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The conservation conversation

The TSR Hub project leaders had their annual get-together in Brisbane recently. The primary purpose was to prepare the next iteration of the Hub’s research plan for 2017. Discussions were far-reaching – and more than once I heard mention of mediocre coffee (those Melbourne people) – covering the crucial topics of data management, indigenous knowledge and engagement, cross-project and cross-hub synergy, and broader communication and engagement.

Juanita Watters and Peter Lyon from the Department of the Environment and Energy gave excellent presentations on the NESP program and some new Departmental spatial data management initiatives. Every project leader also gave an update on their work, and even though its early in the project delivery, there are already some remarkable projects and outcomes (some detailed in this eNewsletter).

Most encouraging in the life of the Hub to date has been the enthusiasm of Hub partners across the states and territories, the unwavering support of the Department of Environment and Energy, and Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt. Minister Hunt was a true champion for Australia’s wildlife and I have no doubt that Minister Frydenberg will provide equally enthusiastic support for research that delivers improved on-ground outcomes for threatened species.

From September 1, I am on extended leave until I start my job as The Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy. So, until the formalities are decided by UQ, the Department and the Minister, Brendan Wintle is the acting director. I know Brendan will do a much better job than I, but more importantly, the leadership of the Hub is in the hands of a very capable seven-person Leadership Team that makes all the important decisions. We are now entering a phase of relative stability and intense productivity. While my involvement in the Hub is now largely through projects, especially Project 3.1 on Threatened species indices, feel free to contact me if you have ideas or concerns –

My parting thought is that we should hold a “Threatened Species Twitter conference” to gather intelligence from across the Australia at almost zero cost - more to follow once I can find the willing hands to help me. If you are a Twitter lover, please drop me a line (@hugepossum).



Cover image: bittern by Matt Herring

Rice that's nice

Australasian bitterns are the subject of many great mysteries – where do they go during the colder months? How do they make that famous booming call? Could they really be the source of inspiration behind Australia’s mythical Bunyip tales?

The Australasian bittern has declined severely since European settlement of Australia and is now recognised as threatened, with an IUCN estimate of just 2500 adult birds remaining. The conservation management of bitterns forms the subject of Matt Herring’s PhD research, which is exploring the ways in which rice growers might be incentivized to adopt practices that support bittern breeding.

Read more

Parasite plight

Little is known about the impact of the diseases carried by invasive species that spread throughout the food chains of our native animals.

TSR Hub researcher Dr Nelika Hughes (Project 1.4) from The University of Melbourne is looking closely at one such disease – toxoplasmosis – a parasitic disease that was introduced to Australia in cats.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by parasitic protozoa and is capable of infecting most (if not all) mammals. Approximately 30% of the human population globally has contracted toxoplasmosis but most will experience only mild flu-like symptoms (if they experience any symptoms at all).

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Hot or not

Australia is home to thousands of unique plant species, yet faces significant challenges in protecting them.

The figures are stark: around 1100 plant species (approximately 5% of Australia’s known total) are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered under Australian state and federal laws. About 210 of these survive in only a single population, and 100 (11%) are represented by fewer than 100 plants.

University of Queensland post-doctoral research fellow Jennifer Silcock is tasked with interviewing threatened-plant experts nationwide to determine which plants should be placed on the Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s national Red Hot List.

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Tracking transplants

A new national plant translocation database could be on the horizon, after researchers gathered to map out the sources of existing translocation data at a recent workshop.

“The number of translocations on record came as a bit of a surprise – I didn’t think there would be so many,” says Dr David Coates from WA’s Department of Parks and Wildlife, who leads the TSR Hub’s Threatened plant reintroduction and relocation project.“

After sending out a preliminary spreadsheet, we received records of approximately 230 plant translocations. Some of these may be duplicates, but we suspect that the number may double as we work through the grey literature.”

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Ideas abound

Increasing collaboration across the Hub was a feature of the annual project leaders’ meeting held in Brisbane last month.
Each of the project leaders presented a short synopsis on the progress of their research, and the ideas and conversations each sparked were significant.

“The breadth of research in the project updates highlighted enormous opportunity for linkages and collaborations, which was just what we’d hoped to see,” says Professor Hugh Possingham who was overseeing his final meeting in the role of Hub Director.

It also brought to light a desire to see a more regular cross-fertilisation of projects - an idea that will be considered in future planning.

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Tortoise transfer

Western swamp tortoises hit the headlines last month as they explored new habitats in Western Australia.

Researchers have now released a total of 35 tortoises to translocation sites throughout the state. The tortoises were released in locations to the north and south of their native range, as part of yearlong assisted-colonisation trial.

If successful, the trial may establish the foundations for permanent tortoise populations. The tortoises were moved in an attempt to shelter the species from the effects of climate change and their story featured in several news outlets including the ABC, Science magazine, the Guardian and Australian Geographic

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The Threatened Species Recovery Hub is supported through funding from the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Programme.

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