inbox and environment news: Issue 524

January 30 - February 5, 2022: Issue 524

Summer Babies 2022: Channel-Billed Cuckoo Pair Being Fed By Currawong 

The Pittwater Spotted Gums in our yard are at present deafening with the sound of Black Prince cicadas. These are a feast for local birds and particularly this year as the mother of the pied currawong pair that lives here is spending all day everyday catching them to feed to the pair of Channel-billed cuckoos they are raising this year instead of a nest of their own young. When we're not being deafened by the cicadas, the constant cries for 'food, more food!' from the cuckoos can be heard.

Black Prince Cicada, Psaltoda plaga, - at Elanora, November 20, 2020 - photo by Selena Griffith

calling for food

feed me! Feeed me!

The Currawong sticks its head right in the cuckoos mouth to give it food

you can just see the cicada the currawong has caught

More! More! I need MORE food

the currawong takes off to catch more cicadas

caught one!

Feed me! Feed me!

down the hatch!

BirdLife Australia tells us;
Of the dozen or so species of cuckoos that occur in Australia, the Channel-billed Cuckoo (Scythrops novaehollandiae) is the largest. Being a cuckoo, it lays its eggs in the nest of another bird, and being a large cuckoo, it must lay its eggs in the nest of another large bird. The species usually chosen as foster parents are Pied Currawongs, Australian Magpies, crows and ravens, although occasionally eggs are laid in the mud-nests of White-winged Choughs or Magpie-larks, and very occasionally in the nests of birds of prey.

The Channel-billed Cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of the Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, the Pied Currawong, Strepera graculina and members of the crow family (Corvidae). Unlike many other cuckoos, the young birds do not evict the host's young or eggs from the nest, but simply grow faster and demand all the food, thus starving the others.
The favoured foods of the Channel-billed Cuckoo are native figs and native fruits, though some seeds and insects.

Apart from the Channel-billed Cuckoo's large size, its massive pale, down-curved bill, grey plumage (darker on the back and wings) and long barred tail make it difficult to confuse it with any other bird. In flight the long tail and long wings give the bird a crucifix-shaped (cross-shaped) silhouette. Young Channel-billed Cuckoos have more mottled buff, brown and grey plumage. Although they are not nocturnal birds (night birds) in the strict sense, Channel-billed Cuckoos are notorious for calling all night long during the breeding season. This species is sometimes known as the Storm-bird or Stormbird.

The Channel-billed Cuckoo migrates to northern and eastern Australia from New Guinea and Indonesia between August and October each year. The birds leave Australia in February or March to return to where they came from - north.

So this currawong mother, who must be exhausted trying to feed these large juvenile pair, will finally get a from the feeding of these Summer Babies.

The Pied Currawong's nest is a bowl of sticks, lined with grasses and other soft material. The material is gathered by both sexes, but the female builds the nest, which is placed in a high tree fork, up to 20 m above the ground. The female incubates the eggs, and the male feeds her. The male also supplies food to the female for the first week after the chicks hatch and she feeds the chicks.

Photos: A J Guesdon.

Dollarbird Babies 

While on baby birds - Kerry Ritson took this photo this week of a pair of baby Dollar Birds in a tree hollow this week. This underlines how important it is to look after our local trees.

The Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) gets its unusual name because it has a large, prominent white spot on each wing, visible when the bird is in flight; these spots were considered to resemble silver dollars. Dollarbirds are often seen flying around in forests and woodlands, especially near wetlands, especially where bare branches extend above the forest canopy or over water. They launch from these perches in pursuit of flying insects, which are grabbed in the bill and brought back to the perch, where they are eaten.

Dollarbirds feed almost exclusively on flying insects. They search for food from a conspicuous perch and then capture it in skilful aerial pursuits, before returning to the same perch.

During breeding season, pairs of Dollarbirds are often seen flying in characteristic rolling flights. These flights are more common in the evening, and are accompanied by cackling calls. The white eggs are laid in an unlined tree hollow and are incubated by both adults. The young birds are also cared for by both parents. The same nesting site may be used for several years.

The Dollarbird arrives in northern and eastern Australia in September each year to breed. In March or April the birds return to New Guinea and adjacent islands to spend their winter. When in Australia they will inhabit open wooded areas, normally with mature, hollow-bearing trees suitable for nesting or alongside our creeks and waterways where their food, mainly flying insects, is also in abundance at this time of year. During their breeding season pairs of Dollarbirds are often seen flying in characteristic rolling flights. These flights are more common in the evening, and are accompanied by cackling calls. The white eggs are laid in an unlined tree hollow and are incubated by both adults. The young birds are also cared for by both parents. The same nesting site may be used for several years.

The Anula tribe of Northern Australia associate the dollar-bird with rain, and call it the rain-bird. A man who has the bird for his totem can make rain at a certain pool. He catches a snake, puts it alive into the pool, and after holding it under water for a time takes it out, kills it, and lays it down by the side of the creek. Then he makes an arched bundle of grass stalks in imitation of a rainbow, and sets it up over the snake. After that all he does is to sing over the snake and the mimic rainbow; sooner or later the rain will fall. They explain this procedure by saying that long ago the dollar-bird had as a mate at this spot a snake, who lived in the pool and used to make rain by spitting up into the sky till a rainbow and clouds appeared and rain fell. From  Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922. Ch. 2. The Magical Control of Rain.

Here's some images of a pair taken at Carell creek in 2013:

2013 Dollarbird photos: A J Guesdon.

Narrabeen's Octopus

Joe Mills has been down to Narrabeen rock shelf this week and shares these great photos of an octopus.

Joe says;

''Our local Narrabeen Rock Pool is a real aquarium, especially at low tide.  These pics of an octopus were taken yesterday, January 24th, right alongside one wall of the pool.  The occy was not scared or shy, and came within a couple of feet from me alongside the rock wall.  I thought he was going to come out of the water.  It was very exhilarating.  See if you can identify the baby octopus disguising himself as a rock. ''

Avalon Dunes Bushcare

Avalon Dunes are really special and need our special care. Tiny birds like Blue Wrens like the thick bush, but we need to get rid of weeds that will take the place of good bird habitat.

We'll be back on Sunday February 6, meeting  at 8.30 near the Montessori School, off Tasman Rd.  We're concentrating on chasing Morning Glory, peacefully weeding and chatting in the shade. Quite a bit is left for next time though. Can you give us a hand?

World Wetlands Day 2022

The 2nd February 2022 is the first year that World Wetlands Day will be observed as a United Nations international day, following its adoption by the General Assembly on 30th August 2021.

The theme for the 2022 edition is Wetlands Action for People and Nature, and it highlights the importance of actions that ensure that wetlands are conserved and sustainably used. It’s an appeal to invest financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those we have degraded.

You can find materials to download, key messages and suggested actions to take on the event website.

Additional local inspiration may be found in this Issue's report on the Careel Creek Cleaners

Birds Flock To Breed In North-West NSW Wetlands

January 19, 2022
The biggest wetland bird breeding event in the Macquarie Marshes and Gwydir Wetlands in a decade is well under way ahead of World Wetland Day on 2 February.
National Parks and Wildlife Service Acting Director, John Whittall, said recent floods had filled wetland systems and major bird breeding is happening right now, including at Narran Lake Nature Reserve.

"It's been a joy to see the wetlands spring back to life after the drought across the whole of northern NSW to enable what is now the biggest breeding event since 2012," John said.

"We're all very excited. The wetlands are internationally significant breeding grounds so it's fantastic to see mass breeding as we celebrate this year's World Wetland Day's theme of 'Wetlands Action for People and Nature'.

"NPWS have done 350 hours of aerial pest species shooting over the wetlands in the last 2 years, as well as follow up ground programs, to give the birds the best chance of breeding success possible."

NPWS Project Officer, Conservation Dr Joanne Ocock who is part of a multi-agency team monitoring the wetlands said: "Vegetation has returned as brilliant green islands in the semi-arid landscape providing waterbirds with plenty of nest-building material and we have seen the egrets and ibis in particular nesting in their thousands.

"The birdlife has been overwhelming and everyone has their favourites. I can't go past the incredibly pretty freckled and blue-billed ducks. They are threatened species and it's great to see them gather in such significant numbers.

"It's not just about the birds, we are also seeing baby frogs in enormous numbers. While some may just look at them as bird food, as a frog expert I think they are beautiful in their own right." she said.

Visitors are welcome to experience this remarkable event by visiting the Waterbird Lagoon bird hide at the Gwydir Wetlands State Conservation Area about 70 kilometres from Moree. Roads have reopened after the floods but visitors are asked to drive with care.

The best time to visit for the best bird watching experience is early morning or evening. For further information visitors should call Narrabri NPWS office on 6792 7300.

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday +3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Helpers Needed

Citizen Scientists Needed To Help Record Impact Of Fires On Biodiversity

UNSW Sydney scientists are behind a citizen science event that will document the bushfire recovery of plants, animals and fungi across three bushfire affected regions in New South Wales.

The Big Bushfire BioBlitz starting on February 25 is a series of weekend-long events which will generate new evidence on the impacts of large-scale fire on biodiversity.

The BioBlitzes will take place in the Gondwana Rainforests of Washpool National Park, the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, and Murramarang National Park on the south coast.

Thomas Mesaglio, iNaturalist curator and PhD candidate at the UNSW Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, said that the BioBlitzes will give people the opportunity to contribute meaningful biodiversity data that inform our understanding of how the environment recovers after large scale bushfires, and in turn contribute to research and conservation.

“A ‘bioblitz’ is a focused effort to record as many species as possible in a defined location within a limited period of time,” Mr Mesaglio said.

“Citizen science events such as bioblitzes provide an invaluable opportunity to maximise the amount of data collection, intensely focusing on particular areas, as well allowing people of all skill levels to be involved.

“Participants get to interact with and learn from experts, and also offer their own local expertise and insights to the experts, so it’s a fantastic two-way transfer of knowledge.

“These events are also great for motivating participants to become long-term contributors to citizen science platforms such as iNaturalist.”

Experts – including from one of the partner scientific organisations, the Australian Museum – will lead biodiversity events over the weekends.

Casey Kirchhoff, PhD candidate at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, founded the Environment Recovery Project on the iNaturalist website after the devastating Southern Highlands’ Morton bushfire destroyed her Wingello home in January 2020.

“Citizen scientists have been really motivated since the 2019-2020 bushfires,” Mrs Kircchoff said.

“We’ve already had over 17,500 observations of bushfire recovery submitted to the Environment Recovery Project.

“We’ve been delayed by COVID-19, but it’s great to finally have the opportunity to engage more directly with some of the bushfire impacted communities through citizen science at the bioblitzes.

“The more observations we can collect, the more we will know about the impact of the fires on our environment.”

While not everyone will be able to make it to an in-person bioblitz, everyone who can access a bushfire-impacted area right across Australia is encouraged to participate.

The Big Bushfire BioBlitz iNaturalist project will be open to every citizen scientist keen to ‘bioblitz’ their own area, no matter if they’re in Western Australia or Kangaroo Island,” Mrs Kirchhoff said.

The iNaturalist community has more than 88 million biodiversity records and links to Australia’s leading open-access biodiversity data platform, the Atlas of Living Australia, where everybody from scientists and policymakers to the general public can access a wealth of biodiversity information.

The bioblitzes are supported through the Australian government’s Regional Bushfire Recovery Fund and UNSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science, in partnership with the Atlas of Living Australia, Minderoo’s Fire and Flood Resilience Initiative and the Australian Citizen Science Association.

  • BioBlitz 1: Blue Mountains, Friday 25 February – Sunday 27 February 2022
  • BioBlitz 2: Washpool National Park, Friday 4 March – Sunday 6 March 2022
  • BioBlitz 3: Murramarang National Park, Friday 11 March – Sunday 13 March 2022

Register for the Big Bushfire BioBlitz.

The Atlas of Living Australia is Australia’s national biodiversity data infrastructure funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and hosted by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. image; Scientists are hoping that people of all skill levels will get involved in the forthcoming 'bioblitzes' which will see citizen scientists record as many species as possible over three weekends. Photo: Dean Martin 2021 (CC-BY-NC).

NSW Planning Department Recommends Approval Of Climate Wrecking Whitehaven Coal Mine; Admits Policy Incoherence

January 19, 2022
Lock the Gate Alliance has slammed the NSW Planning Department for recommending approval for a Whitehaven owned coal mine expansion that would be responsible for nearly half a billion tonnes of carbon emissions, and likely cause a 10m drop in groundwater levels.

The company’s 11 million tonne per annum Narrabri Underground expansion would create more than 30 million tonnes of direct greenhouse pollution, and 456 million tonnes of downstream emissions. It would also cause major subsidence in the Pilliga Forest and reduce water flowing into the Namoi River.

The Independent Planning Commission uploaded the assessment referral for the project today (January 19). Unusually, the report includes a candid admission from the department that NSW has no coherent policy to consider and determine the acceptable impact of new coal mining projects on climate change (see page 73). It also queried whether the project’s purported economic benefits were accurate, given the extent of the greenhouse emissions (see page 87).

Whitehaven admits that at least nine farmer-owned water bores would be impacted if its expansion is built, however Lock the Gate Alliance believes the company has underestimated the number of bores that will be drained.

The decision by the department to list the project as “approvable” comes despite media reports last year revealing department officials criticised Whitehaven’s application, and described the company’s predicted water impacts as “counterintuitive” and “inconsistent.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “Whitehaven’s Narrabri Underground expansion would mean this coal mine is responsible for the highest volume of direct and indirect carbon emissions of any coal project determined by the Independent Planning Commission to date. This is clearly unacceptable at a time when the world desperately needs to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and avoid worsening the climate crisis.

“The department’s decision to recommend approval to this huge new source of greenhouse pollution is particularly infuriating because, for the first time, the department actually sought advice about the project’s carbon emissions. The department’s admission that New South Wales has no coherent policy about how to prevent and manage the greenhouse emissions of the state’s coal mines is damning, but that policy failure should not mean this damaging project gets waved through. 

“The department has admitted that accurate economic costing of this climate change impact would reduce its purported benefits. By our calculation, if Whitehaven Coal had honestly assessed this issue, this coal mine would have a net negative impact on the economy of New South Wales.

“The expansion would drain groundwater from a region that has only recently emerged from  a devastating drought. It’s going to fuel climate change and contribute to droughts likely becoming more frequent and more intense in the North West.

“Namoi Valley farmers have long suffered due to Whitehaven’s cavalier attitude to the law. The company has been warned, fined, or prosecuted for serious misconduct at its NSW coal mines more than 40 times in recent years.

“This is a company with no coherent climate change policy, an environmental crime wrap sheet as long as your arm, and a serious trust deficit with the local community. It’s up to the Independent Planning Commission now to stop this reckless expansion from proceeding.”

How to Have Your Say

The NSW Department of Planning & Environment has finalised its whole-of-government assessment of the proposed Narrabri Underground Coal Mine – Stage 3 Extension Project (SSD 10269) and it has come to the Independent Planning Commission NSW for determination under ministerial delegation.

The Minister for Planning has requested that the Commission conduct a public hearing into the carrying out of the Project prior to determining the SSD application for it. 

Professor Mary O’Kane (Chair of the Commission), Professor Snow Barlow and Professor Chris Fell AO have been appointed to determine this SSD application. They will host the public hearing from 8:30am AEDT on Monday 14 February 2022 to hear directly from community members. 

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission will conduct this public hearing remotely with registered speakers participating via tele- and/or videoconference.

If you wish to apply to speak at the electronic public hearing, you must complete the registration form on the IPC website by no later than 12pm AEDT on Wednesday 9 February 2022. Once speakers who wish to participate in the public hearing are registered, they will be provided additional information on how to join the hearing and the technical support available to them. 

How to watch the Hearing
This electronic Public Hearing will be livestreamed on the Commission’s website:

In the interests of openness and transparency, a transcript of the public hearing will also be published on the Commission’s website. 

Written submissions
If you want to have your say on this project but are unable to participate in the public hearing, you can submit your comments in writing to the Commission up to one week (seven days) after the public hearing via email, post or our online portal:

WaterNSW Flushes South32’S Number 2 Dendrobium Extension Plan

January 25, 2022
The NSW Government body charged with the protection and management of the state’s drinking water supplies has highlighted serious concerns over drinking water loss in response to South32’s revised Dendrobium coal mine extension proposal.

A new application for South32’s Dendrobium coal mine extension was granted State Significant Infrastructure (SSI) status after the project was rejected by the Independent Planning Commission last year due in part to the “unacceptable impact” it would have on the drinking water supply for more than five million people. The company’s revised plan means roughly up to three billion litres of water each year would still be lost from the catchment if the mine extension is built.

The decision to list the project as SSI means that the state’s Planning Minister can ignore a number of regulations when determining whether to approve it, including the requirements of the State Environmental Planning Policies designed to protect Sydney Drinking Water Catchment.

In its response to South32’s “scoping report” for the project, uploaded today, WaterNSW has flagged a number of serious concerns about the mine extension’s potential impact on the drinking water catchment area including:

“WaterNSW does not support (South32’s) proposal to offset surface water take for the revised Dendrobium Area 5 Extension Project as suggested in the Scoping Report.

“The [Independent Expert Panel on Mining in the Catchment] has highlighted that the mine design adopted for mining in Dendrobium Mine Areas 1, 2 and 3 has resulted in surface water losses that are very significant compared to other mines in the Special Areas like Metropolitan Mine and Russell Vale Colliery.

“A rigorous analysis must be presented as to how this additional water lost, because of this mining, will be ‘made up’ or replaced into the future.

“There is a knowledge gap and inadequate studies done with regards to groundwater recharge rates.

“(South32) needs to consider mine design options to avoid/minimize surface water losses and options for treating and returning underground mine water back into the Sydney drinking water catchment.”

WaterNSW identified 16 points where South32 had failed to include crucial information in its revised plan, and also called on the company to:

  • Revise its plan so the risks of cracks and subsidence to threatened upland swamps above the mine are reduced: “WaterNSW will only support the consideration of watercourse and swamp rehabilitation and water offsets for the Area 5 Extension Project as a Contingency Measure.”
  • Assess the mine’s impacts on water features like rockbars/pools and waterfalls on “an individual basis”.
WaterNSW also notes that “Increasing climate variability means that, without action, we could face a shortage of drinking water with more and longer periods of severe drought”. 

Deidre Stuart, from Illawarra grass roots network fighting the Dendrobium extension Protect Our Water Catchment Incorporated said WaterNSW’s criticism showed South32’s Dendrobium extension was still “not in the public interest and if approved by the Planning Minister, would not meet community expectations”.

“As WaterNSW has rightfully pointed out, the Greater Sydney region and the Illawarra is at serious risk of unprecedented drought as the climate crisis intensifies,” she said.

“Building a new coal mine extension that will drain away the drinking water we rely on is reckless.  It is also reckless that the government would even consider allowing avoidable drying out of the water catchment which helps protect us from increased bushfire risk in a warming climate.

“Sydney is the only large metropolis in the world that allows longwall coal mining beneath its public drinking water catchment.

“It’s fundamentally unfair that the independent process that rejected this extension has been disregarded, even while the company is bizarrely still fighting that decision in court.” 

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde said: “WaterNSW’s scathing assessment backs our argument that an independent assessment of South32’s Dendrobium revised extension is required.

“We’re confident that if this were to occur, the IPC would again rule the mine’s impacts on Sydney and the Illawarra’s drinking water catchment is too great.

“The NSW Government took the decision away from the IPC because it didn’t like the last outcome. We need independence and scientific rigour when it comes to protecting our precious drinking water catchments, not ham fisted politically motivated decisions.

“To date, the political justification for sidelining the IPC has been an argument about securing Bluescope’s coking coal supply, yet the IPC did not find there was a clear dependency between the Dendrobium project and Bluescope’s needs.”

Taxpayers Fork Out For Most Expensive Water Ever

January 18, 2022
The Federal Government today committed Australian taxpayers to effectively pay a record $20,000 per megalitre to recover water in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. [1] 

Federal Environment Minister Keith Pitt has announced the government will allocate $126 million for water efficiency infrastructure to recover possibly just 7.4 gigalitres of water, with only 6.3 gigalitres to be returned to the environment 

“That means every megalitre of water saved will cost taxpayers $20,076,” Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said. 

“That’s almost eight times the most recent price paid for the permanent trade of general security access to water on the open market in the Murrumbidgee. [2] By some estimates, this is the most expensive water yet in Murray-Darling River system. 

“It’s a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money. There are far cheaper and more effective ways to meet the targets of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.   

“If all water cost this much, the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin fund would only buy 647.5 GL, about 20 per cent the 3,200 gigalitres required to be recovered under the Basin Plan. 

“And where is the government’s cost-benefit analysis to show value for money? Or how about its water recovery calculations? 

“Water buy-backs are a far cheaper way to achieve the same result, and the result is more certain than forecast gains from water efficiency measures, which are highly uncertain.” [3] 

Ms Mumford asked why the Morrison Government was giving irrigators 1,100 megalitres under this arrangement, rather than returning that water to the environment to restore natural river flows. 

“With climate change making less water available, such large sums should be used to diversify regional economies rather than subsidise already planned works of private irrigation schemes,” Ms Mumford said 

“Reports show that each dollar spent on human services like hospitals and schools creates four times as many jobs as spending on infrastructure upgrades.”  [4] 


[1] Murrumbidgee Irrigation says $126 million grant will allow it halve its water losses, ABC, 18-1-21.  

[2] See Key Water, Last Trades.  

[3] On the permanent trade market, it would cost $2,450/ML to by water access on the Murrumbidgee. See Key Water, Last Trades. 

[4] Modelling variants of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the context of adverse conditions in the Basin, Glyn Wittwer Centre of Policy Studies, Victoria University, March 2020. 

Murray Cod Stocks Surpass One Million

January 24, 2022
Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW Dugald Saunders today helped release 5,000 Murray Cod fingerlings in the Macquarie River at Dubbo, taking the total number of Murray Cod stocked in NSW waterways in 2021-22 to 1.27 million, eclipsing previous records.

Mr Saunders said today’s final stocking event capped off a record-breaking season, smashing the previous state stocking record of 780,000 back in 2006-07.

“Stocking over a million fingerlings into NSW waterways is crucial to strengthening the Murray Cod populations and this record-breaking year is monumental following years of crippling drought,” Mr Saunders said.

The Murray Cod fingerlings were the progeny of fish rescued in a joint operation involving DPI Fisheries and volunteer fishers during the 2019 drought, as part of the NSW Government’s $10 million Native Fish Drought Response.

“I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all of the local recreational fishers and the community for the work they did to assist the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to rescue fish during the previous severe drought conditions,” Mr Saunders said.

"Their efforts were critical in being able to rescue the fish and be able to breed their progeny for release back into the system. The rescued fish have contributed over 500,000 fish that have been released into NSW waterways over the past two years.”

The Murray Cod fingerlings were bred at the NSW DPI Fisheries’ flagship fish hatchery at Narrandera, as part of the State’s largest-ever breeding program.

Since November 2021, Murray Cod fingerlings have been released at over 50 sites across NSW including:
  • 90,000 in the Macquarie River at Dubbo, Narromine, Trangie and Warren;
  • 93,000 at Blowering Dam;
  • 110,000 at Copeton Dam;
  • 125,000 to Wyangala Dam; and
  • 120,000 in the Darling River at Menindee, Louth and Bourke.
Mr Saunders said the NSW DPI Fisheries is committed to breeding two million native fish each year as part of the Native Fish Stocking Program, to keep NSW lakes and rivers well stocked.

“Stocking this impressive number of fish would not have been possible without the help of local communities, fishing clubs and volunteers,” Mr Saunders said.

Photos: NSW DPI Fisheries

3 local solutions to replace coal jobs and ensure a just transition for mining communities

Liam PhelanUniversity of Newcastle and Kimberley CroftsUniversity of Technology Sydney

As the world shifts to renewable energy, helping the communities that have depended on fossil fuels for jobs is becoming ever more pressing.

The 2015 Paris Agreement notes the imperative of a “just transition” for affected workforces, with “the creation of decent work and quality jobs” to replace those lost.

Trade unionists have been arguing this point for at least several decades. The first use of the phrase “just transition” attributed to the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, which called for a “Just Transition Program” for workers in the logging industry in 1996.

Yet for all the talk since, action remains scarce.

Three clear priorities for policy makers, however, have emerged from Australia’s Hunter Valley region, where coal mines employ about 14,000 workers directly and thousands more indirectly. These are:

  • the need for a local coordinating authority
  • funding for a “flagship” job-creation project, and
  • more resources for technical and vocational education.

These priorities were identified through consultations undertaken in late 2021 by two community organisations, Hunter Renewal and Hunter Jobs Alliance. They did so in response to the NSW government announcing A$25 million a year to a Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund.

The fund is meant to “ensure coal mining communities have the support they need to develop other industries in the long-term”.

But how to spend the money wisely?

The consultations involved 314 people from across the region ranking 22 ideas from from previous work on this issue. About one-third of participants were involved in workshop discussions. The balance contributed through a survey.

Key to the top three priorities is the need for self-determination, allowing local communities to decide on which solutions are best and how to implement them, not a “cookie-cutter” approach imposed from the top.

As one workshop participant put it:

The most important thing is involving the local community in designing the transition. Unless you take the locals with you on the journey, so that they own the changes, it will not be successful.

1. Have A Local Coordinating Authority

Local coordination is important to ensure solutions reflect a community’s needs, skills and opportunities.

In Victoria, the state government set up the Latrobe Valley Authority in 2016, following the unexpected announcement of the closure of the Hazelwood power station in 2017.

Beginning with $270 million in funding, the authority is headquartered in Morwell, in the heart of the Latrobe Valley’s coal-mining industry.

This means those who work for the authority know the region and are in touch with the stakeholders from industry, government, education and community organisations who inform its “Smart Specialisation” approach to identify local strengths and competitive advantages.

A local authority can also coordinate with other authorities to ensure fossil fuel communities aren’t competing against each other by pursuing to create jobs in the same new industries.

2. Fund Flagship Job-Creation Projects

Flagship projects give tangible direction to the transition and create hope for the future.

An example comes from the coal-mining community of Collie in Western Australia. It involves industry, government and university researchers working together on a project to make “Colliecrete”, a more sustainable form of concrete made from fly-ash, a waste product from the burning of coal by the local coal-fired power stations.

Emulating this plan using waste fly-ash from Hunter Valley power stations could potentially create 3,000 permanent full-time jobs in NSW, according to a report commissioned by Hunter Community Environment Centre.

3. Expand Vocational Training

Retraining is crucial to new industries to flourish, and for workers to find new jobs.

2020 report from the Clean Energy Council found shortages of skilled and experienced staff are hampering development in renewable energy industries. The report recommended the entire vocational educational system needs reviewing, because “existing training systems are not meeting industry needs”.

Indeed in the Hunter region, TAFE closures are occurring at a time when they should be expanding.

As a workshop participant put it (with great understatment):

It is problematic when funding keeps getting cut.

Think Local, Act Local

Local communities understand the transition away from economic reliance on fossil-fuel industries can’t happen overnight. They are keen to get moving. These priorities identified by the coal-mining communities of NSW Hunter Valley hold lessons for the rest of Australia, and the world.

What’s important is that local communities take the leading role in defining their challenges, and then addressing them.

The people who know a community best, and what is possible, are those who live in them. You just have to ask them.The Conversation

Liam Phelan, Senior Lecturer, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle and Kimberley Crofts, Doctoral student, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Net zero: UK government sued for weak strategy – so here’s what makes a good climate change plan

Sam FankhauserUniversity of Oxford and Kaya AxelssonUniversity of Oxford

Two-thirds of countries have now committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions at some point this century. During 2021, the share of large companies with net zero commitments jumped from one in five to one in three.

Sadly, few of these net zero targets were accompanied by measures necessary to achieve them. This discrepancy is increasingly the subject of legal challenges. The governments of the Netherlands and Germany, as well as oil major Shell, are among defendants who have been ordered by courts to cut emissions faster.

Judges found that tepid climate strategies violated human rights laws by infringing on the rights of young people. Globally, the number of climate-related court cases has doubled since 2015.

The UK is the latest country whose government environmental groups have sued for failing to take sufficient action on climate change. While the country’s net zero strategy deserves praise for some aspects – like setting a deadline to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 – even the government’s climate change advisor thinks it won’t be enough to meet statutory carbon targets.

So what does a good net zero strategy look like? In a new perspective paper we set out how to get net zero right. We argue that net zero strategies can be measured against three principles: the urgent pursuit of emission cuts, the cautious use of carbon offsets and carbon removal, and alignment with broader objectives for sustainable development.


Because global temperature change is determined by cumulative emissions, the pace at which we reduce emissions is important. The longer we wait, the sooner the remaining carbon space in the atmosphere is used up.

Net zero strategies must contain measures to start cutting emissions immediately. These are often lacking or vague. The UK strategy, for example, proposes replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, but the support programme it offers is available to only a small proportion of buildings and households.

A pilot light inside a gas boiler.
Gas boilers urgently need low-carbon replacements. Skimin0k/Shutterstock

Emissions cuts must also be comprehensive and include the most difficult sectors to decarbonise, such as heavy industry, aviation and agriculture. Tackling them will require consumers to make difficult choices, for example, on how much they travel and what they eat. Most net zero strategies shy away from spelling these out.


The net zero strategies of many companies and governments rely heavily on carbon offsets. That is, rather than reducing their own emissions, they pay third parties to reduce theirs, for example, by funding renewable energy projects or planting trees.

This raises a number of problems. It is difficult to prove whether offsets actually reduce emissions. Many projects funded via offsets would have happened anyway. The offset market needs much more rigorous regulation.

More importantly, net zero requires all emissions to come down. Offsets shouldn’t be used to allow pollution to continue unabated. They are a last resort.

If a strategy does include using offsets, those offsets should remove carbon from the atmosphere, rather than reduce emissions elsewhere. This is the meaning of net zero – a balance between emissions and removal.

Most options for removing carbon are biological, such as tree planting. Technological solutions, such as capturing carbon directly from the air and storing it underground, are still at the pilot stage, and there are concerns about their cost and ability to safely store CO₂.

Volunteers carrying mangrove tree saplings in Malaysia.
Tree planting isn’t a get out of jail free card. Farid Suhaimi/Shutterstock

Most modelled pathways for meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of averting dangerous climate change involve scaling up carbon removal. The world needs more investment in these techniques, but also stronger legal frameworks to ensure their risks are managed properly, and an honest public debate to make sure people are on board with it.


Net zero strategies don’t work in isolation. They must be aligned with broader environmental, social and economic objectives.

Net zero strategies will fail unless they proactively manage the impact of decarbonisation policies on workers, communities and households. Thankfully, labour market interventions like re-skilling programmes can help workers transition into low-carbon employment and social welfare payments can shield households in poverty from energy price rises. Both must form an integral part of net zero strategies.

Climate action can have multiple additional benefits, for biodiversity, public health, and food security. But this is not guaranteed. Interventions can have unintended consequences. For example, commercial plantations of exotic tree species in naturally treeless habitats may claim to store carbon, but they could crowd out native species, rob local people of traditional livelihoods or succumb to pests and diseases.

There are economic opportunities which net zero strategies should aim to capture. Low-carbon technologies like electric vehicles may unleash a virtuous cycle of innovation, investment and growth as information technology did two decades ago. More immediately, investment in, for example, home energy efficiency and renewable energy could help the economy recover from the pandemic in a sustainable way. Unfortunately, only a fraction of economic recovery packages offered by governments have been genuinely green.

The necessity of reaching net zero emissions is a scientific reality. The growth in net zero targets suggests that political and business leaders know this to be true. They are still struggling to make social, economic and political sense of net zero, as the emergence of court challenges shows.

But we are starting to understand how to get net zero right. If interpreted and governed well, net zero could be the best hope we have for climate action.

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Sam Fankhauser, Professor of Climate Economics and Policy, University of Oxford and Kaya Axelsson, Net Zero Policy Engagement Fellow, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Methane in the atmosphere is at an all-time high – here’s what it means for climate change

Sunrise over a bog in Eastern Europe. Adamikarl/Shutterstock
Euan NisbetRoyal Holloway University of London

Methane recently reached 1,900 parts per billion (ppb) of Earth’s atmosphere according to measurements taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US. This compares with about 700 ppb before the industrial revolution.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but lasts around nine years in the air. Including the knock-on effects it has on other gases, its total global warming impact since 1750 is roughly half that of CO₂.

After rising sharply in the 1980s and 1990s, atmospheric methane then stabilised. Growth resumed in 2007 and has accelerated in recent years – the sharpest rise on record happened in 2020. This was not expected when world leaders signed the 2015 Paris Agreement. Methane is becoming the largest discrepancy from emissions trajectories necessary for meeting the agreement’s target.

So what’s behind the recent surge – and is there a way to reverse it?

Where Methane Comes From

About 600 million tonnes of methane are released into the atmosphere each year. Estimates suggest two-fifths of these emissions come from natural sources, mainly rotting vegetation in swamps. The remaining three-fifths of emissions come from sources tied to human activity.

Emissions from the fossil fuel industry are well over 100 million tonnes a year and grew rapidly in the 1980s. Natural gas, which in the UK heats homes and generates roughly half of electricity, is mainly methane. Gas industry leaks are widespread at wells and pipelines and from distribution pipes under streets and home boilers. The coal industry was reponsible for up to one-third of fossil fuel emissions between 2000 and 2017 via ventilation shafts in mines and during the transportation and crushing of coal for power stations.

A gas flare atop a metal structure.
Methane in the atmosphere increased as the fossil fuel sector expanded in the 1980s. Alexisaj/Shutterstock

Agriculture, producing about 150 million tonnes a year, is the largest overall source. As are urban landfills and sewage systems, contributing about 70 million tonnes annually.

Scientists can identify sources of methane by studying the proportion of carbon-12 to carbon-13 in the atmosphere. These different forms of carbon – chemically similar but with different masses – are known as isotopes. Biogenic methane, made by microbes in rotting vegetation or in cow stomachs, is relatively rich in carbon-12, while methane from fossil fuels and fires has comparatively more carbon-13.

For two centuries, rapidly expanding gas, coal and oil industries steadily drove atmospheric methane richer in carbon-13. Since 2007, that trend has reversed, and the proportion of carbon-13 in atmospheric methane has decreased. Although fossil fuel emissions may still be growing, soaring methane emissions are now primarily the result of faster-growing biogenic sources.

Why Are Biogenic Emissions Growing?

Global monitoring shows that in many years since 2007, methane’s growth in the atmosphere has been led from sources in the tropics and sub-tropics. In some years, the high northern latitudes have also been important contributors.

A colourful chart depicting growth in methane emissions over time according to latitude.
Methane growth rate by year and latitude. The tropics and sub-tropics are between 30°N and 30°S, while the Arctic is north of 66°N. NOAAAuthor provided

From tropical swamps in the Amazon, Nile and Congo basins to tundra in Russia and muskeg bogs in Canada, wetlands emit roughly 200 million tonnes of methane a year. As global temperatures increase, the rate at which wetlands generate and decompose biomass grows and these environments release more methane. Methane emissions accelerate climate change and climate change causes the release of more methane – a positive feedback of warming feeding more warming.

The microbes in the stomachs of ruminant animals like cattle, sheep, goats and camels are similar to wetland microbes. In effect, cows are walking wetlands. Ruminants produce nearly as much methane as fossil fuel emissions, roughly 115 million tonnes of annually. Globally, about two-thirds of farmland is animal pasture.

While emissions from landfills have been reduced in many countries in Europe, western Europe emits a lot of methane from biodigesters which convert urban food and garden waste to fertiliser. In Africa and India, expanding cities are creating new landfills while rural areas burn vast quantities of crop waste and grass, causing widespread air pollution, but there is little research on their emissions.

Mopping Up Methane

Methane’s short lifetime means that cutting emissions quickly reduces the greenhouse impact. Gas leaks are obvious targets, both at wells and in leaky street pipes. Ending the coal industry is an urgent global priority, not just to cut methane but also CO₂ and air pollution.

In the short-term, removing methane from coal mine air ventilation and cattle barns can be done as easily as certain pollutants are removed from car exhausts. Emissions from biodigesters will need stricter government regulation.

Reducing emissions in tropical nations means ending crop waste burning. Landfills are likely to be fast-growing sources of both methane and pollution too, yet emissions can be cut by covering landfills with soil.

Growing agricultural emissions are linked to rapid human population growth and the increasing global demand for a meat-rich diet. Population growth is slowed by improving access to education among women and girls.

A red cow licking a sampling rod with yellow wire.
Demand for meat is fuelling methane emissions from converted tropical forests. Lucy BroderickAuthor provided

Methane hitting 1,900 ppb is a fire alarm. We cannot stop natural wetland emissions. But human-caused emissions can be reduced, quickly. At COP26 in Glasgow – the most recent UN climate change summit in November 2021 – more than 100 nations signed the Global Methane Pledge, promising to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030.

Getting started is simple: plug gas leaks, cover landfills, halt crop waste burning and remove methane from coal mine ventilation. All these actions will have wider benefits such as reducing air pollution, but large emitters, including China, India, Russia, Qatar and Australia, did not join. Absentee nations ultimately harm themselves and should sign the pledge.

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Euan Nisbet, Professor of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Some endangered species can no longer survive in the wild. So should we alter their genes?

Melbourne Zoo
Tiffany KoschThe University of Melbourne

Around the world, populations of many beloved species are declining at increasing rates. According to one grim projection, as many as 40% of the world’s species may be extinct by 2050. Alarmingly, many of these declines are caused by threats for which few solutions exist.

Numerous species now depend on conservation breeding programs for their survival. But these programs typically do not encourage species to adapt and survive in the wild alongside intractable threats such as climate change and disease.

This means some species can no longer exist in the wild, which causes major downstream effects on the ecosystem. Consider, for example, how a coral reef would struggle to function without corals.

What if there was another way? My colleagues and I have developed an intervention method that aims to give endangered species the genetic features they need to survive in the wild.

bleached coral with fish
Genetically altering coral may help them survive in a warmer world. Rick Stuart-Smith

Bringing Theory Into Practice

Over generations, natural selection enables species to adapt to threats. But in many instances today, the speed at which threats are developing is outpacing species’ ability to adapt.

This problem is especially apparent in wildlife threatened by newly emerging infectious diseases such as chytridiomycosis in amphibians, and in climate-affected species such as corals.

The toolkit my colleagues and I developed is called “targeted genetic intervention” or TGI. It works by increasing the occurrence or frequency of genetic features that impact an organism’s fitness in the presence of the threat. We outline the method in a recent research paper.

The toolkit involves artificial selection and synthetic biology. These tools are well established in agriculture and medicine but relatively untested as conservation tools. We explain them in more detail below.

Many tools in our TGI toolkit have been discussed in theory in conservation literature in recent decades. But rapid developments in genome sequencing and synthetic biology mean some are now possible in practice.

The developments have made it easier to understand the genetic basis of features which enable a species to adapt, and to manipulate them.

frog on wet rock
Some animal species cannot adapt in time to survive threats such as disease. Shutterstock

What Is Artificial Selection?

Humans have long used artificial (or phenotypic) selection to promote desirable characteristics in animals and plants raised for companionship or food. This genetic alteration has led to organisms, such as domestic dogs and maize, that are dramatically different from their wild progenitors.

Traditional artificial selection can lead to outcomes, such as high inbreeding rates, that affect the health and resilience of the organism and are undesirable for conservation. If you’ve ever owned a purebred dog, you might be aware of some of these genetic disorders.

And when it comes to conservation, determining which individuals from a species are resistant to, say, a deadly pathogen would involve exposing the animal to the threat – clearly not in the interests of species preservation.

Scientists in the livestock industry have developed a new approach to circumvent these problems. Called genomic selection, it combines data from laboratory work (such as a disease trial) with the genetic information of the animals to predict which individuals bear genetic features conducive to adaptation.

These individuals are then chosen for breeding. Over subsequent generations, a population’s ability to survive alongside pervasive threats increases.

Genomic selection has led to disease-resistant salmon and livestock that produce more milk and better tolerate heat. But it is yet to be tested in conservation.

cows in green field
Artificial selection has been used to develop traits that humans desire in livestock. Shutterstock

What Is Synthetic Biology?

Synthetic biology is a toolkit for promoting change in organisms. It includes methods such as transgenesis and gene editing, which can be used to introduce lost or novel genes or tweak specific genetic features.

Recent synthetic biology tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 have created a buzz in the medical world, and are also starting to gain the attention of conservation biologists.

Such tools can accurately tweak targeted genetic features in an individual organism – making it more able to adapt – while leaving the rest of the genome untouched. The genetic modifications are then passed on to subsequent generations.

The method reduces the likelihood of unintended genetic changes that can occur with artificial selection.

Synthetic biology methods are currently being trialled for conservation in multiple species around the world. These include the chestnut tree and black-footed ferrets in the United States, and corals in Australia.

I am working with researchers at the University of Melbourne to develop TGI approaches in Australian frogs. We are trialling these approaches in the iconic southern corroboree frog, and plan to extend them to other species if they prove effective.

Worldwide, the disease chytridiomycosis is devastating frog populations. Caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, it has led to the extinction of about 90 frog species and declines in as many as 500 others.

Many frog species now rely on conservation breeding for their continued survival. No effective solution for restoring chytrid-susceptible frogs to the wild exists, because the fungus cannot be eradicated.

gloved hand removed portion of DNA strand
CRISPR technology could potentially be used to edit the genes of endangered species. Shutterstock

Looking Ahead

As with many conservation approaches, targeted genetic intervention is likely to involve trade-offs. For example, genetic features that make a species resistant to one disease may make it more susceptible to another.

But the rapid rate of species declines means we should trial such potential solutions before it’s too late. The longer species are absent from an ecosystem, the greater the chance of irreversible environmental changes.

Any genetic intervention of this type should involve all stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples and local communities. And caution should be taken to ensure species are fit for release and pose no risk to the environment.

By bringing the concept of TGI to the attention of the public, government, and other scientists, we hope we will spur discussion and encourage research on its risks and benefits.The Conversation

Tiffany Kosch, Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Life finds a way’: here’s how rainbowfish survive in Australia’s scorching desert

Catherine R. M. AttardFlinders UniversityChris BrauerFlinders UniversityJonathan Sandoval CastilloFlinders UniversityLouis BernatchezUniversité LavalLuciano BeheregarayFlinders University, and Peter UnmackUniversity of Canberra

A trip into central Australia involves packing your 4WD to the brim with survival gear, water and food. Yet fish have managed to persist in that parched landscape for thousands of years – how do they do it?

We at the Flinders Molecular Ecology Lab went about finding out. Our recent research examined rainbowfish in Australia, to discover how they hold onto life in isolated pockets of water in the desert.

Pockets of water in the desert can only hold small fish populations. A small population means a small gene pool – which can lead to inbreeding and poor health, as we sometimes see in endangered species.

But we found even small populations can adapt to the harsh environments of water holes and small creeks. Life finds a way – even in one of the most extreme and unpredictable environments on Earth.

Prospering In Central Australia

Native desert rainbowfish (Melanotaenia splendida tatei) live in the deserts of central Australia. They grow to about 9cm and are usually silver and iridescent, with a yellow and green chequered pattern on the fins.

Desert rainbowfish populations live in slow-flowing and still habitats, including impermanent rivers, waterholes, lakes, flowing bores and stock dams.

Their populations fluctuate during boom-bust cycles. During rare flooding events in the desert, rainbowfish breed in large numbers and spread along temporary streams and floodwaters.

Desert rainbowfish
Desert rainbowfish live in slow-flowing and still habitats. Gunther Schmida

Our Findings

Our research sought to determine how rainbowfish populations persist in desert regions of central Australia, and whether their genomes show evidence of adaptation to the local harsh conditions.

We collected 344 desert rainbowfish from 18 rivers and waterholes from across the vast and arid Lake Eyre Basin, and from semi-arid regions of the Murray-Darling Basin.

We then compared the variation in the genomes of these fish with data from satellite images about the presence of surface water in central Australia.

We found that natural selection in rainbowfish is stronger in regions of the desert that have drier conditions. Fish from the very arid western region of central Australia adapt differently to dry conditions than those from the semi-arid eastern region.

We also found these gene variations are carried by the fish as they disperse during the floods. The fish that were pre-adapted to very harsh conditions retreated with the floodwaters to wait out the often extended drought periods in small, isolated waterholes.

This suggests genes adapted to the most arid conditions may help small populations to persist in harsh environments. These adaptations might also help the species persist in future climates, which are expected to become drier and with more extreme events.

The most intriguing adaptive difference involved a mutation in a gene coding which leads to some fish producing a slightly different guanine nucleotide-binding protein. Fish use these proteins for taste and smell, to detect salinity and water flow, and to control light sensitivity for vision.

Rainbowfish in Central Australia may survive the harsh conditions because of this difference in the protein and other adaptations. This would improve their ability to sense the environment and how it varies across seasons.

The variation can be compared to the recent Omicron COVID-19 variant. Research has found mutations in the spike protein in some variants may aid its spread among humans.

shallow pool in desert landscape
Genes adapted to the most arid conditions may help small populations persist in harsh environments. Chris Brauer

Looking Ahead

Our research found the genetic variation can be maintained in small rainbowfish populations to allow the species to survive in the desert.

The findings suggest that the population size of desert rainbowfish, at least during very dry periods of the year, is less than that commonly thought necessary in nature for species conservation and for adaptation to future climate changes. This turns on its head traditional thinking that small populations are evolutionary dead ends.

As climate change worsens, our findings highlight the importance of conserving natural river flows to enable freshwater species to respond and adapt.The Conversation

Catherine R. M. Attard, Lecturer in Molecular Ecology, Flinders UniversityChris Brauer, Postdoctoral Fellow Molecular Ecology Lab, Flinders UniversityJonathan Sandoval Castillo, Postdoctoral Fellow Molecular Ecology, Flinders UniversityLouis Bernatchez, Professeur en biologie, Université LavalLuciano Beheregaray, Professor of Biodiversity Genomics, Flinders University, and Peter Unmack, Research Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Economic Model Finds Wetlands Provide Billions In Filtration Value

January 25, 2022
Southern Ontario wetlands provide $4.2 billion worth of sediment filtration and phosphorus removal services each year, keeping our drinking water sources clean and helping to mitigate harmful and nuisance algal blooms in our lakes and rivers.

A new study from the University of Waterloo uses economic valuation to help us understand the importance of Southern Ontario's wetlands for water filtration -- particularly as these sensitive ecosystems continue to be lost by conversion to agriculture or urban development.

"Wetlands naturally filter out phosphorus and sediments from water, but their value is often greatly overlooked," said Tariq Aziz, who carried out the study during his PhD and postdoctoral work in Waterloo's Department of Earth and Environmental Science. "By calculating the economic value of wetland filtration and comparing it to the costs of engineered interventions, we hope to reinforce the importance of protecting our wetlands."

The total value of $4.2 billion in sediment and phosphorus filtration services was found based on the average rate of sediment accretion in each type of wetland in Southern Ontario and estimating how much the removal and disposal of the same amounts of sediment and phosphorus in stormwater management facilities in Ontario would cost.

This is the first economic valuation study to separate the values of the major types of wetlands in Southern Ontario: marshes, bogs, swamps, and fens. "We found that marshes were the most valuable wetland type for sediment and phosphorus filtration, based on the removal rates per hectare," said Aziz. "However, because swamps make up 87 per cent of Southern Ontario's wetlands, they contribute about 80 per cent of the overall filtration services we benefit from, at a value of about $3.4 billion per year."

This study also calculated how much it would cost to replace wetlands' existing phosphorus filtration function with three different human-engineered solutions. Building artificially constructed wetlands would cost an average of $2.9 billion per year to replace the free phosphorus filtration service our natural wetlands currently provide. Implementing agricultural Best Management Practices to remove an equivalent phosphorus load would cost society $13 billion annually, while expanding current wastewater treatment capacity to replace wetlands' filtration service would cost $164 billion per year.

Tariq Aziz, Philippe Van Cappellen. Economic valuation of suspended sediment and phosphorus filtration services by four different wetland types: A preliminary assessment for southern Ontario, Canada. Hydrological Processes, 2021; 35 (12) DOI: 10.1002/hyp.14442

Urban Greening 'Not A Panacea' For Dealing With Extreme Weather

January 26, 2022
Urban greening is unlikely to provide a single fix for tackling extreme weather events brought on by climate change, scientists have suggested.

A team led by researchers from Cardiff University has shown that the majority of cities around the world will not be able to reduce instances of heatwaves and flooding at the same time through the introduction of strategies such as green roofs, living walls, vegetated urban spaces and parks.

Publishing their findings today in the journal Nature Communications, the team show that the cooling or flood-reducing potential of green urban spaces depends strongly on the prevailing climate of the city in question, with flood protection likely to be more successful in arid environments, whilst a cooling effect more likely in more humid climates.

Urban areas each have unique climates that pose significant risks, even more so as climate change increases the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events in the future.

Heatwaves within our cities can be attributed to the urban heat island effect (UHI), caused by the predominance of concrete and steel that absorb and retain heat, and the lack of cooling by water evaporating from plants. Flooding is part of the urban stream syndrome (USS), whereby city structures and systems negatively affect the natural runoff of rainwater back into the environment.

To tackle these problems, a commonly proposed strategy is to implement urban greening in our cities in the form of green roofs, living walls, vegetated urban spaces or parks.

Not only can these measures reduce the UHI and USS effects in our cities, they can also support local wildlife, reduce pollution and improve the general wellbeing of local populations.

In their study, the team used global climate model outputs and weather information from 175 cities around the world spanning 15 years of daily observations, from 2000 to 2015.

This data was used in conjunction with theories taken from soil science to calculate water infiltration into soils, which act like a sponge to reduce rainwater runoff, and the evaporation of water from plants, which can induce the desired cooling effect.

"Our research found that the ability of urban greening to mitigate local flooding and excess heat is not automatic nor, in some areas, even possible," said lead author of study Dr Mark Cuthbert, from Cardiff University's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

"Local and regional climatic conditions significantly impact the capacity of urban soils and plant growth to simultaneously defend against flooding and extreme heating. In fact, our findings indicate that in many, possibly the majority, of global cities, urban greening will not be able to mitigate cooling and flooding at the same time."

The team also found that increasing variability in rainfall patterns due to climate change may reduce the performance of thinner green structures, such as green roofs, more quickly compared to larger greened areas with thicker soils and root systems.

They say these things must be considered by urban planners in order to find the best solution for each individual city, with a balance needed between performance, cost and viability.

"While urban greening may not be a panacea, our results show what's possible in designing the cities of the future," Dr Cuthbert concluded.

The research was led by Cardiff University in conjunction with scientists at the University of New South Wales, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Nottingham Trent University.

M. O. Cuthbert, G. C. Rau, M. Ekström, D. M. O’Carroll, A. J. Bates. Global climate-driven trade-offs between the water retention and cooling benefits of urban greening. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-28160-8

Scientists Discover New Avian Immunological Pathway

January 26, 2022
A research team led by a biomedical scientist at the University of California, Riverside, has discovered a new immune pathway in chickens that viruses -- such as those that tend to infect birds, humans, and animals and spread diseases like influenza or Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever -- may be targeting.

The discovery, which has implications also for diseases affecting other birds, sheds greater light on birds' immune responses to zoonotic viruses -- specifically, how those may differ from responses seen in humans.

"Understanding these differences is critical to better understanding birds as potential reservoirs of human pathogens," said Scott Pegan, a professor of biomedical sciences in the UC Riverside School of Medicine, who led the study published in Frontiers in Immunology. "Additionally, it allows researchers to better understand the immune pathways that might lead to effective vaccines for agriculture use in poultry."

Birds lack a protein in their cells called ISG15. Found in mammals and other non-avian reptiles, ISG15 in those species helps mount an effective immune response to viral infection. Serving as a messenger molecule, ISG15 helps stabilize host and viral proteins and regulate many antiviral responses. Instead, birds have OASL proteins that help produce a robust immune response to viral infection. Pegan and his team focused on chicken immunity.

"We found chicken OASL contains features resembling those found in mammalian ISG15s," Pegan said. "Our analysis of OASL sequences from six diverse bird species indicate that these features are likely conserved among avian OASLs."

The team found avian OASLs have a sequence motif of amino acids, namely, LRLRGG, within what is known as a ubiquitin-like domain. This motif allows OASL to attach to other host proteins as a means to stimulate certain host antiviral pathways.

"This has never been shown before," Pegan said. "We found OASL in birds has this unique LRLRGG motif at one end and it's very functional. Additionally, the region of the protein this motif belongs to has a similar 3D atomic structure of ISG15. This, along with findings related to what it can attach to within cells, suggests that OASL plays at least part of the role in birds that ISG15 would have played."

Pegan explained that to suppress the human immune system, a virus contains a protein that performs two jobs: remove ISG15 as well as ubiquitin, which a small protein that helps regulate the processes of other proteins in the body from host and viral proteins. Compared to these small proteins, OASLs are four times larger and with other areas carrying out different functions. Although mammals have OASL proteins, they lack this additional motif to conjugate to other proteins, suggesting that birds may have evolved to centralize functions carried out by ISG15 and other immune pathways. This immunological pathway in birds, which is a substitute for ISG15, is what Pegan's team discovered.

"We now know a new immune pathway in chickens," he said. "Viruses appear to be evolutionarily geared to try to interfere with this pathway. Such information allows us to develop better vaccines and treatments that seek to optimize triggering this pathway to help chickens ward off disease. It also allows animal husbandry programs to further enhance this pathway's potency leading to poultry that is more resistant to disease."

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense; and, in part, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Justin D. Shepard, Brendan T. Freitas, Sergio E. Rodriguez, Florine E. M. Scholte, Kailee Baker, Madelyn R. Hutchison, Jaron E. Longo, Holden C. Miller, Brady M. O’Boyle, Aarushi Tandon, Peng Zhao, Neil J. Grimsey, Lance Wells, Éric Bergeron, Scott D. Pegan. The Structure and Immune Regulatory Implications of the Ubiquitin-Like Tandem Domain Within an Avian 2’-5’ Oligoadenylate Synthetase-Like Protein. Frontiers in Immunology, 2022; 12 DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.794664

Forest Emissions Scheme Makes 'Tiny' Contribution To Indonesia’s Paris Targets

January 24, 2022
More than 70 million tons of carbon were prevented from being released into the atmosphere under a deforestation emissions reduction scheme in Indonesia -- but researchers point out this is only 3 per cent of the total required by Indonesia's Nationally Defined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.

Indonesia is home to the world's third largest span of tropical rainforest and is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters -- from 2000-2016 it was responsible for around a quarter of global emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, peatland decomposition and fires.

In 2011 Norway began a partnership with Indonesia to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation through a moratorium on granting new licences for palm oil, logging and timber concessions.

The partnership, part of the international framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) established at COP13, saw Norway pledge $1billion to Indonesia as a performance based payment for carbon emissions reductions in the forestry sector. Under the REDD+ approach Norway committed to pay $5 per ton of carbon if the forest-rich tropical country reduced its emissions from deforestation.

The study, by a group of researchers including Professor Ben Groom, Dragon Capital Chair in Biodiversity Economics at the University of Exeter Business School, analysed the effectiveness of the scheme, and asked whether Norway received good carbon value for its money.

The researchers compared satellite data from 2004-2018 on forest cover inside the moratorium area, initially spanning 69 million hectares of forest land, with a control area outside the moratorium.

They divided forest cover throughout Indonesia into 400,000 grid squares and then matched grid squares inside and outside the moratorium area, ensuring they were comparing similar areas of forested land. The impact was measured by comparing trends before and after the 2010 moratorium.

The researchers calculated that the moratorium had resulted in 67.8-86.9 million tons of carbon emissions reductions, with dryland forest inside the moratorium area having on average 0.65% higher forest cover compared with similar areas outside the moratorium.

But on peatlands, which are huge natural stores of carbon, the study found that the moratorium had zero effect.

The researchers said that while they found the scheme had been moderately successfully, the impact was "tiny" compared with the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for carbon reduction set out in the Paris Agreement.

"Our estimates suggest a 3-4 per cent annual contribution to Indonesia's NDC of a 29% emissions reduction by 2030, which is only a small dent in Indonesia's overall commitment," said Professor Groom.

"This is a problem because in Indonesia around 65 per cent of emissions are from forest areas so the forest sector is a very important place to stop emissions coming from if they're going to meet their NDC commitments for the Paris Agreement.

"The scale of the finance needs to be much bigger for implementation to be effective."

In 2019 Norway agreed to pay Indonesia $56.2 million for preventing the estimated emission of 11.23 million tons of carbon in 2017.

This estimate of performance used the average deforestation rates for the whole of Indonesia rather than just the moratorium area, so is not an accurate measure of whether the programme was effective, said the researchers.

Using well-established policy impact methods to estimate carbon emissions reductions, the researchers calculated that over the period 2011-17 the moratorium was more effective than this calculation suggests, meaning that for $56m Norway effectively bought carbon emissions reductions at a rate of less than $1 per ton.

"We find that Norway should probably been paying a lot more because the impact starts much earlier, from 2013 we estimate some modest but statistically significant changes, yet the payment was only calculated for 2017, with no proper counterfactual." said Professor Groom.

While the carbon pricing was a "good deal" for Norway and global emissions reductions, Professor Groom adds that the agreement, which ended in 2021, could be seen as unfair towards Indonesia.

"Norway is looking for ways to invest its wealth by investing in this global public good: carbon emissions reductions. In the end there should be more efforts like Norway's in the world.

"However, the global benefits of mitigating climate change, which economists measure using the social cost of carbon, is far greater than the $5 per ton they were paying -- the US government uses $50 per ton, New York State $125 per ton, many argue it is higher still- so while Norway got a good deal, and cost-effective carbon policy is important, it wasn't necessarily fair from an Indonesian perspective not to get a greater share of the global benefits. Maybe perceptions of fairness were driving the failure in this otherwise positive bilateral arrangement."

Ben Groom, Charles Palmer, Lorenzo Sileci. Carbon emissions reductions from Indonesia’s moratorium on forest concessions are cost-effective yet contribute little to Paris pledges. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2022; 119 (5): e2102613119 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2102613119

Southern Ocean Storms Cause Outgassing Of Carbon Dioxide

January 25, 2022
Storms over the waters around Antarctica drive an outgassing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a new international study with researchers from the University of Gothenburg. The research group used advanced ocean robots for the study, which provides a better understanding of climate change and can lead to better global climate models.

The world's southernmost ocean, the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica, plays an important role in the global climate because its waters contain large amounts of carbon dioxide. A new international study, in which researchers from the University of Gothenburg participated, has examined the complex processes driving air-sea fluxes of gasses, such as carbon dioxide.

Storms bring carbon dioxide-rich waters to the surface
The research group is now delivering new findings that shed light on the area's important role in climate change.

"We show how the intense storms that often occur in the region increase ocean mixing and bring carbon dioxide-rich waters from the deep to the surface. This drives an outgassing of carbon dioxide from the ocean to the atmosphere. There has been a lack of knowledge about these complex processes, so the study is an important key to understanding the Southern Ocean's significance for the climate and the global carbon budget," says Sebastiaan Swart, professor of oceanography at the University of Gothenburg and co-author of the study.

Facilitates better climate models
Half of all carbon dioxide bound in the world's oceans is found in the Southern Ocean. At the same time, climate change is expected to result in more intense storms in the future. Therefore, it is vital to understand the storms' impact on the outgassing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the researchers point out.

"This knowledge is necessary to be able to make more accurate predictions about future climate change. Currently, these environmental processes are not captured by global climate models," says Marcel du Plessis at the University of Gothenburg, who also participated in the study.

Pioneering ocean robotics
Measuring the inaccessible and stormy waters around Antarctica for a long period of time is a real challenge, which the researchers tackled with the help of unique robot technology. For several months, autonomous ocean robots; drones and ocean gliders, collected data from the surface and through to depths of one kilometer.

"This pioneering technology gave us the opportunity to collect data with long endurance, which would not have been possible via a research vessel. Thanks to these ocean robots we can now fill important knowledge gaps and gain a better understanding of the importance of the ocean for the climate, says Sebastiaan Swart.

The contributions to the study from University of Gothenburg have been supported by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation through the Wallenberg Academy Fellows Program and the Swedish Research Council.

Sarah-Anne Nicholson, Daniel B. Whitt, Ilker Fer, Marcel D. du Plessis, Alice D. Lebéhot, Sebastiaan Swart, Adrienne J. Sutton, Pedro M. S. Monteiro. Storms drive outgassing of CO2 in the subpolar Southern Ocean. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27780-w

Researchers have examined the inaccessible waters around Antarctica using unique robot technology, and find that ocean storms in the region lead to outgassing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Photo: Fred Fourie

Leaf oysters: the unsung heroes of estuaries are disappearing, and we know almost nothing about them

Charlotte Jenkins Author provided
Kirsten BenkendorffSouthern Cross UniversityChamara BenthotageSouthern Cross University, and Victoria ColeSouthern Cross University

Am I not pretty enough? This article is part of The Conversation’s series introducing you to Australia’s unloved animals that need our help.

Camouflaged by a layer of silty mud, most people probably wouldn’t notice the large flat oysters lurking beneath shallow water in Australia’s coastal estuaries. These are remarkable “leaf oysters”, and they can form reefs, produce mauve pearls, and reach the size of a dinner plate.

Of the 14 species of reef-forming oysters and mussels in Australia, leaf oysters (Isognomon ephippium) are the least well known. Our review, published last year, found only 30 publications globally that mention leaf oysters. Half of those were only incidental recordings.

This is a huge problem because there is widespread evidence of significant declines in the number and condition of shellfish reefs. In Australia, 99% of shellfish reefs have been described as “functionally extinct”, meaning the habitat these reefs previously provided has now been lost.

This has led to serious efforts in shellfish reef restoration. Leaf oysters are crucial members of these ecosystems, and we need substantially more information about them to ensure they’re not left out of these programs. Let’s delve into what we do know.

Meet The Leaf Oyster

Oysters are often associated with summer feasts and intensive aquaculture. While leaf oysters are edible, they have a large shell to meat ratio and so aren’t particularly attractive as a source of food for humans.

But like the iconic pearl oysters, leaf oysters are members of the Pteridine family of bivalve molluscs and have an inner nacre layer. This means they can produce pearls mainly mauve in colour, or sometimes purple, bronze, cream or silver.

Leaf oysters can be the size of a dinner plate. Kirsten BenkendorffAuthor provided

Although not much is known about the life history of leaf oysters, we do know they reproduce by spawning. Thousands of eggs and sperm are released into the water and develop into swimming larvae after fertilisation. Only a fraction of these survive and settle onto the substrate, where they develop into juvenile oysters.

Like other reef-forming oysters such as the Sydney rock oyster and the Pacific oyster, leaf oyster larvae appear to be attracted to the shells of the adult oysters. They attach to the surface via “byssus” – a matt of strong hair-like threads. This enables shell clusters to form, which can develop into leaf oyster reefs.

Leaf oysters are ecosystem engineers. When they live in dense clumps, they support an entire ecosystem of fish and other invertebrates.

Leaf oysters are crucial members of shellfish reef ecosystems. Kirsten BenkendorffAuthor provided

The flat, plate-like shape of the leaf oysters provides a complex three-dimensional habitat, with many nooks and crannies for species to seek shelter from drying out at low tide, and to hide from predators at high tide. Their shells provide a hard surface for other invertebrates to attach to, and form biofilms grazed by snails and fish.

Our preliminary studies on leaf oyster beds have detected a high diversity of fish species. Using underwater videos, we recorded a number of important fishing species, including yellowfin bream, dusky flathead, sand whiting, sand mullet, leatherjacket and black spotted snapper.

A screenshot from our undersea survey videos. Kirsten BenkendorffAuthor provided

Keeping Estuaries Clean

Leaf oyster reefs are found on soft sediment in estuaries, on sand, mud and among mangroves, in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. In Australia, they’re found from Exmouth in Western Australia to the Macleay River on the mid-north coast of New South Wales.

We’ve also seen leaf oysters on artificial rock walls and in shallow water along the edge of small boat harbours. Some of these are likely to be remnant populations of larger clusters or reefs, but given they’re often partially buried, there’s little information available about their past distribution.

Like other oyster reefs, we expect leaf oysters play a significant role in maintaining water quality and nutrient cycling in estuaries.

Coastal lakes and estuaries are a major repository of run-off from agriculture and urban development, leading to poor water quality. Shellfish reefs in healthy estuaries can buffer this effect by removing particles and bacteria from the water, and reducing dissolved nutrients and algal blooms.

As animals that eat food suspended in water, leaf oysters can filter vast volumes of water each day. With their large gills and extremely flat shape, their filtration abilities are highly effective in slow-moving tidal waters.

Oyster reefs more generally also trap and stabilise sediment, which can provide an important buffer against coastal erosion.

The inside of a leaf oyster. Chamara BenthotageAuthor provided

Threats To Leaf Oyster Reefs

The current condition of shellfish reefs in Australia is dire. Declining water quality is recognised as one of the most serious threats to estuaries, with excessive nutrients leading to algal blooms, which can be harmful.

High amounts of sediment can clog up the gills of filter-feeding oysters and can lead to the complete burial of historical oyster reefs. In the past, dredging for oysters, boat harbours and breakwaters has also directly damaged oyster reefs.

Our recent surveys (which aren’t yet published) of leaf oyster beds across four estuaries in northern NSW suggest leaf oysters have disappeared from some locations where they were previously known to live. In the remaining beds, we found 30-67% of the shells to be dead.

Fewer leaf oysters lead to poorer water quality. Kirsten BenkendorffAuthor provided

Their deaths have terrible knock-on effects and are correlated with poor water quality after rain, high acidity, low dissolved oxygen, high nutrients and higher rates of sedimentation.

But one of biggest threats to leaf oyster populations is the lack of knowledge on the species. In particular, the lack of historical information on where they live and how many there are makes it difficult to document how they’ve declined. And this is necessary for listing them as threatened species.

We need more comprehensive maps of leaf oyster distribution. Chamara BenthotageAuthor provided

Our concern extends beyond the survival and protection of the single species, to the entire ecosystem the leaf oysters underpin.

Improving our understanding of leaf oyster reefs requires more comprehensive mapping of the remaining populations and gaining a better understanding of their life cycle. This includes when they breed, how the larvae develop and where they settle, their age at sexual maturity and how long they live.

This will help us include them in reef restoration and estuarine management plans, protecting Australia’s precious, fragile wildlife in the face of a difficult future.The Conversation

Kirsten Benkendorff, Associate Professor in Marine Biology, Southern Cross UniversityChamara Benthotage, PhD candidate, Southern Cross University, and Victoria Cole, Adjuct, Southern Cross University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 ways climate change increases the threat of tsunamis, from collapsing ice shelves to sea level rise

Jane CunneenCurtin University

The enormous eruption of the underwater volcano in Tonga, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, triggered a tsunami that reached countries all around the Pacific rim, even causing a disastrous oil spill along 21 beaches in Peru.

In Tonga, waves about 2 metres high were recorded before the sea level gauge failed, and waves of up to 15m hit the west coasts of Tongatapu Islands, ‘Eua, and Ha’apai Islands. Volcanic activity could continue for weeks or months, but it’s hard to predict if or when there’ll be another such powerful eruption.

Most tsunamis are caused by earthquakes, but a significant percentage (about 15%) are caused by landslides or volcanoes. Some of these may be interlinked – for example, landslide tsunamis are often triggered by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

But does climate change also play a role? As the planet warms, we’re seeing more frequent and intense storms and cyclones, the melting of glaciers and ice caps, and sea levels rising. Climate change, however, doesn’t just affect the atmosphere and oceans, it affects the Earth’s crust as well.

Climate-linked geological changes can increase the incidence of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which, in turn, can exacerbate the threat of tsunamis. Here are five ways this can happen.

1. Sea Level Rise

If greenhouse gas emissions remain at high rates, the average global sea level is projected to rise between 60 centimetres and 1.1m. Almost two thirds of the world’s cities with populations over five million are at risk.

Rising sea levels not only make coastal communities more vulnerable to flooding from storms, but also tsunamis. Even modest rises in sea level will dramatically increase the frequency and intensity of flooding when a tsunami occurs, as the tsunami can travel further inland.

For example, a 2018 study showed only a 50 centimetre rise would double the frequency of tsunami-induced flooding in Macau, China. This means in future, smaller tsunamis could have the same impact as larger tsunamis would today.

2. Landslides

A warming climate can increase the risk of both submarine (underwater) and aerial (above ground) landslides, thereby increasing the risk of local tsunamis.

The melting of permafrost (frozen soil) at high latitudes decreases soil stability, making it more susceptible to erosion and landslides. More intense rainfall can trigger landslides, too, as storms become more frequent under climate change.

Tsunamis can be generated on impact as a landslide enters the water, or as water is moved by a rapid underwater landslide.

In general, tsunami waves generated from landslides or rock falls dissipate quickly and don’t travel as far as tsunamis generated from earthquakes, but they can still lead to huge waves locally.

In Alaska, US, glacial retreat and melting permafrost has exposed unstable slopes. In 2015, this melting caused a landslide that sent 180 million tonnes of rock into a narrow fjord, generating a tsunami reaching 193m high – one of the highest ever recorded worldwide.

Scientists survey damage from a megatsunami in Taan Fiord that had occurred in October, 2015 after a massive landslide. Peter Haeussler, United States Geological Survey Alaska Science Center/Wikimedia

Other areas at risk include northwest British Columbia in Canada, and the Barry Arm in Alaska, where an unstable mountain slope at the toe of the Barry Glacier has the potential to fail and generate a severe tsunami in the next 20 years.

3. Iceberg Calving And Collapsing Ice Shelves

Global warming is accelerating the rate of iceberg calving – when chunks of ice fall into the ocean.

Studies predict large ice shelves, such as the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, will likely collapse in the next five to ten years. Likewise, the Greenland ice sheet is thinning and retreating at an alarming rate.

Iceberg near ship
Icebergs colliding with the seafloor can trigger underwater landslides. Shutterstock

While much of the current research focus is on the sea level risk associated with melting and collapse of glaciers and ice sheets, there’s also a tsunami risk from the calving and breakup process.

Wandering icebergs can trigger submarine landslides and tsunamis thousands of kilometres from the iceberg’s original source, as they hit unstable sediments on the seafloor.

4. Volcanic Activity From Ice Melting

About 12,000 years ago, the last glacial period (“ice age”) ended and the melting ice triggered a dramatic increase in volcanic activity.

The correlation between climate warming and more volcanic eruptions isn’t yet well constrained or understood. But it may be related to changes in stress to the Earth’s crust as the weight of ice is removed, and a phenomenon called “isostatic rebound” – the long-term uplift of land in response to the removal of ice sheets.

If this correlation holds for the current period of climate warming and melting of ice in high latitudes, there’ll be an increased risk of volcanic eruptions and associated hazards, including tsunamis.

5. Increased Earthquakes

There are a number ways climate change can increase the frequency of earthquakes, and so increase tsunami risk.

First, the weight of ice sheets may be suppressing fault movement and earthquakes. When the ice melts, the isostatic rebound (land uplift) is accompanied by an increase in earthquakes and fault movement as the crust adjusts to the loss of weight.

We may have seen this already in Alaska, where melting glaciers reduced the stability of faults, inducing many small earthquakes and possibly the magnitude 7.2 St Elias earthquake in 1979.

Another factor is low air pressure associated with storms and typhoons, which studies have also shown can trigger earthquakes in areas where the Earth’s crust is already under stress. Even relatively small changes in air pressure can trigger fault movements, as an analysis of earthquakes between 2002 and 2007 in eastern Taiwan identified.

So How Can We Prepare?

Many mitigation strategies for climate change should also include elements to improve tsunami preparedness.

This could include incorporating projected sea level rise into tsunami prediction models, and in building codes for infrastructure along vulnerable coastlines.

Researchers can also ensure scientific models of climate impacts include the projected increase in earthquakes, landslides and volcanic activity, and the increased tsunami risk this will bring.The Conversation

Jane Cunneen, Adjunct Research Fellow, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How this little marsupial’s poo nurtures urban gardens and bushland (and how you can help protect them)

Narelle DybingAuthor provided
Anna HopkinsEdith Cowan University and Natasha TayMurdoch University

Wildlife encounters can be few and far between in cities but, if you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a small Aussie marsupial in Perth that’s helping keep urban bushland healthy.

Quenda, a rabbit-sized digging mammal native to southwestern Australia, are found in patches of bushland, parkland and even backyard gardens. And our latest research shows just how important these unassuming marsupials are to Australian ecosystems.

We found quenda eat a huge variety of specialised fungi called mycorrhiza, which play a key role in helping native vegetation, including eucalyptus trees, absorb water and nutrients. The fungal spores survive in quenda droppings, which can then colonise eucalypt roots. In fact, we found one little scat with over 100 types of fungi in it – that’s some very efficient fungal dispersal!

Quenda are considered rare or near threatened due to habitat clearing and predation by introduced predators – cats, dogs and foxes. It’s crucial we manage and maintain their population in and around cities to ensure they have a positive influence on urban ecosystems.

Nature’s Gardeners

Many different Australian mammals dig in the soil for food or shelter, including bettongs, potoroos, bandicoots and echidnas.

Sadly, most of Australia’s digging mammals are threatened with extinction, and many now have very restricted distributions as their habitat is cleared for urban development and they are preyed on by cats and foxes.

One quenda can dig 45 pits each night, such as this one. Natasha TayAuthor provided

Once thought to be a subspecies of the southern brown bandicoot, the quenda was recognised as its own distinct species (Isoodon fusciventer) in 2018, and is found only in the southwestern corner of Australia.

Quenda are prolific diggers in their search for dinner – a single quenda can dig up to 45 small pits per night. Although each pit is small, one quenda can dig over four tonnes of soil each year in total, almost 30 wheelbarrow loads.

Quenda and other digging mammals are like nature’s gardeners. Their digging helps break the water repellent layer on the soil surface, allowing more water to infiltrate the soil, and decreases soil compaction and erosion.

Quenda digs also incorporate leaf litter and seeds into the soil, and this improves conditions for native plants to grow and thrive.

45 Species In Each Scat

But perhaps the biggest way they help Australian ecosystems is by dispersing fungal spores in their droppings.

We examined quenda scats from urban bushland south of Perth, and found they contained a large variety of fungi. Quenda scats are only 3-5cm long, but had an average of 45 different fungi species in each that the quenda would have deliberately sought out and eaten.

Quenda were recognised as their own distinct species in 2018. Lilian TayAuthor provided

These include fungi that produce underground truffle-like fruitbodies, much like the famous black truffles we eat. Because the truffle-like fruitbodies are found underground, they cannot easily disperse their spores. This means they rely almost entirely on quenda and other animals to dig them up and disperse the spores in their poo.

This is a wonderful example of a mutually beneficial – or “symbiotic” – relationship: the quenda gets a delicious meal and the fungus has their spores dispersed far and wide.

We found more than half of the fungi species in quenda scats are “mycorrhizas”. These fungi form a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots of over 90% of the world’s plants including most native Australian species.

In this mycorrhizal relationship, the plant gives the fungus carbohydrates – a product of photosynthesis. In return, the fungus takes nutrients and water from the soil and passes them to the plant.

Mycorrhizas include Cortinarius species, which can come in bright purple, orange or green. Shutterstock

The mycorrhizal fungi are essential to healthy forests and bushland. When plants such as eucalypts team up with mycorrhizal fungi, the plants grow taller and faster and are better protected from stresses such as drought and pathogens.

Given very few other species of digging mammals survive in urban bushland, it’s clear quenda play a vital role to disperse mycorrhizal fungi.

How You Can Keep Quenda Safe

Quenda are extremely important ecosystem engineers in our urban bushland, so it’s crucial we help them thrive by making quenda friendly gardens.

Quenda feel safest in dense vegetation, so if you have a garden and want quenda to visit, plant a dense native understory. This provides both food and habitat for the quenda.

It’s also important to keep your cats indoors (especially at night) and to teach your dogs not to attack quenda. Make sure any water sources – think ponds, fountains, swimming pools – have an escape route or ramp for quenda, in case they fall in.

Finally, at dawn and dusk, when quenda are most active, drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled to avoid collisions.

They are one few remaining digging mammals in Australian urban bushlands, so the next time you spot a quenda, remember all the wonderful ways it’s making our corner of the world a better place.The Conversation

Anna Hopkins, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Ecology, Edith Cowan University and Natasha Tay, PhD Candidate, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ancient knowledge is lost when a species disappears. It’s time to let Indigenous people care for their country, their way

Nicolas Rakotopare/Karajarri Traditional Lands Association
Teagan GoolmeerThe University of MelbourneAssoc Prof Bradley J. MoggridgeUniversity of Canberra, and Professor Stephen van LeeuwenCurtin University

Indigenous people across Australia place tremendous cultural and customary value on many species and ecological communities. The very presence of a plant or animal species can trigger an Indigenous person to recall and share knowledge. This is crucial to maintaining culture and managing Country.

But as species disappear, ancient knowledge built up over thousands of years also fades away – and fragments of our culture are lost forever.

For years, Indigenous groups have pushed for the right to partner with government authorities to “co-manage” culturally significant species and communities. Such recognition of Indigenous rights would require amendments to environment and land management laws.

Unfortunately, changes to Australia’s federal environment laws currently underway fall short of what’s needed. To protect Australia’s imperilled species, the law must chart a new course that allows Indigenous groups to manage their Country, their way.

A woman welcomed to Country
Ngurrara Ranger Mary is welcomed to Paruku Country in the Great Sandy Desert. A meeting between many groups discussed threatened and culturally significant species. Nicolas Rakotopare/Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation

Managing The Indigenous Estate

Australia’s Indigenous estate takes in about 51% of the range of the nation’s threatened vertebrate species.

The Indigenous estate refers to the assets held, or reasonably likely to be held, by or for the benefit of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. It includes land and sea held through such means as traditional ownership, native title and land rights organisations. It also includes intangible values such as cultural rights, practice and expression, as well as Indigenous knowledge and traditional management.

A range of state and federal programs involve Indigenous participation in land and sea management, offering invaluable protection to the Indigenous estate. These include Indigenous Protected Areas and the successful Indigenous Ranger program.

And many governments and other groups recognise that species and ecological communities can have significant cultural, spiritual and customary value to Indigenous Australians. But often, no legal mechanism exists to protect these entities.

Some species and other entities of significance to Indigenous Australians are listed as threatened under Australia’s federal environment law, known as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. But authorities are not required to engage Indigenous Australians in the listing, management or recovery of these species.

Indigenous Australians have successfully managed this continent’s landscapes and seascapes for tens of thousands of years. Their approach is holistic and integrated – considering the whole cultural landscape with a deep understanding of the interconnected relationships between species and Country.

In contrast, management actions under federal environment law focus on the outcomes of the listed species instead of the overall health of Country.

All this has left Indigenous groups underfunded and at the mercy of national-level management decisions, as opposed to place-based Indigenous-led action.

Men sitting around a map
Ngurrara Rangers map potential night parrot habitat. The meeting was hosted by Paruku Rangers and Traditional Owners in the Great Sandy Desert. Nicolas Rakotopare/Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation

‘Surprising And Disappointing’

The EPBC Act was recently reviewed by Professor Graeme Samuel, who was commissioned by the federal government. His final report in 2020 found the law was failing in many ways.

Samuel recommended a suite of reforms. Among other goals, they aimed to “respect and harness the knowledge of Indigenous Australians”. One year on and progress on implementing the 38 recommendations is slow.

Among the recommendations were that the EPBC Act adopt a set of legally enforceable “national environmental standards” – clear rules that protect the environment and enable sustainable development. The standards would cover matters such as threatened species, compliance, environmental data and Indigenous engagement and participation in decision-making.

It was both surprising and disappointing that Indigenous knowledge was not embedded across all proposed environmental standards. The omission means Indigenous perspectives will continue to be relegated to a stand-alone standard of “participation”.

In particular, the national standard pertaining to threatened species made no reference to Indigenous knowledge or the Indigenous estate. And proposed interim standards completely omit Indigenous engagement, participation and values.

Without a mandate to include Indigenous people in threatened species planning and recovery, biodiversity will remain at risk. What’s more, significant gaps in the application of Indigenous Knowledge and protection of the Indigenous estate will continue.

hands with green turtle eggs
Rangers collecting green turtle eggs on Yanyuwa Country in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Nicolas Rakotopare

A New Kind Of Recognition

During the submission process of the review, many Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations lobbied for the recognition of “culturally significant entities”. These groups include the government’s own Indigenous Advisory Committee and Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

“Culturally significant entities” are species and sites of great or exceptional cultural importance to Indigenous Australians. They might be a source of identity, a medicine, lore, an important traditional food or required for cultural practices. They usually feature prominently in Indigenous knowledge, language and ceremonies.

Submissions to the review called for these entities to be formally recognised under the EPBC Act and afforded a far higher level of protection. They also called for the mandatory participation of Indigenous Australians in threatened species nominations, listings, policy and management.

Many Indigenous Australians were disappointed this measure was not mentioned in Samuel’s final report. Without proper legal protection, culturally significant entities will not be assessed and can be damaged by threats such as climate change, inappropriate land management and poorly conceived development proposals.

Man holds lizard
A yellow-spotted monitor – a culturally significant bush tucker species – on Karajarri Country. Sarah Legge

From Engagement To Empowerment

It’s time for governments and conservation groups to recognise the enduring value of the Indigenous estate and knowledge in curbing Australia’s parlous record of biodiversity loss.

While many of Samuel’s recommendations attempted to address issues raised by Indigenous Australians, they fall short of true empowerment and global best practice.

As the size and scale of the Indigenous estate continues to grow, so to does the opportunity to arrest biodiversity decline. Rather than sitting in the back seat, Indigenous Australians must be up front in managing the recovery of Australia’s unique and precious environment.

The authors acknowledge and thank the following people for their contributions to this work and article: Oliver Costello, a Bundjalung man; and Cissy Gore-Birch, a Jaru, Nyikina and Balanggarra woman, and Executive Manager Aboriginal Engagement at Bush Heritage Australia.The Conversation

Teagan Goolmeer, PhD Candidate, The University of MelbourneAssoc Prof Bradley J. Moggridge, Associate Professor in Indigenous Water Science, University of Canberra, and Professor Stephen van Leeuwen, BHP / Curtin Indigenous Chair of Biodiversity & Environmental Science, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What drove Perth’s record-smashing heatwave – and why it’s a taste of things to come

Jatin KalaMurdoch University

Perth smashed its previous heatwave records last week, after sweltering through six days in a row over 40℃ – and 11 days over 40℃ this summer so far. On top of that, Perth has suffered widespread power outages and a bushfire in the city’s north.

While the heatwave was unprecedented and extreme, for climate scientists like myself, it’s not surprising. Southwest Australia is considered a hotspot for climate change, as the long-term warming and drying trend is extremely pronounced.

Over the last century, the average global temperature has risen by more than 1℃. This has seen the number of days over 40℃ more than double in Perth.

To definitively state whether last week’s heatwave is a direct result of climate change, we’d need to carry out a formal attribution study. But we do know from climate models that these sorts of extreme events will only become more frequent.

What’s Driving This Heatwave?

Easterly winds travelling over the hot, dry desert bring very hot, dry weather conditions to Perth.

These winds are brought about by “anti-cyclones” (or high pressure systems), which are a prominent feature of Perth weather, and we see these almost every day in our weather charts. Their impact depends on where they’re located and how they move.

This heatwave was caused by a strong and stationary anti-cyclone sitting in the Great Australian Bight. But that’s not the whole story, as the so-called “west coast trough” – another key feature of Perth summers – also plays a key role in determining how hot it gets.

Troughs are elongated regions of relatively low atmospheric pressure. When located offshore, the west coast trough will essentially block and weaken the afternoon sea breeze.

When it’s stationary at the coast, it tends to bring warm north-easterly winds, which was the case during the heatwave. As the trough moves inland, we get cooler conditions, as we’ve been feeling this week.

According to climate change models, these anti-cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense. Indeed, a 2018 study confirmed the frequency of anti-cyclones is increasing between 30-40⁰ south of the equator, which includes southern Australia.

The hot, dry winds from the east are also projected to get more intense, bringing still more heat to WA.

The Outlook From Here

Australia has already warmed by about 1.4℃ since 1910. Under a high emissions scenario, where global emissions continue to rise unabated, the hottest day of the year will be as much as 4 to 6℃ warmer by 2080–2099, compared to 1995–2014.

For WA, both regional and global climate projections suggest it will not only become even warmer in summer, but also drier in winter.

While climate models typically have large uncertainties when it comes to predicting rainfall, southwest WA is one of few regions worldwide where the vast majority of climate models agree we’ll see a marked decline in winter and spring rainfall – by up to 30% under a high emissions scenario.

All this implies we’re further increasing the chances of more consecutive days above 40℃, as we in Perth have just experienced.

Extreme heatwaves and dry spells can take a heavy toll on wildlife. For example, the region endured an exceptionally dry winter in 2010, followed by a hot summer in 2011, and then a marine heatwave in March, 2011.

Their combined impact led to mass tree deaths and coral bleaching occurring simultaneously. Plants on land, seagrass and kelp also died en masse, along with a population crash of an endangered terrestrial bird species, plummeting breeding success in marine penguins, and outbreaks of terrestrial wood-boring insects.

What does this drying, heating trend mean for bushfires? Research published late last year has shown, for the first time, that climate change has markedly increased the frequency of forest megafires in Australia since 2000. A forest megafire is a bushfire that burns over 1 million hectares (or 10,000 square kilometres).

The study found that over the past 90 years, Australia has experienced four megafire years. Three of these occurred after 2000.

Given most of WA is prone to bushfires, further warming and drying not only exacerbates bushfire risk, but will also bring longer fire seasons.

What Can We Do About This?

The science could not be any clearer. We need to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible to avoid catastrophic climate change, otherwise extreme heat events, like we in Perth experienced, will simply become more normal.

But there is hope, as our models show we can avoid the worst of these impacts under a low emissions scenario, which could see global warming limited to 1.5℃ this century. This requires bold and urgent action now.

Under the inevitability of future heatwaves, Australia must urgently implement a national policy on housing and urban greening that takes into consideration more frequent and intense extremes so we can better manage the heat.

And with a month of summer still left, finding ways to keep cool is crucial, such as improving home insulation and air conditioning, if affordable. Simple steps can go a long way, too, such as keeping blinds closed and shutting doors in rooms you’re not using. The Conversation

Jatin Kala, Senior Lecturer and ARC DECRA felllow, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

We're so short of helpers we've had to cancel for the time being. Meanwhile the weeds will go gangbusters. 
We used to meet on the second Wednesday afternoon of each month. Could you come if we worked on another day or time? say a morning, or on a weekend day? 
Contact Geoff Searl on 0439 292 566 if you'd like to help. He'd love to hear from you. 

We have fun using the Tree Popper, here with our supervisor from Dragonfly Environmental. We can lever out quite big Ochnas, aka Mickey Mouse plant from Africa.  We want to bring back the bush, not let the weeds win!

Ochna or Mickey Mouse plant has yellow flowers in spring, then lots of green berries that turn black when ripe. Seedlings come up in hundreds. Ochna has a very strong taproot but the steady pressure of the Tree Popper lifts the plant out of the ground easily. The alternative control is repeated scraping and painting with Roundup, very slow and time consuming. If you have an Ochna you cant remove, you can enjoy the flowers, then PLEASE prune it so that berries can't develop.

Pittwater Reserves + Others

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
Angophora Reserve - Angophora Reserve Flowers
Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial
Avalon's Village Green: Avalon Park Becomes Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Bairne Walking Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP by Kevin Murray
Bangalley Headland  Bangalley Mid Winter
Banksias of Pittwater
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham's Beach
Bungan Beach Bush Care
Careel Bay Saltmarsh plants 
Careel Bay Birds  
Careel Bay Clean Up day
Careel Bay Playing Fields History and Current
Careel Creek 
Careel Creek - If you rebuild it they will come
Centre trail in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Chiltern Track- Ingleside by Marita Macrae
Clareville Beach
Clareville/Long Beach Reserve + some History
Coastal Stability Series: Cabbage Tree Bay To Barrenjoey To Observation Point by John Illingsworth, Pittwater Pathways, and Dr. Peter Mitchell OAM
Cowan Track by Kevin Murray
Curl Curl To Freshwater Walk: October 2021 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Currawong and Palm Beach Views - Winter 2018
Currawong-Mackerel-The Basin A Stroll In Early November 2021 - photos by Selena Griffith
Currawong State Park Currawong Beach +  Currawong Creek
Deep Creek To Warriewood Walk photos by Joe Mills
Drone Gives A New View On Coastal Stability; Bungan: Bungan Headland To Newport Beach + Bilgola: North Newport Beach To Avalon + Bangalley: Avalon Headland To Palm Beach
Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Dundundra Falls Reserve: August 2020 photos by Selena Griffith - Listed in 1935
Elsie Track, Scotland Island
Elvina Track in Late Winter 2019 by Penny Gleen
Elvina Bay Walking Track: Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills 
Elvina Bay-Lovett Bay Loop Spring 2020 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Fern Creek - Ingleside Escarpment To Warriewood Walk + Some History photos by Joe Mills
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
McCarrs Creek
McCarr's Creek to Church Point to Bayview Waterfront Path
McKay Reserve
Mona Vale Beach - A Stroll Along, Spring 2021 by Kevin Murray
Mona Vale Headland, Basin and Beach Restoration
Mount Murray Anderson Walking Track by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Mullet Creek
Narrabeen Creek
Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Past Notes Present Photos by Margaret Woods
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park Expansion
Narrabeen Rockshelf Aquatic Reserve
Nerang Track, Terrey Hills by Bea Pierce
Newport Bushlink - the Crown of the Hill Linked Reserves
Newport Community Garden - Woolcott Reserve
Newport to Bilgola Bushlink 'From The Crown To The Sea' Paths:  Founded In 1956 - A Tip and Quarry Becomes Green Space For People and Wildlife 
Pittwater spring: waterbirds return to Wetlands
 Pittwater's Lone Rangers - 120 Years of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase and the Men of Flowers Inspired by Eccleston Du Faur 
Pittwater's Parallel Estuary - The Cowan 'Creek
Riddle Reserve, Bayview
Salvation Loop Trail, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park- Spring 2020 - by Selena Griffith
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Towlers Bay Walking Track by Joe Mills
Trafalgar Square, Newport: A 'Commons' Park Dedicated By Private Landholders - The Green Heart Of This Community
Turimetta Beach Reserve by Joe Mills, Bea Pierce and Lesley
Turimetta Beach Reserve: Old & New Images (by Kevin Murray) + Some History
Turimetta Headland
Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve
Whale Beach Ocean Reserve: 'The Strand' - Some History On Another Great Protected Pittwater Reserve
Winji Jimmi - Water Maze

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

Shorebird Identification Booklet

The Migratory Shorebird Program has just released the third edition of its hugely popular Shorebird Identification Booklet. The team has thoroughly revised and updated this pocket-sized companion for all shorebird counters and interested birders, with lots of useful information on our most common shorebirds, key identification features, sighting distribution maps and short articles on some of BirdLife’s shorebird activities. 

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format:

Paper copies can be ordered as well, see for details.

Download BirdLife Australia's children’s education kit to help them learn more about our wading birdlife

Shorebirds are a group of wading birds that can be found feeding on swamps, tidal mudflats, estuaries, beaches and open country. For many people, shorebirds are just those brown birds feeding a long way out on the mud but they are actually a remarkably diverse collection of birds including stilts, sandpipers, snipe, curlews, godwits, plovers and oystercatchers. Each species is superbly adapted to suit its preferred habitat.  The Red-necked Stint is as small as a sparrow, with relatively short legs and bill that it pecks food from the surface of the mud with, whereas the Eastern Curlew is over two feet long with a exceptionally long legs and a massively curved beak that it thrusts deep down into the mud to pull out crabs, worms and other creatures hidden below the surface.

Some shorebirds are fairly drab in plumage, especially when they are visiting Australia in their non-breeding season, but when they migrate to their Arctic nesting grounds, they develop a vibrant flush of bright colours to attract a mate. We have 37 types of shorebirds that annually migrate to Australia on some of the most lengthy and arduous journeys in the animal kingdom, but there are also 18 shorebirds that call Australia home all year round.

What all our shorebirds have in common—be they large or small, seasoned traveller or homebody, brightly coloured or in muted tones—is that each species needs adequate safe areas where they can successfully feed and breed.

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is managed and supported by BirdLife Australia. 

This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Funding from Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Port Phillip Bay Fund is acknowledged. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is made possible with the help of over 1,600 volunteers working in coastal and inland habitats all over Australia. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring program (started as the Shorebirds 2020 project initiated to re-invigorate monitoring around Australia) is raising awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and actively engaging the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds. 

In the short term, the destruction of tidal ecosystems will need to be stopped, and our program is designed to strengthen the case for protecting these important habitats. 

In the long term, there will be a need to mitigate against the likely effects of climate change on a species that travels across the entire range of latitudes where impacts are likely. 

The identification and protection of critical areas for shorebirds will need to continue in order to guard against the potential threats associated with habitats in close proximity to nearly half the human population. 

Here in Australia, the place where these birds grow up and spend most of their lives, continued monitoring is necessary to inform the best management practice to maintain shorebird populations. 

BirdLife Australia believe that we can help secure a brighter future for these remarkable birds by educating stakeholders, gathering information on how and why shorebird populations are changing, and working to grow the community of people who care about shorebirds.

To find out more visit:

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

Collecting bread tags enables us to provide wheelchairs that change the life of disabled people in need, as well as keeping the tags out of landfill to help to preserve the environment. 

Bread Tags for Wheelchairs was started in South Africa in 2006 by Mary Honeybun. It is a community program where individuals and organisations collect bread tags, which are sold to recyclers. The money raised pays for wheelchairs for the less fortunate which are purchased through a local pharmacy. Currently about 500kg of bread tags are collected a month in South Africa, funding 2-3 wheelchairs.

We have been collecting bread tags nationally in Australia since September 2018 and now have more than 100 collection points across the country. In February 2019 we started local recycling through Transmutation - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Robe, SA, where our tags are recycled into products such as door knobs and bowls. Tags from some states are still sent to South Africa where a plastics company called Zibo recycles them into seedling trays.

These humble bits of polystyrene can make a real difference so get your friends, family, school, workplace and church involved. Ask school tuck shops and boarding school kitchens, child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, cafes and fast food outlets to collect for you - they get through a lot of bread!

All the information and signage for collecting or setting up a public collection point is on our website.

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address -
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address -

Morning Of The Earth: 50th Anniversary Screening At Cremorne

Morning of the Earth 50th Anniversary screening with director Q&A Wed March 9 at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, Cremorne. Beautifully remastered in 4K. One show only! Tickets:

Eric Haakonssen & Andy King To Take Up Critical Roles In High Performance Program  

January 27, 2022

New Surfing Australia Head Coach Andy King with new Performance Support & Podium Manager Eric Haakonssen. CREDIT: Surfing Australia

In what is a major announcement moving towards the Paris 2024 Olympics and beyond, Surfing Australia's High Performance Program has signed on PHD Sports Scientist and Performance Support Specialist Eric Haakonssen as the Performance Support & Podium Manager along with Andy King as the program's new National Head Coach. 

Haakonssen joins the team after an outstanding stint with the Australian Cycling Team, working across BMX Freestyle, BMX Race and Road disciplines that has included Gold Medal winning Olympic campaign with the likes of Logan Martin.

Having grown up skating and surfing, the three-Olympic-Cycle veteran is ready to make a difference in Aussie surfing. 

"I’m excited to be joining Surfing Australia’s already accomplished high-performance program and supporting Australian surfers towards success in Paris and beyond. I’m passionate about honouring the rich history of surfing in Australia and working within this world-class high-performance program towards strengthening the team's competitive edge," said Haakonssen.

Previously in the role of Surfing Australia National Coach, Andy King needs no introduction to anyone in the surf industry. Having coached Gabriel Medina to his most recent World Title in 2021 and experienced the Olympic arena at the Tokyo games, King's resume has only strengthened since his last stint with the organisation. 

With more than fifteen years of experience coaching at the highest level, King brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the High Performance Department and can't wait to see how many medals 'The Irukandjis' can bring home from Paris 2024. 

"This (upcoming Olympic period) is the biggest stage in our sport, held at the biggest and best location in the surfing world. I’m so honoured to ride with the Australian team into this battle. Tahiti will truly showcase what our sport is all about and it is overwhelming to have this opportunity," said King. 

National High Performance Director Kate Wilcomes is equally as excited about the opportunity.

"With just over two and a half years until our next Olympic Games I am extremely confident in the experience and expertise both Eric and Andy bring to the campaign. I believe our Aussie athletes and their support teams will have an advantage with them in their corner and myself and the rest of the team are really looking forward to them starting in the next few weeks,” said Wilcomes. 

Codecracking, community and competition: why the word puzzle Wordle has become a new online obsession

Erin SeboFlinders University

Wordle is a quick English-language word game developed by software engineer Josh Wardle, as a unique gift for his partner, released in October 2021. It’s easily accessible online.

The game, in which players guess a five letter word through linguistic inferences, became an unlikely success, suggesting a change in how we communicate – both in terms of how we socialise, and in our relationship with language.

The Popularity Of Wordle

Wordle has nearly 3 million players across the world and versions of it are appearing in other languages.

People love talking about it – the number of Wordle tweets increases 26% a day on average – even when they hate playing it (a significant number of Wordle tweets are complaints, usually about the volume or smugness of Wordle tweets).

Because the game allows you to share your result without spoilers, it has inspired fierce competition, with social media being flooded with results, especially high scores.

In fact, recently, NBC assured us that being “bad” at Wordle doesn’t make you “dumb”.

This is a perplexing idea from a linguistic point of view: solving the puzzle in fewer guesses involves more luck – not more skill.

How To Play Wordle

Wordle is often compared to crosswords but the mental process of solving is closer to code-cracking.

Players are able to narrow down possibilities by calculating the probability of different letter combinations. If your first guess produced, say, two letters both yellow, you can make an educated guess about the most likely positions for those letters in English words.

Since the game is based around five letter words, the words almost always involve consonant clusters. These are typically fairly specific to individual languages. In English, “spl” and “spr” are common, for example, but “slr” or “prl” are impossible.

But players also need to be flexible enough not to exclude less likely combinations entirely – and to keep them in mind as you play.

The difficulty of each puzzle depends on the relationship between the solution and the player’s first guess. A lot of this is luck but you can improve your chances statistically by using frequency analysis, a cryptolinguistic technique based on which letters are commonest.

I use “share” as my first guess because it includes the two most common vowels, “s” which is the third most common letter and most common final letter in English words, while “h” and “r” are common individually and even more common in consonant clusters, so their presence or absence instantly knocks out a range of possibilities.

But I admire people who play with less strategy. Lots of people guess on whim.

Once you’ve got past your first guess, players use their knowledge of spelling conventions and sound patterns in English to solve the word - another linguistic technique used in code-breaking. After all, some of the most successful code breakers of the pre-computer age were linguists, precisely because of this skill.

John Chadwick, who is famous among academics for his role in deciphering the ancient script known as Linear B, was also involved in cracking the most famous WWII code, Enigma.

Linear B was the earliest Greek writing, dating from 1450 BC, an adaptation of the earlier Minoan Linear A script. The script is made up of 90 syllabic signs, ideograms and numbers. This and other tablets were fortuitously preserved when they were baked in the fire that destroyed the palace around 1200 BC. It is on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

Language And Linguistics

Puzzles are always popular. What is, perhaps, surprising is that a game which relies on such specific linguistic knowledge has become so popular.

Although there is an anxiety about the decline of reading for pleasure, this generation of adults actually consumes more written text than any generation in history. The internet means many previously spoken interactions, both social and business, now happen in writing. It also means mass communication, which means a much greater awareness of writing conventions.

The more people reading a text, the more important conventions become.

That doesn’t mean a greater number of people are using formal English correctly - that would only happen if they were reading more examples of formal English - but it does mean a greater awareness of conventions. You can see this in the way people write differently in text message, to Instagram, to Twitter, according to the conventions developing around each platform. In some online contexts, alternative spellings or misspellings can be used deliberately for specific semantic purposes – a technique which has the paradoxical effect of highlighting the spelling conventions and sound patterns Wordle depends on.

You can see this reliance on conventions develop over the history of written English. In early medieval manuscripts, often intended for only a few readers, there aren’t many rules. No standardised dialect or spelling, no one even cares if you split a word in two. You don’t need standardised rules because the specialised audience understands.

With the invention of printing which allows more books to be produced more cheaply, there is a corresponding development of widely-understood conventions, such as standardised spelling. By sticking to these, publishers make their books readable to a wider audience.

The global audience created by the internet is the next step in this process, increasing our use of conventions like those you need to understand in order to solve Wordle.


The game’s popularity ultimately has to do with community. The fact everyone is solving the same puzzle means people discuss strategies and individual puzzles in friend groups and share their results online on social media.

For many people who aren’t able to see friends and family in person, it gives a focus for socialising. For people isolated by the pandemic, it creates an online community.

The pandemic has meant everyone in the world is facing the same problem, COVID, even if the resources for dealing with it are vastly different, so it’s nice to have a small, fun thing in common as well.The Conversation

Erin Sebo, Lecturer in Medieval Literature, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We asked hundreds of Aussies whether they’d eat insects, and most said yes – so what’s holding people back?

Jessica DanaherRMIT University and Lisa NewmanRMIT University

Insects are sustainable, nutritious and delicious. They’re eaten by more than two billion people worldwide, mostly in the tropics, and have been a staple in Indigenous Australians’ diets for tens of thousands of years.

Yet eating insects isn’t mainstream in Australia. Why?

We surveyed 601 Australians on their experience with, and attitude towards, edible insects. Our findings offer insight into which factors might convince people to add edible insects to their diet.

Importantly, we found Australians are not deterred by the “ick” factor of eating insects, and would be willing to try them as a protein alternative if not for a “lack of opportunity”.

Of the adults we surveyed, 56.2% reported they would be “likely” to eat insects in the future (a much more promising result than that from a recent European Union survey) – and this figure increased to 82.2% among those who had already tried them.

Missed Opportunities

Although insects don’t commonly feature on Aussie menus, there are 60 insect species which have been recorded as a traditional food source for Indigenous Australians, including witjuti grubs, bogong moths and honey pot ants.

The ancient Romans and Greeks ate insects, too. It’s thought Westernised countries may have lost their taste for edible insects during the shift from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture and urbanisation.

Insects went from fulfilling the role of a staple food to being pests that destroy crops, and this may have prompted a shift in our attitudes towards eating them.

Research conducted with older Australians has revealed a tendency to view the practise as disgusting and incompatible with their personal beliefs, raising concern there may be reluctance for edible insects to return to being a normalised and viable protein alternative.

The edible witjuti grub is the larva of the large cossid wood moth (Endoxyla leucomochla), native to Australia. Shutterstock

As It Turns Out, Most People Aren’t That Squeamish

But our research (mainly with participants aged 25 to 44 years) shows Aussies have begun to adopt a more positive outlook towards insect-based foods.

Of those surveyed, 35% had previously tried insects, most commonly crickets and grasshoppers. And people who had already tried them were also more open to eating them again, which suggests a “taste” for bugs can be developed. Of those who hadn’t tried insects, only 16% reported “disgust” was holding them back.

This paradigm shift may be linked to people expressing more concern for the environmental cost of their food, and a greater interest in adopting healthy dietary habits.

Participants also reported they would be willing to eat insect-based products if it was easier to find out how such foods are beneficial, both from a nutrition and sustainability standpoint.

They said endorsements from governing bodies, as well as more prominence of edible insects in mainstream media, would boost their interest in eating insects – as well as “try before you buy” promotions.

For those willing to give insects a go, insect-based flours (such as bread and biscuits), chocolate-coated ants and crickets were the top choices. Not all species were received the same way, however, with moths and fly larvae not generating such a buzz.

Still, the shift towards a willingness to try insects is promising for Australia’s growing edible insect market.

Embracing Future Foods

With the global population still growing, we will need alternative sources of protein to sustainably meet future food production requirements.

The demand for protein is on the rise and, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, will have to increase by 76% by 2050. But production is restricted due to Earth’s finite resources.

Edible insects have potential as an important future food, offering a nutritious protein source that’s more sustainable to produce – using less land, energy and water.The Conversation

Jessica Danaher, Lecturer in Nutrition, RMIT University and Lisa Newman, Lecturer in Nutrition, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From rock carvings to rock music – the prevalence of bees in art throughout human history

Wikimedia Commons
Adrian DyerRMIT UniversityJair GarciaRMIT UniversityKit PrendergastCurtin UniversityScarlett HowardDeakin University, and Stuart McFarlaneRMIT University

With a looming biodiversity crisis and concerns over food security and sustainability, bees are frequently making news headlines.

The importance of bees in our society as pollinators and honey producers appears to have led to their increased popularity in many artistic endeavours, such as film, social media, gaming and contemporary art.

Is this new fascination with bees a recent phenomenon? In our new study, we explored how bees are represented throughout different cultures, time periods and art mediums.

Their representation in art would tell us how people at different times perceived bees, which we also found has led to bees being a source of inspiration for different art forms.

Modern graffiti bee art shown in a photo by Louis Masai and Jim Vision. Images provided by authors.

Bee Art Throughout Time And Cultures

Bees have been depicted in carvings, jewellery, coins, songs, tools and sculptures for thousands of years. One of the first known depictions of bees is in the form of rock art from 8000 BCE in the Spider Caves (Cuevas de la araña) in Spain. It shows a person climbing a ladder to collect honey from a hive.

Bees in the ancient world are represented in a) cave art, and in b-c) hieroglyphics of ancient Egyptian names and architecture.Image by Jair Garcia. Reproduced under creative commons license 4.0.

We examined the history of bees in culture and art from China, Central America, South America, and Australia. Centuries before the introduction of European honeybees, human societies in Central and South America had a close relationship with native stingless bees (Meliponini).

Advanced agricultural societies like the Mayans developed apicultural techniques (The raising and care of bees for commercial or agricultural purposes) and kept native bees in their homes. Some gods in their pantheon were consecrated as protectors of the hives, while others were often represented in postures resembling landing bees in sculptures adorning temples.

Native stingless bees in Mayan culture
Stingless bees in Mayan culture. Image a by Dr Enrich Legner reproduced under creative commons license 4.0

While Chinese art has a long history of representing plants, it was during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that honeybees started to be represented in poetry and painting, when formal beekeeping and the use of bee products in traditional medicine increased.

Prior to the Tang Dynasty bees were regarded with suspicion due to the capacity of some bees to sting, revealing how a positive aesthetic representation of bees developed with an improved understanding of the value of bees to our environment and well-being.

Bee Sounds In Art Culture And Music

The buzzing sounds and signals bees make have intrigued humans for centuries. Indeed, the “drone” music style popularised by the Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows in name originates from Old English words representing male bees.

To the ear, ancient instruments like Australia’s First Nations Didgeridoo, Scottish Bagpipes, and India’s Tanpura resemble the rich and mesmerising drone sound of bees, and the ethnic communities of Southwestern China made special bee drums to celebrate cultural links to bees.

Bee-inspired music and song vary to accommodate the wide variety of experiences and emotions humans attempt to convey. In Britain during the 17th Century, Charles Butler scored the angelic Melissomelos from his keen observations of bee “voices” and their societal structure.

In popular music, bees have been called upon to express human emotions, and explore musical dynamics and mastery.

Today, co-species collaborations like “Into” by the music group Be directly employ honeybee sounds to present new ways of making music, while also promoting the plight of the precious providers.

Bees And Architecture

Bees are some of nature’s best architects. The hexagonal structures in honeybee hives have inspired building design and architecture throughout the world, as well as futuristic designs for Mars. These bee-inspired buildings are evidenced across time and cultures, and represent different design goals. In some cases, bee inspired architecture forms the most stable and efficient structures.

Other buildings aim to highlight the importance of bees to humans. For example the New Zealand parliament’s “beehive” building pays homage to the efficiency and cooperation of bees, and the experimental architecture of The Hive, which is a 14 metre aluminium lattice cuboid built to bring attention to honeybee decline. Modern designs such as these reflect the perceived value of living or working like honeybees.

Skep beehive, a classic. design inspiring humans for over 2,000 years. Wikimedia Commons

Bees In Film And Video Games

Bees are increasingly represented in screen culture for both entertainment and environmental messaging like in the Bee Movie (2007). In the worldwide gaming phenomenon, Pokémon, the designs of a number of the imaginary creatures are based on bees, like female Combees that collect resources for their colony.

Minecraft allows players to create bees and interact in an open world environment. Image by Amelie Dyer. Creative Commons.

Our work reveals bees have long played an important role in human society as pollinators, sources of nutrition as well as artistic inspirations and muses.

However, as many bee species are not as common as they once were in the environment, there has never been a more important time to understand and communicate about bees.The Conversation

Adrian Dyer, Associate Professor, RMIT UniversityJair Garcia, Research fellow, RMIT UniversityKit Prendergast, Native bee ecologist, Curtin UniversityScarlett Howard, Postdoctoral research fellow, Deakin University, and Stuart McFarlane, Researcher, Auditory Perception and Cognition, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has reached its destination, 1.5 million km from Earth. Here’s what happens next

Artist’s conception NASA
Karl GlazebrookSwinburne University of Technology

Since its launch on Christmas day, astronomers have eagerly followed the complex deployment and unfurling of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope – the largest to ever take to the skies.

Right around the time this article is published, it’s expected Webb will have reached a place called the Earth-Sun “second Lagrange point”, or “L2”. This is a point in space about 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth (in the opposite direction from the Sun) where the gravity from both the Sun and Earth help to keep an orbiting satellite balanced in motion.

Now the astronomical community – including my team of Swinburne University astronomers – is preparing for a new epoch of major discoveries.

This is an approximation of the path Webb will take at the L2 point, as it orbits around the Sun and Earth.

30 Years And US$10 Billion

In 2012, I wrote an article for The Conversation looking forward to the launch of Webb, and reminiscing about the amazing early days of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Back then, Webb’s planned launch date was in 2018. And when the project was originally conceived in the 1990s, the goal was to launch before 2010. Why did it take nearly 30 years, and more than US$10 billion (roughly A$14 billion), to get Webb off the ground?

First, it’s the largest telescope ever put into space, with a gold-coated mirror 6.5m in diameter (compared with Hubble’s 2.4m mirror). With size comes complexity, as the entire structure needed to be folded to fit inside the nose cone of an Ariane rocket.

The James Webb Space Telescope hanging in space after separating from the Ariane launch vehicle over the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia. NASA/ESA

Second, there were two major engineering marvels to accomplish with Webb. For a large telescope to produce the sharpest images possible, the mirror’s surface needs to be aligned along a curve with extreme precision. For Webb this means unfolding and positioning the 18 hexagonal segments of the primary mirror, plus a secondary mirror, to a precision of 25 billionths of a metre.

Also, Webb will be observing infrared light, so it must be kept incredibly cold (roughly -233℃) to maximise its sensitivity. This means it must be kept far away from Earth, which is a source of heat and light. It must also be completely protected from the Sun – achieved by a 20m multilayered reflective sunshield.

All of Webb’s major spacecraft deployments, including the unfurling of the primary mirror and sunshield, were completed on January 8. The entire process involved more than 300 single points of failure (mechanisms that had only once chance to work). The remaining tiny motions will take place over the next few months.

Deployment sequence of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA.

The Main Mission

Webb’s primary mission will be to witness the birth of the first stars and galaxies in the early Universe. As the light from these very faint galaxies travels across the vast gulf of space, and 13.8 billion years of time, it gets stretched by the overall expansion of the Universe in a process we call “cosmological redshift”.

This stretching means what started out as extremely energetic ultraviolet radiation from young, hot and massive stars will be received by Webb as infrared light. This is why its mirrors are coated in gold: compared with silver or aluminium, gold is a better reflector of infrared light and red light.

Webb will see much farther into the infrared than Hubble could. It’s also up to a million times more sensitive than ground-based telescopes, where the light from distant galaxies is drowned out by the infrared emission of Earth’s own hot atmosphere.

Because of these previous technological limitations, the first billion years of cosmic history has barely been explored. We don’t know when or how the first stars formed. This is a complex question as stars produce heavy elements when they die. These elements pollute the interstellar gas in galaxies and change how this gas behaves and collapses to form later generations of stars.

All current star formation we can observe, such as in the Milky Way, is from enriched interstellar gas. We haven’t yet seen how stars form in pristine gas, which is without any heavy elements – as such a state hasn’t existed for more than 13 billion years.

But we think formation from pristine gas likely had a large effect on the properties of the first stellar populations.

Compared to these Hubble images, Webb will provide a much clearer view of the first billion years after the Big Bang (bottom row), wherein Hubble could barely detect the most luminous objects from this time. NASA/ESA

A Deep Space Observatory

In addition to studying the early Universe, Webb will be a NASA “Great Observatory” and will support a diversity of other projects.

It will allow scientists to peer into regions obscured by dust, such as the centres of galaxies where supermassive black holes lurk, or regions of intense star formation in our galaxy and others. Webb will also be sensitive to the coldest objects, including very low mass stars, and planets orbiting other stars within the Milky Way.

One big improvement on Hubble is that Webb will be well-equipped for spectroscopy, dissecting light into its component wavelengths. This will let us measure the cosmic redshift of galaxies precisely, and figure out what elements they’re made of.

Closer to home, Webb will help us find molecules such as water, ammonia, carbon dioxide (and many others) within the solar system, the Milky Way and nearby galaxies. It will be able to see these in the atmospheres of planets around nearby stars, which is particularly exciting for the search for extraterrestrial life.

Astronomers await with anticipation for the first data to be collected in the next few months. While the most dramatic and risky mechanical motions have been completed, the telescope continues to move, and the mirror segments are making tiny nanometre-sized motions to bring it into a focus. This will take many weeks as the telescope cools to its operating temperature.

For myself, perhaps the most exciting aspect to look forward to is the completely unknown. With Webb, we’ll be observing a previously murky cosmic era, when physical conditions were very different to those in the modern Universe.

The history of astronomy suggests we can expect paradigm-shifting discoveries.The Conversation

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA.

Karl Glazebrook, Director & Distinguished Professor, Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This object in space flashed brilliantly for 3 months, then disappeared. Astronomers are intrigued

Artist visualisation. Author provided
Natasha Hurley-WalkerCurtin University

“Holy sharks, Batman, it’s periodic!”

I exclaimed on Slack.

It was the first lockdown of 2021 in Perth, and we were all working from home. And when astronomers look for something to distract themselves from looming existential dread, there’s nothing better than a new cosmic mystery.

In 2020 I gave an undergraduate student, Tyrone O'Doherty, a fun project: look for radio sources that are changing in a large radio survey I’m leading.

By the end of the year he’d found a particularly unusual source that was visible in data from early 2018, but had disappeared within a few months. The source was named GLEAM-X J162759.5-523504, after the survey it was found in and its position.

Sources that appear and disappear are called “radio transients” and are usually a sign of extreme physics at play.

The Mystery Begins

Earlier this year I started investigating the source, expecting it to be something we knew about – something that would change slowly over months and perhaps point to an exploded star, or a big collision in space.

To understand the physics, I wanted to measure how the source’s brightness relates to its frequency (in the electromagnetic spectrum). So I looked at observations of the same location, taken at different frequencies, before and after the detection, and it wasn’t there.

I was disappointed, as spurious signals do crop up occasionally due to telescope calibration errors, Earth’s ionosphere reflecting TV signals, or aircraft and satellites streaking overhead.

So I looked at more data. And in an observation taken 18 minutes later, there the source was again, in exactly the same place and at exactly the same frequency – like nothing astronomers had ever seen before.

At this point I broke out in a cold sweat. There is a worldwide research effort searching for repeating cosmic radio signals transmitted at a single frequency. It’s called the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Was this the moment we finally found that the truth is … out there?

One of the brightest pulses from the new radio transient detected with the Murchison Widefield Array.

The Plot Thickens

I rapidly downloaded more data and posted updates on Slack. This source was incredibly bright. It was outshining everything else in the observation, which is nothing to sniff at.

The brightest radio sources are supermassive black holes flaring huge jets of matter into space at nearly the speed of light. What had we found that could possibly be brighter than that?

Colleagues were beginning to take notice, posting:

It’s repeating too slowly to be a pulsar. But it’s too bright for a flare star. What is this? (alien emoji icon)???

Within a few hours, I breathed a sigh of relief: I had detected the source across a wide range of frequencies, so the power it would take to generate it could only come from a natural source; not artificial (and not aliens)!

Just like pulsars – highly magnetised rotating neutron stars that beam out radio waves from their poles – the radio waves repeated like clockwork about three times per hour. In fact, I could predict when they would appear to an accuracy of one ten-thousandth of a second.

So I turned to our enormous data archive: 40 petabytes of radio astronomy data recorded by the Murchison Widefield Array in Western Australia, during its eight years of operation. Using powerful supercomputers, I searched hundreds of observations and picked up 70 more detections spanning three months in 2018, but none before or after.

The amazing thing about radio transients is that if you have enough frequency coverage, you can work out how far away they are. This is because lower radio frequencies arrive slightly later than higher ones depending on how much space they’ve traveled through.

Our new discovery lies about 4,000 light years away – very distant, but still in our galactic backyard.

Interstellar space slows down long wavelength radio waves more than short. ICRAR

We also found the radio pulses were almost completely polarised. In astrophysics this usually means their source is a strong magnetic field. The pulses were also changing shape in just half a second, so the source has to be less than half a light second across, much smaller than our Sun.

Sharing the result with colleagues across the world, everyone was excited, but no one knew for sure what it was.

The Jury Is Still Out

There were two leading explanations for this compact, rotating, and highly magnetic astrophysical object: a white dwarf, or a neutron star. These remain after stars run out of fuel and collapse, generating magnetic fields billions to quintillions times stronger than our Sun’s.

And while we’ve never found a neutron star that behaves quite this way, theorists have predicted such objects, called an “ultra-long period magnetars”, could exist. Even so, no one expected one could be so bright.

We think the source could be either a magnetar or a white dwarf, or something completely unknown.

This is the first time we’ve ever seen a radio source that repeats every 20 minutes. But maybe the reason we never saw one before is that we weren’t looking.

When I first started trying to understand this source, I was biased by my expectations: transient radio sources either change quickly like pulsars, or slowly like the fading remnants of a supernova.

I wasn’t looking for sources repeating at 18-minute intervals – an unusual period for any known class of object. Nor was I searching for something that would appear for a few months and then disappear forever. No one was.

As astronomers build new telescopes that will collect vast quantities of data, it’s vital we keep our minds, and our search techniques, open to unexpected possibilities. The universe is full of wonders, should we only choose to look.The Conversation

Natasha Hurley-Walker, Radio Astronomer, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scientists Regrow Frog's Lost Leg

January 26, 2022
For millions of patients who have lost limbs for reasons ranging from diabetes to trauma, the possibility of regaining function through natural regeneration remains out of reach. Regrowth of legs and arms remains the province of salamanders and superheroes.

But in a study published in the journal Science Advances, scientists at Tufts University and Harvard University's Wyss Institute have brought us a step closer to the goal of regenerative medicine.

On adult frogs, which are naturally unable to regenerate limbs, the researchers were able to trigger regrowth of a lost leg using a five-drug cocktail applied in a silicone wearable bioreactor dome that seals in the elixir over the stump for just 24 hours. That brief treatment sets in motion an 18-month period of regrowth that restores a functional leg.

Many creatures have the capability of full regeneration of at least some limbs, including salamanders, starfish, crabs, and lizards. Flatworms can even be cut up into pieces, with each piece reconstructing an entire organism. Humans are capable of closing wounds with new tissue growth, and our livers have a remarkable, almost flatworm-like capability of regenerating to full size after a 50% loss.

But loss of a large and structurally complex limb -- an arm or leg -- cannot be restored by any natural process of regeneration in humans or mammals. In fact, we tend to cover major injuries with an amorphous mass of scar tissue, protecting it from further blood loss and infection and preventing further growth.

Kickstarting Regeneration
The Tufts researchers triggered the regenerative process in African clawed frogs by enclosing the wound in a silicone cap, which they call a BioDome, containing a silk protein gel loaded with the five-drug cocktail.

Each drug fulfilled a different purpose, including tamping down inflammation, inhibiting the production of collagen which would lead to scarring, and encouraging the new growth of nerve fibers, blood vessels, and muscle. The combination and the bioreactor provided a local environment and signals that tipped the scales away from the natural tendency to close off the stump, and toward the regenerative process.

The researchers observed dramatic growth of tissue in many of the treated frogs, re-creating an almost fully functional leg. The new limbs had bone structure extended with features similar to a natural limb's bone structure, a richer complement of internal tissues (including neurons), and several "toes" grew from the end of the limb, although without the support of underlying bone.

The regrown limb moved and responded to stimuli such as a touch from a stiff fiber, and the frogs were able to make use of it for swimming through water, moving much like a normal frog would.

"It's exciting to see that the drugs we selected were helping to create an almost complete limb," said Nirosha Murugan, research affiliate at the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts and first author of the paper. "The fact that it required only a brief exposure to the drugs to set in motion a months-long regeneration process suggests that frogs and perhaps other animals may have dormant regenerative capabilities that can be triggered into action."

The researchers explored the mechanisms by which the brief intervention could lead to long-term growth. Within the first few days after treatment, they detected the activation of known molecular pathways that are normally used in a developing embryo to help the body take shape.

Activation of these pathways could allow the burden of growth and organization of tissue to be handled by the limb itself, similar to how it occurs in an embryo, rather than require ongoing therapeutic intervention over the many months it takes to grow the limb.

How the BioDome Works
Animals naturally capable of regeneration live mostly in an aquatic environment. The first stage of growth after loss of a limb is the formation of a mass of stem cells at the end of the stump called a blastema, which is used to gradually reconstruct the lost body part. The wound is rapidly covered by skin cells within the first 24 hours after the injury, protecting the reconstructing tissue underneath.

"Mammals and other regenerating animals will usually have their injuries exposed to air or making contact with the ground, and they can take days to weeks to close up with scar tissue," said David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts and co-author of the study. "Using the BioDome cap in the first 24 hours helps mimic an amniotic-like environment which, along with the right drugs, allows the rebuilding process to proceed without the interference of scar tissue."

Next Steps in Frogs and Mammals
Previous work by the Tufts team showed a significant degree of limb growth triggered by a single drug, progesterone, with the BioDome. However, the resulting limb grew as a spike and was far from the more normally shaped, functional limb achieved in the current study.

The five-drug cocktail represents a significant milestone toward the restoration of fully functional frog limbs and suggests further exploration of drug and growth factor combinations could lead to regrown limbs that are even more functionally complete, with normal digits, webbing, and more detailed skeletal and muscular features.

"We'll be testing how this treatment could apply to mammals next," said corresponding author Michael Levin, Vannevar Bush Professor of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences, director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts, and associate faculty member of the Wyss Institute.

"Covering the open wound with a liquid environment under the BioDome, with the right drug cocktail, could provide the necessary first signals to set the regenerative process in motion," he said. "It's a strategy focused on triggering dormant, inherent anatomical patterning programs, not micromanaging complex growth, since adult animals still have the information needed to make their body structures."

Nirosha J. Murugan, Hannah J. Vigran, Kelsie A. Miller, Annie Golding, Quang L. Pham, Megan M. Sperry, Cody Rasmussen-Ivey, Anna W. Kane, David L. Kaplan, Michael Levin. Acute multidrug delivery via a wearable bioreactor facilitates long-term limb regeneration and functional recovery in adult Xenopus laevis. Science Advances, 2022; 8 (4) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj2164

African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), from Chimanimani in Manicaland, Zimbabwe. Photo: Brian Gratwicke

Constant Tinnitus Is Linked To Altered Brain Activity

January 26, 2022
There has to date been no reliable objective method of diagnosing tinnitus. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden now show that brainstem audiometry can be used to measure changes in the brain in people with constant tinnitus. The study has been published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Tinnitus is currently not classified as a distinct disorder, but as a symptom with many possible causes, such as impaired hearing, noise, disease or stress. Tinnitus is often described as a phantom sound that is only audible to the sufferer. Today, some 20 per cent of the Swedish population has some form of tinnitus, and the risk increases with age.

Measuring brain activity
The degree of tinnitus severity is currently defined by a process of self-rating. A study by scientists at Karolinska Institutet conducted in collaboration with the company Decibel Therapeutics has now shown that auditory brainstem responses (ABR) is a possible objective diagnostic tool in identifying people with constant tinnitus. ABR measures the activity of the brain in response to a specific sequence of sound stimuli.

"We believe that our ABR method can be sufficiently sensitive to be used as a diagnostic tool," says Christopher R. Cederroth, researcher at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet. "The method measures the actual neural alterations in the brainstem in people with constant tinnitus, which could become a future biomarker.

Acknowledgement for patients
ABR has previously been put forward as a tool for measuring tinnitus, but it has not reached scientific consensus. No earlier study has, however, included as many participants as this one. Here, the researchers have done ABR measurements on 405 individuals, 228 with tinnitus and 177 without. They observed in people with constant tinnitus a clear difference in the measures when compared to people without tinnitus, or people who rated their tinnitus as occasional.

"We need an objective diagnostic method for tinnitus, both to acknowledge the condition to sufferers and to promote the development of new therapies," says Christopher R. Cederroth. "Our study suggests a causal relationship between such alterations in the brain's neural activity and the development of constant tinnitus, but we need to do more studies to verify this. We also need to determine if our method can measure a therapeutic benefit."

Tinnitus is exacerbated
The researchers also followed over 20,000 people with no or varying degrees of tinnitus in order to track how the symptoms develop over time. Here the researchers showed that people with occasional tinnitus are at increased risk of developing constant tinnitus, especially if it recurs often. The study also found that for those who already experience constant tinnitus, the chances are that the problem will persist.

"It's important to know that if you've had recurring tinnitus, you're more likely to develop lasting tinnitus," adds Dr Cederroth. "We need to spread this information so that people with occasional tinnitus become aware of the risks and have the chance to act preventatively."

Niklas K. Edvall, Golbarg Mehraei, Martin Claeson, Andra Lazar, Jan Bulla, Constanze Leineweber, Inger Uhlén, Barbara Canlon, Christopher R. Cederroth. Alterations in auditory brainstem response distinguish occasional and constant tinnitus. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2022; DOI: 10.1172/JCI155094

New Study Suggests Two Paths Toward 'Super Immunity' To COVID-19

January 25, 2022
New laboratory research from Oregon Health & Science University reveals more than one path toward robust immunity from COVID-19. A new study finds that two forms of immunity -- breakthrough infections following vaccination or natural infection followed by vaccination -- provide roughly equal levels of enhanced immune protection.

The new study published online today in the journal Science Immunology.

"It makes no difference whether you get infected-and-then-vaccinated, or if you get vaccinated-and-then-a-breakthrough infection," said co-senior author Fikadu Tafesse, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine. "In either case, you will get a really, really robust immune response -- amazingly high."

The research follows an OHSU study published in December that described extremely high levels of immune response following breakthrough infections -- so-called "super immunity." That study was the first to use multiple live SARS-CoV-2 variants to measure cross-neutralization of blood serum from breakthrough cases.

The new study found that it doesn't matter whether someone gets a breakthrough infection or gets vaccinated after a natural infection. In both cases, the immune response measured in blood serum revealed antibodies that were equally more abundant and more potent -- at least 10 times more potent -- than immunity generated by vaccination alone.

The study was done before the emergence of the omicron variant, but researchers expect the hybrid immune responses would be similar with the new highly transmissible variant.

"The likelihood of getting breakthrough infections is high because there is so much virus around us right now," Tafesse said. "But we position ourselves better by getting vaccinated. And if the virus comes, we'll get a milder case and end up with this super immunity."

Researchers recruited a total of 104 people, all OHSU employees who were vaccinated by the Pfizer vaccine, and then carefully divided them into three groups: 42 who were vaccinated with no infection, 31 who were vaccinated after an infection, and 31 who had breakthrough infections following vaccination. Controlling for age, sex and time from vaccination and infection, the researchers drew blood samples from each participant and exposed the samples to three variants of the live SARS-CoV-2 virus in a Biosafety Level 3 lab on OHSU's Marquam Hill campus.

They found both of the groups with "hybrid immunity" generated greater levels of immunity compared with the group that was vaccinated with no infection.

A path toward endemic COVID
With the wildly contagious omicron variant now circulating across the globe, the new findings suggest each new breakthrough infection potentially brings the pandemic closer to the end.

"I would expect at this point many vaccinated people are going to wind up with breakthrough infections -- and hence a form of hybrid immunity," said senior co-author Bill Messer, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and medicine (infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine

Over time, the virus will run into an ever-expanding pool of human immunity.

OHSU scientists say they haven't tested multiple rounds of natural infection, although many people will likely find themselves in that category given that millions of people in the United States and around the world remain entirely unvaccinated. With the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, many unvaccinated people who were previously infected are likely to confront the virus again.

For that group, previous research reveals a much more variable level of immune response than vaccination, Messer said.

"I can guarantee that such immunity will be variable, with some people getting equivalent immunity to vaccination, but most will not," he said. "And there is no way, short of laboratory testing, to know who gets what immunity. Vaccination makes it much more likely to be assured of a good immune response."

Senior co-author Marcel Curlin, M.D., agreed.

"Immunity from natural infection alone is variable. Some people produce a strong response and others do not," said Curlin, associate professor of medicine (infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of OHSU Occupational Health. "But vaccination combined with immunity from infection almost always provides very strong responses.

"These results together with our previous work point to a time when SARS-CoV-2 may become a mostly mild endemic infection like a seasonal respiratory tract infection instead of a worldwide pandemic."

In addition to Tafesse, Messer and Curlin, co-authors included Timothy Bates, Savannah McBride, Hans Leier, Gaelen Guzman, Zoe Lyski, Devin Schoen, Bradie Winders, Joon-Yong Lee of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and David Xthona Lee.

The study was funded by a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust; an unrestricted grant from the OHSU Foundation; the National Institutes of Health, training grant T32HL083808 and grant R01AI145835; and OHSU Innovative IDEA grant 1018784.

The study authors acknowledge the research participants for their generous contributions; OHSU's COVID-19 serology study team and the OHSU Occupational Health Department for recruitment and sample acquisition; and the OHSU clinical laboratory under the direction of Donna Hansel, M.D., Ph.D., and Xuan Qin, Ph.D., for SARS-CoV-2 testing and reporting.

Journal References:

Timothy A. Bates, Savannah K. McBride, Hans C. Leier, Gaelen Guzman, Zoe L. Lyski, Devin Schoen, Bradie Winders, Joon-Yong Lee, David Xthona Lee, William B. Messer, Marcel E. Curlin, Fikadu G. Tafesse. Vaccination before or after SARS-CoV-2 infection leads to robust humoral response and antibodies that effectively neutralize variants. Science Immunology, 2022; DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abn8014

Timothy A. Bates, Savannah K. McBride, Bradie Winders, Devin Schoen, Lydie Trautmann, Marcel E. Curlin, Fikadu G. Tafesse. Antibody Response and Variant Cross-Neutralization After SARS-CoV-2 Breakthrough Infection. JAMA, 2022; 327 (2): 179 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2021.22898

New Study Validates Benefits Of Convalescent Plasma For Some COVID-19 Patients

January 25, 2022
Transfusions of blood plasma donated by people who have already recovered from infection with the pandemic virus may help other patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a new international study shows.

The treatment, known as convalescent plasma, is still considered experimental by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Plasma contains antibodies, blood proteins that are part of the immune system. Shaped so they can attach to the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, antibodies glom onto and tag it for removal from the body, researchers say.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the study showed that among 2,341 men and women, those who received an injection of convalescent plasma soon after hospitalization were 15% less likely to die within a month from COVID-19 than those who did not receive convalescent plasma or those who received an inactive saline placebo.

Notably, the researchers found that the biggest benefits for the therapy were among patients most at risk for severe complications because of pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. The treatment, which contains antibodies and other immune cells needed to fight the infection, also appears to benefit those with type A or AB blood.

"Our results show that, overall, patients hospitalized with COVID-19 may derive modest benefit from convalescent plasma, with some patient subgroups benefiting more than others," says study lead investigator and biostatistician Andrea Troxel, ScD. With respect to the groups most likely to benefit, the FDA on Dec. 28, 2021, revised the Emergency Use Authorization for convalescent plasma, limiting its use to patients with diseases that suppress their immune systems, or that receive medical treatments with the same effect.

"Patients with co-existing disease were most likely to show improvement from convalescent plasma, probably because they have the most difficulty producing antibodies to fight their infection," adds Troxel. "The infused plasma boosts their body's ability to fight the virus, but only in the early stage of the disease and before the illness overwhelms their body."

The current study findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open online Jan. 25, come from the pooling of patient information from eight recently completed studies in the United States, Belgium, Brazil, India, the Netherlands, and Spain on the effects of convalescent plasma for COVID-19.

These benefits of the treatment are only likely to become clear as more data from the trials become available, says Troxel, a professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone. This is because the data from individual trials are too small to show the treatment's overall impact on subsets of patients, she says. Some individual studies have showed the therapy to be ineffective or of limited value.

Study co-investigator Eva Petkova, PhD, says the team is using its study data to create a scoring system of patient descriptors, including age, stage of COVID-19, and co-existing diseases, making it easier for clinicians to calculate who stands to benefit most from use of convalescent plasma.

"Our treatment benefit index is designed to serve as a quick and effective tool for physicians to use in deciding when to administer convalescent plasma for COVID-19," says Petkova, a professor in the Departments of Population Health and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

For the study, researchers grouped all patient information from smaller, separate clinical investigations about convalescent plasma therapy, including trials at NYU Langone, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Researchers hoped any benefits or disadvantages in treatment would be easier to spot among the largest possible sample of patients. All trials were randomized and controlled, meaning that the patient had a random chance of being assigned to receive convalescent plasma or not to receive it.

Included in the analysis were data from another multicenter U.S. study published separately in December 2021 in JAMA Internal Medicine. That study in 941 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 showed that patients receiving high doses of convalescent plasma therapy and not on other medications, such as remdesivir or corticosteroids, were likely to benefit from the blood plasma treatment. Study co-primary investigator Mila Ortigoza, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the Departments of Medicine and Microbiology at NYU Langone, says these initial results supported the idea that convalescent plasma could be a feasible treatment option, especially when other therapies are not yet available, as at the beginning of a pandemic.

In addition, convalescent plasma collected from previously infected and subsequently vaccinated donors (VaxPlasma) would contain antibodies in high enough quantities and diversity that could provide added protection against emerging viral variants, says Ortigoza. Viruses typically mutate genetically (acquire random changes in their DNA or RNA codes) over the course of any pandemic. For this reason, convalescent plasma has the potential to offer effective treatment more quickly after such mutations than treatment types that tend to become less effective with time and must undergo a re-design process to address a new variant, such as monoclonal antibody treatments.

Besides Troxel, Petkova, and Ortigoza, other NYU Langone researchers involved in the studies are Keith Goldfeld, DrPh; Mengling Liu, PhD; Hyung Park, PhD; Thaddeus Tarpey, PhD; Yinxiang Wu, MA; Danni Wu, MS; Yi Li, MS; Corita Grudzen, MD; and Judith Hochman, MD. Other study investigators include Anup Agarwal, MD; Gunjan Kumar, MD; and Aparna Mukherjee, MD, PhD; at the Indian Council of Medical Research in New Delhi; Cristina Avendaño-Sola, MD; Rafael Duarte, MD, PhD, and Arantxa Sancho-Lopez, MD; at the Hospital Universitario Puerta de Hierro Majadahonda in Madrid, Spain; Emma Bainbridge, MD, MPH; Priscilla Hsue, MD; and Annie Luetkemeyer, MD; at the University of California San Francisco; Katherine Bar, MD; and Pamela Shaw, PhD; at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (now at Kaiser Permanente); Timothy Devos, MD, PhD; and Geert Meyfroidt, MD, PhD; at Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium; André Nicola, MD, PhD; at the University of Brasilia in Brazil; Liise-Anne Pirofski, MD, PhD; and Hyun-Ah Yoon, MD; at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City; Bart Rijnders, MD, PhD; and Casper Rokx, MD, PhD; at Erasmus University in the Netherlands; and Elliott Antman, MD, at Harvard University in Boston. Funding support for the studies was provided by National Institutes of Health grant UL1TR001445.

Journal References:

Hyung Park, Thaddeus Tarpey, Mengling Liu, Keith Goldfeld, Yinxiang Wu, Danni Wu, Yi Li, Jinchun Zhang, Dipyaman Ganguly, Yogiraj Ray, Shekhar Ranjan Paul, Prasun Bhattacharya, Artur Belov, Yin Huang, Carlos Villa, Richard Forshee, Nicole C. Verdun, Hyun ah Yoon, Anup Agarwal, Ventura Alejandro Simonovich, Paula Scibona, Leandro Burgos Pratx, Waldo Belloso, Cristina Avendaño-Solá, Katharine J Bar, Rafael F. Duarte, Priscilla Y. Hsue, Anne F. Luetkemeyer, Geert Meyfroidt, André M. Nicola, Aparna Mukherjee, Mila B. Ortigoza, Liise-anne Pirofski, Bart J. A. Rijnders, Andrea Troxel, Elliott M. Antman, Eva Petkova. Development and Validation of a Treatment Benefit Index to Identify Hospitalized Patients With COVID-19 Who May Benefit From Convalescent Plasma. JAMA Network Open, 2022; 5 (1): e2147375 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.47375

Mila B. Ortigoza, Hyunah Yoon, Keith S. Goldfeld, Andrea B. Troxel, Johanna P. Daily, Yinxiang Wu, Yi Li, Danni Wu, Gia F. Cobb, Gillian Baptiste, Mary O’Keeffe, Marilou O. Corpuz, Luis Ostrosky-Zeichner, Amee Amin, Ioannis M. Zacharioudakis, Dushyantha T. Jayaweera, Yanyun Wu, Julie V. Philley, Megan S. Devine, Mahalia S. Desruisseaux, Alessandro D. Santin, Shweta Anjan, Reeba Mathew, Bela Patel, Masayuki Nigo, Rabi Upadhyay, Tania Kupferman, Andrew N. Dentino, Rahul Nanchal, Christian A. Merlo, David N. Hager, Kartik Chandran, Jonathan R. Lai, Johanna Rivera, Chowdhury R. Bikash, Gorka Lasso, Timothy P. Hilbert, Monika Paroder, Andrea A. Asencio, Mengling Liu, Eva Petkova, Alexander Bragat, Reza Shaker, David D. McPherson, Ralph L. Sacco, Marla J. Keller, Corita R. Grudzen, Judith S. Hochman, Liise-anne Pirofski, and the CONTAIN COVID-19 Consortium for the CONTAIN COVID-19 Study Group. Efficacy and Safety of COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma in Hospitalized Patients. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2021; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.6850

New Hair Dyes Avoid Allergic Reactions

January 26, 2022
A bad dye job is bad enough on its own, but an itchy and irritating allergic reaction to it is even worse. And people who become allergic to hair dye can develop reactions to many other common substances, transforming a simple cosmetic treatment into a big problem. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering have developed a range of permanent hair dyes that avoid the allergenic properties of traditional formulations.

When applied as hair colour, paraphenylenediamine (PPD) -- a common ingredient in permanent dyes -- undergoes a chemical reaction that turns the hair a dark colour that won't wash out over time. This reaction, however, can also produce compounds that bind proteins in the user's skin, causing allergic responses, such as eczema and facial swelling. PPD can also sensitize users to other substances, including a compound commonly found in sunscreens and cosmetics, as well as common pigment and ink compounds.

Alternatives have been proposed, but they generally are not water-soluble, and the safety of some of the compounds are not well understood. Gopalakrishnan Venkatesan and colleagues wanted to create new alternatives that would avoid the problems of PPD while still providing permanent hair coloring.

The team prepared seven dyes based on PPD with modifications to the aromatic amine core. The modifications were chosen to potentially make the compounds less reactive toward proteins and less able to be absorbed into skin. All seven compounds permanently coloured hair samples, producing a range of hues from rosy pinks to deep blacks that did not fade, even after three weeks of daily washing. The team then examined the dyes in a test commonly used in the cosmetics industry to determine if a product is a skin sensitizer. 

Five of the modified dyes were "weak" sensitizers, whereas PPD was "moderate." Another test showed that the new compounds generated a reduced inflammatory response in cells compared to PPD. These results suggest that the new dyes can effectively color hair while also avoiding the potential allergenic and sensitization risks of more traditional ones.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National University of Singapore.

Gopalakrishnan Venkatesan, Yuri Dancik, Yub Raj Neupane, Aneesh V. Karkhanis, Paul Bigliardi, Giorgia Pastorin. Synthesis and Assessment of Non-allergenic Aromatic Amine Hair Dyes as Efficient Alternatives to Paraphenylenediamine. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 2022; 10 (2): 838 DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.1c06313

Newly developed non-allergenic hair dyes offer effective hair coloring without the safety risks of traditional permanent hair dyes. Credit: Adapted from ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.1c06313

Faulty BRCA Genes Linked To Prostate And Pancreatic Cancers

January 25, 2021
Faulty versions of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are well known to increase the risk of breast cancer in men and women, and in ovarian cancer. Now BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been linked to several other cancers, including those that affect men.

A study published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has provided the strongest evidence to date of these links and helped researchers estimate more accurately the associated risk.

Since these genes were discovered in the mid 90s, numerous studies have explored possible links between BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and other cancers. However, these studies had small sample sizes, resulting in imprecise estimates of cancer risk. Being able to estimate the risks accurately is important for informing cancer prevention and screening strategies and providing genetic counselling to those at greatest risk. BRCA mutations are uncommon, affecting around 1 in 300-400 people in the population.

To further investigate these risk estimates, a team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, funded by Cancer Research UK, analysed data from almost 3,200 families with one or more members with the BRCA1 mutation and almost 2,200 families with members carrying the BRCA2 mutation. The families had all been recruited to the Consortium of Investigators of Modi?ers of BRCA1/2. The researchers examined the associations with 22 primary cancers.

From the data, the researchers estimated that men who carry a BRCA2 mutation have a 27% risk of developing prostate cancer by the time they are 80 years old, more than double the rate compared to non-carriers. BRCA1 mutations were not associated with an increase in prostate cancer risk.

Carrying a defective copy of either BRCA1 or BRCA2 more than doubled an individual's risk of pancreatic cancer to 2.5-3% by age 80.

The mutations were also found to increase the risk of stomach cancer, though the researchers caution that because of the rarity of this form of cancer, the number of patients in their datasets was small.

Mutations in both genes significantly increased the risk of breast cancer in men, though the disease is still very rare, accounting for less than 1% of all male cancer cases in the UK. While a BRCA1 mutation increased a man's risk of developing breast cancer more than four-fold to 0.4% by age 80, a BRCA2 mutation increased this risk by 44 times to 3.8% by age 80. It is estimated that 38 out of 1,000 male carriers of the BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 80.

The researchers were unable to find compelling evidence that mutations were linked to increased risk of some other cancers which were previously thought to be linked to faulty BRCA genes, such as melanoma.

Cancer Research UK says that people who are worried about their risk of cancer should talk to their GP. GPs can refer patients to a genetics clinic if they think someone has a strong family history and might be at an increased risk.

Professor Antonis Antoniou from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, who led the research, said: "These large datasets of patients have allowed us to estimate with much greater accuracy the extent to which faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase the risk of several cancers. We've known for some time that they're linked to breast and ovarian cancer, but there's been uncertainty about other cancers."

Professor Marc Tischkowitz from the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Cambridge added: "The link between BRCA2 and prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer is now much clearer, thanks to the data we've analysed. We have also identified a potential link with stomach cancer, but this is based on small numbers and needs further study. Our data suggests that there is no strong link between BRCA2 and melanoma, which may provide greater clarity to BRCA2 gene carriers.

"Overall, the results will add to our knowledge on optimising cancer screening and early detection strategies for people who are known to carry these faulty genes."

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Our scientists helped to discover BRCA over 25 years ago and established that faults in these genes increase breast cancer risk. This study has built on that vital knowledge, giving us some important new insights into BRCA genes and the likely risks of developing prostate and pancreatic cancer.

"Cancers caused by inherited faulty BRCA genes are relatively rare, and other factors like age, smoking, diet and other preventable factors contribute to a person's risk.

"Improving our understanding of how faults in our genes are associated with certain cancers puts us in a much better position to pinpoint those at a higher risk of developing cancer."

Shuai Li, Valentina Silvestri, Goska Leslie, Timothy R. Rebbeck, Susan L. Neuhausen, John L. Hopper, Henriette Roed Nielsen, Andrew Lee, Xin Yang, Lesley McGuffog, Michael T. Parsons, Irene L. Andrulis, Norbert Arnold, Muriel Belotti, Åke Borg, Bruno Buecher, Saundra S. Buys, Sandrine M. Caputo, Wendy K. Chung, Chrystelle Colas, Sarah V. Colonna, Jackie Cook, Mary B. Daly, Miguel de la Hoya, Antoine de Pauw, Hélène Delhomelle, Jacqueline Eason, Christoph Engel, D. Gareth Evans, Ulrike Faust, Tanja N. Fehm, Florentia Fostira, George Fountzilas, Megan Frone, Vanesa Garcia-Barberan, Pilar Garre, Marion Gauthier-Villars, Andrea Gehrig, Gord Glendon, David E. Goldgar, Lisa Golmard, Mark H. Greene, Eric Hahnen, Ute Hamann, Helen Hanson, Tiara Hassan, Julia Hentschel, Judit Horvath, Louise Izatt, Ramunas Janavicius, Yue Jiao, Esther M. John, Beth Y. Karlan, Sung-Won Kim, Irene Konstantopoulou, Ava Kwong, Anthony Laugé, Jong Won Lee, Fabienne Lesueur, Noura Mebirouk, Alfons Meindl, Emmanuelle Mouret-Fourme, Hannah Musgrave, Joanne Ngeow Yuen Yie, Dieter Niederacher, Sue K. Park, Inge Sokilde Pedersen, Juliane Ramser, Susan J. Ramus, Johanna Rantala, Muhammad U. Rashid, Florian Reichl, Julia Ritter, Andreas Rump, Marta Santamariña, Claire Saule, Gunnar Schmidt, Rita K. Schmutzler, Leigha Senter, Saba Shariff, Christian F. Singer, Melissa C. Southey, Dominique Stoppa-Lyonnet, Christian Sutter, Yen Tan, Soo Hwang Teo, Mary Beth Terry, Mads Thomassen, Marc Tischkowitz, Amanda E. Toland, Diana Torres, Ana Vega, Sebastian A. Wagner, Shan Wang-Gohrke, Barbara Wappenschmidt, Bernhard H. F. Weber, Drakoulis Yannoukakos, Amanda B. Spurdle, Douglas F. Easton, Georgia Chenevix-Trench, Laura Ottini, Antonis C. Antoniou. Cancer Risks Associated With BRCA1 and BRCA2 Pathogenic Variants. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2022; DOI: 10.1200/JCO.21.02112

Using The Eye As A Window Into Heart Disease

January 25, 2022
Scientists have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can analyse eye scans taken during a routine visit to an optician or eye clinic and identify patients at a high risk of a heart attack.

Doctors have recognised that changes to the tiny blood vessels in the retina are indicators of broader vascular disease, including problems with the heart.

In the research, led by the University of Leeds, deep learning techniques were used to train the AI system to automatically read retinal scans and identify those people who, over the following year, were likely to have a heart attack.

Deep learning is a complex series of algorithms that enable computers to identify patterns in data and to make predictions.

Writing in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence, the researchers report that the AI system had an accuracy of between 70% and 80% and could be used as a second referral mechanism for in-depth cardiovascular investigation.

The use of deep learning in the analysis of retinal scans could revolutionise the way patients are regularly screened for signs of heart disease.

Professor Alex Frangi, who holds the Diamond Jubilee Chair in Computational Medicine at the University of Leeds and is a Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, supervised the research. He said: "Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, are the leading cause of early death worldwide and the second-largest killer in the UK. This causes chronic ill-health and misery worldwide.

"This technique opens-up the possibility of revolutionising the screening of cardiac disease. Retinal scans are comparatively cheap and routinely used in many optician practices. As a result of automated screening, patients who are at high risk of becoming ill could be referred to specialist cardiac services.

"The scans could also be used to track the early signs of heart disease."

The study involved a worldwide collaboration of scientists, engineers and clinicians from the University of Leeds; Leeds Teaching Hospitals' NHS Trust; the University of York; the Cixi Institute of Biomedical Imaging in Ningbo, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the University of Cote d'Azur, France; the National Centre for Biotechnology Information and the National Eye Institute, both part of the National Institutes for Health in the US; and KU Leuven in Belgium.

The UK Biobank provided data for the study.

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Leeds and a Consultant Cardiologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, was one of the authors of the research paper.

He said: "The AI system has the potential to identify individuals attending routine eye screening who are at higher future risk of cardiovascular disease, whereby preventative treatments could be started earlier to prevent premature cardiovascular disease."

Deep learning
During the deep learning process, the AI system analysed the retinal scans and cardiac scans from more than 5,000 people. The AI system identified associations between pathology in the retina and changes in the patient's heart.

Once the image patterns were learned, the AI system could estimate the size and pumping efficiency of the left ventricle, one of the heart's four chambers, from retinal scans alone. An enlarged ventricle is linked with an increased risk of heart disease.

With information on the estimated size of the left ventricle and its pumping efficiency combined with basic demographic data about the patient, their age and sex, the AI system could make a prediction about their risk of a heart attack over the subsequent 12 months.

Currently, details about the size and pumping efficiency of a patient's left ventricle can only be determined if they have diagnostic tests such as echocardiography or magnetic resonance imaging of the heart. Those diagnostic tests can be expensive and are often only available in a hospital setting, making them inaccessible for people in countries with less well-resourced healthcare systems -- or unnecessarily increasing healthcare costs and waiting times in developed countries.

Sven Plein, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Imaging at the University of Leeds and one of the authors of the research paper, said: "The AI system is an excellent tool for unravelling the complex patterns that exist in nature, and that is what we have found here -- the intricate pattern of changes in the retina linked to changes in the heart."

Andres Diaz-Pinto, Nishant Ravikumar, Rahman Attar, Avan Suinesiaputra, Yitian Zhao, Eylem Levelt, Erica Dall’Armellina, Marco Lorenzi, Qingyu Chen, Tiarnan D. L. Keenan, Elvira Agrón, Emily Y. Chew, Zhiyong Lu, Chris P. Gale, Richard P. Gale, Sven Plein, Alejandro F. Frangi. Predicting myocardial infarction through retinal scans and minimal personal information. Nature Machine Intelligence, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s42256-021-00427-7

'Smart Saddle' Could Help Equestrians Hit Their Stride

January 26, 2022
Skilled equestrians make advanced riding manoeuvres, like jumps, spins and piaffes, look effortless. But good riding requires balance and subtle cues to the horse, many of which are given through the rider's posture, seat and legs. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Nano developed a prototype "smart saddle" that could help equestrians improve their biomechanics. Moreover, the self-powered saddle can alert others when a rider takes a fall.

Big data collection and analysis are becoming important components of many competitive sports because they provide real-time information on athletes' performance and fitness. However, most systems are powered by batteries, often making them bulky and inflexible. In contrast, small, lightweight triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), which convert mechanical energy into electricity, are being tested for a variety of applications, from harvesting the energy of ocean waves to charging cell phones through walking. In addition to powering themselves, TENGs can convert mechanical stimuli, such as pressure, touch or motion, into electrical signals. Ding Nan, Baodong Chen, Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues wanted to adapt TENGs to a smart saddle for challenging and potentially dangerous equestrian sports.

The researchers made a thin, flexible, disk-shaped TENG that flattens when depressed and then rebounds when the pressure is removed. Under pressure, the internal layers of the TENG compress, transferring electrons from one electrode to another and generating a current, which stops when the pressure is released.

The team placed an array of seven TENGs on the top surface of a saddle so they could detect differences in pressure in various regions of the seat. Electrical signals from the array revealed whether a rider was leaning forward, sitting in an upright position or leaning backward. The smart saddle also detected when a person was standing up and sitting down (a motion called "posting" in the equestrian world). When a rider falls off, the system can transmit a wireless signal to alert others, a safety feature that could allow an injured rider to be quickly found and treated, which is especially important when riding alone. The self-powered smart saddle, which has a response time of 16 milliseconds, could someday provide real-time statistical data and fall detection to equestrians and their coaches, the researchers say.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Natural Science Foundation of Beijing Municipality, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Key R&D Project from Ministry of Science and Technology, the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, the Inner Mongolia scientific and technological achievements transformation project and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region major science and technology program.

Yutao Hao, Jing Wen, Xiaobo Gao, Ding Nan, Juan Pan, Yuhan Yang, Baodong Chen, Zhong Lin Wang. Self-Rebound Cambered Triboelectric Nanogenerator Array for Self-Powered Sensing in Kinematic Analytics. ACS Nano, 2022; 16 (1): 1271 DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.1c09096

Young-Onset Cancers Rise And Experts Don't Know Why: Flinders University

January 19, 2022
Rising numbers of young men and women aged under 50 suffering from gastrointestinal cancers -- as reflected in a new study in South Australia -- is worrying international experts.

The long-term SA Cancer Registry data provides compelling evidence of a 'significant' increase in young-onset (18-50 years) gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas (cancers) over the past three decades, with Flinders University and other researchers calling for greater efforts to understand and address the growing problem.

"The trend observed in the young cohort of esophageal, stomach, colon and rectum, and pancreas cancer cases was not mirrored in older individuals aged over 50 years," says lead author Associate Professor Savio Barreto, with fellow researchers at Flinders University, SA Health and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in a new article in Cancers.

"This increased incidence, though apparent in both sexes, was more pronounced in men compared to women.

"Improved survival in the young-onset cohort was only seen in patients with colorectal cancers, but not those with cancer of the esophagus, stomach and pancreas.

The study calls for a concerted effort to determine the socio-demographic factors underlying this disturbing trend so that that preventative strategies can be developed.

Between 1990 and 2017, the registry recorded a total 28,566 patients diagnosed with colorectal, pancreatic, stomach or esophageal adenocarcinomas. Of these, 2129 (7.5%) were aged between 18-50 years.

The number of young adults with these cancers progressively increased from 650 in the 1990s (incidence rate of 9.3/100,000 people) to 759 in the last 8 years of the study (2010-2017, incidence rate of 12.89/100,000 people).

The incidence rate for these cancers has increased by 1% each year for males aged 18 to 50 years, says co-lead author Professor Claire Roberts.

"The biggest concern is that we don't know what the causes for this disturbing trend are," says Professor Claire Roberts, a Matthew Flinders Fellow at Flinders University.

"Young-onset carcinogenesis is an area that warrants urgent research. We need to identify potentially modifiable factors that could enable us to stem the rising incidence rates."

As well as the likely roles of nutrition, including poor quality diets and obesity, and drug and alcohol use, experts say exposures of these kinds before birth, and in early life, could accelerate cancer development resulting in a younger age at cancer diagnosis.

Other socio-demographic factors that need to be investigated include susceptibility of different ethnic groups and impacts of the levels of education and income, Associate Professor Barreto and UCLA Professor Stephen Pandol say in another new paper in Frontiers of Oncology (DOI: 10.3389/fonc.2021.653289).

The good news is that survival rates for gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas have progressively improved over the last 28 years for individuals over the age of 50 years, the researchers say. But, this improvement has not been apparent in younger adults, in general, except for those with colorectal cancer.

The study authors intend to apply for funding to find answers to the questions this research has raised.

Dominique Schell, Shahid Ullah, Mark E. Brooke-Smith, Paul Hollington, Marina Yeow, Christos S. Karapetis, David I. Watson, Stephen J. Pandol, Claire T. Roberts, Savio G. Barreto. Gastrointestinal Adenocarcinoma Incidence and Survival Trends in South Australia, 1990–2017. Cancers, 2022; 14 (2): 275 DOI: 10.3390/cancers14020275

New Test To Screen Newborns For Rare Genetic Disorders Paves The Way For Earlier Diagnosis And Treatment

January 24, 2022
A newly developed test to screen for three rare genetic disorders simultaneously in newborns was feasible, reliable and scalable, according to a new study.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), reported that screening for Prader Willi, Angelman and Dup15q syndromes using the new type of test would open new avenues for earlier diagnosis and treatment, paving the way for the three chromosome 15 imprinting disorders to be added to newborn bloodspot screening programs (heel prick test) for the first time.

The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, was the first to validate the use of a low-cost, specialised screening method called Methylation Specific-Quantitative Melt Analysis (MS-QMA), developed by MCRI researchers, for these disorders at a large scale.

The one-step test can be used to screen for the three conditions simultaneously, by looking at the number of chemical modifications or marks called methylation added to affected genes, which are not present at such high or low levels in children without these disorders.

The Victorian State Government provided a $100,000 grant to MCRI as part of the 2018 Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund to support the development of the new screening method for the rare disorders. Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford visited MCRI recently to see how the test worked and to learn more about its potential.

The study first checked for accuracy, with the test correctly distinguishing most of the 167 samples from people who had one of the disorders. It was then tested on 16,579 newborns in Victoria with the test identifying two with Prader Willi, two with Angelman and one with Dup15q.

The three disorders are characterised by varying degrees of intellectual disability, autism, behavioural problems, seizures and/or severe obesity. About 135 babies are born with one of these disorders each year in Australia, but the disorders are not included in newborn screening programs, and many go undiagnosed in the first year of life.

MCRI Associate Professor David Godler said a key reason why these disorders were not included in current newborn screening programs was the lack of a test with low laboratory costs that could work at a population scale.

"Tests are currently only performed on those suspected of having these disorders, and only if features are recognised by a child's doctor, and subsequently referred for appropriate testing," he said. "This is not the case with newborn screening where testing is performed on all newborns before symptoms become apparent."

Associate Professor Godler said the study found the cost, disorder prevalence and accuracy of MS-QMA as a first-tier test were in line with other conditions currently included in newborn screening programs. The study reported that in the 16,579 newborns screened, the probability of those with a positive screening test truly having the disease using MS-QMA was 67 per cent, 33 per cent and 44 per cent for Angelman, Prader Willi and combined detection of chromosome 15 imprinting disorders, respectively.

"Having a high positive predictive value is important for newborn screening as it ensures that there is lower number of false positive results that need to be repeated, leading to lower overall laboratory costs, less work for maternity services in obtaining a repeated blood sample and minimises the psychological effect on families," Associate Professor Godler said.

MCRI Professor David Amor said that if these findings were replicated in future independent studies, adding these chromosome 15 imprinting disorders to newborn screening programs would allow for earlier diagnosis and using targeted interventions as they emerge, such as gene therapy for Angelman syndrome.

"For Prader Willi, diagnosis in infancy allows for early initiation of growth hormone treatment to improve long term health outcomes," he said. "For Angelman and Dup15q, most infants do not receive an early diagnosis that would allow intervention in the first year of life. But such early diagnosis, if available through newborn screening, could prevent the diagnostic odyssey, reduce medical costs and the significant stress and anxiety currently experienced by the families while they await a diagnosis."

Melbourne's Chrissy Cimino's son Elliott, 4, was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome at 14 months.

As a baby Elliott couldn't sit upright, never cried or babbled and struggled to put on weight. After searching for a diagnosis for months, Chrissy said she was relieved to finally have the answer.

"There were a lot of red flags that were missed, and I knew in my gut that something wasn't right," she said. I kept persisting with medical appointments and I did my own research. It was such a relief to have that diagnosis so we could finally start medical interventions."

But Chrissy said if Elliott had been diagnosed through a newborn screening program, his motor and cognitive skills wouldn't be as poor.

"We couldn't get him on the NDIS until he was two and half so we missed out on years of intensive physio and speech and occupational therapies. He is almost five and he still isn't walking. If he was diagnosed earlier we could have helped him a lot sooner."

Doris Hamilton-Brown's son Lewis, 2, was diagnosed with Prader Willi at four weeks of age.

Doris said due to being born small for gestational age, Lewis was taken to the neonatal unit but failed to improve.

"After Lewis failed to get better the doctors started to look at genetic reasons," she said. "The diagnosis was unexpected and tough to hear but getting answers meant we could intervene early."

Lewis started growth hormone treatment at seven months, which will help with muscle bulk, reduce fat mass, increase physical activity levels and improve attainment of developmental and cognitive milestones.

"He has just started walking and while he is non-verbal he can understand verbal cues and communicate what he needs," Doris said.

She said having a test for Prader Willi and other chromosome 15 imprinting disorders on newborn screening programs would remove a lot of angst, guilt and uncertainty for parents.

"We were lucky that Lewis was able to start treatments and therapies fairly early on but for many families the diagnosis can come late and intervention is delayed," Doris said.

Researchers from The Royal Children's Hospital, the University of Melbourne, E.D.G. Innovations and Consulting, Hunter Genetics, University of Kansas Medical Centre, University of Padua, Città della Speranza, Greenwood Genetic Center, University of Chile and the Victorian Clinical Genetics Services also contributed to the study.

David E. Godler, Ling Ling, Dinusha Gamage, Emma K. Baker, Minh Bui, Michael J. Field, Carolyn Rogers, Merlin G. Butler, Alessandra Murgia, Emanuela Leonardi, Roberta Polli, Charles E. Schwartz, Cindy D. Skinner, Angelica M. Alliende, Lorena Santa Maria, James Pitt, Ronda Greaves, David Francis, Ralph Oertel, Min Wang, Cas Simons, David J. Amor. Feasibility of Screening for Chromosome 15 Imprinting Disorders in 16 579 Newborns by Using a Novel Genomic Workflow. JAMA Network Open, 2022; 5 (1): e2141911 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.41911

$13m For National Eating Disorder Research Centre: Sydney University

The Australian Government Department of Health has awarded the University of Sydney a $13 million four-year grant, which will fund the establishment of the Australian Eating Disorders Research and Translation Centre.

InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders, a partnership between the University of Sydney and Sydney Local Health District, will lead a national consortium of partners to develop the Centre and implement the Australian Eating Disorders Research & Translation Strategy.

The Centre will coordinate a national approach to eating disorder research and translate findings into practice, with the goal of reducing the burden on Australians living with an eating disorder and their loved ones.

Eating disorders are serious, complex mental illnesses with significant physical and mental health impacts, high mortality rates and low rates of detection. It is estimated that approximately 1 million Australians are living with an eating disorder, which is 4 percent of the population. Eating disorders also have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness.

The Centre will be led by InsideOut Institute, and will be supported by a research ecosystem within the university and a consortium of national partners.
InsideOut Director Associate Professor Sarah Maguire said until recently, research innovation in the field of eating disorders has been hampered by insufficient resourcing and lack of a coherent vision and plan. She says today’s announcement is an important first step in addressing inequities in funding for eating disorder research and translation.

“InsideOut is honoured to lead the national consortium to drive this change,” said Associate Professor Maguire.

“This announcement is about the future. It’s about supporting and enabling much-needed scientific breakthroughs that help prevent illness, that get people better and ensure our treatments don’t inadvertently cause harm.”

Major University of Sydney partners in the research ecosystem include the Charles Perkins Centre, Brain and Mind Centre, Lambert Initiative, Sydney Policy Lab, the Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Faculty of Science.

Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, said:

“Having the Australian Eating Disorder Research and Translation Centre based at the Charles Perkins Centre with colleagues at InsideOut Institute and in collaboration with the Brain and Mind Centre and the Faculties of Medicine and Health and Science represents a major step in our rich multidisciplinary strategy at the University of Sydney to address the enormous challenges to health and wellbeing posed by disordered eating.”

This announcement is about the future. It’s about supporting and enabling much-needed scientific breakthroughs that help prevent illness, that get people better and ensure our treatments don’t inadvertently cause harm - Associate Professor Sarah Maguire

Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of Orygen, which will be a lead partner in the national consortium said:

"The award of this Research Grant to the University of Sydney and partners, including Orygen, to support a long overdue wave of innovation and research in eating disorders could not have come at a more critical time with a new surge in eating disorders during the pandemic.

“Orygen is delighted to have the opportunity to work in a collaborative partnership with Inside Out at the University of Sydney to create a fresh approach to the understanding, prevention and treatment of eating disorders.

“We are very grateful to the Federal government for devoting vital new research funding to this neglected public health priority.”

Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre said there is an urgent need for really novel and truly innovative research that can save lives that are otherwise lost or ruined by these devastating disorders.

“This Centre will strive for major breakthroughs, with particular emphasis on those interventions that can be delivered early in the course of illness, at scale, and lead to sustained recovery.”

InsideOut Director Professor Stephen Touyz said the Australian Government should be commended for this investment.

“For the first time, this centre will bring together the country’s leading researchers to develop an integrated research agenda to transform the lives of those with the lived experience of an eating disorder. This initial funding is an important start.”

Professor Ian Caterson, Clinical Director, Sydney Local Health District, welcomes the initiative.

“Eating disorders are complex diseases and produce much distress and illness in those who suffer them - and their families and carers. They produce a range of mental health, social and medical issues and are seen by many in health as difficult to treat.

“This initiative will help Sydney Local Health District and the University of Sydney continue to develop an effective, strong integrated care model which tackles the range of issues those with eating disorders can experience and make equitable, accessible care available to many more.”

All of the Centre’s activities will be informed by people with lived experience of eating disorders and with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“I feel honoured to have been asked to co-Lead the Lived Experience Program workstream, which InsideOut is proposing. The Lived Experience Program that will work across all aspects of the Centre, including governance committees, all workstreams, and all research areas, is ground-breaking,” said Shannon Calvert, lived experience advisor at the Inside Out Institute.

The Centre’s governance structure will include a governing council led by independent Chair Ms Robyn Kruk AO, an executive working party, and a scientific committee which will design a transparent and robust process for the funding of research trials. It will also be informed by an international expert advisory group comprising world-leading eating disorder researchers and innovative thinkers.

National partners include Orygen, Latrobe University, Monash University, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Australian National University, Deakin University, Black Dog Institute, University of Western Australia, University of Queensland (Institute for Molecular Bioscience) and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

The InsideOut Institute – a collaboration between Sydney Local Health District and the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre – aims to ensure every Australian living with an eating disorder has access to the best possible care by rethinking eating disorders from the ‘inside out’. Visit

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.