A Brave New Green World: does a price on carbon help protect Australia’s biodiversity?

Phot by: Kris*M (Flickr)

Phot by: Kris*M (Flickr)

As Australia shifts to cut greenhouse gas emissions is it also possible to enhance our biodiversity? A new peer-reviewed paper by Environment Institute members Corey Bradshaw and Barry Brook (with others) directly addresses this question, showing “biodiversity-related enhancement schemes (including environmental plantings and invasive species reduction) can be compatible with carbon-sequestration initiatives”.

The authors find that most land-management options to reduce or capture greenhouse gas emissions will offer clear advantages for biodiversity. These advantages increase the viability of native biodiversity. However, there are potential negative outcomes. The authors discuss what needs to be considered if biodiversity is to benefit from the new carbon economy.

Issues and opportunities include:

  • Carbon plantings will only have real biodiversity value if they comprise appropriate native tree species and provide suitable habitats and resources for valued fauna.
  • Plantings risk severely altering local water availability, quality and/or water movement.
  • Fire can assist with some positive carbon outcomes such as prescribed burning to reduce the frequency of high-intensity wildfires in northern Australia, However, in southern Australia fire is currently unlikely to help but will become increasingly important for biodiversity conservation as the climate warms.
  • Carbon price changes to agriculture can benefit biodiversity. Such changes include reductions in tillage frequency and livestock densities, reductions in fertiliser use, and retention and regeneration of native shrubs.

This is a complex area but “as long as biodiversity persistence is taken into account at the planning and implementation stages”, it is the authors’ opinions that carbon and biodiversity “goals are not mutually exclusive”. To achieve this “careful amalgamation of such carbon-mitigation approaches with other incentive schemes such as biodiversity offsets … will be required.”

The full findings, issues and opportunities are in the complete paper Brave new green world – Consequences of a carbon economy for the conservation of Australian biodiversity.


► Australia’s new carbon price will have profound implications for land-use change. ► Major changes will arise from environmental plantings and regrowth & fire management. ► Other changes will affect forestry, agriculture and feral animal control. ► Most anticipated land-use changes should benefit biodiversity. ► Negative biodiversity outcomes could arise if changes focus exclusively on carbon.

To see the slide show of this presentation, visit Corey’s SlideShare page.

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.