Impacts of Explosive Road Expansion on Global Ecosystems and Biodiversity: William F. Laurance

William F. Laurance will deliver a free public presentation at the University of Adelaide on the 26th of June entitled: “Impacts of Explosive Road Expansion on Global Ecosystems and Biodiversity”.

220px-BillprofileWilliam is Distinguished Research Professor at James Cook University, Cairns, and has received one of Australia’s highest scientific honours, the Australian Laureate Award. He also holds the Prince Bernhard Chair for International Nature Conservation at Ultrecht University, Netherlands.

Professor Laurance has authored eight books and over 400 scientific and popular articles. He is in the top 0.001% of cited scientists globally, in the fields of ecology and environmental science.

His scientific interests include assessing the impacts of deforestation, logging, hunting, bushfires, road expansion and climatic change on tropical ecosystems and biodiversity.


We live in an era of unprecedented road expansion, with new roads now penetrating into most the world’s surviving wildernesses.  Such roads often unleash a Pandora’s Box of environmental problems, such as illegal colonisation, deforestation, hunting, and land speculation.  By the year 2050, it is expected that Earth will have 25 million kilometres of additional roads and highways—enough to circle the planet over 600 times.  Ninety percent of these new roads will be in developing nations that sustain the bulk of Earth’s biodiversity.  I will highlight the impacts of rapid road expansion on native ecosystems and wildlife, and then describe an ambitious effort I am leading to devise a ‘Global Roadmap’–an innovative zoning scheme to define where on Earth future roads should and should not go.

When: 3pm, 26th June
Where: Horace Lamb Lecture Theatre, Adelaide University

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear from a world leading environmental scientist.

Read Professor Laurance’s most recent article for The Conversation: “Boycotts are a crucial weapon to fight environment-harming firms

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.

Ecological Armageddon in forest fragments

Malaysian rainforest. Image - jswakins/Flickr

Malaysian rainforest. Image – jswakins/Flickr

An international team of scientists including the University of Adelaide’s Professor Corey Bradshaw has found that species living in rainforest fragments could be far more likely to disappear than was previously assumed.

Published today in the leading journal Science, the researchers outlined a study spanning two decades in which they witnessed the near-complete extinction of native small mammals on forest islands created by a large hydroelectric reservoir in Thailand.

“Tropical forests remain one of the last great bastions of biodiversity, but they continue to be felled and fragmented into small ‘islands’ around the world,” says co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw, Director Ecological Modelling at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

“This study shows we need to be even more concerned than we thought – the speed at which there was near-total loss of native small mammals was alarming and shows that leaving fragments of forest behind is not nearly enough to protect these species.”

“It was like ecological Armageddon,” says Luke Gibson from the National University of Singapore, who led the study. “Nobody imagined we’d see such catastrophic local extinctions.”

The study was motivated by a desire to understand how long species can live in forest fragments. If they persist for many decades, then this gives conservationists a window of time to create wildlife corridors or restore surrounding forests to reduce the harmful effects of forest isolation.

However, the researchers saw native small mammals almost vanish at great speed, with just a handful remaining – on average, less than one individual per island – after 25 years.

As well as suffering the effects of population isolation, the small mammals also had to deal with a devastating invader – the Malayan field rat. In just a few years, the invading rat virtually displaced all native small mammals. The field rat normally favours villages and agricultural lands, but will also invade disturbed forests.

“This tells us that the double whammy of habitat fragmentation and invading species can be fatal for native wildlife,” says Dr Antony Lynam, from the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society. “And that’s frightening because invaders are increasing in disturbed and fragmented habitats around the world.”

“The bottom line is that we must conserve large, intact habitats for nature,” says Luke Gibson. “That’s the only way we can ensure biodiversity will survive.”

Near-complete extinction of native small mammal fauna 25 years after forest fragmentation is published in Science and is available at

National Tree Day 28 July

Image: Planet Ark

Image: Planet Ark

National Tree Day on Sunday 28 July and School Tree Day on Friday 26 July combine to make Australia’s largest tree planting event.

National Tree Day present Australians with an opportunity to give something back to the environment we live in by planting native trees, grasses and shrubs in the local community. National Tree Day promotes education about our natural environment and a commitment to care for it for future generations. Since National Tree Day began in 1996, more than 2.8 million people have planted over 17 million trees and shrubs.

Get involved!

Register your tree planting event on the National Tree Day Registration page. If you’re not hosting an event but want to get involved, find an event near you.

Got questions?

More information is available in the FAQ section of the National Tree Day website, or call the National Tree Day hotline on 1300 88 5000.

Making national parks truly national.

Kakadu National Park - Flickr/Marc Dalmulder

Kakadu National Park – Flickr/Marc Dalmulder

Environment Insitute member Corey Bradshaw co-authored this piece on The Conversation on June 14, 2013.

Australia boasts over 500 national parks covering 28 million hectares of land, or about 3.6% of Australia. You could be forgiven for thinking we’re doing well in the biodiversity-conservation game.

But did you know that of those more than 500 national parks, only six are managed by the Commonwealth Government? For marine parks, it’s a little more: 61 of the 130-plus are managed primarily by the Commonwealth. This means that the majority of our important biodiversity refuges are managed exclusively by state and territory governments. In other words, our national parks aren’t “national” at all.

In a world of perfect governance, this wouldn’t matter. But we’re seeing the rapid “relaxation” of laws designed to protect our “national” and marine parks by many state governments. Would making all of them truly national do more to conserve biodiversity?

One silly decision resulting in a major ecosystem disturbance in a national park can take decades if not hundreds of years to heal. Ecosystems are complex interactions of millions of species that take a long time to evolve – they cannot be easily repaired once the damage is done.

The full article can be accessed here.

Endangered species: could better tracking methods reduce vulnerability or extinction?

Palau landscape

Palau. Image by LuxTonnerre, licensed under Creative Commons.

Guest blogger botanist Craig Costion has written an article on endangered species on Biodiversity Revolution‘s blog which describes a new approach to developing the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) classification for potentially endangered species for which no demographic information is available.

The term ‘endangered species’ refers to species which fall under the IUCN’s Red List, a complete list of all endangered mammals, birds, amphibians, sharks, reef-building corals, cycads and conifers, but only a small percentage of all species of reptiles, fishes, and selected groups of plants and invertebrates have been classified.

Currently the IUCN classifies a species or habitat as ‘vulnerable’ if it has suffered a 30% decline ‘over 3 generations or within 100 years’. The author believes it is important to classify the remaining species to include ‘information on the history of habitat modification and destruction extending over and beyond 100 years’ to obtain a greater understanding of species vulnerability.

The full findings and methods are available in the post entitled Endangered Species by Craig Costion.

Research Tuesdays – Life strikes back

The next installment in the University of Adelaide’s Research Tuesdays series involves Environment Institute member Professor Andrew Lowe.

Professor Andrew Lowe

The seminar, titled ‘Life Strikes Back – How the explosion of knowledge in genomics is enhancing our ability to conserve species’ will explore the positive story unfolding  in the field of biodiversity genomics. Andy Lowe will explain how we now have unparalleled access to information on the genomes of species, and how it’s revolutionising our ability to conserve life.

When: Tuesday 8th May, 5:30pm-6:30pm
Where: Napier 102, The University of Adelaide

Admission to this public seminar is free, however registration is essential.

For more information and to register online visit the Research Tuesdays website.

Career Opportunity: Nature Foundation SA -Conservation Projects Officer

Nature Foundation SA are looking for a full time Conservation Projects Officer to be based in Adelaide.

Nature Foundation SA celebrated 30 years of achievement in 2011 as the state’s premier, not-for-profit conservation organisation working with scientists, communities, businesses and governments to conserve South Australia’s precious natural biodiversity.  The Foundation now owns or co-owns four conservation properties exceeding 420,000 ha and will undertake major new land conservation and environmental watering projects in 2012.

Download the PDF Flyer to read about the position

Darwin’s Mistake: Creationism, Cultural Evolution and Conservation

Listen to Paul Ehrlich speak about Charles Darwin, creationism, cultural evolution and conservation.

The Environment Institute was pleased to present Professor Paul Ehrlich, one of the world’s leading experts on population, who is visiting Adelaide during November.  Paul presented his first of three seminars at the University of Adelaide titled: “Darwin’s Mistake: Creationism, Cultural Evolution and Conservation”.

Download audio-visual material from this event.

Paul will also be presenting two free public seminars next week:

Population, Resources and the Environment: Where We Stand Now
Tuesday 9 November, 6pm-7:30pm at the Adelaide Town Hall

The Tightrope: A Millennium Assessment of Human Behaviour
Thursday 11 November, 5:30pm-6:30pm at the University of Adelaide

Bookings are essential, but you need to hurry as seats are booking fast!

This event is now SOLD OUT