Hope for the Murray-Darling
The historic agreement to form a Murray-Darling Basin Commission may mark a turn-around in the fortunes of this much-exploited and battered resource. These rivers and the country they drain have been suffering enormous problems of salinity and land degradation for many years. Now, for the first time since Federation, the Commonwealth and the three States along the Murray have been able to agree on coordinated management approaches to the resource. This article highlights some of the issues canvassed in the Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Resources Study.
Boom and bust of the bush fly
We hate them and curse them, but where do they come from, those energetic little bush flies that crawl impudently over our faces in the summer? They are such a nuisance in Australia that they have become part of our folklore, especially in the outback. More seriously, they have been implicated in the transmission of the bacterial eye infection trachoma.
New strategies in the rabbit war
When 24 European rabbits were liberated on a Victorian Western District property in 1859, with instructions to go forth and multiply, they succeeded unimaginably well. With few predators, and capable of producing seven or more litters a year, they spread with amazing rapidity. In 1950, CSIRO researchers released the myxoma virus among rabbit populations at Gunbower and Rutherglen in Victoria and Corowa in New South Wales. Carried by mosquitoes, myxomatosis rapidly spread throughout the rabbits' range. And, lacking any genetic resistance to this South American disease, rabbits succumbed in droves. Unfortunately, within a decade of the virus's release, rabbits had acquired a degree of genetic resistance to the disease. Surviving rabbits tended to pass on resistance to their offspring.
Prepare now for climate change, scientists warn
Scientists have been talking for many years about the possibility of global climate change wrought by the warming effects of extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-effect gases. But, until recently, they have heavily qualified their predictions by statements about the uncertainties in forecasting future atmospheric composition, and about how inadequately computers could model the effects on the earth's climate. Now, however, a general warming trend has been firmly established, and laboratories around the world have become more confident about the reliability of their predictions of associated climatic changes. It has become a matter of how to predict the regional details of these changes, rather than determining whether or not they will occur.
Secret life of mistletoes
The word parasite is often used as an insult, which perhaps betrays an attitude of disgust towards some of the smartest creatures on earth. When we think of parasites we may imagine fleas, worms, or bacteria. However plants can also be successful parasites, and among the best known and most abundant of flowering-plant parasites are the mistletoes.
Ants and plants: mutualism in action
Well known to biologists is the co-evolution of flowering plants and insects. The two groups of organisms developed during roughly the same period of geological time and together successfully spread over most of the planet's land surface. During millions of years they have established a sort of partnership, coming to depend on each other. Most obviously, insects use plants for food and shelter, and many plants rely on insects for pollination.
Oil from coal, using water
Experiments in a CSIRO laboratory have shown promise in making oil from coal using that universal solvent, water. A scientist at the Division of Applied Organic Chemistry has found that water can be used to turn more than half of a Victorian brown coal sample into synthetic crude oil (syncrude) and gas.
Preserving nature amid the wheat fields
If you've ever flown over the Western Australian wheatbelt you may have seen below a patchwork of regular brown wheat fields interspersed with darker patches of native vegetation. These are all that remain from the days before Europeans cleared much of south-western Australia to create the vast wheatbelt. Despite the low rainfall and the sandy soils, stable plant and animal communities thrived there, well adapted to the hot, dry summers and the few months of winter rainfall.
What size electrostatic precipitator?
Electrostatic precipitators allow power stations to burn coal while emitting scarcely any fly ash out of their chimneys. Modern units can catch more than 99 per cent of the fly ash as they electrically charge the particles and pull them out of the smoke stream towards earthed metal plates. A problem, though, that has perplexed designers of electrostatic precipitators for many years is to know how big to build the unit.
No more prickles!
Ever climbed out of a hot bath, put your winter woollies on, and felt an uncomfortable prickling sensation? If so, recent research at CSIRO's Division of Textile Industry and the Physiology Department of Monash University should prove interesting. Physiologists have long known that sensations of pinprick and itch are due to pain receptors in the skin, but it was thought unlikely that fabrics could stimulate these receptors, and 'wool prickle' was attributed to wool allergy.