A new wave of rock removal could spell disaster for farmland wildlife



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Rocks being removed to make way for farming.
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Damian R. Michael, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Australian National University

My (DM’s) perception of threatened species habitats changed the first time I encountered a population of endangered lizards living under small surface rocks in a heavily cleared grazing paddock. That was 20 years ago, at a time when land managers were well aware of the biodiversity values of conservation reserves and remnant patches of native vegetation. But back then we knew very little about the biodiversity values of the agricultural parts of the landscape.

Much has changed. Research has clearly shown the important ecological roles of different elements of the landscape for maintaining biodiversity on farms, especially for vertebrates such as carnivorous marsupials, frogs, snakes and lizards. Rocky outcrops and areas of surface rock, often termed bush rock, are among them.




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Areas of bush rock are biological hotspots. They represent island refuges for specialised plants and animals, and help ecosystems to thrive even in heavily cleared landscapes. In Australia, more than 200 vertebrate species depend on rocky outcrops to survive, and many of these species are found only in agricultural areas.

Recent surveys by The Australian National University on working farms in New South Wales found new populations of the threatened Pink-tailed Worm-lizard. Rocky outcrops and surface bush rock are the reason these reptiles can keep living in grazing landscapes.

Unfortunately, these critical habitats get little protection in agricultural regions. Rocky habitats may look tough, but they are fragile ecosystems and are easily damaged. Vast areas of surface rock have been removed and previously undisturbed outcrops are at risk of being destroyed by legal and routine farming activities.

The new wave of habitat loss

Licensed operators have been removing bush rock for use in landscape gardening for several decades. This is of growing concern, but is not a new threat to our native wildlife. Instead, more sophisticated technology is being developed which turns vast tracts of rocky country into farmland by crushing and destroying surface rock within minutes.

Across Australia, heavy duty sleds are being towed behind tractors to rip and remove rocky breakaways, ridgelines and small outcrops. The machinery operates like a large cheese grater, ripping bedrock with a row of tines, then crushing the displaced rocks with a large roller. These machines are designed to process large areas at once and can crush an entire hectare of rock every hour.

Turning bushrock into farmland.

Large areas of Western Australia, South Australia and western Victoria have been subject to widespread rock removal using these machines. This increasing agricultural practice has largely gone unnoticed.

While not illegal, rock-crushing has massive implications for the populations of native mammals, frogs and reptiles in agricultural areas. This approach to farming is at odds with the principle of land sharing, which encourages agriculture and wildlife conservation on the same land. Pressure to maximise productivity by increasing crop yields and intensifying land use could spell disaster for native species that live in these landscapes.

Some argue that using this new technology reduces soil damage by minimising how often agricultural machinery passes over the land. But this is not enough to offset the loss of this critical habitat. Surely we should be trying to find ways to protect and manage these environments in our cropping landscapes rather than developing ways to destroy them?

More rock-crushing.

A gap in the law

The removal of bush rock is listed as a key threatening process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. However, this does not include the removal of rock where it is necessary for carrying out a development or activity with an existing approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Nor does it prevent the removal of rock from paddocks when it is a necessary part of routine agricultural activity.

This loophole in the legislation could spell disaster for threatened species that rely on bush rock on private property to survive. For example, the Grassland Earless Dragon is thought to have gone extinct in Victoria as a result of habitat loss, including the removal of critical surface rock habitat from across its former range.

The ConversationIt would be a real shame to lose more threatened species to poorly planned and completely avoidable agricultural practices – especially when so many progressive landholders are actively trying to restore and improve biodiversity on the land.

Damian R. Michael, Senior Research Officer, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Too wet? Too cold? Too hot? This is how weather affects the trips we make


Jonathan Corcoran, The University of Queensland; Dorina Pojani, The University of Queensland; Francisco Rowe, University of Liverpool; Jiangping Zhou, University of Hong Kong; Jiwon Kim, The University of Queensland; Ming Wei, The University of Queensland; Sui Tao, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Thomas Sigler, The University of Queensland, and Yan Liu, The University of Queensland

What sorts of weather lead us to change our daily travel behaviour? How do we respond to scorching heatwaves, sapping humidity, snow and frost, strong winds, or torrential rain? International research shows weather is important in shaping our everyday movements.

The research evidence suggests that bad weather can lead to planned journeys being rescheduled, rerouted or cancelled. The consequences of these shifts in daily travel choices can include increases in traffic congestion and accidents, travel delays, mental stress, environmental pollution and general travel dissatisfaction.

Because people who travel by bike or walking are most likely to change travel plans in bad weather, some cities are responding with innovations such as heated bicycle lanes and sheltered walkways.




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Why do we care about the weather?

Firstly, how do we explain people’s common obsession with the weather? As Samuel Johnson put it:

It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.

Is this merely a keen (or indeed pathological) interest in the subject?

According to Kate Fox, these conversations are not really about the weather at all: weather-speak is a form of code, evolved to help Anglo-Australian people overcome their natural reserve and actually talk to one another. Weather-speak can be used as a greeting, as an ice-breaker, and/or as a “filler” subject.

But, beyond its use as a conversation prop and social bonding device, weather does play a major role in travel behaviour. And as the impacts of climate change unfold, the severity and frequency of extreme weather conditions are predicted to increase.

Walking across the street calls for caution during an icy winter storm in Chicago.
vonderauvisuals/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

A better understanding of the dynamics of the relationship between weather and travel behaviour is thus essential in helping cities develop transport and planning responses appropriate to their conditions.




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What do we know about the weather-travel relationship?

It’s complicated. Research on the weather-travel relationship has revealed that effects vary by mode of travel.

Active transport, such as walking and cycling, is the most vulnerable to variations in the weather. Arriving drenched is both uncomfortable and impractical, so we might drive rather than face this prospect. Wet weather forecasts are likely to trigger a travel mode shift as travellers opt for greater comfort and safety.

But the day of the week also affects these decisions. Inclement weather is more likely to reduce weekend and off-peak travel – the so-called discretionary trips – than standard weekday commute trips. Clearly, travel purpose plays a stronger role than weather.

Significant variation exists in the effects of weather on trip-makers with different individual characteristics and household composition. For example, commuters with children are less likely to alter their travel because of the weather. This is possibly due to their household responsibilities.

Geographic variations across the transit network have been observed too. Bad weather has more serious effects in areas with less frequent services and without protected bus and rail stops. Travellers in areas with more frequent services and well-designed shelters appear to be less sensitive to bad weather.

High-density cities appear to reduce the impacts of weather on active transport, with this cyclist braving the rain in Osaka.
Akuppa John Wigham/Flickr, CC BY

In areas with high population densities, the effect of weather also appears to weaken. This is particularly the case for active transportation such as cycling.

How we travel during inclement weather also involves more subtle changes. Trip chaining, or the process of stringing together multiple smaller journeys into a larger one, is reduced in complexity, particularly on rainy days.

In terms of “extreme” weather, not all types have the same effect. Heavy precipitation (snow or rain) and, to a lesser extent, extremely high or low temperatures appear to have a greater effect on travel behaviour than strong winds or high humidity.

Adapting to weather conditions

We cannot change the weather. But we can plan our transport systems to be more resilient and better shield us from the weather when we travel.

If we don’t do this, we will face the same crisis as Transport for London. Since its privatisation, its train services experience delays every autumn and winter due to “leaves on the line” and “the wrong type of snow”.




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Heavy snow can stop traffic altogether, as in New York in winter 2010.
Chris Ford/Flickr, CC BY-NC

What kind of transport adaptations are available and work? The options range from offering passengers a more diverse choice of modes, to improving existing infrastructure. For example, making public transport stations more user-friendly could soften the impact of bad weather.

More seamless interchanges may have a strong effect, as commuters generally find modal transfers stressful. Temperature-controlled, covered or underground transfer stations would protect passengers while between modes of transport.

Active travel infrastructure is particularly important. Cities that are committed to supporting non-motorised transport have implemented or proposed bold policies.

We see examples of this around the world. Increasingly hot Madrid is covering itself in trees to assist pedestrians. Frosty Dutch cities are testing heated bicycle lanes. Arid Doha has floated the idea of cooled bicycle paths. And Singapore plans to expand the city’s network of sheltered walkways.

Projecting roofs and porticoes shield us from the hot sun or precipitation. Vegetation lessens the impacts of both cold wind in temperate and subpolar latitudes and hot sunshine elsewhere.

People out and about in the hot weather of Perth welcome shade and cooling fountains.
Traveller_40/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Beyond these incremental interventions, a fundamental rethink of our urban design approach is necessary. The key to limiting and adapting to the effects of weather on travel may well be the “30-minute city”. But this can only be achieved through high densities and mixed land use – concepts that have so far generated fierce resistance and NIMBYism in Australia.




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The ConversationAnother word of caution. What works in one climate zone might not work in another. This is because human bodies and minds adjust and develop different expectations and tolerance to weather and temperature patterns. For example, the optimal temperature range for cycling is as broad as 4-40°C in continental climates, but as narrow as 15-32°C in subtropical climates.

Jonathan Corcoran, Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland; Dorina Pojani, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, The University of Queensland; Francisco Rowe, Lecturer in Quantitative Human Geography, University of Liverpool; Jiangping Zhou, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Planning and Design, University of Hong Kong; Jiwon Kim, Lecturer in Transport Engineering, The University of Queensland; Ming Wei, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Sui Tao, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute of Future Cities, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Thomas Sigler, Lecturer in Human Geography, The University of Queensland, and Yan Liu, Associate Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.