Inbox and Environment News - June 2 - 28, 2014: Issue 168

 One in four NSW school kids are overweight or obese - 16 June 2014

Nearly one in four New South Wales school children are overweight or obese according to a University of Sydney study reported in today's Medical Journal of Australia.

The new finding is the latest from a series of three statewide school surveys (1997, 2004 and 2010), providing a rolling snapshot of children's weight, physical activity and dietary behaviours.

Beginning in 1997 when school survey data showed that one in five children were overweight or obese (20 per cent), prevalence peaked at 24 per cent in 2004 before dropping slightly to 23 per cent in 2010, according to the latest survey data.

The study also reveals new information about diet, lifestyle and obesity among Aboriginal children.

Conditions such as obesity, heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes are more prevalent among Australian Aboriginal people but until now there's been limited data about diet, lifestyle or obesity among school-aged Aboriginal children.

The latest survey of more than 8,000 children reveals that nearly one in three aboriginal children are overweight or obese (29 per cent), compared to nearly one in four (23 per cent) among non-Aboriginal children.

"Childhood is a period when education about healthy eating and physical activity is vital for establishing healthy practices in later years," says study co-author and University of Sydney public health expert, Dr Blythe O'Hara.

"This is because childhood obesity predicts obesity in later life and raises people's risk for health problems such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes."

Other key findings from the 2010 survey include:

• Approximately 35 to 50 per cent of non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal children ate dinner in front of the television

• Approximately 50 to 60 per cent of non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal children were rewarded for good behavior with sugary foods

• Non-Aboriginal children were more likely to have breakfast every day (79 per cent compared to 70 per cent in Aboriginal children)

• Non-Aboriginal children were less likely to exceed the daily recommended screen time (no more than 2 hours daily)

• Overall, there was no significant difference in physical activity levels between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal children

• Physical activity levels were higher among older children (grades 6-10) than younger children (grades K-4).

Money well spent ... 

 HSV-infected newborns four times more likely to be born to young mums - 18 June 2014

Mothers of Herpes Simplex Virus-infected newborn babies in Australia are four times more likely to be young women aged less than 20 years of age, a University of Sydney study reveals.

Neonatal Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) infection is a rare but serious condition that can present with sores and lesions to the skin, eyes, and/or mouth, encephalitis, or disseminated infection affecting multiple glands and organs.

"Neonatal HSV infection is usually acquired during delivery following maternal genital HSV infection, but can also be acquired post-natally from an infected contact," says the study's lead author, University of Sydney Professor of Paediatric Infectious Diseases, Dr Cheryl Jones.

"Without antiviral therapy, death or handicap is almost inevitable after disseminated or central nervous system (CNS) disease."

Though rare, HSV infection in newborns is now more common in Australia than other serious conditions passed from mother to child, such as congenital rubella, congenital syphilis, and perinatal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Underlining the lethal nature of neonatal HSV-infection, the 15 year longitudinal population-based surveillance University of Sydney study reveals that although mortality has fallen in recent years, 19 per cent of HSV-infected neonates died in a study population of 131 cases.

Published in the latest issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, the study confirms international research showing that HSV-1 has replaced HSV-2 as the leading cause of neonatal HSV disease.

"In the past, HSV-1 was typically associated with cold sores, whereas HSV-2 was the main cause of genital herpes," says Dr Jones.

"However, more recent research shows an increase in genital herpes caused by HSV-1 in Australia, the United States, and elsewhere.

"This increase has been most marked in young women and is consistent with our findings of an overrepresentation of adolescent mothers in this study.

"The reasons for this increase are unknown but preventive efforts should include increasing adolescent awareness of sexually transmitted infections like HSV."

Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2), also known as human herpesvirus 1 and 2 (HHV-1 and HHV-2), are two members of the herpesvirus family, Herpesviridae, that infect humans.

Both HSV-1 (which produces most cold sores) and HSV-2 (which produces most genital herpes) are ubiquitous and contagious.

They can be spread by contact with herpes lesions when an infected person is producing and shedding the virus. Herpes simplex can be also spread through contact with saliva, such as sharing drinks.

Key findings from the study:

• The 15-year study identified 131 cases of neonatal HSV infection.

• The reported incidence of neonatal HSV infection was stable over this period, but there was an increased rate of neonatal HSV-1 disease.

• There was a high incidence in young mothers (< 20 years of age) in this series compared to Australian birth record data.

• Significantly reduced mortality was observed in the latter part of the study but twenty four (24) children (19 per cent) had died from HSV-infection despite the availability of antiviral agents

• HSV-infected neonates were more likely to be low (less than 2500 grams) to very low birth weight (less than 1500 grams), pre-term (less than 37 weeks), or very pre-term (less than 28 weeks).

• One-third of the study's HSV-infected infants were born by caesarian delivery, which has been reported to reduce rates of neonatal HSV infection. However the current study confirms that caesarian delivery does not eliminate neonatal HSV disease.

The study was contacted through the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit through notifications by paediatricians around the country and highlights the importance of national longitudinal studies of rare but medically important conditions. It is the largest and the only prospective series from the Southern Hemisphere.

Decision on status of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef deferred until 2015

Jun 18, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Doha, 18 June – The World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha (Qatar) today deferred for 12 months a decision on whether to inscribe Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The Committee’s concerns over the site relate to planned coastal developments, including development of ports and liquefied natural gas facilities. It has asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the site in by 1 February 2015.

World Heritage Centre Director Kishore Rao said that the decision adopted by the Committee today welcomed the progress made by Australia in managing the reef.  “UNESCO is confident the overall direction towards next year’s decision is a positive one,” he said.

The Great Barrier Reef covers an area of 348,000 square kilometres, stretching down the north-eastern coastline of Australia. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981, it contains 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc.

The 38th session of the World Heritage Committee began on 15 June and will continue through to 25 June, under the Chair of Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Retrieved from

Current conservation issues

On 24 January 2014, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, and on 17 February 2014, submitted supplementary information; both are available at The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also received many contrasting reports from other sources (For example: HERE  PDF).  

The State Party released the draft Strategic Assessments (SA) undertaken by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and by Queensland (Coastal Zone), together with a programme report in each case. These are substantial documents, supported by a range of subsidiary studies, and public consultation on them has recently concluded. Meetings between the State Party, IUCN and the World Heritage Centre were also held. Further revision of the drafts is anticipated to address the comments made and to lead to the conclusion of the Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development (LTPSD), expected to be completed by June 2015. 

The GBRMPA draft SA underlines concerns expressed by the Committee regarding serious decline in the condition of the GBR, including in coral recruitment and reef building across extensive parts of the property, and that a business as usual approach to managing the property is not an option.

It further indicates that climate change remains the most significant threat to the long-term health of the reef. The SA concludes that the loss of resilience is not attributable to any single cause but to the effect of cumulative impacts and that management is not keeping pace with these.

The State Party reports progress towards the Reef Plan targets based on the latest Report Card and notes the endorsement of the 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. Improvements in catchment management are noted to be encouraging, although they will take time to translate into improved status of the marine environment. A Scientific Consensus Statement on water quality was completed and emphasizes that sustained and greater effort will be needed to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef. GBRMPA draft SA concludes that continued use of pesticides is likely to remain a concern regarding catchment run-off over the next 25 years, and that potential changes to the present broad scale land clearing legislation could increase the nutrient and sediment loads entering the reef.

The following documents related to coastal development were released:

The independent review of the Port of Gladstone (July 2013) proposes principles for improvements in port operations, World Heritage protection and cumulative impact assessment;

The draft Queensland Ports Strategy (QPS) (October 2013) proposes the establishment of five existing ports as Priority Port Development Areas (PPDAs), four of which overlap the property, and policies including a ban on capital dredging outside PPDAs until 2024. The State Party’s supplementary information confirms that the PPDA boundaries are consistent with port limits defined in the 1994 and 2005 Transport regulation and indicates that Fitzroy Delta, Keppel Bay, and north Curtis Island will not be included in the PPDAs. It also clarifies that it is the State Party’s intention that the final QPS “reflects the government’s commitment to protect greenfield areas from the impacts of port development” but that the provisions of the QPS cannot be applied retroactively and thus existing proposals that are of major concern will still be considered.

The State Party reports that no new port developments or associated port infrastructure has been approved outside long-established major port areas in the property or that would have an unacceptable impact on its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). Four projects were approved at Abbot Point and Curtis Island. The Abbot Point development, which includes proposed dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredged material inside the property, was approved with conditions, including a required 150% net benefit for water quality. In addition an inquiry is underway regarding a leak from the bund wall in the Port of Gladstone intended to confine dredge spoil.  The State Party report also notes five other federal approvals of projects, including two within the property, and the withdrawal of four proposals.

The State Party indicates limited progress on the requested review of governance arrangements and the need for increased attention, and is an area where the LTPSD could provide a significant opportunity for improvements.

The State Party is working towards devolving federal decision taking powers regarding proposed actions that fall under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to State and Territory level. Within that framework, a bilateral agreement between the Australian and Queensland governments was signed on 13 December 2013 through which the Queensland Government is given decision taking powers for the environmental assessment and approval of any proposed actions that may impact the property. The agreement aims to avoid the need for businesses to seek approvals across multiple levels of government.

The comments from NGOs include extensive critique of decision taking by government bodies, and the WWF/AMCS document contains a substantial annex on concerns regarding suggested weakening of the regulatory framework in Queensland in relation to the protection of the property.

Analysis and Conclusion

It is recommended that the Committee welcome the progress achieved by the State Party towards improved water quality and encourage it to sustain, and where necessary expand, the efforts to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef.  The significant work undertaken by the State Party on various studies of the management of the property and the wider region is acknowledged, including GBRMPA’s work on operationalizing the Statement of OUV in the management of World Heritage properties, which provides a possible model for wider application.

It is also recommended that the Committee welcome the progress made with the SA and the preparations for the LTPSD.  Considering that completion of these documents is anticipated and consideration by the Committee is planned for 2015, substantive analysis on their results will be undertaken next year, when the GBR Outlook Report will also be completed. It should also be reiterated that the LTPSD needs to result in concrete and consistent management measures sufficiently robust to ensure the overall conservation of the property and its OUV, in particular addressing major drivers of reef decline such as water quality and climate change, and the need to constrain coastal development and associated activities, address cumulative impacts and increase reef resilience. The LTPSD will also need to lead to tangible and measurable restoration of threatened and degraded attributes of the property’s OUV, and address the legal, institutional and financial basis to ensure implementation can be assured, monitored and effectively governed. It will also need to demonstrate a clear and appropriate response to concerns raised during the public consultation and carry public confidence in its foundation and conclusions.

Regarding coastal development, it is noted with concern that major decisions have been taken before the relevant SAs and LTPSD have been completed. Whilst noting the intentions to constrain port development within the PPDAs in the draft QPS, this strategy requires strengthening in order to put into legislation the State Party’s commitment to protect greenfield areas from the impacts of port development, as well as a rigorous commitment to ensure that no port developments or associated port infrastructure are permitted outside the existing long-established port areas within or adjoining the property. The PPDAs are anticipated to require new port master plans, and these will need to ensure protection of sensitive areas identified in the zoning plan for the GBRMP. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to ensure rigorously that proposed development outside the proposed PPDAs is not permitted, and that development inside PPDAs should only be permitted if it is demonstrated that it will not impact individually or cumulatively the OUV of the property.

The proposed dumping of dredged material from the proposed Abbot Point development is also noted with concern. Indeed, this was approved, despite an indication that less impacting disposal alternatives may exist.  It is considered that the suggested achievement of a 150% net benefit on water quality from compensation for the consented dredge disposal appears inappropriate without a specific timescale for its rapid and guaranteed achievement prior to development proceeding, and a clear indication of the implications for progress on water quality against the Reef Plan targets, in addition to the uncertainty about the impacts of dredge material plumes beyond the disposal site. This is of particular concern given evidence suggesting that the inshore reefs in the southern two-thirds of the property are not recovering from disturbances over the past few decades. The further approval on Curtis Island adds to concerns addressed in previous Committee decisions.  

Increased attention is needed to complete the required work on reviewing governance of the property and the transfer of decision-making powers from the Federal Level to the State Level appears premature until the governance requirements to implement the LTPSD have been considered. It is crucial that the mission recommendation regarding institutional and management arrangements (R11) is completed and that the eventual governance of the property carries the confidence of stakeholders.

Given the range of significant threats affecting the property and the conflicting information about the effectiveness of recent decisions and draft policies, significant concern remains regarding the long-term deterioration of key aspects of the OUV of the property, and the completion of work to tackle short- and long-term threats. Therefore, it is recommended that the Committee consider, in the absence of substantial progress on the key issues addressed above, the inscription of the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 39th session in 2015.

Decision: Adopted

Draft Decision:            38 COM 7B.63

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-14/38.COM/7B,

2. Recalling Decisions 36 COM 7B.8 and 37 COM 7B.10, adopted at its 36th (Saint-Petersburg, 2012) and 37th (Phnom Penh, 2013) sessions respectively,

3.  Welcomes the progress being made by the State Party with the Strategic Assessment and reiterates its requestto the State Party to complete this work, responding fully to the past decisions of the Committee, in order to ensure that the Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development (LTPSD) results in concrete and consistent management measures that are sufficiently robust, effectively governed and adequately financed, to ensure the overall long-term conservation of the property and its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including in view of addressing cumulative impacts and increasing reef resilience;

4. Also welcomes the progress made by the State Party with regard to water quality, in particular the endorsement of the 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, the release of the Scientific Consensus Statement and the progress toward the Reef Plan targets as stated in the most recent Reef Plan Report Card, and encourages the State Party to sustain and where necessary expand these efforts, and their funding, to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef;

5. Further welcomes the State Party’s intention to focus port development to the Priority Port Development Areas (PPDAs) and its confirmation that these will exclude the Fitzroy Delta, Keppel Bay, and north Curtis Island, as well as the State Party’s stated commitment to “protect greenfield areas from the impacts of port development”, and urges the State Party to ensure the finalized Queensland Ports Strategy ensures the above mentioned commitments are fully integrated and are consistent with the LTPSD and confirms that no port developments or associated port infrastructure are permitted outside the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the property;  

6. Requests the State Party to ensure the full completion of the independent review of the institutional and management arrangements for the property, as recommended by the 2012reactive monitoring mission, as a key input to the LTPSD, and considers that the transfer of decision-making power from Federal to State levels, before the vision, framework with desired outcomes and targets, and governance requirements to deliver the LTPSD have been adopted, is premature, and should be postponed to allow further consideration;

7. Notes with concern the recent approvals for coastal developments in the absence of a completed Strategic Assessment and resulting Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development, and regrets the State Party’s approval for dumping 3 million cubic metres of dredge material inside the property prior to having undertaken a comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less impacting development and disposal options, and also requests the State Party to ensure that the option selected does not impact OUV, and is the least damaging option available;

8. Also notes with concern that the provisions of the Queensland Ports Strategy cannot be applied retroactively, and therefore strongly urges the State Party to:

a) Ensure rigorously that proposed development outside PPDAs is not permitted and that developments within PPDAs do not impact individually or cumulatively the OUV of the property,

b) Ensure that plans to be developed for each PPDA exclude from development areas identified as of conservation significance under the 2003 Great Barrier Reef Zoning plan;

9. Recalls that the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment and resulting Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development, as well as the findings of the second Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report, should be considered at its 39th session in 2015 (Decision 36 COM 7B.8);

10. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015, an updated report, including a 1-page executive summary, on the state of conservation of the property, including on the implementation of actions outlined above as well as on the other points raised in the 2012 reactive monitoring mission report, and the documents relevant to the Committee’s past decisions, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015, with a view to considering, in the case of confirmation of the ascertained or potential danger to its Outstanding Universal Value, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Retrieved from:

Surveillance in the Simpson suggests a new take on threat to native animals -  20 June 2014

A photographic pursuit that would put the paparazzi to shame has captured the private life of wildlife in the Simpson Desert, during both its 'big wet' and dry seasons.

The University of Sydney research suggests a more effective approach to controlling the devastating impact of the feral cat and red fox on Australian native wildlife.

"This research suggests that instead of the ongoing costly effort of trying to control these species it might be more worthwhile to concentrate our control efforts on the large rainfall 'boom' events in central Australia," said Aaron Greenvile, from the University's School of Biological Sciences.

Greenville is the lead author on a paper just published in the journal Oecologia. Co-authors, Professor Chris Dickman, Associate Professor Glenda Wardle and Bobby Tamayo are all collaborators from the Desert Ecology Research Group at the University of Sydney.

"The fox and feral cat have had a drastic effect on the native animals of the interior and have contributed to the extinction of native species. The impact of cats and red foxes is well documented. Feral cats place at least 34 threatened native species at high risk of extinction while foxes threaten an estimated 76 native species," Greenville said.

"Despite dingoes also being legally defined as native wildlife, they are deliberately killed in some areas of Australia because of their threat to livestock."

For twenty-four hours a day over two years the researchers used sophisticated camera 'traps' placed across an 8000 kilometre area that respond to animals' movement and body heat. The resulting photos provide a detailed visual log of animal activity.

During the research the Simpson Desert experienced the rare event of flooding rains with an accompanying boom in wildlife.

"Our research reveals that when the Simpson Desert experiences such a wet season, currently about every ten years, dingo, cat and fox populations increase but so too do those of all their prey animals. This includes populations of wild mice which have an estimated 60 fold increase in their numbers," said Greenville.

During dry times the dingo is effective at suppressing populations of cats and foxes but with the big increases in prey during the boom time the dingoes are not able to keep up.

So while it might have been expected that dingoes would kill with feral cats and red foxes more during a 'boom and bloom' period, this is in fact when they have least impact because they are faced with much bigger populations and have easier meals, especially rodents, to consume. That is precisely the time when control programs could be most effective.

"The dingo is an unpaid pest species manager that works every day. If we leave them alone, they can help control populations of cats and foxes for free during non-boom periods when prey populations are low and potentially vulnerable. The role of dingoes in suppressing the numbers of feral cats and foxes during non-boom periods combined with alternate pest control methods during periods after rains could become an overall management strategy."

Given 70 percent of Australia is semi-arid desert the research in these conditions has widespread relevance, Greenville suggests. There is a concern that the fox will get a permanent foothold on the driest regions of Australia, just as the feral cat population has done.

"In an echo of our relationship with sharks, it is time to decide how we co-exist with this top predator or whether we want the dingo to go the way of the Tasmanian tiger - which by 1936 had been hunted to extinction," said Greenville.

"In fact this research and these debates have significance to similar debates around the world - the leopard in Africa and the grey wolf in North America and Europe."

This project was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award, Paddy Pallin Grant, Royal Zoological Society of NSW, the Australian Research Council and the Long Term Ecological Research Network facility of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network which is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.

Plastic Free July - Take the Challenge! 

Bird Watching with Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)

Come Birdwatching with us Sunday July 6, Warriewood Wetlands, one of Sydney's premier bird spots. Book thru

Sunday Birdwatching with PNHA

Would you like to know more about local birds? Our guides can help you see and hear them in these wonderful bushland reserves, and learn about their lives.

Our birdwalks start about 7.30 and end about 10am. Bring Binoculars and some morning tea for afterwards if you like. Older children welcome. 

6 July Warriewood Wetland, Warriewood

21 September Deep Creek, off Wakehurst Parkway

16 November Irrawong Reserve, Warriewood

Contact us to book and get details of each birdwalk.

Email or ph: 0439 409 202/0402 605 721

Banksia Sustainability Awards 2014

Applications for the 2014 Banksia Sustainability Awards are now open - with early bird entries closing July 25th!


2014 Banksia Sustainability Awards:

The Banksia Awards comprise 11 Category Awardsand the Environment Minister's Cleaner Environment Awardto choose from in 2014.

The entry system provides you with the technical information and criteria for all Banksia Awards. Entrants for these Awards can be individuals, not-for-profit organisations, community groups, governments, businesses and corporations.

In some instances your project, initiative or achievement may be eligible for one or more awards. We encourage you to carefully review all awards to see if you are eligible for more than one opportunity.

Note: each category is a separate application, therefore has differing requirements and is an additional cost.

If you need some assistance in choosing the award/s best suited to your initiative, contact Banksia.

 2014 Australasian Bird Fair - Australasia’s first Bird Fair

The 2014 Australasian Bird Fair will be the first large-scale bird and wildlife event of its kind in Australasia. The Fair is a response to the need to raise awareness of the plight of so many bird species which are in peril across the Australasian region.  All profits from the bird fair will go to bird conservation. 

The Australasian Bird Fair will have something for everyone!


 What's up with Australia's electricity sector? By Climate Council – published June 16th 2014

See full report and article at:

 A call to better protect Antarctica: Human activity threatening continent

June 18, 2014 - With visitor numbers surging, Antarctica's ice-free land needs better protection from human activities, leading environmental scientists say. The new study found that all 55 areas designated for protection lie close to sites of human activity. Seven are at high risk for biological invasions, and five of the distinct ice-free eco regions have no protected areas.

Antarctica has over 40,000 visitors a year, and more and more research facilities are being built in the continent's tiny ice-free area. Most of the Antarctic wildlife and plants live in the ice-free areas - and this is also where people most visit.

One of the researchers from the collaborative study, Professor Steven Chown from the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University, said the ice-free area contains very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity. This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by exotic species.

"Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents. The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas," Professor Chown said.

"Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."

Dr Justine Shaw of the National Environmental Research Program's Environmental Decisions Hub at the University of Queensland said the 'last wilderness on Earth' is one of the planet's least-protected regions

"Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one per cent permanently ice-free. Only 1.5 per cent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs," Dr Shaw said.

The study shows that protected areas in Antarctica currently fall well short of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets - an international biodiversity strategy that aims to reduce threats to biodiversity, and protect ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.

The team compared Antarctica's protected area system with the protected areas of nations round the world, and found that Antarctica ranks in the lowest 25 per cent of assessed countries.

Dr Shaw said many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there, however the study clearly shows threats to Antarctic biodiversity.

"We need to establish protected areas that are representative of Antarctic biodiversity to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," Dr Shaw said.

"We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by increasing human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species," she added.

Professor Hugh Possingham of the National Environmental Research Program's Environmental Decisions Hub at the University of Queensland said Antarctica is one of the last places on Earth that has no cities, agriculture or mining.

"It is unique in this respect - a true wilderness. If we don't establish adequate and representative protected areas in Antarctica this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost," Professor Possingham said.

"Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change. This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica," he said.

Justine D. Shaw, Aleks Terauds, Martin J. Riddle, Hugh P. Possingham, Steven L. Chown. Antarctica’s Protected Areas Are Inadequate, Unrepresentative, and at Risk. PLoS Biology, 2014; 12 (6): e1001888 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001888

Antarctic view from land. Credit: Photo credit: Aleks Terauds

 Endangered Tiger-quolls Spotted - C/- Wildlife Land Trust Australia

Motion-activated cameras have detected a thriving population of tiger quolls in the Watagan Mountains of New South Wales. With the species listed as Endangered nationally, a strong presence deep within well-connected habitat is fantastic news.

Listen to ABC Newcastle's interview on the research:

Photo: Craig Dingle/

 NSW Biodiversity legislation review

On 18 June, the terms of reference for a comprehensive review of the legislative framework for threatened species and native vegetation management in New South Wales were released.

The review process

The review of biodiversity legislation has been established to look at the legislative and policy framework for the management of native vegetation, threatened species and other protected native animals and plants in NSW.

The scope of the review will include the Native Vegetation Act 2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and the parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 that relate to native plants and animals and private land conservation.

Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference set out the matters the panel will examine in its review.

Biodiversity legislation review terms of reference

The Minister for the Environment has appointed an independent panel to undertake a comprehensive review of the Native Vegetation Act  2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and related biodiversity legislation.

The current legislative framework has become fragmented, overly complex and process driven. It creates inconsistent regulatory standards across different sectors and fails to deliver the right incentives for industry and landholders.

The current laws do not deliver balanced outcomes across the NSW Government’s environmental, social and economic objectives. The laws also no longer link coherently with emerging laws and policies.

While each piece of legislation has been subject to many separate amendments, a major holistic review of the native vegetation and biodiversity legislation in NSW has never been undertaken and the Government considers that such a review is necessary to achieve the Government’s goals and policy objectives.

This review aims to establish simpler, streamlined and more effective legislation that will:

•facilitate the conservation of biological diversity

•support sustainable development

•reduce red-tape.


The Independent Review Panel will consider the policy settings, programs and funding arrangements that support the management of biodiversity, threatened species and native vegetation in NSW.

The scope of the review will include the Native Vegetation Act 2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and Part 4 Divisions 11 through 13, Part 6A (insofar as it relates to native plants and animals), and Parts 7 through 9 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. It will include all associated regulations and policies. 

Guiding principles

The panel will be guided by the broad goals and reform directions set out in NSW 2021 and by the principles set out in the 2012 Commission of Audit, which are:

•a focus on devolution to regional and local levels

•an increased focus on partnership and outsourcing

•greater focus on transparency and evidence based decisions

•fostering greater collaboration and coordination between government and the private and community sectors

•budget restraint.

The panel will also be guided by the strategic goals and approach set out in the Office of Environment and Heritage Corporate Plan 2014–2017. In particular, the panel will find ways to:

•increase regulatory efficiency, remove duplication and promote consistency in approval requirements

•increase upfront clarity and transparency in environmental standards

•minimise the private costs and maximise the public benefits of regulation

•encourage economic development, including by supporting regional and rural communities without devaluing the environment and biodiversity

•build resilience to environmental hazards and risks.


1. The panel will evaluate the current legislative framework. In doing so it will consider:

•the objectives of the current legislation and whether they remain valid

•whether the current policy framework reflects best practice in biodiversity conservation

•approaches and experiences of other states and territories, and relevant jurisdictions overseas

•the social and economic impacts of the legislation including whether the current regulatory provisions balance environmental, social and economic factors in decision making (i.e. consideration of the triple bottom line)

•any perverse environmental and regulatory outcomes

•whether the current provisions facilitate effective and proportionate compliance

•to what extent the current policy frameworks sufficiently encourage the abatement of environmental risks, protect and restore key ecosystem processes and prevent species extinctions

whether current arrangements appropriately deal with new and emerging policy frameworks in NSW and nationally, including the planning reforms, the proposed NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy, a NSW Biosecurity Act, local government reforms, regional service delivery models and associated strategic plans, and State–Commonwealth bilateral and strategic agreements.

2. The panel will consider the evidence base for government intervention, including:

•the status, trends and pressures on native vegetation, biodiversity and ecological processes

•the relationship between healthy ecosystems (including water, land and biodiversity) and sustainable development

•likely future environmental conditions given existing and emerging threats including climate change.

3. The panel will propose new legislative arrangements for biodiversity conservation in NSW. It will consider:

•an overall philosophy for biodiversity conservation in NSW and objectives to underpin a new legislative framework

•ways to incorporate environmental, social and economic considerations (i.e. triple the bottom line) into decision-making frameworks

•options to identify biodiversity priorities given proposed biodiversity conservation objectives

•opportunities to improve regulatory efficiency, remove duplication and adopt proportionate, risk-based approaches to regulation and compliance

the concept and practice of ‘duty of care’ in relation to native vegetation management in the context of land, water and biodiversity conservation objectives along with measures to promote cost sharing for biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management

•measures to promote upfront clarity and transparency in environmental standards including options for self-regulation

•options for effectively integrating native vegetation management with the protection and maintenance of land and water resources and the conservation of biodiversity

•removing barriers and providing incentives to voluntary private land conservation, and measures to reduce duplication, promote paid stewardship and foster greater collaboration and coordination between government and the community

•appropriate frameworks to abate environmental risks, prevent species extinction and maintain ecological processes

•governance arrangements, statutory concurrence and consultation requirements, and compliance and enforcement provisions.


The Independent Review Panel will recommend reforms to improve the legislative and policy framework for biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management in NSW.

The Minister will provide progress reports to Cabinet based on the panel’s work.

The panel will provide an interim report to the Minister for the Environment within four months of the announcement of the terms of reference, setting out an evaluation of the current framework which addresses items 1 and 2 in these terms of reference.

The panel will provide a final report to the Minister for the Environment within six months, which addresses item 3 in these terms of reference.

Stakeholder engagement

The Independent Review Panel is to ensure thorough engagement with all interested stakeholders, including landholders, industry, developers, councils, non-government organisations and members of Parliament.

The review may commission and fund some key stakeholder groups to undertake relevant research or policy option development.

Interagency Senior Officers Group

The review will be supported by an interagency Senior Officers Group (SOG). The SOG will provide whole-of-government input to the review and identify interactions with related policy and legislative frameworks.

Separately, the SOG will also prepare a draft government response to the review report.


The Office of Environment and Heritage will provide secretariat support to the operations of the panel and the SOG.


The independent panel has been asked to prepare and maintain an active program of stakeholder engagement throughout the review process. The panel will provide details of its engagement approach as soon as possible.

Above retrieved from the OEH, June 20, 2014

Review Panel: 

Chair: Dr Neil Byron, Dr Wendy Craik AM, Dr John Keniry AM and Professor Hugh Possingham

See more at HERE

 Quantum biology: Algae evolved to switch quantum coherence on and off

June 16, 2014 – A UNSW Australia-led team of researchers has discovered how algae that survive in very low levels of light are able to switch on and off a weird quantum phenomenon that occurs during photosynthesis.

The function in the algae of this quantum effect, known as coherence, remains a mystery, but it is thought it could help them harvest energy from the sun much more efficiently. Working out its role in a living organism could lead to technological advances, such as better organic solar cells and quantum-based electronic devices.

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It is part of an emerging field called quantum biology, in which evidence is growing that quantum phenomena are operating in nature, not just the laboratory, and may even account for how birds can navigate using earth's magnetic field.

"We studied tiny single-celled algae called cryptophytes that thrive in the bottom of pools of water, or under thick ice, where very little light reaches them," says senior author, Professor Paul Curmi, of the UNSW School of Physics.

"Most cryptophytes have a light-harvesting system where quantum coherence is present. But we have found a class of cryptophytes where it is switched off because of a genetic mutation that alters the shape of a light-harvesting protein.

"This is a very exciting find. It means we will be able to uncover the role of quantum coherence in photosynthesis by comparing organisms with the two different types of proteins."

In the weird world of quantum physics, a system that is coherent - with all quantum waves in step with each other - can exist in many different states simultaneously, an effect known as superposition. This phenomenon is usually only observed under tightly controlled laboratory conditions.

So the team, which includes Professor Gregory Scholes from the University of Toronto in Canada, was surprised to discover in 2010 that the transfer of energy between molecules in the light harvesting systems from two different cryptophyte species was coherent.

The same effect has been found in green sulphur bacteria that also survive in very low light levels.

"The assumption is that this could increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, allowing the algae and bacteria to exist on almost no light," says Professor Curmi.

"Once a light-harvesting protein has captured sunlight, it needs to get that trapped energy to the reaction centre in the cell as quickly as possible, where the energy is converted into chemical energy for the organism.

"It was assumed the energy gets to the reaction centre in a random fashion, like a drunk staggering home. But quantum coherence would allow the energy to test every possible pathway simultaneously before travelling via the quickest route."

In the new study, the team used x-ray crystallography to work out the crystal structure of the light-harvesting complexes from three different species of cryptophytes.

They found that in two species a genetic mutation has led to the insertion of an extra amino acid that changes the structure of the protein complex, disrupting coherence.

"This shows cryptophytes have evolved an elegant but powerful genetic switch to control coherence and change the mechanisms used for light harvesting," says Professor Curmi.

The next step will be to compare the biology of different cryptophytes, such as whether they inhabit different environmental niches, to work out whether the quantum coherence effect is assisting their survival.

Stephen J. Harrop, Krystyna E. Wilk, Rayomond Dinshaw, Elisabetta Collini, Tihana Mirkovic, Chang Ying Teng, Daniel G. Oblinsky, Beverley R. Green, Kerstin Hoef-Emden, Roger G. Hiller, Gregory D. Scholes, and Paul M. G. Curmi. Single-residue insertion switches the quaternary structure and exciton states of cryptophyte light-harvesting proteins. PNAS, June 16, 2014 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1402538111

Photo: A scanning electron microscope image of cryptophytes. A UNSW Australia-led team has discovered how cryptophytes that survive in very low levels of light are able to switch on and off a weird quantum phenomenon that occurs during photosynthesis. Credit: CSIRO

 Genetic control mechanism for major livestock pest developed

June 19, 2014 - A technique to control populations of the Australian sheep blowfly – a major livestock pest in Australia and New Zealand – has been developed by making female flies dependent upon a common antibiotic to survive. Female blowflies that did not receive the antibiotic died in the late larval or pupal stages, before reaching adulthood. Several genetically modified lines lacking the antibiotic showed 100 percent female deaths.

"Overexpression of the gene responsible for the reliance on tetracycline also seems to overexpress this marker gene," Scott says.

Since the females will die when not provided tetracycline in their diets, the males can be separated out in the larval stage. This is essential for a "male-only" genetic control program to reduce blowfly populations, Scott says, as fertile males would pass the lethality construct on to female offspring, which would die in the absence of tetracycline. Male larval offspring, however, would still be dangerous to livestock.

In the study, the researchers showed that the tetracycline gene construct also works in Drosophila, the fruit fly "lab rat" of the insect world that is a distant cousin of the sheep blowfly. This holds promise that the genetic system will function in the New World and Old World screwworm, two major livestock pests that are close relatives of the sheep blowfly. Scott is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make "male-only" strains of the New World screwworm (Cochliomyia hominivorax).

"The New World screwworm is a devastating pest of livestock that was eradicated from North and Central America by releasing sterilized male and female flies," Scott says. However, a male-only strain offers several advantages, including potentially more efficient population suppression for the ongoing program. "Efficient genetic control systems have the potential to help eradicate some of the biggest problem pests across the globe," he said.

Fang Li, Holly A. Wantuch, Rebecca J. Linger, Esther J. Belikoff, Maxwell J. Scott. Transgenic sexing system for genetic control of the Australian sheep blow fly Lucilia cuprina. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.ibmb.2014.06.001

 Animal trapping records reveal strong wolf effect across North America

June 16, 2014 - Scientists have used coyote and red fox fur trapping records across North America to document how the presence of wolves influences the balance of smaller predators further down the food chain.

From Alaska and Yukon to Nova Scotia and Maine, the researchers have demonstrated that a "wolf effect" exists, favoring red foxes where wolves are present and coyotes where wolves are absent.

This effect requires that enough wolves be present to suppress coyotes over a wide area. Fur trapping records from Saskatchewan and Manitoba reveal that where wolves are absent in the southern agricultural regions of each province, coyotes outnumber foxes on average by 3-to-1. However, where wolves are abundant in the north, the balance swings dramatically in favor of foxes on average by 4-to-1 and at an extreme of 500-to-1 at one site.

In between is a 200-kilometer (124-mile) transition zone where too few wolves are present to tip the balance between coyotes and foxes.

The results of the study by Thomas Newsome and William Ripple in the Oregon State University Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society were published in theJournal of Animal Ecology by the British Ecological Society.

"As wolves were extirpated across the southern half of North America, coyotes dramatically expanded their range," said Newsome, a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State. "They were historically located in the middle and western United States, but they dispersed all the way to Alaska in the early 1900s and to New Brunswick and Maine by the 1970s."

"So essentially coyotes have been dispersing into wolf and red-fox range in the north but also into areas where wolves are absent but red fox are present in the East," Newsome added.

Newsome came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship from Australia where he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Sydney and specialized in the study of dingoes - that continent's top predator. There's a debate among Australians, he said, about the potential role of dingoes in suppressing introduced pests that have already decimated wildlife there.

"Over the last 200 years, Australia has had the highest extinction rate in the world," Newsome said. "The debate is about whether the dingo can provide positive ecological benefits. Where dingoes have been removed, the impacts of introduced red foxes and feral cats have been quite severe on native fauna."

Dingoes are managed as a pest in New South Wales, the country's most populous state. To reduce dingo predation in the livestock industry, Australia also maintains the world's longest fence, which runs for 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles) in an attempt to exclude dingoes from almost a quarter of the continent.

In North America, the effect of wolves on coyotes and red foxes provides a natural case study that can be instructive for Australians."Australians can learn a lot from how wolves are managed in North America, and Americans can learn from the ecological role of the dingo," Newsome said.

As coyotes have expanded in North America, they have become a major cause of concern for the livestock industry. In the United States in 2004, researchers estimated annual losses due to coyote predation on sheep and cattle at $40 million. To reduce those damages, the Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program to reduce coyote numbers, an effort that has drawn criticism from conservation groups.

In reviewing the fur trapping data from two U.S. and six Canadian jurisdictions, Newsome and Ripple eliminated potential sources of bias such as records from fur farms that raise foxes. The fur prices of coyotes and red foxes are also strongly correlated, and the two species occupy much of the same types of habitat, so they are equally likely to be targeted and caught in hunters' traps.

"This study gives us a whole other avenue to understand the ecological effects of wolves on landscapes and animal communities," said Ripple. He has studied the influence of carnivores on their prey - such as deer and elk - and on vegetation from aspen trees to willows. He and his colleagues have shown that the removal of top predators can cause dramatic shifts within ecosystems.

Wolves are naturally recolonizing many areas of the United States following their reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas in 1995. Scientists are studying wolf interactions with other species, and in particular, there is interest in determining whether recolonizing wolves will suppress coyote populations and have cascading effects on red foxes and other species.

Thomas M Newsome, William J Ripple. A continental scale trophic cascade from wolves through coyotes to foxes.Journal of Animal Ecology, June 2014 DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12258 photo: Coyote. Credit: Shawn McCready

Health papers published this week:

Single dose of century-old drug approved for sleeping sickness reverses autism-like symptoms in mice

June 17, 2014 - In a further test of a novel theory that suggests autism is the consequence of abnormal cell communication, researchers report that an almost century-old drug approved for treating sleeping sickness also restores normal cellular signaling in a mouse model of autism, reversing symptoms of the neurological disorder in animals that were the human biological age equivalent of 30 years old.

The findings, published in the June 17, 2014 online issue of Translational Psychiatry, follow up on similar research published last year by senior author Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, pediatrics and pathology, and colleagues.

Naviaux said the findings fit neatly with the idea that autism is caused by a multitude of interconnected factors: "Twenty percent of the known factors associated with autism are genetic, but most are not. It's wrong to think of genes and the environment as separate and independent factors. Genes and environmental factors interact. The net result of this interaction is metabolism."

Naviaux, who is co-director of the Mitochondrial and Metabolic Disease Center at UC San Diego, said one of the universal symptoms of autism is metabolic disturbances. "Cells have a halo of metabolites (small molecules involved in metabolism, the set of chemical processes that maintain life) and nucleotides surrounding them. These create a sort of chemical glow that broadcasts the state of health of the cell."

Cells threatened or damaged by microbes, such as viruses or bacteria, or by physical forces or by chemicals, such as pollutants, react defensively, a part of the normal immune response, Naviaux said. Their membranes stiffen. Internal metabolic processes are altered, most notably mitochondria - the cells' critical "power plants." And communications between cells are dramatically reduced. This is the "cell danger response," said Naviaux, and if it persists, the result can be lasting, diverse impairment. If it occurs during childhood, for example, neurodevelopment is delayed.

"Cells behave like countries at war," said Naviaux. "When a threat begins, they harden their borders. They don't trust their neighbors. But without constant communication with the outside, cells begin to function differently. In the case of neurons, it might be by making fewer or too many connections. One way to look at this related to autism is this: When cells stop talking to each other, children stop talking."

Naviaux and colleagues have focused on a cellular signaling system linked to both mitochondrial function and to the cell's innate immune function. Specifically, they have zeroed in on the role of nucleotides like adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and other signaling mitokines - molecules generated by distressed mitochondria. These mitokines have separate metabolic functions outside of the cell where they bind to and regulate receptors present on every cell of the body. Nineteen types of so-called purinergic receptors are known to be stimulated by these extracellular nucleotides, and the receptors are known to control a broad range of biological characteristics with relevance to autism, such as impaired language and social skills.

In their latest work, Naviaux again tested the effect of suramin, a well-known inhibitor of purinergic signaling that was first synthesized in 1916 and is used to treat trypanosomiasis or African sleeping sickness, a parasitic disease. They found that suramin blocked the extracellular signaling pathway used by ATP and other mitokines in a mouse model of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ending the cell danger response and related inflammation. Cells subsequently began behaving normally and autism-like behaviors and metabolism in the mice were corrected.

However, the biological and behavioral benefits of suramin were not permanent, nor preventive. A single dose remained effective in the mice for about five weeks, and then washed out. Moreover, suramin cannot be taken long-term since it can result in anemia and adrenal gland dysfunction.

Still, Naviaux said these and earlier findings are sufficiently encouraging to soon launch a small phase 1 clinical trial with children who have ASD. He expects the trial to begin later this year.

"Obviously correcting abnormalities in a mouse is a long way from a cure in humans, but we think this approach - antipurinergic therapy - is a new and fresh way to think about and address the challenge of autism.

"Our work doesn't contradict what others have discovered or done. It's another perspective. Our idea is that this kind of treatment - eliminating a basic, underlying metabolic dysfunction - removes a hurdle that might make other non-drug behavioral and developmental therapies of autism more effective. The discovery that a single dose of medicine can fundamentally reset metabolism for weeks means that newer and safer drugs might not need to be given chronically. Members of this new class of medicines might need to be given only intermittently during sensitive developmental windows to unblock metabolism and permit improved development in response to many kinds of behavioral and occupational therapies, and to natural play."

J C Naviaux, M A Schuchbauer, K Li, L Wang, V B Risbrough, S B Powell, R K Naviaux.Reversal of autism-like behaviors and metabolism in adult mice with single-dose antipurinergic therapy. Translational Psychiatry, 2014; 4 (6): e400 DOI:10.1038/tp.2014.33

False negative results found in prognostic testing for breast cancer

June 18, 2014 – A recent study evaluating HER2 testing in a large cohort of women with breast cancer found important limitations in the conventional way HER2 testing is performed in the US and internationally.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center physicians and researchers retested tumor samples from a large group of women and found that 22 out of 530 women had their tumor type incorrectly classified. They reported their findings in a publication titled "Assessing the Discordance Rate between Local and Central HER2 Testing in Women with Locally Determined HER2-Negative Breast Cancer," which was published in Cancer on June 13, 2014.

Breast cancer is categorized into several subtypes based on conventional laboratory, and newer molecular tests. This study looked at the accuracy in classifying breast cancers in one particular subtype, specifically those that are "human epidermal growth factor receptor 2" or HER2 positive. What is particularly important in accurately determining HER2 in breast cancer is that when a woman's cancer tests positive for HER2, there are specific treatments proven extremely effective in improving outcome and preventing recurrence of cancer. These HER2 directed, or targeted, therapies are critically important in treating women with HER2 positive breast cancer.

"We, and other groups, have previously shown that a certain percentage of cases found to be HER2 positive in local laboratories are in fact HER2 negative when tested in more experienced central labs. There has, however, been almost no research evaluating the accuracy of a negative HER2 result," said Peter A. Kaufman, MD. "This is the first large study to look at this. What is comforting is that we found that re-testing in experienced larger labs confirmed the original local lab results in the majority of cases." Kaufman noted that they did find about four percent of cases that were originally determined to be HER2 negative were in fact HER2 positive on repeat testing. Many of these cases were detected as being positive by testing for HER2 using both of two different and complementary tests (IHC and FISH, as described below).

The repercussions of incorrectly identifying a cancer's subtype are considerable. "While it is comforting that only four percent of these women were misclassified initially, this is an enormous issue for those who fall into this group," said Kaufman. "This is because HER2 targeted therapies are critically important for women with HER2 positive breast cancer." The variance in accuracy may be related to how tests are conducted in smaller versus larger pathology laboratories. Two different tests are approved for and widely used for HER2: immunohistochemistry (IHC) or florescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Either test may be used to determine a woman's HER2 status. Frequently, based on recommendations by leading oncology groups, one or the other is used. In this case, using both tests allowed researchers to uncover errors resulting from reliance on a single test. Of the 22 samples incorrectly categorized, 18 had been processed by a local laboratory using only one testing method.

Peter A. Kaufman, Kenneth J. Bloom, Howard Burris, Julie R. Gralow, Musa Mayer, Mark Pegram, Hope S. Rugo, Sandra M. Swain, Denise A. Yardley, Miu Chau, Deepa Lalla, Bongin Yoo, Melissa G. Brammer, Charles L. Vogel. Assessing the discordance rate between local and central HER2 testing in women with locally determined HER2-negative breast cancer. Cancer, 2014; DOI:10.1002/cncr.28710

Do 'walkable' neighborhoods reduce obesity, diabetes? Yes, research suggests

June 17, 2014 -  People who live in neighborhoods that are conducive to walking experienced a substantially lower rate of obesity, overweight and diabetes than those who lived in more auto-dependent neighborhoods, according to a pair of studies. Specifically, the studies found that people living in neighborhoods with greater walkability saw on average a 13 percent lower development of diabetes incidence over 10 years than those that were less walkable. Researchers in Canada compared adults living in the most and least "walkable" metropolitan areas in southern Ontario and found a lower risk of developing diabetes over a 10-year period for those who lived in neighborhoods with less sprawl, more interconnectivity among streets, and more local stores and services within walking distance, among other measures used to determine a neighborhood's "walkability." The researchers controlled for variables, such as health at baseline, in order to rule out the probability that healthier people were choosing more walkable neighborhoods to begin with. A second study that compared neighborhoods, not individuals, found that the most walkable neighborhoods had the lowest incidence of obesity, overweight and diabetes.

"How we build our cities matters in terms of our overall health," said lead researcher Gillian Booth, MD, Endocrinologist and Research Scientist at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto. "This is one piece of a puzzle that we can potentially do something about. As a society, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives. Every opportunity to walk, to get outside, to go to the corner store or walk our children to school can have a big impact on our risk for diabetes and becoming overweight."

Marisa Creatore, Epidemiologist with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, added that the studies revealed the degree to which "your environment can influence your decisions about physical activity. When you live in a neighborhood designed to encourage people to be more active, you are in fact more likely to be more active."

Specifically, the studies found that people living in neighborhoods with greater walkability saw on average a 13 percent lower development of diabetes incidence over 10 years than those that were less walkable. However, walkability was only protective in those who were younger and middle aged; those who were age 65 or older saw no benefit from living in a walkable neighborhood.

Diabetes was lowest in the most walkable neighborhoods, where incidence fell 7 percent over 10 years, whereas neighborhoods rated least walkable saw a 6 percent rise in diabetes over the same time period. Overweight and obesity, as well, was lowest in the most walkable neighborhoods and fell by 9 percent over 10 years, whereas it rose 13 percent in neighborhoods with the least walkability during that time.

The researchers also noted that people who lived in the most walkable neighborhoods were three times more likely to walk or bicycle and half as likely to drive as a means of transportation.

Solving the obesity pandemic, concluded Booth, "will require both policy changes as well as individual strategies. We have to take a more population-based approach to the problem, given the environment we live in."

The above story is based on materials provided by American Diabetes Association.

Kids whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals, study shows

June 18, 2014 - Children who spend more time in less structured activities - from playing outside to reading books to visiting the zoo - are better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder. The study, published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, also found that children who participate in more structured activities - including soccer practice, piano lessons and homework - had poorer "self-directed executive function," a measure of the ability to set and reach goals independently.

"Executive function is extremely important for children," said CU-Boulder psychology and neuroscience Professor Yuko Munakata, senior author of the new study. "It helps them in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification. Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later."

The study is one of the first to try to scientifically grapple with the question of how an increase in scheduled, formal activities may affect the way children's brains develop.

Munakata said a debate about parenting philosophy - with extremely rigid "tiger moms" on one side and more elastic "free-range" parents on the other - has played out in the media and on parenting blogs in recent years. But there is little scientific evidence to support claims on either side of the discussion.

Jane Barker, a CU-Boulder doctoral student working with Munakata and lead author of the study, said, "These are societally important questions that come up quite often in social commentary and casual conversations among parents. So it's important to conduct research in this area, even if the questions are messy and not easy to investigate."

For the study, parents of 70 6-year-olds recorded their children's daily activities for a week. The scientists then categorized those activities as either more structured or less structured, relying on existing time-use classifications already used in scientific literature by economists.

"These were the best and the most rigorous classifications we could find," Barker said. "They still fail to capture the degree of structure within specific activities, but we thought that was the best starting point because we wanted to connect this with prior work."

In that classification system, structured activities include chores, physical lessons, non-physical lessons and religious activities. Less-structured activities include free play alone and with others, social outings, sightseeing, reading and media time. Activities that did not count in either category include sleeping, eating meals, going to school and commuting.

The children also were evaluated for self-directed executive function with a commonly used verbal fluency test.

The results showed that the more time children spent in less structured activities, the better their self-directed executive function. Conversely, the more time children spent in more structured activities the poorer their self-directed executive function.

Because some of the existing time-use categories might not reflect the real amount of structure involved in an activity, the researchers also did several rounds of recalculation after removing categories that were questionable. In each case the findings still held. For example, the time-use categories classify media screen time as unstructured, but the degree of structure depends on whether a child is watching a movie or playing a video game. However, when media time was removed from the data, the results were the same.

"This isn't perfect, but it's a first step," said Munakata. "Our results are really suggestive and intriguing. Now we'll see if it holds up as we push forward and try to get more information."

The researchers emphasize that their results show a correlation between time use and self-directed executive function, but they don't prove that the change in self-directed executive function was caused by the amount of structured or unstructured time. The team is already considering a longitudinal study, which would follow participants over time, to begin to answer the question of cause.

Jane E. Barker, Andrei D. Semenov, Laura Michaelson, Lindsay S. Provan, Hannah R. Snyder, Yuko Munakata. Less-structured time in children's daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning. Frontiers in Psychology, 2014; 5 DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00593

Yoga exercise program tailored for pulmonary hypertension patients

June 18, 2014 - A first-of-its-kind yoga exercise program has been developed for patients living with pulmonary hypertension, a chronic lung disease that afflicts women at least two times more than men. Called Yoga for PH, the 40-minute program includes three yoga exercise levels and a nutrition and lifestyle discussion.It is available for free download on iTunes and Googleplay.

The program was developed by Henry Ford pulmonologist Rana Awdish, M.D. , a 20-year yoga practitioner.

"These yoga exercises are modified specifically for the needs of pulmonary hypertension patients and can be done safely regardless of the patient's level of physical fitness," Dr. Awdish says. "We all recognize the importance of exercise. But for these patients, routine activities like walking up stairs can be challenging, so convincing them they can have success exercising can be challenging.

"What we've created are a series of gentle, low-impact exercises that can be in the comfort of their own home, sitting in a chair or standing. These are designed to improve balance, strength, reduce stress and calm the nervous system. Even patients who require oxygen can perform these exercises."

Henry Ford Hospital is among the largest referral centers for pulmonary hypertension in the United States, and is one of only two hospitals in Michigan that offer pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship programs. The hospital has an intensive care unit dedicated to the care of pulmonary hypertension patients, with specially-trained nurses who are experts in managing the complex needs of these patients.

Dr. Awdish says the idea for a yoga exercise program was borne from requests from patients. It was funded by a grant from the Pulmonary Hypertension Association.

"The interest was all organic," she says, "and the patients wanted to know how to do yoga safely, despite their condition."

Pulmonary hypertension, or PH, is high blood pressure in the lungs. The blood vessels in the lungs become narrowed and the heart has to work harder to pump blood through them. It typically develops between the ages of 20 and 60, and is two or three times more common in women than men.

Common symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and a racing heartbeat. As PH worsens, symptoms may limit physical activity.

While PH has no cure, the earlier the disease is treated, the better the outcomes are for patients. Treatment options to relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease include medication, surgical procedures and lifestyle changes. "With proper medication," Dr. Awdish says, "patients can live a long and healthy life."

"Any amount of exercise is beneficial is patients," she says. "We know that when patients are engaged in their treatment and their healing, they have better outcomes. These yoga exercises will help aid their healing process."

The above story is based on materials provided by Henry Ford Health System. 

Supplements of calcium, vitamin D may have too much for some older women

June 18, 2014 - Calcium and vitamin D are commonly recommended for older women, but the usual supplements may send calcium excretion and blood levels too high for some women, shows a new study published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society. This randomized, placebo-controlled trial included 163 older (ages 57 to 90) white women whose vitamin D levels were too low. The women took calcium citrate tablets to meet their recommended intake of 1,200 mg/day, and they took various doses of vitamin D, ranging from 400 to 4,800 IU/day. (The trial was limited by ethnicity because different ethnic groups metabolize calcium and vitamin D differently.)

About 9% of the women developed excess levels of calcium in their blood (hypercalcemia), and 31% developed excess levels in their urine (hypercalciuria), even though they were taking normal doses of the supplements and did not have hyperparathyroidism, a condition in which the body makes too much calcium-regulating hormone. These excess blood and urine calcium levels may lead to kidney stones or other problems.

The good news in this study is that the investigators found a way to predict which women were likely to develop these excess levels. The risk of developing excess urine calcium was 15 times higher for women who started out with a 24-hour urine calcium level above 132 mg than for women with lower levels. And the risk was 20 times higher for women who started with levels above 180 mg than for women with lower levels. But every one-year increase in age reduced the risk by 10%.

"Even a modest calcium supplementation of 500 mg/day may be too high for some women," note the authors, who recommend measuring blood and urine calcium levels before women start using the supplements and again within three months.

"I would recommend that women determine how much calcium they typically get through their food sources before taking a hefty calcium supplement. They may not need as much as they think," says NAMS Executive Director Margery Gass, MD.

John Christopher Gallagher, Lynette M. Smith, Vinod Yalamanchili. Incidence of hypercalciuria and hypercalcemia during vitamin D and calcium supplementation in older women. Menopause, 2014; 1 DOI:10.1097/GME.0000000000000270

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.

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 Fish-eating spiders discovered in all parts of the world

June 18, 2014 - Spiders are traditionally viewed as predators of insects. Zoologists from Switzerland and Australia have now published a study that shows: spiders all over the world also prey on fish. The academic journal PLOS ONE has just published the results. Although viewed by ecologists as the classical predators of insects, researchers have become increasingly aware that spiders are not exclusively insectivorous. Certain larger-sized species supplement their diet by occasionally catching small fish. This shows a new study by zoologist and spider expert, Martin Nyffeler from the University of Basel, Switzerland and Bradley Pusey from the University of Western Australia. The researchers gathered and documented numerous incidents of spiders predating fish from all around the world.

Fish as a diet supplement

According to their systematic review, spiders from as many as five families have been observed predating on small fish in the wild and three more families contain species that catch fish under laboratory conditions. These so called semi-aquatic spiders typically dwell at the fringes of shallow freshwater streams, ponds or swamps. These spiders, some of which are capable of swimming, diving and walking on the water surface, have powerful neurotoxins and enzymes that enable them to kill and digest fish that often exceed them in size and weight. "The finding of such a large diversity of spiders engaging in fish predation is novel. Our evidence suggests that fish might be an occasional prey item of substantial nutritional importance," says Martin Nyffeler.

Based on this study, naturally occurring fish predation by spiders has been reported from all continents with the exception of Antarctica. Most incidents have been documented in North America, especially in the wetlands of Florida, where semi-aquatic spiders have often been witnessed catching and eating small freshwater fish such as mosquitofish. In order to catch its prey, the spider will typically anchor its hind legs to a stone or a plant, with its front legs resting on the surface of the water, ready to ambush. The fish will then be dragged to a dry place before the feeding process can begin which usually lasts several hours.

Martin Nyffeler, Bradley J. Pusey. Fish Predation by Semi-Aquatic Spiders: A Global Pattern. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (6): e99459 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0099459

Below: Fishing spider Dolomedes facetus captured fish (genus Xiphophorus) in garden pond near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Credit: Peter Liley, Moffat Beach, Queensland, CC-BY

 New study aims to bust myths about Indigenous sports stars - 16 June 2014

A University of Sydney study aims to bust common myths about the remarkable achievements of Indigenous Australians in sport.

Chief investigator Dr John Evans will spend the next three years identifying the socio-cultural and teaching factors that have encouraged and enhanced Indigenous sports stars' excellence at the highest levels of sport.

"The existing myths are that Indigenous players have freakish ability and are naturally gifted, ignoring the hard work and years of practice that are required to be an elite athlete," said Dr Evans, of the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Indigenous athletes account for between 10-14 per cent of the elite player population in Rugby League and Australian Rules*, while Indigenous Australians account for 2.5 per cent of the total Australian population.

"We are looking at AFL and Rugby League due the extraordinary level of success in those sports by Indigenous athletes," said Dr Evans.

"We will work with current and recently retired players. We will identify the socio-cultural and pedagogical factors through interviews and data collection by isolating the factors that lead to success."

Despite significant social disadvantage and alarming underachievement in educational outcomes, Indigenous Australians achieve extraordinary success across high-profile sports. Yet such success is often explained as a result of inherited racial characteristics.

Dr Evans' study will go beyond the myths to explore this achievement as a process of learning, to demand inquiry into how this learning occurs and what socio-cultural factors facilitate it.

The study has received funding of $327,033 from the Australian Research Council, under the Discovery Indigenous Grants scheme.

 Litter-dwelling thrips live mainly in tropical and subtropical regions

June 18, 2014 - The species diversity in soil fauna has been studied in temperate regions for more than 50 years, but with scarcely any mention of thrips. This lack of reference to thrips raises the question whether or not litter-dwelling thrips are distributed only in tropical and sub-tropical regions. To answer this question a total 150 leaf litter samples were collected from 6 natural reserves located in three climatic regions, temperate, subtropical and tropical, along a 4100 km latitudinal gradient in East China. The survey was done over a four-year period by Dr Jun Wang, who is a thrips specialist and an assistant professor at the College of Plant Science, Jilin University, China. His results have been published in the open access journalZooKeys.

'Thrips constitute over 3.0% of total litter-dwelling macroinvertebrate individuals in 4 natural reserves from subtropical and tropical zone', said Dr Wang. 'In contrast, it constitute only 0.3% in the warm temperate natural reserves, and no thrips is collected in a mid temperate reserve.'

Dr Wang said that the order on the average species numbers per plot of litter thrips was tropic followed by subtropics followed by temperate. Mean density of litter thrips per plots in the tropics and subtropics was significantly higher than that in the temperate region.

Dr. Laurence Mound, CSIRO Entomology, Australia commented that this manuscript is the the first serious attempt to look at the diversity of thrips in leaf-litter, based on a good sampling strategy, and investigating the variation with latitude.

Jun Wang, X.L Tong, Donghui Wu. The effect of latitudinal gradient on the species diversity of Chinese litter-dwelling thrips. ZooKeys, 2014; 417: 9 DOI:10.3897/zookeys.417.7895photo: This is an example of Psalidothrips ascitus(Ananthakrishnan). Abundant individuals were found in leaf litter. Credit: Dr Jun Wang; CC-BY 4.0

 Hunt for extraterrestrial life gets massive methane boost

June 16, 2014 – A powerful new model to detect life on planets outside of our solar system, more accurately than ever before, has been developed by UCL (University College London) researchers. The new model focuses on methane, the simplest organic molecule, widely acknowledged to be a sign of potential life.

Researchers from UCL and the University of New South Wales have developed a new spectrum for 'hot' methane which can be used to detect the molecule at temperatures above that of Earth, up to 1,500K/1220°C - something that was not possible before.

To find out what remote planets orbiting other stars are made of, astronomers analyze the way in which their atmospheres absorb starlight of different colors and compare it to a model, or 'spectrum', to identify different molecules.

Professor Jonathan Tennyson, (UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy) co-author of the study said: "Current models of methane are incomplete, leading to a severe underestimation of methane levels on planets. We anticipate our new model will have a big impact on the future study of planets and 'cool' stars external to our solar system, potentially helping scientists identify signs of extraterrestrial life."

The study, published in PNAS, describes how the researchers used some of the UK's most advanced supercomputers, provided by the Distributed Research utilising Advanced Computing (DiRAC) project and run by the University of Cambridge, to calculate nearly 10 billion spectroscopic lines, each with a distinct colour at which methane can absorb light. The new list of lines is 2000 times bigger than any previous study, which means it can give more accurate information across a broader range of temperatures than was previously possible.

Lead author of the study, Dr Sergei Yurchenko, (UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy) added: "The comprehensive spectrum we have created has only been possible with the astonishing power of modern supercomputers which are needed for the billions of lines required for the modelling. We limited the temperature threshold to 1,500K to fit the capacity available, so more research could be done to expand the model to higher temperatures still. Our calculations required about 3 million CPU (central processing unit) hours alone; processing power only accessible to us through the DiRAC project.

"We are thrilled to have used this technology to significantly advance beyond previous models available for researchers studying potential life on astronomical objects, and we are eager to see what our new spectrum helps them discover." he added.

The new model has been tested and verified by successfully reproducing in detail the way in which the methane in failed stars, called brown dwarfs, absorbs light.

Sergei N. Yurchenko, Jonathan Tennyson, Jeremy Bailey, Morgan D. J. Hollis, and Giovanna Tinetti. Spectrum of hot methane in astronomical objects using a comprehensive computed line list. PNAS, June 2014 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1324219111

Photo: Is there methane on this planet? Credit: ESA (European Space Agency)

 Brain imaging shows enhanced executive brain function in people with musical training

June 17, 2014 – A controlled study using functional MRI brain imaging reveals a possible biological link between early musical training and improved executive functioning in both children and adults, report researchers at Boston Children's Hospital. The study, appearing online June 17 in the journal PLOS ONE, uses functional MRI of brain areas associated with executive function, adjusting for socioeconomic factors.

Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviors, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands.

"Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications," says study senior investigator Nadine Gaab, PhD, of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's. "While many schools are cutting music programs and spending more and more time on test preparation, our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future."

While it's already clear that musical training relates to cognitive abilities, few previous studies have looked at its effects on executive functions specifically. Among these studies, results have been mixed and limited by a lack of objective brain measurements, examination of only a few aspects of executive function, lack of well-defined musical training and control groups, and inadequate adjustment for factors like socioeconomic status.

Gaab and colleagues compared 15 musically trained children, 9 to 12, with a control group of 12 untrained children of the same age. Musically trained children had to have played an instrument for at least two years in regular private music lessons. (On average, the children had played for 5.2 years and practiced 3.7 hours per week, starting at the age of 5.9.) The researchers similarly compared 15 adults who were active professional musicians with 15 non-musicians. Both control groups had no musical training beyond general school requirements.

Since family demographic factors can influence whether a child gets private music lessons, the researchers matched the musician/non-musician groups for parental education, job status (parental or their own) and family income. The groups, also matched for IQ, underwent a battery of cognitive tests, and the children also had functional MRI imaging (fMRI) of their brains during testing.

On cognitive testing, adult musicians and musically trained children showed enhanced performance on several aspects of executive functioning. On fMRI, the children with musical training showed enhanced activation of specific areas of the prefrontal cortex during a test that made them switch between mental tasks. These areas, the supplementary motor area, the pre-supplementary area and the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, are known to be linked to executive function.

"Our results may also have implications for children and adults who are struggling with executive functioning, such as children with ADHD or [the] elderly," says Gaab. "Future studies have to determine whether music may be utilized as a therapeutic intervention tools for these children and adults."

The researchers note that children who study music may already have executive functioning abilities that somehow attract them to music and predispose them to stick with their lessons. To establish that musical training influences executive function, and not the other way around, they hope to perform additional studies that follow children over time, assigning them to musical training at random.

Jennifer Zuk, Christopher Benjamin, Arnold Kenyon, Nadine Gaab.Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and Non-Musicians.PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (6): e99868 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099868

Top: This image shows functional MRI imaging during mental task switching: Panels A and B shows brain activation in musically trained and untrained children, respectively. Panel C shows brain areas that are more active in musically trained than musically untrained children. Credit: Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Boston Children's Hospital

 Maybe birds can have it all: Dazzling colors and pretty songs

June 18, 2014 – A study of one of the world's largest and most colorful bird families has dispelled a long-held notion, first proposed by Charles Darwin, that animals are limited in their options to evolve showiness. The study - the largest of its kind - was published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The natural world is full of showstoppers - birds with brilliant colors, exaggerated crests and tails, intricate dance routines, or virtuosic singing. But it's long been thought that these abilities are the result of trade-offs. For a species to excel in one area, it must give up its edge in another. For example, male Northern Cardinals are a dazzling scarlet but sing a fairly simple whistle, whereas the dull brown House Wren sings one of the most complicated songs in nature.

"Animals have limited resources, and they have to spend those in order to develop showy plumage or precision singing that help them attract mates and defend territories," said Nick Mason, the paper's lead author. "So it seems to make sense that you can't have both. But our study took a more detailed look and suggests that actually, some species can." Mason did the research as a master's student at San Diego State University. He is now a Ph.D. student at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Mason and his colleagues tested the idea of trade-offs by looking at a very large family of songbirds from Central and South America, the tanagers. This group consists of 371 species - nearly 10 percent of all songbirds. It includes some of the most spectacularly colorful birds in the world such as the Paradise Tanager as well as more drab birds such the Black-bellied Seedeater. The group also includes both accomplished and weak songsters alike.

"If there were going to be any group of birds at all that would show this trade-off, the tanagers would be a very good candidate, because there's all this variation in song and plumage complexity," Mason said, noting that the group's large size lends confidence to the statistical analysis. "But when we dive into it and do some rigorous statistics, it turns out that there is no overall trend. Tanagers can be drab and plain-sounding, or colorful and musical, or anything in between."

As a byproduct of the analyses, Mason was able to put together top-10 lists of tanagers with the most colorful plumage and the most complex songs. The lists - which are available at: - help illustrate the overall lack of a trade-off between singing and plumage. For example, a single genus of mountain-tanagers had members on both lists. The Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager ranked eighth among the most complex songs, while the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager had the fourth most complex plumage of all 303 species examined.

The study puts a significant dent in the idea of evolutionary trade-offs between plumage and song. It's still possible that trade-offs take place at the level of genus, Mason said, or that they influence species relatively fleetingly as evolutionary pressures appear and disappear. But as a broad effect on an entire family of birds, a voice-plumage tradeoff doesn't seem to exist. One possibility is that the resources needed to develop fancy plumage are different from the ones required for complex songs, freeing tanagers to invest in both forms of showiness simultaneously.

N. A. Mason, A. J. Shultz, K. J. Burns. Elaborate visual and acoustic signals evolve independently in a large, phenotypically diverse radiation of songbirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2014; 281 (1788): 20140967 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0967 photo: Tanagers are among the most spectacularly colorful birds in the world. Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University