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Issue 62




Better times for southern fur seals
Fur seals on Heard and Macquarie Islands were killed for their skins within a few years of the discovery of the islands. Fur seal populations are now recovering, but whether from remnants of the original populations or from other breeding area populations is unknown.
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Rural dieback: restoring a balance
In rural areas many Eucalyptus trees are dying prematurely and are not being replaced. Research is unravelling the causes of dieback and suggesting some solutions.
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Billabongs - key to productive rivers
Very little is known about the ecology of billabongs, or of their role in flood plain ecosystems. We have only limited knowledge of the way in which all the various ecological components of the Murray-Darling Basin interact.
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Protecting boats, and oysters
Anti-fouling paints applied to boats to protect them against barnacles and other marine creatures contain tributyltin (TBT). Water samples in the Sydney area were analysed for TBT to see if it was a significant pollutant. TBT can cause abnormal calcification in oysters and reduce their growth rate. Overseas the banning of TBT paints has led to a recovery in the health of oysters grown near marinas.
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Picoteslas, squids and personal magnetism
We all have our own personal magnetism. We each produce tiny magnetic fields from the electricity in our bodies. Most living things do this; the phenomenon is called biomagnetism. Superconductivity has led us to new developments in the study of the brain and other areas of medicine, based on accurately measuring biomagnetic fields in living humans.
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Changing diets
A survey was carried out by Katrine Baghurst of the CSIRO Division of Human Nutrition on how eating habits have changed, and to what extent people's knowledge of nutrition has improved.
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Unusual strategy for a part-time leaf-eater
Leaf-eating mammals have large areas of the gut at either the fore or hind end, where the slow breakdown of fibrous compounds such as cellulose can take place. The black fruit bat has only one stomach, but it feeds on the leaves of a leguminous tree (Albizia lebbeck) by absorbing some of the leaf protein and concentrating the remaining unwanted fibre, which it spits out. This feeding strategy may occur among other mammals.
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Watch out for mould
When a dog became ill after eating a mouldy bun, the mould was cultured and identified as Penicillium crustosum, which produces a toxin called Penitrem A. The microorganism is widespread and is commonly implicated in food spoilage.
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Fading bush-tucker genes
Mung beans are native to Australia. Australia's wild mung bean and four other species of the genus Vigne have been eaten by Aborigines for thousands of years. Some of the adaptive characteristics of Australia's wild mung beans have been incorporated in new varieties of the cultivated mung bean, a close relation of the wild plant, which are now being grown commercially.
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