Meet Chimbu, the blue-eyed, bear-eared tree kangaroo. Your cuppa can help save his species



Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Marissa Parrott, University of Melbourne

Tree kangaroos are so unusual that when Europeans first encountered them in Australia in 1872, they were sceptical. Who would believe a kangaroo could climb a tree?

But the recent birth of Chimbu – a Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo at Healesville Sanctuary – gives us the chance to watch one of these unique, and very rare, creatures grow up.




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The Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is a threatened species found in forests in the Central Cordillera mountain ranges of Papua New Guinea, from sea level to high in the clouds.

Chimbu’s birth in September is the latest success of a complex web of international conservation. Zoos and other organisations around the world transfer and match tree-kangaroos to avoid inbreeding and sustain a genetically healthy captive population.

Chimbu is named after an area in Papua New Guinea where his wild cousins live.

A climbing kangaroo? That’s roo-diculous!

Europeans in New Guinea first described tree kangaroos in 1828. While there have been plenty of disagreements about who is related to whom, we now know there are 14 distinct species.

Early explorers considered the very idea of a climbing roo ridiculous, but these animals are specially adapted to life in the trees. They likely all evolved from a terrestrial ancestor earlier in the Pliocene, 5.3 million to 2.5 million years ago.

Tree kangaroos look like marsupial bears, but can climb trees like monkeys.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Tree kangaroos have much longer forelimbs than their ground-dwelling cousins and their claws are much larger and strongly curved. This provides much stronger grip when climbing trees and gripping smaller branches.

They still have large strong hind limbs, but their feet are shorter, broader and have a long curved claw on each toe.

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The pad of the hindfoot is single, large and with prominent grooves, all of which enhance the animal’s grip when climbing and walking in the canopy. The tails of tree kangaroos aren’t capable of grasping things like a monkey’s, but they’re long and often held out behind the animal for balance.

But perhaps one of the most obvious differences between tree kangaroos and their terrestrial cousins is their adorably small bear-like ears.

Threatened with extinction

Two species of tree kangaroos are found in the forests of northeast Australia and 12 species in the jungles of New Guinea. All species of tree kangaroos are threatened with extinction in New Guinea, although much about these animals is unknown.

The current population size is unknown, but this species of tree kangaroo is thought to be declining in the wild.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Traditionally hunted for food, hassled by dogs and threatened by the destruction of their forest habitat, the soft thud of tree roo feet among the trees is falling silent.

But conservation work in their natural habitat and through a globally managed tree kangaroo captive breeding program is helping not only the species, but the people who live alongside them.

Baby Chimbu – a new hope

Chimbu was born in Victoria, but is really an international fellow. His mother Mani came from the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, and his father Bagam arriving from Kreffeld Zoo in Germany.

Baby Chimbu brings hope to a species nearing extinction.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Mani and Bagam were paired based on the recommendation of scientists and managers who maintain a studbook of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos around the world.

These gorgeous animals are generally chocolate brown on the back, shading to pale brown or cream on the face and belly, and often with a single or double narrow pale stripe down the back.




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Their beautiful striped tails are one of their most noticeable features. And while the current population size is unknown, this tree kangaroo is thought to be declining due to hunting for food, local trading for cultural purposes, and habitat destruction through local deforestation and shifting cultivation.

Managing tree kangaroos around the globe

The captive population of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos in our region is coordinated by the Australasian Zoos and Aquarium Association.

The plan is to maintain long-term healthy populations that are genetically diverse, stable and show natural behaviours to ensure the animals are thriving in their zoo homes.

Chimbu ventured out of his mum’s pouch to sample some tasty salad.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

In turn, the regional program is part of a global species management plan coordinated by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

A key feature of these regional/global management programs is to avoid any inbreeding. Detailed histories of all animals in the population are closely managed, and suitable breeding pairs are identified by specialist zoo keepers called “Studbook Keepers”.

This is why Chimbu was born from a long-distance romance and travel by his parents.

Your cuppa can help

Supporting wildlife conservation in the wild and with local communities is the driving force for zoos globally.

An international network of captive tree kangaroos helps conserve this species.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Although the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos are officially endangered, we don’t know much about them in the wild. Right now, the Wildlife Conservation Society is working out how many are in the wild and where, so scientists can develop a detailed conservation program.

Cousins of the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo, such as the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, are more well-known and already have conservation programs in place.




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To help save Matschie’s tree kangaroo, community programs have emerged to address the economic conditions fuelling their over-hunting. Zoos Victoria has partnered with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program to sell coffee grown by Papua New Guinean villagers. This helps create sustainable alternative income and fund conservation.

Collecting coffee beans for YUS conservation coffee in Papua New Guinea.
Ryan Hawke/Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, Author provided

Income from coffee sales generates much greater access to healthcare and education, major hurdles in these remote villages. Money from sale of the coffee beans is the only regular income into these villages.

So if you do decide to visit Chimbu at the Healesville Sanctuary (in person or virtually) remember you can also buy some coffee to help his wild cousins.


This article is co-authored by Chris Banks, Manager International Conservation, Zoos Victoria, who has worked with tree kangaroo and community conservation for over 20 yearsThe Conversation

Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne

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

If you’re worried about bushfires but want to keep your leafy garden, follow these tips



Shutterstock/autau

Philip Gibbons, Australian National University and Geoff Cary, Australian National University

As we witnessed last summer, the number of houses destroyed during bushfires in Australia has not been stemmed by advances in weather forecasting, building design and the increased use of large water-bombing aircraft.

At the latest count, more than 3,500 homes were destroyed the summer just gone, which makes this the most destructive bushfire season in Australia’s history.

The principal reason for the continually high rate of destruction is that so many homes are being built close to bushland. An estimated 85% of all houses destroyed in bushfires in Australia are within 100m of the bush.

It follows that clearing vegetation around houses is at the forefront of advice provided by fire authorities to homeowners in bushfire-prone areas.

A home without trees and shrubs around it is the safest option during a bushfire. But realistically, many people will want to retain some vegetation. And there are ways to do this sensibly.

Is clearing bushland the solution?

Research shows houses close to bushland are more effectively protected by clearing trees and shrubs within approximately 40m of the home.

There are laws in most states and territories, such as New South Wales’ 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Scheme, that permit this to some extent.

But if all homeowners in bushfire-prone areas exercised their right to clear trees and shrubs, places such as the Blue Mountains, Perth Hills, Mount Lofty Ranges, Dandenongs and our coastal towns like Mallacoota, Margaret River and Batemans Bay would be vastly different in character.




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Residents and tourists are attracted to these areas for the aesthetics, privacy, wildlife and shade native trees and shrubs provide.

A study of rural-residential areas north of Melbourne found property values were higher where there was a considerable cover of native vegetation. We not only like our native bush, we are prepared to pay for it.

Because many people value trees and shrubs around their homes, it is not realistic to expect uniformly low fuel loads within bushfire-prone parts of Australia.

Can we have our cake and eat it?

We analysed data collected before and after the 2009 Black Saturday Fires, in which 2,133 houses were destroyed.

We found that the extent of “greenness” of vegetation surrounding homes had a bearing on whether the structure withstood fire.

Greenness refers to the extent to which plants are actively growing. Houses with trees and shrubs within 40m were slightly less likely to be destroyed if the vegetation had relatively high values of “greenness”, as compared to houses surrounded by vegetation with low greenness value.

This makes sense because greener vegetation, typically with higher moisture content, has lower flammability, requires more energy to ignite and therefore can reduce the intensity of a fire.




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Thus, watering your garden through summer, if this is feasible, or choosing plants with high moisture content (such as succulents) may reduce the bushfire risk compared with the same amount of vegetation with a lower moisture content.

We also found the risk to houses during bushfire was slightly less where trees and shrubs within 40m were not continuous, but instead arranged as discrete patches separated by a ground layer with low fuel hazard, such as mown grass.

As trees and shrubs become less continuous the heat transfer between patches becomes less efficient and the intensity of the fire is likely to decline.

Provided bushfires in your area come from a predictable direction, retaining more trees and shrubs downwind of this direction from your house poses less risk than the same cover of trees and shrubs retained upwind from your house.

This makes sense because burning embers, which are the main cause of house losses during bushfires, travel in the direction of the wind.

You can’t eliminate risk from bushfires

We must emphasise that while these strategies can strike a balance between retaining trees and shrubs and preparing for bushfires, they will not guarantee your home will survive a bushfire – especially in severe fire weather.

So in addition to vegetation management, other strategies – such as building design, adequate insurance and evacuating early to a safer place – should be considered in every household’s bushfire planning.




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The Conversation


Philip Gibbons, Professor, Australian National University and Geoff Cary, Associate Professor, Bushfire Science, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

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

A major scorecard gives the health of Australia’s environment less than 1 out of 10



Dave Hunt/AAP

Albert Van Dijk, Australian National University; Luigi Renzullo, Australian National University; Marta Yebra, Australian National University, and Shoshana Rapley, Australian National University

2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.

Every year, we collate a vast number of measurements on the state of our environment: weather, oceans, fire, water, soils, vegetation, population pressure, and biodiversity. The data is collected in many different ways: by satellites, field stations, surveys and so on.

We process this data into several indicators of environmental health at both national and regional levels.

The report for 2019, released today, makes for grim reading. It reveals the worst environmental conditions in many decades, perhaps centuries, and confirms the devastating damage global warming and mismanagement are wreaking on our natural resources.

Immediate action is needed to put Australia’s environment on a course to recovery.

Environment scores in the red

From the long list of environmental indicators we report on, we use seven to calculate an Environmental Condition Score (ECS) for each region, as well as nationally.

These seven indicators – high temperatures, river flows, wetlands, soil health, vegetation condition, growth conditions and tree cover – are chosen because they allow a comparison against previous years. In Australia’s dry environment, they tend to move up and down together, which gives the score more robustness. See the interactive graphic below to find the score for your region.


Environmental condition scores by local government area, and values for each of the seven indicators. See more data on www.ausenv.online.

Nationally, Australia’s environmental condition score fell by 2.3 points in 2019, to a very low 0.8 out of ten. This is the lowest score since at least 2000 – the start of the period for which we have detailed data.

Condition scores declined in every state and territory. The worst conditions were seen in the Northern Territory (0.2 points), New South Wales (0.3 points) and Western Australia (0.4 points), with the latter also recording the greatest decline from the previous year (-5.7 points).

What is most striking is that almost the entire nation suffered terrible environmental conditions in 2019. In each case, the changes can be traced back to dry, hot conditions. Only parts of Queensland escaped the drought.

Comparing local government areas, the worst conditions occurred in Armidale and Gwydir in northern NSW. In contrast, Winton and Townsville in Queensland escaped the overall poor conditions, thanks to the beneficial impact of high rainfall early in the year – although those same events also caused floods killing around 600,000 livestock.



Extreme drought and extreme heat

So what exactly happened in Australia in 2019 to cause such widespread environmental damage? There were several causes.

Across most of Australia, the environment was already reeling from poor conditions in 2018. Also, cool temperatures in the Indian Ocean delayed the onset of the monsoon in northern Australia and reduced the flow of moisture to the rest of the continent, creating hot and dry conditions. Average rainfall was a mere 229 mm across the continent, the lowest in more than 119 years and probably longer than that.

The heat was also extraordinary. The average number of days above 35°C across the country was 36% more than the average for the 19 years prior.

Values for 15 environmental indicators in 2015, expressed as the change from average 2000-2018 conditions. Similar to national economic indicators, they provide a summary but also hide regional variations, complex interactions and long-term context.
ANU Centre for Water and Landscape Dynamics

In eastern Australia, arid and hot conditions pushed farmers and ecosystems deeper into drought. In many regions, dryness and declining protection from wind erosion created the worst soil conditions in at least 20 years. Consequences included several dust storms and widespread dieback of forests, especially in NSW.

The severe drought also affected inland water systems, especially the Darling
River and its tributaries. Town water supply reservoirs ran out of water, the rivers stopped flowing, and the heat turned the remaining pools into death traps for fish.

Other rivers in northwest Australia, southeast Queensland and northeast NSW also saw their worst flows in 20 years.

Australia’s environment degraded under extreme drought in 2019.
Dan Peled/AAP

Unprecedented fires

Of course, 2019 will be remembered as the year of unprecedented bushfires. Nationally, the total area burnt was not unusual, not even when the fires of early 2020 are included. But this is only because fire activity was much below average in northern Australia, where ongoing dry conditions left little vegetation to burn.

The extent of forest fires last year was unprecedented, however. As predicted well in advance, the tinder-dry forests in eastern Australia provided the fuel for a dramatic fire season that started in September. Between then and the first month of 2020, vast areas of forest in New South Wales, eastern Victoria, Kangaroo Island and the Australian Capital Territory went up in flames.

The fires destroyed more than 3,000 homes and directly killed 33 people. Indirectly, the most hazardous air quality in living memory created major but poorly known health impacts. The fires also damaged the reliability of drinking water supplies.




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The ecological damage was also profound. Fires raged through ecosystems poorly adapted to fire, from rainforests in tropical Queensland to alpine vegetation in Tasmania and the Snowy Mountains of NSW. It remains to be seen whether they can recover. Across NSW, 35% of rainforests were turned to cinders.

About 191 species of animals and plants saw more than one-third of their living area burnt, among them 52 species that were already threatened. Thankfully, the last remaining stands of the prehistoric Wollemi pine and the rare Nightcap Oak were saved.

Even before the fires, 40 plant and animal species were added to the threatened list in 2019, bringing the total to 1890. Following the fires, more species are likely to be added in 2020.

2019 was a year of unprecedented bushfires.
Jason O’Brien/AAP

We’re not doomed yet

Last year was neither an outlier nor the “new normal” – it will get worse.

Greenhouse gas concentrations continued to increase rapidly in 2019, causing the temperature of the atmosphere and oceans to soar. Australia’s population also continued to grow quickly and with it, greenhouse gases emissions and other pollution, and our demand for land to build, mine and farm on.

Whether we want to hear it or not, last year represented another step towards an ever-more dismal future, unless we take serious action.




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The current coronavirus pandemic shows that as individuals, and collectively, we can take dramatic action once we acknowledge the urgency of a threat. By comparison, addressing environmental decline will cost less, whereas the long-term costs of not acting will be far greater.

There is much we can do. In the short term, we can help our natural ecosystems recover from the drought and fires. Government agencies and land owners can cull and manage invasive species in fire-affected areas – from weeds, to foxes, cats and feral horses – and stop damaging logging in fire-affected areas.

Individuals can do their bit. We can donate money or time to organisations committed to helping ecosystems recover. Record what you see on bushwalks to help environmental managers monitor and assist ecological recovery.

Record and upload what you see on bush walks to help experts monitor fire recovery.
Darren England/AAP

But the damage of climate change is not limited to natural environments. We must get serious about curbing greenhouse emissions. Humanity has the tools, technology and ingenuity to do it and Australia, one of the countries worst affected by climate change, should lead the world.

Beyond that, individuals can also make a contribution: recycle and reuse rather than buy new, choose low-emission and renewable energy technology and reduce waste – it can save money even now. Let governments and politicians hear your voice. Try to convince friends and family that things need to change.

In the long term, we must find a more balanced relationship with the natural world, understanding that our own survival will depend on it.

The full report and webinar are available here.




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The Conversation


Albert Van Dijk, Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University; Luigi Renzullo, Senior Research Fellow, Australian National University; Marta Yebra, Senior lecturer, Australian National University, and Shoshana Rapley, Research assistant, Australian National University

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

The world’s best fire management system is in northern Australia, and it’s led by Indigenous land managers


Rohan Fisher, Charles Darwin University and Jon Altman, Australian National University

The tropical savannas of northern Australia are among the most fire-prone regions in the world. On average, they account for 70% of the area affected by fire each year in Australia.

But effective fire management over the past 20 years has reduced the annual average area burned – an area larger than Tasmania. The extent of this achievement is staggering, almost incomprehensible in a southern Australia context after the summer’s devastating bushfires.




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The success in northern Australia is the result of sustained and arduous on-ground work by a range of landowners and managers. Of greatest significance is the fire management from Indigenous community-based ranger groups, which has led to one of the most significant greenhouse gas emissions reduction practices in Australia.

As Willie Rioli, a Tiwi Islander and Indigenous Carbon Industry Network steering committee member recently said:

Fire is a tool and it’s something people should see as part of the Australian landscape. By using fire at the right time of year, in the right places with the right people, we have a good chance to help country and climate.

Importantly, people need to listen to science – the success of our industry has been from a collaboration between our traditional knowledge and modern science and this cooperation has made our work the most innovative and successful in the world.

A tinder-dry season

The 2019 fire season was especially challenging in the north (as it was in the south), following years of low rainfall across the Kimberly and Top-End. Northern Australia endured tinder-dry conditions, severe fire weather in the late dry season, and a very late onset of wet-season relief.

Despite these severe conditions, extensive fuel management and fire suppression activities over several years meant northern Australia didn’t see the scale of destruction experienced in the south.

A comparison of two years with severe fire weather conditions. Extensive early dry season mitigation burns in 2019 reduced the the total fire-affected areas.

This is a huge success for biodiversity conservation under worsening, longer-term fire conditions induced by climate change. Indigenous land managers are even extending their knowledge of savanna burning to southern Africa.

Burn early in the dry season

The broad principles of northern Australia fire management are to burn early in the dry season when fires can be readily managed; and suppress, where possible, the ignition of uncontrolled fires – often from non-human sources such as lightning – in the late dry season.

Traditional Indigenous fire management involves deploying “cool” (low intensity) and patchy burning early in the dry season to reduce grass fuel. This creates firebreaks in the landscape that help stop larger and far more severe fires late in the dry season.

Relatively safe ‘cool’ burns can create firebreaks.
Author provided

Essentially, burning early in the dry season accords with tradition, while suppressing fires that ignite late in the dry season is a post-colonial practice.

Savannah burning is different to burn-offs in South East Australia, partly because grass fuel reduction burns are more effective – it’s rare to have high-intensity fires spreading from tree to tree. What’s more, these areas are sparsely populated, with less infrastructure, so there are fewer risks.




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Satellite monitoring over the last 15 years shows the scale of change. We can compare the average area burnt across the tropical savannas over seven years from 2000 (2000–2006) with the last seven years (2013–2019). Since 2013, active fire management has been much more extensive.

The comparison reveals a reduction of late dry season wildfires over an area of 115,000 square kilometres and of all fires by 88,000 square kilometres.

How fire has changed in northern Australia.
Author provided

Combining traditional knowledge with western science

The primary goals of Indigenous savanna burning projects remain to support cultural reproduction, on-country living and “healthy country” outcomes.

Savanna burning is highly symbiotic with biodiversity conservation and landscape management, which is the core business of rangers.

Ensuring these gains are sustainable requires a significant amount of difficult on-ground work in remote and challenging circumstances. It involves not only Indigenous rangers, but also pastoralists, park rangers and private conservation groups. These emerging networks have helped build new savanna burning knowledge and innovative technologies.




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While customary knowledge underpins much of this work, the vast spatial extent of today’s savanna burning requires helicopters, remote sensing and satellite mapping. In other words, traditional burning is reconfigured to combine with western scientific knowledge and new tools.

For Indigenous rangers, burning from helicopters using incendiaries is augmented by ground-based operations, including on-foot burns that support more nuanced cultural engagement with country.

On-ground burns are particularly important for protecting sacred sites, built infrastructure and areas of high conservation value such as groves of monsoonal forest.

Who pays for it?

A more active savanna burning regime over the last seven years has led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of more than seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.




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Savanna burning: carbon pays for conservation in northern Australia


This is around 10% of the total emission reductions accredited by the Australian government through carbon credits units under Carbon Farming Initiative Act. Under the act, one Australian carbon credit unit is earned for each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent that a project stores or avoids.

By selling these carbon credits units either to the government or on a private commercial market, land managers have created a A$20 million a year savanna burning industry.

How Indigenous Australians and others across Australia’s north are reducing emissions.

What can the rest of Australia learn?

Savanna fire management is not directly translatable to southern Australia, where the climate is more temperate, the vegetation is different and the landscape is more densely populated. Still, there are lessons to be learnt.

A big reason for the success of fire management in the north savannas is because of the collaboration with scientists and Indigenous land managers, built on respect for the sophistication of traditional knowledge.

This is augmented by broad networks of fire managers across the complex cross-cultural landscape of northern Australia. Climate change will increasingly impact fire management across Australia, but at least in the north there is a growing capacity to face the challenge.The Conversation

Rohan Fisher, Information Technology for Development Researcher, Charles Darwin University and Jon Altman, Emeritus professor, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU, Australian National University

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

Snowy 2.0 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing – it will push carbon emissions up, not down



Luka Cochleae/AAP

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

The massive Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project is soon expected to be granted environmental approval. I and others have criticised the project on several grounds, including its questionable financial viability and overstated benefits to the electricity system. But Snowy 2.0’s greenhouse gas emissions have barely been discussed.

Both Snowy Hydro and its owner, the federal government, say the project will help expand renewable electricity generation (and by extension, contribute to emissions reduction from the energy sector).

However, closer inspection shows it won’t work that way. For at least the next couple of decades, Snowy 2.0 will store coal-fired electricity, not renewable electricity. In fact, I predict Snowy 2.0 will create additional demand for coal-fired generation and lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions for the foreseeable future.

Khancoban Dam, part of the soon-to-be expanded Snowy Hydro scheme.
Snowy Hydro Ltd

The problem explained

The expanded Snowy Hydro scheme in southern New South Wales will involve pumping water uphill to a reservoir, storing it, and then releasing it downhill to generate electricity when demand is high.

The emissions reduction potential of the project rests on what type of electricity is used to pump the water uphill. Snowy Hydro says it will pump the water when a lot of wind and solar energy is being produced (and therefore when wholesale electricity prices are low).

But the crucial point here is that wind and solar farms produce electricity whenever the resource is available. This will happen irrespective of whether Snowy 2.0 is producing or consuming energy.




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When Snowy 2.0 pumps water uphill to its upper reservoir, it adds to demand on the electricity system. The generators that will provide this extra electricity are the ones that would not operate unless Snowy 2.0’s pumping demand was calling them into operation.

These will not be renewable generators since they will be operating anyway. Rather, for the next couple of decades at least, coal-fired electricity generators – the next cheapest form of electricity after renewables – will provide Snowy 2.0’s power.

Snowy Hydro claims Snowy 2.0 will add 2000 megawatts of renewable capacity to the national electricity market. However Snowy 2.0 is a storage device, and its claim to be renewable rests on the source of the electricity that it stores and then reproduces. It is not renewable electricity that Snowy 2.0 will store and reproduce for the foreseeable future.

The Snowy 2.0 scheme will lead to more coal use in the foreseeable future.
Julian Smith/AAP

Why this matters

Ageing coal-fired generaters will account for a smaller share of Australia’s electricity production over time as they become uneconomic and close down. But projections from the Australian Energy Market Operator show coal will make up a significant proportion of electricity production for the next two decades.

It is only when all coal-fired generators have closed (and gas-fired generators have not taken their place) that Snowy 2.0 could claim to be using renewable electricity to power its pumps.

Does this matter? Yes, very much. Using Snowy Hydro’s projections of how much
electricity Snowy 2.0 will pump each year from 2025 to 2047 (the period over which they have developed their projections) I estimate that Snowy 2.0 will, on average, account for 5.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.




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This is clearly a big number – roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Australia’s mineral or chemical industry, and equal to the annual emissions of 2.4 million cars.

If we assume, conservatively, that emissions have a cost of A$20 per tonne of carbon, then Snowy 2.0 will impose an additional annual cost of A$108 million on the Australian community that will need to be countered by emissions reduction somewhere else in the economy.

Over 20 years, Snowy 2.0 will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions than three million cars.
Julian Smith/AAP

The NSW government has adopted a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. But using Snowy Hydro’s projections of pumped energy, average greenhouse gas emissions attributable to Snowy 2.0 over its first decade will increase NSW’s emissions by about 10% of their current levels each year.

This proportion will increase if the government successfully reduces emissions elsewhere.

Of course, emission reduction is not just an issue for the states. The federal
government has been at pains to affirm its commitment to the Paris climate accord. Snowy 2.0 will undermine the achievement of this commitment.

If additional energy storage is needed to stabilise our electricity grid, it can be provided by many alternatives with a much smaller greenhouse gas impact such as demand response, gas or diesel generators, batteries or smaller and more efficient pumped-hydro generators.

Meeting the climate challenge

Emissions associated with storage is given little attention in Australia but is well-researched overseas. Since Australia’s state and federal governments profess a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this is a serious omission.




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Energy storage will increase emissions as long as fossil fuel generators dominate the power system.

In meeting the climate challenge, greenhouse gas emissions must become a more prominent consideration in the planning and approval of all electricity projects, including storage – and especially for Snowy 2.0.


In response the points raised in this article, Snowy Hydro said Snowy 2.0 would add 2,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable capacity to the national electricity market (NEM).

“In the absence of Snowy 2.0, the NEM will have to fill the capacity need with other power stations, which would inevitably be fossil-fuelled,” the company said in a statement.

“Snowy will sell capacity contracts (tantamount to insurance against NEM price volatility and spikes) to a range of NEM counterparties, as it does now and has done for decades.”

Snowy Hydro said Snowy 2.0 would directly draw wind and solar capacity into the NEM, via the contract market.

It said this market, rather than the wholesale market, drives investment and electricity generation.

“Snowy Hydro’s renewable energy procurement program, through which Snowy contracted with 888 MW of wind and solar facilities in 2019, has made the construction of eight new wind and solar projects possible,” Snowy Hydro said.

“In the NEM, what happens subsequently to the spot price is of little interest to the owners of these facilities, because their revenue is guaranteed through their offtake contracts with Snowy.”

The company said the energy produced by wind and solar plants, backed by Snowy’s existing large-scale generation fleet, was “the most cost-effective and reliable way to serve the customers of the NEM in the future.”

Snowy Hydro said Snowy 2.0 would pump water uphill using cheap electricity from wind and solar – often most plentiful when NEM prices are low – rather than expensive electricity from coal.

“The water is released when prices are high – this is one of the four Snowy 2.0 revenue streams,” it said.

“Given that Snowy has the water storage capability to pump when electricity prices are low, and generate when electricity prices are high, why would Snowy choose to buy expensive coal-fired energy to pump water uphill at times of high prices?”The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University

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

Urban owls are losing their homes. So we’re 3D printing them new ones



Nick Bradsworth, Author provided

Dan Parker, University of Melbourne; Bronwyn Isaac, Monash University; Kylie Soanes, University of Melbourne; Nick Bradsworth, Deakin University; Stanislav Roudavski, University of Melbourne, and Therésa Jones, University of Melbourne

Native to southeastern Australia, the powerful owl (Ninox strenua) is threatened and facing the prospect of homelessness.

These birds don’t make nests – they use large hollows in old, tall trees. But humans have been removing such trees in the bush and in cities, despite their ecological value.




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Owls are lured into cities by abundant prey, with each bird capturing hundreds of possums per year. But with nowhere to nest, they struggle to breed and their population is at risk of declining even further.

Existing artificial nest designs include nesting boxes and carved logs.
Author provided

Conservationists tried to solve this problem by installing nesting boxes, but to no avail. A 2011 study in Victoria showed a pair of owls once used such a box, but only one of their two chicks survived. This is the only recorded instance of powerful-owl breeding in an artificial structure.

So as a team of designers and ecologists we’re finding a way to make artificial nests in urban areas more appealing to powerful owls. Surprisingly, the answer lies in termite mounds, augmented reality and 3D printing.

Bring in the designers

Nesting boxes aren’t very successful for many species. For example, many boxes installed along expanded highways fail to attract animals such as the squirrel glider, the superb parrot and the brown treecreeper. They also tend to disintegrate and become unusable after only a few years.




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What’s more, flaws in their design can lead to overheating, death from toxic fumes such as marine-plywood vapours, or babies unable to grow.

Designers and architects often use computer modelling to mimic nature in building designs, such as Beijing’s bird’s nest stadium.

But to use these skills to help wildlife, we need to understand what they want in a home. And for powerful owls, this means thinking outside the box.

What powerful owls need

At a minimum, owl nests must provide enough space to support a mother and two chicks, shelter the inhabitants from rain and heat, and have rough internal surfaces for scratching and climbing.

Traditionally, owls would find all such comforts in large, old, hollow-bearing trees, such as swamp or manna gums at least 150 years old. But a picture from Sydney photographer Ofer Levy, which showed an owl nesting in a tree-bound termite mound, made us realise there was another way.

Owls have been observed using termite mounds in trees for nesting.
Blantyre, Author provided

Termite mounds in trees are oddly shaped, but they meet all necessary characteristics for successful breeding. This precedent suggests younger, healthier and more common trees can become potential nesting sites.

A high-tech home

To design and create each termite-inspired nest, we first use lasers to model the shape of the target tree. A computer algorithm generates the structure fitting the owls’ requirements. Then, we divide the structure into interlocking blocks that can be conveniently manufactured.

Trees and their surroundings can be scanned by lasers for precise fitting.
Author provided

To assemble the nests, we use augmented-reality headsets, overlaying images of digital models onto physical objects. It sounds like science-fiction, but holographic construction with augmented reality has become an efficient way to create new structures.

So far, we’ve used 3D-printed wood to build one nest at the University of Melbourne’s System Garden. Two more nests made from hemp concrete are on the trees in the city of Knox, near the Dandenong Ranges. And we’re exploring other materials such as earth or fungus.

These materials can be moulded to a unique fit, and as they’re lightweight, we can easily fix them onto trees.

With augmented reality, it is easy to know where to place each block. Right: Views from the augmented reality headset.
Author provided

So is it working?

We are still collecting and analysing the data, but early results are promising. Our nests have important advantages over both traditional nesting boxes and carved logs.

This is, in part, because our artificial nests maintain more stable internal temperatures than nesting boxes and are considerably easier to make and install than carved logs. In other words, our designs already look like a good alternative.




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And while it’s too early to say if they’ll attract owls, our nests have already been visited or occupied by other animals, such as rainbow lorikeets.

Future homes for animal clients

Imagine an ecologist, a park manager or even a local resident who wants to boost local biodiversity. In the not-too-distant future, they might select a target species and a suitable tree from an online database. An algorithm could customise their choice of an artificial-nest design to fit the target tree. Remote machines would manufacture the parts and the end user would put the structure together.

Nests from 3D printed wood are easy to install.
Author provided

Such workflows are already being used in a variety of fields, such as the custom jewellery production and the preparation of dental crowns. It allows informed and automated reuse of scientific and technical knowledge, making advanced designs significantly more accessible.

Our techniques could be used to ease the housing crisis for a wide range of other sites and species, from fire-affected animals to critically endangered wildlife such as the swift parrot or Leadbeater’s possum.The Conversation

Dan Parker, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne; Bronwyn Isaac, Lecturer, Monash University; Kylie Soanes, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne; Nick Bradsworth, PhD Candidate, Deakin University; Stanislav Roudavski, Senior Lecturer in Digital Architectural Design, University of Melbourne, and Therésa Jones, Associate Professor in Evolution and Behaviour, University of Melbourne

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

How fungi’s knack for networking boosts ecological recovery after bushfires



Doug Beckers/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Adam Frew, University of Southern Queensland; Andy Le Brocque, University of Southern Queensland; Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University; Eleonora Egidi, Western Sydney University; Jodi Price, Charles Sturt University, and Leanne Greenwood, Charles Sturt University

The unprecedented bushfires that struck the east coast of Australia this summer killed an estimated one billion animals across millions of hectares.

Scorched landscapes and animal corpses brought into sharp relief what climate-driven changes to wildfire mean for Australia’s plants and animals.

Yet the effects of fire go much deeper, quite literally, to a vast and complex underground world that we know stunningly little about, including organisms that might be just as vulnerable to fire, and vital to Australia’s ecological recovery: the fungi.

Fungi play a crucial role in ecosystems around the world. Amanita sp, Geastrum sp and Aseroe sp.
Adam Frew

Plants and fungi: a match made underground

The aftermath of wildfires can make landscapes appear devoid of life. Yet under the ash beds lies a vast living network of fungi.

One group of fungi, called arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, form symbiotic relationships with most of the world’s land plants. This means most plants and AM fungi rely on each other to grow and thrive.

Fungi provide access to nutrients such as phosphorus, and plants provide carbon as sugar and fats.
Adam Frew via BioRender

Extensive networks of AM fungal mycelium (a vegetative part of a fungus, akin to plant roots) explore the soil to access nutrients beyond the reach of their plant partners. The mycelium forms a fungal underground highway, transporting the valuable nutrients back to the plants.




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Beyond nutrients, AM fungi can influence all aspects of plant ecology, such as seedling establishment, plant growth, defence against herbivores, and competition between different plant species. In fact, the number of species and abundance of AM fungi determine the success and diversity of plants.

In return for the nutrients they provide, AM fungi receive sugar made by plants through photosynthesis. For many species, this means without a plant host the fungi won’t last.

The responses of plants and AM fungi to fire are therefore deeply intertwined: the recovery of one is dependent on the other. Yet ecologists are only beginning to learn how fire affects fungi and what role they might have in hastening ecosystem recovery following wildfires.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonising a plant root.
Adam Frew

Fungi and fire: what do we know?

Studies have shown fungi living near the soil surface are particularly susceptible to fire, often killed by high soil temperatures as the fire passes over. Fungi further below the surface are relatively more protected, and may provide the nuclei for recovery.

But, as with animals, surviving fire is only half the battle. When fire removes vegetation, it suddenly halts sugar and fats plants produce, delivered to the fungi below-ground.




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Another challenge is the ways fire influences the underground world, such as changes in soil acidity, soil carbon, nutrient dynamics, and soil water. For instance, soils with more acidity tend to have less diversity of AM fungi.

How exactly fungi and fire interact remains an ecological mystery. Coprinus sp.
Adam Frew

The combination of high temperatures and changed conditions appear to take a toll on fungi: a 2017 meta-analysis of 29 studies found fire reduces the number of fungal species by about 28%. And given the severity of last summer’s bushfires, we can expect that many fungal communities below the surface have been lost, too.

Lose fungi, lose function

When fire hits, the community of AM fungi may lose less resistant species. This is important because studies show different species of AM fungi are better at supporting their plant partners in different ways. Some are better at providing nutrients, while others are more helpful with defending plants from disease and herbivores.

Changes in the number and types of AM fungal species can strongly determine how well plants recover, and can influence the whole ecosystem after fire. For example, plants could be left more vulnerable to disease if fungi supporting native plant chemical or physical defences are reduced by fire.

Amanita muscaria (Fly agaric)
Adam Frew

Since we know fungi are particularly important to plants in times of ecological stress, their role may be paramount in harsh post-fire landscapes. But while firefighters and wildlife carers have gone to inspiring lengths to protect plants and animals, we know little about how to help AM fungi recovery from the bushfires, or if help is even necessary.

Helping fungi help ecosystems

Research from last year showed reintroducing AM fungal communities (usually as an inoculant or biofertiliser) to degraded and disturbed landscapes can increase plant diversity by around 70%, encourage recovery of native plants, and suppress invasive weeds.

Fire tends to change what species of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are present in the soil as ecosystems recovery.
Adam Frew via BioRender

Taking a similar approach and actively putting fungi back into fire-affected environments could ensure more rapid or more complete recovery of native vegetation, including the survival of endangered plant species threatened by the fires.

However, it’s important to consider which AM fungi are reintroduced. They should be species normally present in the local area, and suited to support recovering plant communities.




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So as climate change leads to more frequent and intense bushfires, could fungi form a fundamental component of fire recovery efforts? Maybe.

But there is so much we’re yet to learn about these ancient and complex relationships. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface.The Conversation

Adam Frew, Lecturer, University of Southern Queensland; Andy Le Brocque, Associate Professor, University of Southern Queensland; Dale Nimmo, Associate Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University; Eleonora Egidi, Researcher, Western Sydney University; Jodi Price, Senior Lecturer in Vegetation Ecology, Charles Sturt University, and Leanne Greenwood, PhD candidate, Charles Sturt University

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