Moon Jellyfish: It is rare for these to live more than six months in the wild but they are really interesting.
All species in the genus are closely related and is hard to pick them apart except by genetic sampling.
They grow to about 25–40cm in diameter and can be recognized by its four horseshoe-shaped gonads, easily seen through the top.
It is not really a strong swimmer and it mainly drifts with the current feeding on plankton, fish eggs, small organisms and molluscs. It captures food with its tentacles and scoops it into its body for digestion.
Moon Jellyfish are found throughout most of the world’s oceans, from the tropics to as far north as latitude 70°N (runs through the middle of the US and Spain) and as far south as 40°S (runs through Tasmania).
It has also been found in waters as cool as 6C to as warm as 31C.
They do not have any respiratory parts such as gills, lungs, or trachea so it respires by diffusing oxygen from water through the thin membrane covering its body.
As it is Good Friday I thought I would look into the association of fish with Christianity and religion in general. However, that turned out to be way too hard and full of potholes I just could not be bothered navigating around – and I’m trying to pack the swag for camping.
So, rather that concentrate on one fish I have “researched” Wikipedia for a description of all fish.
Here you go:
A fish is any member of a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups. Most fish are ectothermic (“cold-blooded”), allowing their body temperatures to vary as ambient temperatures change, though some of the large active swimmers like white shark and tuna can hold a higher core temperature.
Fish are abundant in most bodies of water. They can be found in nearly all aquatic environments, from high mountain streams (e.g., char and gudgeon) to the abyssal and even hadal depths of the deepest oceans (e.g., gulpers and anglerfish). At 32,000 species, fish exhibit greater species diversity than any other group of vertebrates.
The earliest organisms that can be classified as fish were soft-bodied chordates that first appeared during the Cambrian period. Although they lacked a true spine, they possessed notochords which allowed them to be more agile than their invertebrate counterparts. Fish would continue to evolve through the Paleozoic era, diversifying into a wide variety of forms. Many fish of the Paleozoic developed external armor that protected them from predators. The first fish with jaws appeared in the Silurian period, after which many (such as sharks) became formidable marine predators rather than just the prey of arthropods.
By Sarah Wilson
Today is World Water Day. In the spirit of this day I would like to pay homage to all things freshwater. In particular I would like to draw your attention to a peculiar fish found in the depths of the largest freshwater lake in the world : behold the Golomyanka.
OK, I admit it is a rather unassuming looking fish, but looks can be deceiving. Golomyankas, also known as Baikal oilfish, are only found in one place in the world – Lake Baikal . This UNESCO World Heritage Listed Lake is located in nippy Siberia. It is 25 million years old, contains one fifth of the world’s unfrozen freshwater, and is home to a staggering number of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Earning it the nickname of ‘the Galapagos of Russia’.
As for the fish, it’s pretty amazing too:
Amazing fact No. 1: They are the world’s most abyssal fish. This means they live in the entire range of depths found in Lake Baikal. That’s a span of up to 1700m below the surface of the water. The pressure of going to these depths would easily crush a human.
No. 2: They rapidly melt in sunlight leaving only oil, fat and bones. (Imagine that!)
No. 3: It is one of only a few viviparous fish in the world. Viviparous means that it doesn’t lay eggs, but gives birth to live young . It gives birth to up to 3000 larvae at a time.
No. 4: They are a primary food source for the Lake Baikal’s nerpa seal. One of the few exclusively freshwater seal species found in the world.
No 5: They have a high fat content (over a third of their body weight is made up of fat). Native Siberians have been known to use them as fuel for their lamps.
Bareskin Dogfish: I have an affinity with this dogfish. Little is known about how it works or the environment it inhabits. It is actually a shark and has so far only been found near Japan, along the Australian coast from about Brisbane to Hobart and in a relatively small area from Perth to the north.
Apparently they are dark in color with white-tipped fins, which suggest the pictured specimen above is either an albino or just a very crook sample.
According to what I could find out about them they have no anal fin (who would want one) and has grooved dorsal spines with the second larger than the first. It has a blunt nose, large eyes and large nostrils. It grows to a a maximum of about 45cm.
They are found in a depth range of 500m to 1200m.
It has litters of three to 22 pups.
And that is about where the information on this thing ends: No information on the reproductive cycle, no information on annual fecundity, gestation period, age at maturity or longevity.
By Beth Fulton- Head of Ecosystem Modelling, Marine and Atmospheric Research
Australians want a future of sustainable self-sufficiency and a healthy environment supporting a robust democracy – free of poverty and inequity. That was one of our projections, as part of the Australia 2050 project for the Australian Academy of Science.
Equally, Australians fear a future in which the stability of day-to-day life has been eroded by a degraded environment, depleted resources, lawlessness or warfare, limited access to health-care and education, extreme (or even increased) economic or political inequity and the fragmentation of social cohesion.
The question “What will Australia in 2050 look like?” will not be answered for sure for another four decades. But that future depends on decisions made today, and that means it is important to get some early insights into what the alternatives really are.
Of course, the future is uncertain and the projections discussed here may change as the different components are finally linked together. But some of them run contrary to current expectation and desires. They require careful thought in any personal, community, regional or national planning exercises.
Population, society and the economy
The human aspects of Australia’s future have received a good deal of attention over the last few years. Australia’s population will increase by 50-100% by 2050. The proportion of the population living in the north and west is projected to increase at the expense of smaller southern states.
Median age will increase from the 36.8 years of 2007 to between 41.9 and 45.2 years. The proportion of the population over 65 is projected to increase by 60%, or more in the southern states.
Economic growth is forecast to continue over 2011-2050 at around 2.5% per year (a little slower than over past decades), and to shift towards services and away from primary and secondary industries (like agriculture and manufacturing).
This is despite an expected 13% increase in trade as Australia’s trade partnerships restructure – with the proportion of Australia’s total exports going to China, India and Indonesia projected to rise from 14% to 40% by 2100.
Even this rate of productivity is dependent on increasing labour force participation, facilitated by education and health programs and increased participation by people aged over 65. Despite this rising participation it is projected that the tax base will nearly halve, meaning the fiscal burden of the ageing population would lead to an accumulating and growing fiscal gap (where spending exceeds revenue) of up to 2.75% of GDP annually, with deficits reaching 20% of GDP by 2050.
Resources and industries
Australia’s resource sector has been one of the defining shapers of economic growth through the late 20th and early 21st century. Major fossil fuels (black coal, natural gas) and minerals (iron ore, bauxite, copper) are forecast to be exhausted in 60-80 years at current rates of extraction, much sooner for other resources (gold, lead, zinc, crude oil). The physical trade balance (including mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors) is forecast to show continued growth in exports to the mid 21st century, but then to collapse rapidly to around neutral.
While Australia will be food secure, agricultural trade is projected to drop by 10-80% due to a drop in output. In the absence of any climate change adaptation in agricultural practices or mitigation, by 2050 Australian wheat, sugar, beef and sheep production is projected to drop by roughly 14-20%; with production in Queensland and the Northern Territory hardest hit.
Energy consumption will increase. Electricity generation and transport sectors remain the dominant uses. Fossil fuels are likely to continue supplying the bulk of this, despite 3.4-3.5% growth per year in renewables.
The trajectory of emissions is heavily dependent on the specific adaptation behaviour, mitigation policies and technology scenarios.
Climate, the environment and ecosystems
Air temperature will probably rise by less than 4°C by 2050, with the greatest warming in the northwest and away from the coasts. This has adverse consequences for heat stress on agriculture and urban systems, water availability in Southern Australia, the incidence of drought and fire.
Water yield from the Murray-Darling potentially drops by 55%, but the greatest increase in drought months (of 80%) is in the southwest. Substantial increases in the number of extremely hot days (>35°C) Australia wide are associated with increases in extreme fire days and area burnt. Northern settlements are particularly strongly impacted.
The impact of these changes on native terrestrial ecosystems becomes progressively worse as temperature rises. If temperatures increases are small (<1°C by 2050) only mountain and tropical ecosystems should be impacted; habitat for vertebrates in the northern tropics is projected to decrease by 50%.
If temperatures rise by 3°C or more the projected loss of core habitats is much more extensive: 30-70% or more of many habitat types, with the majority of rainforest birds becoming threatened and many species of flora and fauna projected to go extinct. Iconic freshwater wetlands, like Kakadu, are also projected to shrink by 80%. These changes are also associated with extensive compositional change and increased penetration of invading species.
The ocean is projected to change as much as the land, though with much more consistency across emissions scenarios. Most ocean warming is in the tropics and down the east coast. Sea-level will rise, potentially doubling the areal extent of flooding due to storm tides; ocean stratification is likely to strengthen, affecting mixing, nutrient supplies and productivity; hypoxic “dead zones” are likely to spread; and the rising levels of CO2 dissolved in the ocean will continue to cause acidity to increase.
While a range of species will adapt, future ecosystems may have very different composition to today. Differential capacity to adapt will lead to species mixes never before recorded.
Economically and ecologically sustainable marine industries are still possible despite the projected environmental changes. However, this is only possible if regulations, markets and social attitudes allow the industry to shift with the new ecosystem structures.
Beth Fulton was lead author for a group exploring modelling perspectives as part of the Australian Academy of Science project “Australia 2050: Towards an environmentally and economically sustainable and socially equitable ways of living”.
The Australia 2050 project for the Australian Academy of Science has just published Phase 1 Negotiating our future: Living scenarios for Australia to 2050 which emerged from 35 scientists working together to explore social perspectives, resilience, scenarios and modelling as pathways towards environmentally and economically sustainable and socially equitable ways of living. Phase 2 of this project on creating living scenarios for Australia is underway.
Beth Fulton receives funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
From ugly ducklings like the Rough Dreamer to the kiss-me-I’m-really-a-prince Clown Triggerfish, Australia’s marine fishes are now at your fingertips thanks to FishMap.
FishMap is a free online mapping tool that anyone can use to find out which fishes occur at any location or depth in the waters of Australia’s continental shelf and slope. You can create species lists for any region that include photographs and illustrations, distribution maps and current scientific and common names.
FishMap has a million and one uses for everyday fish lovers, such as finding out which fishes occur at your local fishing spot, creating a personalised pictorial guide or identifying the fish you spotted during a dive. Researchers can examine the range of a threatened species, or figure out what occurs in a marine reserve. Commercial fishers can find out what fishes occur at different depths in the areas they fish, or even determine the possible species composition for catches of any fishery in the waters of Australia’s continental shelf and slope.
Australia’s marine biodiversity is among the richest in world, but before FishMap there was no easy way to generate illustrated species lists for any location you choose within Australia’s marine waters. It’s the only resource of its kind in the world that covers virtually all species of fish found in the marine waters of an entire continent.
The tool provides the scientifically known geographical and depth ranges of over 4500 Australian marine fishes – including our 320 sharks and rays. Searches reveal illustrated lists of fishes by area, depth, family or ecosystem. These lists can be printed to create simple guides or, if you really want to get serious about it, data can be downloaded into a spreadsheet for research.
FishMap is built on the Atlas of Living Australia’s open infrastructure, which is bringing Australia’s plants, animals and fungi from Australia’s biological collections to everyone.
The Atlas of Living Australia is an initiative of Australia’s museums, herbaria and other biological collections and is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, the Super Science Initiative and the Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme.
FishMap will be officially launched on Tuesday 26 February 2013 and is available on the Atlas of Living Australia website: http://fish.ala.org.au
Media: Bryony Bennett. Ph: +61 3 6232 5261 MB: 0438 175 268 E: email@example.com
By Matthew Paget
Striking images of smoke plumes and scarring from the bushfires that swept south eastern Australia in January 2013 have been put together from selected NASA satellite imagery by CSIRO and partners from the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).
To help study and manage the impact of the fires, the latest cloud-free images of the evolution of the recent bushfires have been assembled from NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System satellite imagery.
When combined with ground data and knowledge held by CSIRO and its research partners, such images taken over time, can be used to help study the extent of burn scarring, as well as vegetation recovery after the fires have passed. This is one example of the sort of information that the research team can provide to help improve the understanding and management of the landscape including for: vegetation and fire issues, agricultural productivity, water and flood management, carbon accounting, fertiliser and resource use studies.
Fires burning in Tasmania – 5 January 2013
Two images from the same satellite pass on 5 January 2013. (a) Visible (true colour) image shows numerous smoke plumes from six major fires across Tasmania. (b) The enhanced (bands 7-2-1) image highlights the extent of burn scarring. Extensive scarring (brown patches on the landscape) can be seen for both the Dunalley and Southwest National Park bushfires. At the time of this satellite pass, the Dunalley fire had passed through Dunalley from the north and continued to burn both to the north near Forcett and to the south on to the Tasman Peninsular.
Source: NASA near real time (orbit swath) images. MODIS/Aqua, 5 Jan 2013 0425 UTC (approx. 1525 local).
Southeast NSW – 9 January 2013
This image (bands 7-2-1) shows the extent of burn scarring on 9 January 2013. Large burn scarring areas (brown patches on the landscape) are visible for the Yass and Numeralla/Kybeyan fires. Smaller scars are visible for Dean’s Gap near Jervis Bay and a small fire to the east of Lake George. Together with ground-truthing, images like these can be used to assess the extent and, to some degree, the severity of individual bushfires.
Source: NASA near real time (MODIS subsets) images. Georectified composites of multiple satellite passes for MODIS/Terra (7 Jan 2013) and MODIS/Aqua (9 Jan 2013).
Coonabarabran morning and afternoon smoke plumes – 14 January 2013
Two images (true colour) showing the growth of the Coonabarabran fire as evidenced by a larger smoke plume between the (a) morning and the (b) afternoon of 14 January 2013.
Source: NASA near real time (MODIS subsets) images. Georectified composites of multiple satellite passes for MODIS/Terra (morning) and MODIS/Aqua (afternoon).
Large smoke plume from Gippsland fire – 18 January 2013
Bands 7-2-1 image of eastern Victoria on 18 January 2013. In this case the smoke plume (blue) from the Gippsland fire contrasts with the cloud and the plume extends well into the Tasman Sea. The image shows the extent of the fire and burnt area from near Heyfield extending to the northwest into the Baw Baw National Park.
Source: NASA near real time (MODIS subsets) images. Georectified composites of multiple satellite passes for MODIS/Terra.
Victorian and NSW burn scars – 21 January 2013
Bands 7-2-1 image over eastern Victoria and NSW on a relatively cloud-free day in which the burn scars from the major fires of the previoust two weeks can be seen.
Source: NASA near real time (MODIS subsets) images. Georectified composites of multiple satellite passes for MODIS/Terra.
Information about the images
Images were accessed from NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), MODIS Subsets and MODIS Near Real Time (Orbit Swath) Images browse services. Images were created from MODIS bands 1-4-3 (true colour) and bands 7-2-1 (burn scarring). Bands 7-2-1 discriminate burnt area features as red-brown patches on the landscape and have enhanced water contrast (blue) and vegetation (green) compared to true colour images. The images shown here have been cropped to reduce file size and highlight smoke plumes and burn scars of interest. Annotations give an approximate guide to nearby towns and the scale of the images.
Burn scarring and vegetation loss
CSIRO and TERN/AusCover coordinate routine (but not near real time) processing of satellite data to provide a range of products that can help agencies assess burn scarring and vegetation loss after bushfires. Such products include monthly burn date and area, fortnightly vegetation fractional cover and vegetation indices, and grassland curing indices. These products will be available from early March 2013 to assist with analysis of the recent fires in south eastern Australia.
Near real time satellite data can be browsed and downloaded from NASA websites. In Australia these data and services are provided and used operationally by the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, the state fire agencies and their state government departments to provide near real-time assessments of burn scarring and vegetation loss due to bushfires. The Sentinel Hotspots system for tracking bushfires by satellite, co-developed by some of the original members of the AusCover team in CSIRO in 2003 and now managed by Geoscience Australia, is an example of near real time data services in Australia.
TERN/AusCover has brought together remote sensing experts and practitioners from CSIRO, universities, Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology and state government departments to improve and coordinate systems and methods for managing Australia’s satellite remote sensing resources and to produce best available and validated remote sensing products relevant to the terrestrial environment. AusCover supports a broad range of landscape remote sensing work related to agricultural, land use, vegetation change, carbon accounting studies and flooding.
Remote sensing fire products : http://data.auscover.org.au/xwiki/bin/view/Outreach/brisbane-20121116.
CSIRO’s Bushfire research: http://www.csiro.au/en/Outcomes/Environment/Bushfires.aspx
TERN / AusCover: http://data.auscover.org.au
Dr Alex Held
Director AusCover Facility TERN
CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research
P: 02 6246 5718
By Andrea Wild
No, the problem is not ghost ships on the high seas, but ghostnets. Lost and abandoned fishing gear drifts around the world’s oceans and can continue fishing for decades.
With around 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear lost or discarded each year, ghostnets are a huge problem worldwide. Originating mainly from fisheries and Asia and Australia, ghostnets in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria are among the highest concentration in the world and are threatening our marine turtles. During a recent cleanup of ghostnets on beaches in the Gulf, 80 per cent of animals found trapped in nets were marine turtles, including Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Green and Flatback turtles.
Using a model of ocean currents and data collected by Indigenous rangers on the number of ghostnets found during beach cleanups, the scientists simulated the likely paths ghostnets take to get to their landing spots on beaches in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Combining this with information about the occurrence of turtles in the area, they found that entanglement risk for turtles is concentrated in an area along the eastern margin of the Gulf and in a wide section in the southwest extending up the west coast.
The research pinpoints where prevention and clean-ups can really make a difference to protecting our biodiversity.
Ghostnets, originating mainly from fisheries in Asia and Australia, are a particular problem in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria, where they can reach densities of up to three tonnes/km, among the highest recorded worldwide.
“Our research goes beyond discovering where ghostnet fishing is taking place, to actually estimating its impact on biodiversity, in particular on threatened marine turtles,” Dr Denise Hardesty of CSIRO said.
“Using a model of ocean currents and data collected by Indigenous rangers on the number of ghostnets found during beach cleanups, we simulated the likely paths ghostnets take to get to their landing spots on beaches in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
“Combining this with information about the occurrence of turtles in the area, we found that entanglement risk for turtles is concentrated in an area along the eastern margin of the Gulf and in a wide section in the southwest extending up the west coast.
“Most ghostnets enter the Gulf from the northwest and move clockwise along its shore. This means we can help protect biodiversity in the region by intercepting nets as they enter the Gulf, before they reach the high density turtle areas along south and east coastlines.”
Ghostnets are a global problem, capturing seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles worldwide. Lost or abandoned fishing gear makes up only 20 per cent of marine debris but has a disproportionate effect because it is designed to capture wildlife.
“Our research shows that combining models of marine debris with species occurrence data could identify global hot spots for impact, helping pinpoint where prevention and clean-ups could really make a difference to biodiversity,” Dr Hardesty said.
This research used information on ocean currents generated by the BLUElink Ocean Data Assimilation System to simulate the paths of ghostnets.
Media: Andrea Wild. Ph: +61 2 6246 4087 Mb: 0415 199 434 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bats are amazing creatures. They’ve been around for at least 65 million years, and in that time have become one of the most abundant and widespread mammals on earth.
Our Bat Pack, a team of researchers at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, conduct a wide range of research into bats and bat borne viruses, and their potential effects on the human population, as part of the effort to safeguard Australia from exotic and emerging pests and diseases.
Their paper, published today in the journal Science, provides an insight into the evolution of the bat’s flight, resistance to viruses, and relatively long life.
The Bat Pack, in collaboration with the Beijing Genome Institute, led a team that sequenced the genomes of two bat species – the Black Flying Fox, an Australian mega bat, and the David’s Myotis, a Chinese micro bat.
Once the genomes were sequenced, they compared them to the genomes of other mammals, including humans, to find where the similarities and differences lay.
Chris Cowled, post-doctoral fellow at AAHL says the research may eventually lead to strategies to treat, or even prevent disease in humans.
“A deeper understanding of these evolutionary adaptations in bats may lead to better treatments for human diseases, and may eventually enable us to predict or perhaps even prevent outbreaks of emerging bat viruses,” Dr Cowled said.
“Bats are a natural reservoir for several lethal viruses, such as Hendra, Ebola and SARS, but they often don’t succumb to disease from these viruses. They’re also the only mammal that can fly, and they live a long time compared to animals similar in size.”
Flying is a very energy intensive activity that also produces toxic by-products, and bats have developed some novel genes to deal with the toxins. Some of these genes, including P53, are implicated in the development of cancer or the detection and repair of damaged DNA.
“What we found intriguing was that some of these genes also have secondary roles in the immune system,” Dr Cowled said.
“We’re proposing that the evolution of flight led to a sort of spill over effect, influencing not only the immune system, but also things like ageing and cancer.”
The research was a global effort involving the Beijing Genome Institute in Shenzhen, China; Australia’s national science research agency, the CSIRO; the University of Copenhagen; Wuhan Institute of Virology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the Naval Medical Research Center and Henry M. Jackson Foundation in the USA; Uniformed Services University, USA; and the Graduate Medical School at the Duke-National University of Singapore.
Media Contact: John Smith, CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences; 07 3214 2960; 0467 736 671; email@example.com
Detailed satellite imagery about Australian landscapes will soon be only a button push away for land managers in community and non-profit sectors thanks to a partnership between Australian scientists and Google.
According to CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr Alex Held, Director of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network’s (TERN) AusCover facility, the partnership aims to provide greater access to and international reach of Australian science.
“CSIRO and TERN researchers will be able to use Google’s enormous cloud computing power to contribute their expertise and environmental data to deliver easy to use maps and tools for millions of users world-wide,” he said.
One of the tools to be made available in Google’s Earth Engine will be a vegetation monitoring tool. It will enable land managers to see if vegetation is in a healthy condition or being impacted by things like pests, diseases, fire or feral animals.
“The health of our landscapes is vital to addressing key challenges such as food security, biodiversity conservation and agricultural productivity,” said Dr Held.
“For land managers to manage landscapes effectively, they need to be able to monitor, measure and understand changes.
“For decades Australian researchers have been refining the use of satellites for observing the earth and have combined this with expert field data and environmental models to contribute to landscape management.
“Similar vegetation mapping tools and satellite data are already in use, for example by the Australian forestry industry, and now through this partnership with Google we can make them more widely available to non-profit and community groups world-wide.
“This really is about making people’s jobs easier as they can access and process data in a matter of minutes to pinpoint potential issues and figure out the best action to take to investigate and respond without having to spend time and money with random surveys of huge tracts of land,” said Dr Held.
The first of the new data tools are being tested in Google Earth Engine and are due out early next year. Combined with data already freely available via CSIRO and the TERN data portal, over the coming months and years, Google Earth Engine will provide unprecedented capability in use of satellite observations for all sorts of environmental management, conservation and landscape science projects.
“We’re excited about this partnership with the researchers at CSIRO and TERN, who are operating at the cutting edge of environmental science,” said Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager for Google Earth Engine.
“Earth Engine now makes available to them more than 40 years of global satellite imagery, updating daily, along with a framework to run their tools and methods on thousands of computers in Google’s data centres.
“We look forward to turbo-charging Australian science for the benefit of people around the world,” she said.
Since its release in mid-2005, the free Google Earth software has been downloaded over one billion times.
This new collaboration with Google builds on many years of research by CSIRO, the then Cooperative Research Centre for Forestry, The University of Queensland and a wide range of researchers working in partnership with TERN.
Claire Harris, CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0428 116 185
Rebekah Christensen, TERN, email@example.com, 0401 047 727
By Kim Pullen – Australian National Insect Collection
Inland Australia is a harsh place to live. With daytime temperatures cruel and radiation-intense, dehydration is a constant threat.
Many insects cope with these conditions by only coming out at night or after rain, when humidity is high. Rain also makes desert plants put on new growth, and herbivorous insects respond with rapid development to take advantage of the fresh foliage.
Arid zone wattles such as Mulga are host to a whole suite of native thrips that form galls on the leaves. A gall starts when the plant reacts to feeding by the thrips, producing abnormal tissue that extends out from the leaf surface and eventually encloses the insects. Other thrips glue two leaves together with a secretion from the rear end, and live in the enclosed space.
The interior of both types of enclosure is a benign environment, out of the sun and drying wind. It provides not only shelter, but food in the form of sap from surrounding tissue, and a nursery to rear young. It is so benign that other thrips want to move in too. Some do so quietly, seemingly without disturbing the legitimate owners.
But not all is peace and calm. Competition between thrips females for good leaves is intense, such that they have evolved Schwarzenegger-like ‘arms’ that they use to fight off rivals.
And these rivals are not only of their own species: some thrips species can’t even produce their own shelters – they survive entirely by invading others’ homes and killing the occupants. To help defend their home, some of the original female gall-former’s progeny, both male and female, develop as ‘soldiers’ whose job is to dispatch invaders, which they grasp and stab with their giant front legs.
Life can be tough in the outback – harsh outside the home and dangerous inside.
Gardening this spring? CSIRO’s got your weeds covered with a new biodegradable weed mat made from agricultural waste product linseed straw.
Our scientists have teamed up with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to fight weeds, the eco way.
Preliminary testing by CSIRO has shown the mat degrades in a few months, allowing it to be absorbed into the soil. Because it retains moisture and allows rainfall to soak into the soil, it also boosts worm activity.
Unlike other black plastic weed mats which can stay in the soil for years, the mat completely biodegrades. Weeds cost Australia a reported $5 billion a year and sixty million square metres of plastic weed matting is used in horticulture, gardens, parks and homes.
CSIRO believes the mat could benefit growers involved with organic and biodynamic production as well as manufacturers and suppliers of agricultural and garden products. Other waste materials, such as hemp and banana fibre, could also be used to make the mat.
“Why should I care about biodiversity?” This is a valid question, particularly in a world that faces a changing climate. In addition, there are other things to worry about such as global food shortages, getting the kids to school on time and exercising.
What is biodiversity?
One simple but profound answer is that all of us need to breathe, drink and eat. These are all benefits that are fundamentally provided by biodiversity. But the reasons to pause and consider the value of maintaining our country’s biodiversity are broader than this.
First of all, what exactly do we mean by biodiversity? Biodiversity collectively describes the vast array of approximately 9 million unique living organisms (including Homo sapiens) that inhabit the earth, together with the interactions amongst them.
The concept includes every species of bacteria, virus, plant, fungi, and animal, as well as the diversity of genetic material within each species. It also encompasses the diverse ecosystems the species make up and the ongoing evolutionary processes that keep them functioning and adapting.
We can’t get by without it
Without these organisms, ecosystems and ecological processes, human societies could not exist. They supply us with oxygen and clean water. They cycle carbon and fix nutrients. They enable plants to grow and therefore to feed us, keep pest species and diseases in check and help protect against flooding and regulate the climate.
These benefits are known as ecosystem services. A functioning natural world also provides a living for farmers, fishers, timber-workers and tourism operators to name but a few. So biodiversity keeps us alive, but there are other less tangible benefits.
Recreation such as fishing or hiking, the aesthetic beauty of the natural world and our spiritual connection with nature; the cultural values we place on plants and animals such as the kangaroo and emu on the Australian coat of arms – these are all benefits of biodiversity.
Research suggests that natural environments have direct and positive impacts on human well-being, despite the highly-urbanised modern lifestyles that most of us live. Mental-health benefits from exercising in natural environments have been are greater than those gained by exercising in the synthetic environment of the gym. Mood and self-esteem benefits are even greater if water is present.
The value that humans gain from biodiversity reminds us that, despite being predominantly urban, we are still intrinsically part of the natural world. We are a component of and therefore dependent on the ecosystem. This has led to the global concerns around anthropogenic biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity in decline
Changes in surrounding biodiversity affect all of us. Unlike other species however, we have the chance to determine what these effects might be. In considering our role in biodiversity, there is some good news and some bad news.
Let’s start with the bad. Globally, biodiversity is in rapid decline. The explosion of the human population from 2 to 7 billion in just 100 years has caused the extinction of many species.
Scientists agree that the earth is experiencing its first anthropogenic climate-driven global extinction event. They also agree that this is happening at a rate too fast for species to adapt. CSIRO research shows that by 2070, the impacts of climate change on Australia’s biodiversity will be widespread and extreme.
This loss of biodiversity is concerning because of the growing consensus that it goes hand-in-hand with a reduction in the stability and productivity of ecosystems. The result may be that the services on which we rely could be compromised in damaging ways.
We have the science: policy is the next step
And the good news? In Australia, we are well-placed to meet the challenge of biodiversity management head-on. We have substantial national scientific expertise to draw on. On the global scale we have a good record of effective interaction between science and policy. The latter is particularly important.
To halt the decline in biodiversity across the continent, we must translate accumulated knowledge on biodiversity into government policy. This can be done through programs and on-the-ground management. Tough decisions need to be made about where to invest, what to manage, and which approach to take.
These decisions can be emotionally and politically charged. Navigating the complex environmental, economic and political values can be extremely challenging.
Good resources for good policy
Despite these challenges there are things we can do. Australian scientists are actively developing better ways to support good governance and effective investment for improved conservation decision-making.
- The Environmental Decision hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program is tackling gaps in environmental decision-making, monitoring and adaptive management. One of the hub’s projects assessed approaches to species relocation in Australia. Relocation is becoming more prevalent as species experience habitat loss due to impacts such as climate change. The scientists developed guidelines to improve relocation’s success rates.
- The Atlas of Living Australia brings together Australia’s biological information online, making it quicker and easier to undertake biodiversity assessments (or just look up a species you’re interested in). It has 33 million records and is growing by the day.
- A collaborative project between Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) managers, traditional owners, the Australian government, and CSIRO developed guidelines for IPA management plans. These connect traditional knowledge, law and customs with international systems for protected area management.
We urge you to take a moment and consider biodiversity. Debate about the value of biodiversity both globally and to you as an individual will help clarify society’s objectives for biodiversity management. It will ensure that the changes we make help to conserve our natural assets for future generations.
A landmark study has found that climate change is likely to have a major impact on Australia’s plants, animals and ecosystems that will present significant challenges to the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity.
The comprehensive study by CSIRO highlights the sensitivity of Australia’s species and ecosystems to climate change, and the need for new ways of thinking about biodiversity conservation.
“Climate change is likely to start to transform some of Australia’s natural landscapes by 2030,” lead researcher, CSIRO’s Dr Michael Dunlop said.
“By 2070, the ecological impacts are likely to be very significant and widespread. Many of the environments our plants and animals currently exist in will disappear from the continent. Our grandchildren are likely to experience landscapes that are very different to the ones we have known.”
Dr Dunlop said climate change will magnify existing threats to biodiversity, such as habitat clearing, water extraction and invasive species. Future climate-driven changes in other sectors, such as agriculture, water supply and electricity supply, could add yet more pressure on species and ecosystems.
“These other threats have reduced the ability of native species and ecosystems to cope with the impacts of climate change,” Dr Dunlop said.
One of the challenges for policy and management will be accommodating changing ecosystems and shifting species.
The study suggests the Australian community and scientists need to start a rethink of what it means to conserve biodiversity, as managing threatened species and stopping ecological change becomes increasingly difficult.
“We need to give biodiversity the greatest opportunity to adapt naturally in a changing and variable environment rather than trying to prevent ecological change,” Dr Dunlop said.
The study highlights the need to start focussing more on maintaining the health of ecosystems as they change in response to climate change, from one type of ecosystem to another.
‘This could need new expectations from the community, possibly new directions in conservation policy, and new science to guide management,” Dr Dunlop said.
“To be effective we also need flexible strategies that can be implemented well ahead of the large-scale ecological change. It will probably be too late to respond once the ecological change is clearly apparent and widespread.”
The study found the National Reserve System will continue to be an effective conservation tool under climate change, but conserving habitat on private land will be increasingly important to help species and ecosystems adapt.
The team of researchers from CSIRO carried out modelling across the whole of Australia, as well as detailed ecological analysis of four priority biomes, together covering around 80 per cent of Australia.
The study was funded by the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship.
More information and the reports are available from The implications of climate change for Australia’s biodiversity conservation and protected areas.