In this issue

Issue 110

A model of efficiency
A new tool is set to revolutionise the design of energy-efficient buildings. Energy Express is a modelling program that evaluates the energy efficiency of commercial buildings by estimating the operational energy the building is likely to consume at the design stage.
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Looking into Malaysia's haze
Between 1998 and 2000, an investigation into the cause of haze in Malaysia's Klang Valley was conducted. The TAPM air pollution model was used in the Malaysian haze study to confirm that winds coming from Sumatra carried smoke across Malaysia during episodes of forest fire.
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Waiting for El Nino
A coupled atmosphere-ocean model with the ability to predict the likely onset of El Nino and La Nina events up to nine months in advance is being developed by Ian Smith of CSIRO Atmospheric Research. This will give farmers, natural disaster organisations, water catchment managers and other agencies more time to prepare for the impact of the El Nino-La Nina cycle.
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Power and prediction
Jack Katzfey of CSIRO Atmospheric Research is using a new numerical model to predict the weather at a regional scale. The predictions, which are published daily, are used in energy forecasting by the energy industry in southern Australia.
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Cereal killer
Take-all disease can cause losses in yield of up to 60 per cent in Australian cereal crops. Crop losses can be minimised by employing a range of different disease-management strategies. But deciding which strategy will provide the right balance of financial reward and risk reduction can be difficult. A new model that allows farmers to assess the impact of various take-all management options is helping to make this decision easier.
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Taming the yabby
The Australian yabby industry has the potential to expand into Asian and European markets if farmers engage in domestication and selective breeding programs to ensure continuity of quality and supply. To identify suitable foundation stock, live yabby populations have been evaluated for commercially important genetic traits. Other factors being evaluated include the use of internal fluorescent tags to identify individual yabbies and techniques for synchronised spawning and artificial insemination. Strategies to protect Australian intellectual property on the live yabby market are also being considered.
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Operation mango
Kensington Pride is the main cultivar supplying Australia's mango industry, but it suffers from a range of production problems, including erratic flowering and fruiting. CSIRO is involved in projects spanning mango breeding, physiology, and molecular biology. A national mango breeding program aims to develop new hybrids that combine desirable Kensington Pride characteristics with improved production characteristics from other cultivars. Nine promising hybrids are to be evaluated in commercial trials. In the short-term growers may use chemical treatments to improve flowering and fruiting. Physiologists are investigating ways of improving photosynthesis and understanding a second yield-dampening phenomenon, photoinhibition. Three genes involved in mango flowering have been identified and research is under way to confirm their role in flowering and measure their expression during and leading up to flowering.
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Pine prospects
Only five natural stands of Pinus radiata exist and four are under threat from land degradation. The population on Guadalupe Island is in serious decline due to feral goats. In 2001, seven scientists, volunteers and observers gathered Pinus radiata seed on the Mexican islands of Guadalupe and Cedros. The mission was to help conserve the islands' trees, and seek new seed sources to grow commercially in lower rainfall areas of southern Australia. The radiata trees in Guadalupe have high drought resistance. Seeds collected on the expedition will be sowed at Australian trial sites during 2002.
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Essential oil
The Papua New Guinea Biological Foundation, CSIRO and the PNG National Forest Authority have joined in a project to produce oil with a high concentration of 1,8 cineole from the paperbark tree, Asteromyrtus symphyocarpo, known locally as the 'mol' or 'waria waria' tree. Three villages in PNG's Western Province have secured a retailer to distribute the oil throughout the country. ACIAR is funding research on the sustainability of the industry in preparation for its expansion. It covers socioeconomic and environmental issues. A related project is surveying and mapping the region's biological resources.
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Water alchemy
Scientists at CSIRO are piloting the use of aquifers to store and recover urban stormwater and treated sewage effluent. The reclaimed water is good enough to irrigate urban landscapes or crops and the stormwater vitalises brackish aquifers by reducing their salt content. Aquifers can be recharged in wet periods and the water recovered in dry periods. This is usually cheaper than storing the water in dams. Clogging of injection wells and monitoring aquifers so that low-quality water can be managed sustainably have been addressed. Pilot projects have taken place in Adelaide, supported by the South Australian Department for Water Resources. Future projects will be integrated with urban water management.
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Rice is life
The Cambodia-IRRI-Australia-Project (CIAP) began in 1987 when the Australian Government sent agricultural scientists to help rebuild Cambodia's farming infrastructure and agricultural research in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The project has identified and selected high yielding rice varieties, and has worked with farmers to introduce modern fertilisers and their application, irrigation, new harvest and post-harvest technologies, and integrated pest management. Rice yields have more than doubled on some farms, enabling diversification into high-value enterprises including intensive aquaculture and horticulture. The CIAP program was replaced in 2001 by Cambodia's own agricultural research and development institute, CARDI.
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Seed-bank sleuths
Researchers have assessed the soil seed bank at 10 urban bushland sites in northern Sydney, NSW. The scientists found that exotic species were concentrated near urban edges in both the vegetation and the seed bank. They also found that the above-ground vegetation was a poor indicator of the contents of the seed bank, for both native and exotic species.
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Fishy issues
Australia's South-east Fishery is one of the country's oldest and most valuable fisheries. Two pieces of federal environmental legislation are having an important influence on the fishery.
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Coral cuisine
Research has confirmed the suggestion that fish predation plays an important role in the mortality of coral propagules of many species. But only 60 per cent of pellets made from the eggs of one agariciid coral, Pachyseris speciosa, were consumed due to the presence of a chemical defence in the eggs.
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Rat-midden records
Stick-nest rats, once abundant in arid Australia, have the unusual habit of constructing impressive communal nests or middens using material derived from the prey of carnivores. This means that the middens contain information about the animals that lived in arid Australia before European settlement and the former distribution and community composition of arid-zone species.
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Clear-fell versus fire
Comparison of the recovery of understorey flora after clear-felling with that after natural disturbance by the Ash Wednesday bushfires showed that the plant species composition a decade after bushfires of various intensities was significantly different to that in forest understorey regenerating after clear-felling.
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For now, fortune favours the seals
The changing fortunes of Australia's rare fur seals and sea lions is highlighting the precarious juggling act required of biologists when they try to protect different species occupying the same habitats. During the past few decades, marine biologists have managed to pull fur seals back from the brink of extinction, but now have to balance the success of this operation with its possible impact on the equally rare Australian sea lion.
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