From Birdsong Metrics to Ancient Arctic DNA: Selected Publications from the 1st Quarter, 2014

In the first quarter of 2014, researchers at The Environment Institute have published on a vast array of topics, from Ancient DNA in the Arctic, to birdsongs to  recommendations for improvements to guidelines such as the Ecological Footprint in order to better inform policy makers.

A selection of these publications is listed below.

1. Fifty thousand years of Arctic vegetation and megafaunal diet. Nature
Research into the type of vegetation present during the last 50 thousand years in the Arctic is presented. Rather than using fossilised pollen as the main source of data as has been the case for previous studies, this study used plant and nematode DNA from sites across the Arctic. This data brings into question the diet of megafauna such as the woolly mammoth.

2. Distribution and Diversity of Soil Microfauna from East Antarctica: Assessing the Link between Biotic and Abiotic Factors. PLOS ONE
An investigation into soil microfauna composition, abundance, and distribution in East Antarctica. The study found that where a population exists is likely to be determined by soil geochemistry.

3. Higher Levels of Multiple Paternities Increase Seedling Survival in the Long-Lived Tree Eucalyptus gracilis. PLOS ONE
Data from populations of Eucalyptus gracilis (white mallee or yorrell) across the Murray-Darling Basin in southern Australia was collected in order to gain an understanding of how local environments affect seed quality.

4. Rapid deforestation threatens mid‐elevational endemic birds but climate change is most important at higher elevations. Biodiversity Research
The effect of deforestation and climate change on bird communities in Lore Lindu National Park, Sulawesi, Indonesia was investigated. The National Park is a globally important hotspot of avian endemism, and has lost almost 12% of its forest in the decade of 2000-2010.

5. Does the Shoe Fit? Real versus Imagined Ecological Footprints. PLOS BIOLOGY
This article seeks to demonstrate that “Ecological Footprint” measurements as currently constructed and presented misleading and cannot be used effectively in any serious science or policy context. Outlined are a set of principles that any ecological indicator should be based on in order to be scientifically sound and relevant for use in decision making.

6. Historical changes in mean trophic level of southern Australian fisheries. Marine and Freshwater Research
It is suggested that care in interpretation of mean trophic level (MTL) of catches should be taken because reductions do not necessarily reflect change in species high on the food chain by fishing pressure. They found that the change in MTL is mainly attributable to large catches of sardines.

7. Ecology Needs a Convention of Nomenclature. BioScience
A convention of ecological nomenclature as well as a transnational institution to manage it is proposed, in order to overcome the synonymy and polysemy across disciplines, which currently handicaps the progress of ecology.

8.Emerging Challenges for the Drinking Water Industry Environmental Science & Technology
Three principles that underpin alternative water source choices are introduced: Reliability, thresholds and future projections of water quality and quantity.

9. The evolution of lncRNA repertoires and expression patterns in tetrapods. Nature
The first large-scale evolutionary study of long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) repertoires and expression patterns in eleven tetrapod species is presented. About 400 highly conserved lncRNA’s (of more than 10 000 identified) probably originated an astonishing 300 million years ago at least.

10. Direct evidence for organic carbon preservation as clay-organic nanocomposites in a Devonian black shale; from deposition to diagenesis Earth and Planetary Science Letters
The temperature and oxygenation of the oceans are influenced by one of the most fundamental biogeochemical processes on Earth-the burial of organic carbon in marine sediments. This buried organic carbon also comprises the primary source of hydrocarbons. This paper presents research into the composition of Woodford Shale.

11. A guide to southern temperate seagrasses (Book, CSIRO Publishing)
A reference guide to the diverse seagrasses present in the ocean of the temperate parts of the southern hemisphere. Evolution, biology and ecology of the seagrasses is introduced. This book allows readers to rapidly identify a particular species, including those often confused with others.

12. A Potential Metric of the Attractiveness of Bird Song to Humans. Ethology
Bird species such as the common nightingale and European blackbird have songs that are known to have inspired classical music. Developing a metric for these songs might help identify birds that are present in international bird trade which could contribute to studies of invasion and conservation biology.

13. Genetics in conservation management: Revised recommendations for the 50/500 rules, Red List criteria and population viability analyses. Biological Conservation
A review of recent theoretical and empirical evidence concludes that the population rules for minimising inbreeding and for maintaining evolutionary potential in perpetuity need to be at least doubled and sections of the IUCN Red List criteria require revision, to be more effective conservation tools.

Water Wednesday: Innovative water efficiency – next generation irrigation.

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The Water Research Centre in conjunction with SA Branch of the Australian Water Association would like to invite you to the next Water Wednesday on Innovative water efficiency – next generation irrigation 

A cap on irrigation diversions in South Australia was introduced in 1978 and improved irrigation practices were launched in the South Australian Riverland in 1981, and the irrigation industry has continued to evolve efficiency options ever since. In the context of reducing availability of water and potential impacts of climate change, the next generation of irrigation management software will need to address the challenge of optimizing irrigation management to maximise net economic returns, while minimising extraction from stressed water sources.

An increasing range of analytical options is offered by software programs developed to assist with irrigation scheduling, ranging from simple irrigation scheduling programs to sophisticated irrigation planning and management programs. Smart scheduling and next generation monitoring systems are becoming part of everyday irrigation management. Better understanding of the factors affecting crop survival and production in the context of changing climatic conditions and water availability will be a vital input to sustainable irrigation management.

This forum will explore past learnings and future options to continue innovations in water efficiency and crop management into the next generation of irrigation technology and management.

  • Mr Andrew Johnson, Group Executive Director, PIRSA,  ‘Learnings in water efficiency from improved irrigation practices and survival in drought.’
  • Prof Steve Tyerman, ARC Professorial Fellow & Professor of Viticulture, Wine 2030 Research Network, University of Adelaide. ‘Understanding drivers for crop survival and maintaining production in changing climatic conditions.’
  • Mr Ben Haslett, Paringa, ‘Opportunities in next generation irrigation – the irrigator’s perspective on forward directions’.

When: Wednesday 9th April 2014, 5:30pm – 6:50pm
Where: Horace Lamb Lecture Theatre, North Terrace, University of Adelaide.

Register by 8th April and be seated by 5:30 pm. There will be an opportunity for networking afterwards.

The One Use of Drones Everyone Can Agree on, Except for Poachers.

The 360-square-mile swath of wetlands and forests in the Himalayan foothills is difficult and costly to reach on foot, let alone patrol for poachers.

But this is the responsibility of forest rangers in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park.

Find out how University of Adelaide Lian Pin Koh’s drones are helping protect some of the world’s last remaining one-horned rhinoceroses and Bengal tigers the Smithsonian magazine article: “The One Use of Drones Everyone Can Agree on, Except for Poachers”.

A Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft is bungee launched in a midday demonstration flight. Source: smithsonianmag.org

A Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft is bungee launched in a midday demonstration flight.

Lian Pin Koh is founding director of ConservationDrones.org and Associate Professor and Chair of the Applied Ecology and Conservation group (AEC) in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the Environment Institute, at the University of Adelaide.

Director of the Environment Institute, Professor Bob Hill to kick off the Sprigg Geobiology Centre Seminar Series

Director of the Environment Institute, Professor Bob Hill will give a seminar entitled ‘The Decline of the Great Southern Rainforests: Cenozoic climate change and vegetation responses

Prof. Bob Hill

Prof. Bob Hill

Professor Hill’s botanical research research has made significant contributions to the areas of palaeobotany, plant systematics, plant ecophysiology and applying research from these areas to interpreting changed that have occurred to Australian flora through evolutionary time.

During his career, he has won many awards including the Clarke and Burbidge Medals for his research into the impact of long-term climate change on the evolution of Australian Vegetation. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Journal of Botany.

His lifetime interest in the evolution of the vegetation of Australia and Antarctica has seen Prof. Hill widley published on this subject. He is best known for his research on the fossil history of the southern beech, Nothofagus, and the southern conifers.

Join us for the first in the series of Sprigg Geobiology Centre Seminars for 2014.

When: Friday, March 14, 12:10pm
Where: Mawson Lecture Theatre, University of Adelaide

 

Sustainable and resilient urban stormwater management seminar

The Water Research Centre invites you to the seminar of Professor Barbara Minsker from the University of Illinois.

Prof Barbara Minsker. Source: University of Illinois

Prof Barbara Minsker. Source: University of Illinois

Barbara Minsker is Professor and Arthur and Virginia Nauman Faculty Scholar in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research uses information technology to improve understanding and management of complex environmental systems, with a focus on water and sustainability. She served as a policy consultant to the Environmental Protection Agency from 1986-1990, and has been at the University of Illinois since 1996. Barbara will be visiting the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering next week.

 

Prof Minsker’s seminar is entitled: ‘Sustainable and Resilient Urban Stormwater Management: Novel “Big Data” Approaches to Improving Human and Ecosystem Wellbeing’.

Abstract: Over half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, a number predicted to grow to 60 percent by 2030. Urban areas face unprecedented and growing challenges from population growth; increased flooding, droughts, and severe storms from climate instability; food, water, and energy insecurity; poverty and health issues; and loss of biodiversity.

The increasing stream of data and information (“Big Data”) can support rapid advances on these challenges through informatics- and systems-based methods. This talk will discuss research that demonstrates this potential, focusing on urban stormwater challenges. Ongoing research to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) using an interactive knowledge discovery dashboard and model predictive control algorithms will be highlighted first.

Many major cities are launching initiatives to address CSOs and associated water quality problems through wide-scale implementation of green stormwater infrastructure (GI), such as rain gardens, permeable pavements, green roofs, and urban wetlands. Current design practices focus solely on stormwater criteria for designing GI, but significant co-benefits to human and ecosystem health can be achieved through a more holistic approach.

The second portion of the talk will present a novel computational GI design framework that integrates stormwater management requirements with criteria for human and ecosystem health. The framework enables crowd-sourced, collaborative design using numerical and machine learning models coupled with a service-oriented cyberinfrastructure. The framework will be tested in Baltimore and Chicago and the findings extended to 3 other cities through a national working group funded by the Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center at the University of Maryland.

When: Wednesday 19 March at 4 pm
Where: Ligertwood 333, Law Lecture Theatre.

Water treatment technologies seminar

Join the Water Research Centre and learn about some of the new and exciting technologies in Water Treatment being researched at the University.

Hear about the research of Assoc Prof Christian Doonan from the Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials and Assoc Prof David Lewis from Chemical Engineering.

When: Wednesday 12th March from 12.30 – 1.30pm
Where: Engineering North, level 1, Room N123b – Robert WF Tait Room.

Animal Armageddon scientist descends on Adelaide. Welcome to Peter Ward.

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Peter Ward. Source: Nautilus Magazine

You may come to the conclusion that the research of Peter Ward is somewhat fatalistic. He did after all, coin the term Medea Hypothesis, which proposes that multicellular life as we know it is suicidal. However, the very poison of complex life may also be able to save it.

Showcased in his TED talk, Peter tells a story of the mass extinctions of Earth’s past in contrast to the plot of Hollywood blockbusters Deep Impact and Armageddon.

He proposes that many of the mass extinctions or “Animal Armageddons” of Earth’s history have been caused not by the impact of extraterrestrial bodies, but by bacteria.

Rapid global warming causes oceans to become depleted in oxygen, which allows buildup of a gas poisonous to complex life, hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Bacteria on the other hand thrives on H2S, and so it’s domination of the planet is abetted.

As it turns out, the hydrogen sulfide poison present at the boundary of these mass extinctions may actually have a medical application to sustain human life. Not all mammals were wiped out during the mass extinctions of the past, or you wouldn’t be here reading this. Those that survived underwent an adaptation to cope with small amounts H2S due to the series of exposures to high atmospheric hydrogen sulfide they experienced.

Hydrogen Sulfide may be used to facilitate lowering of core body temperature following trauma, to allow time for transport to hospital. Understanding Earth’s history provides an opportunity to revolutionise medicine.

Peter Ward’s work to uncover the secrets of Earth’s mass extinctions has been profiled in internet think tank BigThink.comand inspired the Discovery Channel documentary Animal Armageddon.

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Peter Ward diving at Osprey Reef, off the Great Barrier Reef. Source: Nautilus Magazine

This is research immersed in philosophy, that extends to the depths of the oceans. Work conducted with such passion and creativity is often sparked from a childhood experience. And so it is with Peter Ward.

In his surprisingly emotive piece in about a creature for a magazine of the same name, the Nautilus, Ward tells the story of a career researching a creature that has prevailed for 500 million years. It began with his entrancement with the Nautilus shell after first seeing one in a shell shop in Hawaii as a young boy. It ended, albeit temporarily, with the tragic death of a friend on a diving expedition in New Caledonia.

Ward visited Adelaide late last year to give a presentation concerning specific new data coming from research into the K/Pg mass extinction at field sites in Antarctica, the late Devonian mass extinction based on work just finished in the Canning Basin of Australia, and the Permian mass extinction from new work in both South Africa and Western Canada. He is now working at School of Earth and Environmental Sciences the University of Adelaide.

In a video interview for Nautilus magazine in answer to the question “What is your proudest achievement as a scientist?” Peter Ward muses “that I have been able to instill in students that it [science] is FUN.

Our guess is that students are in for a real treat. The Environment Institute welcomes Peter Ward!