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A Question Of Balance

A Question of Balance is a grassroots environmental show that is aimed at the general community to show that we can do things to improve our environment and maintain an enjoyable standard of living.

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A Question of Balance March 28, 2017

More citizen science opportunities involving large urban and coastal birds
We've been reporting the Sydney based studies of sulphur Crested Cockatoos and White Austalian Ibis, but Ibis have long been in the research focus of Darryl Jones and colleagues in Brisbane and Gold Coast.

Now their attention is broadening to keep tabs on four common birds of prey who seem to fall foul of fishing activites or just plain do not seem to like being close neighbours with people.

A Question of Balance March 21, 2017

Natural Selection: Dr John Martin, wildlife ecologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, outlines a citizen science project with a focus on the Australian white ibis. The Wingtag project started in 2008 but there had been banding of birds for eight years before that. Wing tags are better than leg bands because they are more visually obvious and it is easier to remember a three digit number and one colour. Sightings can be reported using the same app used so successfully with the Royal Australian Botanic Gardens in Sydney study of Sulphur crested cockatoos (Google wingtag) on an Apple or android phone. Photos can also be included. Different birds have different strategies to get food. Those in Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens get all their food from those small green spaces and don't move from those sites. Other birds fly 30km to a landfill site because the food resources they provide are so rich.
The ibis known as the Farmer's Friend are more often straw-necked ibis which are well known for eating plague locusts. The Australian white ibis, (which is also an Australian native but was formerly incorrectly thought to be an exotic species, the African sacred ibis) is more known for foraging in the water column more and is associated with wetlands rather than grasslands. It is still recovering from this incorrect labelling as an alien species and therefore competition with our own wildlife. While locals may dislike the boldness of some ibis in parks, they are quite thrilling for our international visitors who can so easily approach and feed these elegant birds in public parks!

A Question of Balance March 14, 2017

Light Switch: Dr Barry Manor, Sustainability Consultant, outlines some of the ways to achieve energy efficiency. One quick and easy way to save energy in the home is to convert lighting to the latest technology, LED lighting. Also known as solid state lighting, LED is a major advance in illumination. These lights are one of the reasons Australia's energy use went down four or five years in a row. One advantage of upgrading lighting to LEDs is that they produce less waste heat, meaning less air conditioning power to keep your home comfortable. Saving energy is a win/win solution so it really is time to make a light switch.

A Question of Balance March 7, 2017

Right and left footed parrots (Lateralisation of the brain at work again): Associate Professor Culum Brown, from the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University, outlines his work on lateralisation and feeding habits in native Australian parrots.
The research looked at how 26 species (eg. sulphur-crested cockatoos, galahs, some rosellas, budgerigars and cockatiels) responded to a range of tasks and whether closely related species showed similar foot preferences.
The first tests related to foot preference. Every species of the large bodied native birds all show strong foot preferences, be it left or right. The smaller bodied parrots, however, show no strong preferences. This shift in lateralisation takes place at a body size of 31 centimetres. These findings are also borne out by what the birds eat. Those that graze on small seeds and blossoms, like lorikeets, show less bias whereas those birds that extract seeds from seed pods and rip things out of trees have strong foot preferences. The strong biases shown seem to be linked to the coordination needed between the beak, the eye and the foot in order to successfully manipulate these tougher food sources. These food sources are therefore a selective force, which explains the strong bias when these birds eat, unlike the grazing birds which do not require such precision and coordination.
Among parrots, the large bodies species are strongly lateralised, either being left footed or right footed, thought to be a result of the coordination needed when using beak and foot to feed. Some simple cognitive tasks were designed to effectively test that theory.

A Question of Balance February 28, 2017

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo Wingtag Survey Sydney: Dr John Martin, wildlife ecologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, outlines a long running citizen science project in Sydney, one that has Sulphur Crested Cockatoos as its focus. In the citizen science program, Cockatoo Wingtag, 120 Sulphur Crested Cockatoos in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney were fitted with yellow wingtags over five years ago. Some birds were also fitted with solar powered GPS. Each tag has a 3 digit number. Members of the community report their sightings, building up a map showing where the birds have been moving and which habitats they choose for foraging. It was anticipated that the birds would move 50-100km but this has not proved to be the case. All groups maintained a radius of approximately 5km with a lot of sub populations with little movement between them. The next step of the program is to use the data to look at social networks and cognitive abilities of these wild populations. Tagging will continue in March and April 2017. Dr Martin has been overwhelmed by the long term positive community engagement. This is a collaborative project with the Australian Museum and University of Sydney. ​For citizen science appy days are here again.

A Question of Balance February 21, 2017

Field Goal:

Professor Graeme Martin, Leader of the Future Farm 2050 Project at the University of Western Australia's Institute of Agriculture, outlines some of the benefits in running clean, green and ethical livestock. It is located at the Ridgefield Farm near Pingelly WA. It is a 1600 ha working model farm, mixed enterprise operation.

'Clean' means that the farm reduces its dependency on chemicals, antibiotics and the like; 'green' reminds us that grazing ruminants have a greenhouse gas footprint to consider; 'ethical' reminds us that animal welfare is important.

Current research into natural resistance and genetic diversity address welfare issues, such as mulesing, drug and chemical use. Future Farm 2050 does not practice mulesing. Indeed, Professor Martin hopefully predicts that within 5 years all Australian farms will be free from mulesing practice.

Three to four superstar native plants have been identified which can reduce methane emissions by 20-50%.In addition these supply green winter fodder enabling sheep to maintain weight, combat worms and reduce mortality.

On Future Farm, the star performer, Eremophila produced a greening effect in places where crops couldn't grow. Such natives attract birds, insects and reptiles enhancing biodiversity. It also enables restoration of landscape, managing salinity and water table levels with improved profits, according to economic analysis of shrub-based systems.

An important achievement would be Australia becoming mulesing free. You could say it is a field goal of Future Farm.

A Question of Balance February 7, 2017

Physical Fitness Dr Dario Stefanelli, plant physiologist from Agriculture Victoria, continues to discuss the behaviours of plants, this time in extreme environments. While wilting may occur in very hot conditions, it is not due to the temperature but to lack of availability of water.
How do you go about measuring how much water trees use? Three holes are drilled into the trees and metal probes inserted so that a variety of sap flow measurements could be taken. The results can then be extrapolated into information about water usage. For example, in the study, deep rooted forest trees used more than the younger plantation trees which had relatively fewer leaves. Dr Melanie Zeppel explains how research into the water usage of trees can be applied to help the environment as well as tell us some crucial information about climate change.

A Question of Balance January 31, 2017

Catch(ment) 22: Jacqui Marlow, committee member of Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment, looks at a unique catchment area in Sydney's north. Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment was protected by the Askin government in the 1970s with a special Local Environment Plan (LEP) that required 20 hectare blocks with only one house. This means that the catchment has been largely undeveloped but the pressure for increasing amounts of housing is starting to tell on this almost pristine area of 55 km².

The catchment has a variety of ecological environments and many species that are threatened. It is a haven for bushwalkers and mountain bike riders and the lagoon is used by several sailing clubs, model boats, kayakers and fishermen. It is the only coastal lagoon in a peri urban area of a major city in Australia that has an intact catchment. The catchment also cleans the water that goes into Narrabeen Lagoon, making Narrabeen, Collaroy and Warriewood beaches unpolluted.

Developers keep taking the 20 hectare blocks of land to the Land and Environment Court because they want to build things like retirement villages. The court upheld Warringah Council's objection for a 1,000 unit retirement village citing its impact on the lagoon catchment. That is not always the case. One large retirement village was approved and the site was bulldozed, destroying all the eastern pygmy possums that lived there. The whole area is changing. The rural industries, like the market gardens and egg farms at Oxford Falls, have all gone, as have most of the nurseries. There is a lot of pressure to subdivide the blocks of land..

Currently here is a claim from the Metropolitan Land Council. The land council want to acquire the crown lands and add it to their land to create a new national park administered by Aboriginals. This process has stalled. Meanwhile, the state government cannot do anything to protect the bushland. until the land claim is processed. The community is still waiting for a new LEP to replace LEP 2000 which will mean that retirement villages and nursing homes could no longer be built.

It seems all is limbo, a modern day catch(ment) 22.

A Question of Balance December 13, 2016

Earth's earliest architects: While microbial mats and stromatolites were not necessarily the work of the first forms of life, it was the grouping together of various microorganisms that gave rise to the structures of microbial mats and stromatolites. Complex communities of microorganisms then evolved and adapted to work well together in a low oxygen environment. This assisted the survival of the entire ecosystem, making them one of the most prevalent ecosystems on early Earth.

A Jungle in every drop of sea water:Associate Professor Justin Seymour introduces AQOB to the jungles to be found in just a drop of sea water and the complex web of life of Earth's most numerous creatures - single celled bacteria and relatives. These so called simple organisms are descendants of the earliest forms of life on Earth and have continued to thrive in vastly different environments from those that existed when they first evolved. They are outstandingly successful life forms that are invisible to the naked eye and so in general their vast numbers and essential roles for human survival are not recognised.

A Question of Balance December 6, 2016

The mything link: There are many myths about bird feeding in Australia and Professor Darryl Jones soon to be published book, The Birds at my Table, incorporates ones that will stun readers around the world. One of these is that people shouldn't feed lorikeets seeds because they have a brushed tongue which could be damaged. Darryl has witnessed flocks of lorikeets feeding all day on sorghum seed and records show they eat all kind of seeds, so the myth does not hold up. Like other parrots, lorikeets feed on protein all the time, often in the form of insects and grubs but also as the meat of roadkill or farm animals that have died.

Fish experience pain: People's perception of animal intelligence correlates with their perception that the particular animal will be able to feel pain. Fish are low on the intelligence scale according to people's perceptions; hence they also believe that they do not feel pain. This, of course, flies in the face of reality, one neurosurgeon likening such beliefs to flat earth adherents. There are many recreational fishers in Australia with substantial political clout. Currently fisheries promote a policy of catch and release for some species. While this may make that species more sustainable, Associate Professor Culum Brown argues that it is unethical. Why catch a living animal, causing stress and pain, only to release it? One man cited catching a cod which had 15 hooks stuck in it as a sign of stupidity, not recognising that hunger and possible starvation are powerful drivers for any wild animal. Part of the problem is that hunting fish is not equated with hunting land based animals. Certainly, the behaviour of people fishing (ie hunting fishes) to the way the prey is played, captured and either released (although injured) or killed, would not be condoned if their prey were a terrestrial wild animal
When looked at from an ethical viewpoint, there is a catch about fishing.

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