Photos from the field: zooming in on Australia’s hidden world of exquisite mites, snails and beetles



Dragon springtails (pictured) are widely distributed in forests of eastern Australia — yet they’re still largely unknown to science.
Nick Porch, Author provided

Nick Porch, Deakin University

Environmental scientists see flora, fauna and phenomena the rest of us rarely do. In this series, we’ve invited them to share their unique photos from the field.


Which animals are quintessentially Australian? Koalas and kangaroos, emus, tiger snakes and green tree frogs, echidnas and eastern rosellas, perhaps. And let’s not forget common wombats.

Inevitably, most lists will be biased to the more conspicuous mammals and birds, hold fewer reptiles and frogs, and likely lack invertebrates — animals without a backbone or bony skeleton — altogether.

I’m an invertophile, fascinated by our rich terrestrial invertebrate fauna, so my list will be different. I’m enchanted by stunning dragon springtails, by cryptic little Tasmanitachoides beetles, and by the poorly known allothyrid mites, among thousands of others.

Australia’s terrestrial invertebrate multitude contains several hundred thousand uniquely Australian organisms. Most remain poorly known.

To preserve our biodiversity, we first must ask: “which species live where?”. For our invertebrates, we are a long way from knowing even this.

The Black Summer toll

Last year, a team of scientists estimated that the Australian 2019-2020 bushfires killed, injured or displaced three billion animals. That was a lot. But it was also a woefully inadequate estimate, because it only accounted for mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs.

Hidden from view, many trillions more invertebrates burned or were displaced by the fires. And yes, invertebrates are animals too.

A mite from the family Bdellidae (on the right) has captured a springtail, and is using its piercing mouthparts to suck it dry. Mites and springtails are among the most abundant animals on the planet.
Nick Porch, Author provided

Admittedly, it’s hard to come to terms with invertebrates because they’re often hard to find and difficult to identify. Most species are inconspicuous, even if they belong to incredibly abundant groups, such as mites and springtails, which can occur in numbers exceeding 10,000 per square metre.

Most invertebrates are poorly known because there are so many species and so few people working on them. In fact, it’s likely only a quarter to one-third of Australia’s terrestrial invertebrate fauna is formally described (have a recognised scientific name).

A translucent land snail
Meredithina dandenongensis, a species from the wet forests of Victoria. It can be found during the day under rotting logs. The land snail family Charopidae contains hundreds of species across wetter parts of southern and eastern Australia.
Nick Porch, Author provided

One of the problems invertebrates have, in terms of attracting attention, is that many are not easily seen with the naked eye.

Macrophotography can magnify these wonders for a view into a world most of us are completely unfamiliar with. Even then, it often will be hard to know what we see. Everyone will recognise a kangaroo, but who can identify an allothyrid mite?

The photo below shows an undescribed species of mite from the family Allothyridae, from Mount Donna Buang in Victoria. The mite family Allothyridae has three described Australian species, and dozens more awaiting description.

An undescribed Allothyridae species. Just one of the many species in this group waiting to be studied.
Nick Porch, Author provided

This collage shows a selection of mites found in the forests of southeastern Australia. It’s likely many of the species shown here are unknown to science.

Mites are a very ancient and diverse group. They can be found abundantly in most terrestrial habitats but are rarely seen because most are several millimetres long or smaller.
Nick Porch, Author provided

A deeply ancient lineage

Animal ecologists, most of whom work on vertebrates, often joke that I “study the ‘food’, haha…”. They think they’re funny, but this reflects a deep seated bias — one extending from scientists to the wider public. This limits the development of a comprehensive understanding of biodiversity that has flow-on effects for conservation more broadly.

It’s true: invertebrates are food for larger animals. But their vital role in maintaining Australia’s ecosystems doesn’t end there.

Every species has an evolutionary history, a particular habitat, a set of behaviours reflecting that history, and a role to play in the ecosystem. And many terrestrial invertebrates belong to especially ancient lineages that record the deep history of Australia’s past.

The moss bug family Peloridiidae, for example, dates back more than 150 million years. For context, the kangaroo family (Macropodidae) is likely 15-25 million years old.

Their history is reflected in the breakup of the ancient supercontinent, Gondwana. In fact, Australian species of moss bugs are more closely related to South American species than to those from nearby New Zealand.

A bronze-coloured beetle with delicate, translucent wings
Chasoke belongs to the beetle family Staphylinidae, which is currently considered the largest family of organisms on Earth, with more than 60,000 scientifically described species. Mt. Donna Buang, Victoria.
Nick Porch, Author provided

This is a common pattern in terrestrial invertebrate groups. It reflects how the New Zealand plate separated from the remainder of Gondwana about 80 million years ago, while the Australian plate remained connected to South America via Antarctica.

Similar stories can be told from across the invertebrate spectrum. The photo below shows a few examples of these relics from Gondwana.

Peloridiid bugs — such as Hemiodoecus leai China, 1924 (top left) — are restricted to the wettest forests where they feed on moss. Top right: A new species of Acropsopilio (Acropsopilionidae) harvestman from the Dandenong Ranges. Bottom left: a new velvet worm from the Otway Ranges. Bottom right: Tasmanitachoides hobarti from Lake St Clair in central Tasmania.
Nick Porch, Author provided

Their fascinating evolution

Overprinting this deep history are the changes that occurred in Australia, especially the drying of the continent since the middle Miocene, about 12-16 million years ago.

This continent-wide drying fragmented wet forests that covered much of the continent, resulting in the restriction of many invertebrate groups to pockets of wetter habitat, especially along the Great Dividing Range and in southwestern Australia.




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A consequence of this was the evolution in isolation of many “short-range endemic” species.

A short-range endemic species means their geographic distribution is less than 10,000 square kilometres. A short-range endemic mammal you might be familiar with is Leadbeater’s possum, restricted to the wet forests of the Victorian Central Highlands.

A long, brown and orange thrips with six legs.
This is Idolothrips spectrum, the largest thrips in the world. It’s called the giant thrips, even though it’s less than 10mm long. Dandenong Ranges, Victoria.
Nick Porch, Author provided

But short-range endemism is much more common in invertebrates than other organisms. This is because many invertebrates are poor dispersers: they don’t move between habitat patches easily. They may also maintain viable populations in small areas of suitable habitat, and are frequently adapted to very specific habitats.

Take Tropidotrechus, pictured below, a genus of beetles mostly restricted to the same region as Leadbeater’s possum. They, however, divide the landscape at a much finer scale because they’re restricted to deep leaf litter in cool, wet, forest gullies.

As Australia dried, populations of Tropidotrechus became isolated in small patches of upland habitat, evolving into at least seven species across the ranges to the east of Melbourne.

Tropidotrechus victoriae, Victoria’s unofficial beetle emblem (left). Related described and undescribed species are found in the nearby Central Highlands and South Gippsland ranges (right)
Nick Porch, Author provided

Discoveries waiting to happen

The trouble with knowing so little about Australia’s extraordinary number of tiny, often locally unique invertebrates, is that we then massively underestimate how many of them are under threat, or have been badly hit by events like the 2019-2020 fires.

If we wish to conserve biodiversity widely, rather than only the larger charismatic wildlife, then enhancing our knowledge of our short-range species should be a high priority.

One shiny green beetle on top of another
You don’t necessarily need specialist equipment to take pictures of our fascinating invertebrates. This is a phone picture of mating Repsimus scarab beetles (relatives to the Christmas beetles). It was taken at Bemboka in NSW, which burnt during the 2019-2020 fires.
Nick Porch, Author provided

We’ve only just scratched the surface of Australia’s wonderful invertebrate fauna, so there are enough discoveries for everyone.

You can join iNaturalist, a citizen science initiative that lets you upload images and identify your discoveries. Perhaps you’ll discover something new — and a scientist just might name it after you.




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The Conversation


Nick Porch, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Earth Science, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Would you do this at home? Why we are more likely to do stupid things on holidays



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Denis Tolkach, James Cook University and Stephen Pratt, The University of the South Pacific

As the COVID pandemic took hold in March, Ohio’s Brady Sluder went to Miami for spring break, despite urgent calls for people to stay home and socially distance.

Interviewed by CBS News, Sluder’s arrogant justfication for his trip went viral.

If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying […] about two months we’ve had this trip planned.

A week later — now an international “celebrity” for all the wrong reasons — he was forced to issue a grovelling apology.

If you think Sluder’s partying was stupid, we share your feelings.

With the festive season upon us, as the pandemic continues, we can only hope covidiots listen to the rules. As many of us also head off on summer breaks, now is also a good time to reflect on stupidity in tourism.

We may be tempted to think a stupid person has certain demographic or psychological characteristics. However, anyone can behave stupidly, especially in unfamiliar environments — like holidays — where it is difficult to judge the right course of action.

The laws of human stupidity

In our recently published journal article on stupidity in tourism, we see stupidity as an action without insight or sound judgement. This results in losses or harm to the perpetrator and others. In a holiday context, it can negatively affect tourists themselves, as well as other people, animals, organisations, or destinations.

Young people partying on a beach in Florida.
When bars were shut in Florida Spring Break revellers headed to the beach.
Julio Cortez/AP/AAP

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla published a definitive essay called The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. Although we prefer to focus on stupid behaviour rather than stupid people, we agree with his five laws:

  1. Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

  2. The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget dealing with or associating with stupid people always and everywhere turns out to be a costly mistake.

  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

Why is stupid behaviour so dangerous? Because it is irrational and so the outcome is unpredictable.

Who could have thought so many people would die when taking a selfie that you can now take out insurance on the act? Or that aeroplane passengers would throw coins into engines for good luck?

What causes stupidity?

How can we better understand our own stupid behaviour, or recognise it in others? Stupidity is generally caused by an excess of one or more of the following factors:

  • the person believing they know everything
  • the person believing they can do anything
  • the person being extremely self-centred
  • the person believing nothing will harm them
  • the person’s emotions (for example, fear or anger)
  • the person’s state (for example, exhausted or drunk).

Why stupid behaviour is more likely on holidays

Tourists can be affected by all of these factors.

Leisure tourism, by its nature, is a very self-centred and pleasure-seeking activity. People often travel to relax and enjoy themselves.




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In pursuit of trying something new or escaping their daily routine, people may go to places with very different cultures or practices than their own, or try things they wouldn’t normally do — such as adventure activities. As a result, individuals can act differently while on holidays.

There also seem to be fewer social constraints. Tourists may not follow rules and social norms while travelling, because relatives, friends, colleagues, bosses are less likely to find out. Of course, tourists may not be aware of the commonly-accepted rules of where they travelling, as well.

All of the above increases the likelihood of stupidity. And one certainly doesn’t need to travel overseas to be stupid. A case in point is a tourist who snuck into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which was closed-off in August due to COVID concerns in the local indigenous community. The woman injured her ankle and had to be rescued.

The importance of thinking first

So, what to do about stupid tourist behaviour?

Strict regulation, physical barriers, warning signs and other punitive measures alone may not work. This is seen in the case of a man who climbed over a zoo fence in 2017 to avoid the entry fee. He ended up being mauled to death by a tiger.

Tourists walking beyond a 'do not go beyond this point' sign.
Physical barriers alone do not prevent stupid behaviour.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Education of tourists on how to behave during travels has some effect. But more importantly, tourists need to be self-aware. They need to consider what is likely to happen as a result of their behaviour, how likely is it that things will go wrong, and whether they would do this at home.

While stupidity is impossible to eliminate, it can be less frequent and do much less damage, if we take time to reflect on our behaviour and attitudes.

So, have fun during the holiday … but don’t be stupid!




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The Conversation


Denis Tolkach, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and Stephen Pratt, Professor, The University of the South Pacific

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

#travelgram: live tourist snaps have turned solo adventures into social occasions



If you didn’t post it, did it even happen?
Shutterstock

Michael James Walsh, University of Canberra; Naomi F Dale, University of Canberra, and Raechel Johns, University of Canberra

In the years since selfie sticks went global, it has become clear that the mobile phone has changed the way we travel.
The ubiquity of social media means tourists can now produce content on the move for their networked audiences to view in close to real time.

Where once we shared slideshows post trip and saved prints and postcards as keepsakes, we now share holiday images and selfies from the road, sea or air — expanding the “tourist gaze” from the traveller to include remote audiences back home.




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Instagram-worthy

Travelling has gone from a solitary quest to a “social occasion”. As such, gazing is becoming inseparably linked with photography. Taking photos has become habitual, rendering the camera as a way of seeing and experiencing new places.

Travellers take selfies that present both locations and people in aesthetically pleasing and positive ways.

Indeed, the “instagrammability” of a destination is a key motivation for younger people to travel there – even if filters and mirrors have been used to create a less than realistic image.

This transforms the relationship between travellers and their social networks in three important ways: between tourists and destination hosts; between fellow tourists; and lastly, between tourists and those that stay home.

The urge to share travel imagery is not without risk. An Australian couple were released from detention in Iran in October, following their arrest for ostensibly flying a drone without a permit.

Other tourists earned derision for scrambling to post selfies at Uluru before it was closed to climbers.

Meanwhile, there is a sad story behind the newly popular travelgram destination Rainbow Mountain in the Peruvian Andes. It has reportedly only recently emerged due to climate change melting its once snowy peaks.

Testing the effects

To understand the way social media photography impacts travelling, we undertook an exploratory study of overnight visitors at zoological accommodation in lavish surrounds.

We divided 12 participants into two groups. One group was directed to abstain from posting on social media but were still able to take photos. The second group had no restrictions on sharing photos. Though the numbers were small, we gathered qualitative information about engagement and attitudes.

Participants were invited to book at Jamala Wildlife Lodge in Canberra. The visit was funded by the researchers — Jamala Wildlife Lodge did not sponsor the research and the interviewees’ stay at the Lodge was a standard visit. We then conducted interviews immediately after their departure from the zoo, critically exploring the full experience of their stay.

The study confirmed that the desire to share travel pictures in close to real time is strongly scripted into the role of the tourist; altering the way travellers engage with sites they are visiting, but also their sense of urgency to communicate this with remote audiences.

Pics or it didn’t happen

Participants Mandy and Amy were among those instructed to refrain from posting pictures to social media while at the zoo. They described having to refrain from social media use as a disappointment, even though it seemed to further their engagement.

Interviewer: Did you look at your social media throughout your stay or did you refrain?

Mandy: A bit yeah. But even then, probably not reading it as much as I often would. I don’t think I commented on anything yeah.

Amy: Even today when we put something up [after staying at the Zoo] about the things we’d done today and only a few people had liked it, there was that little bit of disappointment that ‘Oh more people haven’t liked my post.’ Where we didn’t have that for the previous 24 hours [because of the experiment] … because nobody knew about it.

The tension between capturing and experiencing travel is ever-present.
Shutterstock

The desire for social media recognition resumed after leaving the zoo. For Michelle, posting after the experience presented new concerns:

Interviewer: How did you feel about not being able to post?

Michelle: Spanner in the works! For me personally not being able to post was a negative experience because I wanted to show people what we’re doing, when we’re doing it.

And I also feel, like a couple of people knew we were going to the zoo, right, and knew that we couldn’t use social media. So, when I eventually post it, they’re going to go, ‘She’s been hanging on to those and now she’s posting them and that’s just a bit weird.’ Like, to post it after the event. Everyone normally posts it in real time.

Later, Michelle commented that withholding content from posting to social media also diminished a part of the experience itself:

I sort of feel like if we don’t share the photos it’s like a tree fell down in the forest and no one heard it, like, we’ve had this amazing experience and if I don’t share them, then no one’s going to know that we had this experience, you know, apart from us.

Tips garnered from travelgrammers fill lots of online video tutorials.

Centre Stage

Digital photography and social media transform the relationship between the travelling self and its audience, as individuals have an expanded — and potentially diversified — audience.

Selfies in tourist contexts reflect the tourist gaze back at the tourist, rather than outward.

The perfect digital postcard now incorporates the self centrestage. As one participant suggested:

Shannon: It almost feels like it’s kind of an expected behaviour when you are doing something touristy … We’ve actually had tour guides before … kind of a bit disappointed if you don’t take a photograph.

The purpose of photography has shifted from a memory aid to a way of sharing experience in the moment. There is tension now between the need to capture tourist experiences for digital sharing and individual engagement in the tourist activity. Decrying the desire to use photography as a way of communicating experience will not constructively address this tension.

To ensure tourism sustainability, and engagement with their target market, tourism providers need to explore better ways to manage travellers’ face-to-face and digital engagement.

Digital engagements have become a defining part of travel, and organisations should be encouraged to promote online sharing of experiences — phone charging stations and photo competitions were two suggestions offered by our interviewees.

In contrast, device-free days or activities could be another way to encourage face-to-face engagement and prompt tourists to be more considered with their online sharing.The Conversation

Michael James Walsh, Assistant Professor Social Science, University of Canberra; Naomi F Dale, Associate Professor of Management, University of Canberra, and Raechel Johns, Head of the Canberra Business School and Professor of Marketing and Service Management, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here’s how your holiday photos could help save endangered species



Zephyr_p/Shutterstock

Kasim Rafiq, Liverpool John Moores University

Animal populations have declined on average by 60% since 1970, and it’s predicted that around a million species are at risk of extinction. As more of the Earth’s biodiversity disappears and the human population grows, protected landscapes that are set aside to conserve biodiversity are increasingly important. Sadly, many are underfunded – some of Africa’s most treasured wildlife reserves operate in funding deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars.

In unfenced wilderness, scientists rarely have an inventory on the exact numbers of species in an area at a particular time. Instead they make inferences using one of many different survey approaches, including camera traps, track surveys, and drones. These methods can estimate how much and what kind of wildlife is present, but often require large amounts of effort, time and money.

Camera traps are placed in remote locations and activated by movement. They can collect vast quantities of data by taking photographs and videos of passing animals. But this can cost tens of thousands of dollars to run and once in the wild, cameras are at the mercy of curious wildlife.

Track surveys rely on specialist trackers, who aren’t always available and drones, while promising, have restricted access to many tourism areas in Africa. All of this makes wildlife monitoring difficult to carry out and repeat over large areas. Without knowing what’s out there, making conservation decisions based on evidence becomes almost impossible.

Citizen science on Safari

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world – 42m people visited sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 alone. Many come for the unique wildlife and unknowingly collect valuable conservation data with their phones and cameras. Photographs on social media are already being used to help track the illegal wildlife trade and how often areas of wilderness are visited by tourists.

Despite this, tourists and their guides are still an overlooked source of information. Could your holidays snaps help monitor endangered wildlife? In a recent study, we tested exactly this.

Partnering with a tour operator in Botswana, we approached all guests passing through a safari lodge over three months in the Okavango Delta and asked them if they were interested in contributing their photographs to help with conservation. We provided those interested with a small GPS logger – the type commonly used for tracking pet cats – so that we could see where the images were being taken.

We then collected, processed, and passed the images through computer models to estimate the densities of five large African carnivore species – lions, spotted hyaenas, leopards, African wild dogs and cheetahs. We compared these densities to those from three of the most popular carnivore survey approaches in Africa – camera trapping, track surveys, and call-in stations, which play sounds through a loudspeaker to attract wildlife so they can be counted.

The tourist photographs provided similar estimates to the other approaches and were, in total, cheaper to collect and process. Relying on tourists to help survey wildlife saved up to US$840 per survey season. Even better, it was the only method to detect cheetahs in the area – though so few were sighted that their total density couldn’t be confirmed.

Thousands of wildlife photographs are taken every day, and the study showed that we can use statistical models to cut through the noise and get valuable data for conservation. Still, relying on researchers to visit tourist groups and coordinate their photograph collection would be difficult to replicate across many areas. Luckily, that’s where wildlife tour operators could come in.

Tour operators could help collect tourist images to share with researchers. If the efforts of tourists were paired with AI that could process millions of images quickly, conservationists could have a simple and low-cost method for monitoring wildlife.

Tourist photographs are best suited for monitoring large species that live in areas often visited by tourists – species that tend to have high economic and ecological value. While this method perhaps isn’t as well suited to smaller species, it can still indirectly support their conservation by helping protect the landscapes they live in.

The line between true wilderness and landscapes modified by humans is becoming increasingly blurred, and more people are visiting wildlife in their natural habitats. This isn’t always a good thing, but maybe conservationists can use these travels to their advantage and help conserve some of the most iconic species on our planet.The Conversation

Kasim Rafiq, Postdoctoral Researcher in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Liverpool John Moores University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Flash photography doesn’t harm seahorses – but don’t touch


Maarten De Brauwer, Curtin University; Benjamin John Saunders, Curtin University, and Tanika Cian Shalders, Curtin University

We all enjoy watching animals, whether they’re our own pets, birds in the garden, or elephants on a safari during our holidays. People take pictures during many of these wildlife encounters, but not all of these photographic episodes are harmless.

There is no shortage of stories where the quest for the perfect animal picture results in wildlife harassment. Just taking photos is believed to cause harm in some cases – flash photography is banned in many aquariums as a result.

But it’s not always clear how bright camera flashes affect eyes that are so different from our own. Our latest research, published in Nature Scientific Reports, shows that flash photography does not damage the eyes of seahorses, but touching seahorses and other fish can alter their behaviour.




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Look but don’t touch

In the ocean it is often easier to get close to your subject than on land. Slow-moving species such as seahorses rely on camouflage rather than flight responses. This makes it very easy for divers to approach within touching distance of the animals.

Previous research has shown that many divers cannot resist touching animals to encourage them to move so as to get a better shot. Additionally, the high-powered strobes used by keen underwater photographers frequently raise questions about the welfare of the animal being photographed. Do they cause eye damage or even blindness?

A researcher photographing a ghost pipefish.
© Luke Gordon

Aquariums all around the world have taken well-meaning precautionary action. Most of us will have seen the signs that prohibit the use of flash photography.

Similarly, a variety of guidelines and laws exist in the scuba-diving community. In the United Kingdom, flash photography is prohibited around seahorses. Dive centres around the world have guidelines that include prohibiting flash or limiting the number of flashes per fish.

While all these guidelines are well-intended, none are based on scientific research. Proof of any damage is lacking. Our research investigated the effects of flash photography on slow-moving fish using three different experiments.

What our research found

During the first experiment we tested how different fish react to the typical behaviour of scuba-diving photographers. The results showed very clearly that touching has a very strong effect on seahorses, frogfishes and ghost pipefishes. The fish moved much more, either by turning away from the diver, or by swimming away to escape the poorly behaving divers. Flash photography, on the other hand, had no more effect than the presence of a diver simply watching the fishes.

For slow-moving fishes, every extra movement they make means a huge expense of energy. In the wild, seahorses need to hunt almost non-stop due to their primitive digestive system, so frequent interruptions by divers could lead to chronic stress or malnutrition.

Researchers tested the effect of high-strobe flashes on frogfish.
Author provided

The goal of the second experiment was to test how seahorses react to flash without humans present. To do this we kept 36 West Australian seahorses (Hippocampus subelongatus) in the aquarium facility at Curtin University. During the experiment we fed the seahorses with artemia (“sea monkeys”) and tested for changes in their behaviour, including how successful seahorses were at catching their prey while being flashed with underwater camera strobes.




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An important caveat to this experiment: the underwater strobes we used were much stronger than the flashes of normal cameras or phones. The strobes were used at maximum strength, which is not usually done while photographing small animals at close range. So our results represent a worst-case scenario that is unlikely to happen in the real world.

The conclusive, yet somewhat surprising, result of this experiment was that even the highest flash treatment did not affect the feeding success of the seahorses. “Unflashed” seahorses spent just as much time hunting and catching prey as the flashed seahorses. These results are important, as they show that flashing a seahorse is not likely to change the short-term hunting success (or food intake) of seahorses.

Scuba divers should always avoid touching animals.
sanc0460/Flickr, CC BY

We only observed a difference in the highest flash treatment (four flashes per minute, for ten minutes). Seahorses in this group spent less time resting and sometimes showed “startled” reactions. These reactions looked like the start of an escape reaction, but since the seahorses were in an aquarium, escape was impossible. In the ocean or a large aquarium seahorses would simply move away, which would end the disturbance.

Our last experiment tested if seahorses indeed “go blind” by being exposed to strong flashes. In scientific lingo: we tested if flash photography caused any “pathomorphological” impacts. To do this we euthanised (following strict ethical protocols) some of the unflashed and highly flashed seahorses from the previous experiments. The eyes of the seahorses were then investigated to look for any potential damage.

The results? We found no effects in any of the variables we tested. After more than 4,600 flashes, we can confidently say that the seahorses in our experiments suffered no negative consequences to their visual system.

What this means for scuba divers

A potential explanation as to why flash has no negative impact is the ripple effect caused by sunlight focusing through waves or wavelets on a sunny day. These bands of light are of a very short duration, but very high intensity (up to 100 times stronger than without the ripple effect). Fish living in such conditions would have evolved to deal with such rapidly changing light conditions.

This of course raises the question: would our results be the same for deep-water species? That’s a question for another study, perhaps.




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So what does this mean for aquariums and scuba diving? We really should focus on not touching animals, rather than worrying about the flash.

Flash photography does not make seahorses blind or stop them from catching their prey. The strobes we used had a higher intensity than those usually used by aquarium visitors or divers, so it is highly unlikely that normal flashes will cause any damage. Touching, on the other hand, has a big effect on the well-being of marine life, so scuba divers should always keep their hands to themselves.The Conversation

Maarten De Brauwer, PhD-candidate in Marine Ecology, Curtin University; Benjamin John Saunders, Lecturer / Research fellow in Marine Ecology, Curtin University, and Tanika Cian Shalders, Marine Scientist, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Earthrise, a photo that changed the world



File 20181218 27764 1lb5nwr.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Earthrise: astronauts aboard Apollo 8 captured this spectacular photo of Earth rising above the lunar horizon as they emerged from behind the dark side of the Moon.
Image Credit: NASA

Simon Torok, University of Melbourne; Colleen Boyle, RMIT University; Jenny Gray, University of Melbourne; Julie Arblaster, Monash University; Lynette Bettio, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Rachel Webster, University of Melbourne, and Ruth Morgan, Monash University

December 24 is the 50th anniversary of Earthrise, arguably one of the most profound images in the history of human culture. When astronaut William Anders photographed a fragile blue sphere set in dark space peeking over the Moon, it changed our perception of our place in space and fuelled environmental awareness around the world.

The photo let us see our planet from a great distance for the first time. The living Earth, surrounded by the darkness of space, appears fragile and vulnerable, with finite resources.




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Viewing a small blue Earth against the black backdrop of space, with the barren moonscape in the foreground, evokes feelings of vastness: we are a small planet, orbiting an ordinary star, in an unremarkable galaxy among the billions we can observe. The image prompts emotions of insignificance – Earth is only special because it’s the planet we live on.

As astronaut Jim Lovell said during the live broadcast from Apollo 8, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realise just what you have back there on Earth.”

The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast.

Earthrise is a testament to the extraordinary capacity of human perception. Although, in 1968, the photograph seemed revelatory and unexpected, it belongs to an extraordinary history of representing the Earth from above. Anders may have produced an image that radically shifted our view of ourselves, but we were ready to see it.

A history of flight

People have always dreamed of flying. As we grew from hot-air balloons to space shuttles, the camera has been there for much of the ride.

After WWII, the US military used captured V-2 rockets to launch motion-picture cameras out of the atmosphere, producing the first images of Earth from space.

Russia’s Sputnik spurred the United States to launch a series of satellites — watching the enemy and the weather — and then NASA turned its attention to the Moon, launching a series of exploratory probes. One (Lunar Orbiter I, 1966) turned its camera across a sliver of the Moon’s surface and found the Earth, rising above it.

The non-human version of Earthrise from Lunar Orbiter in 1966.
NASA

Despite not being the “first” image of the Earth from our Moon, Earthrise is special. It was directly witnessed by the astronauts as well as being captured by the camera. It elegantly illustrates how human perception is something that is constantly evolving, often hand in hand with technology.

Earthrise showed us that Earth is a connected system, and any changes made to this system potentially affect the whole of the planet. Although the Apollo missions sought to reveal the Moon, they also powerfully revealed the limits of our own planet. The idea of a Spaceship Earth, with its interdependent ecologies and finite resources, became an icon of a growing environmental movement concerned with the ecological impacts of industrialisation and population growth.

‘Spaceship Earth’ became a powerful rallying cry for environmental groups.
Flickr, CC BY-SA

From space, we observe the thin shield provided by our atmosphere, allowing life to flourish on the surface of our planet. Lifeforms created Earth’s atmosphere by removing carbon dioxide and generating free oxygen. They created an unusual mix of gases compared to other planets – an atmosphere with a protective ozone layer and a mix of gases that trap heat and moderate extremes of temperature. Over millions of years, this special mix has allowed a huge diversity of life forms to evolve, including (relatively recently on this time scale) Homo sapiens.

The field of meteorology has benefited enormously from the technology foreshadowed by the Earthrise photo. Our knowledge is no longer limited to Earth-based weather-observing stations.

Satellites can now bring us an Earthrise-type image every ten minutes, allowing us to observe extremes such as tropical cyclones as they form over the ocean, potentially affecting life and land. Importantly, we now possess a long enough record of satellite information so that in many instances we can begin to examine long-term changes of such events.

The human population has doubled in the 50 years since the Earthrise image, resulting in habitat destruction, the spread of pest species and wildfires spurred by climate warming. Every year, our actions endanger more species.

Earth’s climate has undergone enormous changes in the five decades since the Earthrise photo was taken. Much of the increase in Australian and global temperatures has happened in the past 50 years. This warming is affecting us now, with an increase in the frequency of extreme events such as heatwaves, and vast changes across the oceans and polar caps.




Read more:
Space research pays for itself, but inspires fewer people


With further warming projected, it is important that we take this chance to look back at the Earthrise photo of our little planet, so starkly presented against the vastness of space. The perspective that it offers us can help us choose the path for our planet for the next 50 years.

It reminds us of the wonders of the Earth system, its beauty and its fragility. It encourages us to continue to seek understanding of its weather systems, blue ocean and ice caps through scientific endeavour and sustained monitoring.

The beauty of our planet as seen from afar – and up close – can inspire us to make changes to secure the amazing and diverse animals that share our Earth.

Zoos become conservation organisations, holding, breeding and releasing critically endangered animals. Scientists teach us about the capacities of animals and the threats to their survival.

Communities rise to the challenge and people in their thousands take actions to help wildlife, from buying toilet paper made from recycled paper to not releasing balloons outdoors. If we stand together we can secure a future for all nature on this remarkable planet.




Read more:
In defence of zoos: how captivity helps conservation


But is a 50-year-old photo enough to reignite the environmental awareness and action required to tackle today’s threats to nature? What will be this generation’s Earthrise moment?


The authors would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Alicia Sometimes to this article.The Conversation

Simon Torok, Honorary Fellow, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne; Colleen Boyle, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, RMIT University; Jenny Gray, Chief Executive Officer – Zoos Victoria, University of Melbourne; Julie Arblaster, Associate Professor, Monash University; Lynette Bettio, , Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Rachel Webster, Professor of Physics, University of Melbourne, and Ruth Morgan, Senior Research Fellow, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why we need some perspective on landscape photography in the Instagram age



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Bardal, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, Queensland University of Technology

Thanks to the increasing accessibility of technology, many of us will try to capture the grandeur of the natural world with our phone cameras. One of the attractions is sharing images on social media and publicly staking our claim to that experience.

A quick glance at Instagram hashtags reveals over 90 million photos tagged #landscape, around 50 million #sunrise photos and over 180 million tagged #sunset. There are 40 million #trees, nearly 90 million #clouds and about 190 million #beach photos.

But our use of platforms such as Instagram is not only changing our relationship to nature (some people have even died taking selfies in perilous places), it is also changing how we frame and experience nature.

Earlier this year a man died falling off rocks in Western Australia in the pursuit of an image. And in July three social media personalities died after falling off a Canadian waterfall.

While such deaths are rare, many travellers and adventure seekers seem to be drawn towards more remote experiences of nature in lieu of the downtrodden tourist track, using Instagram as a source for visually inspiring and enticing sites. Police warn people to avoid an imminently crumbling cliff in New South Wales, while amateur photographers continue to ignore signs and fences.




Read more:
The deadly selfie game – the thrill to end all thrills


Just as nature can harm people, people can harm nature. Two of the social media personalities who died in Canada had spent a week in jail for violating US national park regulations. In Tasmania, professional photographers have warned of the damage that could be done to the environment by hordes of people chasing views they have seen on social media. And in Esperance, Western Australia, people are trying to figure out how to capitalise on an influx of visitors driven by its discovery by Instagram users.

As part of my research, I have looked at how we present experiences of nature through new technology and social media. Most photos share traits we might describe as “a social media aesthetic”. Think of leafy paths, mountain vistas, sunrises and sunsets – often with filters or the same kinds of photo composition.

Svalbard, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

In my art-as-research project, the exhibition Norwegian Sublime, I used these “Instagram standards” to take photos at different locations in Norway, both well-known places such as Svalbard and less famous islands like Tomma of the Helgeland archipelago. Although they seem remote and difficult to get to, I deliberately chose places that were frequently visited and where tourism was controlled, as well as places that were literally right next to main thoroughfares, showing how the perfect picture of untouched mountain solitude can be at anyone’s fingertips. In fact, those less exotic sites around you might actually hide some of the most striking nature.

No location, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Together, the images link up art photography and the history of photography with diminutive tell-tale signs typical of iPhone and social media photography. I framed clouds with Instagram squares, referencing art photography and weather studies from the early 1900s. I gave aerial photography a contemporary twist by taking photos from the window of today’s commercial flights, forever shuttling tourists back and forth.

No location, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

In other photos, I left those patches of surfaces that are difficult to photograph with a phone, such as reflective, wet leaves and shiny rocks, washed out and bleak. And even in the seemingly romantically remote locations I intentionally left speckled signs of people in the frame.

Voksenkollen, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Landscape photography is a diverse genre, encompassing a wide range of contemporary practice. Yet, for many, iconic figures such as American photographer Ansel Adams embody what landscape photography is. His technically advanced images of the grandeur of nature are perfectly framed snapshots of near-other-worldly, untouched environments.

The Tetons and the Snake River, Ansel Adams, 1942.
Wikimedia

In a similar way, when we share landscape photos on Instagram, we often seek to show the beautiful, the staged, or the perfectly composed. We applaud these images, through liking and sharing them. And, conceivably, we increasingly picture nature as a similarly idealised aesthetic experience. We end up with very little visual diversity in how we present – and chose to experience – nature.

Tomma, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Instagram ultimately boils down to two people – the one who took the picture and the viewer. Perhaps it’s time for us as Instagram photographers to think a bit more deeply about the less exotic, but no less enchanting, places around us. We should challenge what we take photos of, and how we present nature. Nature, after all, is more than #trees and #clouds.

The ConversationAnd, as Instagram viewers, we should think carefully about how we encourage different experiences of nature. Should we “like” the images and follow people and groups who clearly are pushing limits to both their own safety and the environment? Instagram is a fantastic social media tool to share the world – but it’s clear we need some perspective in using it.

Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, Visiting Fellow (Assoc. Prof. Nord Univeristy), Queensland University of Technology

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

The world’s best wildlife photography reveals a fragile, beautiful realm


Mathew Berg, Deakin University and Jessica Williams, University of Melbourne

From a leopard slipping through a Mumbai alleyway to giant cuttlefish courting under the sea, the striking images featured in the current Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition are at once beautiful, technically astounding and, often, incredibly moving.

Before the widening rupture between humans and nature, creating images of animals was of the utmost importance: animals were among the first subject matter for painting. In his essay Why Look at Animals, the late and renowned art critic John Berger argues that animals “first entered the imagination as messengers and promises”.

Wildlife photography joins in this ancient representative tradition, giving new life to animals as symbols and storytellers for the natural world.

Nayan Khanolkar spent four months waiting for this shot of a leopard roaming the suburbs of Mumbai, which won the Urban category.
Supplied

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the annual competition run by the Natural History Museum of London. From modest beginnings in 1965, with fewer than 400 entries, it has developed into one of the largest and most prestigious photographic competitions in the world.

This year, the competition received over 42,000 entries from almost 100 countries. From these, an international jury selected 100 images across 18 categories, constituting the touring exhibition. It’s currently being hosted, for the third time, at Geelong’s splendid National Wool Museum. This is the only Victorian venue to host the exhibition, under the direction of Padraic Fisher and senior curator Georgia Melville.

Willem Kruger snapped this dynamic action shot of a yellow-billed hornbill foraging for termites in South Africa.
Supplied

In Geelong, the images are complemented by The Dead Zoo, a subtle addition to the exhibition space of taxidermy displays drawn from the Wool Museum’s own collection. There’s also an ambient soundscape produced by Joel Carnegie, and the parallel Geelong by Nature exhibition, a local wildlife photography competition.

Both competitions underscore what a demanding pursuit wildlife photography can be, requiring an enormous commitment to capturing the perfect shot. Think long hours spent in freezing conditions, with a constant regime of pushups just to keep warm – a scenario endured by Andrew Parkinson while photographing mountain hares on a Scottish icefield!

Australian photographer Scott Portelli captured giant cuttlefish in his image Collective Courtship.
Supplied

This enthusiastic persistence is increasingly enabled by the proliferation of non-specialist equipment, such as smartphones and the GoPro camera, as used by Tim Laman – the overall winner of Photographer of the Year for his six-photo series Entwined Lives. Taking in a sweeping treetop view of the Indonesian rainforest, the vertigo-inducing portrait of an orangutan is spectacular.

Like many of the entries, the photograph’s grandeur is a culmination of artistry, originality and technical excellence. The visually sumptuous images are coupled with engaging tales of the exotic locations, and the supreme effort and persistence involved in their creation – along with a healthy dose of serendipity and great timing.

Tim Laman spent three days climbing fig trees in the Indonesian forest, placing remotely triggered GoPro cameras above the canopy.
Supplied

With a direct gaze that seems to reflect our own, Laman’s subject also conveys a sense of intimacy and solitary pathos; significant, perhaps, if one considers the endangered status of the Bornean orangutan.

With the growing accessibility of portable or remotely activated gear like the GoPro, there’s a sense of ongoing growth and democratisation of photography competitions. Through this, we are given scope for deeper immersion and understanding of a natural world subject to, and often imperilled by, the inexorable footprint of humanity.

After weeks of scouting, UK photograher Sam Hobson was able to gain the trust of a family of urban foxes.
Supplied

A case in point is the winner of one of the photojournalism categories, Australian Paul Hilton’s image of a mass of illegally hunted pangolins, seized before their intended export while frozen from Sumatra and laid out to thaw. Reminiscent of spiral seashells in an abstract, almost monochrome composition, the details of their tightly curled bodies emerge only on closer inspection.

It’s a striking image, but one with a tragic back-story. Few people, before seeing this exhibition, are likely to have even known what a pangolin is, and certainly not that these small, critically endangered mammals are the most-trafficked animals in the world.

Australian Paul Hilton won the Wildlife Photojournalist category with his image of some 4,000 smuggled pangolins.
Supplied

The combination of artistry and a strong environmental narrative is a recurring theme throughout the exhibition, and one that undoubtedly motivates the photographers themselves. Featured entrant Douglas Gimesy, another Australian photojournalist, cites changing people’s behaviour as a central driver for his projects.

In his tender image Caring for Joey, Gimesy underlines the ongoing issue of high-speed kangaroo road deaths on Kangaroo Island in the hope of advocating for improved governance and community awareness. It’s a sentiment that surely resonates with photographers and visitors to the exhibit alike, as they contemplate the wild theatre of our natural environment, and the diverse species that share in it.


The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition runs from January 15 to May 14 at the National Wool Museum in Geelong. It will then tour Australia.

The Conversation

Mathew Berg, Research Fellow, Deakin University and Jessica Williams, PhD researcher in networked art practices, University of Melbourne

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

a photo essay of uluru


wise monkeys abroad

Once commonly known as Ayers Rock it is now better known by its indigenous name of Uluru.

Uluru is sacred to indigenous Australians.

This magnificent monolith that is located in the Australia Red Centre is 340 metres high and has a circumference of about 9.4 km.  Made from hard red sandstone, it doesn’t stay red all the time – Uluru changes colour during sunrise and sunset and is a sight certainly worth witnessing. It is at its brightest red in the middle of the day.

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We were fortunate to walk around part of the base of Uluru and looking up, is really something. An experience we will never forget. It still gives us goosebumps thinking about our time here as it really was so extraordinary and magical.

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was listed as a UNESCO Heritage site in 1987.

To see the other UNESCO sites we have visited, visit our unofficial…

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