Dbytes #318 (8 February 2018)

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

“So it is counterproductive for people like Col McKenzie, the head of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, to shoot the messenger, as he did recently when he urged the federal government to stop funding Professor Terry Hughes [Director, ARC CoE Reef Studies] and his colleagues at James Cook University because their reports on [coral] bleaching were “harming the tourism industry”.
Crispin Hull, Canberra Times

General News

1. The Global Risks Report 2018
2. Murray-Darling basin plan fails environment and wastes money – experts
3. What went wrong in communicating the Tassie tiger genome paper
4. The moral value of wilderness
5. A carbon credit product that also preserves biodiversity

EDG News

ANU Node: Claire Foster and colleagues on the effects of fire regimes on plant species richness and composition
UWA Node: David Pannell on the economics of nitrogen in agriculture
UMelb Node:             Qaeco’s favourite papers of 2017
UQ Node:
Call for session proposals at the SER Australasia Conference 2018 – Striving for Restoration Excellence
RMIT Node:
A whole bunch of RMITers are presenting at VicBioCon this week


General News

1. The Global Risks Report 2018

Each year the Global Risks Report works with experts and decision-makers across the world to identify and analyze the most pressing risks that we face. As the pace of change accelerates, and as risk interconnections deepen, this year’s report highlights the growing strain we are placing on many of the global systems we rely on.

This year’s report covers more risks than ever, but focuses in particular on four key areas: environmental degradation, cybersecurity breaches, economic strains and geopolitical tensions. And in a new series called “Future Shocks” the report cautions against complacency and highlights the need to prepare for sudden and dramatic disruptions.



2. Murray-Darling basin plan fails environment and wastes money – experts
Scientists and economists condemn squandering of $4bn on projects that have failed to improve the river’s health


3. What went wrong in communicating the Tassie tiger genome paper
Jenna Crowe-Riddell

My earliest memory of confronting extinction was in primary school – growing up in Australia in the 1990s, a kid’s education show ‘Behind the News’ covered a story on cloning the Tasmanian tiger. Prominent in my mind is an image of a shrivelled pup floating in a jar with clinical writing scrawled across a label tied to its paw. We were told that DNA could be extracted from this specimen and used to re-animate the species. Over 20 years later, and despite official efforts to clone the tiger being scrapped in 2005, it seems we are still captivated by the idea of de-extinction. The publishing of the thylacine genome received a lot of media attention (rated in the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric) and along with it came a revival of the cloning story. However, if you take a look at the abstract in the thylacine genome paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, it does not mention the prospective cloning as an application of sequencing the genome. In fact, a lot of the information in the media coverage is conspicuously absent from the original publication. In addition to claims of the thylacine genome sequencing bringing us ‘one-step closer to cloning the tiger’, there have been more pernicious claims that the species’ was already ‘on the way out’ long before the colonial invasion of Australia.

4. The moral value of wilderness

Let us imagine that humanity has almost died out and only a few people remain. Out of resentment or despair, the survivors cater to their destructive urges by destroying as much of the natural world as they can. They poison rivers and lakes, drop napalm on forests, set off a few nuclear warheads. They are at ease with their conscience because no one will ever be in the position to use or appreciate the nature they are destroying. They are harming no one. But surely what they are doing is wrong. The Australian environmental philosopher Richard Sylvan used this story to try to persuade us that nature has a value that is independent of our needs and desires, even our existence.


5. A carbon credit product that also preserves biodiversity

The Australian branch of global sustainability consultancy South Pole on Monday launched a new product that allows companies to offset their carbon emissions and support the protection of Australian biodiversity at the same time.

The product, called EcoAustralia, combines internationally verified carbon credits with “biodiversity credits” that have been endorsed by the Australian government. Each biodiversity credit represents 1.5 square metres of land under protection.



EDG News

ANU Node: Claire Foster and colleagues on the effects of fire regimes on plant species richness and composition
Do the effects of fire regimes on plant species richness and composition differ among floristically similar vegetation types? We completed floristic surveys of 87 sites in Sydney Coastal dry sclerophyll vegetation, where fire history records have been maintained for over 55 years. We tested for associations between different aspects of the recent fire history and plant species richness and composition, and whether these relationships were consistent among structurally defined forest, woodland and heath vegetation types. The relationship between fire regime variables and plant species richness and composition differed among vegetation types, despite the three vegetation types having similar species pools. Fire frequency was positively related to species richness in woodland, negatively related to species richness in heath, and unrelated to species richness in forest. These different relationships were explained by differences in the associations between fire history and species traits among vegetation types. The negative relationship between fire frequency and species richness in heath vegetation was underpinned by reduced occurrence of resprouting species at high fire frequency sites (more than four fires in 55 years). However, in forest and woodland vegetation, resprouting species were not negatively associated with fire frequency. We hypothesize that differing relationships among vegetation types were underpinned by differences in fire behaviour, and/or biotic and abiotic conditions, leading to differences in plant species mortality and post-fire recovery among vegetation types. Our findings suggest that even when there is a high proportion of shared species between vegetation types, fires can have very different effects on vegetation communities, depending on the structural vegetation type. Both research and management of fire regimes may therefore benefit from considering vegetation types as separate management units.
Ref: Foster, C. N., Barton, P. S., MacGregor, C. I., Catford, J. A., Blanchard, W. and Lindenmayer, D. B. (2017), Effects of fire regime on plant species richness and composition differ among forest, woodland and heath vegetation. Appl Veg Sci. doi:10.1111/avsc.12345

UWA Node: David Pannell on the economics of nitrogen in agriculture
The global challenge of feeding seven billion people would be more difficult without nitrogen fertilizer, but it causes pollution of rivers, lakes and coastal waters around the world, and it contributes to emissions of greenhouse gases. It increases the profitability of individual farmers, but it is over-applied in many cases, wasting money and needlessly worsening environmental problems. These are, in large part, economic issues. In a recent paper I attempted to summarise the large and diverse research literatures on the economics of nitrogen in agriculture. Some of the key points are discussed in David Pannell’s recent blog: http://www.pannelldiscussions.net/2018/02/312-economics-of-n/

UMelb Node:  Qaeco’s favourite papers of 2017
We asked our lab members to nominate a paper published in 2017 that they had enjoyed. Recommendations ranged from the skill-based (scientific writing, reproducible coding, camera-trapping) to global reviews (plant traits, climate change, size-based models) and some great case studies (questionable psychologists, waterbirds at Lake Eyre, Finnish foxes). We hope you find them as interesting as we did! (Kate & Bron, hosts of QAECO Reading Group)

UQ Node: Call for session proposals at the SER Australasia Conference 2018 – Striving for Restoration Excellence
[From Valerie Hagger, CEED member and Student and Early Career Representative of SERA]
The Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA) is pleased to announce the 2018 conference ‘Striving for Restoration Excellence’ to be held at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia 25-28 September 2018 (see https://www.sera2018.org/).
SERA is a collaborative effort. If you are a scientist, practitioner, manager, policy maker, planner or someone who cares about our bush, seas and waterways you do not want to miss this conference! If you are interested in restoration planning and management or want to ensure restoration really makes a difference then this is the conference not to be missed. The proposed themes for SERA 2018 are focused around four pillars:
-Principles & Practice – doing it right in restoration
-Biomes – rainforests, woodlands, grasslands, seagrasses and beyond
-Impact – making a change
-Specialist Disciplines – seed technologies, provenance, marine restoration and more.
Session Proposals are now open – sessions are 90-minutes with a 15-minute introduction, followed by five 15-minute presentations that form a cohesive theme. Session proposals can be submitted to: https://www.sera2018.org/session–proposal

RMIT Node: A whole bunch of RMITers are presenting at VicBioCon this week
Here’s who are presenting:
Matthew Selinske | RMIT University | @M_Selinske | The nature of nature behaviours
Emily Gregg | RMIT University | @SciEms | The devil’s in the detail: exploring species common names and their influence on species’ marketability and conservation status
Lindall Kidd | RMIT University | Tweeting for their lives: people’s preferences for threatened species on Twitter
Dr Alex Kusmanoff | RMIT University | @AlexKusmanoff | What to say, what not to say: When talking conservation, some frames speak louder than others
Florence Damiens | RMIT University | What has been happening with offsetting? Understanding the evolution of biodiversity offset policies in France and Australia (Victoria)
Dr Holly Kirk | RMIT University | @HollyKirk | Our City’s Little Gems: Butterfly Ecology in the City of Melbourne
Dr Freya Thomas | RMIT University | @freyamthomas | Green space is good for us
Katherine Berthon | RMIT University | Greening Up: Making Room for Wildlife in Cities


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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