BOOK TITLE: The Australia Times - TAT Geo magazine. Volume 1, issue 2

Vol. 1 No. 2 August 2014
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
EARTH NEWS .......................................... 4
THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD..................... 16
WIND ENERGY ...................................... 42
MAKEUP ................................................ 48
FROM THE LAB ...................................... 55
SPECIES FACT FILE: PLATYPUS ................. 62
FOREST CORNER ................................... 70
We aim to inform, entertain, teach, encourage, educate and support the community at
large by facilitating communication between all Australians. By providing the opportuni-
ty for all opinions to be shared on a single website.
This world will never cease to amaze me. In this issue
alone I have been puzzled by the platypus (did you know
their fur is thicker than that of a polar bear?), I have delved
into lab research (sex drive in sh of all things!) and I have
been transported to the Italian Alps to explore biodiversity
in plants.
But what astonishes me even more is the passion of
my contributors and readers. It is inspiring to see citizen
science at work, with each article enriching our interest
in the world around us. This is exactly what TAT GEO
is all about. With an appreciation of scientic research
and discovery, GEO aims to raise awareness and inspire
interest in protecting nature.
I invite you to go on a tour of discovery through our
second issue. Ladies let me draw your attention to the
sustainable living column where you will nd an article
on homemade makeup. For the budding scientists, there
is a continuation of climate change related topics from the
rst issue.
If you wish to contribute anything from writing to
photography you are most welcome! Please send me an
email at
From the Editor,
Lauren Shearman
from the editor
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Earth NEws
Researchers have gathered compelling evidence that chimpanzees use gestures
to communicate in a manner similar to human language. After18 months observing
a group of wild chimpanzees in the Budongo rainforest of Uganda, researchers
have determined that chimpanzees use 66 gestures to communicate 19 meanings.
The exible, goal-oriented and intentional meanings of the chimp ‘language’ are
missing in most animal communication systems, including great ape vocalization.
While previous research reveals that apes and monkeys are able to comprehend
the call of another animal, the gestures are used intentionally to communicate
The ndings of this unique eld
study have spurred interest into the
origins of human language.
Leading the research was Dr
Catherine Hobaiter who told BBC
News “The big message [from
this study] is that there is another
species out there that is meaningful
in its communication, so that’s not
unique to humans...I don’t think
we’re quite as set apart as we
would perhaps like to think we
The research is published in the
journal Current Biology
Monkey Business: Researchers translate the chimpanzee language.
Photo credit: Hobaiter and Byrne, Current Biology (2014)
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Fungal pathogens are among the greatest
parasitic threats to biodiversity and are responsible
for the declines of many taxa, including bats, corals,
bees, snakes and amphibians.
Jason Rohr from the University of South
Florida and his colleagues have uncovered ways
that species could protect themselves against infection
using behavioural or immunological responses.
The study, published in Current Biology,
began with spraying dead fungus on three different
frog species as a method of vaccination. The killer
fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, causes
Chytridiomycosis. This is a disease that causes
heart failure and dehydration by increasing the
thickness of the amphibians’ skin.
Fungicides are only a short-term option to ghting
Chytrids, additionally the chemicals are harmful to
other organisms too. A vaccine should have a long
lasting and specic effect on the amphibians.
The results from the vaccination study found three
frog species acquired resistance to the killer fungus
after repeated exposures. In a behavioural resistance
experiment, at least one species also learned to avoid
the infectious fungus altogether.
Rohr has hopes of vaccinating wild amphibians
by spraying the dead fungus into their habitats.
According to Rohr, the vaccination technique,
“holds promise against white nose syndrome
in bats and lots of other diseases, such as those
affecting snakes and bees.”
Masked tree frog head.
Photo credit: Charlesjsharp via Wikimedia Commons
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Scientists are concerned that prolonged exposure to a commonly used pesticide is negatively affecting
bumblebee foraging behaviour.
Results of the recent study, published in Functional Ecology, found that not only does the pesticide
affect an individual bee’s ability to forage but also alters the species of ower they visit, which then affects
colony survival.
Photo credit: P7r7, via Wikimedia Commons.
The pollination services provided by these insects
are of vital importance to food security. It has been
estimated that approximately one mouthful in
three of our diet benets from bee pollination.
When bumblebees forage for nectar pollen
becomes stuck on their furry coats, and spreads
when they travel from ower to ower. Bumblebees
will also deliberately vibrate their wings to release
pollen from owers, assisting the pollination process.
Additionally, some pollen is taken to the nest as a
food source for the colony.
Using radio tags, the study monitored the activity of
259 bumblebees from 40 colonies. Researchers from
Imperial College London and the University
of Guelph followed the movement of the bees,
measuring pollen collection and documenting ower
The researchers exposed the bees to two types
of pesticide, alongside a control group that had no
pesticide exposure. The results found that the bees
exposed to the chemical imidacloprid had a lower
foraging performance, bringing back signicantly
less pollen than the control bees. Interestingly, it was
also observed that colonies compensated for the
decrease in pollen by sending out more foragers.
Another important nding was evidence of
behavioural impairment. Control bees gained
foraging experience (measured by their performance
increase) while bees exposed to imidacloprid as
they became worse over time. The conclusion of the
study outlines that the behavioural effects could have
serious implications for colony growth and survival.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
A new study suggests that seals are drawn to
offshore wind farms and underwater pipelines. The
manmade structures are possibly serving as articial
reefs, which become hunting grounds for the seals.
Over 100 harbour seals (Halichoerus grypus)
along the British and Dutch coasts of the North Sea
were GPS tagged and monitored.
The research team, led by Deborah Russell
from the University of St. Andrews, found
that 11 harbor seals are regularly visiting two
active wind farms: Alpha Ventus in Germany and
Sheringham Shoal in the southeast U.K.
The repeated visits suggest successful foraging
behaviour. This allowed researchers to deduce the
mammals are attracted to and utilize the renewable
energy structures.
The study is one of the rst to show evidence e
of marine mammals feeding at wind farms and is
published in the online journal Current Biology
Further investigations are required to understand
the effects that the new hunting ground will have on
prey species populations. It is unclear whether the
turbines are increasing the number of prey species,
or only be concentrating the number of prey.
Photo credit: David Dixon, via Wikimedia Commons.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Ecosystems must cope with both changes in climate as well as anthropogenic threats.
Photo credit: Steven Sandner
As global temperatures rise, we see more extremes in the weather: droughts, erratic rain patterns, heat
waves, oods, cyclones and wildres. Glaciers are shrinking almost worldwide. Permafrost is thawing
in high latitude and high elevation regions. Levels are rising in the oceans and its chemical composition
So how is nature coping?
The current rates of extinction are about 1000 times what scientists would expect. These are higher than
previously predicted and likely still underestimated. They are also poised to increase.
Warming climate affects habitats, geographical ranges, available food and ultimately, survival.
Each species affected has a domino effect on those around it.
Krill (order Euphausiacea) for example, nd food and refuge on the underside of ice sheets. Now their
populations are decreasing, with some areas reporting losses of as much as 80% over the last 30 years. Krill
is the southern ocean’s main source of food.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Adélie penguins spend their winters on the rapidly declining
Antarctic pack ice.
The numbers of adélie penguins (Pygoscelis
adeliae), who feed on krill, are retreating. They have
to migrate further to nd food and expend energy
that would otherwise be spent on breeding and
raising young.
Coral is sensitive to changes in ocean temperature
and worldwide is in trouble. Its bleaching is well
documented in places such as the Great Barrier Reef,
but this doesn’t just mean scuba diving won’t be as
Corals live in symbiosis with the algal cells in its
tissues that are responsible for its colour. The algae
give the corals sugar; corals give algae nutrients and
protection. When it’s too hot the algae can’t make
sugar, so the corals kick them out. Two species are
in trouble.
Animals that are dependent on the coral, such
as the orange-spotted lesh (Oxymonacanthus
longirostris), are also suffering. Three species are in
trouble, and so on.
The pace of warming in the oceans is larger than
in terrestrial environments, therefore change here
may be most marked. Ocean acidication slows the
nutrients that fuel all marine life.
But nature is battling back.
“Most of the models that ecologists are putting
out are assuming that there’s no adaptive capacity.
And that’s silly,” Ary Hoffmann, a geneticist at the
University of Melbourne and the co-author of an
evolutionary climate change review, told National
Geographic. “Organisms are not static.”
Species are moving their geographical distribution
to deeper waters, further north, or to higher altitudes.
The winners will be those that expand their ranges,
like many weeds, pests and invasive species.
Bleached Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis) on the Great
Barrier Reef, Queensland.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The quino checkerspot butterfly may be among the first butterfly
species to change both its habitat and its diet as a response to
climate change.
The endangered quino checkerspot buttery
(Euphydryas editha quino) is known for being
threatened by climate change. Many experts believed
it was doomed.
But a recent report from Buttery Conservation’s
symposium in England demonstrated it had shifted
its range to higher altitudes and had also learnt to
lay its eggs on a new host plant.
Even trees are on the run. Tropical Andean tree
species are moving upward 2.5 to 3.5 metres a year.
It is not, however, fast enough.
Species are also changing their timings. Plants
are owering earlier; birds are nesting, breeding
and migrating earlier.
How do species adapt?
To demonstrate the mechanisms used let’s look
to a recent study, which may improve the dismal
predictions of demise for coral reef ecosystems.
Corals (Acropora hyacinthus) were reciprocally
transplanted between reef sites with varying
temperatures. The corals from cooler pools became,
over time, better able to cope with unusually hot
The study showed reef corals can adapt in two
different ways: phenotypic plasticity, where corals
were able to adapt to hotter water without any
change in their genes. And genetic evolution, where
the corals that were native to the hot pools were able
to tolerate the heat better than the ones transplanted.
Determining whether phenotypic changes are
due to plastic or genetic responses is tough. Many
longitudinal studies of climate change response have
been misinterpreted as having genetic underpinnings,
which are now attributed to plastic changes.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Tawny owls were placed on a scale based on their colour. These lighter ones (left) are becoming less frequent.
One example of genetic evolution is a study of
wild tawny owls (Strix aluco) in Finland. These
owls, which can be grey or brown, became much
more common as winters encountered less snowfall.
Because only genes determine the owl’s colour, this
response can be attributed to microevolution.
Evidence for genetic adaptation to climate change
is still relatively scarce. This is likely to be attributable
to the lack of actual tests rather than lack of its
One reason for the scant data is that genetic
change takes a long time to study – these tawny
owls were studied for 28 years, and nationwide
observations were made over 48 years.
What’s more, it’s hard to determine the specic
environmental driver.
Research rarely involves the testing and exclusion
of other potential elements, and there are many
environmental changes happening that can shape
phenotypic responses.
Climate change isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s
occurring at a time of intense pressure from other
factors. With human population booming, our
ever-growing demand induces habitat destruction,
deforestation, over-harvesting and pollution. We
have eliminated top predators and other large-bodied
species across most continents. Ocean depletion,
chronic hydrological changes and invasive species
cause acute stress.
Whether these factors affect overlapping species
or broadly different ones, whether they will act
synergistically, or what the knock-on effects will be,
no one really knows.
We have messed up the balance so aggressively
and so rapidly that species are sent reeling; struggling
for survival.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
From the biggest elephant to the smallest fungi, all
varieties of life are affected by the changing climate
Photo credit: Steven Sandner
What is apparent is that the temperature increase
is happening too fast for some species to survive.
Those least likely to keep up will be species with
long lives, as they have fewer generations to evolve,
compared to species with short lives, like fruit ies.
Long-lived species with low genetic variability,
such as many rare mammals, will also have less
adaptive ability.
Those at most risk are species highly specialised in
what they eat or where they live, koalas (Phascolarctos
cinereus) for instance, and those with little capacity
for adaptation. Some, like tropical lizards, already
exist close to their upper thermal thresholds. Others,
like animal and plant species on mountaintops, have
nowhere left to go.
Because we know very little about the biodiversity
of life, it is hard to tell the peril species are in and
what damage might already have been done.
Tropical regions, with their difcult terrain and
rough jungle, are understudied because they have
been mostly inaccessible to science. In the sea, there
are likely three to nine times more species awaiting
In terms of bacterial, archeal and viral species,
however, our ignorance is even greater. A virtually
unknown frontier, it’s believed we know less than
0.1%, of the diversity.
Prochlorococcus, a class of marine bacteria, are
considered likely the most abundant organisms on
Earth. They are responsible for the oxygen in an
estimated one in ve breaths, reduce atmospheric
CO2 and lie at the base of the food chain. Our lives
depend upon them, yet we’ve only known they even
exist for less than 30 years.
Were better knowledge available, it would be
possible to map out where help is needed.
We can do this by sharing data. Better estimates
of species’ identication and movements can be
achieved through strategies like DNA barcoding
and citizen science.
Apps such as iNaturalist allow amateurs to upload
observations from smartphones and skilled observers
then catalogue them from the photos provided. The
fastest growth in understanding distributions comes
from large numbers of these amateurs.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Understanding which species need help can
inform where human action is necessary.
Intervention could include connecting fragmented
habitats, transporting seeds or individuals to different
populations, and crossbreeding.
It can also help identify where protection is
The rate at which mammals, birds and amphibians
have slid toward extinction over the past four
decades would have been 20% higher were it not
for conservation efforts.
Those with more than 50% of their important sites
protected are sliding toward extinction only half as
rapidly as those with less than 50% of their important
sites preserved.
Destruction of natural habitats is the major threat to
species, so it is imperative we increase conservation,
especially that of the ocean where security lags
behind land.
The effect climate disruption will have on extinction
rates has produced a vast range of estimates. All are
The process is wiping out species that are the
masterpieces of thousands to millions of years of
evolution. Our ignorance means many will be lost
before we’ve even discovered them.
Each exquisite life form is interlocked in ecosystems
that impact our own lives in ways we cannot even
begin to imagine.
We must preserve life. It is our responsibility, as
those that have well and truly devastated it in the rst
Picture 1 Michel C, “Antarctica 2013: Journey to
the Crystal Desert”, Flickr, copyright 2013 under an
attribution license, https://ic.kr/p/dKFFLf
Picture 2 Kieffer M, “Bleached Staghorn Coral”, Flickr,
copyright 2009 under an attribution sharealike license,
Picture 3 Pacic Southwest Region, “Endangered
Quino Checkerspot Buttery”, Flickr, copyright 2010
under an attribution license, https://ic.kr/p/8HqNRb
Picture 4/5 from left to right Paul C, “Tawny Owl -
CNP_1299”, Flickr, copyright 2010 under an attribution
license, https://ic.kr/p/bBg5gP
Trimming P, “Florence”, Flickr, copyright 2011 under
an attribution license, https://ic.kr/p/9n63W9
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Barcode of Life Staff. What is DNA barcoding?
Barcode of Life. http://www.barcodeoife.org/content/
about/what-dna-barcoding. Accessed July 26, 2014.
Buttery Conservation Staff. Rare buttery dees
climate change. Buttery Conservation. http://buttery-
change.html. Published April 4, 2014. Accessed July 26,
Catanoso J. Rain forest plants race to outrun
global warning. National Geographic. http://news.
climate-change-amazon-rain-forest-science/. Published
September 15, 2013. Accessed July 26, 2014.
Dell’Amore C. 7 species hit hard by climate
change - including one that’s already extinct. National
Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/
change-ipcc-animals-science-environment/. Published
March 31, 2014. Accessed 26 July, 2014.
Feeley, KJ, Silman MR, Bush MB, et al. Upslope
migration of Andean trees. Journal of Biogeography,
Field CB, Barros VR, Dokken KJ, et al. IPCC, 2014:
Summary for policymakers. Climate Change 2014:
Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global
and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II
to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, 2014:1-32. http://www.
FINAL.pdf. Accessed 26 July, 2014.
Hinder SL, Gravenor MB, Edwards M, et al. Multi-
decadal range changes vs. thermal adaptation for north
east Atlantic oceanic copepods in the face of climate
change. Global Change Biology, 2014;20(1),140-146.
Hoffmann A. Researcher prole. University of
Melbourne. http://genetics.unimelb.edu.au/person/
academics/ah.html. Updated October 3, 2013. Accessed
July 26, 2014.
Hoffmann AA, Sgrò CM. Climate change and
evolutionary adaptation. Nature, 2011;470(7335):479-
iNaturalist Staff. Homepage. iNaturalist. http://www.
inaturalist.org/. Accessed July 26, 2014.
Jackson J. How we wrecked the ocean [Video]. TED
Talks. http://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_jackson.
Filmed April, 2010. Accessed July 26, 2014.
Karell P, Ahola K, Karstinen T, Valkama J, Brommer
JE. Climate change drives microevolution in a wild bird.
Nature Communications, 2011;2:208.
Marris E. How a few species are hacking climate
change. National Geographic. http://news.
Published May 6, 2014. Accessed July 26, 2014.
Merilä J, Hendry AP. Climate change, adaptation,
and phenotypic plasticity: the problem and the evidence.
Evolutionary applications, 2014;7(1):1-14.
Palca J. The most important microbe you’ve never
heard of. NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/
story.php?storyId=91448837. Published June 12, 2008.
Accessed July 26, 2014.
Palumbi SR, Barshis DJ, Traylor-Knowles N, Bay RA.
Mechanisms of reef coral resistance to future climate
change. Science, 2014;344(6186):895-898.
Pimm SL, Jenkins CN, Abell R, et al. The biodiversity
of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and
protection. Science, 2014; 344(6187), 1246752.
RiAus Staff. A week in science - are the animals
of Antarctica doomed? [Video]. RiAus. http://
Animals%20of%20Antarctica. Published June 27, 2014.
Accessed July 26, 2014.
Wilson EO. My wish: build the encyclopedia of life
[Video]. TED Talks. http://www.ted.com/talks/e_o_
wilson_on_saving_life_on_earth. Filmed March, 2007.
Accessed July 26, 2014.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The Great Ocean Road
part of australia’s NatioNal Heritage.
The Great Ocean Road
part of australia’s NatioNal Heritage.
The curves of the Great Ocean Road as viewed from Teddy’s Lookout
south of Lorne in Victoria, Australia. Source: Wikipedia Commons
The Great Ocean Road -
Victoria, Australia
The Great Ocean Road begins at
Torquay and extends 243 kilometres
westward to end at Allansford, near
The road follows the coastline, known
colloquially as the Surf Coast, between
Torquay and Cape Otway. The section
to the west of the cape is known as the
Shipwreck Coast.
Along these sections, travellers have
magnicent views of Bass Strait and the
Southern Ocean.
In parts, the road leads inland
through rain forests and in other
sections, skirts beaches and cliffs of
sandstone and limestone that are
particularly vulnerable to erosion.
Ocean waves, eroding the soft rock
of the cliffs, have created many unusual
rock features.
Photo Source: Wikipedia
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The Great Ocean Road
part of australia’s NatioNal Heritage.
The Great Ocean Road
part of australia’s NatioNal Heritage.
The Great Ocean Road was built
by returned soldiers as a memorial
to lives lost in World War 1. It was
ofcially opened in 1922.
Since then, the road has been
susceptible to the natural elements.
In 1960, the section at
Princetown was partially washed
away by water during severe
Landslides occurred along
sections of the road in 1964 and
In 1962 and 1964, the road
was closed due to bushres in the
nearby coastal terrain.
One section of the overhanging
cliffs collapsed in 2011, due to
heavy rain.
In 2011, The Great Ocean
Road was added to the Australian
National Heritage list.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The Twelve Apostles are a collection of limestone stacks offshore from the Port Campbell National Park.
As with the other features, they were formed by erosion due to the harsh and extreme weather conditions
coming from the Southern Ocean.
The process began when soft limestone cliffs were gradually eroded, and caves formed in the cliffs. In
time, these became merely arches and when the arches collapsed, only the stacks remained. Some of the
stacks are up to 45m high.
Although called the Twelve Apostles, there were only ever nine stacks. Back in July of 2005, a 50m high
pillar collapsed, leaving only eight
still standing.
The rate of erosion at the base
of the limestone stacks is estimated
at 2 cm per year.
They are protected by the
Twelve Apostles Marine National
Park, which covers 7500 ha and
runs along 17 km of stunning
coastline. As well as the above
water beauty, the park protects
some of Victoria’s most dramatic
underwater scenery. Spectacular
arches, canyons, ssures, gutters
and deep sloping reefs make up
the environment below the waves.
Photo by F.W. Gregory
The Twelve Apostles in 2002, before the collapse
of the leftmost stack. Source: Wikipedia Commons
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The Razorback is yet another rock formation that one can view when visiting the Loch Ard Gorge precinct.
The name is given to a limestone stack that stands in a cove that is constantly subjected to the forces of wind
and water erosion of the Southern Ocean. If you spend a few minutes watching the waves crash against
the coastline, you will notice another cave forming in the cliff face, which is likely to one day form into a
blowhole, or into another arch.
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Source: Wikipedia
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Loch Ard Gorge is named after the clipper ship, Loch Ard, which ran aground on nearby Muttonbird
Island in 1878. The vessel was nearing the end of its three-month journey from England to Australia.
It is a visible example of the process of erosion in action. The arch of the nearby Island Archway collapsed
in 2009, and the feature now appears as two unconnected rock stacks. They have since been ofcially
named Tom and Eva after the two teenage survivors of the Loch Ard shipwreck.
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Some rights reserved by Andrea Schaffer
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Some rights reserved by Paleontour
The Island Arch before the centre collapsed.
Source: Flickr
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The two limestone stacks known as Tom and Eva, which are the
remnants of the Island Arch, are evidence of erosion on the surf coast.
The central section of the arch that is now merely a space between
the two limestone stacks, collapsed in June 2009.
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The blowhole is one of ve spots of interest in the Loch Ard Gorge
precinct. It is the result of constant erosion of the sea against the limestone
cliffs, along with the seepage of surface rainwater cutting through the
limestone cliffs, which have caused it to cave in over the tunnel that the
ocean has been carving. The blowhole here is particularly loud; as one
can hear the waves churn through the chamber of the blowhole and
resonate against its limestone walls.
Ocean swells rush through this tunnel which is approximately 100
meters from the sea producing spray and the booming noise.
Some rights reserved by Andrea Schaffer
Above - The Blowhole Source: Flickr
Below - From above Thunder Cave looking seaward. Source: FW Gregory Right - Thunder Cave
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Broken Head
Sherbrook Creek
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Sherbrook Creek
Sherbrook Creek
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
This natural rock formation formed through erosion. The arch is one of several rock formations
in the general area. While in other parts of the world it may be considered something of a wonder,
along this particular coastline, it is reduced to something of a footnote. There is no means to access
the arch itself without putting oneself in a bit of peril, and one can get up close and personal with it
from the water on chartered boats. A pathway leads to a viewing platform which provides a single
perspective of this natural arch.
London Bridge
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
London Arch
London Bridge was a naturally formed double-
span bridge in the Port Campbell National Park.
In early 1990, the arch closer to the shoreline
collapsed unexpectedly and it became a bridge
without a middle span. It is now referred to as
London Arch. Photo Source: Wikipedia
London Bridge just after the span collapsed in 1990.
Photo Source: Wikipedia
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The Grotto is a geological
formation created when sinkholes
in the limestone cliffs met with a
receding cliff line. It is located 3
km east of Peterborough.
Wooden stairs wind down the
cliff face and there are viewing
platforms at several places. At
the bottom, when it is low tide,
the sea is visible beyond a pool
of trapped water. The Grotto is a
naturally carved out cave, which
stands up about halfway from sea
level up the cliff.
The Grotto
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The Bay of Martyrs is an open, 2.5 km long, south-west facing bay containing numerous reefs and sea
stacks. The shoreline is composed predominantly of 10m high, red limestone bluffs. Within the bay are
several smaller bays and beaches, two of which are named Massacre Bay and Crofts Bay.
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Worm Bay is a small gap in the limestone bluffs located on the eastern side of the Bay of Martyrs. It lies
just off the Great Ocean Road and there are car parks at both ends of the 100m long beach. Steps lead
down to the beach from the 10m high limestone bluffs.
The beach faces west and is partially protected by two headlands and the numerous reefs in the Bay of
Martyrs. Waves tend to be low in the bay and surge up the beach face.
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Just west of Peterborough, off the Great Ocean
Road, the Bay of Islands car park provides excellent
views of this remarkable group of islands.
The Bay of islands stretches for 33 km, from
Peterborough, almost to Warrnambool. The sculpted
coastline has its origins around 10-20 million
years ago when billions of tiny skeletal fragments
accumulated beneath the sea gradually creating
limestone formations. The sea then retreated leaving
the soft limestone exposed above sea-level to violent
seas and strong winds which have carved out some
remarkable features.
The ancient limestone towers in the Bay of Islands
appear to oat in the ocean and surround the viewer.
Source: Flickr
Some rights reserved by Ian Sutton
Photo by F.W. Gregory
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo Source: Wikipedia
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Flickr © 2012 under attribution licence
Wind energy:
the cheap and
efficient renewable
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Photo Credit: Tennessee Valley
Authority via Wikimedia Commons
Renewable energy is a hotter topic of conversation
now than it has ever been. Earlier this year, the
American Association for the Advancement of
Science (AAAS) declared that the link between
greenhouse gas emissions and climate change is as
strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.
Right now, Australian politicians are reviewing the
Renewable Energy Target, which aims to derive 20%
of Australian energy from renewable sources by
2020. Whatever politicians decide for our climate,
we can be sure of one thing: it will be difcult to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions without reducing
our use of fossil fuels. So what renewable energy
source should we turn to? Many investors are nding
their answer in the wind.
Wind energy is harvested using wind turbines,
which look a little like pinwheels only far bigger. One
wind turbine can be as tall as a twenty-storey building,
complete with three blades, each sixty-metres long.
The wind spins the blades, the blades turn a shaft
connected to a generator, and the generator converts
this kinetic energy into electricity. Compared to other
sources of energy, wind is cheap. According to the
Clean Energy Council, wind energy is the currently
the cheapest energy technology that can be rolled
out on a large scale. Once a wind turbine is erected,
the operational costs are close to zero. Furthermore,
advances in technology are making wind turbines
cheaper than ever to construct. The conversion of
wind energy to electricity produces no air or water
pollution and no greenhouse gas emissions. So, is
there a catch?
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The most obvious weakness of using wind energy is that the wind varies. No matter how strategically
wind farms are positioned, it is not possible to avoid wind variation. One way to resolve this issue is to
adjust the proportion of electricity being supplied by wind farms on a regular basis. In New South Wales,
this is done every ve minutes. If it is windy, wind energy displaces other energy sources, such as hydro-
power, gas or coal. When it is not windy, the system reverts to using these other energy sources.
What wind energy may lack in reliability, it makes up for in its incredible efciency. It may seem surprising,
but wind turbines can generate electricity more efciently than coal power stations and just as efciently as
gas power stations. According to the New South Wales Government, wind turbines convert around 45-50%
of the wind passing through their blades into electricity. In comparison, coal stations convert around 29-27%
of their coal into electricity, and gas stations convert around 32-50%. In less than one year of operation, a
wind farm produces more energy than was used in its construction.
Photo Credit: Kunal991 via Wikimedia Commons
ARE wINd TuRbINES HARmful To wIldlIfE?
The threat of wind turbines to wildlife can be a cause for concern. On multiple occasions, it has caused
enough concern to halt the development of a wind farm. Researchers are continuing to investigate how
dangerous wind turbines can be. Birds and bats can be killed when they y into wind turbines, and some
migratory species will avoid ying near wind turbines. On the one hand, it can be argued that more birds
are killed by high-rise buildings than wind turbines. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that the
feeding, breeding and survival of bird populations can be adversely affected by the presence of wind
farms. This means that wind farm sites need to be chosen carefully, bearing in mind the needs of local and
migrating species.
A report by the Victorian Department of Health released earlier this year, compared the noise of wind
turbines with other environmental noise. The sound level of a wind farm from 500 to 1000 metres away is
35 to 45 dBA (A-weighted decibels). In comparison, a quiet bedroom is 20 to 25 dBA, a rural night-time
background is 20 to 40 dBA, and a car travelling at 64 km/h around 100 metres away is 55 dBA. In other
words, if a wind farm is built somewhere in your area it will make noise, but less noise than a busy road.
The particular type of noise made by wind farms may also be a problem to nearby residents. According
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
to the same report, the usual ‘swish’ of wind turbines
can occasionally become more of a ‘beating’ or
‘thumping’ noise. There can also sometimes be
high frequency whining noises. Again, while these
should not be particularly loud, they could become
irritating. The good news is that it should be possible
to minimise these weird effects by changing wind
farm operating conditions.
Another issue sometimes raised is that of very
low frequency sound or ‘infrasound’. Some have
claimed that infrasound associated with wind
turbines is a serious health hazard. This is a complete
myth. Infrasound is far more commonplace in our
environment than many people realise, in waves,
waterfalls, engines, purring cats and even our own
heartbeat. Infrasound levels are only damaging to our
health at extremely high levels, i.e. above the levels
of perception. Infrasound levels at residences near
wind farms are well below the level of perception,
and no higher than levels in other rural and urban
Flickr © 2012 under attribution licence
To date, the National Health and Medical Research Council have rejected all claims of adverse effects of
wind farms on human health. The only exception is an effect termed ‘annoyance’, although the evidence
for this is still relatively weak. This is probably due to the noise of wind turbines, perhaps combined with
pre-existing anxieties about wind farm development. As stated by the Australian Medical Association, “the
individual’s response to a noise can contribute more to annoyance and related health effects than the level or
characteristics of the noise itself”. This is not to say that the annoyance should not be taken seriously. Anyone
who has tried to sleep within earshot of a dripping tap, or complete an exam next to someone with hiccups,
will know just how real and frustrating noises can become. These ndings do suggest, however, that there is
no need for serious alarm. In contrast, there is strong evidence that burning fossil fuels can have signicant
effects on public health, due to the generation of greenhouse gases, other pollutant emissions and waste
(Australian Medical Association).
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
South Point Wind Farm.
Photo Credit Harvey McDaniel via Wikimedia Commons
Wind farm outside of Canberra.
Flickr © 2014 under attribution licence
In Australia, the amount of wind energy used to generate electricity has doubled in the past ve years.
Victoria’s Macarthur Wind Far m, with 140 turbines, is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and has
the potential to power the equivalent of 220,000 Victorian households. On a world scale, wind turbine
use increased more than 25% each year for the past fteen years (Global Wind Energy Outlook 2012). In
the most ‘ambitious’ scenario for wind industry growth, more than 20% of the world’s electricity could be
supplied by wind in 2050.
We will not necessarily follow this optimistic trajectory. Yet, the demand for renewable energy is growing
and wind energy is the cheapest so far. Currently, wind power supplies around 4% of Australia’s electricity.
Perhaps we can expect to see a much higher gure in the future.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Flickr © 2011 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Flickr © 2010 under attribution licence
Navigating the world of beauty products can
be a tricky and daunting prospect, particularly in
the realm of makeup. Do you pick the cheap stuff
that suits your budget but is probably loaded with
harsh chemicals? How do you know a product has
denitely not been tested on animals? What becomes
of all that waste from the half-used makeup that sits
in your bag?
These days makeup can be cruelty free, made
from natural, skin nourishing minerals and be eco
certied. However, the best way to know exactly what
you’re putting on your skin is to make it yourself.
And it couldn’t be easier. Most of the ingredients you
need you can nd in your kitchen or source easily
from your local health shop.
By making your own products, you’ll know that it
hasn’t been tested on animals, contains only natural
ingredients, it’ll save you a ton of money and will
create less waste – you can even reuse old make up
pots, compacts and tubes.
This is a basic recipe for a powder foundation; it
can be tweaked so it suits your own skin tone. Once
you have gured out the perfect combination for you
make sure you take note of what you used!
¼ cup of arrowroot powder
Cocoa powder
Lavender essential oil
Start with the arrowroot powder and whisk in a
couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder. This will
make a good base. From here, you can slowly add
in half a teaspoon of the other spices until you nd a
combination that matches your complexion. You can
test the colour on your face or the back of your hand.
Finally, add about 12 drops of lavender oil to make
it more of a solid base. Store in a jar and apply with
a brush.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Nutmeg seed
Flickr © 2007 under attribution licence
As with the foundation, you will need to start with
a base of arrowroot powder and can use the same
ingredients for colour, just in different proportions.
For a bronzer, add half a tablespoon of arrowroot
powder to half a tablespoon of cocoa powder and
one teaspoon of cinnamon. This should create a
subtle bronze colour.
With the blusher, just replace the cocoa powder
and cinnamon with dried, powdered beetroot or
hibiscus powder. This will give you varying pink
Adding just a touch of arrowroot powder to cocoa
powder (brown), spirulina (green) or dried beetroot
(pink) will give you a smooth eye shadow.
Again, just like the foundation, you can easily
play around with the proportions of the ingredients
to get your desired shades.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Raw Cinnamon
Flickr © 2006 under attribution licence
With just two ingredients, making your own eyeliner is possibly the most simple and cheap of all homemade
make up products. Just be careful not to get any of them in your eyes!
For brown eyeliner, simply add a pinch of cocoa powder to half a teaspoon of coconut oil. If you want
black eyeliner, just swap the cocoa powder for activated charcoal. If you want to make it a bit thicker, use
equal parts coconut oil and cocoa butter instead.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
2 teaspoons of coconut oil
4 teaspoons of aloe vera gel
1/2 teaspoon of grated beeswax
½ teaspoon of activated charcoal or
cocoa powder
Simply heat the coconut oil, beeswax and aloe
vera gel in a small saucepan until the wax has
completely melted. Then add either the charcoal for
black or cocoa powder for brown mascara. Use a
clean mascara brush or even a soft toothbrush to
Lipstick is one of the most chemical laden beauty
products, but your homemade creation will be
natural, moisturising and will taste great!
For a basic lip balm you will need:
1 teaspoon grated beeswax
1 teaspoon cocoa butter
1 teaspoon coconut oil
Place the ingredients in a glass jar and melt
together by placing in a pan of simmering water.
From here you can add colour and scents.
For red hues use 1/8 teaspoon of beetroot powder
For brown hues, use ¼ teaspoon of cocoa powder
and a pinch of cinnamon or turmeric to alter the
For scent use an essential oil of your choice.
Peppermint is especially tasty.
While the mixture is still liquid, pour into a small
container to set.
Coconut Oil
Flickr © 2010 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
At the end of the day when it’s time to wipe away
your homemade makeup, do so with your own,
natural alternative to petroleum based formulas.
In a small bottle, shake together ¼ cup of witch
hazel and ¼ cup of olive oil. Then just use on a
cotton pad to clean away the day.
As with any of the recipes, it may be best to test a
small amount on your skin before you make a large
amount. Even though the ingredients are entirely
natural, it’s a good idea to check nothing irritates
your skin.
Making your own make up is cheap, easy and
it’s also fun to experiment to create products entirely
unique to your tastes and complexion. It is also a
great environmental option; you’re creating less
waste, using entirely natural ingredients and you can
make exactly what you need. This is a great, simple
way to begin or continue an eco living lifestyle.
Grated Beeswax
Flickr © 2012 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Sex Drive
Channel carrying wastewater
Flickr © 2009 under attribution licence
Chemicals and waste from our drains, gardens, farms and sewage treatment plants can
end up in our local waterways. We all know that this can be harmful for wildlife – but are we
aware of all the possible effects?
While some chemicals have obvious toxic effects on wildlife, some can be harmful in
other ways. There has been increasing concern that this is the case for endocrine-disrupting
chemicals (EDCs). As the name suggests, EDCs are chemicals that can interfere with an animal’s
endocrine system – the collection of glands that secrete hormones directly into the blood or
lymph of an organism. One example of an EDC is 17-ethinyl estradiol (EE2) which is used in
the birth-control pill. Given that sewage treatment does not remove EE2, it inevitably ends up
wherever the sewage goes. Another widely used EDC is trenbolone acetate, a steroid often
used to promote growth in the beef industry. Urine and manure from these cattle farms carries
trenbolone into local waterways. As a result, both EE2 and trenbolone are found in aquatic
environments around the world.
from thE lab:
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
In a recent study, Dr Minna Saaristo (Monash
University) and her colleagues looked at Eastern
mosquitosh living downstream from a sewage
treatment plant. They found that males from this
contaminated site spent more time trying to mate
with females than males from a more pristine site.
While this may not sound so bad, male mosquitosh
are already renowned for attempting to mate around
once every minute. Furthermore, their mating strategy
is to chase their potential mate and try to force
copulation. Besides being potentially exhausting
for both sexes, more time spent mating means less
time for other important activities, such as feeding.
According to other research, harassed females also
produce smaller, less attractive offspring. This could
mean that mosquitosh near the sewage treatment
plant have less successful offspring, as well as lower
chances of survival.
In another study, Dr Saaristo and her colleagues
exposed mosquitosh to trenbolone in aquariums.
Interestingly, the mating behaviour of males exposed
to trenbolone was no different to males that were
not exposed. On the other hand, exposed females
approached males less and spent more time
swimming away from them. This could mean that
increased trenbolone also results in fewer offspring
for these mosquitosh. Based on these ndings, it
seems that the effects of EDCs can vary and may
affect males and females differently.
Other research has found a variety of physiological
effects of EDCs, some more dramatic than those
observed here. This emphasises that the effects of
human activities on wildlife populations may not
always be obvious at a glance. So, while ‘water
pollution’ might make us think of oating dead sh,
it is worth remembering that there can be much more
happening beneath the surface.
Gambusia holbrooki female and male
Flickr © 2012 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Imagine someone left a baby at your doorstep and suddenly you have all the responsibilities of looking
after a new child. Then, as the baby grows, it murders your own children, making sure he/she is your only
priority. Sounds a bit like a horror movie, right? Well, in the animal world, this is just nature; a strategy
known as ‘brood parasitism’.
This rather devious technique of survival is seen in many species of insects and birds, and has been
intensely investigated in the cuckoo bird by Australian National University’s Naomi Langmore and her
colleagues. The team have not only learnt more about the tactful ways that this furtive bird tricks another
into providing for and raising their young, but have also discovered many ways in which this behaviour is
driving the evolution of the cuckoo bird and it’s hosts.
“For every host defence the cuckoo evolves ever better trickery, and this gives rise to a co-evolutionary
arms race,” Langmore explained. In other words, as a host evolves ways to defend itself, such as through
rejecting the brood parasite’s eggs, this drives the evolution of more effective behavioural techniques of the
brood parasite. Pretty cool, huh?
QUT Science and Engineering Faculty Spaces
Flickr © 2011 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
There are in fact ve types of co-evolutionary
arms race between the cuckoo and its hosts, which
Langmore and her colleagues have discovered:
1) Weaponry in the parasite vs. armoury in the
host; for example, as the parasite increases in body
size, so does the host
2) Furtiveness of parasite vs. strategies of host to
expose the parasite; for example, parasites may only
come to lay their egg when the host is absent from
the nest, and hosts may counter-select this through
loud alarm calls that trigger a mobbing attack on the
3) Specialist parasites mimicking hosts vs. hosts
diversifying signatures ; for example, a parasite may
produce young the same colour as the host’s young
so that the host will accept the parasitic young as its
own, but the host may then start producing multi-
coloured young to make this difcult for the parasite
to mimic
4) Generalist parasites mimicking hosts vs. host
favours signatures that force specialization in the
host; for example, a parasite that invades many host
species may produce an egg that is a medium colour
between all host egg colours, and the host may make
their egg colours more specic (e.g. with spots or
multi-coloured) in order to force the host to produce
a more specic egg colouration
5) Parasites using crypsis vs. hosts simplifying
signatures to make the parasite more detectable; for
example, parasites may produce dark eggs that are
unrecognisable at the bottom of a dark nest, and
hosts may counter-select this by producing nests that
allow more lighting to enter in order to detect the
parasitic eggs
Black eared Cuckoo(Chrysococcyx osculans)
Flickr © 2011 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
2011 emale Speckled Warbler (Chthonicola
sagittata) has her work cut out for her in keeping
this monstrous juvenile Black-eared Cuckoo
(Chrysococcyx osculans) fed
One of Langmore and her colleagues’ recent
studies investigated the third and fourth types of co-
evolution in particular, in which it examined how
the mimicry of egg colour inuences the likelihood
of the host rejecting the egg. In a cleverly designed
experiment, the rejection of parasitic eggs was
investigated in three of the cuckoo’s host species: the
white-plumed honeyeater, which is a species found
to be quite a common host among cuckoos within
south-eastern Australia; and the dusky woodswallow
and willie wagtail, which are considered to be less
frequently parasitised by the cuckoo. The method
involved transferring eggs between the host’s nests,
and testing the likelihood of rejection. The eggs may
either be from the same species, thereby simulating
eggs from cuckoos which are highly-mimetic; or from
a different species, simulating eggs from cuckoos
with poor mimicry. The foreign eggs were left in the
host’s nests for ve days.
The results indicated that all three host species
rejected the eggs that came from a different species,
and thereby poorly resemble their own. However, the
white-plumed honeyeater (the species most commonly
parasitised by cuckoos) also rejected foreign eggs
from its own species. That is a pretty good eye, if you
ask me! This means that eggs from this species must
show enough between-clutch variation that allows
parent white-plume honeyeaters to distinguish
its own eggs from that of another white-plumed
honeyeater. Langmore and her colleagues tested
this hypothesis using reectance spectrophotometry,
which supported that white-plumed honeyeaters had
a higher between-clutch variation than the other two
less frequently parasitised host species.
Female Speckled Warbler (Chthonicola sagittata) has her work cut out for her in keeping this monstrous
juvenile Black-eared Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx osculans) fed
Flickr © 2011 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The fact that the most commonly parasitised species is the one with the highest degree of between-clutch
variation suggests that it is brood parasitism that is driving the evolution of this very characteristic. Evolution
may be a contentious topic of discussion among the public, however, among the scientic world, with
neat little studies like this one we can see examples of evolution occurring right in front of our very eyes.
There have been other beautifully designed studies that have shown that the parasite counter-selects the
host’s ability to recognise their eggs by enhancing their mimicry. Moreover, the co-evolutionary arms race
continues! As it turns out, this is not a horror movie at all, but simply the beauty of nature running its course
in one of the most fascinating races the world has seen.
The white-plumed honeyeater is among the cuckoo favourite hosts
Flickr © 2013 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
With webbed feet, rubbery bill and venomous sting, the platypus is one of Australia’s most iconic and
curious creatures. But little is known about this elusive, egg-laying mammal.
As with many Australian species, the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is endemic to Australia and,
along with echidnas it is the only mammal to lay eggs, otherwise known as a monotreme. When rst
discovered, European naturalists thought it impossible that an animal could have the bill of a duck, tail of
a beaver and webbed feet; it was believed to have been a hoax. It may be unusual but the platypus is just
another of Australia’s great natural surprises.
Flickr © 2013 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The platypus lives in freshwater systems from
the high altitudes of Tasmania all the way through
Victoria and New South Wales, to the tropical
rainforests of far northern Queensland. Once found
in the Adelaide Hills, it is now extinct from South
Australia aside from the population introduced
to Kangaroo Island. There is no evidence the
platypus has ever occurred naturally in Western
Australia; and attempts to introduce it there have
been unsuccessful. The success of an introduction is
dependent on rivers, streams and creeks with native
vegetation for shading and cover, and earth banks
in which they create burrows for shelter, protection
and nesting.
With an average length of 50cm, the platypus
is a lot smaller than most imagine. Males tend to
range from 40cm to 63cm and can weigh up to
three kilograms, while females are slightly smaller.
Despite its unusual appearance, the platypus is
perfectly adapted to life in the water. Its brown fur
is thicker than that of a polar bear; the two layers
trap air and as many as 900 hundred hairs can be
found in just one square millimetre of fur. This keeps
them warm and waterproofed while they spend up
to 12 hours a day in the water searching for food.
Platypus Distribution Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Their front webbed feet are used to propel them through the water, while the back feet act as rudders.
They can remain submerged for up to two minutes while they search for food with their sharp claws, which
are also ideal for burrowing. However, these shout limbs are not so well adapted for movement on land, as
such they can appear a lot less graceful out of the water. And that beaver like tail? It stores fat reserves, much
like a camel’s hump, and is a good indication of the health of the mammal. Whilst platypus vocalisations
have not been recorded in the wild, those in captivity have been known to produce a low-pitched growling
when disturbed.
When diving for food, a platypus will close its eyes, ears and nostrils leaving the creature reliant on its
soft, leathery bill. It is equipped with a sixth sense called ‘electroreception’, which helps it detect hidden
prey. It is a feature unique to the platypus and some sh. Feasting on insect larvae, shrimps, water bugs and
tadpoles, the platypus will store its catch in cheek pouches until it reaches the surface where it grinds its meal
between horny plates at the back of the bill.
Platypus Den
Flickr © 2008 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
After mating, a female will typically lay two eggs,
which she will incubate for roughly 10 days. As a
mammal, a young platypus will suckle, but not from
a teat. The mother secretes milk from large mammary
glands under the skin; the young platypus then
feeds from this milk, which ends up on the mother’s
fur. There is no ofcial name for a baby platypus,
but a common suggested name is “platypup”. The
estimated life expectancy of a platypus varies, with
some sources suggesting 4-8 years and others
claiming they can live for up to 20 years. This is
just another example of how little we really do know
about these secretive creatures.
Male platypuses have a hollow spur about 15
millimetres in length on the inside of both hind legs,
which is connected to a venom gland. Since only
the male platypus has this venomous spur, and the
gland peaks during mating season, many suggest it
is normally used in aggressive encounters between
other male platypuses. Research on platypus venom
is difcult to conduct as the animals have been found
not to produce venom in captivity, suggesting that
the venom may also be used to defend against
predators. This venom is known to cause severe
pain in humans; therefore if a platypus needs to be
handled (if it is injured, for example), it should be
picked up by the tail.
Flickr © 2008 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Despite its elusive nature, the platypus is
relatively common and under International Union
for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and has been
listed as Least Concern species. However, this does
not mean this creature is free of challenges. While
invasive species such as the European carp compete
with the platypus for food, degradation of habitat is
the biggest concern for this animal.
Dr Ross Thompson, an ecologist at Monash
University, said to Australian Geographic: “From
about the mid-1960s, there’s been quite a profound
warming and drying trend in Australia and
associated with that trend has been a decline in the
platypus’s range.” As a carnivore, the platypus keeps
populations of other species lower in the food chain
in check. Dr Thompson believes that if the species
is driven from its current range, whole freshwater
ecosystems could be affected.
Furthermore, rising temperatures may drive the
platypus from 30 per cent of its current habitat. The
thick fur coat of the platypus makes it particularly
vulnerable to rising temperatures. “They evolved in
a very cool time in Australia’s history and so they
needed to stay warm in cold water. Unfortunately
they have a real issue with getting rid of heat,” says
Dr Thompson said. His team predicts that rising
temperatures across southeast Australia will radically
reduce the area of viable habitat for the platypus.
Yabbiey traps are also posing a big threat to
platypus, which accounts for around half of all
deaths caused by human activity. Many of these
“opera house” style nets are illegal and can trap and
drown several platypuses at a time.
Even though we have been aware of the platypus’
existence since the 1800s, there is still a lack of
knowledge about the shy and secretive species.
This makes it hard to estimate populations and how
signicantly it is being affected by the above threats.
Even though the platypus is protected by legislation
in all states that forbids them being captured or
killed, except for scientic research, this may not be
enough for its long-term survival.
As a result, the Australian Platypus Conservancy
has been working towards gathering the data
needed to ll in the many gaps. It currently has
a large number of projects and studies running
which focus on recording sightings of the animal
and monitoring its population and distribution in
a variety of locations. It has also launched trials of
alternatively designed yabby traps that are of less
risk to other species.
Male Platypus Spur
Flickr © 2008 under attribution licence
Platypus by Lewin by John Lewin - From a collection at State Library of NSW’s Pictures and Manuscripts Licensed under Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Other projects include reintroducing platypus to areas where it has gone locally extinct,
studies regarding various aspects of its behaviour, education programmes about conservation
issues and community action programmes. They also offer advice on how the public can help
the conservation effort; actions as simple as disposing of litter properly, keeping pets away
from important habitats, conserving water and supporting efforts to improve the environmental
quality of fresh waterways.
If you want to get involved, you can report platypus sightings to the Conservancy yourself or
even organise group watches. All the information on how you can contribute and tips on how
to spot this special animal is on their website: www.platypus.asn.au
The platypus may be common, but this does not mean we can be complacent. By making
an effort to learn more about this unique species, we can manage the recognised threats and
ensure they do not get out of control.
Whilst the platypus may remain one of Australia’s most beautiful mysteries, they are a mystery
worth protecting.
Flickr © 2011 under attribution licence
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Germplasm Banks:
An evolving method for protecting biodiversity
forEst CorNEr
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Germplasm Banks:
An evolving method for protecting biodiversity
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Planet Earth and all of its biomes are currently
facing a biodiversity crisis owing to human activities.
There is a global effort underway to conserve and
protect plant species against the threat of extinction.
It is estimated that between 60,000 to 100,000
terrestrial plant species alone are threatened with
extinction this century, almost one quarter of the
world’s known living terrestrial plants. This article
investigates one method that is being used to conserve
plant species and genetic diversity, the storage of
plant genetic material in germplasm banks.
A germplasm bank is a facility that stores genetic
material. Plant germplasm banks include material
such as seeds, rhizomes (roots) and seedlings. In
addition, they can contain live cultures of fungi which
have symbiotic relationships with plants, and which
plants rely on for germination.
Generally, germplasm banks for plants may be
organised into two categories; collections containing
wild plant varieties and plants with agricultural
value. Within these two categories, a wide range of
storage techniques can be used, depending on the
kind of genetic material being held. This can include
basic fridges, where seeds are cooled to around
-20˚C, to cryopreservation where small plants are
stored in liquid nitrogen at -196˚C.
The rst step in the conservation of plant species in
germplasm banks is collecting the plants themselves.
This usually involves collection of seeds as well as
plant material for identication purposes. A large
amount of knowledge and preparation is required
before going into the eld. Ideally, each collecting
process will be specic for a plant species. This is
because each plant species has different phonological
characteristics; owering time, time when seeds
become mature and dispersal mechanisms.
In addition, tailoring a eld trip to collect
one species is not always economically viable.
Nursery for endangered and rare alpine species
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Conservation projects always have funding limits, and as such the conservation biologist must
maximise the benets that they can gain from going into the eld. Therefore, it is usually best to
go and collect several species at one point in time in one location. This is particularly important
when collecting in remote regions such as alpine habitats.
Once in the eld, other considerations come into play. When collecting plant material for
conservation, a biologist aims to capture the maximum range of genetic diversity possible.
This means you must be careful to take seeds from many different plants, often in different
locations. In addition, plant species may reproduce using rhizomes, which are roots that can
extend metres through the soil. This means that what may appear to be 50 plants could in fact
be one organism. An example of this is bracken (Pteridium genus).
Once seeds are collected they need to be moved to a storage facility very quickly. Otherwise,
they could completely dry out or start to germinate. Either of these can result in reduced seed
quality, thus, the amount of time taken for a seed to reach a storage facility can make the
difference between a healthy and unhealthy seed.
Fritellaria sp. bulbs growing in agar tubes in a fridge, after being germinated several months ago.
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
The collection of seeds for agriculture is a very different process to the collection of wild
species. This is because collection of species closely related to current agricultural varieties,
which are called the primary and secondary genetic pools, are prioritised in collection and
regeneration. In addition, when regenerated wild crop relatives may be regenerated more often
if they have traits that are useful to farmers and other food producers. These include drought
resistance, pest resistance and plant specimens with physically desirable characteristics for
consumption e.g. taste, smell. The uniformity of agricultural crops should be evident on a trip
to your local supermarket.
Owing to the human interest in our own food supply, there is a large amount of money
devoted to research of agricultural plants storage and genetics. This often allows for a
more sophisticated analysis of current collections of agricultural plants, and how these can
be expanded. For example, large databases of genetic information allowed researchers to
conduct a global analysis of three collections of cucumber species in genebanks around the
world. This analysis revealed that there were three separate genetic populations in cucumber
collections from the USA, the Netherlands and China. Information such as this then allows
for the targeting of specic genetic populations, which allows for maximum representation of
a species genetic diversity in a collection. These resources are simply not available for many
botanists that work with non-agricultural plants. Such databases and research also allow for
the deletion of redundant or replicated genetic material.
An example of a remote collecting region in Parco del Margaureis, the Italian Alps
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Once seeds have been collected there are a variety
of methods by which they can be stored. The optimal
storage conditions for seeds depend on their own
seed biology, as well as the environmental triggers
that the plants respond to e.g. shifts in temperature.
However, there are similarities across certain groups
of plant species. For example, for many agricultural
varieties it is known that reducing their moisture
levels to 3-7% and storing them at a temperature of
-20˚C can allow for stable viability of the seeds for
over 25 years.
Storage of wild plant species is often far more
complex and far less researched. This may be
largely owing to the huge diversity of wild plant
species from many different families and genus’ that
can be collected, as opposed to the focus on two or
three genus’ in many agricultural seed banks. Well-
funded facilities can afford to have many different
fridges with different storage temperatures that cater
to different plant species. However, the reality is that
many smaller facilities may a few freezers set at
general temperatures, in which the seeds are placed
in the hope of them surviving long term.
Some Genus’ of plants do not have seeds and so
they must be cryopreserved for long term storage.
This is the case for the Musa genus, or bananas.
To increase their commercial attractiveness many
banana species have had seeds bred out of the fruit.
As a consequence, commercial Bananas are grown
from rhizomes (roots), and not seeds. To store this
genetic material small plantlets must be placed in
freezers or cryopreserved. This is still developing
technology, and currently 1,400 edible and non-
edible varieties of Musa sp. are being successfully
stored at the International Transit Centre at the
Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven in Belgium.
An endangered alpine fern growing under ultraviolet lights. These are ready to be taken into the field.
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Why should we care about the rapid decline of plant diversity globally? There are several compelling
reasons. The reality is that we depend on plants to live, regardless of how removed we may seem from them.
Rubber tree sap is used to make car tyres, plants compressed by millions of years power the computer you
are reading this article on, and plants have numerous applications in medicine. They form the basis of all
food chains and provide us with the air that we breathe. We cannot live without them. Another pertinent
reason is that extinction of a species is irreversible. Thus we are losing a wealth of knowledge that can help
us improve our own technology and that is valuable for its own sake.
Some examples of seed shapes kept for comparison with new material brought into the lab for identification.
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
There are many global initiatives for plant
conservation, but perhaps the most important for
wild plant varieties is the Kew Millennium Seed
Bank Partnership. Begun in 2000, the hub of the
partnership is a nuclear bomb proof facility in
Wakehurst, United Kingdom which plans to contain
25% of the world’s seeds by 2020. They have
currently reached a target of 13% on the writing
of this article. Kew Gardens, in addition to its own
research facilities, has partnerships with and gives
funding to 80 countries around the world.
One of the largest global initiatives for the
protection of crop diversity is the Slavbard Global
Seed Vault. Located on an island in the Slavbard
Archipelago off the Norwegian Coast, this facility
is ambitiously proposing to act as a back up for
the world’s agricultural varieties of seed in a facility
used by all nations. The vault itself consists of three
storage chambers deep inside a mountain, which
provides natural cooling reducing the amount of
energy required to store the seeds contained within.
A large number of nations have currently contributed
to this project, including Australia. Seeds placed
inside the vault are only accessible by the country
that placed them there, which acts as an incentive
for all nations to donate their seed to the vault. The
project is managed by the Norwegian Government,
the Nordic Genetic Resources Centre and the C Crop
Diversity Trust.
Hiking in Parco del Marguareis on the way to a refugio and botanical station.
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Australia is also contributing to this global effort
of plant conservation. For the conservation of wild
species there is the Australian Seed Bank Partnership,
which is a collaborative network of Australia’s
Herbaria. They have several projects running at
the moment, including the target of reaching 1,000
species and restore plant diversity in the Australian
landscape. For conservation of agricultural plants
there are centres such as the Australian Grains
Genebank in Horsham, Victoria which is being built
to hold 180,000 seed samples and is run by the
Department of Environment and Primary Industry.
However, one major problem for Australia is
we have a small population on a large continent
that is described as mega diverse. This means that
in Australia there is an unusually high amount of
species that only live in one place, or are endemic.
This presents botanists with a challenge, as they
have few resources and people with which to collect
species over a vast area. This is in contrast to Europe,
which has a large number of countries in an area
the size of Australia, and many of them have more
seed banks and resources devoted to seed banking
than Australia does. For example, in the Piedemonte
region of Italy there are no less than 18 stations that
collect and store seeds, along with one major seed
The idea of building huge arks to contain all
plant diversity sounds like science ction and is
really exciting. However, there are also limitations
that come with seed banking. Currently, our
understanding of storage methods only allows us to
preserve specic kinds of seeds that contain small
amounts of water when mature. These are called
orthodox seeds. Other seeds that begin to develop
whilst still on the mother plant are called recalcitrant
seeds, and current storage techniques do not work
Another endangered species growing under UV lights.
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
well on these plants. In addition, whilst a seed is in
storage it accumulates constant damage even if being
kept at low temperatures. Thus seeds are constantly
becoming less likely to germinate the longer they are
An additional issue is that ex situ conservation
in seed banks needs to be used in conjunction with
other methods of plant conservation. The plants
grown by the seed bank will not be useful if their
pollinators such as bees, beetles, ants and butteries
are extinct. Similarly, if the symbiotic fungi that plants
use to take nutrients from the soil are not conserved
along with the plants, then the plants will also die or
have reduced capacity for growth. What is required
is preservation of whole ecosystems.
Furthermore, the current conservation efforts in
seed banks concentrate on terrestrial systems. This
means that the ocean’s plants, freshwater plants and
most of the planet’s fungi are not being considered.
This also illustrates the need for seed banks to work
alongside other methods of conservation.
Plant genetic material storage is in many ways
still in its infancy and is an exciting area of scientic
research. It gives us hope for the future of biodiversity
on our planet and that we can take preventative
action to avoid huge extinctions in this century.
Perhaps, most of all, it gives hope that children in
100 or 1,000 years time will be able to run through
a meadow and wonder at the diversity of owers
and grasses, chase after butteries and know that
generations later their children may do the same.
Seeds in a petri dish.
Photo credit: Myriam Amiet-Knottenbelt
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
Thank you to staff at the Banco del Germplasma
in Piemonte, Italy who allowed me to take photos
at their facility and gave me access to important
For a brief introduction to the Kew Millennium
Seed Bank, watch this TED Talk:
Drori, J (2006) Why we’re storing billions of
seeds, [Online], Available: http://www.ted.com/
of_seeds [13 Jul 2014]
For a brief introduction to the Slavbard Global
Seed Vault, watch this TED Talk:
Folwer, C. (2009) One seed at a time, protecting
the future of food, [Online], Available: http://www.
protecting_the_future_of_food [13 Jul 2014]
ESCONET (2009) ESCONET Seed Collecting
Manual for Wild Species.
Smith, RD., Dickie, JB., Linington, SH.,
Pritchard HW. and Probert, RJ. (eds.) (2003) Seed
Conservation: turning science into practice, London:
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Paulsen, TR. et al. (2008) ‘Physical dormancy in
seeds: a game of hide and seek?’, New Phytologist,
vol. 198, pp.496-503.
Colliville et al. (2012) ‘Volatile ngerprints of seeds
of four species indicate the involvement of alcoholic
fermentation, Lipid deroxidation, and Maillard
reactions in seed deterioration during ageing and
desiccation stress’, Journal of Experimental Botany,
vol. 63, no. 18, pp. 6519-6530.
Lv. Y, (2012), ‘Genetic Diversity and Structure of
Cucumber Population (Cucumus Sativus L.)’, PLOS
One, vol. 7, no. 10, e.46919
Heslop-Harrison, JH, and Schwaracher, T. et al.
(2007) ‘Domestication, Genomics and the Future of
the Banana’, Annals of Botany, vol. 100, pp.1073-
Anonymous. (2014), Biodiversity International,
Musa Germplasm Bank Collection, [Online],
Available: http://map.seedmap.org/solutions/
musa-germplasm-collection/ [5 Jul 2014].
Anonymous. (2014), International Musa
Germplasm Plant Centre, [Online], Available:
international-musa-germplasm-transit-centre/ [4 Jul
Anonymous. (2014) About us, [Online],
Available: http://www.seedpartnership.org.au/
about/aboutus [4 Jul 2014]
Anonymous. (2014), 1000 Species, [Online],
Available: http://www.seedpartnership.org.au/
initiatives/1000species [4 Jul 2014]
Anonymous. (2014), About the Millennium Seed
Bank Partnership, [Online], Available: http://www.
partnership [5 Jul 2014]
Anonymous. (2014), Svalbard Global Seed
Vault, [Online], Available: http://www.croptrust.
org/content/svalbard-global-seed-vault [5 Jul
Anonymous. (2014), DEPI Horsham, [Online],
Available: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/agriculture-
centres/dpi-horsham/ [5 Jul 2014]