ecology

The golden wattle, Australia’s floral emblem, is an ideal candidate for rehabilitating mine sites, according to new research from the University of South Australia.

Most planted trees and herbs remove heavy metals from the soil. But these heavy metals accumulate in the plant, spreading to the worms, birds, and other wildlife that feed off the plants.

Acacia pycnantha (golden wattle). Credit: istockphoto

Acacia pycnantha (golden wattle). Credit: istockphoto

However, wattle is different.

“Wattle trees take up very little copper. That means the majority of the on-site copper remains in the soil,” according to Ramkrishna Nirola, who worked at an abandoned copper mine to examine the suitability of 26 tree species for environmental remediation.

A small amount of copper is absorbed but it becomes bound up within the leaf structure, so it is unavailable for uptake by worms and other invertebrates.

The potential environmental impacts are significant.

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Greta Frankham pic

Australia may be losing more animals to extinction than previously thought, with the discovery of new fungi-foraging mammal sub-species, a Sydney zoologist says.

Greta Frankham, of the Australian Museum and The University of Melbourne, has discovered new sub-species of long-nosed potoroos across Australia, raising concerns over the wider impact of mammal extinction in a country that already holds the record for the highest rate in the world.

“We thought we knew all about Australia’s iconic mammals, but genetic tools are now revealing new species and sub-species across the continent,” Greta says.

“My work shows that this species should actually be managed as at least three subspecies and, depending on future results, that these may actually represent three completely different species,” she says.

“It is critical that we recognise and protect the genetic diversity of species so they have the best chance to adapt to future environmental changes.”

According to Greta, the long-nosed potoroo is an endangered ‘keystone species’ that eats and disperses a wide variety of fungi and truffles throughout the ecosystem, improving the health of eucalypts and wattles. It is currently managed as two subspecies.

“This makes conservation of these marsupials pivotal to the well-being of the broader forest ecosystem,” she says.

Greta says land clearing and the introduction of foxes has accelerated the extinction of potoroos over the last two centuries, and immediate intervention is necessary to ensure this doesn’t continue.

NSW State Finalist: Greta Frankham, Australian Museum

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Farmers have lent their voices to restoration efforts of a land once considered Darwin’s evolutionary blank canvas.

Mandy Trueman, a Perth ecologist, interviewed farmers in the Galapagos Islands to gather historical details that might help efforts to conserve the island’s special biodiversity, much of which has been lost to agricultural clearing and introduced species.

“I meshed farmers’ knowledge with historical accounts and aerial photographs to map and describe the Galapagos vegetation that existed before humans made major changes. Unfortunately, some parts of the Galapagos Islands have been radically transformed by agricultural clearing and introduced species and now bear little resemblance to their native state,” says Mandy, a PhD student at The University of Western Australia.

Mandy spent four years living in the Galapagos Islands, where she witnessed restoration projects aiming to repair the damage and to protect iconic species, but she noticed that not all of this work was successful.

She spoke to farmers in an effort to gain information that could help land managers restore resilient combinations of plant species and prevent further extinction of unique Galapagos species.

“I loved hearing stories of times-gone-by, when vermillion flycatchers flitted among endemic coffee bushes and giant tortoises grazed under huge daisy trees,” Mandy says. “Farmers have an intimate relationship with the land; their knowledge can add invaluable insights to a scientific understanding of nature.”

WA State Finalist: Mandy Trueman, The University of Western Australia