Kwongan Workshop: On the ecology of WA’s arid zone 22 July 2014

I’ll be presenting a 30 minute talk at the 2014 Kwongan workshop, entitled ‘On the ecology of WA’s arid zone’. My talk is entitled ‘The cryptic and the cumulative: mitigating regional ecological impacts of mining and exploration in south-western Australia’s Great Western Woodlands’ and will briefly cover the full story of my PhD research as it currently stands.

Click here for the full program and registration form for the workshop. Register by 11th July.

Kwongan workshop on ecology or the arid zone-page-1

Kwongan workshop on ecology or the arid zone-page-2

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Keren Raiter presents enigmatic impacts research to Goldfields Environmental Management Group Workshop in Kalgoorlie

Two hundred and fifty environmental professionals including scientists, consultants, managers, regulators and representatives of NGOs gathered on 21-23rd May in Australia’s largest outback city to share information and experience on environmental management, with a focus on the mining industry in the Western Australian Goldfields.

Keren presented her PhD research on mitigating enigmatic ecological impacts of mining and exploration in south-western Australia’s Great Western Woodlands, which seeks to improve our understanding of the ecological impacts of development that tend to be overlooked by conventional impact evaluations. Such impacts include cumulative habitat disturbance by numerous exploration tracks, drill pads, and mining projects; the cryptic consequences of track establishment for predator activity across the landscape, and the effects of linear infrastructure corridors on landscape water movement.

Keren was interviewed by the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper and received a lot of interest from mining companies, consultants and NGOs working on intersecting themes.

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Presentation in southern Israel

I’ll be giving a talk at the Dead Sea and Arava Science Centre at Hatsevah in Southern Israel this Thursday. Do join us if you are in the area.

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Volunteer needed for an adventure!

Volunteers needed for an adventure!

Click to download flyer

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The Great Western Woodlands: is there anything out there?

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One of the most frequent responses that I receive when I tell people that I conduct ecological research in that part of Western Australia that lies beyond the Wheatbelt, beyond the old rabbit-proof fence, where there’s gold and dust but hardly any roads, is “what do you go there for? There’s nothing out there. Just desert”.

Apart from the fact that I disagree with the conflation of ‘desert’ (a unique and often spectacular set of ecosystems in its own right) with ‘nothing’, I’m not shocked.  Along with the other 99% of Australia that exists outside of highly populated areas and a few notable national parks and tourist trails, this incredibly special area has, for the most part, escaped inclusion in the consciousness of most Australians.

Sure, there are a couple of groups of indigenous custodians with ongoing traditional links, knowledge, and ownership responsibilities for the land. There are several handfuls of mining and exploration companies with interests or operations in the region. There is a long and fascinating history of gold mining, prospecting, timber harvesting and a famous pipeline that carries water out there.  There are some pastoral stations, a few small towns, and a growing number of conservation and research organisations and departments interested in conserving and/or managing the landscape. But various historic initiatives to settle and clear the land amounted to very little, and the majority of the Great Western Woodlands remains ‘unallocated’, with an area the size of Tasmania in the middle that contains no permanent settlements. Most Australians, even those who call the south-west of Western Australia home, have never heard of the largest remaining Mediterranean-climate woodland on earth that exists in their back yard, although it’s larger than England.

‘Mediterranean-climate’ may sound like an obscure qualifier, but in fact it refers to the fact that the Great Western Woodlands represents a particularly special biome that is in a particularly precarious position. There are five regions in the world with Mediterranean-type climates (mild wet winters and hot dry summers). These regions constitute just 2% of the world’s land area but support an astonishing 20% of the world’s vascular plants. Unfortunately, these species-rich regions have all experienced extremely intense development pressure, being the most transformed biome in the world after temperate grasslands. This combination of factors have led to each one of the Mediterranean regions earning the classification ‘biodiversity hotspt’: a region characterised by both exceptional levels of plant endemism (very many plants grow there that grow nowhere else) and exceptional levels of habitat loss (the greatest cause of species extinction, amongst other things).

What is called ‘The Great Western Woodlands’ is actually a mosaic of woodland, shrubland, mallee, casuarina and melaleuca thickets, rocky outcrops, halophytic (salt-loving) vegetation, salt lakes, and picturesque banded ironstone formations. It bridges the relatively wet south-west corner and the arid interior of Australia. It’s a centre of plant and animal diversity, being home to a fifth of all of Australia’s flowering plants, (including about 30% of all of Australia’s eucalypts), and very high levels of acacia, jewel beetle, and reptilian diversity. It’s the driest place on earth where you can find extensive tracts of woodland. It’s been identified as a continent-wide priority for conservation. And it’s relatively undisturbed.

The devil is in the detail, of course, and the word ‘relatively’ refers to the fact that there are in fact a whole suite of disturbances, all of which compromise the ecological values of the region to some degree. But that is a story for another day (someone should do a PhD on it…!).

For now, I have compiled a slide show of photographs taken in and of the Great Western Woodlands, taken during my field trips to the area. Many of the photos are from my most recent trip during the peak of the spring flowering (there were days where we literally walked through fields of flowers!). There are a few photos taken with motion-sensor cameras as part of my observational study on spatial predation dynamics. Please enjoy; and if you are inspired to go out and experience the area for yourself, please take care. The summers are hot, the winters are cold. The distances are great and telephone reception is sparse. The roads are very poorly mapped and often overgrown, and the abandoned mine pits; deep. It is, however, worth it.

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The matrix in ecology

Associate Professor at the Australian National University, Don Driscoll, has recently put together a fantastic video explaining how citizens can help save our wildlife. It’s based on a paper that he and others wrote on the conceptual domain of the matrix in fragmented landscapes, but the video version is fun too!

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Click to read the article in The Guardian: We should not play Russian roulette with Australia’s national parks

A powerful group of eminent scientists have made their voices heard on the international stage with comments on the recent trend in Australia to introduce destructive practices into national parks. The first principle in restoration ecology is to conserve what you already have – this applies to policy as well as to ecosystems. Recreating what was lost is difficult, risky, and expensive; if not (as it mostly is) altogether impossible. And most of the time we don’t even know what we’ve lost till its gone, if ever.

russian roulette

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How to offset properly

A great post on Economical Ecology, on work done in collaboration between the Environmental Decisions Group and the Federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC for short).

Calculating the benefits of conservation actions.

Follow the link to read the full article in Decision Point.

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Student Conference on Conservation Science

Next week I’ll be travelling to Queensland to join over 100 students set to attend the Student Conference on Conservation Science from more than 30 countries, reaching as far as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Bhutan, Cambodia, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nepal and Myanmar. This conference will bring together postgraduate students from the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere to develop their skills and forge lasting professional relationships in this, the most biologically and culturally diverse region in the world.

With successful initiatives expanding from Cambridge and into BangaloreNew York, and now Brisbane, the Student Conference on Conservation Science is the only international series of conservation conferences aimed entirely at students. In the past 13 years, over 2000 delegates from 117 countries have attended international student conservation conferences around the world.  The purpose of this Australian edition is to build a network of early career conservation science professionals across the Asia-Pacific region, and to provide training in skills and tools for regional conservation scientists.

According to conference organiser and leader of the National Environmental Research Program’s (NERP) Environmental Decisions Hub, Professor Hugh Possingham, one of the best investments we can make is to train and providing networking opportunities for young conservation scientists, “to strengthen ties across the region and allow for a community of thinkers to have a platform to discuss their research and ideas… and enable governments to make evidence-based decisions that protect biodiversity”.

Establishing professional relations between researchers in developing and developed economies will be essential for forwarding conservation science and improving its application, for minimising biodiversity loss in this region.

I very much look forward to making contact with colleagues from different countries that face similar conservation challenges. I also believe that the conference will help me to develop my understanding and skills for addressing these challenges and develop my research within a constructive, critical forum of scientists who are undergoing a similar process to the one that I am undergoing as a PhD candidate.

The bulk of the funding comes from The Thomas Foundation, The Australian Research Council, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and The University of Queensland. The conference has been organised by students and staff of the Environmental Decisions Group at The University of Queensland.

Student Conference on Conservation Science

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Is it art? Extreme Australian summer heat finds new colours

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology’s interactive weather forecasting chart has added new colours to extend its previous temperature range that had previously been capped at 50 degrees Celsius. The palette now includes deep purple and pink, which extend the range to 54°C – about 130° Fahrenheit. They have had to extend the colour range to accommodate the hotter temperatures that we are experiencing, beyond the previous all-time maximum temperature of 50.7°C reached on January 2, 1960 at Oodnadatta Airport in South Australia

Australia's weather forecasting service now sees in deep purple and pink

Interactive weather forecast for today – projection made Tuesday 8th Jan 2013. 
Source: Bureau of Meteorology

And last Monday we set a new national average maximum of 40.33 °C. While it was hot, we must remember that it has been hot before. The previous record was from 1972, just 0.16°C cooler. We have, for a long time, been a land of heatwaves and extremes. Now, this trend is getting stronger.

I’m grateful to hear the our prime minister has her head around the idea: “Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change, weather doesn’t work like that, we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions.”

And we are. We have never measured such a long, widespread, and severe heat wave in Australia as we have in the last week. The bushfires that are blazing around the country (and the lives affected) and the changes we are observing in rainfalls, stream flows — even flowering times — are a reminder that the global changes that surround us change the way we have to think and act, both in what we are doing to mitigate climate change, and in how we adapt ourselves and the ecosystems with which we share our land to the changes that are already under way.  For we are not the same, and nature is dynamic.

Click here for a neat report from the Climate Commission which present some further details.

Maximum temperature map for Australia, January 8th 2013

Maximum temperature map for Australia, January 8th 2013. Source: Bureau of Meteorology

Heatwave in Australia : Bushfires in South Wales

A fire danger rating sign near a blaze in south-eastern Australia. Many parts have been given a ‘catastrophic fire danger’ rating, meaning that if fires break out they will be uncontrollable and fast-moving, so residents should evacuate. Photo from http://www.guardian.co.uk/

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