Inbox and Environment News - Issue 183 

 October 5 - 11, 2014: Issue 183


 New apps and e-tools protecting young people from mental health problems

1 October 2014 - New apps and e-tools designed by mental health experts are giving young people the power to improve their own wellbeing and protect themselves from life-long mental health problems, according to Professor Ian Hickie, who will speak about teens, technology and mental health on October 8 at the University of Sydney.

"Mobile technologies are young people's primary access point for many kinds of services," says Hickie, who is Executive Director of the University of Sydney's Brain & Mind Research Institute.

Now, and increasingly in the future, more young people will tap in to self-help tools through smartphones rather than a laptop or computer.

"These new apps and e-tools are helping young people who don't engage with traditional forms of clinical care, and those who are excluded by geography, disability or socioeconomic status. We've therefore been mindful to design applications and tools that are simple, fun, easy and visually appealing," says Hickie.

"Importantly, these apps and e-tools can really empower young people and make them less reliant on clinicians, when that's appropriate.

"For instance, our free Recharge app has high appeal among young people. It makes it easy to enter and monitor key biometric data such as sleep and physical activity, while also monitoring experiential data (eg. mood) which helps users understand how to change their behavior and look after their own mental health and wellbeing.

"That's different to a lot of the other products on the market, which provide generic information and aren't really tailored to users' specific needs."

A joint development by the Brain & Mind Research Institute and by Inspire Foundation, Recharge, has had nearly 5,000 downloads since its iTunes App Store launch in May 2014. Aimed at 16-25 year olds, users have used the app to read more than 33,000 wellbeing guide articles and conducted 32,000 sessions.

Ian Hickie also sees international potential for these new technologies: "What I love about apps and e-tools is their capacity to be picked up globally, particularly in the developing world, where smart phones are the default platform for online communication.

"When we talk about places like Indonesia, India and the Asia Pacific region, it means we can offer first world technologies to people who are never going to access a clinic or a health professional. This means they can get the best that we've got to offer, right now, through these applications."

Another online tool putting mental health services in the hands of young people is the e-Mental Health Clinic.

"New technologies offer the ability to deliver services as good, if not better than if you came to a physical location to see a health professional," says Tracey Davenport, Research Director at the Brain & Mind Research Institute.

"This is a real positive because the majority of young men and women with a major mental health issue never get access to care. Providing care online means we can jump many of the barriers that block young people from engaging with traditional forms of clinical care.

"It's a real leap forwards because it enhances our ability to be accessible, affordable and available when young people need professional clinical care. For the first time, technology provides the ability to be where we need to be at the time when young people really need help."

Developed by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, the Brain & Mind Research Institute and the university's School of Electrical and Information Engineering, the e-Mental Health Clinic offers a unique, new model of care.

"We're taking the knowledge and expertise that sits in face-to-face clinics and offering it in the online environment," says the CEO of the Young and Well CRC, Associate Professor Jane Burns. "So you could be a young person living in rural Australia and yet be able to access the best professional advice and therapy without leaving your home. Better still, the care and support can be tailored to your needs."

These applications and services are just two in a suite of new online mental health and wellbeing apps and e-tools being developed by the University of Sydney and its partners at the Young and Well CRC and by Inspire Foundation.

 Climate detectives reveal handprint of human-caused climate change in Australia

September 29, 2014 - Australia's hottest year on record in 2013 along with the accompanying droughts, heat waves and record-breaking seasons of that year was virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused global warming.

New research from ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS) researchers and colleagues, over five different Australian papers in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), has highlighted the powerful influence of global warming on Australia's climate.

"We often talk about the fingerprint of human-caused climate change when we look at extreme weather patterns," said Prof David Karoly, an ARCCSS researcher with the University of Melbourne.

"This research across four different papers goes well beyond that. If we were climate detectives then Australia's hottest year on record in 2013 wasn't just a smudged fingerprint at the scene of the crime, it was a clear and unequivocal handprint showing the impact of human caused global warming."

In 2013, heat records fell like dominoes. Australia had its hottest day on record, its hottest month on record, its hottest summer on record, its hottest spring on record and then rounded it off with the hottest year on record.

According to the research papers presented in BAMS, the impact of climate change significantly increased the chances of record heat events in 2013. Looking back over the observational record the researchers found global warming over Australia (see attached graphic): doubled the chance of the most intense heat waves, tripled the likelihood of heatwave events, made extreme summer temperature across Australia five time more likely increased the chance of hot dry drought-like conditions seven times made hot spring temperatures across Australia 30 times more likely.

But perhaps most importantly, it showed the record hot year of 2013 across Australia was virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused global warming. At its most conservative, the science showed the heat of 2013 was made 2000 times more likely by global warming.

"When it comes to what helped cause our hottest year on record, human-caused climate change is no longer a prime suspect, it is the guilty party," said ARCCSS Australian National University researcher Dr Sophie Lewis.

"Too often we talk about climate change impacts as if they are far in the future. This research shows they are here, now."

The extreme year of 2013 is just the latest peak in a trend over the observational record that has seen increasing bushfire days, the record-breaking warming of oceans around Australia, the movement of tropical species into temperate zones and the shifting of rain bearing storm tracks further south and away from some of our most important agricultural zones.

"The most striking aspect of the extreme heat of 2013 and its impacts is that this is only at the very beginning of the time when we are expected to experience the first impacts of human-caused climate change," said Dr Sarah Perkins an ARCCSS researcher with the University of New South Wales.

"If we continue to put carbon into our atmosphere at the currently accelerating rate, years like 2013 will quickly be considered normal and the impacts of future extremes will be well beyond anything modern society has experienced."

The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales. The impacts of man-made climate change were felt in Australia during its hottest year on record in 2013. Credit: UNSW, P3, Helena Brusic.

 New era for marine parks for South Australia 

October 1, 2014 - South Australia’s marine parks enter a new era today as fishing restrictions begin in sanctuary zones.

There are 83 sanctuary zones within our 19 marine parks around the state, which include the feeding and breeding areas of many marine species, from the largest southern right whales down to the tiniest sea stars.

From today, fishing will no longer be allowed in these sanctuary zones, which cover about 6 per cent of South Australian waters. That leaves about 94 per cent available for recreational and commercial fishing. Recreational fishing is also provided for at all public jetties, breakwaters and popular beaches.

A comprehensive 24-page Fishing Guide is available free from DEWNR offices and Natural Resources Centres. Plus signs featuring maps of local sanctuary zones have been installed at key boat ramps and access points.

To help guide fishers on the water, DEWNR has developed a free smartphone app that can give an alert when entering a sanctuary zone. There are also GPS coordinates available for download for every sanctuary zone in the state.

The first time a recreational line fisher is caught illegally fishing in a sanctuary zone, they will receive an official warning. Repeat offenders and other fishers face an expiation notice of $315. Serious offenders could face fines of up to $100,000 and two years’ gaol.

For more information visit 

Authorised by Tim Goodes, Acting Chief Executive 

Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources

Indigenous rangers, scientists and Bush Heritage working together to protect the West Arnhem Plateau

Published on Sep 27, 2014 - The Warddeken Indigenous Rangers of West Arnhem Land, Bush Heritage and scientists have joined forces to survey the little-known An-binik jungles of west Arnhem Land. The knowledge they gain will help the rangers to protect the fragile ecosystem from wildfire. During the 2014 dry season the rangers, supported by Bush Heritage, implemented a fire project as part of their Healthy Country Plan. They created a mosaic of burnt and unburnt patches across the landscape to help prevent run-away hot fires – a key threat to the plateau and the an-binik forests. 


Rob Stokes MP, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage, Minister for the Central Coast, Assistant Minister for Planning

MEDIA RELEASE: Wednesday October 1 2014

Environment Minister Rob Stokes today welcomed the announcement of Federal Government funding for new environmental science research hubs, and urged NSW universities and research institutions to apply for the programme.

The National Environmental Science Programme will provide $102 million over four years to fund six research hubs focusing on:

 Clean Air and Urban Landscapes

 Earth Systems

 Marine Biodiversity

 Northern Australia Environmental Resources

 Threatened Species Recovery

 Tropical Water Quality

Mr Stokes encouraged NSW institutions to apply for funding through the programme, which has been established to help policy makers protect Australia’s environment with world-class class biodiversity and climate science.

“These research hubs will play a vital role in protecting and preserving our marine life, our threatened species and making sure we keep our air clean,” Mr Stokes said.

“The Clean Air and Urban Landscapes hub in particular will complement the NSW Government’s ongoing efforts through the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

“NSW has one of the largest air quality monitoring networks in Australia, and the Government has opened new monitoring stations in the Hunter, Central Coast and Western Sydney.

“The network now totals 43 monitoring stations located in strategic areas and towns across the state.

“I encourage all NSW institutions to throw their hat in the ring to host these hubs.”

The programme will be implemented through a competitive process in which groups of research institutions will apply to form research hubs. The hubs are planned to commence operating early next year.

For information go to Applications close November 5.

 Coral reef winners and losers as water temperatures rise

October 1, 2014 - Contrary to the popular research-based assumption that the world's coral reefs are doomed, a new longitudinal study from UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) paints a brighter picture of how corals may fare in the future.

An NCEAS working group reports that there will be winners and losers among coral species facing increasing natural and human-caused stressors. However, its experts demonstrate that a subset of the present coral fauna will likely populate the world's oceans as water temperatures continue to rise. The findings were published today inPLOS ONE.

Drawn from universities in California (including UCSB), Hawaii and New Hampshire, the 20 scientists in the working group -- Tropical Coral Reefs of the Future: Modeling Ecological Outcomes from the Analyses of Current and Historical Trends -- sought to understand the future changes in coral reefs motivated by the threat of increasing ocean temperatures.

"This NCEAS working group brought together coral reef experts with diverse perspectives from ecology and paleoecology," said Frank Davis, the director of NCEAS. "The ongoing collaborations have been creative and productive."

To simulate future outcomes, the researchers analyzed contemporary and fossil coral reef ecosystem data sets from two Caribbean locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Belize, and from five Indo-Pacific locations in Moorea, Taiwan, Hawaii, Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Kenya. Based on this cumulative knowledge, the team built a trait-based dynamic model to explore ecological performance in a warmer future.

"Although many corals are becoming less abundant, there remain a number of species that are holding their own or increasing in abundance and these corals will populate tropical reefs over the next few centuries," said principal investigator and lead author Peter Edmunds, a biology professor at California State University, Northridge.

The study uses current case studies to describe the events taking place on extant reefs; it also uses fossil records to explain the temporal novelty of the changes affecting the community ecology on these reefs. The investigators' mathematical model provides insight into the future ecological fate of coral reefs under increased thermal stress.

The working group's analysis shows that the winning subset coral species is fast-growing, phenotypically smaller and wider, and more stress-resistant and that it readily produces offspring. Sensitivity analyses also demonstrate that thermal tolerance, growth rate and longevity are predictors of coral persistence when under thermal stress. While this subset of species still supports diversity, a lot is still unknown about its functionality.

"This work is important as it reveals a range of nuanced outcomes for tropical reef corals other than near-complete loss of live coral cover in the face of the current onslaught of environmental assaults," Edmunds said. "While it is unlikely future tropical reefs will provide the same ecological goods and services as the coral reefs of the past, our study provides optimism that some reef corals will persist in a warmer and more acidic future."

1. Peter J. Edmunds, Mehdi Adjeroud, Marissa L. Baskett, Iliana B. Baums, Ann F. Budd, Robert C. Carpenter, Nicholas S. Fabina, Tung-Yung Fan, Erik C. Franklin, Kevin Gross, Xueying Han, Lianne Jacobson, James S. Klaus, Tim R. McClanahan, Jennifer K. O'Leary, Madeleine J. H. van Oppen, Xavier Pochon, Hollie M. Putnam, Tyler B. Smith, Michael Stat, Hugh Sweatman, Robert van Woesik, Ruth D. Gates.Persistence and Change in Community Composition of Reef Corals through Present, Past, and Future Climates. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (10): e107525 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0107525

 Award for creek restoration in Newcastle's catchment

29 Sep 2014 - The NSW Government's Soil Conservation Service (SCS) today won an industry conservation award for creek restoration in the Newcastle catchment.

The International Erosion Control Association Australasia Environmental Excellence Award for Innovation, Education and Contribution to the Erosion and Sediment Control Industry will be presented in New Zealand this evening.

The SCS won for its work in restoring local creeks and vegetation that had been degraded by urban water drainage systems. Much of the work was done within the Ironbark Creek catchment for client Newcastle City Council. Urban drainage eyesores were restored into stable feature waterways that improved both the social amenity and enhanced environmental and habitat values.

Several sites within the Ironbark Creek program have been used as education tools for local school children and the local community was engaged in planting days. The reshaped and stablised water flow channels have greatly reduced the potential erosion from stormwater and revegetation has improved the ecological health of the entire waterway corridor.

The creeks within this program have been completely transformed from weed infested eyesores beset with erosion, access, safety and flooding issues into pleasing and enjoyable community assets.

"Drains were turned into waterways with valuable green spaces where the community can re-connect with the environment and their neighbours

The SCS earlier received the 2014 excellence in storm water infrastructure award from the Stormwater Industry of NSW for this project. 

Karenne Jurd of Newcastle City Council said the SCS had delivered a cost effective, long-life asset that benefited the health and well-being of residents, as well as the local flora and fauna inhabiting the creeks.

"Thanks to this project the erosion threat to nearby homes has diminished and community assets such as local schools and parks are greatly enhanced," she said.

SCS General Manager David Witherdin said the project was delivered by the Newcastle consult team of environmental and engineering experts.

"This innovative work departed from the traditional engineering approach by promoting an understanding of the natural environment and working to recreate these features," Mr Witherdin said.

"We were contracted by Newcastle City Council across a number of sites and delivered outcomes that were value for money, met hydraulic constraints, improved habitat, improved aesthetics and protect critical infrastructure.

"We engaged skilled local contractors and suppliers working in conjunction with SCS staff, thereby supporting economic development in the local region."

SCS's Goolang Creek Project, at Nymboida near Grafton, was also a highly commended finalist in the awards' Environmental Excellence category.

20 Million Trees launched with first grants round now open

Media release: 2 October 2014 - The Australian Government is inviting communities across the country to get involved in the 20 Million Trees Programme with the first competitive grants round now open for applications.

The 20 Million Trees Programme was a key Coalition election commitment and is a vital part of the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme. The Government is investing $50 million over the next four years to re-establish Australia's green corridors and urban forests through the 20 Million Trees Programme.

It's an important part of the Government's total investment in natural resource management which amounts to over $2 billion over the next four years.

20 Million Trees projects can be undertaken in urban and regional Australia, on both public and private land, providing community and environmental benefit at the local level.

Communities, groups and individuals are invited to apply for grants between $20,000 and $100,000 to help set up their own 20 Million Trees project. Funding can be used to re-establish native vegetation, and create greener spaces to improve the liveability of local communities while increasing and improving habitat to support our threatened species.

A wide range of groups, organisations, and individuals in the community are encouraged to apply. This includes community groups, schools, landholders, landcare and conservation groups and local councils.

Applications for projects are now open and will close on 30 October 2014.

Project guidelines for the competitive grants round provide individuals and organisations with the information they need to apply for funding to start a tree planting project in their community.

As well as the grants, the Australian Government will also be running a tender process for Service Providers to undertake large-scale tree plantings. More details on the National Service Provider process will be available over the coming months.

More information about the 20 Million Trees programme is available at

Manta Rays love Lady Elliot Island

Australia’s Southern Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s hotspots for seeing marine mega fauna such as the giant manta ray. Despite being listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species as being vulnerable to extinction, manta rays are hunted in some parts of the world for medicinal purposes. Lady Elliot Island, which is located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, is a safe haven for these gentle giants and other migrating mega fauna such as sea turtles and humpback whales. In 2013, Lady Elliot Island was ranked by PADI, the world's largest SCUBA diving organisation, as one of the top five places in the world to snorkel and dive with manta rays. Manta alfredis can reach over five metres (18 feet) in wingspan and are related to stingrays and sharks. 

 Comment on Threatened Species listing assessments

You are invited to provide public comment on the below items to assist the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (the Committee) with its assessment of whether the items are eligible for inclusion in an EPBC Act list of threatened species, key threatening processes or ecological communities and, if eligible, the category in which they are eligible to be included.

Listing Assessments open for public comment


Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) -  until 14 November 2014

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) -  until 14 November 2014

Antechinus bellus (fawn antechinus) NT until 18 November 2014

Callistemon megalongensis (Megalong Valley bottlebrush) NSW- until 18 November 2014

Eucalyptus aggregata (black gum) NSW, ACT, VIC until 18 November 2014

Ecological community nominations

Central Hunter Valley eucalypt forest and woodland complex Endangered NSW until 29 October 2014

Posidonia australis seagrass meadows of the Manning-Hawkesbury ecoregion Endangered NSW until 5 November 2014

* The Australian Government has partnership agreements with the states and territories to share information and align threatened species lists where appropriate. Through these agreements, species that are endemic to (i.e. only found in) a particular state or territory are assessed first in that state, prior to them being assessed nationally under a streamlined assessment process.

If you wish to comment on any of the above nominations, please send your comments,  by mail, fax or email to the appropriate address listed


Aussie Backyard Bird count - Coming Soon to your Backyard


After spending the summer breeding and feeding in the Arctic, the shorebirds are now making their long, arduous journey back to Australian shores just in time for spring. The coming months are the perfect time to head outside and welcome them back. 


We’ve got just the thing to get you into the great outdoors and make their home coming count. From 20-26 October 2014, duringNational Bird Week, BirdLife Australia is encouraging every Australian to head out into their ‘backyard’, no matter what shape or size, and take part in the very first Aussie Backyard Bird Count.


We have specially designed an Aussie Bird Count app, featuring a Field Guide with almost 400 Australian birds to help you identify what you are seeing, do your 20-minute count on the spot in your favourite patch, and submit your checklist immediately. The app is a freely available in app stores.


We are setting a national community challenge for Australian’s to spot a total of 100,000 birds and we would like to count you in. Not only will you get to know your feathered friends, but you’ll be contributing to a vital pool of information from across the country that will help us see how Australian birds are faring. Birds are unique indicators of environmental health. If they are doing well, then so are we.So get your friends and family together, head out into nature and start counting! Check out for loads more information and FAQs

 Satellite measurements reveal gravity dip from ice loss in West Antarctica

September 30, 2014 – Although not designed to map changes in Earth's gravity over time, ESA's extraordinary GOCE satellite has shown that the ice lost from West Antarctica over the last few years has left its signature.

More than doubling its planned life in orbit, GOCE spent four years measuring Earth's gravity in unprecedented detail.

Scientists are now armed with the most accurate gravity model ever produced. This is leading to a much better understanding of many facets of our planet -- from the boundary between Earth's crust and upper mantle to the density of the upper atmosphere.

The strength of gravity at Earth's surface varies subtly from place to place owing to factors such as the planet's rotation and the position of mountains and ocean trenches.

Changes in the mass of large ice sheets can also cause small local variations in gravity.

Recently, the high-resolution measurements from GOCE over Antarctica between November 2009 and June 2012 have been analysed by scientists from the German Geodetic Research Institute, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Jet Propulsion Lab in USA and the Technical University of Munich in Germany.

Remarkably, they found that the decrease in the mass of ice during this period was mirrored in GOCE's measurements, even though the mission was not designed to detect changes over time.

Using gravity data to assess changes in ice mass is not new. The NASA-German Grace satellite, which was designed to measure change, has been providing this information for over 10 years.

However, measurements from Grace are much coarser than those of GOCE, so they cannot be used to look at features such as Antarctica's smaller 'catchment basins'.

For scientific purposes, the Antarctic ice sheet is often divided into catchment basins so that comparative measurements can be taken to work out how the ice in each basin is changing and discharging ice to the oceans. Some basins are much bigger than others.

By combining GOCE's high-resolution measurements with information from Grace, scientists can now look at changes in ice mass in small glacial systems -- offering even greater insight into the dynamics of Antarctica's different basins.

They have found that that the loss of ice from West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 caused a dip in the gravity field over the region.

In addition, GOCE data could be used to help validate satellite altimetry measurements for an even clearer understanding of ice-sheet and sea-level change.

ESA's CryoSat satellite, which carries a radar altimeter, has recently shown that since 2009 the rate at which ice is been lost from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet every year has increased by a factor of three.

And, between 2011 and 2014, Antarctica as a whole has been shrinking in volume by 125 cubic kilometres a year.

Johannes Bouman from the German Geodetic Research Institute said, "We are now working in an interdisciplinary team to extend the analysis of GOCE's data to all of Antarctica.

"This will help us gain further comparison with results from CryoSat for an even more reliable picture of actual changes in ice mass."

This new research into GOCE's gravity data revealing ice loss over time is being carried out through ESA's Earth Observation Support to Science Element. 

More information is available at:

1. J. Bouman, M. Fuchs, E. Ivins, W. van der Wal, E. Schrama, P. Visser, M. Horwath. Antarctic outlet glacier mass change resolved at basin scale from satellite gravity gradiometry.Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; 41 (16): 5919 DOI:10.1002/2014GL060637

Changes in Earth’s gravity field resulting from loss of ice from West Antarctica between November 2009 and June 2012 (mE = 10–12 s–2). A combination of data from ESA’s GOCE mission and NASA’s Grace satellites shows the ‘vertical gravity gradient change’. See full animation at HERE 

 Kiribati president asks the world to be human

By Greenpeace Nordic Published on Sep 25, 2014

This September ( 2014 ) Anote Tong, President of the Pacific Republic of Kiribati journeyed to the Arctic, to see first hand the melting Arctic glaciers that are affecting his drowning Pacific paradise. 

Sea levels are rising faster in the Central-West Pacific than nearly anywhere else in the world, forcing the Islands of Kiribati, with a population of 100 000, to prepare to be wiped out.

Like most people, President Tong had never been to the Arctic. And it turned out to be a powerful experience.

 Renowned plant researcher takes out prestigious Farrer Memorial Medal

01 Oct 2014 - Department of Primary Industries Director General and Farrer Memorial Trust Chairman, Scott Hansen, has congratulated the 2014 Farrer Memorial Medalist, Dr Elizabeth Dennis, a pioneer in plant molecular biology.

Dr Dennis received one of agriculture's most prestigious prizes and delivered the annual Farrer Memorial Oration at the National Convention Centre in Canberra as part of the 2014 ComBio yesterday.

"Dr Dennis is a renowned researcher in plant molecular biology, leading research into gene expression, molecular bases of plant development, plant gene regulation and mapping plant genomes," Mr Hansen said.

"She is a truly deserving winner of the Farrer Memorial Medal, and her tireless and innovative research to unravel the mechanism of plant processes is paving the way for future breakthroughs."

Dr Dennis leads research into genomics and plant development at CSIRO Agriculture. In her Oration, Dr Dennis described the approaches to understanding the mechanisms of hybrid vigour using Arabidopsis – a weed related to cabbage and mustard – as a model for future research.

"The face of modern agriculture changed when the Arabidopsis became the first plant genome to be sequenced and published in 2000," Dr Dennis said.

"This genome sequence enabled research to start with identification of a gene in Arabidopsis which can then be used to find similar genes in another crop species.

"There are many examples of Arabidopsis being used to unravel the mechanism of plant processes, for example identification of the genes important for making oils in canola or for nutrient uptake such as phosphorus."

The increased performance of hybrids relative to their parents is one of the remaining puzzles of plant biology and she and her colleagues are using Arabidopsis to tackle this question.

The annual Farrer Memorial Medal is awarded in memory of William James Farrer, to a person who has rendered distinguished service in agricultural science in Australia in the fields of research, education, extension or administration.

The first Farrer Memorial Oration was delivered by the Prime Minister of Australia, the Rt Hon J.A. Lyons MP, on 3 April 1936 (the anniversary of the date of Farrer's birth).

 Sand dunes reveal biodiversity secrets in Australia

September 25, 2014 - Ancient, acidic and nutrient-depleted dunes in Western Australia are not an obvious place to answer a question that has vexed tropical biologists for decades. But the Jurien Bay dunes proved to be the perfect site to unravel why plant diversity varies from place to place. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientist Benjamin Turner and colleagues from the University of Western Australia published findings in the Sept. 26 edition of Science showing that environmental filtering -- but not a host of other theories -- determines local plant diversity in one of Earth's biodiversity hotspots.

Turner and colleagues examined plant communities and soil development across a sequence of dunes ranging in age from a few decades to more than 2 million years. The dunes form as sand piles up along the coastline of Western Australia during periods of high sea level. The youngest dunes contain abundant soil nutrients but are home to relatively few plant species, whereas the oldest dunes have some of the most infertile soils in the world yet support many species of plants.

The differences in diversity of plants on the dunes are much better explained by environmental filtering -- the exclusion of species from the regional flora that are poorly adapted to local conditions -- than by alternative ideas related to competition for resources.

"Ecologists have long sought to understand what explains variation in species diversity among sites," said Helene Muller-Landau, STRI staff scientist. "This elegant study shows that variation in plant species diversity among dunes of different ages, and thus different soils, is explained mainly by variation in the size of the pool of species adapted to these differing conditions." Biogeographical and historical factors, like the total area in the region with similar conditions today and in the past, are primary, while factors such as competition for soil resources are much less important in explaining variation in species diversity.

"A number of mechanisms have been proposed to explain plant diversity along resource gradients, but they have not previously been tested simultaneously," Turner said. "The Jurien Bay chronosequence allowed us to do this, and gave a clear result -- that local plant diversity is explained primarily by environmental filtering from the regional flora."

Jurien Bay is a rare example of a long-term chronosequence of soils in a species-rich ecosystem, making it an ideal location to test biodiversity theory.

"A challenge now is to examine this process along chronosequences in other species-rich ecosystems," Turner said. "Unfortunately, there are as yet no long-term soil chronosequences with intact vegetation known under diverse lowland tropical forest."

Turner expects the findings to spark a flurry of debate, but emphasizes that the research does not seek to explain the maintenance of biodiversity within individual communities, only how it varies among communities. Theories such as negative density dependence -- that natural enemies maintain diversity in species-rich plant communities -- are not challenged by this work, he said.

"It's important to recognize that resource competition or other mechanisms can still maintain diversity," Turner said. "But in terms of explaining why plant diversity varies from place to place, our results indicate that environmental filtering is the overriding explanation. "

"I suspect that the answers will be different for different ecosystems in different places," Muller-Landau said. "Here in Panama, and throughout the tropics, wet forests tend to have much higher species diversity than dry forests. This pattern is generally explained in terms of differences in ecological conditions, especially wet forests being more conducive to pathogen attack. But we're not sure if this is the correct explanation. A study like this would help us to sort that out."

1. E. Laliberte, G. Zemunik, B. L. Turner. Environmental filtering explains variation in plant diversity along resource gradients.Science, 2014; 345 (6204): 1602 DOI: 10.1126/science.1256330

 Green Army calling for first round of participants

Media release - 11 September 2014

The Government is putting out the call for the first round of recruits to join the Green Army. 

We're looking for enthusiastic 17-24 year olds to join what will become the largest-ever team of young Australians supporting environmental action across the country. 

Appointed Service Providers are now seeking expressions of interest from young people who want to gain valuable skills, training and experience in environmental and heritage conservation fields. 

The Green Army will give participants the tools they need to help them enter the workforce, improve their career opportunities or further their education and training, while participating in projects that generate real and lasting benefits for the environment. 

Last month, the first round of 196 Green Army projects to roll out across the country were announced. These projects are community-led and will support practical, grassroots environment and conservation activities. 

Participants will have the opportunity to undertake accredited training such as work readiness, conservation and land management, heritage conservation, project and human resource management and heritage trade skills. 

Green Army participants will also receive an allowance and be eligible to gain Certificate I or Certificate II qualifications in areas such as land management, park management, landscaping or horticulture or nationally endorsed skills set to support them in their future career prospects. 

Participation is open to a diverse range of young people, including school leavers, gap year students, graduates and job seekers. Participants must be aged between 17 and 24 years and an Australian citizen or permanent resident. 

Projects will be carried out across urban, regional and remote Australia with participants involved for up to 30 hours a week for a period of 20-26 weeks. 

Project activities may include habitat restoration; protecting national heritage places; revegetating river catchments, coastal foreshores, rainforests and wetlands; constructing boardwalks; working closely with traditional owners and restoring culturally significant sites; pest animal management; upgrading walking tracks; and monitoring threatened species. 

To register your interest contact a Service Provider operating in your state or territory. Details are available online

Katandra Sanctuary Open

Katandra opens to the public every Sunday in July, August, September and October 10am - 4pm.

New Trustee appointments The Lands Department has appointed a new Trust for the next 5 years which includes three of the current trustees: Jenny Talbot, Lyn McDougall and David Seymour; and four new trustees: David James, Lachlan Laurie, Marita Macrae and Tim Thurston. Many thanks to the outgoing trustees, Margaret Seymour, John Gale, Ros Andrews and Garry Hewitt.

 35-year plan for a healthier and more resilient Great Barrier Reef released for Comment - Feedback

A new long-term sustainability plan to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef for the next 35 years has been released for comment by the Australian and Queensland governments. 

Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan satisfied a longstanding requirement by UNESCO. 

"This has been a collaborative effort from key organisations, scientists and industry groups including Agforce, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Ports Australia, Queensland Conservation Council, Regional Natural Resource Management Groups and World Wildlife Fund," Mr Powell said. 

"As we promised we have done more than any other government to ensure the Great Barrier Reef remains an iconic World Heritage site now and into the future. 

"Its release is another illustration of meeting UNESCO's requirements and continuing the great work we have been doing in ensuring the Great Barrier Reef remains an iconic world heritage site." 

Mr Powell said the plan brought together a range of existing initiatives under the one umbrella to ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness. 

"While the management of the Great Barrier Reef is a collective responsibility, and a matter of global interest, the fact remains this icon is a part of Queensland and it is vital that it is protected and managed now and into the future," Mr Powell said. 

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan was an overarching framework for managing the Reef from 2015 to 2050. 

"This Reef Plan is the Queensland and Australian Governments' commitment to working with industry and the community to improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef for future generations," Mr Hunt said. 

"The plan sets out targets and actions to help safeguard the Reef against threats such as poor water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish; improve its resilience to challenges like storms and cyclones; and conserve species such as turtles and dugongs while supporting existing sustainable activities including tourism, agriculture, shipping, fishing and more. 

"Maintaining and protecting this iconic World Heritage Area, while considering the needs for long-term sustainable development, is a critical priority. 

"I now encourage people to read the plan and take this opportunity to help shape the long term future of the Reef." 

Visit to download the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, and make a submission online, by email or post. Supporting information to assist people to make a submission will also be available on the website.

The Australian and Queensland government has released the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan for public comment for a six week period until 27 October 2014

 IUCN World Parks Congress Sydney 2014

The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 is a landmark global forum on parks and protected areas held once every 10 years. The Congress will be hosted in Sydney, Australia from 12 – 19 November 2014, on the theme Parks, Planet, People: inspiring solutions. 

The Congress program consists of eight concurrent streams which are Reaching Conservation Goals, Responding to Climate Change, Improving Health and Well-being, Supporting Human Life, Reconciling Development Challenges, Enhancing Diversity & Quality of Governance, Respecting Indigenous & Traditional Knowledge and Culture and Inspiring a New Generation. One stream alone, the Improving Health and Wellbeing: Healthy Parks Healthy People will have over 150 speakers from around the world will contribute and between 3000 to 5000 delegates are expected to attend this very significant Congress. You will benefit from their expertise, practical lessons learnt and plans for positive change. 

Attendees will range from world leaders in environment, health, tourism, education and urban planning fields and more, to young people with a passion and interest in creating a better future. As well as an incredibly informative week-long program there will be opportunities to network at social events, field trips around Sydney and Australia, and opportunities to be involved in groups taking specific action after the Congress to deliver on commitments for positive change. 

For more information or to register go

 Is Australia prepared for Ebola?

October 1, 2014 - Australia needs to be proactive about potential disease outbreaks like Ebola and establish a national center for disease control, an expert says, while he questions Australia's preparation for public health crises. In an Editorial in the October issue of Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Allen Cheng from Monash University and Heath Kelly from the Australian National University question Australia's preparation for public health crises.

"Australia would do well to heed the lessons learned in other countries and be proactive in co-ordinating a consistent and outward looking response," the authors said.

"Australia needs a national disease control centre to perform regular risk assessments and response plans for emerging threats.

"That would include providing assistance and resources to countries that desperately need help now.

"Centres of disease control in other countries were often established only after deficiencies in response were exposed by public health crises.

"As well as centralising expertise, these centres often facilitate outbreak responses at home and abroad. Australia does not have this capacity."

The current outbreak of Ebola is the largest on record. By early September cases had been reported in multiple regions in five countries and for the first time involved large urban centres.

Allen C. Cheng, Heath Kelly. Are we prepared for Ebola and other viral haemorrhagic fevers? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2014; 38 (5): 403 DOI: 10.1111/1753-6405.12303

 New cancer drug combination halts disease, extends life in advanced melanoma patients

30 September 2014 - A world-first study in today's New England Journal of Medicine heralds the efficacy of a targeted combination drug therapy after reporting major declines in the risk of disease progression and death in people with metastatic melanoma.

The multi-centre, double-blind, randomised, phase 3 trial compared oral dabrafenib (150 mg twice daily) and oral trametinib (2 mg once daily) combination therapy with oral dabrafenib (150 mg twice daily) and placebo.

All trial patients had inoperable stage 3C or 4 metastatic melanoma that had a BRAF gene mutation V600E or V600K. Among cancer patients with metastatic melanoma, about 40 per cent have a BRAF gene mutation - an abnormality that assists some melanoma tumours to grow and spread.

Led by Associate Professor Georgina Long of Melanoma Institute Australia at the University of Sydney, the finding affirms accumulating evidence of the efficacy of targeted combination therapies in extending life and halting disease progression in patients with cancers that carry genetic mutations that resist monotherapies.

"We show a significant 25 per cent reduction in the risk of disease progression with the combination of dabrafenib and trametinib over single-agent dabrafenib," says A/Professor Long.

"We also report a significant 37 per cent relative reduction in the risk of death among people who received the combination drug therapy compared with monotherapy."

The research also reports that two in three patients (67%) treated with the combination therapy had a complete or partial response compared to one in two patients (51%) treated with monotherapy.

"This means that significantly more patients who received combination therapy experienced complete or partial tumour regression compared to patients who received monotherapy," says A/Professor Long.

"Unlike standard chemotherapy, so-called BRAF-targeted therapies are designed to interact with specific molecules that are part of the pathways and processes used by cancer cells to grow, divide, and spread in the body.

"Further, these new generation targeted drugs act on specific molecular targets in cancer cells that have been identified through research, while most standard chemotherapies act indiscriminately on all rapidly dividing cells.

"They're designed to target specific vulnerabilities in the cancer cell, while most standard chemotherapies were identified through trial and error. Also, targeted therapies tend to have fewer and less toxic side effects than standard chemotherapy, because they do less damage to normal cells."

"However, trials of BRAF-targeted monotherapies reveal that half the patients start to develop resistance about six to seven months after starting therapy. This is why researchers are conducting trials of combination therapies that target and interrupt the mechanisms that allow cancer cells to resist monotherapies.

"Our new report confirms the accumulating evidence that targeted combination therapies can extend life and halt disease progression among people with metastatic cancer who carry genetic mutations in their cancer that resist standard chemotherapy treatments and targeted monotherapies."

Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) is currently recruiting people into nine trials assessing the efficacy of a range of new generation targeted therapies. It has a further 16 cancer treatment trials that are active and in follow up. Ten additional trials are anticipated to open in the next six months. MIA also has a large bio-specimen bank of melanoma human tissue and blood, to improve understanding of cancer treatments and inform future clinical trials.

For more information go to


2 OCTOBER 2014 - Patients recovering from heart attacks are far more likely to complete life-saving rehabilitation if they have access to a new smartphone app developed by CSIRO, research has shown.

A clinical trial found that cardiac patients who undertook rehabilitation in their own homes via the smartphone app were almost 30 per cent more likely to take part in their rehab program than those who had to travel to an outpatient clinic or centre.

What's more, those who used CSIRO's smartphone home care delivery model - known as the Care Assessment Platform - were 40 per cent more likely to adhere to the program and almost 70 per cent more likely to see it through to completion.

The trial results, which showed that the Care Assessment Platform model was just as clinically effective as traditional rehab, were so successful that the next generation version of the platform will soon be offered in a number of Queensland hospitals including Ipswich, Metro North and West Moreton Hospital and Health Services.

According to Dr Mohan Karunanithi from CSIRO's Digital Productivity Flagship, studies have clearly shown that patients who successfully complete cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack have much better health outcomes.

They are less likely to have another cardiac event, be readmitted to hospital or die from their condition.

"These programs traditionally take the form of group-based exercise and educational activities and are designed to help patients return to an active, satisfying life," Dr Karunanithi said.

Despite the benefits, uptake is generally poor due to factors such as time constraints, accessibility, lack of referral and patient motivation.

"The smartphone app offers another choice, overcoming one of the key barriers to patient participation and recovery. By integrating rehab with a patient's daily life, they are more likely to complete the program and make their new healthy lifestyle permanent," Dr Karunanithi said.

The app features health and exercise monitoring tools, delivers motivational materials through text messages and contains multimedia that educates patients about disease symptoms and management.

With cardiovascular disease killing one Australian nearly every 12 minutes, Rachelle Foreman, Health Director at the National Heart Foundation of Australia, is very optimistic about the potential for this new technology.

"While more people are surviving their heart attacks, survivors need to understand they are not 'fixed' but are living with a chronic condition that needs to be actively managed," Ms Foreman said.

"Evidence shows cardiac rehabilitation programs play a huge part in helping people to recover from their heart attack, make lifestyle changes and adhere to medications to reduce their risk of another heart attack.

"Unfortunately, more than half of patients are not referred to cardiac rehabilitation programs, so the system first needs to let patients know about the importance of such programs and then provide them with flexible options that suit their individual lifestyle and learning style.

"Programs such as the Care Assessment Platform are great innovations that can improve access and outcomes in a cost effective way and be expanded for those in rural areas, and high risk groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."

The next step for the research team is to adapt the platform for rehabilitation for other chronic conditions such as pulmonary disease and diabetes.

The clinical trial was conducted by CSIRO and Queensland Health through the Australian eHealth research Centre.

It took place at The Prince Charles, Redcliffe and Caboolture hospitals and has been published in the journal Heart and reported in Nature Reviews Cardiology.

 State Library of New South Wales Celebrates Sixth Birthday on Flickr Commons

This week we commemorate two milestones over on Flickr Commons.

First, September 30 is our sixth birthday on the Commons – we’ve been uploading selected images from our photographic collections to Flickr Commons since 2008. Now, we have almost 2 500 images, arranged into 100 thematic albums. 

Second, we’ve recently passed 20 million views of our images on Flickr Commons! That’s a lot! 

Thank you to everyone who has viewed, used, commented on and enjoyed our photographs. We love them, and it looks like you do too!

To celebrate, we’ll be sharing six of our most popular images from the Commons in a six day countdown to our September 30 birthday.


Above: Start of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, 1971 / Australian Photographic Agency (news account)

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has been a Boxing Day tradition since 1945. 

On the 26th December each year, Sydney Harbour fills up with spectators on shore and in pleasure craft, waiting to see the competing yachts set off for their race to Hobart.

In 1971, this amazing craft was part of the spectator fleet. It is an Amphicar 770, produced in Germany in the early 1960s. It was the first amphibious vehicle produced for sale to the general public.

Learn more here


1 OCTOBER 2014 - CSIRO has received a $14.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa.

This five year humanitarian project will develop tools to generate self-reproducing hybrid cowpea and sorghum crops to help millions of farmers become more self sufficient with higher yielding crops.

CSIRO will use the grant to partner with other world leading research teams from Switzerland, USA, Germany and Mexico to achieve this goal.

"Sorghum and cowpea originated in Africa and are important staple food crops, but suffer from low yields," CSIRO Project Leader Dr Anna Koltunow said.

"Our aim is to develop high-yielding sorghum and cowpea crops from which seeds can be saved and grown by smallholder farmers without loss of yield or quality.

"Hybrids in commercial farming systems can increase yield by 30 per cent or even more, because of a phenomenon known as heterosis or hybrid vigour. However, hybrid seed needs to be recreated and purchased each year and current technologies to produce hybrid seed are expensive."

The creation of self-reproducing hybrid cowpea and sorghum crops would allow smallholder farmers to self-harvest high-quality seed to provide a more secure food supply and potentially increase income through the sale of surplus harvest and seed.

"It's not going to be easy otherwise it would have been done already. The idea of changing the plants' reproductive process to an asexual one is a complex undertaking," Dr Koltunow said.

The initial stage of the project will be devoted to developing the techniques to enable cowpea and sorghum plants to reproduce asexually and is laboratory based. If this stage is successful, later phases will bring African breeders and institutes into the project.

Dr Anna Koltunow and her team are based at the CSIRO laboratories on the Waite Campus in Adelaide.

 $28.8 million adds up for Indigenous students

30 September 2014 - Closing the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement and employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is the aim of a new CSIRO education program, funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation.

Launched today at Parliament House by the Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry, the $28.8 million, five-year project will deliver education programs, excellence awards, mentoring, summer schools and tailored university degrees, reaching students and schools across Australia.

"Our partnership with BHP Billiton will enhance and expand our education programs to reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from across Australia."


CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Megan Clark said the new program would support students from primary school through to tertiary education, providing a pathway to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in STEM related professions.

“CSIRO has delivered education initiatives across Australia for over 35 years and in parallel to this, we have a dedicated Indigenous science program that not only aims to get more Indigenous scientists working in CSIRO, but also delivers science projects for Indigenous communities,” Dr Clark said.

“Our partnership with BHP Billiton will enhance and expand our education programs to reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from across Australia. We are really excited about this opportunity to reach so many new students, and get them excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

BHP Billiton Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Mackenzie, said the program would build on BHP Billiton’s 33 year partnership with CSIRO through its support of the Science and Engineering Awards.

“BHP Billiton believes that providing opportunities in STEM education is a powerful way to support the professional aspirations and career opportunities of a generation of young Aboriginal Australians.

“We hope the program encourages more Aboriginal students to consider a rewarding career in the STEM disciplines, which will go some way to further closing the gap and recognising the important contribution Aboriginal Australians make to the economy.

“This latest long-term partnership commitment between CSIRO and BHP Billiton is aligned not only to the Foundation’s focus on STEM education but also the company’s commitment to provide tangible opportunities that support Aboriginal peoples with education, training, employment and business development,” Mr Mackenzie said.

CSIRO will manage and implement the program over five years, targeting metropolitan, regional and remote schools across Australia with high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

The program includes primary through to secondary school programs, summer school and mentoring for high-achieving year 10 students, excellence awards and a tailored Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne.

 600-year-old tower in front of a modern high-rise in Frankfurt

Pablo Picasso - 1973 

 Revolutionary hamstring tester will keep more players on the field

September 29, 2014 - Elite sporting stars can assess and reduce their risk of a hamstring injury thanks to a breakthrough made by QUT researchers. The discovery could be worth a fortune to football codes, with hamstring strain injuries accounting for most non-contact injuries in Australian rules football, football and rugby union, as well as track events like sprinting.

Using an innovative field device, a research team led by Dr Anthony Shield, from QUT's School -- Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, and former QUT PhD student, Dr David Opar, now at the Australian Catholic University, measured the eccentric hamstring strength of more than 200 AFL players from five professional clubs.

The in-demand device, the only portable 'machine' in the world capable of measuring strength during the Nordic hamstring curl, has attracted attention from some of the world's biggest sporting teams, including French football giants Paris Saint-Germain and several top English Premier League sides, and National Football League teams in the United States.

The researchers found that higher levels of eccentric hamstring strength in pre-season could dramatically reduce a player's chances of suffering a hamstring injury during the season.

The results have been e-published in leading sports medicine journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and accepted for publication in an upcoming print edition.

"We showed, for the first time, that hamstring injury risk can be quantified by measuring an athlete's hamstring strength when they're performing the Nordic hamstring curl exercise," Dr Shield said.

"The greater the athlete's hamstring strength, the less likely they were to injure their hamstring, with the probability of a hamstring strain injury dropping to less than 10 per cent in the strongest athletes.

"Improving hamstring strength by 10 Newtons decreased the risk of hamstring injury by approximately 9 per cent. This is a significant benefit and it is likely that players new to the exercise could improve hamstring strength by 30 Newtons in a month.

"This means it's possible to effectively counter the additional risk conferred by having a prior hamstring injury by improving the eccentric hamstring strength through exercises such as the Nordic curl.

"This is particularly important for athletes who are already at an increased risk of injury due to their age or because they have sustained a hamstring injury in the previous season."

Dr Shield said players considered to have weak hamstring in early pre-season testing were 2.7 times more at risk of a hamstring injury than stronger players.

The trial, which included players from five professional AFL clubs, is part of proof-of-concept study funded by QUT's innovation and knowledge transfer company qutbluebox (bluebox) to develop the patented device for the market.

Major sports clubs in Australia are already using prototypes of the device and the research team is also in the early stages of trials with rugby union, NRL, cricket and A-League clubs. Hockey Australia will also begin a trial shortly.

1. David A. Opar, Morgan D. Williams, Ryan G. Timmins, Jack Hickey, Steven J. Duhig, Anthony J. Shield. Eccentric Hamstring Strength and Hamstring Injury Risk in Australian Footballers.Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2014; 1 DOI:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000465