A sea full of mysteries to be solved

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 9: Seas and coasts

Life originated in the oceans 3–5 billion years ago and even today 20 of the 33 animal phyla (the highest groupings within the animal kingdom) remain confined to the sea. That means that most life under the sea is like nothing we find on land.

An elephant seal with an electronic tag on its head

Sea creatures can also help us explore the oceans. Sea mammals can take sensors to parts of the ocean we’d never be able to go ourselves, like under Antarctic sea ice. Image: Chris Oosthuizen

Worldwide there are big gaps in our understanding of the oceans and the life within them. Our exploration of Australia’s marine biodiversity has been limited mostly to the margins of the continent, on the continental shelf and the upper continental slope. Even near the continent, some 50–70% of the species we’ve found in recent surveys have never before been seen by scientists.

New technology and equipment, like autonomous robotic vehicles and electronic tagging, as well as our brand new marine research vessel, RV Investigator, is allowing us to explore in ways we’ve never explored before and so we can begin to address those knowledge gaps.

In the ninth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Alan Butler and Dr Nic Bax talk about the unique habitats of the sea, the challenges it poses to exploration, and new tools and technologies helping us discover and manage the biodiversity it holds:

To find out more about discovering biodiversity in the ocean, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at the relationship between our cities and biodiversity. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.


Can cities cater for our critters too?

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 8: Cities and towns

Cities are one of the great inventions of civilisation. They are centres of knowledge, invention and cultural change. But how good are they at supporting the local plants and animals?

Cities tend to have been built in areas of high biodiversity, with rich soil and permanent water supplies, and so there may be more species living in and around your city or town than you think. Simply punching your postcode into the Atlas of Living Australia will give you a list of everything that’s been recorded there.

Of course, the fact that there’s now a city on that land will have impacted species’ ability to persist there. The way we design and lay our cities out has an influence on how extensive that impact is, and will continue to be important as cities and populations grow.

Views of Canberra and New York City cityscapes

Canberra and New York City are at opposite ends of the urban density spectrum. But which is better for biodiversity? Image: Mark Lonsdale

Cities occupy just 2% of Earth’s surface but account for 75% of the resources consumed by humans. That sort of resource use represents one of the biggest challenges to the world’s biodiversity. But being centres of cultural change, cities also present many opportunities to engage people in supporting biodiversity conservation efforts.

In the eighth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Mark Lonsdale talks about the relationship between cities and biodiversity and some of the big ways cities can play a role in supporting our biodiversity in coming decades:

To find out more about the relationship between our cities and towns and biodiversity, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at agricultural landscapes and how they can be better managed to support biodiversity. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.


Can we feed the world and save our species?

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 7: Farming, pastoralism and forestry

Australian agriculture provides food and fibre for millions of people in Australia and around the world, but it can come at a cost to our environment and biodiversity.

There is a range of intensities of primary production in Australia today. Hunting and gathering and use of fire to manipulate the abundance of native species is at the lowest end of the spectrum, then livestock grazing of native pastures, right through to complete replacement of native species for intensive cropping and forestry plantation (the latter requiring inputs in the way of fertilisers, machinery, chemicals etc.). The more intensive the production method, the more food and fibre can be produced per unit area, but with greater impact on biodiversity. Less intensive production methods provide opportunities for native species to coexist with production.

Better management of our agricultural landscapes can enhance biodiversity, and in turn, enhanced biodiversity can benefit agriculture through services like pollination and recycling nutrients in soils.

In the seventh video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Sue McIntyre talks about the different intensities of agriculture in operation across Australia and what research is telling us about better managing practices to continue supporting biodiversity in those landscapes:

To find out more about managing agricultural landscapes for biodiversity, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at Indigenous perspectives on Australia’s biodiversity and its management. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.


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.


The last refuge of our endangered species

Australia’s protected area network is the backbone of our national response to biodiversity threats. In public ownership, Australia has some 550 national parks and state conservation areas covering over 28 million ha – an area that’s about the size of Victoria and Tasmania combined. There are also 70 marine parks and reserves covering 310 million ha of Commonwealth waters – an area about the size of Queensland and Northern Territory combined.

But do these reserves cover the full range of ecosystems in Australia? Are they large enough to maintain species diversity, natural interactions and evolutionary processes? Do they allow plants and animals to move through the landscape in the ways they need to? Will these reserves still provide protection to our most vulnerable species during times of stress, such as a changing climate?

These are the questions that need to be considered in the planning and design of Australia’s protected area network. With over 60 per cent of Australia privately owned, it’s becoming increasingly evident that we won’t meet our conservation targets if we rely on public funding and public land alone.

In the fifth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Andy Sheppard talks about the role protected areas play, how the network is designed and what the major challenges will be into the future:

To find out more about the management of Australia’s protected areas, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at the tools we use to restore and manage threats to Australia’s biodiversity. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.


Fighting back against species loss

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 4: Management and Restoration Tools

There are many troubling threats to our native biodiversity in Australia, two of the biggest being the loss and fragmentation of native habitats and the impact of invasive species. Native species also suffer as a result of poor grazing and fire management regimes, over harvesting, pollution and disease.

To add to the problem there is a high level of uncertainty about how best to address the decline in our biodiversity and there are competing demands on the limited resources available to do this work. These factors align to make the decision making process incredibly complex, urgent and high pressured.

On the up side, here in Australia we are well placed to do something about it. A lot of the scientific expertise about managing biodiversity is being developed right here. In the fourth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Tara Martin talks through some of the ways we’re managing threats to our biodiversity, particularly through the use of new tools to help us make increasingly urgent management decisions:

To find out more about the tools for managing and restoring Australia’s biodiversity, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at how Australia’s biodiversity is tracking. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.


Australia’s biodiversity, how is it tracking?

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 3: Status and Trends

If we want to look after the species that call Australia home we first need to know what’s actually out there and, secondly, how is what’s out there changing over time. But only about a quarter of our native species have actually been formally identified.

Like many other countries, Australia lacks good scientific data sets that can tell us about the status and trend of our biodiversity. We do know that our biodiversity has been modified by land clearing, destruction of habitats, invasive pest species, burning, harvesting species from the land and sea, and climate change. But because we weren’t there collecting data when the change processes began many decades ago, it’s hard to provide an accurate assessment of the change that has occurred.

The measures that we do have, like numbers of extinct and endangered species, tell us that our biodiversity is in decline. And current monitoring efforts reveal that the pressures on our biodiversity are increasing.

In the third video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr David Yeates talks about new monitoring programs that are helping us address the biodiversity knowledge gaps so that we’re able to better manage our native fauna and flora into the future:

To find out more about the status and trend of Australia’s biodiversity, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at how Australia’s biodiversity came to be so unique. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.


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