In this issue

Issue 113

An educated rush
A new project designed to probe Victoria's subsurface geology is under way. The Victorian Geotraverse will use state-of-the-art technology to examine the top 10 kilometres of the Earth's crust across a 500 kilometre cross-section of Victoria.
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Talking textiles
CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology (CTFT) and the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) are amalgamating polymer and textile technology to bridge the gap between conventional clothing and 'wearable electronics'. In the future, intelligent clothing will be available for a range of applications including sport, medicine, defence, emergency services and leisure.
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Medicinal roots
A disease of plants could help scientists produce remedies for human ailments. 'Hairy root' occurs when the soil bacterium, Agrobacterium rhizogenes, infects wounded plant cells, triggering the production of a malignant mass of fine roots. In nature, this leads to stunted plants. But in the laboratory, hairy roots can be harnessed to produce plant extracts with nutriceutical and pharmaceutical value.
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Mystery owl gives two hoots
For 15 years the identity of an owl on the island of Sumba, Indonesia, remained a mystery. Two Australian scientists have now identified the owl. The little Sumba hawk-owl, Ninox sumbaensis, is a new species related to Australia's powerful owl and southern boobook.
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Greeting Elliot the sauropod
Palaeontologists and volunteers are unearthing 'Elliott', a giant sauropod dinosaur that came to rest near Winton, Qld, 95 million years ago.
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Finding non-fish diets for prawns
The production of one of aquaculture's most important feed ingredients - fishmeal - is expected to remain static or decline. Scientists have been looking for alternative high-protein feed ingredients to replace fishmeal in the diets of black tiger prawns, Penaeus monodon. Two ingredients show great promise: high quality meat meal and dehulled lupin meal.
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Cattle and conservation can be a costly mix
A CSIRO project has looked at the impacts, at farm level, of adopting best practice conservation management in Queensland, to optimise biodiversity on grassy eucalypt woodlands, which are ecologically diverse yet under-represented in conservation reserves. Modelling of differences in profitability between present management systems and alternative conservation measures projected a decline in net profit of 29 to 77 per cent if conservation measures were adopted. The project concluded there were limited prospects for wide-scale private adoption of the conservation principles in the absence of significant public support. A new project will attempt to resolve some of the economic and other issues.
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Patch genetics
Scientists at CSIRO Plant Industry are examining the viability of plant populations in small and isolated remnants of native vegetation. Fragmented patches are mostly all that remain of these once widespread habitats. The aim in studying the genetic and ecology of fragmentation is to develop advice for conserving and managing these remnants.
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Blue moves
Little is known about the movement, feeding and breeding patterns of blue whales. Satellite tagging could reveal valuable practical information to assist in their conservation. A systematic aerial survey of blue whales is being conducted off the coast of Portland, Vic, to increase scientists' chances of finding and tagging blue whales from boats. Successful satellite tagging would help them to track the whale's migration. Australian population may be the vanguard of a Southern Hemisphere recovery from whaling, and may have links to populations in Indonesia.
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Hollow histories
Many Australian birds rely on tree hollows for nesting, but too many trees containing hollows are disappearing and are not being replaced. Landholders need incentives to look after remnant trees on their properties.
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Facing extinction
Australian bush birds are in decline. Both bird abundance and species numbers have fallen in many southern Australian agricultural regions, especially where woodlands have been cleared. Australia could lose half of its terrestrial bird species in the 21st century. The main cause is the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat due to human activities. This also influences predation, competition and the availability of nest sites. Community groups have become active but land clearing continues. Ecologists argue that land clearing, especially in already heavily cleared regions of southern Australia, should cease immediately. They have also called for fencing off and active management of remnant patches of vegetation.
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A lesson from Mt Lofty
Less than 10 per cent of the original native vegetation in the Mount Lofty Ranges, SA, remains intact. This has led to bird decline and the local extinction of eight bird species.
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Jury out on currawongs
The pied currawong has increased in abundance rather than decreased, and the species has been implicated in the decline of other native bush birds.
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Young turks
The Australian brush-turkey has evolved an extraordinary breeding strategy in which the adults produce many large eggs and build and maintain a large natural incubator in the form of a mound, but devote no time or energy to the hatchlings. Lacking parental care, the chicks need to be precocial, independent and resourceful, and they inherit unusual behaviours for surviving in the rainforest. Some of these pre-existing behaviours change as chicks age and learn from experience. New information on chick ecology and behaviour will assist in their conservation and management.
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Weedy wattles
The Cootamundra wattle is now an established weed in many locations. The ability of Cootamundra wattle to invade native bush can be attributed to its early maturity and high production of viable seed.
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Wildlife in the firing line
Research in an area west of Townsville, Qld, has found that pastoralism seems to have contributed to some change in savanna fauna species composition. On the other hand, low-intensity military land use has led to little change.
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Sleepy lizards guard mates
Sleepy lizards form monogamous pairs each spring. Researchers have been studying why males guard their females for so long after mating.
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Tail loss in skinks
Metallic skinks store most of their tail fat near the base of the tail, minimising the energy lost when their tails are shed to escape predators.
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Weevils worth millions
Scientists have modelled the economic benefits of using the crown weevil to control Paterson's curse. The annual benefits are projected to increase to $90 million by 2025.
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Being waterwise in spaceship suburbia
Scientists from CSIRO Urban Water and the Brisbane City Council have been assessing four scenarios for the provision of sustainable water services to a 226 hectare mixed residential and industrial Greenfield development in Brisbane, Qld.
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