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National Environmental Science Program
September 2020 update
Welcome to this month's update from the National Environmental Science Program (NESP). Congratulations to the project teams from our research Hubs who have just been announced as finalists in this year's prestigious Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.
The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub Bininj/Mungguy healthy country indicators for Kakadu Team – made up of researchers and Traditional Owners – has been nominated for STEM Inclusion, while both the Threatened Species Recovery Hub Cat Team and the Marine Biodiversity Hub Shellfish Restoration Team are finalists in the Applied Environmental Research category. The Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence across the areas of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.
Congratulations to these Hubs and their dedicated teams.
Growing demand for runoff-reducing technology in the Burdekin
The success and benefits of a NESP-produced decision support tool have captured the attention of many growers in the Burdekin region, with growing demand from industry to see further adoption as a way to meet Reef2050 Water Quality improvements targets. In addressing concern that human-induced pollutants are leaving farming systems and negatively impacting the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem and associated wetlands, Tropical Water Quality Hub research employed “Internet of Things” technology to give existing farm irrigation tools and systems the ability to communicate in real-time. This greatly improves their efficiencies and reduces fertiliser runoff.
This project designed, tested and implemented a smarter irrigation system to apply the right amount of water at the right time in a practical and effortless way, also taking localised climate and soil-type into consideration.
Zena Cumpston at The Living Pavilion. Photo: Isabel Kimpton
Indigenous plant use
Spring has arrived and the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub has a new booklet to inspire your garden plans. The new Indigenous plant use booklet, by Barkandji woman Zena Cumpston, explores the cultural, nutritional, technological and medicinal use of indigenous plants. Chocolate Lily (Arthropodium strictum) is one of more than 50 indigenous plant species featured in the booklet. Chocolate Lily gets its name from its purple flowers (appearing in spring), which on sunny days emit a smell of chocolate and sometimes also smell much like vanilla and caramel. Chocolate Lily has grass-like leaves with edible root tubers, which are white inside and are roasted before being eaten. The plant information in the booklet is displayed on labels that you can print, laminate and use in your own garden. These labels provide an opportunity for people to learn on Country and connect with Aboriginal knowledge of plant use. It has been designed for any individual or group interested in indigenous plant use, including schools, community groups, greening practitioners, home gardeners and their families.
Gulf of Carpentaria Mangroves
Science Week focus on the Gulf of Carpentaria
The Northern Hub highlighted their research in the Gulf of Carpentaria by producing a series of short videos that premiered on social media during science week. The theme for National Science Week 2020 was Deep blue: innovations for the future of our oceans. The videos underscore the collaborative partnerships that are at the heart of the Northern Hub’s research program. They also showcase diverse research on managing marine debris in remote Cape York communities, protecting marine turtle nests from feral pigs, assessing mangrove dieback, and linking Gulf river flows to productive fisheries and food for shorebirds.
Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko. Photo: Conrad Hoskin
Preventing extinctions by identifying species at risk
Many Australian freshwater fish and reptile species have declined sharply since the 1950s. Preventing extinctions will require identifying species at risk. The Hub has worked with more than 40 experts from universities, museums, government agencies and conservation groups across the country to identify the 22 freshwater fishes, and 20 lizards and snakes at greatest risk of extinction. The two studies published in Pacific Conservation Biology also predict that without a stepping up of conservation action a total of 14 freshwater fishes and 11 snakes and lizards are likely to become extinct by 2040. This would represent a significant increase in Australia’s extinction rate. Invasive species were the most common threats to species. Although most of the species identified were historically more widespread, each of them now occurs in a relatively small area, which makes them vulnerable to extinctions caused by a single catastrophic event, such as a large fire. By flagging at risk species, this research provides time to act to prevent extinctions. Previous research by the Hub to identify at risk mammals and birds has led to new survey and recovery efforts, by governments and community groups, for many of those species.
AUV imagery showing the Long-spined Sea Urchin Barren
No-take marine reserve provides resistance to urchin invasion
Marine monitoring has shown that Tasmania’s Governor Island Marine Reserve offers some protection against the Long-spined Sea Urchin, which is expanding its range in warming waters off eastern Tasmania and creating barrens habitat through overgrazing of kelp. The urchin’s main predator is the Southern Rock Lobster, which exists in higher densities in reserves where fishing is excluded. A Marine Biodiversity Hub team led by Nick Perkins of the University of Tasmania Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies analysed seabed imagery collected between 2011–2016 by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). They found that while areas inside the reserve were more resistant to the establishment of barrens, presumably due to higher rates of lobster predation, there was no difference in the rate of increase of barrens inside and outside the reserve over the survey period. The study also found depth and surface roughness (derived from multibeam mapping) are useful predictors for the occurrence of barrens. The results demonstrate the utility of AUV data, and the value of mapping, monitoring and no-take reserves to local conservation management.
Sydney, Australia. Photo: Kevin Bosc Unsplash
Climate change science informs Australian guidelines on assessing climate-related risks for financial disclosure
An Australian-first collaboration between climate scientists, the insurance industry, the finance sector and professional service providers has resulted in new preliminary guidance for measuring the physical risks of climate change. The Climate Measurement Standards Initiative (CMSI) has been designed to support the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures recommendations by addressing the need for globally consistent climate scenarios. The science guidelines aim to increase Australia’s ability to address climate change by enabling investors and the banking, finance and insurance sectors to make informed, scientifically robust and strategic decisions. These preliminary guidelines consider future climate change risks that are chronic and acute across four time periods for two scenarios; global warming below and above two degrees Celsius. The ESCC Hub has played an instrumental role in this initiative, guiding the input and expertise of climate scientists across Australia to enabled robust, peer-reviewed science-based evidence to inform industry risk and associated decision-making. More information on the CMSI can be found on the ESCC Hub website, and watch the recent ESCC Hub CMSI webinar.
Stay in touch and find out more about the interesting work happening across the Australian Government’s agriculture, water and environment portfolios: