Going with the throughflow

Hose spraying water

The backyard experiment any hose-owner can try. Image: Flickr / Scott Akerman

By Simon Torok

Here’s a simple backyard science experiment for you to try, which has global implications.

Grab a garden hose, turn it on, and then put your thumb over the end of it. The flow of water thins, while its power intensifies.

Okay, now multiply that by a few million and you have some idea of the impact of recent La Niña conditions on a major ocean current north of Australia.

The Indonesian Throughflow is a series of ocean currents linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It carries water from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean through the passages and straits of the Indonesian Archipelago.

Schematic of the ITF. Values of the flow and the major passages are indicated by red. Water enters the ITF from the western Pacific and exits into the Indian Ocean.

Schematic of the ITF. Values of the flow and the major passages are indicated by red. Water enters the ITF from the western Pacific and exits into the Indian Ocean. Image: Wikipedia.

Researchers – led by Janet Sprintall at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the United States, and including Susan Wijffels from CSIRO in Hobart – have found that the flow of water in the Indonesian Throughflow has become more shallow and intense since the late 2000s due to La Niña conditions, just as the water flow thinned and intensified while you played with that garden hose.

The paper, The Indonesian seas and their role in the coupled ocean-climate system appears in today’s online publication of the journal Nature Geoscience.

The Indonesian Throughflow is the only place in the world where warm equatorial waters flow from one ocean to another; consequently, the throughflow is an important chokepoint in the flow of heat in the climate system.

The paper suggests that human-caused climate change could make this shallowing and intensification a more dominant feature of the Indonesian Throughflow, even under El Niño conditions.

Changes in how much warm water is carried by the Indonesian Throughflow will affect the sea surface temperature, and in turn the patterns of rainfall in our region.

So you may need to think a bit more about how you use that garden hose.

Mega-pest worms its way into Brazil

Helicoverpa armigera_5

By Wee Tek Tay, Research Scientist, CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship

We often speak of the risks of new invasions in our increasingly interconnected world, and stress the need for a strong and reliable biosecurity system to safeguard our borders.

As global trading and markets increase, it’s essential to develop our ability to detect incursions using new and innovative surveillance techniques combined with rapid identification capabilities.  This is important because Incursions by exotic pests and diseases have the potential to seriously impact Australia’s people, agricultural industries and unique environment.

And right now, a team of Australian and international scientists are working closely with colleagues in Brazil as one of the most destructive pests known to agriculture – the cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) – worms its way into Brazilian agricultural fields.

Helicoverpa armigera has long been recognised as a serious biosecurity threat to the Americas, where it has the potential to establish across the South and North American continent with far greater anticipated potential economic loss to corn and cotton than the closely related Helicoverpa zea which is endemic to the Americas.

Incredibly, despite being intercepted at US Ports of Entry a staggering 4431 times since 1985, this mega-pest had not been previously reported to take hold on the American continents.

In Australia, Asia, Africa and Europe, where cotton bollworm is considered native, the damage it causes is estimated to cost $US 2 billion each year. In the last two growing seasons, high infestations of Helicoverpa species larvae were found in different regions of Brazil, resulting in substantial economic losses of up to 10 billion Brazilian Reals ($US 4.4 billion).

A cotton bollworm larvae decimating a cob of corn

A cotton bollworm larvae decimating a cob of corn

At first it was assumed that the damage was being caused by Helicoverpa zea, because the cotton bollworm had never previously been detected within the country. However, as the scale of spread and destruction was monitored, the Brazilian scientists knew that something was different and suspected that maybe the dreaded incursion of Helicoverpa armigera had indeed begun. At this point, Brazilian scientists from the Mato Grosso Cotton Institute approached CSIRO researchers to assist in the careful identification of the species attacking their crops.

Our scientists, together with French and Indian colleagues from CIRAD and IRD in France and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research used evolutionary and population genetics to confirm that the cotton bollworm has now successfully invaded Brazil.

Along with the confirmation that the Brazilians are indeed dealing with a new incursion of a serious exotic pest, the international team led by scientists from the CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship and Matto Grosso Cotton Institute is providing further vital data that will assist Brazil to manage this new menace.

The next steps for the research team are to investigate where the moth originated, where they are currently distributed, its spread across the South American continent, and the incidence of resistance to key pesticides. This information, coupled with CSIRO’s extensive expertise in insecticide resistance management will assist Brazil to develop effective strategies to manage this mega-pest.

You can read the full research paper at PLOS ONE.

For media enquiries contact Emma Pyers: +61 3 5227 5123, emma.pyers@csiro.au

Putting a stop to the rot

Queensland Fruit Fly

The Queensland Fruit Fly

Flies aren’t only a nuisance for beach goers, some species can cause havoc for Australia’s agricultural industries and threaten the production and export opportunities of our fresh fruit and vegetable produce.

Queensland Fruit Fly (Q-fly) is one of these species. It’s the highest priority pest for a broad range of horticultural industries and can inflict significant costs on producers through management costs, lost production and reduced export opportunities, and on government and industries through eradication campaigns in areas where fruit fly does not regularly occur. These costs all eventually flow through to consumers and taxpayers.

An outbreak of Q-fly in a major fruit or vegetable production area, such as the Riverland in South Australia, has the potential to impact Australia’s export and domestic horticulture markets.

CSIRO’s Biosecurity Flagship together with Horticulture Australia Ltd, Plant & Food Research Australia and the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia are joining forces to find a solution to this Q-fly problem.

Today marks the beginning of this partnership with the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill announcing the establishment of a $3 million facility to breed male-only sterile Q-flies for use in Sterile Insect Technology (SIT) programs.

SIT is a scientifically proven method for suppressing or eradicating fruit fly populations and managing their potential impacts in horticulture production areas.

The $3 million State investment is in addition to a collaborative $15 million research and development consortium which will focus on new technologies to produce the male-only sterile Q-flies, and then the most effective release strategies and monitoring technologies needed to underpin effective area-wide control of Q-fly.

Boy biting into peach with blue sky in the background

Image: iStock

SIT approaches have already been used with great success around the world and in South Australia to combat Mediterranean fruit fly. However, the development of male-only sterile Q-fly will be a world first and will significantly enhance the cost effectiveness of SIT.

SIT is environmentally friendly and can be used in orchards, urban and environmentally sensitive areas, where application of conventional chemical treatments isn’t possible or is intrusive.

For media enquiries contact Emma Pyers: +61 3 5227 5123, emma.pyers@csiro.au

The turbulent times ahead for airborne pests

Boy on beach playing with sand

Image: Shutterstock

By Emma Pyers

Picture this – it’s a windy day in Northern Australia; in fact it’s a northerly wind. What are your initial thoughts?  Maybe heading to the beach with the family, hosting a BBQ or spending time outside with your canine friend?  But did you think about the risks these winds pose to our country’s biosecurity status?

If not, that’s OK because that’s what our scientists are here for – to help find solutions to protecting our environment and people from nasty pest and disease threats.

Currently the biggest biosecurity threat to Australia comes from the import of animals, plants, seeds and food that carry pests or pathogens.

So it makes sense that most of our surveillance effort goes into detecting these potential biosecurity threats at air and marine ports, and using our quarantine system for imported animals, although this still leaves open another ‘pathway’ for these nasties to use.

It’s on the wind.

It’s not as common as the direct import pathway, but it’s more concerning as it’s out of our immediate control.

So, we’re turning to mathematics and computer modelling to develop surveillance systems that can predict when and where pests and pathogens might be blown into, and from, Australia.

Yellow hot air balloon in the sky

Been hot air ballooning? Then you’ve experienced travelling with air layers and currents. Image: Zurijeta/Shutterstock

Traditionally wind trajectories have been used to show wind direction, but transport on the wind is more complex, as the pests and pathogens are also taken vertically.  The higher they are taken, the further they can travel.

Fortunately this is an area of great significance to atmospheric physicists, as they are interested in predicting things like how pollutants are dispersed in the air by chimneys, and how radiation might disperse following a nuclear accident.

This has led them to use a combination of mathematics and computer simulation to represent transport of particles in the atmosphere. There are now a number of computer applications that can do the hard work of combining the climate and weather data with the maths and physics of wind dispersion.

Infographic including maps detailing the dispersal of culicoides midges blowing into northern Australia

However, pest or pathogen dispersion is different to dust or pollutant dispersions, as living organisms respond differently within the atmosphere.  They might die if it’s too hot or cold, if the wind is too turbulent, or even if they’re susceptible to ultra-violet light.  All these organism-specific parameters need to be taken into account on top of standard dispersion modelling approaches to establish if there is a biosecurity risk or not.

It’s a challenge to bring these important elements together and make optimal decisions about when and where to do surveillance for wind-borne threats, even allowing for a high performance computer to analyse the data.

We’re working to solve this problem for all the relevant biosecurity domains interested in wind-borne spread, for example plant, animal and human health.

We are in the process of building a web-based tool that will link to the Bureau of Meteorology’s high-performance computing.  This new application is called the Tool for Assessing Pest or Pathogen Airborne Spread, also known as TAPPAS (sorry, it’s not Spanish cuisine). 

We expect TAPPAS to be ready for government, industry and research agencies interested in predicting and responding to airborne biosecurity threats for a ‘user acceptance testing” workshop in around 12-18 months time.

Our very own Peter Durr is presenting a talk on TAPPAS at the Biosecurity and Bioinvasion workshop tomorrow at CSIRO Discovery in Canberra.  CSIRO is co-hosting this event, which is part of the International Year of the Mathematics of Planet Earth, with AMSI, ANU and DAFF.

Requiescat in pace – FFT

Nearly three years after Friday Fish Time was spawned, the time has come to kill it off. FFT served us well, but now the blog has caught on (and everyone wants to get on board) there is little room left for little fish tales. Time to cast them off, throw them back, reject the best, and recast. So, goodbye my scaly friends.

Nearly three years after Friday Fish Time was spawned, the time has come to kill it off.
FFT served us well, but now the blog has caught on (and everyone wants to get on board) there is little room left for little fish tales. Time to cast them off, throw them back, reject the best, and recast.
So, goodbye my scaly friends.

Preventing a pathway for pathogens

Part of the Biosecurity Series

By guest blogger Professor Peter Doherty

Photo of the tail of three planes

Image: caribb/Flickr

It’s no big secret that we’re citizens of an increasingly globalized planet where ideas, information, goods and services get around very fast. One of the downsides of this brave new world is that the same is true for pests and pathogens.

The security services, customs officers and quarantine regulations/officials protect Australia from such invasions as much as possible, although given the volume of trade and human movement, stopping bad things at the borders can only be part of any effective strategy.

There’s also a need for continual environmental monitoring to make sure that nothing dangerous slips through which could compromise Australia’s agricultural industries, wildlife and natural environments.

When it comes to biodefence against invading viruses, bacteria, insects, plants, marine parasites (on the hulls of ships) and so forth, we have layers of operation that function both at the Federal and State level.

This is, of course, where the wonderful high security CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) comes into its own, providing the essential diagnostic tools and facilities for safe studies of deadly viruses in animals that are unique to the South-east Asian region.

Photo of the exterior of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory

The Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria

Apart from its service to the veterinary world, AAHL has also pioneered studies of bat-borne viruses like Hendra and Nipah (active to the North-West of Australia) that can transmit to people from infected horses and pigs respectively. These are classic cases of the “One Health” view CSIRO takes that stresses the intimate interplay between animal disease and human disease. Apart from the Henipaviruses, AAHL also has the facilities that allow CSIRO researchers to study the avian influenza A viruses, that are a looming threat to both domestic poultry and people.

An artificially coloured electron micrograph of the new-SARS like virus – now known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) – which has caused an ongoing outbreak of respiratory disease and has spread from the Middle East to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Tunisia.

An artificially coloured electron micrograph of the new-SARS like virus – now known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) – which has caused an ongoing outbreak of respiratory disease and has spread from the Middle East to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Tunisia. (click for full size image)

The new CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship pulls together research capability from across CSIRO together with a broad range of collaborating centres and groups. Sharing information is vital for such activities.  Clearly, Australia cannot afford to have “silos” and artificial barriers that in any sense compromise our biological security. Of ongoing concern are the hi-path variants of the avian influenza H5N1 viruses that continue to circulate in wild and domestic birds (and occasionally infect and kill people) in the countries to the north-west of Australia. While we’ve avoided that particular threat so far, the situation requires constant monitoring.

Another threat is the recently emerged H7N9 avian influenza virus and MERS, a novel coronavirus in the Middle East.

I’ve said nothing about plant, insect and fish pathogens, but there are many diseases of key species, such as bees, trout and salmon that we have so far managed to keep at bay.

The new CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship is a great step in the right direction, and we need to continue doing all that we possibly can to ensure the long-term health and wellbeing of all the life forms that inhabit our extraordinary and unique country.

Join the Conversation: #bflaunch

About the Author

Photo of Peter Doherty

Peter Doherty trained initially as a veterinarian and shared the 1996 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for discoveries concerning our immune defence against viruses. He published the non-fiction book “Sentinel Chickens: What Birds Tell Us About our Health and our World” in 2012, and his new book “Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know” will be available in Australia from October.

Follow Peter on twitter: @ProfPCDoherty

Controlling ‘those pesky wabbits’ on land and in water

Part of the Biosecurity Series

By Michelle Beltrame, Ken McColl and Tanja Strive

‘Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet, we’re wesearching viruses’.

If Elmer Fudd is the arch-enemy of Bugs Bunny, then it’s safe to say that we’re not only the arch-enemy of the European rabbit, but the fish known as the ‘rabbit of the waterways’ – the European carp.

We’re arming ourselves with viruses with the aim of keeping these two invasive species in check and to help protect Australia’s economy and environment. This strategy is called biological control (‘biocontrol’ for short) – using disease to tackle invasive pests.

The battle of the rabbit

Black and white photo of rabbits clustering around a small waterhole

This photo was taken under controlled conditions during myxoma virus trials on Wardang Island off South Australia in 1938 (click for full size image). Photo: M W Mules/CSIRO.

The European rabbit is a serious threat to agriculture and biodiversity in Australia. Myxoma virus, released in 1950 and Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD), released in 1996, have proven the only effective means to significantly reduce rabbit numbers. The benefits to the agricultural industries of these two biocontrol viruses are estimated at $70 billion.

The European rabbit was brought to Australia onboard the First Fleet in 1788, but only became a major pest in 1859 when 24 wild rabbits were released by a wealthy Victorian grazier keen on the sport of hunting, and, …well… they bred like wild rabbits! Soon millions of rabbits were competing with Australia’s livestock for feed and were damaging the environment and threatening our native animals.

Our predecessor, CSIR, conducted initial trials of myxomatosis that ultimately resulted in the release of the virus in 1950. It was the world’s first successful biocontrol program of a mammalian pest, taming a scourge that had threatened Australian agriculture and environment.

Lionel Bull, Chief of the CSIR Division of Animal Health and Nutition, releasing the first infected rabbits as part of the myxoma virus trial. (click for full size image)

Lionel Bull, Chief of the CSIR Division of Animal Health and Nutition, releasing the first infected rabbits as part of the myxoma virus trial. (click for full size image)

The initial release of myxoma virus led to a dramatic reduction of Australia’s rabbit population – killing 99.8 per cent of rabbits that caught the infection in some areas. Because the virus is spread by mosquitoes, it had its greatest impact in the highest rainfall areas but didn’t work as well in arid zones where mosquitoes can’t survive.

By the late 1950s, resistance to the myxoma virus was starting to build up in Australia’s rabbits. The virus became less effective and rabbit numbers increased, but not to pre-1950 levels.

RDC was first discovered in China in 1984 and soon after in other countries in Asia, Europe and in Mexico. The viral disease affects only European rabbits, and its discovery offshore alerted scientists to a potential new biocontrol for wild rabbits in Australia.

The introduction of calicivirus in Australia in 1996 again reduced rabbit numbers drastically, but it had greater impact in the arid zones and least impact in the higher rainfall areas. A few years ago we discovered that Australian rabbits in the higher rainfall areas actually carry a native calicivirus that may provide some immunity to the disease. This benign form of the virus is very similar, so we suspect it’s acting as an imperfect natural vaccine against the more virulent strain.

Calicivirus and myxomatosis are still having an impact, but over the years their effectiveness has declined. As a result, we’re currently researching different caliciviruses in Australian wild rabbits, and their interactions with RCD to help determine potential future implementations for rabbit biocontrol.

Curbing our carp numbers

Photo of carp jumping out of water

A European Carp. Image: Dirk-Jan Kraan/Flickr

Carp is a pest associated with the poor health of our rivers and wetlands. The fish was first introduced to Australia more than 100 years ago and is now rampant in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Image: sophietica/Flickr.

Koi Carp. Image: sophietica/Flickr.

We’re currently investigating a disease called cyprinid herpesvirus-3, also known as koi herpesvirus (or KHV), as a potential new biocontrol agent to help eradicate carp from Australia. The virus first appeared in Israel in 1998, and spread rapidly throughout much of the world, although not to Australia or New Zealand. It causes high death rates in common carp and in the ornamental variety of carp known as koi carp. No other species of fish, including goldfish, are known to be affected by it.

We’re conducting our research within the world’s most sophisticated high containment facility within the CSIRO-Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), where we’re undertaking rigorous tests to determine the virus’ suitability for controlling carp.

We’ve identified that CyHV-3 does kill Australian carp, and it kills them quickly, and current research has shown that the virus doesn’t affect native Australian or any other introduced species of fish.

Over the next few years we’ll continue to test the susceptibility of other fish species to CyHV-3 and address questions regarding the safety of possible widespread distribution of the virus, both for humans and for other animal species

Join the Conversation: #bflaunch

About the Authors

Photo of Ken MccollDr Ken McColl, Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Geelong.

Ken is a veterinary virologist and pathologist specialising in the research and diagnosis of diseases of aquatic animals. For the past few years, Dr McColl’s major interest has centred on the possible use of koi herpesvirus (KHV) as a biological control agent for carp in Australia.

Photo of Tanja StriveDr Tanja Strive, Research Team Leader, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences.

Tanja is a molecular virologist, and her current research focuses on various aspects of the biological control of vertebrate pest species, in particular rabbits. Key projects investigate: a) the interactions of different co-occurring rabbit pathogens in the field and the implications for rabbit control, b) the molecular virulence mechanisms of rabbit calicivirus, c) the selection of suitable virus strains for successive and ongoing field releases, and d) The evolution of rabbit caliciviruses as a model system for emerging diseases.

Battling pests by the numbers

Biosecurity Series

By Simon Barry

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

Effective biosecurity protects Australia’s environment and industries, but managing risk is an uncertain business. That’s why we need statistics.

Australia’s physical isolation has fostered the development of an amazing diversity of unique plants and animals, and has protected us from many serious pests and diseases that circulate around the world.

But we’re also a nation of traders — our prosperity is built on the import and export of goods and services.

With trade, however, can come exotic pests and diseases that have significant impacts on agriculture, the environment and economy.

In Australia’s history, a number of iconic examples are etched in the national psyche.

Rabbits were introduced into Australia several times, beginning with the First Fleet in 1788.  Once established, they multiplied rapidly reaching plague proportions last century.  They, in combination with introduced red fox and feral cat populations they support, are suspected of being the main cause of species loss in Australia.

The cactus prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) was introduced to Australia to start a cochineal dye industry.  It spread quickly and at its height infested 24 million hectares of farmland with severe impacts on our agriculture.

A prickly pear site before treatment with Cactoblastis cactorum (click for a comparison of before and after)

A prickly pear site before treatment with Cactoblastis cactorum (View a comparison of before and after)

While the community narrative is often framed around fear of invasion and potentially catastrophic consequences, the policy challenges are more complex and diffuse.

Decision makers need to assess risks of importation of different goods and materials against their possible benefits.  They need to design surveillance systems to manage unacceptable risks; to certify that our exports are pest free; to predict their spread and impact when incursions of pests occur.

All of this is done against a backdrop of uncertainty.

Which species will successfully establish can be difficult to predict – impacts of exotic pests in agricultural systems may be predictable in some circumstances, but their environmental impacts are more uncertain.  The linkage between biosecurity, trade and market access means that stakeholders may have a vested interest in the process. And the data required to predict accurately how successfully pest species establish here are limited or in most cases thankfully non-existent, so secondary sources, such as observations in other countries need to be used.

This is where statistics helps inform our decisions.

Statistics deals naturally with uncertainty and explicitly considers one of the most fundamental scientific questions: What can we logically infer about the world based on limited data?

It can support the development of established methodologies, such as assessing biological control agents, but it also opens up the possibility of using other existing and new data streams such as citizen-science collected data and genomics.

When these are combined with new algorithms and high performance computing, a range of exciting new opportunities arise that mean we’re better placed to tackle these issues than ever before.

For example, we are using these new computational informatics approaches to analyse whether or not red foxes have been eradicated in Tasmania.

Photo of red fox

European red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Image: Liz Poon/CSIRO

Hard data is limited to a handful of fox carcasses discovered by members of the public, some footprints, a skull, DNA extracted from fox scats (poo) and blood found at the site of a chook pen raid from an unsighted predator.

As of 2010, the distribution of fox DNA-positive scats suggested a widespread fox population.

We’ve analysed the fox sighting data using a new statistical method known as approximate Bayesian computation, which uses computers to simulate millions of different plausible scenarios for the introduction and growth of the fox population.

Our analysis of the data up until 2013 provides different conclusions — that the introduced fox population is most likely extinct, or small and probably demographically weak.

Rather than worry us, the conflict between this result and the analysis based on scats is a healthy one and will drive research efforts to reconcile these differences.

We’re also using statistic to monitor the risk of pests and diseases which threaten Australia’s honeybee industry and many horticultural industries that rely on bees for pollination.

Australia is one of the only countries free of the mite Varroa destructor.  Varroa has had a huge impact on global beekeeping as bee populations overseas have been decimated. Thankfully, it has yet to reach Australia and here is a need for early detection so that eradication could begin.

A European honey bee prepupa with varroa mites

A European honey bee prepupa with varroa mites

We are using shipping data from the Lloyds registry and interception data on exotic bees and bee pests from Australian quarantine officers to resolve the relative risk of different overseas locations and the reduction of this risk due to journey duration.

Effective biosecurity will continue to be important in maintaining the efficiency of Australian agricultural industries and to protect the environment.

These two examples demonstrate how mathematical and statistical sciences play a key role and Australia is well placed to innovate in this area.

Join the Conversation: #bflaunch

We’re hosting  A Planet at Risk: Bioinvasion and Biosecurity workshop in Canberra in September. Visit the website for more details.

About the Author

Photo of Simon BarryDr Simon Barry is Program Leader of Environmental Informatics, CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship.

Simon uses his expertise in modelling and monitoring methodologies to lead research projects with the aim of helping environmental resource managers and stakeholders understand what resources we have, their quality and how to manage them for sustainability.

Friday Fish Time

Common name: Moon Jellyfish. Scientific name: Aurelia aurita. Family: Ulmaridae.

Common name: Moon Jellyfish. Scientific name: Aurelia aurita. Family: Ulmaridae.

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.

Friday Fish Time


The anatomy of Lampanyctodes hectoris
(1) – operculum (gill cover), (2) – lateral line, (3) – dorsal fin, (4) – fat fin, (5) – caudal peduncle, (6) – caudal fin, (7) – anal fin, (8) – photophores, (9) – pelvic fins (paired), (10) – pectoral fins (paired)

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.

Friday Fish Time

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:

Nerpa seal

The nerpa seal – yes, the Golomyanka does seem to contain a lot of fat….

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.

Friday Fish Time

Common name: Bareskin Dogfish. Scientific name: Centroscyllium kamoharai. Family: Etmopteridae.

Common name: Bareskin Dogfish. Scientific name: Centroscyllium kamoharai. Family: Etmopteridae.

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.

Where is Australia headed? Some future projections

Sydney Harbour Bridge opening, 1932.

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

Beach in Sydney

Image: Flickr / NSW State Records

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

Iron ore processing plant, Newcastle NSW

Iron ore processing plant, Newcastle NSW. Image: Flickr / State Records NSW

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

Cliff looking out to sea

Image: Flickr / NSW State Records

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.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

So many fish, one great map

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.

Rough Dreamer

Rough Dreamer

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.

FishMap on the Atlas of Living Australia provides the geographical and depth ranges of some 4500 Australian marine fishes, including the Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum).

FishMap on the Atlas of Living Australia provides the geographical and depth ranges of some 4500 Australian marine fishes, including the Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum).

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.

FishMap was developed by CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship and the Atlas of Living Australia. Try it for yourself at: http://fish.ala.org.au

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: bryony.bennett@csiro.au

Nation under fire

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

satellite image looking down on Tasmania with smoke plumes emanating


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

Satellite image looking down on southeast NSW

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

Satellite image looking down on Coonabarabran landscape with a smoke plume


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

Satellite image looking down on Gippsland showing smoke plume

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

Satellite image looking down over parts of NSW and Victoria showing smoke plumes

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.

Further information:

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
E: Alex.Held@csiro.au


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