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.

The second industrial transformation of Australian landscapes.

Australian Rural Landscape - Flickr/dioshotspot

Australian Rural Landscape – Flickr/dioshotspot

Inarguably colonisation and industry have changed Australia’s environment since the first fleet set foot on NSW in the late 18th Century. This first industrial age was built on natural capital, driven by the need to populate and establish, with unprecedented changes to the natural environment.  In some cases we have exceeded environmental and resource limits, a scenario echoing across the world.

A new paper, co- authored by Wayne Meyer from the Environment Institute suggests we are moving through a second industrial transformation of Australian landscapes. Wayne and his co authors examine six emerging economies driving change in the Australian landscape; water, carbon, food, energy, amenity and mining.

These emerging economies could result in positive or negative transformations of Australia and the paper delves into some of partnerships and decisions we face as a nation to ensure a positive outcome. This includes forming new partnerships between government, science, the private sector and communities, supported by renegotiated institutional settings and governance. Science has a pivotal role in getting the information we need to make these deicisions and supporting effective strategies for positive change.

The paper is wide ranging in its scope, looking at local impacts and communities to generation- and nation-wide changes in how the country manages economies, environments and society. Overarching is the need to adapt to climate change and the global changes it will force in the absence of immediate and deep cuts to carbon emissions. The authors provide  potential pathways to move forward, citing the need for vision and the power it provides towards solving these complex multidisciplinary problems.

The full paper is accessible here.

Brett A Bryan, Wayne S Meyer, C Andrew Campbell, Graham P Harris, Ted Lefroy, Greg Lyle, Paul Martin, Josie McLean, Kelvin Montagu, Lauren A Rickards, David M Summers, Richard Thackway, Sam Wells, Mike Young, “The second industrial transformation of Australian landscapes”, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Available online 24 June 2013, ISSN 1877-3435,

New Paper – Leaf morphology shift: new data and analysis support climate link

A new paper involving Environment Institute members Greg Guerin and Andrew Lowe has recently been published in the Journal Biology Letters.

Samples from the Narrow-leaf Hopbush from the State Herbarium (Photo by Greg Guerin)

The paper titled ‘Leaf morphology shift: new data and analysis support climate link’ is following on from a previous paper written by Dr Guerin, Haixia Wen and Professor Lowe (‘Leaf morphology shift in response to climate change’) where the researchers concluded that climate change is changing the width of leaves.

This new research uses alternative data splits and statistical methods to re-test their original findings, including an extra 10 years’ worth of new data on leaf width from extra specimens collected up to 2011.

Read the paper to find out more

Professor Andrew Lowe has written an in depth Blog post about this research on Biodiversity Revolution called ‘First signs that climate change is causing adaptive shifts in plants’

Read an article relating to this research on ABC News

Read the Environment Institute’s previous blog post about this research and see past media coverage

New Paper: Does the behaviour of a reef shark change as the water temperature changes?

Professor Corey Bradshaw

A new paper titled ‘Heat-seeking sharks: support for behavioural thermoregulation in reef sharks‘ investigates shark behaviour and movement patterns in relation to thermoregulation and water temperature.

The paper suggests that reef shark movements are influenced by water temperature and provides support for behavioural thermoregulation theories. This data is important for predicting how sharks might be affected by climate change and other human modifications to water temperature.

The paper involves Environment Institute member Corey Bradshaw as well as Conrad Speed (Charles Darwin University), Mark Meekan (Australian Institute of Marine Science), Iain Field (Macquarie University) and Clive McMahon (Charles Darwin University) and has been published in Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Download the paper to read about their findings

New Paper: Climate change and the cockatoo

Berton Harris

A new paper titled ‘Managing the long-term persistence of a rare cockatoo under climate change‘ investigates using combined population and bioclimatic models to estimate the future effects of climate change on the viability of a cockatoo population. Their research revealed that unmitigated climate change is likely to be a substantial threat to the cockatoo.

The paper involves Environment Institute members Berton Harris, Damien Fordham, David Paton, Michael Stead, Michael Watts and Barry Brook as well as Patricia Mooney (Department of Environment and Heritage), Lynn Pedler (Department of Environment and Heritage), Miguel Araújo (National Museum of Natural Sciences) and Reşit Akçakaya (Stony Brook University). The paper was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology

Download the paper to read about their findings

New Paper: Using fish ear bones to investigate the importance of estuaries

Professor Bronwyn Gillanders

A new paper titled ‘Temporal variability in estuarine fish otolith elemental fingerprints: Implications for connectivity assessments‘ investigates using the chemical composition of fish ear bones to provide important information for understanding the value of estuaries to coastal fishes.

The paper involves Environment Institute members Bronwyn Gillanders and Travis Elsdon as well as Patrick Reis-Santos, Susanne Tanner, Rita Vasconcelos and Henrique Cabral (all of the University of Lisbon) and was published in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science.

Download the paper to read about their findings

New Paper: The diving patterns of the deep-diving southern elephant seal

Professor Corey Bradshaw

A new paper titled ‘Depletion of deep marine food patches forces divers to give up early‘ investigates the behaviour of deep-diving sea animals in terms of their eating habits. The paper assesses the validity of the optimal foraging theory by investigating the dive behaviour of the world’s deepest-diving seal, the sourthern elephant seal Mirounga leonina.

The paper involves Environment Institute member Corey Bradshaw as well as Michele Thums (University of Western Australia), Michael Sumner, Judy Horsburgh and Mark Hindell (all of the University of Tasmania) and has been published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Dowload the paper to read about their findings
Visit Corey Bradshaw’s blog

New Paper: Environmental management alternatives for rivers and wetlands

Professor Graeme Dandy

Professor Graeme Dandy

A new paper titled ‘A framework for using ant colony optimization to schedule environmental flow management alternatives for rivers, wetlands, and floodplains‘ investigates using ant colony data to assess environmental management alternatives for rivers, wetlands, and floodplains. The paper discusses the importance of these regions and the need for future management as many of these areas are facing a bleak future due to a wide variety of reasons.

The paper involves Environment Institute members Joanna Szemis, Graeme Dandy and Holger Maier (all also of the University of Adelaide) and has been published in Water Resources Research.

Download the paper to read about their findings

New Paper: The extinction of the Giant Moa was not caused by climate change

Professor Alan Cooper

A new paper titled ‘The effect of climate and environmental change on the megafaunal moa of New Zealand in the absence of humans‘ investigates using ancient DNA to assess the effect of climate and environmental changes on the now extinct Giant Moa. The researchers discovered that climate and environmental changes did not have a signifcant impact on the population of the extinct New Zealand bird.

The paper involves Environment Institute members Nicolas Rawlence (also of the University of Waikato), Jeremy Austin (also of Museum Victoria) and Alan Cooper as well as Jessica Metcalf (University of Colorado), Jamie Wood (Landcare Research), Trevor Worthy (Australian Centre for Ancient DNA) and has been published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

Download the paper to read about their findings
Read the University of Adelaide’s media release

New Paper: Using census data and history to assess evolution and population

Salvador Herrando-Pérez

A new paper titled ‘Strength of density feedback in census data increases from slow to fast life histories‘ investigates the idea that examining the life history of species through the collection of census data can provide an evolutionary signal. According to the research this data can provide valuable feedback regarding evolution and long-term population trends.

The paper involves Environment Institute members Salvador Herrando-Pérez, Dr Steven Delean, Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw (also of the South Australian Research and Development Institute) and has been published in Ecology and Evolution.

Download the paper to read about their findings