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.

How vulnerable are plant species to climate change?

bottlebrushIn a study conducted using the native shrub Needle Bottlebrush, Environment Institute member Prof Andrew Lowe (and others) explore the vulnerability of plant species in the face of climate change in their paper Combining population genetics, species distribution modelling and field assessments to understand a species vulnerability to climate change.


The aims of this research were ‘to evaluate ‘the risk posed by climate change on C. teretifolius (Needle Bottlebrush), and identify populations for conservation based on high genetic diversity and predicted persistence of habitat’ by using a number of approaches including field assessments, using data from field assessments, population genetics, species distribution modelling and spatial analysis.

The authors find that ‘temperature and rainfall distribution as a result of contemporary climate change are expected to impose serious challenges on many plant species’, but other factors can have effects on plant populations such as species geographic location and human intervention.

The full findings are in the journal Austral Ecology.

Biodiversity Brief Issue 1 out now!

Conserving biodiversity and dealing with the effects of climate change are two of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate, while entire ecosystems are collapsing due to biodiversity loss or the inability of species to cope with a changing climate.

But there are actions that can be taken to ameliorate these effects, and Professor Andy Lowe, Director of the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology & Biodiversity, and his team,  intend to highlight the issues and discuss possible remediation through the quarterly publication of ‘Biodiversity Brief’.

biobriefThe first issue of Biodiversity Brief is now available to read. This edition focuses on biodiversity adaptation to climate change.
In this issue:

  • Adapt, Migrate or die.
  • The new genomics and modeling technologies
  • Science, policy, action!
  • The end of civilisation!

You can view the e-magazine online here, or download a pdf of the Biodiversity brief from the Biodiversity Revolution Blog.

Pollen can protect mahogany from extinction

New research  involving Environment Institute members Martin Breed and Andy Lowe, could help protect one of the world’s most globally threatened tree species – the big leaf mahogany – from extinction.

Big leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is the most prized mahogany timber around the world. It is at risk of extinction in its native habitats because of the timber trade, particularly in Central and South America.

Martin Breed, one of the key researchers involved in this paper

The important role played by the trees’ pollen in the health and re-growth of mahogany forests has been studied in order to better understand how such a threatened species can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

The researchers found that the extensive exploitation of mahogany forests has had a major impact on the diversity and availability of the trees’ pollen. This in turn limits the ability of individual trees to grow and provide cross-fertilization for other mahogany trees.

According to Professor Andy Lowe, this discovery has the potential to impact the way we think about restoring forests and shows us why it is vital to protect areas of high conservation value

The project was largely funded from the European Union through the project SEEDSOURCE, with a portion of the funding coming from a grant awarded by the Australian Research Council. Dr Carlos Navarro, who was employed by CATIE (the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) in Costa Rica at the time, was primarily responsible for directing the fieldwork and the collection of leaf and seed material used in the analysis and was the researcher who did the growth assessments.

Read the full media release to find out more about the results of this research and what Martin and Andy have to say about their findings.

The paper is titled ‘Shifts in reproductive assurance strategies and inbreeding costs associated with habitat fragmentation in Central American mahogany’ and  involves Environment Institute members Martin Breed, Michael Gardner (also from Flinders University), Kym Ottewell (also from Tutane University, New Orleans), Andrew Lowe (also from DENR) and Carlos Navarro from Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica.

Read the full paper published in Ecology Letters

2010 South Australian Science Awards Finalists Announced

Two members of the Environment Institute are finalists in the 2010 South Australian Science Excellence Awards.

Professor Andy Lowe is a finalist for “Excellence in Research Collaboration” for linking the science of climate change and the loss of species to policy makers.

Professor Barry Brook is a finalist for “Community Science Educator of the Year”

Congratulations to both Andy and Barry for this recognition of their work.

Other University of Adelaide members were recognised for their contribution to science including Professor Tanya Monro and Professor Anthony Thomas, both finalists for the “South Australian Scientist of the Year.” Professor Zbigniew Michalewicz, Dr Lisa Jamieson, Professor Simon Pyke and Mr Doug Bardsley are also finalists.

The winners will be announced at the Awards Gala Dinner to be held at the Hilton Adelaide on Friday, August 13.

Two Super Science Fellowships for the Environment Institute.

The Environment Institute has won two of Federal Govenment’s Super Science Fellowships. The aim of these fellowships is to attract and retain outstanding early-career researchers. The fellowships have been awarded to this institute to examine environmental DNA barcoding and genomics, develop methods for rapid visual analysis of ecosystem change and improved climate change modelling approaches.

Lead by the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and the Australian Centre for Visual Technologies the fellowships will examine environmental DNA barcoding and genomics in order to develop methods for rapid visual analysis of ecosystem change and imporved climate change modelling approaches.

“The fellows will develop advanced predictions of ecosystem changes based on novel genetic and image analysis methods,” says Professor Andy Lowe, Director of the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity and Chair of Plant Conservation Biology in the University’s Environment Institute.

Congratulation to Andy Lowe,  Corey  Bradshaw,  Anton J van den Hengel, Barry W Brook and Alan Cooper for their successful application.