In this issue

Issue 103

Terra satellite to track volcanic unrest
A global warning system for volcanic eruptions will soon be in place with the launch of a NASA Terra satellite. Researchers will use a sensor known as a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer to monitor the Earth and to study the effects of eruptions on the atmosphere and on climate.
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Waterweeds succumb to weevils
Two weevil species have been released as biological control agents against the rampant aquatic weeds, salvinia, a South American floating fern, and water hyacinth.
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Minesite sleuths tail a midnight snacker
Research into the dietary and lifestyle habits of koalas is helping scientists to re-establish the habitat of koalas in areas affected or lost by tree clearing, mining, agriculture and urban development.
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Safe haven for tropical seeds
More than 27,000 lines of forage legume and grass seeds are housed at the Samford Seed Store, near Brisbane, Qld. The store was established in 1968 to house the germplasm of tropical and subtropical forage species of value to the Australian cattle industry.
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Walk a mile in my habitat
A board game called Landscape Game has been devised to assist those involved in land management to understand the effects of habitat loss through clearing and land development on the animals and plants living there.
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Bismarck bugs raise hopes of greener mining
A team of CSIRO scientists has embarked on a search of active volcanic vents on the sea bed of the Bismarck Sea, north of Papua New Guinea. The researchers are searching for 'hyperthermophiles', microbes with the natural ability to process minerals at high temperatures.
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Branches of evolution
Surrounding the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia are some of the most biodiverse marine environments in the world. A large part of this biodiversity occurs within coral reefs and in particular, among the Acropora or staghorn corals. The study of staghorn corals by Carden Wallace is helping reveal the secrets of Indonesia's biodiversity and the evolution of coral.
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Bad breath
Ruminant animals such as cattle and sheep produce 13 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Much of this gas is methane, a by-product of fermentation in the rumen of the animals, by microbes called methanogens. Researchers are investigating ways to alter the processes of fermentation in the rumen to reduce livestock methane emissions. Under investigation are livestock feed additives, bacteria, and biological and chemical agents.
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Rat cunning
Rats are serious agricultural pests, causing untold damage to crops and requiring costly control measures. They can also carry deadly infectious diseases. Rodent researchers are seeking ecologically-based ways to manage rodent pests. Rats are a chronic problem in South-East Asia where a new trap-barrier system is being evaluated. In Indonesia, limiting food and nest-site availability are key factors in rat control.
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Fungal awakenings
An important clue to the mysterious mechanism of fungal spore dormancy has emerged from a study of landscape rehabilitation at a Northern Territory mine site. The discovery brings scientists a step closer to developing ways of inoculating native plant seeds with their ectomycorrhizal fungal partners, and improving the long-term success of efforts to re-establish woodland and forest communities. The ecologists have found the key to unlocking this dormancy lies in 'ornaments' surrounding the fungal spores and have orchestrated their removal, a vital step towards developing seed inoculation techniques.
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Fruits of the forest
Researchers are using ecology to find forest fruits and seeds containing chemical defences against predators. The researchers are targeting likely sources of new antibiotics, anticancer drugs, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. These can be found in crude extracts from different fruit layers according to the fruit's defensive and reproductive strategies.
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Feeding the soils of Africa
Kenyan farmers are moving from subsistence to sustenance living. Sustenance production begins with planting legumes in the ley period between the traditional maize crop, thereby increasing yields. Farmers are also planting the legume Calliandra calothyrsus, a high protein fodder, to replace or supplement dairy meal. The combination of legumes and cow manure is raising milk production and allowing diversification into cash crops such as flowers for export. Agroforestry is also being investigated to give African farmers a genuine chance of famine-proofing their communities and stimulating rural economies.
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Prostate cure faces extinction
Smallholder farmers in Africa are being encouraged to plant a native tree, Prunus africana, to save it from extinction. The tree has become threatened as awareness of its potential to treat prostate conditions in older men spreads.
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Walking with snakes
The brown snake is a graceful component of ecosystems in eastern Australia. Anecdotal reports of unprovoked attacks by brown snakes are frequent, but research has shown that unprovoked attacks are unlikely. Virtually all so-called attacks by brown snakes are launched in response to real or perceived attacks by people or their dogs.
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Logs give seedlings a leg up
Researchers studying moist forests in Tasmania have found that seedlings and saplings of several species were more abundant on fallen logs than in nearby soil. Litter cover was found to be important for this favourability of logs over soil.
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Saving the dugong
For the dugong to escape extinction, a conservation strategy that identifies and protects areas that support large number of the marine mammal is essential. Factors influencing dugong survival include biological influences, such as habitat, life cycle and diet, and threatening processes, such as habitat loss, pollutants, hunting mortality and entanglement in fishing nets.
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For these birds, fidelity's a lark
Australian magpie-larks, or peewees, tend towards long-term monogamy. Males work at least as hard as the females at the domestic duties of mud nest building, incubation of eggs, and brooding and feeding of chicks. Pairs that have previously bred with one another have been found to be more successful parents than new couples.
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