.

A blower door test involves attaching a sealed frame containing a fan into one exterior door and closing all other external doors and windows. The fan can raise and lower the air pressure inside the house. This causes air to flow in through all unsealed cracks and openings and the rate of air movement through the house can be measured.

The study, being conducted on behalf of the Department of Industry, will focus on homes less than four years old. Home owners who volunteer to take part will be given a report on their home’s air tightness and insulation quality and a copy of the CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook.

Volunteers are being sought in Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Perth and Sydney. Data has already been collected on homes in Melbourne and Canberra. You can register your interest in taking part here.


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