In this issue

Issue 105

Selective stingers
Australia is home to six species of 'stinging tree'. The most painful is the shrub gympie-gympie, Dendrocnide moroides. Many native mammals and birds are not deterred by the stinging hairs, while humans, dogs and horses are adversely affected. Stinging tree leaves are eaten by several herbivores. The leaves deliver their sting by a toxin contained in tiny silicon hairs covering parts of the plant, except the roots. The toxin acts like a neuro-toxin and retains its pain producing properties for decades.
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Mulga rebirth begs a fair-dinkum crack at the rabbit
Rabbit calicivirus (RCV) disease is believed to have halved Australia's rabbit population. The subsequent return of mulgas, native grasses and other shrubs in the southern mulga lands is giving wildlife researchers hope that many endangered animals may be saved. The main concern now is to find a way to make the virus more effective in wetter, coastal areas where rabbits continue to undermine fragile landscapes.
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Topping up in a warmer world
Rising temperatures associated with climate change are likely to lower milk yield from cows. Milk losses will be minimised if farmers adapt by providing shade and sprinklers for their herd.
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Urban plotting
Scientist Richard Stirzaker has created a remarkable suburban garden in Canberra, ACT. On an 850 square metre block Stirzaker harvests enough fruit and vegetables to keep his family self-sufficient. The garden is based on sustainable organic gardening principles.
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Fickle bills of fare
In parts of the world, some nectar-bearing flowers are accessible only by bird species with particular bill structures. Scientists have found that in the monsoonal north-west of Australia, however, the bird-flower relationship is more generalised.
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Native foods need serious attention
Australia's native edible plants have the potential to provide a rich array of foods and flavourings, and in some cases, medicines, vitamins and cosmetics. A review of horticultural research relating to Australia's top 14 edible plants lists propagation, breeding, cultivation, nutritional value and the isolation of natural products as the main topics of investigation.
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Tracking the bat pack
The foraging behaviour of the little bat, Myotis moluccarum, has been studied. The bat was found to undertake one or two foraging bouts a night, to feed on insects and small fish.
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Feed the plant meat
Scientists have conducted an experiment to determine whether the meat eating bladderwort, Utricularia uliginosa, responds to the presence or absence of prey and to increased nitrogen when grown in pots. On the whole, the research indicates that bladderwort growth is not significantly affected by addition of nitrogen, but does benefit from carnivory.
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A shot in the seed for landcare
Ecologists have identified elite strains of nitrogen-fixing microbes of the genus Bradyrhizobium that boost the growth of native shrubs used in revegetation projects. Ecologists are preparing to trial the microbes application in a range of environments in southern Australia.
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Dangerous dwellings
Occupants of new Australian homes may be exposed to up the 20 times the maximum allowable limits of indoor air toxins. A study has shown that maximum limits of total volatile organic air toxins may be exceeded in houses for at least 10 weeks after completion.
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Making plans for what tourists can see
Researchers are pooling their expertise in rainforest ecology and conservation to develop a computer program for managers and planners to evaluate options for conservation and development in and near rainforest habitats. The program, known as Target, combines information on the type and location of natural and tourism values in the Douglas Shire, Qld, to address a range of biodiversity-related questions.
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Bubbly solutions
In industry, bubbles are critical to the success of many end products. However, getting the right size and number of bubbles for the job can be tricky. Now researchers have found a way around industry's bubble trouble based on the sounds bubbles make wh
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Seeking galaxies by gaslight
Astronomers at the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) at Parkes, NSW, have found a way to look through the interstellar dust that hinders our view of the Universe. A special radio wave 'receiver' enables radio waves emitted by hydrogen gas to be detected. These waves can penetrate the dust and starlight of the Milky Way, enabling astronomers to detect faint, small or distant galaxies which would otherwise remain hidden. So far the HIPASS (Hi Parkes All Sky Survey) has unveiled more than 600 new galaxies behind the Milky Way.
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Pond life worth preserving
Microscopic animals that live in the temporary pools of the River Murray floodplain are an important but poorly understood part of the river ecosystem. Large, predatory microfauna, such as Boeckella major, are now known to play a significant role in the composition and biodiversity of individual pool communities. Conservation of these habitats is essential to maintain this biodiversity and the food source it represents to fish and other aquatic fauna during times of flood.
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Small signs of a salty past
Microfauna are proving useful in the fight against salinity in Western Australia. By looking at changes in wetland communities of water birds, vegetation and aquatic invertebrates, scientists can document areas and species at risk from salinity and the effect of management interventions.
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Pooling resources
A collaborative venture between industry, government and primary producers has given the regional community of Ingham, Qld, the ability to manage its own natural resources. Through the Herbert Resource Information Centre (HRIC) spatial information can be exchanged. Using geographic information systems this information is used to support economic and ecologically sustainable development in the Herbert River catchment.
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