Quenching the curiosity of everyday Australians.

Environment Institute members Corey Bradshaw and Barry Brook were part of a hand-picked group of 27 academic experts and science writers from across Australia who contributed to a very interesting publication released late last year by the Chief Scientist of Australia.

The Curious Country

The book, available for download as a pdf or to e-readers is entitled “The Curious Country“. This collection of essays is the result of asking Australians directly what were the important issues that they wanted science to address.

What were their concerns about science? What inspires them? 1186 Australians were surveyed, men and women ages 18 to 65, from all education levels and locations around Australia. Climate along with heath issues topped the list for 30% and 32% of Australians, respectively. Pollution and water were the environmental issues of greatest concern.

The book is designed to bridge the gap between heavy scientific papers for specialists, and those wanting more accurate, up-to-date information about science than what currently filters through the mainstream media.

There is no need to read the book from start to finish. Flip and flick until you find a story that piques your curiosity. Perhaps there is some scientific phenomena that you always wondered about, but haven’t yet come across a reliable and accessible source.

"Powering the Future" by Barry Brook

“Powering the Future” by Barry Brook


Barry Brook explains in his contribution Powering the Future that Australia must use science and technology innovations to move away from a dependence on coal and seek lower carbon alternatives.  Brook notes that: “Australia has been a world leader in the development of lower-cost and more-efficient crystalline solar photovoltaics” and support for this type of research should continue. Along with this, he urges Australia to embrace the exploration of new frontiers such as engaging in multi-lateral collaborations- he uses the large hadron collider project as an example.



"Biowealth: all creatures great and small" by Corey Bradshaw

“Biowealth: all creatures great and small” by Corey Bradshaw


In Biowealth: all creatures great and small, Corey Bradshaw explains how all people depend on absolutely every other species for their own survival. Take for example the very air we breathe every day, which is provided to us free of charge by other species, mostly plants and marine algae. Biodiversity is extremely important to the human race, and yet it is being lost at an alarming rate. Corey discusses his involvement in the project on his own blog ConservationBytes.com.

Biosecurity: Climate change and environmental uncertainty

Climate change, extreme weather events and increasing habitat modification are acting together to have a detrimental effect on the range and spread of animal pests, weeds and pathogens in Australia. Coupled with this, increasing human population size, shifting demographics and changing land-use is straining the environment. This pressure complicates pest management and dramatically increases the risk of multi-species diseases occurring.

Experts currently believe that the majority of emerging diseases are of a multi-species, or zoonotic, nature, meaning they are transferred from animals to humans. Powerful examples of zoonotic diseases include; rabies, plague and a variety of intestinal parasites.

This type of biosecurity threat has been featured in the news recently after a large proportion of Asian tiger mosquitoes were discovered in northern Queensland. This breed of mosquito can carry diseases such as dengue fever and yellow fever and poses a threat to the Australian public.

By investigating the timing and magnitude of the tropical mosquito population decision-makers can determine the optimal level of mosquito control to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks in human populations. For example in 2009, Environment Institute members Professor Barry Brook and Professor Corey Bradshaw conducted a study which investigated the mosquito population in northern Australia. They suggested that targeted control, such as spraying in early September, of mosquito breeding areas may allow for more effective control of mosquitoes close to human settlement, and therefore reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks amongst humans.

Environment Institute member Associate Professor Phillip Cassey, an expert in biosecurity, believes that Australia needs to take notice of the research at the forefront of developing climate-change forecasting methods. This type of research can downscale data from global climate material to a scale that is ecologically beneficial for Australia.

Using climate and ecological data, Professor Cassey believes it is vitally important that Australia looks to:

  • Develop user-friendly simulations to predict responses, and changes in distribution, of existing invasive species, emergence of new invasive ‘sleeper’ species, and the spread and transmission of diseases in Australia under likely scenarios of climate change and habitat modification.
  • Contribute specialist expertise in information technologies such as, the use of remote sensing in combination with current data and models to identify and monitor for emerging diseases and habitat pests.
  • Investigate the adoption of current techniques for tracking changes in mating systems, increasing genetic diversity, or shifts in gene patterns that could indicate the imminent risk of shifting from a ‘sleeper’ pest or weed to a problematic invasive species.

Find out more about the work of Assoc. Prof. Phillip Cassey and his team at the Cassey Invasion Ecology Group

Biosecurity: Embracing new technologies in biosurveillance

Recent growth in Australia’s trade and tourism requires that the country must investigate and potentially utilize a wide variety of new technologies available in biosurveillance and biosecurity.

As a consequence of the considerable growth in imports, cost-effective technologies used for inspecting containers and other import risks, that will realistically protect the environment, are urgently required.

In this regard, the most promising developments in risk-based biosurveillance are a combination of approaches for determining cost-efficient search activities and new tools for the earliest possible identification of potentially dangerous material or species.

To effectively utilize the new technology available in the field of biosurveillance Australia should be considering:

  • Developing predictive models for time allocation and prioritisation of search efforts, combining multiple sources of information on the probability of detecting a species at any given time or location.
  • Providing specialised training and enhanced opportunities for implementing advancing environmental genomic methods for the detection and identification of biosecurity risk pests and pathogens.

Furthermore, this can also specifically include:
(i) The identification of species from cryptic life stages ‘concealed’ in cargo or storage.
(ii) Detection of pests and diseases from forensic environmental screening of particular risk sources.
(iii) Confirming the geographic source of a species, to quantify risk pathways and identify potential biosecurity issues in a species’ native range.

Environment Institute member Associate Professor Phillip Cassey, an expert in biosecurity, proposes the integration of the advancing technology in biosurveillance.

Associate Professor Cassey believes that “biosurveillance can currently be an extremely costly and potentially inefficient process, especially when trying to demonstrate the absence of a pest or disease. In the future, Australia must focus on providing expert knowledge and training in a variety of emerging technologies and approaches to biosurveillance.”

Find out more about the work of Assoc. Prof. Phillip Cassey and his team at the Cassey Invasion Ecology Group

Biosecurity: Analysing Australia’s current and future biosecurity landscape

Associate Professor Phillip Cassey

Higher-risk importers and exporters, and their products, are amongst a collection of biosecurity concerns that need to be targeted to ensure high levels of biosecurity continue in Australia. Recent reviews of Australian biosecurity have argued strongly that current security systems, including quarantine inspection, are more efficient and effective if they target potentially high-risk importers and exporters, regions and environments, and transportation routes.

A risk-based approach for managing biosecurity requires a robust and quantitative understanding of the complex networks within which Australian trade, transportation, and tourism operate, and the associated risks of different routes for both the intentional and accidental introduction of pests and pathogens into Australia.

Australia needs to quantify and analyse the changing biosecurity risks through advances in statistical and mapping tools. This can be achieved by:

  • Developing a variety of statistical and computational approaches that focus on similar environmental regions, economic regions and social regions, with which Australia shares common traits.
  • Gaining evidence-based and quantitative assessments of the network strengths that are most relevant to Australia’s existing and future biosecurity risks.
  • Evaluating the use of unique datasets, scenario testing and sensitivity analyses for areas of risk where data is either unavailable or incomplete.

Environment Institute member Associate Professor Phillip Cassey, an expert in biosecurity, proposes the use of critical analytical techniques to aid studies in biosecurity risk assessment. This area is currently characterized by complexity and uncertainty.

Find out more about the work of Assoc. Prof. Phillip Cassey and his team at the Cassey Invasion Ecology Group