A new measure for species extinction threat.

A new index has been developed to help conservationists better understand how close species are to extinction.

The index, developed by a team of Australian researchers from the University of Adelaide and James Cook University, is called SAFE (Species Ability to Forestall Extinction).

The SAFE index builds on previous studies into the minimum population sizes needed by species to survive in the wild. It measures how close species are to their minimum viable population size.

“SAFE is a leap forward in how we measure relative threat risk among species,” says co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modelling at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

“The idea is fairly simple – it’s the distance a population is (in terms of abundance) from its minimum viable population size. While we provide a formula for working this out, it’s more than just a formula – we’ve shown that SAFE is the best predictor yet of the vulnerability of mammal species to extinction.”

Professor Bradshaw says SAFE is designed to be an adjunct to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, not a replacement.

“Our index shows that not all Critically Endangered species are equal. A combined approach – using the IUCN Red List threat categories together with the SAFE index – is more informative than the IUCN categories alone, and provides a good method for gauging the relative ‘safety’ of a species from extinction,” he says.

Of the 95 mammal species considered in the team’s analysis, more than one in five are close to extinction, and more than half of them are at ‘tipping points’ that could take their populations to the point of no return.

“For example, our studies show that practitioners of conservation triage may want to prioritise resources on the Sumatran rhinoceros instead of the Javan rhinoceros. Both species are Critically Endangered, but the Sumatran rhino is more likely to be brought back from the brink of extinction based on its SAFE index,” Professor Bradshaw says.

“Alternatively, conservationists with limited resources may want to channel their efforts on saving the tiger, a species that is at the ‘tipping point’ and could have reasonable chance of survival.”

The SAFE index is detailed in a new paper published this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment (http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/100177). It is co-authored by Reuben Clements (James Cook University), Professor Corey Bradshaw and Professor Barry Brook (The University of Adelaide) and Professor Bill Laurance (James Cook University).

Hugh Possingham on Marine Parks

Image by avlxyz on FlickrProfessor Hugh Possingham is in Adelaide today to advise SA Parliament on Marine Parks. Listen to a brief audio bite of Hugh on the importance and benefits of Marine Parks for South Australia here. For more about the science and benefits Marine Parks provide for the environment and society, head to Conservationbytes.com where Corey Bradshaw and Hugh discuss this issue in more detail.

Adelaide born and bred, Hugh Possingham studied at the University of Adelaide before becoming a Rhode Scholar. Now based at the University of Queensland,  he is the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions. Hugh visited Adelaide last year when he presented “Why monitor the environment” to a full house.

Angus Simpson awarded Premier’s Water Medal

At the South Australian Australian Water Association Awards held on November 19, Professor Angus Simpson was awarded the Premier’s Water Medal. This is a great accolade for Angus’ fantastic contribution to research , teaching and the Australian Water Industry. Director of the Water Research Centre Justin Brookes was at the awards,

“The glowing account of his work highlighted his research and technological developments but also his commitment to undergraduate and post-graduate teaching, and training the next generation of water engineers. I had numerous people at the event express to me how pleased they were that Angus had been awarded this prize, which is another expression of how well Angus is respected in the association, in academia and within the water industry.”

Adelaide Airport working towards a cleaner greener business with the CET

Adelaide Airport aims to become an Australian leader in clean energy use thanks to a new three-year, $750,000 partnership with the University of Adelaide. Under the partnership – launched today by Transport and Energy Minister the Hon Patrick Conlon – the University’s Centre for Energy Technology (CET) will undertake research to develop clean energy solutions for Adelaide Airport.

Minister Conlon today commended Adelaide Airport Limited and the Centre for Energy Technology for forging a partnership that would have long-term benefits. “This partnership further enhances South Australia’s reputation as a leader in ‘clean and green’ technologies and sustainable business practices,” Minister Conlon said. “The commitment from Adelaide Airport to invest in the University of Adelaide’s research will support innovation and provide both parties with strategic benefits. We are firmly supportive of new initiatives that will lead to new technologies that improve the environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in South Australia.”

Adelaide Airport Limited (AAL) Managing Director, Phil Baker, says AAL aims to become the most ecologically sustainable airport in Australia. “Running a successful airport involves a great deal of energy use, which in turn results in a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Simply putting money into paying for carbon offsets doesn’t solve the underlying issues,” Mr Baker explains.

“At Adelaide Airport, we want to invest in the long-term future of our operations. This is why we have approached the Centre for Energy Technology at the University of Adelaide to partner with us to find cleaner, greener solutions.” In order to help reduce AAL’s carbon footprint, University staff and postgraduate students will assess the airport’s biggest areas of energy use and develop clean energy solutions that are specifically targeted to make the most impact. “Usually, the biggest percentage of any large organisation’s carbon footprint is the direct result of energy use, so it makes perfect sense for the Centre for Energy Technology to partner with Adelaide Airport on this major project,” says the Director of CET, Professor Gus Nathan.

“We’re excited by the foresight and leadership on this issue being shown by Adelaide Airport. We anticipate significant benefits from this partnership, not only for the airport but also for other public spaces, such as shopping centres and other airports overseas, in clean technology,” he says.

Specific issues to be investigated under the partnership include:

  • the use of renewable energy generation both on and off site – such as wind and solar energy
  • novel methods to reduce energy from heating, cooling and lighting
  • alternative approaches for ground transportation
  • adapting new technologies to AAL’s unique facilities and requirements.

“In addition to any benefits Adelaide Airport might receive from this partnership, our high visibility to the public makes this a perfect opportunity to raise community awareness of the long-term benefits of sustainable energy,” Mr Baker says.

The funding for this partnership will also support two scholarships for University of Adelaide PhD students to work on clean energy projects.

160 year old museum specimens identify rare parrot

An adult Western Ground Parrot photographed in Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia. Photo by Brent Barrett, WA Department of Environment and Conservation

A team of Australian researchers involving DNA experts from the University of Adelaide has identified a new, critically endangered species of ground parrot in Western Australia.

The team, led by Australian Wildlife Conservancy‘s Dr Stephen Murphy, used DNA from museum specimens up to 160 years old to reveal that populations of ground parrots in eastern and western Australia are highly distinct from each other and that the western populations should be recognised as a new species, Pezoporus flaviventris.

“The discovery has major conservation implications,” said Dr Murphy. “The Western Ground parrot has declined rapidly in the last 20 years, there are now only about 110 birds surviving in the wild and most of these are confined to a single national park. It is now one of the world’s rarest birds.”

WA Department of Environment and Conservation‘s Dr Allan Burbidge said: “A single wildfire through the national park or an influx of introduced predators, such as cats, could rapidly push the species to extinction. There is now an urgent need to prevent further population declines and to establish insurance populations into parts of the former range.”

“Our findings demonstrate that museum collections, some going back more than 150 years, continue to be relevant and can provide critical information for understanding and conserving the world’s biodiversity into the future,” said team member Dr Jeremy Austin, Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.

Director of CSIRO’s Australian National Wildlife Collection, Dr Leo Joseph, said: “Even after 200 years of study, we are still recognising new species of birds in Australia. This finding highlights the need for further research on Australia’s unique, and sometimes cryptic, biodiversity.”

The team’s findings have been published this month in the international conservation research journal Conservation Genetics.

Origins of first European farmers revealed

A team of international researchers led by ancient DNA experts from the Environment Institute,  University of Adelaide has resolved the longstanding issue of the origins of the people who introduced farming to Europe some 8000 years ago.

A detailed genetic study of one of the first farming communities in Europe, from central Germany, reveals marked similarities with populations living in the Ancient Near East (modern-day Turkey, Iraq and other countries) rather than those from Europe.

Project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, says: “This overturns current thinking, which accepts that the first European farming populations were constructed largely from existing populations of hunter-gatherers, who had either rapidly learned to farm or interbred with the invaders.”

The results of the study have been published today in the online peer-reviewed science journal PLoS Biology.

“We have finally resolved the question of who the first farmers in Europe were – invaders with revolutionary new ideas, rather than populations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers who already existed in the area,” says lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak, Senior Research Associate with ACAD at the University of Adelaide.

“We’ve been able to apply new, high-precision ancient DNA methods to create a detailed genetic picture of this ancient farming population, and reveal that it was radically different to the nomadic populations already present in Europe.

“We have also been able to use genetic signatures to identify a potential route from the Near East and Anatolia, where farming evolved around 11,000 years ago, via south-eastern Europe and the Carpathian Basin (today’s Hungary) into Central Europe,” Dr Haak says.

The project involved researchers from the University of Mainz and State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, the Russian Academy of Sciences and members of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project, of which Professor Cooper is a Principal Investigator and Dr Haak is a Senior Research Associate.

The ancient DNA used in this study comes from a complete graveyard of Early Neolithic farmers unearthed at the town of Derenburg in Saxony-Anhalt, central Germany.

“This work was only possible due to the close collaboration of archaeologists excavating the skeletons, to ensure that no modern human DNA contaminated the remains, and nicely illustrates the potential when archaeology and genetics are combined,” says Professor Kurt Werner Alt from the collaborating Institute of Anthropology in Mainz, Germany.

CET paper wins award

At the recent conference entitled “Practical Responses to Climate Change” organised by Engineers Australia and held in Melbourne, a paper co-authored by Fiona Paton (PhD student), Graeme Dandy and Holger Maier won the best paper award. The paper was presented by Graeme Dandy and was one of  64 papers presented at the conference. The award was based on the technical content of the paper and the quality of the presentation.

Paton F.L., Dandy G.C. and Maier H.R. (2010) Sensitivity of urban water supply security based on various global circulation models and emission scenarios, Practical Responses to Climate Change National Conference 2010, September 29-October 1, Melbourne, Australia

Download a copy of the paper here

Water is Life

The ‘Water is Life’ project is a product of the new partnership between the Environment Institute and Conservation Ark. Today we are launching the Soundscape at the new Entrance to the Adelaide Zoo, which features the sounds of water and water-dependent species as the background to a poem specially commissioned from Sean Williams, called ‘Reflections on Water’. We are also launching the related Water Audio Trail.



Water Forum: Being Smarter with Less Water

The inaugural Adelaide Water Forum, a joint initiative of the Water Research Centre and SA Water, will be held on Monday 18 October, 9am-5pm, in the Attenborough Room, at The Sanctuary, Adelaide Zoo.

The theme is ‘Being Smarter with Less Water’, looking at global perspectives of sustainable water management, current research and development, and opportunities for smarter water management.

The event will be opened by the Hon Paul Caica, Minister for Water Security.

Topics covered include:

  • Global perspectives in sustainable water management
  • Current research and development for smarter water use
  • Changing relations between researchers and managers
  • Opportunities in in smarter water management
  • Followed by a discussion session.

Download a copy of the full program.

RSVP by 11th October, 2010 – Tickets $50 + Booking Fee, available through Venue*Tix

Is storm water flowing to the sea really wasted?

Engineers Australia awarded Adelaide’s storm water infrastructure a D. We harvest more storm water than any other state yet our infrastructure is lagging and there is an increasing push to harvest more and more storm water for reuse within urban Adelaide.

Yet is storm water flowing to the sea really wasted? Freshwater flows into marine environments provides connectivity between marine, estuarine and freshwater systems. It’s important to maintain salinity gradients, transport nutrients and maintain productivity.

However for a city that is facing increasing water scarcity, storm water is an important resource to ensure water supplies. Some of the advantages storm water reuse include, reduced flow of pollutants into the Gulf, it is less susceptible to climate change effects and is more energy efficient that desalination.

The first Water Wednesday forum for 2010 examined whether or not storm water flowing to the sea is really wasted. If you would like a detailed explanation, you can download the podcasts and pdfs from this forum here. Experts on storm water use like Professor Graeme Dandy, Alan Ockenden and Chris Bice gave their perspectives on the engineering, infrastructure and ecological aspects of storm water reuse.

For more information the Engineers Australia report visit adelaidenow