Dbytes #315 (14 December 2017)

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

“It’s here! That manic magical time of the year where academics across the world take part in Do-Everything December. If you’ve found yourself uttering such rallying cries as, “I’d like to submit this before Christmas” or “Let’s get this squared away before the break”, you’re not alone (but you’re probably an ECR). This month, we will #finishallthethings so that we can start next year afresh, and with a chunkier CV. But how do we do it? How can we reach peak productivity when it has eluded us for eleven months thus far?”
Kylie Soanes at life on the verge
[Editor’s note: Bugger this productivity lark. I’m off on hols. See you next year. Have a safe and happy Xmas. And there’s a holiday game for you to play in the ANU Node news courtesy of Martin Westgate.]

General News

1. New Threatened Species Commissioner appointed
2. State of [global] Biodiversity Mitigation 2017
3. State of the science of taxonomy in Australia: results of the 2016 Survey of
In hot water: the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries and biodiversity
5. Vaquita porpoise facing extinction after £3m rescue plan abandoned

EDG News

UMelb Node: Luke Kelly and colleagues on fire in the foothills
UQ Node:
Matthew Holden and Eve McDonald-Madden on human Burials to Fund the Conservation of Threatened Species
RMIT Node:
Sarah Bekessy on how to live in harmony with urban wildlife
ANU Node:
Martin Westgate challenges you to play the ‘ecoterms’ game
UWA Node:
The economic value of shark-diving tourism in Australia


General News

1. New Threatened Species Commissioner appointed
“The Turnbull Government is pleased to appoint Dr Sally Box as Australia’s new Threatened Species Commissioner. The Threatened Species Commissioner champions the implementation of the Threatened Species Strategy and practical conservation actions to recover our most threatened plants and animals. Using the principles of science, action and partnership, the Commissioner works with conservation organisations, governments, community and the private sector to improve the trajectory of our threatened species.
“Dr Box will continue the excellent work already underway, develop new initiatives and approaches and increase momentum for threatened species conservation,” said Minister for the Environment and Energy, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP.”


2. State of [global] Biodiversity Mitigation 2017
Between 2015 and 2030, an estimated $90 trillion will need to be spent on new infrastructure assets, in order for transportation networks, energy, utilities, and other essential systems to keep pace with projected demand.[1] That is more than the value of the entire existing global infrastructure stock today. Two-thirds of it is needed in developing countries. Infrastructure development is necessary to keep pace with growing populations, our current infrastructure’s depreciation, and the moral imperative to provide a basic modern standard of living for all people on this planet. But infrastructure development also means inevitable impacts to the other living creatures who share the planet with us.
This report shows how smart mitigation policies can leverage new financial resources and momentum in pursuit of “no net loss” of biodiversity, complementing traditional conservation strategies such as protected areas. The State of Biodiversity Mitigation 2017 provides a global benchmark of policy frameworks and market mechanisms using offsets and compensation to achieve no net loss or even net gain of biodiversity. These approaches can also increase regulatory certainty, speed up the pace of planning and permitting, and improve ecological outcomes in managing impacts from infrastructure development.


3. State of the science of taxonomy in Australia: results of the 2016 Survey of Taxonomic Capacity
The Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) is committed to facilitating and supporting Australian researchers in the field of taxonomy and systematics. The ABRS has conducted surveys of taxonomic research capacity in 1975, 1991, 2003 and 2016. Here, we present the results of the most recent survey. We found that the number of researchers actively working in taxonomy and systematics has fallen over the years, but that proportionally more women are now working in the field. We also found that the field is supported substantially by retired or honorary researchers, with over a quarter of the workforce in unsalaried positions. This does enable a sustained level of productivity in the field, but also does mask the fact that there are fewer paid positions in the field. A consistent concern of researchers in the field is that of funding, and job security/career opportunities, highlighted in surveys in 2016, 2003 and 1991. Newer concerns highlighted in 2016 were the lack of positions for postdoctoral researchers and beyond, and the way taxonomy is perceived particularly in the context of bibliometrics. Australia has a good representation of researchers in the Arthropoda and Angiospermae, but there are many taxonomic groups for which we lack experts.


4. In hot water: the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries and biodiversity
Senate Committee Report

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson instigated the Inquiry after a recent marine heatwave devastated fisheries and biodiversity off the coast of Tasmania. Here’s how he describes it:
“This report is a landmark compilation and analysis of the impacts of climate change on our marine life and fisheries. It pulls together evidence from communities, agencies and scientists from right around the country and distils it to provide recommendations for actions the Federal government can take to deal with the warming waters. We need to reconstruct our marine policy framework to adjust to this rapidly-changing world. This report calls for a review of all environment and natural resource legislation to account for climate change, to look to incorporate a greenhouse trigger in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and to take steps towards the establishment of independent National Ocean Commissioner. “We also need to regularly review the network of existing marine reserves in light of the impacts of climate change, look to increase the no-take zones to build further climate resilience, and explicitly include climate targets within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2050 plan.”
You can see all his comments at


5. Vaquita porpoise facing extinction after £3m rescue plan abandoned

A last-ditch attempt to save the world’s most endangered marine mammal, the vaquita, by taking them into human care has been abandoned. The chances that this rare species of porpoise will become extinct are now extremely high, researchers have warned. They had hoped to catch a few of the planet’s last 30 vaquitas – which are only found in one small area of the Gulf of California – and protect them in a sanctuary where they could breed safely. But last month, the $4m (£3m) rescue plan by an international team of more than 60 scientists and divers ran into trouble after only a few days, when the first vaquita they caught had to be released when it began to display dangerous signs of stress.

Shortly after that, a second vaquita was caught but died a few hours after capture. The team then decided that catching any more animals presented too much risk to the species and further attempts were suspended. “This is a very, very serious setback,” said project scientist Barbara Taylor, of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Taking vaquitas into human care was always an extreme measure, but it was virtually our only option. Now even that has gone. The vaquita is now facing extinction unless illegal fishing can be curtailed.”



EDG News

UMelb Node: Luke Kelly and colleagues on fire in the foothills
‘Foothill forests’ cover approximately 7.5 million ha in the state of Victoria. They are a priority for fire management, containing significant biodiversity and posing risks of fires to people and property. But how do you manage a major natural disturbance like fire when they are occur across a broad-scale environmental gradient like foothill forests? You can read an article on this research in Decision Point or see the research itself in Ecosphere.
Ref: Kelly LT, A Haslem, GJ Holland, S Leonard, J MacHunter, M Bassett, AF Bennett, MJ Bruce, EK Chia, FJ Christie, MF Clarke, J Di Stefano, R Loyn, MA McCarthy, A Pung, N Robinson, H Sitters, M Swan & A York (2017). Fire regimes and environmental gradients shape vertebrate and plant distributions in temperate eucalypt forests. Ecosphere. 8: e01781

UQ Node: Matthew Holden and Eve McDonald-Madden on human Burials to Fund the Conservation of Threatened Species
Most conservation scientists and practitioners are unaware that their corpses can transform into protected areas after death. The practice is called a conservation burial, where burial fees fund the acquisition, protection, restoration, and management of new land to benefit human and environmental well-being. If conservation burials became commonplace, then the revenue generated could exceed the amount of money required to fund the conservation of every threatened species on the planet. The additional human-health benefits of increased urban greenspace could also be substantial. As Halloween, “the day of the dead,” approaches, we urge governments, NGOs, and the public to contemplate how death can support future life on earth through conservation burials.
Ref: Holden, M. H. and McDonald-Madden, E. (2017), Conservation from the Grave: Human Burials to Fund the Conservation of Threatened Species. CONSERVATION LETTERS. doi:10.1111/conl.12421
and see the press release at https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2017/10/spooky-conservation-saving-endangered-species-over-our-dead-bodies

RMIT Node: Sarah Bekessy on how to live in harmony with urban wildlife
ABC Science story by Belinda Smith
“Calamitous cockies, pushy possums and the odd snake: love them or loathe them, Australian cities are rich in native wildlife that’s adapted to an urban lifestyle. And even though they can be annoying and often become pests — as anyone who has had possums living in their roof will attest — we can co-exist happily with our city-dwelling feathered, furry and scaly friends. That’s right — even possums.
Here are a few ways to live alongside the animals on your doorstep without calling pest control every other day. How do I stop possums nibbling on my herbs?
Boil chillies and garlic in water, let it cool, strain and pour it in a spray bottle, and spray your garden. This stinky, spicy concoction will keep possums away, along with loads of other herb-chomping creatures, said Sarah Bekessy, an urban ecologist at RMIT in Melbourne. The natural chemical weapon contains capsaicin from chilli, which is the active ingredient in pepper spray, and irritating sulphur-based garlic compounds, which can kill insects on contact. Or you could take a leaf from the world of permaculture, which accepts that part of a crop will be lost to animals, Professor Bekessy said…”

ANU Node: Martin Westgate challenges you to play the ‘ecoterms’ game
From Martin: “As the Christmas break approaches, I know that many of you are thinking; how can I do *more* ecology-related activities in my spare time? Fortunately, I’ve built a word-association game for ecologists called ‘ecoterms’. It’s quick to play, and is part of a study I’m running to understand how ecological concepts relate to one another. You can play it here:
Please consider having a go – it’s a tricky game, but it makes you think, and will help with some exciting new research!”

UWA Node: The economic value of shark-diving tourism in Australia
Shark-diving is part of a rapidly growing industry focused on marine wildlife tourism. Our study aimed to provide an estimate of the economic value of shark-diving tourism across Australia by comprehensively surveying the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus), and reef shark (mostly Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos and Triaenodon obesus) diving industries using a standardised approach. A socio-economic survey targeted tourist divers between March 2013 and June 2014 and collected information on expenditures related to diving, accommodation, transport, living costs, and other related activities during divers’ trips. A total of 711 tourist surveys were completed across the four industries, with the total annual direct expenditure by shark divers in Australia estimated conservatively at $25.5M. The findings showed that the economic value of this type of tourism do not flow solely to the industry, but are also spread across the region where it is hosted. This highlights the need to ensure a sustainable dive-tourism industry through adequate management of both shark-diver interactions and biological management of the species on which it is based.
Ref: Huveneers, C., Meekan, M.G., Apps, K. et al. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries (2017) Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 665–680.



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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