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


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

A new land management tool using Aboriginal knowledge

Ngan’gi speakers know it’s time to look for freshwater crocodile eggs when the red kapok trees near the Northern Territory’s Daly River burst into flower.

This can occur at a different time each year, but the environmental link is solid.

A Darwin-based scientist has converted this link and other intimate Aboriginal knowledge of Australia’s landscape into an environmental management tool.

CSIRO’s Emma Woodward worked with Aboriginal elders as part of the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge research program to develop six seasonal calendars from six different language groups from the Northern Territory and Western Australia. [click to continue…]

Soil has the answer to burning climate questions

Decreasing the frequency of wild fires in northern Australia would lead to an increase in the amount of carbon stored in the soil, significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions, according to CSIRO ecologist, Dr Anna Richards. [click to continue…]

Samurai of the sea

9 June 2011

in 2011

SawfishWhat sawfish really do with their saw

Scientists thought that sawfish used their saw to probe the sea bottom for food.  But a Cairns researcher has found that these large (5 metres or more) and endangered fish actually use the saw to locate and dismember free-swimming fish – using a sixth sense that detects electric fields. She’s in Melbourne this week as a winner of Fresh Science. [click to continue…]

Feeding weeds fertiliser sounds like exactly the wrong thing, if you want to get rid of them, but Jennifer Firn of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems has been doing just that—to control African lovegrass, an invasive species of rangelands in every Australian state.

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Bore hole through ice. Credit: Mike Craven Australian Antarctic Division (AAD)Researchers at Geoscience Australia have unravelled the development of a unique seafloor community thriving in complete darkness below the giant ice sheets of Antarctica.

The community beneath the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica is 100 km from open water and hidden from view by ice half a kilometre thick. This ecosystem has developed very slowly over the past 9000 years, since the end of the last glaciation.

Today it is home to animals such as sponges and bryozoans fed by plankton carried in on the current. [click to continue…]

Sophie Bestley catching tuna, photo credit Adam Watkins

Sophie Bestley catching tuna, photo credit Thor Carter, CSIRO

Issued on World Oceans Day

Southern bluefin tuna can’t even have a quiet snack without CSIRO researchers knowing. They’ve developed a way of tracking when the tuna feed and also where, at what depth, and the temperature of the surrounding water.

It’s the first time anyone has been able to observe the long term feeding habits of migratory fishes directly and the information is transforming our understanding of these highly sought after ‘Porsches of the sea’.

Dr Sophie Bestley and her colleagues at CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship surgically implant miniaturised electronic “data-storage” tags into juvenile fishes off the coast of southern Australia. [click to continue…]

Dr Fiona Hogan is DNA fingerprinting Australian owls with the help of feathers and a keen public.

Her work is transforming our understanding of the night life of owls, normally notoriously secretive.

From a single feather, this Deakin University researcher can determine the species, sex, and identity of individual birds. She has already found a pair of powerful owls who have mated together for at least 10 consecutive years, and that those breeding in urban areas are typically more closely related than those which breed in the bush. [click to continue…]

Bilbies and bettongs-the desert forms of bandicoots and rat-kangaroos-can bring degraded desert landscape back to life, a new study at the University of New South Wales has found. [click to continue…]

 Bluefin tuna use three times as much oxygen as other fish their size, making them more difficult to culture. That’s just part of the valuable information uncovered by University of Adelaide PhD student, Quinn Fitzgibbon and his colleagues in a study where they monitored live tuna swimming inside a 350-tonne “waterbed”.

[click to continue…]

Hunting mice in trees

31 August 2005

in 2005

There is more than we know in the rainforest canopy

A crane-driving young researcher from the Rainforest CRC at James Cook University in North Queensland is using a tower crane to reveal a whole new world of life in the canopy of the Australian rainforest.

Already she has found that the native prehensile-tailed mouse, once considered rare, is in fact, common and significant in the tree tops.

Romina Rader spent a year gaining her crane driver’s ticket in order to pursue her Masters and other research at the Australian Canopy Crane Research Facility nestled within the Daintree World Heritage Rainforest.

“Traditionally, researchers have had to spend a lot of time and effort using ropes and climbing gear to get up into the canopy,” Romina says.

“But using the crane, I can easily get to all heights in the trees and thus compare the small mammal communities found at different levels.”

“Finding out which mammals use the canopy, why they are up there and whether their presence is good or bad for the forest are important research questions,” says Romina.

“We need to know what species are there in order to protect them as well as understand how they contribute to the ecology of the rainforest.”

Romina is now unravelling the secretive nocturnal habits of some of Queensland’s small rainforest mammals. She has already found that the rat community has an important impact on some plant species. By removing the pulp from fruits they can increase the chance of seeds germinating.

This is important for the long-term survival of forests and the maintenance of forest diversity.

“Traditionally when researchers set out to survey small mammal communities, traps are only set on the ground,” says Romina.

This means climbing or tree-dwelling species may be underestimated or even excluded, leading to the conclusion that they are rare when in fact they may only be rare on the ground. This has proved true with the exciting discovery of the prehensile-tailed (or soft-furred) mouse.

Romina is one of 13 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Romina in the gondola, investigating the canopy Pogonomys, a rainforest marsupial mouse

Frog sex in the city

31 August 2004

in 2004

Tree frogs defy the trend of urban decline

Central Melbourne used to be a Mecca for frogs, but now there is only one species left.

Southern brown tree frogs can still be heard calling to attract females for mating in parks throughout inner Melbourne, including the Royal Botanic Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens.

A survey conducted at 104 ponds across Melbourne found a total of nine frog species, but revealed the southern brown tree frog to be the sole inner-city survivor.

An important factor in the loss of other frog species from central Melbourne is the steep walls of bluestone or concrete surrounding many ponds, according to Dr Kirsten Parris of Deakin University and the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

“Most frogs around Melbourne can’t climb vertical surfaces, so young frogs would become trapped in these ponds and drown,” Kirsten said.  “But the southern brown tree frog can climb, using its large sticky toes – that’s what makes this frog special.”

A second reason for the decline of frogs in the city is that urban ponds are isolated from each other by roads, houses and factories.  If a population dies out, other frogs cannot arrive safely to start a new population.

“Frogs cannot cross busy roads without being squashed.  I found that the number of frog species at a pond drops as the number of roads around the pond increases” Dr Parris said.

“There are two simple things we can do to bring more frogs back to central Melbourne – replace steep pond walls with gradual slopes, and use a carefully-designed program to reintroduce the tadpoles of some species that used to live there.

“This way, late-night revellers in the city will be able to hear a varied chorus of frisky male frogs calling to woo their women and perpetuate the species in an unlikely urban habitat.”

Kirsten is one of 15 early-career scientists presenting their work to the public and media as part of Fresh Science 2004. The scientist who best meets the requirements of the program will win a study tour to the UK courtesy of British Council Australia.

  The southern brown tree frog, showing the large sticky toes that enable it to climb.  Photo: Nick Clemann  
  The southern brown tree frog, an urban survivor.  Photo: Nick Clemann  
A pond in the Carlton Gardens, surrounded by a bluestone wall.  This pond is home to the southern brown tree frog.

Plankton poo could be the key to understanding how much carbon dioxide our oceans can store according to Tasmanian researcher Dr Karin Beaumont.

The greenhouse effect is arguably humanity’s greatest environmental threat.


“We need to understand where and how carbon dioxide is stored in the oceans. Part of the answer lies in the poo of microscopic zooplankton: does it float or does it sink?” said Karin.


“Heavy poo that sticks together and sinks to the ocean floor is good. It locks up carbon dioxide for thousands of years.”

“Other poo that breaks up and floats near the surface is not good. The carbon dioxide in this poo can be re-released to the atmosphere, adding to the Greenhouse Effect,” says Karin, who conducted her research as part of a PhD with the University of Tasmania and the Australian Antarctic Division.


Karin has discovered that the poo from the most abundant plankton floats. And she has co-authored an internet-guide to zooplankton poo.


Around 25% of carbon taken up by the oceans is currently stored in the deep-sea. “Knowing which plankton contribute to this carbon export will help us understand how changes in their abundance will influence the greenhouse effect.”


As algae grow in the oceans they take up carbon dioxide – a powerful greenhouse gas.” “Zooplankton are tiny marine animals that graze the algae and hopefully lock up this carbon dioxide in the deep ocean.”


“I found that while larger zooplankton poo transports carbon to the deep-sea, microzooplankton poo doesn’t. These microzooplankton represent around 10 times the biomass of larger zooplankton and process most of the atmospherically derived carbon. So, this finding is important for understanding how much carbon the oceans can take-up from the atmosphere.”


Karin is developing the first internet guide to zooplankton poo in collaboration with Assoc Prof Juanita Urban-Rich, University of Massachusetts, Boston, “The guide will allow researchers to identify whose poo reaches the deep-ocean and whose poo doesn’t.


This will allow us to know which plankton are the key players in keeping atmospherically derived carbon in the oceans,” she said.


This guide will be the first integrated resource of its kind in the world, with anticipated contributions by researchers from at least seven other countries.


Karin does not expect the guide to top the best-seller list! “It is a research tool for scientists that will help us build a better picture of the carbon cycle in the oceans. She hopes the guide will be published in a matter of months, subject to funding.

Karin is one of 15 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria.


Smoke from fires raging through tropical forests near coastal reefs can cause an algal bloom capable of killing virtually all coral and fish for hundreds of kilometres, according to new research by Australian National University scientists. [click to continue…]

Plants can listen in on bacterial communication and can even mimic this communication, possibly in an attempt to stop any attacks, according to a breakthrough in scientific understanding announced today in Melbourne. [click to continue…]