Environmental sustainability: a thoroughly Conservative notion

An excellent post by Peter Burnett; hopefully the greater ‘we’ can move these insights into movement toward united action for environmental protection.

Sustainability Bites

In the face of a worsening global crisis, can’t we find some common ground?

By Peter Burnett

‘The Environment’ has been a major public concern for more than fifty years now. Surveys consistently place the environment among the issues of greatest social concern, while numerous scientific reports continue to document a general and ongoing environmental decline. What’s more, the effects of environmental decline are becoming increasingly obvious, not only through intense heat, drought and cyclones, but also as previously unknown phenomena such as multiple coral bleaching events and arctic wildfires.

With all this concern and things
getting worse, you’d expect action, but paradoxically, having gained
considerable momentum in earlier years, environmental policy seems to be moving
more slowly as the problem worsens, like an icebreaker that slows and
eventually becomes stuck as it moves further into the pack ice. Even the Paris
climate agreement of 2015, which looked at the…

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“We are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it” – global warming reaches 1°C

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, WMO climate statement: past 4 years warmest on record

Greenhouse gas emission are continuing to increase, temperatures over the past four years have been the warmest on record. The oceans are hotter, higher, and more acidic than ever, and arctic sea-ice keeps on shrinking. Meanwhile,  many parts of the world are being ravaged by tropical storms, floods and heavy rains, heatwaves, droughts, snowstorms, and wildfires, many likely results of climate-change-related changes in global atmospheric and ocean circulation.

Unfortunately, it seems we have now passed a point of no return. The average global temperature has already reached approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels, and the UN has warned that global attempts to ensure fossil fuel emissions peak by 2020 will most likely fail. Indeed the target will not even be reached by 2030, unless drastic measures are taken.

This is the world we are living in. But it’s not all over yet.


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Vehicle tracks are predator highways in intact landscapes: new publication

Our recent paper in Biological Conservation provides an eerie insight into the cryptic impacts of development in otherwise relatively intact landscapes. Aided by a crew of intrepid volunteers, I spent over a year and walked over 560 km, surveying the activity of three mammalian predators — dingoes, cats, and foxes — on and around unsealed vehicle tracks in the largest remaining temperate woodland on earth: the Great Western Woodlands. What I found was startling.

The Great Western Woodlands are largely wild and dominated by natural processes. However, a number of threats to this ecological jewel exist, including a vast network of roads and vehicle tracks supporting an active economy of mineral exploration and extraction. We captured images of our study predators by motion-sensor cameras, and collected scat and print observations as further evidence of their activity, to understand how the presence of roads and tracks affect their activity.

We found that predator activity was between 12 and 261 times greater on roads compared with off-road, making roads (even very simple bush tracks, composed of only two wheel ruts through vegetation) ‘highways’ of predator activity. We also found many other intriguing phenomena, including different patterns in different vegetation types and using different detection methods, and peaks in predator activity at substantial distances away from roads.

With predators having major influences on their prey as well as how ecosystems function in a wider sense, these findings indicate that even apparently minor disturbances can lead to major ecological changes. Furthermore, these trends are likely to apply to many other ecosystems around the world, with global ramifications. At the same time, having this knowledge can also help us to understand how to manage and mitigate these impacts better. 

The paper is available for free till December 29th at: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Y1Mk1R~eAsRA.

Fig 2c(border).jpg

So the next time someone you walk down a simple road through the bush… consider what else has walked that way too, and what it might have preyed upon along the way.

Thank you to my co-authors, who were also my PhD supervisors, for their incredible inspiration and support for this research, and the incredible field volunteers I recruited. A big thank you also to the funding agencies and organisations that helped make this work possible – they are detailed in the ‘acknowledgements’ section of the paper.

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What about the ugly things?

Addressing bias in conservation efforts: through song!

A big thank you to the Wilderness Society of Australia for this fabulous clip. And thank you to all the ugly (and not so ugly) things that make our planet tick! Rock it out!

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The three most dangerous narratives in conservation

In the blog ‘Thinking Like a Human‘:

An excellent piece about the stories we live and work by… and thinking carefully about their implications. Thanks Chris Sandbrook!

Thinking like a human

Emery Roe, an American policy scholar, first developed the idea that ‘narratives’ – stories about the world and how it works – are used in policy making processes to cut through complexity and justify a particular course of action. We are a storytelling species, and people find it easy to understand and get behind a compelling story with strong internal logic and a beginning, middle and end. Once a narrative has taken hold they can be very difficult to shake off, at least until an even more compelling ‘counter-narrative’ arrives on the scene. A classic example from resource governance is the ‘resources will be over-exploited unless they are in private ownership’ narrative, based on Garrett Hardin’s 1968 Tragedy of the Common’s article. It took decades of careful scholarship, and ultimately a nobel prize for Elinor Ostrom, to demonstrate that this narrative was compelling, influential, and wrong.

There are numerous narratives…

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Planning for population persistence in the face of ecological traps

­My tweetentation (presentation via tweets) for the Inaugural @ARC_CEED Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions Twitter Conference #CEEDTC2018. To view on Twitter click here. @kerenraiter

Abstract: We’re using emerging information on species distribution, dispersal & genetic variation combined with insights into varying effects of different land management – incl. ecological traps, to provide cross-tenure decision support for ensuring endangered lizard persistence.


1/6: Integrating population viability & complex threatening processes such as ecological traps, into systematic conservation planning can improve the effectiveness of conservation plans, and encourage land manager engagement : Dror Hawlena Risk Management Lab.


overview wordle 1



2/6 We explore the challenges of conservation planning in the face of complex realities for critically endangered Israeli fringe-fingered lizards: we modelled species distribution and show devastating historical habitat loss followed by threats of a new sort…


2. SDM



3/ ‘Desert tree’ projects create ecological traps: habitats that lizards quickly colonize, but where the lizards are quickly predated due to trees providing perches for predatory birds. A relatively small area of ‘trap’ can drain lizards from the surrounding landscape

3. ecological trap


4/6 We are developing simulations to model ecological trap effects on population dynamics and advise land managers how to avoid driving the lizards to extinction. Trap effects vary between species. Collaborators sought!
4. Trap simulation


5/6 Eco-trap simulations will be integrated into landscape population viability analyses informed by genetic analysis of dispersal, geneflow, and population structure, as well as emerging information on grazing, defense-force, agricultural and climate change impacts.


5. My plan



6/6 Integrating these factors will extend the theory and practice of conservation planning; provide cross-tenure decision support for interested stakeholders to help avoid extinction and maximize endangered lizard (& sub-population) persistence. Collaborators invited.
6. contact me


Finishing with a note from Kerrie Wilson, Director of CEED, about the conference trending in Twitter – it topped the Australian chart.

twitter trend tweet

Read more about the conference and the presenters here: http://ceed.edu.au/whats-on/ceed-twitter-conference-2018.html.

Find the schedule here: http://ceed.edu.au/whats-on/ceed-twitter-conference-2018.html.

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Twitter Conference #CEEDTC2018

Next Tuesday, 22nd May, the Australian-based Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (@ARC_CEED) will be holding it’s first Twitter conference! Excellent conservation scientists from around the world will ‘gather’ in the virtusphere on World Biodiversity Day to share and discuss current developments in conservation science.

54 presentations are scheduled over the course of the day, with a presentation every 9 minutes (19 minutes for plenary presenters), and breaks scheduled throughout the day. Presentations are made up of a series of six tweets. A few minutes are allowed at the end of each presentation for questions and discussion.

I’ll be presenting on ‘Planning for population persistence in the face of ecological traps’ at 4:40 pm East Australia time (9:40am Israel time, UTC+10:00). Join from wherever you are! #CEEDTC2018 @ARC_CEED Schedule: https://bit.ly/2wRaKKC .

Read more about the conference and who will be presenting here: http://ceed.edu.au/whats-on/ceed-twitter-conference-2018.html.

Find the schedule here: http://ceed.edu.au/whats-on/ceed-twitter-conference-2018.html.

Tweet_TC promo



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Full ecological impacts of resource development: a hot topic

I was recently invited to write a ‘hot topic’ article for the Ecological Society of Australia, to provide an evidence-based synthesis of a timely and relevant issue in ecology and environmental policy. It was an interesting process synthesising the story, and I’ve received a lot of very interested feedback from people inspired by the article.

Click here for the article.

Key points of the article are:

  • Resource development is expanding worldwide with far-reaching consequences for native ecosystems.
  • Some ecological impacts tend to slip under the radar of conventional impact assessments.
  • Identifying, measuring, and addressing the full range of ecological impacts is essential for mitigating ecosystem degradation and for conserving biodiversity.

The article also provides an overview of literature relevant to the topic.

mine orthoview

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Decision Point

I’ve just had an article published in Decision Point, the bimonthly magazine of the Australia Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). It presents news and views on environmental decision making, biodiversity, conservation planning and monitoring.

Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103-1Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103-2


Decision Point 103.JPG

Click here to download the pdf of the article:

Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103Raiter 2018 Lines in the Sand article in DecisionPoint 103

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Linear infrastructure impacts on landscape hydrology

The extent of roads and other forms of linear infrastructure is burgeoning worldwide, however there has been little quantification of how linear infrastructure affects the movement of water across landscapes. In our paper published in the Journal of Environmental Management, we present the first (to our knowledge) study to characterise and quantify the broad-scale impacts of linear infrastructure networks on surface and near-surface hydrology of a semi-arid region, Western Australia’s Great Western Woodlands.

With linear infrastructure named ‘one of the most pressing rangeland management concerns in arid and semi-arid lands globally’ (Duniway and Herrick 2013, in Rangeland Ecology and Management), we found that hydrological impacts of linear infrastructure are pervasive, but that there is considerable scope for addressing impacts. Hydrological impacts included erosion and pooling, as well as flow impedance, concentration and channelling, diversion, and new channel initiation at drainage crossings. Strategies for managing and mitigating these impacts include: hydrologically considerate infrastructure design; improving consideration of hydrological impacts in environmental impact evaluations, land-use or conservation plans, and mitigation strategies; developing risk maps to inform landscape-scale planning of linear infrastructure in relatively undisturbed landscapes; and further research to better understand the ecological ramifications of the impacts we report, and identify cost-effective solutions.

Our approach and methodology provide information and insights that are useful for cumulative and strategic impact assessment and decision-making as well as landscape planning and conservation policy, and can be applied to a range of other landscapes worldwide.

Ref: Raiter, K.G., Prober, S.M., Possingham, H.P., Westcott, F., Hobbs, R.J., 2018. Linear infrastructure impacts on landscape hydrology. Journal of Environmental Management. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.10.036

Until mid-January 2018, this paper is available to anyone for free, via this link: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WAyL14Z6tTGzZ.


Fig 5.2

Examples of linear infrastructure impacts on surface water hydrology. a) Gully erosion along a track caused by large amounts of fast-moving water produced on-road during rainfall events and/or intercepted from upslope overland or subsurface flows. b) A track that is lower than the surrounding ground level has become a drainage channel. c) Three locations 400 m apart along a track where sheetflow from upslope (right of image) appears to have been intercepted by the track, and concentrated into the three drainage outfalls indicated by the arrows. The arrows also show the direction of flow. Vegetation on the downslope (left) side of the track in the lower part of the image appears sparse and may be suffering from water starvation. d) A small eroded channel initiated by a track along which water movement is evident. There is no channel upslope of the track. e) Pooling along a track has created an unnatural water source which has attracted emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Wildlife attracted to water along infrastructure are at greater risk of road mortality, and increasing the temporal availability of water for fauna may cause other ecological changes. f) A windrow on the upslope side of a track which intercepted sheetflow and caused upslope pooling, until the windrow was breached and the water flowed onto the track – now in a concentrated fashion. g) Large area of pooling along a track. Such pools can stay wet for many days after the surrounding landscape has dried. Such obstructions to traffic often cause drivers to create alternative vehicle tracks to drive around, causing further disturbance and increasing the total road footprint. In this case the detour track is also flooded and additional detour tracks may result. Images: A, B, D, E, F: Keren Raiter. C: Google Earth. G: Carl Gosper.

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