In this issue

Issue 78

Port Phillip Bay: new models for management
Port Phillip Bay has for decades received the waste products of Melbourne's industrial and urban developments. Interest in the effect this has on the bay has prompted the Port Phillip Bay Environment Study which will cross disciplines and seek to identify their interdependencies. For the first time, the relationships between tidal movements, aquatic life, nutrients and toxicants will be investigated. A major outcome of the study will be a series of computer models of the bay. The models will serve as powerful predictive tools to assist the various authorities, and other bodies, in managing the bay for the next 20 years.
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Tricking termites
Research is showing that there are other ways to control termites than pesticides. One ingenious, chemical-free system recently commercialised employs granite particles of a specific diameter range (1.7 to 2.4 millimetres) to keep termites out of buildings and their foundations. The system has the trade name Granitgard. Trials show that for the granite barrier to be effective, particles must be too large and heavy for termites to shift, but small enough to ensure that, when they are tamped into position, there will be no voids for the insects to crawl through.
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Science versus the dust mite
Dust mites are a major cause of allergic responses. To better understand the conditions under which they thrive, scientists are studying the microclimate and materials (particularly different types of carpet) and their relationship to high mite levels.
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One kilometre to the coconut
A simple, low-cost means of extracting oil from coconuts has been devised. The technology has delighted Pacific Islanders. It relieves their dependence on increasingly expensive diesel oil and enhances the value of one of their most plentiful natural resources. Coconut oil can be used to power trucks, generators and outboard motors. But until now, the extraction process has been too complicated to be done on a household or village basis. The new process allows ordinary island households to get oil when they needed it. As a vehicle fuel they can get about one kilometre to the coconut.
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Modelling the atmosphere with water
Air is fluid. It ebbs and flows, swirls and surges. But its movement is difficult to study. However, the behaviour of another fluid, water, can be readily examined in laboratory tanks. Tank experiments were recently used to investigate differences in the composition of air close to the ocean surface and air slightly higher in the atmosphere at the Australian Baseline Air Pollution Station at Cape Grim, north-western Tasmania; and the behaviour of power station plumes.
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Protecting Earth's life-support
Conserving biological diversity is the key to ecologically-sustainable development and essential to maintaining the basic processes on which human life depends. Ecosystem degradation limits the capacity of natural systems, and the species they comprise, to survive environmental change. Some of the major threats to Australia's ecosystems are clearing of native vegetation; introduced plants and diseases; climate change and uncontrolled exploitation and trade in wildlife. To prevent further losses of biodiversity, these processes must be controlled.
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What can we learn from insects?
New techniques for monitoring biodiversity are being tested by CSIRO entomologists. Invertebrates, especially insects form the basis of the research. Invertebrates are ideal to use as environmental indicators because they are abundant, diverse, easy to sample and rapid to respond to environmental variation. One study, the rapid biodiversity assessment may give an indication of the health of the environment. Another study is used to establish 'baseline data'. This involves recording what is present in which locations and under what conditions.
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Studying the effects of fishing
Harvesting fish by commercial or recreational fishing changes ecosystems. The degree of change is largely determined by the species that is exploited, the role the target species play in the particular ecosystem and by the impact of the fishing equipment on the ecosystem. Studies are currently assessing the effects of prawn-trawling in the Great Barrier Reef, on sea birds of the Reef and on turtle numbers in northern Australia.
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Unseen diversity
Microorganisms - bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae and viruses - are fundamental to the existence of 'higher' life forms, yet tend to be overlooked in debates about biological diversity. Yet microorganisms are responsible for many processes on which other life depends and are used in many ways by humans.
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Utility seals a berth on the ark
The best way to minimise species loss is to maintain the integrity of ecosystem function. This requires the development of a functional approach to describing biological composition, rather than relying on conventional taxonomy alone. Understanding the functions performed by each species is central to determining their importance in an ecosystem.
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National plan nears adoption
Australia's biodiversity strategy aims to protect biological diversity and to maintain ecological processes and systems. It identifies six areas for action: conservation of biological diversity across Australia; integrating biological diversity conservation and natural resource management; managing threatening processes; improving knowledge; engaging community involvement; and Australia's international role. The success of the national strategy will depend on its implementation, which will rely on the cooperation of all sectors of society.
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Putting the strategy to work
Maintaining ecological processes and systems while allowing access to renewable resources for commercial use is central to Australia's draft strategy for conserving biological diversity. A suggested framework for assessing the impact of land use patterns on regional biodiversity has been developed. The framework allows alternative land use combinations to be analysed region by region and leads to policy decisions on optimal land use targets.
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Safe habits for potoroos and parrots
A spatial decision-support system has been developed to help land managers conserve native fauna at Nadgee Nature Reserve near Eden, NSW. The system draws on the Land Use Planning and Information System (LUPIS). The application of LUPIS is one of the first temperate-forest based decision support systems to focus on ecological and fauna management. The decision-support system also takes some of the guesswork out of fire management, enabling managers to 'design' fires for achieving specific ecological outcomes. The Nadgee application provides a basis for managing six ground fauna species: the red-necked wallaby, eastern grey kangaroo, swamp wallaby, long-nosed potoroo, ground parrot, and the eastern bristle-bird.
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Winning back the Wheatbelt
Scientists in Western Australia are helping communities to halt land degradation and loss of species in the Wheatbelt. They are developing farm-management techniques designed to sustain yields in the long term and to conserve and enhance remnants of native vegetation as habitats for threatened plants and animals.
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Conserving woodlands
A network of reserves comprising cemeteries, stock routes, railway easements and roadside verges is being established to help manage and rehabilitate remnant patches of box woodlands in New South Wales.
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Lonely moments in the Southern Ocean
Some experiences of scientist Peter Shaughnessy when tracking the movements of crabeater seals in the Antarctic during the ninth Antarctic voyage of Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions' (ANARE) 1992-93 season are recounted.
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