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 research positions available

We are currently seeking two individuals for a Research Assistant position and a Research Associate position. These positions are ARC funded positions in ‘Transport risk pathways for emerging invasive species’.

  •  Research Assistant within the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Invasion Ecology Group (http://www.cassey-invasion-ecology.org/).
    The successful applicant will be expected to engage with researchers in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences as well as fostering ties with other research providers, industry risk creators, and State Government end-users. The successful applicant will work closely with researchers in the Invasion Ecology Group providing empirical support for projects relating to transport networks and incursion risk. Research will include the collation of empirical data from Australian (and international) biosecurity datasets, the visualisation of spatial data, and the curation of digital project meta‐data.
  • Research Associate within The School of Mathematical Sciences and the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
    The successful candidate will work within the Operations Research Group of the School of Mathematical Sciences. The Operations Research Group consists of a number of leading mathematical modellers, with particular strengths in stochastic modelling and optimisation, and hosts a node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for ‘Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers of Big Data, Big Models, New Insights’, which shares strong links with this advertised position. Research will include the construction of complex pathway transport models supported by existing biosecurity datasets and the predictive mapping of ecologically-realistic environmental and climatic risk neighbourhoods. Computational and mathematical techniques will be used to forecast probabilities of future incursion risks into Australia.The successful applicant will also work closely with researchers in the Invasion Ecology Group, in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (http://www.cassey-invasion-ecology.org/), and will be expected to foster ties with other research providers, industry risk creators, and State Government end-users.

Closing date for these positions is Monday 17th March.

Spencer Gulf Ecosystem & Development Initiative Workshops

Workshops to discuss the progress on the Spencer Gulf Ecosystem and Development Initiative (SGEDI) are being conducted in regional areas and Adelaide over the next four weeks.

This is a four year program, led by the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide. The program aims to provide all stakeholders with access to independent and credible information. We seek to enable positive environmental decision making for groups and individuals associated with the Gulf.

Cumulative Impact and the Spencer Gulf System

Cumulative Impact and the Spencer Gulf System

Workshop locations:

·         Port Augusta – Tuesday 18 February – Charles Chappell room, Standpipe Golf Motor Inn, Corner Eyre and Stuart Highways from 1.30pm until 4.30pm

·         Whyalla – Tuesday 11 March  – Training Room, Whyalla Library, 7-9 Ekblom Street from 1.00pm until 4.30pm

·         Wallaroo – Tuesday 25 February – Supper Room, Wallaroo Town Hall, Section 1634 Irwine St from 1.00pm until 4.30pm

·         Port Lincoln – Wednesday 26 February – Lecture Theatre, Lincoln Marine Science Centre, 1 Hindmarsh St from 1.00pm until 4.00pm

·         Adelaide – Friday 7 March – Seminar Room West, Masonic Hall, North Terrace TBC.

The aim of these workshops is to discuss the work that has been undertaken in the last twelve months. This includes:

  • a summary of the findings from the last series of stakeholder workshops that were conducted at the end of 2012
  • a review of the scientific knowledge about the Spencer Gulf’s marine environment
  • an assessment of key knowledge gaps
  • pathways for the next period of research

Download the Spencer Gulf Ecosystem and Development Initiative Summary (PDF)

In order to cater, we would be pleased if you could RSVP with your chosen location before 14 February by email to clair.crowley@adelaide.edu.au

Feel free to contact the Environment Institute for more information on (08) 8313 0543.

TED Speaker and “Drones Ecologist” Lian Pin Koh joins the Environment Institute

His research has been featured in National Geographic, presented at TED Global 2013, named by Scientific American as in the Top 10 of “World Changing Ideas” and has been listed in the Nominet Trust “100 of the World’s Most Inspiring Social Innovations” list.

So it is no surprise that the Environment Institute is very excited to welcome Lian Pin Koh in 2014!

Founder of the non-profit ConservationDrones.orgLian Pin has shared his research at TED Global 2013 in a talk entitled “A drone’s-eye view of conservation”.

So what exactly is a “Conservation Drone“?  Essentially model planes that can be equipped with a camera and sensing equipment, these drones can be programmed to fly over wildlife zones previously difficult or too costly to reach. To use Lian Pin’s words, they are “the ultimate boy’s toy”. He has even had his share of detractors, claiming that they were just “fooling around with toy planes”.

As the accolades suggest, these are no ordinary toy planes. They are currently being used in Nepal in the fight against wildlife crime, in North Sumatra to monitor the number of orangutan nest in a remote rainforest, and to keep an eye on deforestation as a result of the growth of palm oil plantations.

Looking ahead, there is enormous potential for the drones to be used in conjunction with radio collar trackers for monitoring of endangered animal populations, or for collection of images from remote cameras via WiFi.

In short, they are a “game-changer for conservation research and applications”.

Lian Pin commences as Associate Professor with the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences this week at the University of Adelaide. Welcome Lian Pin, we look forward to following your exciting research!

Dingo wrongly blamed for extinctions

Dingo , Fraser Island. Image - ogwens/Flickr

Dingo , Fraser Island. Image – ogwens/Flickr

Dingoes have been unjustly blamed for the extinctions on the Australian mainland of the Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine) and the Tasmanian devil, a University of Adelaide study has found.

In a paper published in the journal Ecology, the researchers say that despite popular belief that the Australian dingo was to blame for the demise of thylacines and devils on the mainland about 3000 years ago, in fact Aboriginal populations and a shift in climate were more likely responsible.

“Perhaps because the public perception of dingoes as ‘sheep-killers’ is so firmly entrenched, it has been commonly assumed that dingoes killed off the thylacines and devils on mainland Australia,” says researcher Dr Thomas Prowse, Research Associate in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Environment Institute.

“There was anecdotal evidence too: both thylacines and devils lasted for over 40,000 years following the arrival of humans in Australia; their mainland extinction about 3000 years ago was just after dingoes were introduced to Australia; and the fact that thylacines and devils persisted on Tasmania, which was never colonised by dingoes.

“However, and unfortunately for the dingo, most people have overlooked that about the same time as dingoes came along, the climate changed rather abruptly and Aboriginal populations were going through a major period of intensification in terms of population growth and technological advances.”

The researchers built a complex series of mathematical models to recreate the dynamic interaction between the main potential drivers of extinction (dingoes, climate and humans), the long-term response of herbivore prey, and the viability of the thylacine and devil populations.

The models included interactions and competition between predators as well as the influence of climate on vegetation and prey populations.

The simulations showed that while dingoes had some impact, growth and development in human populations, possibly intensified by climate change, was the most likely extinction driver.

“Our multi-species models showed that dingoes could reduce thylacine and devil populations through both competition and direct predation, but there was low probability that they could have been the sole extinction driver,” Dr Prowse says.

“Our results support the notion that thylacines and devils persisted on Tasmania not because the dingo was absent, but because human density remained low there and Tasmania was less affected by abrupt climate changes.”

The study ‘An ecological regime shift resulting from disrupted predator-prey interactions in Holocene Australia’ also involved Professors Corey Bradshaw and Barry Brook from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute and Professor Chris Johnson from the University of Tasmania.

ACEBB/EELS/EI Seminar Series podcasts available

The Environment Institute, the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity and the Ecology, Evolution and Landscape Science academic group in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences hold a regular seminar series during semester.

The series includes seminars with invited high-profile speakers from across the Institute’s subject areas, including marine and climate science, energy, evolutionary biology, ecology and biodiversity, and ancient DNA.

In the series so far:

3 May: A New World Down Under: biodiversity and evolution of subterranean animals from the Australian arid zone (m4a download)
Speaker: Professor Steven Cooper

30 May: Next generation amplicon sequencing to characterise fossil, faecal, food and forensic samples (m4a download)
Speaker: Dr Mike Bunce

14 June: Origins of the southwest Australian biodiversity hotspot: ecological and macroevolutionary perspectives  (m4a download)
Speaker: Dr Marcel Cardillo

Seminars are held regularly and presentations will be added to the ACEBB/EELS/EI Seminar Series webpage.

Dr Marcel Cardillo – Australian Biodiversity Seminar Today

Marcel CardilloEcology, Evolution and Landscape Sciences, The Environment Institute and the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity present Dr Marcel Cardillo, ARC QEII Fellow and Associate Professor of Evolution and Biodiversity, Australian National University, on Friday 14 June 2013.

The presentation is titled ‘Origins of the southwest Australian biodiversity hotspot: ecological and macroevolutionary perspectives’.

When: Friday 14 June
Time: 12pm – 1pm
Where: Benham G25, North Terrace Campus, The University of Adelaide (map)
Cost: Free

All welcome!

Research Interests

Dr Cardillo works on a range of questions in community ecology, macroecology, macroevolution and conservation biology, mostly using a comparative or modelling approach. Most of his research has a phylogenetic perspective. Phylogenies can reveal more than just evolutionary relationships: they also carry information on ecological and evolutionary processes, and can be a powerful tool for analysing comparative data.

Listen to Margie Mayfield talk about her research into plant communities

Listen to the podcast from Margie Mayfield’s seminar on 17 April about plant communities in a changing world.

The Environment Institute’s Global Ecology Laboratory presented Dr Margie Mayfield, Senior Lecturer in Plant Ecology at the University of Queensland on Wednesday 17 April 2013. Her research broadly focuses on how plant and insect communities reassemble, persist and function following human land-use change.


Human activities are increasingly driving the development of novel plant communities worldwide. These stable mixes of resident native, range-expanded native and exotic plant species have become more common than most truly “natural” plant communities in many areas. Interestingly, novel communities are often interspersed with much more severally degraded communities (all exotics) and areas that support largely native communities. This begs the question, why do novel communities form in some places but not others? Despite the increasing commonality of novel communities and their potential role in conservation, we have a poor understanding of how these communities differ from those they replace and what drives and prevents their assembly. Identifying drivers of novel community development is increasingly important for many conservation and restoration efforts. In this talk I will discuss the theoretical expectations of how we expect communities to change in response large-scale environmental change and what processes should mediate where and when native-dominated communities should be resilient or susceptible to novel community development. I will then discuss several of the projects coming out of my lab looking at novel community assembly in the York Gum woodlands of SW Western Australia, where my group has been studying the mechanisms of novel community assembly over the last several years. Specifically, I will discuss the role of biotic interactions in mediating community wide responses to land use change and species invasions across environmental gradients.

Download the podcast from this seminar.


New paper: Spatial and temporal predictions of inter-decadal trends in Indian Ocean whale sharks

A new paper involving Environment Institute member Corey Bradshaw has recently been published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

The paper, titled Spatial and temporal predictions of inter-decadal trends in Indian Ocean whale sharks, examines the movement patterns of whale sharks in the Indian Ocean and the effect of climate variations on sightings.


Image: Whale Shark, coutesy of KAZ2.0/Flickr

Image: Whale Shark, coutesy of KAZ2.0/Flickr

The processes driving temporal distribution and abundance patterns of whale sharks Rhincodon typus remain largely unexplained. We present an analysis of whale shark occurrence in the western Indian Ocean, incorporating both spatial and temporal elements. We tested the hypothesis that the average sighting probability of sharks has not changed over nearly 2 decades, and evaluated whether variance in sightings can be partially explained by climate signals. We used a 17 yr dataset (1991 to 2007, autumn only) of whale shark observations recorded in the logbooks of tuna purse-seiners. We randomly generated pseudo-absences and applied sequential generalized linear mixed-effects models within a multi-model information-theoretic framework, accounting for sampling effort and random annual variation, to evaluate the relative importance of temporal and climatic predictors to sighting probability. After accounting for seasonal patterns in distribution, we found evidence that sighting probability increased slightly in the first half of the sampling interval (1991−2000) and decreased thereafter (2000−2007). The model including a spatial predictor of occurrence, fishing effort, time2 and a random spatial effect explained ~60% of the deviance in sighting probability. After including climatic predictors, we found that sighting probability increased slightly with rising temperature in the central Pacific Ocean and reduced temperatures in the Indian Ocean. The declining phase of the peak, concurrent with recent accounts of declines in population size at near-shore aggregations and with the most pronounced global warming, deserves continued investigation. Teasing apart the legacy effects of past exploitation and those arising from on-going climate changes will be a major challenge for the successful long term management of the species.

Visit Inter-Research Science Centre to find out more.

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