Let’s fix Australia’s environment with any pandemic recovery aid – the Kiwis are doing it



Leah Anne Thompson/Shutterstock

Lachlan G. Howell, University of Newcastle; John Clulow, University of Newcastle; John Rodger, University of Newcastle, and Ryan R. Witt, University of Newcastle

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant economic challenges for Australia. With April figures showing more than 800,000 people unemployed and last month 1.6 million on JobSeeker payments, a key focus will be job creation.




Read more:
The big stimulus spending has just begun. Here’s how to get it right, quickly


Lessons should be learned from what’s happening in New Zealand, where the government is funding projects that revive the environment. Unfortunately, Australia seems to be going the other way.

New Zealand gets it

As part of New Zealand’s innovative Wellbeing Budget the government will invest NZ$50 billion in a direct COVID-19 recovery response.

Of that, NZ$1.1 billion will be spent on creating 11,000 “nature jobs” to combat unemployment and supplement pandemic-affected sectors.

This unique investment will be delivered in a number of targeted environmental programs.

These include NZ$433 million for regional environmental projects that will provide 4,000 jobs in conserving and managing waterways. This will help restore fragile ecosystems such as wetlands, rivers and catchments.

There’s NZ$315 million for weed and feral animal control, including possums, pigs, deer and wallabies. This will provide employment through partnerships between the community, Māori land managers and government departments.

New Zealanders hate possums as they’re an invasive pest.
Flickr/Geof Wilson, CC BY-NC-ND

A further NZ$200 million will deliver jobs on public conservation land through the Department of Conservation for various management actions. These include predator control, restoration, regenerative planting and maintenance of tracks, huts and other assets.

Some of these investments will not only provide jobs but also conserve New Zealand’s environment. They will maintain agricultural productivity and advance existing environmental initiatives such as Predator Free New Zealand.

They will also provide households with income that will in turn help stimulate local economies.

This is a win for New Zealand’s environment and wildlife, particularly native fish species and unique birds. It’s also a win for people and the economy.

Australia’s destructive COVID-19 recovery

In contrast, the Australian federal and some state governments have resorted to environmentally destructive projects and policies to stimulate economic activity and support employment.




Read more:
Cutting ‘green tape’ may be good politicking, but it’s bad policy. Here are 5 examples of regulation failure


For example, the New South Wales government in March granted approval to extend coalmining under Sydney’s Woronora reservoir and in May approved the controversial Snowy Hydro 2.0 project.

Snowy 2.0 threatens to pollute pristine Snowy Mountains rivers.
Schopier/Wikimedia

In Victoria, the government delayed key improvements to environmental protection laws and amended legislation to allow onshore gas extraction.

Federally, wider plans exist for an apparent fossil-fuel-led national recovery through gas expansion, fast-tracked by relaxing environmental regulations. This includes a proposed exemption from additional approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The relaxing of environmental legislation and protections (commonly referred to as cutting “green tape”) has been pushed by business and industry lobby groups and some quarters of the media.

Even politicians such as federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley see it as a way to promote economic recovery.

A better way to recovery

Nature groups, environmental scientists, economists and political parties such as the Greens are proposing an alternative approach.

Some state and territory departments, including in the ACT and the Northern Territory, recognise environmental management and protection as a source of high employment opportunity.

They all see investment in conservation and land management as a key feature of any economic recovery.

An opportunity for Australia

Economic stimulus through conservation and land management is not yet recognised as a way for Australia to respond to both the COVID-19 crisis and long-standing conservation needs.

Australian governments, if they invested similarly to New Zealand, could create jobs in the short term in any desired target region, based on economic and environmental need.

This flexibility would allow jobs to be created in regions with already fragile local economies, particularly those made worse by COVID-19. This includes regional areas that usually have high tourism, bushfire-affected communities, drought-affected regions, as well as Indigenous communities.




Read more:
When introduced species are cute and loveable, culling them is a tricky proposition


Conservation and land management jobs could include dealing with feral pests, such as cats, foxes, rabbits, pigs, deer and horses.

It could feature restoration activities such as tree planting, weed removal, hazard-reduction burning, and wildlife restoration and monitoring.

This type of employment is hands-on, labour-intensive and has low overhead costs. Investment is likely to be cost-effective, with most of it going straight to the worker.

Let’s stimulate the economy and the environment

Projects can be up and running quickly, so the economic stimulus is immediate.

The benefits of direct household stimulus are well understood. This form of spending provides localised economic benefits as money is likely to stay in the local community.




Read more:
The next global health pandemic could easily erupt in your backyard


There is an opportunity to support the hard-hit university sector. It could get funds for research to design, monitor and assess the effectiveness of any interventions.

Such investment would have lasting and much-needed environmental benefits through the conservation of landscapes recently ravaged by bushfire that contain unique and declining wildlife species.

Could the much-hyped “new normal” be one where Australia’s environment and economy are not seen as incompatible?The Conversation

Lachlan G. Howell, PhD Candidate | School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle; John Clulow, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle; John Rodger, Emeritus Professor, University of Newcastle & CEO FAUNA Research Alliance, University of Newcastle, and Ryan R. Witt, Conjoint Lecturer | School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle

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

Why it doesn’t make economic sense to ignore climate change in our recovery from the pandemic



shutterstock

Anna Skarbek, Monash University

It will be tempting for some to overlook the climate change challenge in the rush to restart the economy after the pandemic.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has flagged he wants to develop Australia’s gas-fired power to help boost the economy. And conservative political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby recently argued business survival is more important than environment, social and governance matters.




Read more:
The charts that show coronavirus pushing up to a quarter of the workforce out of work


In the United States, the Trump administration is reportedly contemplating a coronavirus rescue package tailored specifically to oil and natural gas producers, while the Chinese government is trying to stimulate its economy by allowing polluters to bypass environmental regulations.

But the pandemic is not a reason to weaken the commitments to net zero emissions. In fact, climate action is a vital protection against further global shocks, especially as governments plan their post-pandemic stimulus packages.

The economic shock from climate change

The devastation the virus has inflicted is a reminder of our vulnerability and the importance of prevention and mitigation.

It’s a point bolstered by fresh evidence about the scale of economic shock we might face if we fail to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

A major study published in Nature Communications last month put a dollar value on the cost of climate inaction. If we don’t prevent the planet warming, we can expect a bill of between US$150 trillion and US$792 trillion by 2100. That’s up to A$1,231 trillion in Australian dollars.




Read more:
Vital Signs: climate-linked financial crises loom, but the fix isn’t up to central banks


The predicted “global shock” would be even more financially catastrophic than coronavirus.

The research, however, also points out some good news. The limitation of global warming to 1.5℃ would deliver a corresponding boost, with the global economy growing by US$616 trillion compared to inaction.

Big businesses on board

The economic cost of the shutdowns imposed to address the coronavirus pandemic have not been compared to the value of the lives saved.

Climate change action, on the other hand, has repeatedly been found to pass traditional cost-benefit tests. The solutions are known to already be available and effective if deployed in time.

What’s more, new research – with Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and leading climate economist Nicholas Stern at the helm – shows climate mitigation actions deliver maximum economic growth multiplier benefits from a stimulus perspective.

It found spending on new green energy projects generates twice as many jobs for every dollar invested, compared with equivalent allocations to fossil fuel projects.

Climate action, then, is vital for the economy. That’s why a remarkable list of business leaders have just added their names to a call for stimulus funds to be invested in what they call “the economy of the future”.

This includes chief executives, chairs and senior executives from major organisations including Rio Tinto, BP, Shell, Allianz and HSBC, together with the Energy Transitions Commission (a global group of companies and experts working towards low-carbon energy systems).

They’re urging for massive investments in renewable power systems, a boost for green buildings and green infrastructure, targeted support for innovative low-carbon activities and other similar measures.

In Europe, a coalition of chief executives, politicians and academics is calling for major investment in projects to make the European Union the “world’s first climate-neutral continent” by 2050.

They say the need for state intervention in the wake of the pandemic provides an unparalleled chance to build economies that are sustainable, resilient and dynamic.

Representatives of global companies have signed the “green recovery” platform. These include PepsiCo, Microsoft, Enel, E.ON, Volvo Group, L’Oréal, Danone, Ikea and more.

Technology is getting better

Boosting the economy with climate action is a message our recent research from ClimateWorks Australia reinforces. It shows how we can achieve the Paris targets with technologies already available.




Read more:
It might sound ‘batshit insane’ but Australia could soon export sunshine to Asia via a 3,800km cable


But we can only do it if government, business and consumer decisions support the accelerated deployment of these technologies, and only if we roll out mature zero-emissions technology solutions more quickly across all sectors (not just electricity), and invest in development and commercialisation of emerging solutions in harder-to-abate sectors.

Across all sectors of the Australian economy, technology provides opportunities to decarbonise, and has rapidly improved.

For example, advances in lithium ion technology mean high-tech batteries cost only a fifth of what they did ten years ago. So it’s easier and cheaper to store electricity than ever before – even as renewables now offer a consistently cheaper source of generation than fossil fuels.

Lithium ion batteries have come a long way in a short time.
Shutterstock

Innovations like that have changed the game. A new Australian Energy Market Operator study makes clear that, within five years, Australia can run a power grid in which 75% of electricity comes from wind and solar.

A clean stimulus package

Measures these pathways involve are ideally suited to a stimulus package. Governments could create jobs and spur industry, while modernising the economy for the challenges ahead.

How? By building charging infrastructure to support electric vehicles powered by renewables; encouraging investment in sustainable agriculture, fertiliser management and carbon forestry; deploying PV and battery systems across city buildings; or embracing any number of other “shovel ready” solutions.

Through this pandemic we’ve witnessed how people have learned new approaches and switched mindsets almost as quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and social distancing restrictions began.

Just as we’re remembering to wash our hands more than we used to, coming out of the pandemic, it will pay to be more attentive about remembering to choose the zero-emissions option at every step.




Read more:
Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change


We stand at a crossroads. If government stimulus packages around the world favour carbon-intensive practices and miss the moment to modernise and decarbonise, we will lock ourselves into a warming future.

If, however, we rise to the challenge, we can use the recovery from one crisis to simultaneously address another.The Conversation

Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

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.




Read more:
The glowing ghost mushroom looks like it comes from a fungal netherworld


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.




Read more:
How you can help – not harm – wild animals recovering from bushfires


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.




Read more:
A rare natural phenomenon brings severe drought to Australia. Climate change is making it more common


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.

Pulling out weeds is the best thing you can do to help nature recover from the fires



Australians are keen to help nature recover after a season of devastating bushfires.
Darren England/AAP

Don Driscoll, Deakin University

Many Australians feel compelled to help our damaged wildlife after this season’s terrible bushfires. Suggested actions have included donating money, leaving water out for thirsty animals, and learning how to help the injured. But there is an equally, if not more, important way to assist: weeding.

An army of volunteers is needed to help land owners with judicious weed removal. This will help burnt habitats recover more quickly, providing expanded, healthy habitat for native fauna.

Other emergency responses, such as culling feral animals and dropping emergency food from aeroplanes, are obviously jobs for specialists. But volunteer weeding does not require any prior expertise – just a willingness to get your hands dirty and take your lead from those in the know.

Volunteer weeding will help burnt habitats recover more quickly.
Silje Polland/Flickr

Why is weeding so critical?

The recent bushfires burned many areas in national parks and reserves which were infested with weeds. Some weeds are killed in a blaze, but fire also stimulates their seed banks to germinate.

Weed seedlings will spring up en masse and establish dense stands that out-compete native plants by blocking access to sunlight. Native seedlings will die without setting seed, wasting this chance for them to recover and to provide habitat for a diverse range of native species.




Read more:
Many of our plants and animals have adapted to fires, but now the fires are changing


This mass weed germination is also an opportunity to improve the outlook for biodiversity. With a coordinated volunteer effort, these weeds can be taken out before they seed – leaving only a residual seed bank with no adult weeds to create more seed and creating space for native plants to flourish.

With follow-up weeding, we can leave our national parks and reserves – and even bushland on farms – in a better state than they were before the fires.

Bush regeneration groups are well placed to restore forests after fire, but need volunteers.
Flickr

Weeding works

In January 1994, fire burned most of Lane Cove National Park in Sydney. Within a few months of the fire, volunteer bush regeneration groups were set up to help tackle regenerating weeds.

Their efforts eradicated weeds from areas where the problem previously seemed intractable and prevented further weed expansion. Key to success in this case was the provision of funding for coordination, an engaged community which produced passionate volunteers and enough resources to train them.




Read more:
Conservation scientists are grieving after the bushfires — but we must not give up


Following recent fires in the Victorian high country, volunteers will be critical to controlling weeds, particularly broom (Scotch broom and related species), which occurs throughout fire-affected areas .

Fire typically kills these woody shrubs but also stimulates seed germination. Without intervention, broom will form dense stands which out-compete native plant species .

However, swift action now can prevent this. Mass germination reduces the broom’s seedbank to as low as 8% of pre-fire levels, and around half of the remaining seeds die each year. Further, broom usually takes three years to flower and replenish its seedbank. So with no new seeds being produced and the seedbank low and shrinking, this three-year window offers an important opportunity to restore previously infested areas.

Scotch broom, a native shrub of Western Europe, has infested vast swathes of Australia.
Gunter Maywald-CSIRO/Wikimedia

Parks Victoria took up this opportunity after the 2003 fires in the Alpine National Park. They rallied agencies, natural resource management groups and local landholders to sweep up broom . Herbicide trials at that time revealed that to get the best outcome for their money, it was critical to spray broom seedlings early, within the first year and a half.

Broom management also needs to use a range of approaches, including using volunteers to spread a biological control agent.

Plenty of work to do

Parks Victoria continue to engage community groups in park management and will coordinate fire response actions when parks are safe to enter. Similar programs can be found in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the ACT.

A wide range of weeds expand after fire and warrant a rapid response. They include lantana, bitou bush, and
blackberry.




Read more:
Yes, native plants can flourish after bushfire. But there’s only so much hardship they can take


Managing weeds after fire is currently a high priority at many sites. At the edges of the World Heritage Gondwana rainforests of southwest Queensland and northern and central NSW, there is a window to more effectively control lantana. In many forested areas in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, fire has created an opportunity to address important weed problems.

State government agencies have the mapping capacity to locate these places. Hopefully they can make these resources easy for the public to access soon, so community groups can self-organise and connect with park managers.

A koala badly injured during the Canberra bushfires before it was returned to the wild.
ALAN PORRIT/AAP

All this needs money

Emergency funding is now essential to enable community-based weed control programs at the scale needed to have a substantial impact. Specifically, funding is needed for group coordinators, trainers and equipment.

While emergency work is needed to control regenerating weeds in the next 6-18 months, ongoing work is needed after that to consolidate success and prevent reinfestations from the small, but still present, seed bank.

Ongoing government funding is needed to enable this work, and prepare for a similar response to the next mega-fires.

Want to act immediately?

You can volunteer to do your bit for fire recovery right now. In addition to state-agency volunteer websites, there are many existing park care, bush care and “friends of” groups coordinated by local governments. They’re waiting for you to join so they can start planning the restoration task in fire-affected areas.

Contact them directly or register your interest with the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators who can link you with the appropriate organisations.




Read more:
You can leave water out for wildlife without attracting mosquitoes, if you take a few precautions


If we do nothing now, the quality of our national parks will decline as weeds take over and native species are lost. But if you channel your fire-response energy and commitment to help manage weeds, our national parks could come out in front from this climate-change induced calamity.

By all means, rescue an injured koala. But by pulling out weeds, you could also help rescue a whole ecosystem.


Dr Tein McDonald, president of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators, contributed to this article.The Conversation

Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University

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

Yes, native plants can flourish after bushfire. But there’s only so much hardship they can tak



Bulbine lilies flowering and eucalypts resprouting after fire in the Victorian high country.
Heidi Zimmer

Lucy Commander, University of Western Australia and Heidi Zimmer, Southern Cross University

In a fire-blackened landscape, signs of life are everywhere. A riot of red and green leaves erupt from an otherwise dead-looking tree trunk, and the beginnings of wildflowers and grasses peek from the crunchy charcoal below.

Much Australian flora has evolved to cope with fire, recovering by re-sprouting or setting seed. However, some plants are sensitive to fire, especially when fires are frequent or intense, and these species need our help to recover.




Read more:
Some say we’ve seen bushfires worse than this before. But they’re ignoring a few key facts


After announcing a A$50 million wildlife and habitat recovery package, the Morrison government recently met with Australia’s leading wildlife experts to steer recovery efforts.

Encouraging native flora to bounce back from these unprecedented fires requires targeted funding and actions to conserve and restore plants and ecological communities, including seed banking.

How do plants naturally recover from fire?

Many plants from fire-prone ecosystems have evolved strategies to survive, and even thrive, with fire. Some resprout after fire, with green shoots bursting from blackened stems. For others, fire stimulates flowering.

Some species are able to resprout from blackened stems following a fire.
Lucy Commander, Author provided

Fire can also trigger seed germination of hundreds of species, as seeds respond to fire “cues” like heat and smoke.

Seeds may wait in woody fruits stored on the plant. The fruits’ hard capsules shield the seeds from the fire, but the heat opens the capsules, releasing seeds into the soil below.

We can capitalise on this natural recovery by not disturbing the soil where the seeds are scattered, not clearing “dead” plants which may resprout and provide shelter for remaining wildlife, including perches for birds who may bring in seeds.

We should also stop vegetation clearing, especially unburnt vegetation home to threatened species and communities.

Some species, like this Banksia, have woody fruits that protect the seeds, then open after fire to release them.
Lucy Commander, Author provided

When do we need to intervene?

While Australian plants and ecosystems have evolved to embrace bushfires, there’s only so much drought and fire they can take.

Many plants and ecosystems, including alpine and rainforest species, are not resilient to fire, especially if drought persists or they have been burnt too frequently. Too frequent fires deplete the seed bank and put recovery at risk.

Fires which are intense and severe will outright kill other plants, or the plants will be very slow to recover – taking years or decades to reach maturity again. We need comprehensive monitoring to detect which species are not returning, with systematic field surveys starting immediately, and continuing after the first rains to identify which species emerge from the soil.

Some ecosystems are adapted to fire, with trees resprouting and seeds germinating from the soil seed bank. Even so, fencing and weed control may be required.
Lucy Commander, Author provided

Invasive plants such as blackberry or veldt grass can also impede recovery after a fire by out-competing the natives. Feral herbivores – such as rabbits, goats and horses – can overgraze the native regrowth. So controlling the weeds and feral grazers with, for instance, temporary fencing and tree guards, is a priority post-fire.

And when ecosystems aren’t able to repair themselves, it’s up to us to intervene. For instance, land managers, supported by volunteer community groups, could sow seeds or plant seedlings in fire-affected areas. This act of restoring ecosystems can be an important healing process for those affected by the fires.

Do we have enough seeds?

But for that to happen, we need enough seeds to supply restoration efforts. With millions of hectares already burnt, few areas may be left for seed collection.

This means unburnt areas are at risk of over-collection from commercial and volunteer seed collectors. Stopping this from happening is possible, however. The agencies giving out permits for seed collection must record where seeds are being sourced and how much is collected. This ensures areas aren’t stripped of seeds, rendering them less resilient.




Read more:
The sweet relief of rain after bushfires threatens disaster for our rivers


Another, more controversial issue, is whether seeds should be collected locally (perhaps within 20km or within the catchment), or from somewhere much further away and more suited to a potential future climate.

And what should we do if we lose a population of a threatened plant species? Establishing a new population or replacing a lost one using translocation is one option. Similar to capture-and-release or zoo breeding programs for reintroduction of threatened animals, translocation refers to deliberately moving plants or seeds to a new location.

How can we better prepare for next time?

With potentially more unprecedented bushfire seasons in our future, it’s important land managers are prepared.

They need data on the distribution of species and the fire frequency, severity and season they can tolerate. A nationwide database could identify which species and ecosystems are most at risk, and could be incorporated into fire and restoration planning – including seed collecting – to ensure plant material is available if species fail to recover.




Read more:
‘Plant blindness’ is obscuring the extinction crisis for non-animal species


Botanic gardens have a special role to play as many already have conservation seed banks of threatened species, and their living collections provide additional genetic material. Across Australia there is already a network of seed banks collaborating through the Australian Seed Bank Partnership that collect, store and undertake research to better support plant conservation.

A restoration seed bank in Utah, USA. These banks hold huge amounts of seeds, but the Australian equivalents operate on a smaller scale.
Lucy Commander

However, restoration seed banks operate on a much larger scale than botanic gardens, and it’s important both approaches are conducted collaboratively. We need more ongoing investment in seed banks, particularly for threatened species and ecosystems least likely to recover from repeat fires like rainforests. Investment in skilled staff to run them is also critical, as well as national guidelines for seed use and training programs for staff and volunteers.

The recent bushfires will push many plant species to their limits. If we want to keep these species around – and the animals depend on them for food and habitat – we need to monitor their recovery and intervene where necessary.The Conversation

Lucy Commander, Adjunct Lecturer, University of Western Australia and Heidi Zimmer, Research associate, Southern Cross University

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

As the dust of the election settles, Australia’s wildlife still needs a pathway for recovery



The Darling River near Louth NSW, April 2019, in the midst of a drought compounded by upstream irrigation policies.
Jaana Dielenberg, Author provided

Rachel Morgain, Australian National University; Bradley J. Moggridge, University of Canberra; Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Australian National University; John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University; Martine Maron, The University of Queensland; Sarah Bekessy, RMIT University; Sarah Legge, Australian National University, and Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University

The environment was a key concern in the recent federal election. It was also a polarising one, with concerns raised about regional industries and livelihoods. But jobs and environment need not be locked in battle: there are pathways that secure a better future for both our environment and future generations.

It’s just over two weeks since the global announcement that extinction looms for about a million species. The warning may have been partially lost in the noise of Australia’s election campaign, but it should resonate long after the political dust settles. This scale of loss will have catastrophic consequences not only for nature, but for us too.




Read more:
‘Revolutionary change’ needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis


The good news is many of the key steps to addressing Australia’s ecological challenges are also wins for jobs, industry and social well-being. Others involve more difficult choices, but could be helped with careful strategic planning and the active involvement of all those with a stake. All require factoring in costs and benefits not only to our generation, but also to generations of the future.

Here are seven suggestions to get us started.

1. Support wildlife-friendly agriculture

More than 60% of Australia is managed for agricultural production. Agriculture is a major driver of species loss both at home and abroad. Yet we know it is possible to manage our agricultural landscapes for wildlife and productivity. Actions like restoring native vegetation, establishing shelterbelts, and creating wildlife-friendly farm dams can help maintain or even boost farms’ productivity and resilience, including in times of drought.

Many farmers are already doing this but their efforts are undermined by policy instability. Political leadership and incentives such as stewardship payments and direct carbon investments are needed to support farmers as they increasingly support the nature from which we all benefit.

2. Nature-based solutions for our cities

About 90% of Australians live in cities, and the rapid expansion of our urban areas brings serious livability challenges. Urban nature can be a key part of the solution, providing a remarkable range of health and well-being benefits.

Urban greenery keeps cities cooler, improves air quality, and even boosts economic prosperity.

Cities can be hotspots for threatened species, and are justifiable locations for investing in nature for its own sake. There is substantial opportunity to create policy and regulation that can allow investment and innovation in nature-based solutions in cities.

3. Help Indigenous Australians care for natural heritage

Indigenous people prospered for millennia in Australia by forging deep connections with land, water and sky. But these connections are ever harder to maintain in the face of two centuries of colonialism and disruption to traditional lore and custom.

Traditional ownership is now recognised for nearly half of Australia’s protected area estate. Increasing investment in Indigenous ranger programs from the current 6% of the conservation estate budget and incorporating traditional knowledge could deliver many social, environmental and economic benefits.

Long-term stability with these programs provides for healthy communities, maintains connection to country, and delivers enormous environmental benefits.

Foreshore revegetation is one process that can help species recover.
CSIRO, CC BY

4. Invest in species recovery

Many valiant efforts to help threatened species are undertaken by dedicated groups with often limited resources. They have shown that success is possible. But to prevent extinctions we need much greater investment in strategic and committed management of species, and of pervasive threats like changed fire regimes and changed water flows. Australia’s investment in biodiversity conservation is low compared with other countries, particularly in light of our high rates of species loss.

Investing in threatened species and conservation works. Involving the community in recovery actions can also create employment, skills and many other benefits, especially to rural and Indigenous communities.

5. Build strategically important safe havens and strengthen biosecurity

Much of Australia’s wildlife is threatened by introduced species – predators, herbivores, weeds and disease. Chytrid fungus, introduced through the pet trade, has devastated frog populations. New pathogens like myrtle rust, which affects many Australian plants, look set to repeat this scale of loss. Invasive predators such as cats and foxes are the single biggest threat to most of Australia’s threatened mammals, some of which survive only on islands and inside fenced areas.

Strong biosecurity, of the kind that has long helped Australian agriculture, is vital to prevent introductions of new invasive species. New havens are needed in strategic locations, underpinned by national coordination and partnerships, to help protect species like the central rock rat that are still not safe from predators.

Invasive species harm Australia’s native wildlife.
Shutterstock

6. Support integrated environmental assessments

Regional development, mining and urban expansion are part of our economy. They can also harm species and ecosystems.

Improving resourcing for decisions about environmental approvals can ensure they are underpinned by sound science. Independent oversight and review could help ensure environmental approvals are credible, transparent, and consistent with Australia’s conservation commitments. Strengthening and expanding protections for critical habitat could ensure our most vulnerable wildlife is protected.

Development can be designed to avoid wholesale devastation or “death by 1,000 cuts”. But ensuring that crucial species habitats are protected will require careful planning based on strong environmental and social science. Applying existing provisions for integrated environmental assessments, fully resourcing these processes, and ensuring all affected people – including local and Indigenous communities – are involved from the start, can help plan a future that works for industries, communities and natural and cultural heritage.

7. Minimise and adapt to climate change, including by investing in biodiversity

Climate change threatens our communities, economy, health, and wildlife – it is changing our country as we know it. It has already contributed to the extinction of species such as the Bramble Cay Melomys. Impacts will certainly worsen, but by how much depends on whether we take strong action.

Many communities, businesses and governments are aiming to tackle climate change. Strategies such as greening cities to reduce heat islands can help native species too. Investing in biodiversity-rich carbon storage (such as old growth forests) can boost regional economies. Options include restoring native ecosystems, boosting soil carbon, managing fire, and transitioning native forests from timber harvesting to being managed for carbon, while sourcing wood products from plantations.




Read more:
Government needs to front up billions, not millions, to save Australia’s threatened species


Our economy, communities, cultures, health and livelihoods depend on environmental infrastructure – clean water, clean air, good soils, native vegetation and animals. As with Indigenous sense of place and identities they are entangled with the creatures that share our unique and diverse continent. We steal from future generations every time a species is lost.

For our sake and that of our descendants, we cannot afford to disregard this essential connection. Investing in natural infrastructure, just as we invest in our built infrastructure, is the sort of transformational change needed to ensure our communities and economy continue to flourish.The Conversation

Rachel Morgain, Knowledge Broker, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Bradley J. Moggridge, Indigenous Water Research, University of Canberra; Brendan Wintle, Professor Conservation Ecology, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University; Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Sarah Bekessy, Professor, RMIT University; Sarah Legge, Professor, Australian National University, and Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University

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

Forest soil needs decades or centuries to recover from fires and logging



File 20190121 100288 15v1q9i.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

David Blair, Author provided

Elle Bowd, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Australian National University

The 2009 Black Saturday fires burned 437,000 hectares of Victoria, including tens of thousands of hectares of Mountain Ash forest.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of these fires, we are reminded of their legacy by the thousands of tall Mountain ash “skeletons” still standing across the landscape. Most of them are scattered amid a mosaic of regenerating forest, including areas regrowing after logging.




Read more:
Comic explainer: forest giants house thousands of animals (so why do we keep cutting them down?)


But while we can track the obvious visible destruction of fire and logging, we know very little about what’s happening beneath the ground.

In a new study published in Nature Geoscience, we investigated how forest soils were impacted by fire and logging. To our surprise, we found it can take up to 80 years for soils to recover.

Logging among the charred remains of Mountain ash after the 2009 fires.
David Blair, Author provided

Decades of damage

Soils have crucial roles in forests. They are the basis for almost all terrestrial life and influence plant growth and survival, communities of beneficial fungi and bacteria, and cycles of key nutrients (including storing massive amounts of carbon).

To test the influence of severe and intensive disturbances like fire and logging, we compared key soil measures (such as the nutrients that plants need for growth) in forests with different histories. This included old forests that have been undisturbed since the 1850s, forests burned by major fires in 1939, 1983 and 2009, forests that were clearfell-logged in the 1980s or 2009-10, or salvage-logged in 2009-10 after being burned in the Black Saturday fires.

We found major impacts on forest soils, with pronounced reductions of key soil nutrients like available phosphorus and nitrate.

A shock finding was how long these impacts lasted: at least 80 years after fire, and at least 30 years after clearfell logging (which removes all vegetation in an area using heavy machinery).

However, the effects of disturbance on soils may persist for much longer than 80 years. During a fire, soil temperatures can exceed 500℃, which can result in soil nutrient loss and long-lasting structural changes to the soil.

We found the frequency of fires was also a key factor. For instance, forests that have burned twice since 1850 had significantly lower measures of organic carbon, available phosphorus, sulfur and nitrate, relative to forests that had been burned once.

Sites subject to clearfell logging also had significantly lower levels of organic carbon, nitrate and available phosphorus, relative to unlogged areas. Clearfell logging involves removing all commercially valuable trees from a site – most of which are used to make paper. The debris remaining after logging (tree heads, lateral branches, understorey trees) is then burned and the cut site is aerially sewn with Mountain Ash seed to start the process of regeneration.

Fire is important to natural growth cycles in our forests, but it changes the soil composition.
David Lindenmayer, Author provided

Logging compounds the damage

The impacts of logging on forest soils differs from that of fire because of the high-intensity combination of clearing the forest with machinery and post-logging “slash” burning of debris left on the ground. This can expose the forest floor, compact the soil, deplete soil nutrients, and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Predicted future increases in the number, frequency, intensity and extent of fires in Mountain Ash forests, coupled with ongoing logging, will likely result in further declines in soil nutrients in the long term. These kinds of effects on soils matter in Mountain Ash forests because 98.8% of the forest have already been burned or logged and are 80 years old or younger.

To maintain the vital roles that soils play in ecosystems, such as carbon storage and supporting plant growth, land managers must consider the repercussions of current and future disturbances on forest soils when planning how to use or protect land. Indeed, a critical part of long-term sustainable forest management must be to create more undisturbed areas, to conserve soil conditions.




Read more:
New modelling on bushfires shows how they really burn through an area


Specifically, clearfell logging should be limited wherever possible, especially in areas that have been subject to previous fire and logging.

Ecologically vital, large old trees in Mountain Ash forests may take over a century to recover from fire or logging. Our new findings indicate that forest soils may take a similar amount of time to recover.The Conversation

Elle Bowd, PhD scholar, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Professor, The 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.

How we found 112 ‘recovery reefs’ dotted through the Great Barrier Reef


File 20171129 28869 lod9mh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Some reefs are strong sources of coral larvae.
Peter Mumby, Author provided

Peter J Mumby, The University of Queensland

The Great Barrier Reef is better able to heal itself than we previously imagined, according to new research that identifies 112 individual reefs that can help drive the entire system towards recovery.

The back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 that killed many corals on the Great Barrier Reef have led many researchers to ask whether and how it can recover. Conventionally, we tend to focus on what controls recovery on individual reefs – for example, whether they are fouled by seaweed or sediments.

But in our study, published in PLoS Biology, my colleagues and I stepped back to view the entire Great Barrier Reef as a whole entity and ask how it can potentially repair itself.


Read more: The Great Barrier Reef can repair itself, with a little help from science


We began by asking whether some reefs are exceptionally important for kick-starting widespread recovery after damage. To do this we set three criteria.

First, we looked for reefs that are major sources of coral larvae – the ultimate source of recovery. Every year corals engage in one of nature’s greatest spectacles, their mass reproduction during a November full moon. Fertilised eggs (larvae) travel on ocean currents for days or weeks in search of a new home.

With our partners at the CSIRO we’ve been able to model where these larvae go, and therefore the “connectivity” of the reef. By using this modelling (the Great Barrier Reef is far too large to observe this directly), we looked for reefs that strongly and consistently supply larvae to many other reefs.

Healthy reefs supply far more larvae than damaged ones, so our second criterion was that reefs should have a relatively low risk of being impacted by coral bleaching. Using satellite records of sea temperature dating back to 1985, we identified reefs that have not yet experienced the kind of temperature that causes mass coral loss. That doesn’t mean these reefs will never experience bleaching, but it does mean they have a relatively good chance of surviving at least for the foreseeable future.

Our final criterion was that reefs should supply coral larvae but not pests. Here we focused on the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, whose larvae also travel on ocean currents. We know that outbreaks of these starfish tend to begin north of Cairns, and from that we can predict which reefs are most likely to become infested over time.

Fortunately, many good sources of coral larvae are relatively safe from crown-of-thorns starfish, particularly those reefs that are far offshore and bathed in oceanic water from the Coral Sea rather than the currents that flow past Cairns. Indeed, the access to deep – and often cooling – ocean water helps moderate temperature extremes in these outer reefs, which also reduces the risk of bleaching in some areas.

Using these three criteria, we pinpointed 112 reefs that are likely to be important in driving reef recovery for the wider system. They represent only 3% of the reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, but are so widely connected that their larvae can reach 47% of all the reefs within a single summer spawning season.

Unfortunately, their distribution across the reef is patchy. Relatively few are in the north (see map) so this area is relatively vulnerable.

Black dots show reefs identified as strong sources of coral larvae; grey dots show other reefs.
Hock et al., PLoS Biol.

Our study shows that reefs vary hugely, both in their exposure to damage and in their ability to contribute to the recovery of corals elsewhere. Where these patterns are pretty consistent over time – as is the case for the reefs we identified – it makes sense to factor this information into management planning.

It would be sensible to improve surveillance of these particular reefs, to check that crown-of-thorns starfish do not reach them, and to eradicate the starfish if they do.

To be clear, these are not the only reefs that should be managed. The Great Barrier Reef already has more than 30% of its area under protection from fishing, and many of its other individual reefs are important for tourism, fisheries and cultural benefits.

But the point here is that some reefs are far more important for ecosystem recovery than others. Factoring these patterns into tactical management – such as how best to respond in the aftermath of a cyclone strike – is the next step. It’s a need that has been articulated repeatedly by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.


Read more: Coal and climate change: a death sentence for the Great Barrier Reef


Taking the long-term view, the greatest threats to the reef are rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification caused by elevated carbon dioxide levels. This is clearly a challenge for humanity and one that requires consistent policies across governments.

But local protection is vital in order to maintain the reef in the best state possible given the global environment. Actions include improvements to the quality of the water emerging from rivers, controlling crown-of-thorns starfish, and maintaining healthy fish populations.

The ConversationThis is an expensive process and resources need to be deployed as effectively as possible. Our results help target management effectively by revealing the underlying mechanisms of repair on the reef. If management can help protect and facilitate corals’ natural processes of recovery, this might go a long way towards sustaining the Great Barrier Reef in an already challenging environment.

Peter J Mumby, Chair professor, The University of Queensland

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

Recuperation


This is a post I’m putting up at all my Blogs, even though that particular Blog may be unaffected due to scheduled posting, etc. Blog posts may be down a little at the moment and that for the last week or so. I have been ill with various illnesses and complaints for the last several weeks, so I have now decided to take the next week off from most Blogging activities in an attempt to rest and recover – if I can while still actually doing my very physically demanding actual job in the real world. I hope to return to Blogging full time in about a week’s time.

Limited Posts


I have had some surgery in recent times and while everything seems to be going OK, healing well and all the rest, I have been finding some difficulty while sitting at the computer – so I have been easing off on the posts in recent times. I expect this will continue for the next couple of weeks or perhaps a bit longer than that. I don’t intend to stop posting completely, but there will be far fewer posts during this period. One or two Blogs that I have will receive no posts during this time, while one or two others will continue to receive the same number of posts throughout this period. However, it is all a bit of a daily thing as to just how many posts I upload.

So all is going well, but a bit of a break and rest is needed to ensure a full recovery. Thanks all 🙂