In this issue

Issue 96

Small signs of fire in the buttongrass
The effect of fires on invertebrate species is still largely unknown. A study of buttongrass, Gymoschoenus sphaerocephalus, moorland in Tasmania has found the richness and abundance of invertebrate species to be affected by fires.
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Greening the nation by cutting red tape
Farmers are often discouraged from conserving remnant bushland on their properties by the prospect of battling with government bureaucracies. Every level of government has a legitimate role to play in addressing environmental issues, but the process must be streamlined.
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Cattle to do environmental business
An Australian scientist has found that dietary evidence contained in cattle dung may be a useful indicator of overgrazing and the effects of global warming.
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Concern surrounds the secret life of sea lions
A lack of knowledge about the habits and habitat of the Australian sea lion, Neophoca cinerea, is hampering efforts to conserve the species.
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Managed tourism no threat to colony
Tourists are not a deterrent to Australian sea lions at Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island, SA, due to the way tourists are managed at the site.
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Fatal fungus linked to frog declines
Scientists have found evidence that a new fungal disease is responsible for mass frog deaths in Australia and Panama. The fungus is a new species of aquatic chytrid fungi and is yet to be named. Strangely, tadpoles do not succumb to the fungal disease.
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Rising salt: a test of tactics and techniques
Dryland salinity affects almost 2.5 million hectares of Australian farmland. Off-farm effects are felt through decline in water quality, habitat degradation, damage to buildings and other assets, and biodiversity loss. Strategies for salinity management aim to reduce the amount of water recharging into water tables. They include increasing water use by crops and pastures, strategic tree planting, switching from annual pastures to perennial systems and enhancing remnant vegetation.
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Tracking salt by satellite
Researchers at Perth's Leeuwin Centre for Earth Sensing Technologies working with landholders and colleagues from state agencies, have developed a more powerful tool for detecting and predicting salinity. The technology relies on a large archive of satellite observations amassed since the early 1980s.
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Pine Ridge: a catchment in good hands
In the early 1990s, some 195,000 hectares of the Liverpool Plains, NSW, were estimated to be at risk from salinisation. Community concerns about rising saline water tables led to the formation in 1992 of the Liverpool Plains Land Management Committee. As the program entered its first year, seven farming families from the Yarramanbah/Pump Station Creek and adjoining Warrah Creek catchments formed the Pine Ridge Landcare Group. The families, initially concerned about increased flooding and waterlogging in the area, have since worked collectively to protect the productivity of their land.
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Living with saline land
The success of salinity management strategies in South Australia's Upper South East, a region stretching from the Coorong to the towns of Keith and Naracoorte, relies on understanding relationships between wetland vegetation and saline water tables, and on the ability of agricultural plants to cope with salinity and waterlogging.
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A model of versatility
Runoff from the hills and ranges of the Liverpool Plains, NSW, contributes to water table rises lower down in the catchment. A simple predictive modelling approach is being developed to enable management decisions for lowering groundwater tables and making productive use of saline land. This must reliably predict factors such as the impact on groundwater balance of different landcovers in different parts of the catchment. With this information, areas of the catchment can be targeted for remediation.
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Seeking clues to watertight cropping
Scientists involved in deep drainage research for the National Dryland Salinity Program are using a modelling framework called APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems Simulator) to determine how much water drains beneath a range of cropping and pasture systems at a paddock scale. Knowledge gained from these models will help farmers in areas of rising groundwater tables across Australia to make land use decisions that maximise production, but minimise leakage to groundwater tables. It will also help other scientists involved in groundwater modelling at a catchment scale.
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Adding trees to the cropping equation
Salinity control strategies on many farms combine tree plantations with cropping and grazing enterprises. The aim of such plantations can be to reduce recharge to groundwater tables by intercepting the vertical and horizontal flow of water in the soil profile, to make productive use of saline discharge areas, or to draw down the water table in areas where it is close to the surface. Design of agroforestry systems must take water movement and salt accumulation and water table levels into account.
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By nature, agriculture has its limits
In southern Australia, replacement of natural ecosystems with conventional agriculture has resulted in large-scale disruption of the natural water cycle. These changes stem from the inability of conventional agricultural systems to mimic the function of the original vegetation. The idea of borrowing from natural ecosystems, or 'functional ecosystem mimicry', to produce agricultural systems which best mimic the region's natural ecosystems is being studied.
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Sugar's bitter sweet dilemma
The CRC (Cooperative Research Centre) for Sustainable Sugar Production is helping the sugar cane industry reduce the impact of nutrient runoff to coastal waters including the Great Barrier Reef.
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A wizard with wavelengths
CSIRO researchers are using a range of techniques, including spectral analysis, to help monitor and manage environmental impacts of mining. Issues investigated have included the effect of groundwater pumping and diverted water flow on native vegetation, the efficiency of bioremediation in constructed wetlands, and the discharge of toxins from mine sites. Other work has developed techniques for specially differentiating algal species as an aid to both environmental management and salt production.
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Turtles moonlight in safety
Marine biologists believe loggerhead turtle hatchlings navigate their way out to sea by swimming towards the moon. This has raised concerns that giant gas flares on the gas and oil rigs and production facilities of the North-West shelf might disorient the turtle hatchlings. Researchers have found the dominant light from these facilities are probably very disruptive to turtles.
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