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.
Working Party: Dr Arthur White, president of the NSW Frog and Tadpole Study Group (FATS), explains the success of a cane toad eradication program in Sydney's south. This has been an important and long running project involving various levels of government, universities, volunteer groups and many Sutherland Shire community members. Its success has been the result of continued cooperative involvement that has drawn upon a range of innovative approaches but as time and again, program leaders identify the presence and support of so many members of the community being prepared to put in their time and effort, as being the most important essential ingredients for success.
On A Question of Balance, the project has been followed through over the years, including a 30 minute TV documentary that can be downloaded from YouTube. Today's interview is a brief summary and links to other stories and interviews on AQOB from earlier years.
Home Truths: Dr John Martin, wildlife ecologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, outlines a citizen science project called Hollows as Homes. The loss of hollow-bearing trees has been listed nationally as a threatening process for a range of biodiversity. Over 300 native species rely on tree hollows for breeding, roosting or protection, as do 40 threatened species in NSW alone. The project is trying to encourage people across Australia to report. There is liaison with Landcare, catchment management, natural resource management, local service groups, bush regenerators and councils to encourage them to participate. Dr Martin sees the project running for many years.
In the northern hemisphere there are primary hollow excavators (woodpeckers) which are quick at creating small hollows. In Australia, the natural process is slower and hollows can take decades to form. Supplementary habitat is also provided by plywood nest boxes. Micro bats, some owls and smaller species like gliders and red-rump parrots are not in large numbers and take priority over sulphur-crested cockatoos and brush-tailed possums, which are doing well. Reptiles and frogs use hollows. Even swamp wallabies will shelter in hollows at the base of large trees.
The project needs data to say what is working and which species use which type of natural hollow or supplementary ones, a key reason why they are asking people to monitor the tree hollows. The website www.hollowsashomes.com also works as an app on your phone. People can register and then report tree hollows or nest boxes and record their wildlife sightings and photos. Here is a great citizen science project aiming to capture what is really happening in the environment. It is well place to reveal some home truths for many species.
Power politics when the lights went off in South Australia: what caused the Black System in South Australia? When South Australia had its black system, some people blamed the weather. Comments from senior politicians and the ABC blamed renewable energy. From the facts it is clear that the weather was mostly responsible but that doesn't stop people playing power politics.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.