Rob Wallis from the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), the Federation University Australia, recently reviewed our book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia; an early account by A.E. Newsome”.
The review was published in the February 2017 issue of The Victorian Naturalist.
A copy of the review is provided below:
“Alan Newsome was one of Australia’s great naturalists and also a leading scientist whose early work focused on the biology of the Red Kangaroo Osphranter rufus. His work on the species began in 1957 and, unbeknown to his family, he had been preparing a book on his research which the publisher (Collins) was expecting to be completed in 1975. However, like so many things in people’s busy lives, it got put aside; why it was never completed remains a mystery. In 2010 his son Thomas discovered the manuscript in a box of materials his father had left behind in his son’s Canberra garage and, after a thorough read of it, Thomas decided to edit it for publication. I suspect Alan intended this book to be primarily an account of the biology of the Red Kangaroo, elucidated by his field work. If readers treat it as such, they will be somewhat disappointed as there have been many more accounts of kangaroo biology published recently that are much more up-to-date and complete. Indeed, this journal has published reviews of such books.
What makes this book a fascinating read, however, is the description of how this pioneer of ecological research went about his work. As the preface notes:
It is rare for an ecologist to write reflectively and personally about the experience of discovery, especially during the early stages of a career … I suspect it is also because few early career scientists have a journey that results in the kind of pioneering discoveries that Alan’s did (p. xx).
Alan Newsome’s research dispelled many myths and incorrect claims about Red Kangaroos. His blend of acute observational skills of a naturalist combined with rigorous scientific examination helped answer these questions:
…why were red kangaroos so abundant on open plains and creeks during droughts, and more so on some than others? Where did they disappear to after rain? Why did they sometimes congregate to form large mobs? What did they eat and did they compete severely or at all with cattle and sheep? How did kangaroos foul pastures as claimed? How could 5 to 10 shooters work one 500 km2 plain 50 km north of Alice Springs night after night in the 1950s without making an impression on numbers? Their breeding would seem to be prodigious for such to happen. So what were the reproductive processes, and what ensured reproductive success?…..Why did kangaroos appear to be more numerous on cattle country than land never stocked? Was it due to stock waters man has made? If so, why were kangaroos so rarely seen at water? Had kangaroos always been so numerous? (pp. 9–10).
For so many questions to be answered in such a slim book is remarkable, especially when they are explained so clearly and logically!
Explorers’ accounts of Central Australia suggest the Red Kangaroo was quite rare before European exploitation of the environment. Yet Newsome observed huge mobs—one of about 1500 animals south of Alice Springs. These massive changes in numbers reflect significant environmental change—change that Newsome also noted had deleterious effects on small to medium sized fauna, which was facing extirpation. His observations and suggested explanations make interesting reading.
Thomas Newsome notes his father rated his paper ‘The Eco-Mythology of the Red Kangaroo in Central Australia’ published in 1980 as his favourite, yet the manuscript proved very difficult to get accepted and remains infrequently cited. Fortunately it is reproduced in full in the book. I found it fascinating in demonstrating Indigenous myths that turned out to be based on sound ecological knowledge. Newsome’s work was prescient—today we should recognise the value of Indigenous knowledge as a sound basis for ecological research and that proper management of our natural assets are best achieved by a blend of Indigenous wisdom with scientific work.
During Newsome’s 16 field trips to the centre between 1959 and 1962 he shot 2000 Red Kangaroos! That was the way in those days—even small mammals were usually caught using break-back traps! I wonder how such research propositions would have fared in today’s environment where work must be approved by independent animal ethic committees?
This is an important book which needs to be read in the context of when it was written and when the research was carried out. In his foreword, Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe believes this book rates with other natural history classics such as Ratcliffe’s Flying Fox and Drifting Sand, Frith’s The Mallee Fowl: the bird that makes an incubator and Rolls’ They All Ran Wild. This may be an exaggeration (it is a slim volume) but certainly field naturalists will enjoy reading about the early journey Newsome took in his field work career.
Frith HJ (1962) The Mallee Fowl: the bird that makes an incubator. (Angus and Robertson: Sydney)
Ratcliffe F (1938) Flying Fox and drifting sand. (Chatto and Windus: London)
Rolls EC (1969) They all ran wild: the story of pests on the land in Australia. (Angus and Robertson: Sydney)”
Thanks Rob for the review.
In a recent paper we explored whether the expansion of golden jackal populations in Europe is linked to the widespread extirpation of the grey wolf.
Below is a copy of the abstract and you can view the open access paper HERE
Top-down suppression by apex predators can limit the abundance and spatial distribution of mesopredators. However, this phenomenon has not been studied over long time periods in human-dominated landscapes, where the strength of this process might be limited. Here, we used a multi-scale approach to analyse interactions between two canids in the human-dominated landscapes of Europe. We tested the hypothesis that the range expansion of golden jackals (Canis aureus) was triggered by intensive persecution and resulting decline of the apex predator, the grey wolf (Canis lupus). To do so, we (1) reviewed literature to reconstruct the historic changes in the distribution and abundance of the two canid species on the continental scale, (2) analysed hunting data patterns for both species in Bulgaria and Serbia, and (3) surveyed jackal persistence in eight study areas that became re-colonized by territorial wolves. The observed trends were generally consistent with the predictions of the mesopredator release hypothesis and supported the existence of top-down suppression by wolves on jackals. We observed inverse patterns of relative abundance and distribution for both canid species at various spatial scales. In most (seven out of eight) cases of wolf re-colonization of jackal territories, jackals disappeared or were displaced out or to the periphery of the newly established wolf home-ranges. We suggest that wolf extermination could be the key driver that enabled the expansion of jackals throughout Europe. Our results also indicate that top-down suppression may be weakened where wolves are intensively persecuted by humans or occur at reduced densities in human-dominated landscapes, which has important management implications and warrants further research.
The arguments focused on two key points:
- That dingo reintroduction proposals have been inspired largely by the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.
- That unstable climates in Australia will make if difficult for dingoes to exert strong effects on ecosystems via trophic cascades.
(see here for a definition of a trophic cascade, and below for an example of a dingo-induced trophic cascade).
In a paper published in the journal Food Webs, we responded to these criticisms and argued that (1) the case for dingo reintroduction has never been solely based on the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, and (2) that the climatic circumstances under which dingoes can provide net positive effects on ecosystems via trophic cascades are those that typically prevail in Australia.
We concluded that the case for dingo reintroduction in Australia remains strong, and urge managers and decision makers to consider the mounting evidence that dingoes can have positive effects on ecosystems before deciding whether or not to reintroduce dingoes into ecosystems where they have been extirpated by humans.
A dingo-induced trophic cascade (solid arrows).
If dingoes suppress large herbivores (e.g. kangaroos and emus), then grass and herb biomass is expected to increase. If dingoes suppress lower order predators (e.g. foxes and cats), then numbers of small mammals (e.g. mice), reptiles (e.g. goannas), and birds (e.g. parrots) are expected to increase. Invertebrates also may respond to improved vegetation conditions and contribute to soil quality. However, the strength of all interactions may be influenced by the extent of rainfall and fires (hashed arrows). Numbers represent the predicted sequence of events based on trophic cascade theory.
Since my last post I have been a co-author on two research papers on feral cats.
1. Legge S, et al (including Newsome TM) (2017) Enumerating a continental-scale threat: how many feral cats are in Australia? (Biological Conservation)
In this paper we found that feral cats cover over 99.8% of Australia’s land area, including almost 80% of the area of our islands.
“Australia’s total feral cat population fluctuates between 2.1 million when times are lean, up to 6.3 million when widespread rain results in plenty of available prey,” explains the lead author Dr Sarah Legge from The University of Queensland.
Furthermore, cat densities were found to be the same both inside and outside conservation reserves, such as National Parks, showing that declaring protected areas alone is not enough to safeguard our native wildlife.
This paper has now become the most heavily ‘e-cited’ paper in the journal Biological Conservation.
A full summary of the media generated can be found HERE
2. Molsher R, Newsome AE, Newsome TM, Dickman CR (2017) Mesopredator management: effects of red fox control on the abundance, diet and use of space by feral cats (PLOS ONE)
In this paper we investigated interactions between red foxes and feral cats in south-eastern Australia.
We used a fox-removal experiment to assess whether foxes affect cat abundance, diet, home-range and habitat use.
The results provide little indication that cats responded numerically to the fox removal, but suggest that the fox affects some aspects of cat resource use. In particular, where foxes were removed cats increased their consumption of invertebrates and carrion, decreased their home range size and foraged more in open habitats.
The results suggest that fox control programs could lead to changes in the way that cats interact with co-occurring prey, and that some prey may become more vulnerable to cat predation in open habitats after foxes have been removed.
The paper was featured in the NRM Research and Innovation Network weekly updates.
Below is a copy of the press release for our new paper titled:
“Bushmeat hunting and extinction risk to the world’s mammals”
Contact: Nick Houtman, 541-737-0783, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: William Ripple, 541-737-3056, email@example.com
Links to photos are at the end of this story.
CORVALLIS, Ore. — The ongoing decline of more than 300 species of animals is having significant environmental impacts and posing a food security threat for millions of people in Asia, Africa and South America, according to the first global assessment of the hunting and trapping of terrestrial mammals.
Species of large wild ungulates, primates and bats are threatened primarily due to unregulated or illegal hunting, according to data collected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a nongovernmental organization. An international research team led by William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, analyzed data on the IUCN Red List to reach their conclusions.
The animals at risk range across the spectrum from large (grey ox, Bactrian camels, bearded and warty pigs) to small (golden-capped fruit bat, black-bearded flying fox and Bulmer’s fruit bat). Hunting endangers more primate species — 126, including the lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and many species of lemurs and monkeys, than any other group.
Populations of other species are declining and similarly threatened: Javan and black rhinoceroses, tapirs, deer, tree kangaroos, armadillos, pangolins, rodents and large carnivores, all of which are hunted or trapped for meat, medicine, body parts, trophies or live pets.
Scientists reviewed IUCN data on 1,169 of the world’s terrestrial mammals that are listed as threatened with extinction. These animals represent 26 percent of all mammals for which data exist to determine whether or not they are endangered. The research team published its analysis today in Royal Society Open Science, a professional journal.
Forests, grasslands and deserts in the developing world are now lacking many species of wild animals and becoming “empty landscapes,” the authors wrote.
The researchers suggested five broad steps for effectively addressing the threat:
- Laws could be changed to increase penalties for poaching and illegal trafficking and to expand protected habitats for endangered mammals.
- Property rights could be provided to to communities that benefit from the presence of wildlife.
- Food alternatives can help shift consumption to more sustainable species, especially protein-rich plant foods.
- Education could help consumers in all countries understand the threats to mammals that are hunted or trapped.
- Assistance in family planning could help relieve pressure on wildlife in regions where women want to delay or avoid pregnancy.
The researchers suggest that, to curb this overhunting crisis, more logistical and financial support will be needed from the richer developed countries. They conclude that only bold changes and political will can diminish the possibility of humans consuming many of the world’s wild mammals to the point of extinction.
“Our analysis is conservative,” said Ripple. “These 301 species are the worst cases of declining mammal populations for which hunting and trapping are clearly identified as a major threat. If data for a species were missing or inconclusive, we didn’t include it.
“Our goal is to raise awareness of this global crisis. Many of these animals are at the brink of extinction,” he added. “The illegal smuggling in wildlife and wildlife products is run by dangerous international networks and ranks among trafficking in arms, human beings and drugs in terms of profits.”
People across much of the globe depend on wild meat for part of their diets, the researchers noted. For example, they wrote, “an estimated 89,000 metric tons of meat with a market value of about $200 million are harvested annually in the Brazilian Amazon, and exploitation rates in the Congo basin are estimated to be five times higher….” Loss of these mammals could affect the livelihoods of millions of people, the researchers said.
Overhunting of mammals is concentrated, they added, in countries with poorer populations. As hunters find it harder to feed their families, it is likely they will switch to less preferred species, migrate or suffer from malnutrition and disease.
Not all wild meat is consumed for subsistence, the researchers noted. Much of it is sold in markets and as delicacies in urban restaurants. In 2010, another team of scientists found that about five tons of bushmeat are smuggled weekly in tourist luggage through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Large carnivores and herbivores (bigger than 10 kilograms or 22 pounds) comprise a small percentage of all mammals listed but tend to be impacted more severely by overhunting, the researchers reported. By dispersing seeds and controlling smaller animals such as rodents, large animals have significant impacts on the environment.
The loss of large mammals could lead to long-lasting ecological changes, including overpopulation of prey, higher disease risks and the loss of benefits for humans, the researchers said. The scientists found that 57 species of even-toed ungulates (such as hippopotamus, wild yak, camel, marsh deer) larger than 10 kilograms are threatened by hunting.
Smaller mammals play crucial roles in dispersing seeds, pollinating plants and controlling insects. The largest group of mammals under 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) threatened by hunting is comprised of 27 species of bats.
Ripple has led international collaborations to analyze the status and ecological effects of large animals. Co-authors on this project include researchers at Oregon State University, Stanford University, the University of California Santa Barbara and universities in Gabon, the U.K., Sweden, South Africa, Brazil and Australia.
Editor: Photos of some of the animals mentioned in this story are available on Flickr:
- Clouded leopard, https://flic.kr/p/MwEGqt
- Giant ground pangolin, https://flic.kr/p/MwEsuc
- Mountain gorilla, https://flic.kr/p/MwEmyp
- Collared brown lemur, https://flic.kr/p/LzeDQ7
- Aye-aye, https://flic.kr/p/LzhSu8
About the OSU College of Forestry: For a century, the College of Forestry has been a world class center of teaching, learning and research. It offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs in sustaining ecosystems, managing forests and manufacturing wood products; conducts basic and applied research on the nature and use of forests; and operates 14,000 acres of college forests.
Chris Watson, a colleague from my time in Alice Springs, recently reviewed our book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia; an early account by A.E. Newsome“.
Below is a copy of the review and links to the original webpages.
“Desert lands have an appealing starkness and simplicity. The very grain of the countryside is exposed to all. Ancient mountain ranges plunge and rear from the plains. Rocks and boulders lie tumbled at their feet. Dry watercourses break through mountain gorges to meander and die in the desert. Stunted trees stand mutely enduring the heat.
Biological survival in such a land is not simple.” – p.15-16
It is just such a land, however, which is home to the Red Kangaroo Osphranter rufus; the largest extant marsupial on Earth and Australia’s largest terrestrial mammal. The Red Kangaroo is an Australian icon that ranks with Uluru and the Sydney Opera House for international recognition. The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia presents the gathered thoughts and findings on the species, from the early work of one of the great minds of Australian ecology.
Alan Newsome’s work was already familiar to me when I gained employment as an environmental consultant in Alice Springs in 2011. As it happens, Alan’s son, Thomas Newsome, was working at the firm which took me on, and I’d learn that he is a gifted ecologist in his own right. I’d been living in Central Australia for several years at that time and, being interested in the ecology of Central Australian fauna, Alan Newsome’s name was a regular feature on my reading list. Though I only worked with Thomas for a short time, my excitement at the publication of The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia comes, not only from my own affinity for the country and animals that it describes, but from an appreciation of his standing, and his father’s, in the Australian ecological community.
Alan began studying the Red Kangaroo in 1957 and it’s important to appreciate how rudimentary our understanding of the animal’s ecology was at that time. Alan was the first to discover many of the behavioural and physiological adaptations that have allowed the species to live so successfully in a landscape with such famously extreme and irregular conditions. Working on the beautiful plains to the north of the MacDonnell Range, Alan methodically uncovered the mysteries of the Red Kangaroo’s life. His book takes us through the challenges the kangaroo must overcome to survive in this country in chapters dealing with the landforms, climate and vegetation; distribution and abundance; reproduction (some of Alan’s most astonishing discoveries relate to the reproductive biology of the Red Kangaroo and these breakthroughs, and the methods by which they were revealed, are presented in considerable detail); food and water; sociology and a final chapter titled Ecomythology.
In addition to the main body of text there is an enlightening foreword by famed marsupial biologist Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe and a preface by Thomas Newsome in his role as co-author and editor. [Alan Newsome passed away in 2007. This book is the edited result of a mostly complete manuscript which Thomas discovered among Alan’s effects in 2010.]
In the intervening decades since Alan Newsome’s field work, another generation of ecologists has built on his findings and we understand the Red Kangaroo’s biology well. But perhaps the great story presented by The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia, and a thread running through the entire book, is Alan’s determination to also come to grips with the Aranda* understanding of kangaroo ecology.
Like few other outback zoologists since Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, Newsome allows room for Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) to be interpreted scientifically and considered alongside his own findings. The culmination of the book is in the final chapter titled Ecomythology in which Alan sets out the close alignment of his own hard-won knowledge with the traditional knowledge of his Aranda colleagues. The world has turned now and it is routine for IEK to be incorporated into scientific research and reporting, but we see the foundations of this practice in Alan’s work at a time when such considerations were by no means commonplace.
In addition to the book’s value as an important work of science and history, it is a beautiful piece of writing. As the brief excerpt I’ve used reveals, Alan’s was an engaging writing style, as stripped-back and plain as the desert landscapes he describes. As an avowed desert-lover myself, Alan’s deep affection for the country in which he spent so much of his career, is instantly relatable from the way he writes about it. He also had that all-too-rare talent for rendering scientific writing enjoyable for the reader, without sacrificing any of its rigour. The ease of his style is such that The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia reads more like a story than a scientific treatise at times. This is testament to his ability to render deep scholarship comprehensible to the lay-reader rather than any “dumbing down” or skimping on detail.
Ultimately, The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia will appeal to an audience far beyond the ranks of biologists. It includes almost as much history and anthropology as it does ecology. It’s difficult to avoid drawing comparisons with the writings of other prominent Centralian researchers like T.G.H. Strehlow, with whom Alan discussed his work at some length, and the correspondence of the aforementioned Spencer and Gillen.
As well as being a peerless account of animal ecology and scientific investigation in the desert, it is a postcard from Central Australia and the ecological adventures of a young scientist on a personal journey of discovery. There is no doubt that The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia will continue to inspire and inform future generations of Australian ecologists for a very long time to come.
*Also spelled Arrernte and Arunta, these are the Aboriginal Australians who are the traditional custodians of the lands surrounding Alice Springs and much of the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia.
Thanks Chris for the kind review.
In collaboration with more than 40 other scientist we published an opinion article in the journal BioScience calling for a coordinated global plan to prevent the world’s megafauna from extinction.
You can access a full copy of the paper HERE
A key part of the paper is the following declaration:
We conservation scientists
Acknowledge that most of the terrestrial megafauna species are threatened with extinction and have declining populations. Some megafauna species that are not globally threatened nonetheless face local extinctions or have Critically Endangered subspecies.
Appreciate that “business as usual” will result in the loss of many of the Earth’s most iconic species.
Understand that megafauna have ecological roles that directly and indirectly affect ecosystem processes and other species throughout the food web; failure to reverse megafaunal declines will disrupt species interactions, with negative consequences for ecosystem function; biological diversity; and the ecological, economic, and social services that these species provide.
Realize that megafauna are epitomized as a symbol of the wilderness, exemplifying the public’s engagement in nature, and that this is a driving force behind efforts to maintain the ecosystem services they can provide.
Recognize the importance of integrating and better aligning human development and biodiversity conservation needs through the engagement and support of local communities in developing countries.
Propose that funding agencies and scientists increase conservation research efforts in developing countries, where most threatened megafauna occur. Specifically, there is a need to increase the amount of research directed at finding solutions for the conservation of megafauna, especially for lesser-known species.
Request the help of individuals, governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations to stop practices that are harmful to these species and to actively engage in helping to reverse declines in megafauna.
Strive for increased awareness among the global public of the current megafauna crisis using traditional media as well as social media and other networking approaches.
Seek a new and comprehensive global commitment and framework for conserving megafauna. The international community should take necessary action to prevent mass extinction of the world’s megafauna and other species.
Urge the development of new funding mechanisms to transfer the current benefits accrued through the existence values of megafauna into tangible payments to support research, conservation actions, and local people who bear the cost of living with wildlife in the places where highly valued megafauna must be preserved.
Advocate for interdisciplinary scientific interchange between nations to improve the social and ecological understanding of the drivers of the decline of megafauna and to increase the capacity for megafauna science and conservation.
Recommend the reintroduction and rehabilitation, following accepted IUCN guidelines, of degraded megafauna populations whenever possible, the ecological and economic importance of which is evidenced by a growing number of success stories, from Yellowstone’s wolves (Canis lupus) and the Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) in China to the various megafauna species of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
Affirm an abiding moral obligation to protect the Earth’s megafauna.
We hope the paper stimulates discussion and action to help save the world’s terrestrial megafauna from extinction.
Ian Fraser who is a Canberra-based professional naturalist and writer recently reviewed our book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia; an early account by A.E. Newsome“.
Below is a copy of the review and links to the original webpages.
“When I was a shy young teenager growing up in a housing trust suburb of Adelaide, a most interesting family moved next door for a while. He was a tall dark-haired quietly spoken young biologist doing a PhD at Adelaide University; even then I was fascinated by the natural world and he was a natural hero for me. His name was Alan Newsome, and in later years I followed his zoological career with interest. You may recall that he came to temporary prominence as the CSIRO dingo expert at the Lindy Chamberlain trial, but he deserves to be remembered for much more than that. He was one of the greats in a line of Australian desert zoologists, which includes such names as Hedley Finlayson, Francis Ratcliffe, Tim Ealey, Graham Caughley and Geoff Sharman. In particular he was instrumental in unravelling many secrets of the Red Kangaroo and the Dingo over decades of complex and diligent work in central Australia, working closely with pastoralists and indigenous communities. This is an interesting and historically highly significant book, published by his son Thomas (himself a professional ecologist) from notes he found in the Canberra family garage after Alan died in 2007. It was an account of the results of his years of desert research into the Red Kangaroo, its ecology and its interactions with the pastoral industry, and was supposed to be published at the time – Thomas found letters from the publisher asking that it be completed – but it never was. Cannily, Thomas finishes the book with a reprint of a paper Alan published in 1980, on ‘Eco-mythology’ – a comparison of indigenous stories and modern ecology, in which he found that the stories made perfect sense when seen through the lens of ecology. This was one of Alan’s most important achievements. I am personally delighted that this book has been published, and in the broader world it fully deserves an honoured place in the Australian zoological literature.”
Thanks Ian for the kind review.