Dbytes #295 (13 July 2017)

Info & news for members and associates of the Environmental Decisions Group

“All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others.”
George Orwell [and quoted by Malcolm Hunter up front in a special issue of Biological Conservation on small natural features (SNFs); see item 1]

General News

1. Conserving small natural features with large ecological roles (a special feature in Biological Conservation)
2. Updated Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Atlas released
3. UNESCO issued ‘Assessment: World Heritage coral reefs likely to disappear by 2100 unless CO2 emissions drastically reduce’
‘Rewilding’ Australia: not only do we need the outback, the outback needs 5. Book review: The Death of Expertise

EDG News

UMelb Node: Reid Tingley and colleagues on new weapons in the toad toolkit
UQ Node:
Jasmine Lee and colleagues on: The winners and losers of Antarctica’s great thaw
ANU Node:
Conserving large old trees as small natural features
RMIT Node:
The Little Things that Run the City book launch
UWA Node:
Maggie Triska and colleagues on conserving reptiles within a multiple-use landscape


General News

1. Conserving small natural features with large ecological roles (a special feature in Biological Conservation)

The July issue of “Biological Conservation” includes three reviews on small natural features (SNFs) and nine case studies (three of which are largely based in Australia, see ANU Node news). For each of the case studies, the authors explore three fundamental questions: Why are some small natural features far more important for maintaining biodiversity or providing ecosystem services than their size would indicate? What are the management challenges facing these features and what are some innovative approaches to conserving them?

“Small natural features are an example of what can be termed ‘The Frodo Effect,’” writes Malcolm Hunter, University of Maine professor of wildlife resources and Libra Professor of Conservation Biology, in the journal introduction (Hunter, 2017).

“In the ‘Lord of the Rings,’ the small and unassuming hobbit Frodo has more strength than any of his larger peers and saves Middle Earth with his brave actions,” says Hunter. “Gandalf and the rest of the fellowship of the ring go to great ends to protect him, because they know this.”

“The importance of some of these small natural features, most notably riparian zones, has long been recognized,” says Hunter. “In other cases, our recognition of their role is just emerging, such as caves that harbor large bat colonies known to effect widespread control of insect pests. We are also learning much more about the ecological significance of ephemeral features like temporary streams and pools that are dry much of the time but ‘blossom’ during limited periods.”

“Recognition and management of SNFs (small natural features) can be an efficient way to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

Most small natural features are defined physically, especially the presence of water or rocks. But some are biological entities. For example, trees large enough to harbor hollows and deep cracks in their bark provide microhabitat for many species that cannot live on smaller trees.

The size of these natural features provide novel opportunities to conserve them, according to Hunter and 13 co-authors, including plant and animal biologists, economists and marine scientists, in the issue’s overall synthesis focused on conservation.
Ref: Malcolm L. Hunter (2017), Conserving small natural features with large ecological roles: An introduction and definition, Biological Conservation, Volume 211, 2017, Pages 1-2, ISSN 0006-3207, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.12.019.



2. Updated Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Atlas released

An updated Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems Atlas (GDE Atlas) was released at the Australasian Groundwater Conference 2017 in Sydney. This national dataset of Australian GDEs was developed to inform groundwater planning and management. It is the first and only national inventory of GDEs in Australia. The GDE Atlas web-based mapping application allows you to visualise, analyse and download GDE information for an area of interest without needing specialised software.


3. UNESCO issued ‘Assessment: World Heritage coral reefs likely to disappear by 2100 unless CO2 emissions drastically reduce’



4.‘Rewilding’ Australia: not only do we need the outback, the outback needs us
[Recommended by Martine Maron]

Even in vast natural ecosystems, the fate and condition of nature lies in the hands of the people who live on, know, respect and manage that land



5. Book review: The Death of Expertise
[A Conversation book review by Rod Lamberts; and recommended by Jim Donaldson]

“In the author’s words, his goal is to examine: … the relationship between experts and citizens in a democracy, why that relationship is collapsing, and what all of us, citizens and experts, might do about it.

This resonates strongly with what I see playing out around the world almost every day – from the appalling state of energy politics in Australia, to the frankly bizarre condition of public debate on just about anything in the US and the UK.

Nichols’ focus is on the US, but the parallels with similar nations are myriad. He expresses a deep concern that “the average American” has base knowledge so low it has crashed through the floor of “uninformed”, passed “misinformed” on the way down, and is now plummeting to “aggressively wrong”. And this is playing out against a backdrop in which people don’t just believe “dumb things”, but actively resist any new information that might threaten these beliefs.”


EDG News

UMelb Node: Reid Tingley and colleagues on new weapons in the toad toolkit
Our best hope of developing innovative methods to combat invasive species is likely to come from the study of high-profile invaders that have attracted intensive research not only into control, but also basic biology. Here we illustrate that point by reviewing current thinking about novel ways to control one of the world’s most well-studied invasions: that of the cane toad in Australia. Recently developed methods for population suppression include more effective traps based on the toad’s acoustic and pheromonal biology. New tools for containing spread include surveillance technologies (e.g., eDNA sampling and automated call detectors), as well as landscape-level barriers that exploit the toad’s vulnerability to desiccation—a strategy that could be significantly enhanced through the introduction of sedentary, range-core genotypes ahead of the invasion front. New methods to reduce the ecological impacts of toads include conditioned taste aversion in free-ranging predators, gene banking, and targeted gene flow. Lastly, recent advances in gene editing and gene drive technology hold the promise of modifying toad phenotypes in ways that may facilitate control or buffer impact. Synergies between these approaches hold great promise for novel and more effective means to combat the toad invasion and its consequent impacts on biodiversity.
Ref: Tingley R, Ward-Fear G, Schwarzkopf L, Greenlees MJ, Phillips BL, Brown G, Clulow S, Webb J, Capon R, Sheppard A, Strive T, Tizard M, Shine R (2017) New weapons in the Toad Toolkit: A review of methods to control and mitigate the biodiversity impacts of invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina). The Quarterly Review of Biology, 92, 123-149.

UQ Node: Jasmine Lee and colleagues on:
The winners and losers of Antarctica’s great thaw
When you think of Antarctica, you probably picture vast, continuous ice sheets and glaciers, with maybe a penguin or two thrown in. Yet most Antarctic plants and animals live in the permanently ice-free areas that cover about 1% of the continent. Our new research predicts that these areas could grow by a quarter during this century, with mixed prospects for the species that currently live there. Besides everyone’s favourite Emperor and Adélie penguins, terrestrial Antarctic species also include beautiful mosses, lichens, two types of flowering plants, and a suite of hardy invertebrates such as nematodes, springtails, rotifers and tardigrades, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Tardigrades – tiny creatures sometimes nicknamed “waterbears” – are so tough they can survive in space.Antarctica’s ice-free areas are currently limited to a scattering of rocky outcrops along the coastline, or cliff faces, or the tops of mountain ranges. They form small patches of suitable habitat in a huge sea of ice, much like islands. As a result, the plants and animals that live there are often isolated from each other. But as Antarctica’s climate warms, we expect ice-free areas to get bigger and eventually start joining up. This would create more habitat for native species, but also new opportunities for non-native species to spread.

ANU Node: Conserving large old trees as small natural features
In many ecosystems globally, large old trees occur as single, spatially isolated individual trees or as small groups of scattered trees and can therefore be considered to be small natural features. Despite being constrained spatially, individual large old trees and small stands of such trees nevertheless play numerous critical ecological roles (e.g. in carbon storage and provision of wildlife habitat). The protection and management of large old trees as small natural features is essential to maintain these roles and will often require targeted fine-scale conservation strategies. Such strategies can include bans on cutting trees above a certain size, micro-fencing to control threats associated with livestock grazing, and buffers comprised of other vegetation to limit the impacts of fire and chemical sprays. Effective conservation to mitigate the effects of factors threatening large old trees will often demand ecosystem-specific responses. This is because the drivers of loss will often manifest in ecosystem-specific ways. Three general principles will likely apply in almost all cases: (1) Protect existing individual large old trees; (2) Reduce rates of adult mortality. This is because adult mortality is a key part of the life cycle of large old trees; increased adult mortality can lead to population crashes; and (3) Ensure there are sufficient recruits of trees of varying ages to replace existing large old trees as they eventually die.
Ref: David B. Lindenmayer (2017), Conserving large old trees as small natural features, Biological Conservation, Volume 211, 2017, Pages 51-59, ISSN 0006-3207, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.11.012.


RMIT Node: The Little Things that Run the City book launch
A children’s book entitled The Little Things that Run the City, created by Kate Cranney, Sarah Bekessy and Luis Mata, was launched at the Melbourne Museum on Saturday 24 June. The book explores the diversity of insects we have within Melbourne’s boundaries and examines what we can do to help them survive and thrive. The event also launched two new strategies from the City of Melbourne: Nature in the City and Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Refresh, as well as an interactive Urban Biodiversity Visual website.


UWA Node: Maggie Triska and colleagues on conserving reptiles within a multiple-use landscape
In disturbed landscapes it is important to identify habitat affiliations of all species to manage and conserve the most species. Maggie and her colleagues completed reptile and vegetation surveys in the Jarrah forest to determine habitat affiliations of common, uncommon and rare reptiles. Although it was impossible to define habitat affiliations of all species, particularly rare, they suggest that exploratory analyses provide guidance for further research and can assist habitat management, but ultimately maintaining habitat heterogeneity is best to conserve the greatest number of species.
Ref: Triska Maggie D., Craig Michael D., Stokes Vicki L., Pech Roger P., Hobbs Richard J. (2017) Conserving reptiles within a multiple-use landscape: determining habitat affiliations of reptile communities in the northern jarrah forest of south-western Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 65, 21-32.



About Dbytes
Dbytes is the eNewsletter of the Environmental Decisions Group. It is edited and distributed by David Salt. If you have any contributions to Dbytes (ie, opportunities and resources that you think might think be of value to other Dbyte readers) please send them to David.Salt@anu.edu.au. Please keep them short and provide a link for more info. While Dbytes is primarily aimed at members of the EDG, anyone is welcome to receive it.

About EDG
The Environmental Decision Group (EDG) is a network of conservation researchers working on the science of effective decision making to better conserve biodiversity. Our members are largely based at the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, RMIT and CSIRO. The EDG receives support from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). You can find out about the wonderful work of CEED by reading its magazine, Decision Point (which, as it happens, is also produced by David Salt).

Decision Point: http://www.decision-point.com.au/

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