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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The University of Western Australia's Future Farm 2050 Project Part II: Around 50 - 60% of Australia is under the control of farmers, meaning they are effectively responsible for our biodiversity. They need to be part of a new discussion about what we can do to improve their lives and produce food for the rest of us, while saving biodiversity. No matter how we look at it, the future of farming is firmly linked to natural resources. Professor Graeme Martin, from the University of Western Australia's Institute of Agriculture, outlines some of the benefits of the Future Farm 2050 project, especially in terms of biodiversity and soil fertility.
Let's face it - most people just don't like bugs. We swot them, spray them and generally slaughter them. They seem to be scary little critters that that dart and scurry. leap, burrow and fly so erratically and unpredictably.
But whether we like it or not...from pollinating our flowering plants to cleaning up the dead and dying debris that litters the earth...
We need them to survive but they don't need us.....
There are many, many more kinds of bugs than there are vertebrates or even flowering plants. Dr Ken Walker, Senior Curator for Insects at Museum Victoria describes some of the very unusual and complex ways that different bugs carve out a living in their specialised ecological niche.
In support of the creepy crawlies of Earth: Insects make up 99% of Earth's biodiversity and are an important part of our environment, one being to decompose organic material. Anyone scraping back compost will see the amphipods (sometimes called land shrimps), springtails and isopods that live there and which break down the leaf litter layer. Dr John Gollan, terrestrial invertebrate ecologist, discusses some of the many positive contributions of these undervalued and multitudinous animals.
Feeding wild birds: when did it start? Professor Darryl Jones, urban ecologist from the Griffith School of Environment at Griffith University in Brisbane, outlines some of the content of a soon-to-be-published book, The Birds at my Table. Cornell University Press in the United States will be publishing the book early in next year and distributing it worldwide. The University is renowned for running the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology so the book is in good hands.
The not so defenceless plants: inside information: Dr Dario Stefanelli, plant physiologist from Agriculture Victoria, continues discussion of the behaviours of plants, in this case the Venus flytrap and how plants protect themselves.
Sustainability means.....living within our (planet's) means: Dr Barry Manor, Sustainability Consultant, outlines some of the ways to achieve sustainability in a number of different settings.
Dr Barry Manor worked as a medical research scientist for a decade and a half before changing his lifestyle, buying 35 acres near the Hawkesbury River where he lives off the grid. Because he is so passionate about sustainability he reinvented himself as a self-educated sustainability consultant.
In the early days, he helped a lot of low income families understand why they had high electricity bills. Visiting people in their homes helped to identify the problems and come up with practical solutions. Now he works for a large corporation that has publicly stated sustainability goals. His role is to identify opportunities within their real estate portfolio of 1,600 sites to help them reach those goals in energy efficiency, waste recycling, reduced water use and decreased greenhouse gas emissions.
In terms of sustainability, it is better to focus on simple things and leave the complexities of climate change to climate scientists. 86% of Australia's energy comes from burning coal, so using less energy automatically reduces greenhouse gas emissions. However, using less electricity does not guarantee monetary savings. Electricity companies are charging more for their fixed network costs to make up for the reduction in usage, preserving their revenue streams.
Plants have the time of their lives! Dr Dario Stefanelli, plant physiologist from Agriculture Victoria, investigates the behaviours of plants. While plants cannot move and are anchored to a particular place, they have many mechanisms to perceive and react to their environment. Plants perceive time akin to humans from 'caveman' times - time was a matter of light on or light off and different intensities of light would indicate where they were in a day. The sequence of temperature each successive day indicated where they were in the succession of seasons. Plants perceive time exactly that way through their receptors that receive light. They keep track of the sequence of light and dark and discriminate between high and low temperatures and their very life cycle relies on accurate correlation and reaction to a complex variety of time signals.
Designer pets: When big bucks get mixed up with pet fashions the animals become commodities and not living, behaving creatures with particular environmental needs and niches. Fads for frogs in the USA have produced a decade or so of spectacular and unusual forms that are the 'must have' pets of the moment.