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Issue 108




Cloud warnings
CSIRO has developed a way of scanning infrared or heat signals given out by the clouds ahead of a plane. Using some clever programming, the invention can differentiate between weather clouds and volcanic ash clouds.
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Green plastic
Many biodegradable plastic products are being developed by scientists at the CRC for International Food Manufacture and Packaging Science. Products being developed include self-recycling plant pots and a biodegradable mulch film used by farmers to control weed growth and retain moisture around crops.
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Blurring the bifocal line
Mathematical tools developed by Tony Miller of CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences are playing a key role in bringing better vision to millions of people worldwide. The tools have enabled spectacle lens company, SOLA International, to develop a range of 'progressive' lenses for sufferers of presbyopia, the age-related loss of ability to focus at short distances.
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A model for health homes
The 'volatile transport model' models the movement of volatile hydrocarbon through soil and into typical Australian homes. The model could help define acceptable levels of soil pollution at old petrol station sites reclaimed for housing.
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Super structures
Carbon nanotubes are one of the more technologically promising nanostructures. Scientists at the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute at the University of Wollongong have developed a more sophisticated way of producing carbon nanotubes which involves heating metal-containing organic compounds. One of the first devices the group is developing is a new flat screen for televisions and computers.
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Prawns in the padi
Farmers in parts of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, are turning to integrated rice-prawn farming in a bid to boost income. A study into the economic and environmental sustainability of rice-prawn farming found that prawn farming practices are unsustainable. Farmers relying on natural recruitment of wild prawns were losing valuable land to sediment. Alternatively, farmers stocking ponds with tiger prawn post-larvae from hatcheries risked losing their crop to disease. Encouraging farmers to reduce water exchange between their ponds and the delta, and to stock ponds with hatchery reared 'seedstock' will improve environmental sustainability. Until appropriate technology can be developed, simple pond management and financial management strategies have been introduced to reduce farmers' exposure to income risk from prawn production.
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Change in the wind
Using a range of climate models, the Climate Impact Group from CSIRO Atmospheric Research has predicted significant changes in temperature, rainfall and evaporation in the next 100 years. The impact of these changes on Australian agriculture, and natural and built environments are considered.
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Fighting the fire ant
The fire ant - a tiny but menacing pest originally from South America - has entered Australia and established breeding colonies in Brisbane, Qld.
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Which wasps for whitefly control?
An insect pest known as silverleaf whitefly was accidentally introduced to Australia in 1994. A survey of Australian parasitic wasps has identified species that may be useful in biological control of the whitefly.
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Weevil missions
Nine species of acacia are weeds in many areas of South Africa where they invade native plant communities and cultivated forests. Seed-feeding weevils of the genus Melanterius have been released as biological control agents.
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Secretive moths block cedar production
The tunnelling activities of the larvae of stem borer moths, Hypsipyla species, have prevented plantation production of precious red cedar and mahogany wood. A project is investigating the ecology of Hypsipyla robusta, the main pest of cedar and its relatives in the Old World, as a step towards biological control.
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Do woodland trees improve pastures?
Trees in the open eucalypt woodlands of subtropical and tropical Australia are often killed or cleared to improve the productivity of the associated pasture for grazing beef cattle. Many studies indicate that pasture yields increase as tree density in these woodlands declines. But recent research suggests that trees in more open woodland may provide some benefits to native pastures.
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Herbarium lends landcarers the vision of Hume
When the Harden Murrumburrah Landcare group decided to restore Harden Shire's original vegetation communities, they struck a problem. How could they determine which species to use. To find a solution, the Landcare group joined forces with the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. The resulting project, 'Greening the Grainbelt', has developed a floristic view of the original vegetation of Harden Shire, NSW, and compiled a list of plants for revegetation activities.
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Sound standards
Busier roads and airports, smaller urban subdivisions and apartment living are contributing to a noise epidemic that is sweeping Australia. In response, the Building Code of Australia's (BCA) sound insulation provisions are being amended.
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Eat or be eaten
Foraging is a particularly dangerous pastime, and the benefits of a good feed must be weighed against the threat of predation. Researchers studying Argentine ants found that as the value of the potential food source increased, individuals were more likely to take risks, taking longer to leave a foraging area and resuming feeding faster.
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Ancient journeys
Scientists are using modern molecular tools to help unravel the evolutionary origins of three different animal groups in New Zealand: geckos, cicadas and parakeets.
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Disturbed birds
A survey of open woodland habitat along a revegetated gradient in the central tablelands of New South Wales found that sites in the early stages of regeneration had the greatest number of bird species, while relatively undisturbed sites had the least.
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Birds in the heath
Research on the effects of fragmentation on heathland birds along the north coast of New South Wales found a distinct change in species composition and reduced species richness with fragmentation.
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Mammals and pesticides
A review of what is known of the effects of organophosphorus and carbamate insecticides on vertebrates found several sublethal effects.
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Moa's ark
New Zealand's fossil record indicates that some of New Zealand's vegetation arrived via long distance dispersal from other landmasses.
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