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Recent Conversation Piece: ‘Bad and getting worse’: Labor promises law reform for Australia’s environment. Here’s what you need to know

By Laura Schuijers and Thomas Newsome

https://theconversation.com/bad-and-getting-worse-labor-promises-law-reform-for-australias-environment-heres-what-you-need-to-know-186562

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek acknowledges “it’s time to change” after the State of the Environment report revealed a bleak picture of Australia’s natural places.

In a speech on Tuesday (19th July), Plibersek foreshadowed a suite of reforms to Australia’s environment policies, including new legislation to go before parliament next year. Plibersek told reporters:

Australia’s environment is bad and getting worse, as this report shows, and much of the destruction outlined in the State of the Environment Report will take years to turn around. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the steps that we can take over the next three years.

The changes will be informed by the government’s response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s independent review of federal environment law. That review found the law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, has failed to safeguard Australia’s vulnerable plants, animals, and ecological communities.

Having been in the minister’s chair for only six weeks, Plibersek was hesitant to outline major policy initiatives and said the government would consult widely before making changes. She says overhauling Australia’s environmental protections will be “challenging” and public views on the right policy response will differ wildly.

Our collective expertise spans environmental law and ecosystem processes. Here, we consider whether today’s announcements go far enough to restore and protect Australia’s precious natural assets.


Read more: This is Australia’s most important report on the environment’s deteriorating health. We present its grim findings


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What’s been promised?

Plibersek’s speech contained a couple of new announcements, and a reiteration of previous policy pledges. As well as committing to a response to the Samuel review by the end of the year, these include:

  • setting clear environmental standards with explicit targets
  • fundamental reform of national environmental laws and a new national level Environmental Protection Agency to enforce them
  • expanding Australia’s national estate to protect 30% of land and 30% of oceans by 2030
  • producing better and more shareable environmental data to better track progress and decline
  • including environmental indicators in the government’s new “wellbeing budget
  • supporting investment into blue carbon projects, such as restoring mangroves and seagrasses
  • doubling the number of Indigenous rangers to 3,800 this decade and increasing funding for Indigenous protected areas.
  • enshrining a higher national emissions reduction target into law.

These important changes are likely to lead to environmental gains. But the key will be ensuring progress is independently monitored, and that new laws and targets can be amended as needed.

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Changes urgently needed

The commitment to expand Australia’s national estate may be comforting, but it misses crucial context. As the report notes, the overall level of protection within reserves has fallen.

In fact, in some of our most prized protected areas, threatened species are declining. These include northern quolls, northern brown bandicoots and pale field-rats in Kakadu National Park.

Researchers estimated in 2019 that we spend only 15% of what’s needed to avoid extinctions and recover threatened species. Expanding protected areas means little unless accompanied by adequate funding for species recovery.


Read more: One cat, one year, 110 native animals: lock up your pet, it’s a killing machine


The report also recognises invasive species as one of the biggest threats to native biodiversity. In particular, feral and domestic cats have played a leading role in most of Australia’s mammal extinctions since colonisation.

Controlling invasive species such as feral cats will be difficult without developing new management strategies that can be applied at scale. This will require more investment in research and adequate resources to trial, test and monitor approaches.

Cat
Cats have been a leading cause of mammal extinctions in Australia since colonisation. Shutterstock

Rates of land clearing also continue to soar, as Plibersek noted. But we’re yet to see details of how the federal government plans to address this crucial issue.

Nonetheless, Plibersek spoke optimistically about cooperating with state and territory governments, who are primarily responsible for forests in their jurisdictions.

The next five-yearly review of the Regional Forest Agreements – made between federal and state governments – offer an important opportunity. These agreements broadly exempt logging operations from federal environmental law.

Cooperating with the states will be important in addressing the environmental challenges posed by, for instance, native forest logging in Victoria, which has contributed to the greater glider being recently listed as endangered.

Tanya Plibersek with a greater glider in a cage
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek with a greater glider, a species recently listed as endangered. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

New environmental law for 2023

Plibersek noted the importance of climate change as a cumulative threat to the pressures already affecting the environment.

While she reinforced her election promise to legislate emissions cuts, she skirted around how climate change’s harms to biodiversity could be incorporated into environmental law. A fundamental issue with the EPBC Act is that there’s no explicit mention of climate change.

This could be a problem if federal support continues to be given to new projects that could also undermine emissions targets. For example, the federal government recently approved Western Australia’s Scarborough-Pluto gas project. It is set to be one of Australia’s most emissions-intensive developments.

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Another crucial problem with the EPBC Act, as Professor Graeme Samuel recognised is his review, is that it operates in a piecemeal way.

Instead of protecting the environment holistically, it’s triggered when individual projects are likely to affect specific aspects of the environment, such as a threatened species.

When triggered, the act requires an assessment of a project’s potential impact, but doesn’t require any specific measurable outcomes once the project has gone ahead.


Read more: The ultra-polluting Scarborough-Pluto gas project could blow through Labor’s climate target – and it just got the green light


It also focuses on lists of species and places, rather than the interactions within and between environmental systems. It will be impossible for the new government to adequately respond to the Samuel review without acknowledging this major flaw.

The proposal to introduce national environment standards next year will make a positive difference. It needs to operate not as a vague reference point, but as a ceiling.

We can’t afford to fail

Continuing to ignore the damning evidence revealed in the report today will worsen Australia’s biodiversity crisis. Not only will further losses lead to more extinctions, they will also compromise our ecosystems’ ability to support us.

Biodiversity loss has been heralded as one of the top threats to the global economy, ranking third behind climate change and extreme weather events.

Australia’s extinction track record is among the world’s worst. Failing to make the necessary legal and policy reforms could not only represent a missed opportunity to restore past losses, but also lock in further decline for decades.

The report shows the best time to take action has passed. The second best time is now.

New PhD Student Opportunities (updated)

The Global Ecology Lab is seeking 1 more PhD student to work on an exciting new project in collaboration with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Background

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is establishing 4 new feral predator-free areas to allow for the return of threatened and declining species and to restore essential ecosystem function and processes. Within these areas, The University of Sydney and WWF-Australia are assisting NSW NPWS to monitor extant and released species (PhD 1 – already filled) and carry out ecosystem health monitoring (PhD 2 – still open).

PhD 1: Assessing management intervention and reintroduction success

As the new fences are installed and feral predator removal completed, the student will have the opportunity to monitor how extant species respond through camera trapping. As new species are released the student will collect and analyse movement and behaviour data captured from VHF/GPS collars and aerial tracking to assess reintroduction success. The results will help inform ongoing management of the extant and released species, along with future reintroduction efforts.  

PhD 2: Ecosystem health monitoring

As new species return to the feral predator-free areas there should be subsequent shifts in ecosystem function and processes. For this PhD, the student will monitor experimentally placed animal carcasses inside and outside of the feral predator-free areas to assess if there are differences in who uses the carcasses (vertebrate and insect scavengers), how long the carcasses persist, as well as changes to soil properties and vegetation growth as the carcasses decompose. The results will help inform species presence, but also how management interventions impact ecosystem processes linked to decomposition (nutrient cycling).

Benefits of the PhD projects

Both PhD projects have funding support for equipment, field work and other key project costs. Significant in-kind field support will also be provided by WWF-Australia and NPWS. Both students will be based at The University of Sydney in the School of Life and Environmental Scienceswithin the Global Ecology Labsupervised by Dr. Thomas Newsome. The outputs will help to refine conservation strategies for threatened fauna and increase our understanding of how Australian ecosystems function in the absence of feral predators.

PhD stipends

Australian candidates for PhD 2 should be competitive to receive stipend support under the Research Training Program (RTP). The current RTP stipend rate at The University of Sydney is $35k tax free per annum.

For more information and to submit an expression of interest, please contact Dr. Thomas Newsome at thomas.newsome@sydney.edu.au [lab website: https://thomasnewsome.com/]  

The expression of interest should include a cover letter and CV. Please include details of your degrees (including average marks), relevant research experience, field experience, publications, and ability to use programs like GIS or R. Applicants may be required to interview or meet the project team.

New Piece in The Conversation. More livestock, more carbon dioxide, less ice: the world’s climate change progress since 2019 is (mostly) bad news

By Thomas Newsome, Christopher Wolf and William Ripple

Back in 2019, more than 11,000 scientists declared a global climate emergency. They established a comprehensive set of vital signs that impact or reflect the planet’s health, such as forest loss, fossil fuel subsidies, glacier thickness, ocean acidity and surface temperature.

In a new paper published today in the journal BioScience, we show how these vital signs have changed since the original publication, including through the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, while we’ve seen lots of positive talk and commitments from some governments, our vital signs are mostly not trending in the right direction.

So, let’s look at how things have progressed since 2019, from the growing number of livestock to the meagre influence of the pandemic.

Is it all bad news?

No, thankfully. Fossil fuel divestment and fossil fuel subsidies have improved in record-setting ways, potentially signalling an economic shift to a renewable energy future.

The graph on the left shows an increase in fossil fuel divestment by 1,117 organisations based on data from 350.org, and the graph on the right shows a decrease in subsidies for fossil fuels based on the International Energy Agency subsidies database. The red lines show changes since our original publication in 2019.

However, most of the other vital signs reflect the consequences of the so far unrelenting “business as usual” approach to climate change policy worldwide.

Especially troubling is the unprecedented surge in climate-related disasters since 2019. This includes devastating flash floods in the South Kalimantan province of Indonesia, record heatwaves in the southwestern United States, extraordinary storms in India and, of course, the 2019-2020 megafires in Australia.

In addition, three main greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — set records for atmospheric concentrations in 2020 and again in 2021. In April this year, carbon dioxide concentration reached 416 parts per million, the highest monthly global average concentration ever recorded.

Time series of three climate-related responses. The red lines show changes since our original publication in 2019.

Last year was also the second hottest year in recorded history, with the five hottest years on record all occurring since 2015.

Ruminant livestock — cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats — now number more than 4 billion, and their total mass is more than that of all humans and wild mammals combined. This is a problem because these animals are responsible for impacting biodiversity, releasing huge amounts of methane emissions, and land continues to be cleared to make room for them.

There are now more than 4 billion livestock on Earth. https://flic.kr/p/2mbE9ER

In better news, recent per capita meat production declined by about 5.7% (2.9 kilograms per person) between 2018 and 2020. But this is likely because of an outbreak of African swine fever in China that reduced the pork supply, and possibly also as one of the impacts of the pandemic.

Tragically, Brazilian Amazon annual forest loss rates increased in both 2019 and 2020. It reached a 12-year high of 1.11 million hectares deforested in 2020.

Ocean acidification is also near an all-time record. Together with heat stress from warming waters, acidification threatens the coral reefs that more than half a billion people depend on for food, tourism dollars and storm surge protection.

Map of land-ocean temperature index anomaly in June, relative to the 1951-1980 baseline. https://flic.kr/p/2mbA8xB

What about the pandemic?

With its myriad economic interruptions, the COVID-19 pandemic had the side effect of providing some climate relief, but only of the ephemeral variety.

For example, fossil-fuel consumption has gone down since 2019 as did airline travel levels.

But all of these are expected to significantly rise as the economy reopens. Indeed, global gross domestic product dropped by 3.6% in 2020, but is projected to rebound to an all-time high.

So, a major lesson of the pandemic is that even when fossil-fuel consumption and transportation sharply decrease, it’s still insufficient to tackle climate change.

There is growing evidence we’re getting close to or have already gone beyond tipping points associated with important parts of the Earth system, including warm-water coral reefs, the Amazon rainforest and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

Warming waters are threatening West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. https://flic.kr/p/2mbyYcT

OK, so what do we do about it?

In our 2019 paper, we urged six critical and interrelated steps governments — and the rest of humanity — can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change:

  1. prioritise energy efficiency, and replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energy
  2. reduce emissions of short-lived pollutants such as methane and soot
  3. curb land clearing to protect and restore the Earth’s ecosystems
  4. reduce our meat consumption
  5. move away from unsustainable ideas of ever-increasing economic and resource consumption
  6. stabilise and, ideally, gradually reduce human populations while improving human well-being especially by educating girls and women globally.

These solutions still apply. But in our updated 2021 paper, we go further, highlighting the potential for a three-pronged approach for near-term policy:

  1. a globally implemented carbon price
  2. a phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels
  3. strategic environmental reserves to safeguard and restore natural carbon sinks and biodiversity.

A global price for carbon needs to be high enough to induce decarbonisation across industry.

And our suggestion to create strategic environmental reserves, such as forests and wetlands, reflects the need to stop treating the climate emergency as a stand-alone issue.

By stopping the unsustainable exploitation of natural habitats through, for example, creeping urbanisation, and land degradation for mining, agriculture and forestry, we can reduce animal-borne disease risks, protect carbon stocks and conserve biodiversity — all at the same time.

There has been a worrying number of disasters since 2019, including Australia’s megafires. Shutterstock

Is this actually possible?

Yes, and many opportunities still exist to shift pandemic-related financial support measures into climate friendly activities. Currently, only 17% of such funds had been allocated that way worldwide, as of early March 2021. This percentage could be lifted with serious coordinated, global commitment.

Greening the economy could also address the longer term need for major transformative change to reduce emissions and, more broadly, the over-exploitation of the planet.

Our planetary vital signs make it clear we need urgent action to address climate change. With new commitments getting made by governments all over the world, we hope to see the curves in our graphs changing in the right directions soon.

New PhD Student Opportunity (Now Closed)

Deer Movement and Genetics Project

We are seeking a PhD student to work on an exciting new project: Deer movement and genetics in the Australian Alps (NSW region) to inform pest management

In collaboration with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Environment Trust Deer Project team we are seeking a PhD student to undertake the above project in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) and adjacent privately managed lands.

Background

Deer are considered pests in NSW and the Environment Trust has granted NPWS $9.2 million over 8 years to develop a cross tenure feral deer management plan, including the development of a cost-effective ‘toolkit’ for application across other areas of NSW. A key component of the project involves tracking the movements and population genetics of deer, as a complementary element to ongoing deer monitoring and integrated pest control trials. 

Deer movement and genetics work:

The deer movement and genetics work will include: GPS collaring of sambar, red and fallow deer, collection of deer DNA and analysis of population structure (primarily sambar and fallow), collection of longitudinal deer behaviour knowledge from public and private land managers, and collection of ongoing observational data using qualitative and quantitative survey techniques.

This work will contribute the main elements of the PhD, which will answer the following:

To what extent can understanding the movements and behaviour of deer be integrated into pest management?

What are the implications for deer management across NSW and nationally?

How can behavioural responses of deer to intensive pest control influence pest management design and effort?

What is the local population structure and degree of interrelatedness of deer populations?

To what extent is there a local / external (inter or intra- district) population component? Can this knowledge be used to better focus management efforts?

Are there invasive source populations of deer affecting pest control efforts?

Are there barrier or conduits to deer movement through the landscape?

Benefits of the PhD project:

Significant in-kind project support via the Environmental Trust and NPWS Deer Project Team, including assistance in field work, equipment (aerial netting gear, GPS units, sampling kits, etc) and other key project costs. The student will be based at The University of Sydney in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences within the Global Ecology Lab supervised by Dr. Thomas Newsome and Dr. Catherine Grueber.

Australian candidates must be competitive to receive stipend support under the Research Training Program (RTP). A variety of scholarships are available for international students. The current RTP stipend rate at The University of Sydney is $35k tax free per annum. A top up scholarship of up to $10k per annum will be provided to a candidate who successfully receives an RTP stipend. If the selected candidate does not receive RTP support, we will consider funding a full scholarship at the rate of $40k per annum.

For more information and to submit an expression of interest, please contact Dr. Thomas Newsome at thomas.newsome@sydney.edu.au [lab website: https://thomasnewsome.com/]  

The expression of interest should include a cover letter and CV. Please include details of your degrees (including average marks), relevant work and research experience, field experience in remote locations, publications, and ability to use programs like GIS, statistical packages like R and/or experience undertaking genetic analyses. A shortlist of applicants may be required to interview or meet the project team. A single applicant will be selected for the position and invited to apply for stipend support. The student will enrol in Q3 2021 (enrolment and RTP applications are due to The University of Sydney by 30th March 2021).

Expressions of interest will close 26th February 2021.

ProjectOzScav Updates

In 2018 ProjectOzScav was initiated to investigate the role of carrion in ecological communities in Australia. Specifically, this project:

(1) explores how carrion is used by Australian vertebrates, arthropods and microbes,

(2) determines whether the presence of carrion has cascading impacts on surrounding live prey, and

(3) examines the effects of carrion on soil nutrients and subsequent plant growth surrounding the resource.

Web of interactions we are exploring around carrion as part of ProjectOzScav. Black solid lines indicate use of carrion (or vegetation) by microbes, scavengers or herbivores, as well as the flow of nutrients to soils. Black dashed lines indicate the potential for positive or negative interactions between different trophic groups.

The Initial Field Work

PhD student Emma Spencer led the initial field work for ProjectOzScav, and has monitored vertebrate and insect scavengers, and soil and vegetation responses to the presence of 120 kangaroo carcasses across three study systems in Australia, representing temperate (Blue Mountains), subalpine (Kosciuszko National Park) and desert (Simpson Desert) biomes. This work has been supported by the Australian Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, The NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub, Bush Heritage Australia, Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, The Holsworth Wildlife Endowment, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Australian Academy of Science.

Insights from monitoring the carcasses have been featured in SMH, ABC, Newsweek, DailyMail, TheNewDaily, TheNorthWestStar, KatherineTimes, Batemans Bay Post, ABC news, NZHerald and various other news sources. The work led to blog posts featured by Bush Heritage, and the development of ideas to compost carcasses, especially when carcasses are in excess like after the recent bush fires. The research also helped to inform the debate about plans to ease restrictions on feral deer hunting.

Data collected so far has been incorporated into global analyses on the network structure of vertebrate scavenger assemblages, published in the journal Ecography. Observations of European wasps killing flies and stinging dingoes around carcasses were also published in the journal Food Webs, and featured in The Conversation. Emma is currently writing up the rest of her PhD chapters, and we will post updates when the work is published.

This video shows European wasps congregating around a kangaroo carcass in Kosciuszko National Park. We found that the wasps were killing native blowflies around the carcasses and even stinging dingoes when they attempted to feed.

Unexpected Extreme Weather

Our carcass monitoring work to date coincided with a few extreme weather events. This included a flooding event in the Simpson Desert in 2019. Honours students Patrick Bragato and Zyna Krige are now analysing whether the behaviour, abundance and/or diversity of vertebrate scavenging assemblages around carcasses shifted as a result of the floods, and whether that in turn influences how long carcasses persist in the environment. The work will be based around monitoring vertebrate scavenger use of 40 kangaroo carcasses before the flood, and 40 carcasses after the flood.

Rains and flood waters as shown in this video inundated our study site at Ethabuka Nature Reserve (owned and managed by Bush Heritage) where we were monitoring carcasses. The flood provided a unique opportunity to study how scavenging animals respond to such events.

In the Blue Mountains, our study site in the Wolgan Valley was severely burnt during the 2019/2020 bush fire season. We are now starting to assess whether the bush fires have altered scavenging dynamics and ecosystem processes around carcasses in that region. We monitored vertebrate and insect scavenger use of 80 kangaroo carcasses before the fires, and we are in the process of monitoring vertebrate and insect scavenger use of 40 kangaroo carcasses after the fires.

Aerial shot of post-fire landscape in the Wolgan Valley. Photo credit David Baker.

Other Field Research

Much of our current field research is being undertaken in and around Kosciuszko National Park. This research is supported by the Australian Alps Co-operative Management Program, The Hermon Slade Foundation, NSW National Parks, and local land managers. We are also collaborating on projects with the NSW Environment Trust funded Deer Project.

One project in Kosciuszko National Park is being led by PhD student Stefanie Bonat who is evaluating the ecological effects of animal mass mortality events. Stefanie’s project will monitor a suite of ecosystem responses to animal mass mortality events by simulating them in the field (monitoring lots of carcasses), and by studying what happens across the broader landscape after large scale culling events. A key focus will be the responses by scavengers, soil and vegetation to the presence of large numbers of carcasses in the landscape.

The second project in Kosciuszko National Park, led by Masters students James Vandersteen and Chris Fust, is assessing in more detail the impacts of European wasps on scavenging dynamics (building on the work published in Food Webs), how scavenging dynamics changes through different seasons, and also what happens to carcasses when different scavengers are excluded from accessing them. Previous work in Kosciuszko National Park identified that feral pigs are a dominant scavenger. Honours student Molly Kane is now assessing feral pig behaviours around carcasses, and the factors that influence their rates of scavenging.

Feral pigs inspecting one of our carcass sites.

The Next Steps and Opportunities for Students

As our field work progresses and our results written up, there are plenty of opportunities to join our team either as a volunteer, honours, masters or PhD student.

Some options for lab based volunteer work include (1) scavenging insect ID and sorting, (2) tagging photos of vertebrate scavengers, (3) plant ID’s, and (4) analysis of soil chemistry.

Some options for field based volunteer work include assisting with existing field work in Kosciuszko National Park. We are especially looking for volunteers to assist with field work for the mass mortality project, which will be fully operational in the field from August 2020.

In terms of opportunities for student projects, there is currently scope to add students to the mass mortality project and for the longer term carcass monitoring work we will be conducting in and around Kosciuszko National Park.

We are also looking for students to explore the factors affecting the diversity and abundance of scavenging insect assemblages that we have collected to date, and to explore the longer term impacts of carcasses on insect community assemblages.

For further details about student opportunities, see the Student Opportunities Page.

If you are interested to learn more about ProjectOzScav or whether carcass monitoring might be useful for research, conservation or land management please feel free to contact us directly via the following email: thomas.newsome@sydney.edu.au

Photos and interesting findings can be followed on twitter via #ProjectOzScav

Thanks to all our funders and collaborators who have helped to make all this work to date possible.

11,000 scientists warn: climate change isn’t just about temperature

Published today in The Conversation

Exactly 40 years ago, a small group of scientists met at the world’s first climate conference in Geneva. They raised the alarm about unnerving climate trends.

Today, more than 11,000 scientists have co-signed a letter in the journal BioScience, calling for urgently necessary action on climate.

This is the largest number of scientists to explicitly support a publication calling for climate action. They come from many different fields, reflecting the harm our changing climate is doing to every part of the natural world.


Read more: 40 years ago, scientists predicted climate change. And hey, they were right


Why no change?

If you’re thinking not much has changed in the past 40 years, you might be right. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, with increasingly damaging effects.

Much of the focus to date has been on tracking global surface temperatures. This makes sense, as goals like “prevent 2℃ of warming” create a relatively simple and easy-to-communicate message.

However, there’s more to climate change than global temperature.

In our paper, we track a broader set of indicators to convey the effects of human activities on greenhouse gas emissions, and the consequent impacts on climate, our environment, and society.

The indicators include human population growth, tree cover loss, fertility rates, fossil fuel subsidies, glacier thickness, and frequency of extreme weather events. All are linked to climate change.

Troubling signs over the past 40 years

Profoundly troubling signs linked to human activities include sustained increases in human and ruminant populations, global tree cover loss, fossil fuel consumption, number of plane passengers, and carbon dioxide emissions.

The concurrent trends on the actual impacts of climate change are equally troubling. Sea ice is rapidly disappearing, and ocean heat, ocean acidity, sea level, and extreme weather events are all trending upwards.

These trends need to be closely monitored to assess how we are responding to the climate emergency. Any one of them could hit a point of no return, creating a catastrophic feedback loop that could make more regions of Earth uninhabitable.


Read more: What climate tipping points should we be looking out for?


The need for better reporting

We urge national governments to report on how their own results are trending. Our indicators will allow policymakers and the public to better understand the magnitude of this crisis, track progress, and realign priorities to alleviate climate change.

Some of the indicators could even be presented monthly to the public during news broadcasts, as they are arguably more important than the trends in the stock exchange.

It’s not too late to act

In our paper we suggest six critical and interrelated steps that governments, and the rest of humanity, can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change:

  1. prioritise energy efficiency, and replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energy sources,
  2. reduce emissions of short-lived pollutants like methane and soot,
  3. protect and restore the Earth’s ecosystems by curbing land clearing,
  4. reduce our meat consumption,
  5. move away from unsustainable ideas of ever-increasing economic and resource consumption, and
  6. stabilise and ideally, gradually reduce human populations while improving human well-being.

We recognise that many of these recommendations are not new. But mitigating and adapting to climate change will entail major transformations across all six areas.

How can you help?

Individuals can make a difference by reducing meat consumption, voting for political parties and members of government bodies who have clear climate change policies, rejecting fossil fuels where possible, using renewable and clean sources of energy, reducing car and air travel, and joining citizen movements.

Lots of small changes will help inspire larger scale shifts in policy and economic frameworks.

We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern. Some governments are declaring climate emergencies. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change.


Read more: Why attending a climate strike can change minds (most importantly your own)


As scientists, we urge widespread use of our indicators to track how changes across the six areas above will start to change our ecosystem trajectories.

PhD Opportunity – SEEKING APPLICANTS

The Ecological Effects of Animal Mass Mortality Events

We are seeking a PhD student to work on an exciting new project assessing the ecosystem effects of animal mass mortality events.

Animal mass mortality events (AMMEs) involve the rapid, catastrophic die-off of organisms. These events can produce many of tons of dead biomass in a single event, and they appear to be on the rise globally. In the past few years, Australia has witnessed a number of AMMEs, including the death of a million fish in the Murray Darling Basin due to algal blooms, thousands of cattle dying after floods in Queensland, the deaths of feral horses in central Australia from drought, and thousands of flying foxes dying from heat stress in New South Wales and Queensland. Humans also effectively simulate AMMEs when they undertake large scale culling of overabundant species. But while the causes of these events are known (e.g. poor water quality, drowning, drought, heat, and direct killing), we know very little about the consequences of AMMEs for ecosystems. For example: can vertebrate and invertebrate scavenger assemblages consume and disperse the vast quantities of carcasses that become available? Do carcasses attract and get scavenged by pest species? Do unconsumed carcasses result in unusual and excessive nutrient loads in surrounding areas, and does this affect plant growth, weed invasion, or have cascading effects on herbivore grazers? This PhD project will answer these fundamental questions by simulating and monitoring AMMEs in the field. A key focus of the project will be the responses by scavengers including dingoes, red foxes, feral pigs, eagles, ravens, blowflies, and European wasps.

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The project has financial support from the Hermon Slade Foundation and in-kind support from a major NSW Environment Trust project led by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The field work will be in and around Kosciuszko National Park, and the student will work with local land managers and NSW Government Departments, including NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and South East Local Land Services. The student will have an opportunity to work with colleagues in southern USA replicating similar experiments in systems where vultures and coyotes are the dominant scavengers. Support will also be provided from Dr. Philip Barton at Australian National University, Prof. Richard Duncan at University of Canberra, and Dr. Alex Carthey at Macquarie University.

Australian candidates must be competitive to receive funding under the Research Training Program. However, a top-up scholarship of up to $6,000 per annum will be offered to the successful applicant. A variety of scholarships are available for international students.

The student will be based at The University of Sydney in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences Ecology, Evolution and Environment Cluster, within the Global Ecology Lab

For more information and to submit an expression of interest, please contact Dr. Thomas Newsome at thomas.newsome@sydney.edu.au

The expression of interest should include a cover letter and CV. Please include details of your degrees (including average marks), work and research experience, field experience in remote locations, publications, and ability to use programs like GIS, and statistical packages like R. You must have a current manual drivers license. The project can commence either in late 2019, or early 2020, and will run for at least three years.

Expressions of interest will close July 30th 2019

You can download a copy of the flyer HERE

Further details on enrollment at The University of Sydney can be found below:

How to apply

Entry requirements

 

Introducing Project OzScav

 

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Background

Carrion is a nutrient- and energy-rich resource that is used by a variety of organisms, particularly carnivorous vertebrates, arthropods and microbes. It can influence the movements and spatial distribution of scavenging species and, as many scavengers are also predators, the presence of carrion may have cascading effects on live prey.

The degradation of a carcass further influences soil properties, as well as the growth of certain plant species in the vicinity of the resource. Thus, carrion has the potential to affect many aspects of community ecology, and to play key roles in nutrient cycling and in shaping food-web dynamics through both direct and indirect pathways.

But despite the potential community-wide impacts of this resource, carrion ecology remains understudied, and research on the topic is primarily northern hemisphere based.

A new project to fill the knowledge gaps

Project OzScav’s main directive is to investigate the role of carrion in ecological communities in Australia.

Specifically, this project:

(1) explores how carrion is used by Australian vertebrates, arthropods and microbes,

(2) determines whether the presence of carrion has cascading impacts on surrounding live prey, and

(3) examines the effects of carrion on soil nutrients and subsequent plant growth surrounding the resource.

The project currently spans three study systems across Australia, representing temperate, subalpine and desert biomes.

Our main funding and project partners include , , , , , NSW National Parks, and Australia and Pacific Science Foundation.

Data are providing insight into the role of carrion in Australian food-webs, and, as study locations are situated on National parkland and conservation reserves, data are also contributing directly to local land management (e.g. by informing land managers of the potential impacts of carcasses left to lie in the environment following culling events).

Project updates as well as student and volunteer opportunities will be posted on this website, via my own twitter account (@NewsomeTM) and via the twitter account of Emma Spencer who is a PhD student on the project (@EE_Spencer).

Feel free to get in contact if you have any questions!

Check out the hungry lace monitor on the video link below:

 

Here is a pack of dingoes checking out one of the carcasses we are monitoring:

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Wedge-tailed eagles are often the first to find and scavenge on the carcasses:

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2017 Wrap Up

2017 has been an exciting year for my research.

Some highlights include:

SnowShoe

Save Australia’s Ecological Research

SimpsonDesert_Greenville

The Simpson Desert by Aaron Greenville (copyright)

Last week, in collaboration with 68 scientists, I was co-author on a letter in Science titled “Save Australia’s Ecological Research

The letter calls on the Federal Government to reverse its decision to cease funding  Australia’s Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN). The network comprises more than 1100 long-term field plots across Australia, including those in the Simpson Desert (pictured above) where I have conducted research in collaboration with the Desert Ecology Research Group at The University of Sydney.

The letter has been featured in a news piece by John Pickrell in Science titled “Australia to ax support for long-term ecology sites“, as well as in a news piece by Nicky Phillips in Nature titled “Ecologists protest Australia’s plans to cut funding for environment-monitoring network

The existing program receives $900,000 of support from the Federal Government’s Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN). This support is being slashed at a time when even the USA is increasing funding for its own network by US$5.6M annually.

Hopefully a last ditch bid to the Federal Government by those who administer and lead LTERN will result in a reversal of this decision, and even better, an expansion of the program.