Tag Archives: ecosystems

Spying on the denizens of the Southern Ocean

Sonar and satellites reveal the fish and other creatures that live far below the surface.

The depths of the ocean still hold great mysteries. At depths between 200 and 1,000 metres live creatures that, taken altogether, weigh as much as 10 billion tonnes.

Rudy Kloser, an expert on echo sounding and deep-sea ecosystems at CSIRO in Hobart, says these creatures are vital but poorly understood. Continue reading Spying on the denizens of the Southern Ocean

Cancer, maths and evolution

Shifting the cancer battleground

 A new French-Australian joint cancer laboratory is forging a new way to study cancer by joining experts from different fields including mathematics, cell biology, evolutionary biology, and behavioural ecology.

Cancer is not only a major cause of human death worldwide, but also a disease that affects all multicellular organisms. Despite this, oncology and other biological sciences such as ecology and evolution have developed in relative isolation, according to Dr Beata Ujvari from the Roles of Cancer in Ecology and Evolution International Associated Laboratory at Deakin University. 

“We know that there is a clear reciprocal interaction between malignant cells and their hosts, with malignant cells evolving in response to the organism’s defence mechanisms,” Beata says.

“Cancer also directly and indirectly impacts the physiology, immunology and behaviour of organisms. But very little is actually known of the evolutionary impact of these complex relationships. We are changing that with this type of research, which has rarely been explored before,” Beata says.

The goal is to transform the understanding of cancer, its origin, how to halt its progression, and to prevent therapeutic failures. At the same time, the role of cancer in ecosystem functioning is something that ecologists need to consider.

Researchers say that cancer’s impact on ecosystems could be significant. It can influence an individual’s competitive and dispersal abilities, susceptibility to pathogens and vulnerability to predation. In some cases, such as the facial tumour disease that afflicts Tasmanian devils, it can heavily impact a species.

The joint laboratory is a collaboration between: Dr Frederic Thomas of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Cancer Research at the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) in France; Deakin University; and the University of Tasmania, Australia. In Australia, the team has partnered with the Tasmanian Government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and Zoos Victoria.

Banner image : Cancer can have a significant impact on species – such as the Tasmanian devil – and even whole ecosystems. Credit: JJ Harrison

Who cares about the blobfish?

Hugh Possingham and his team are making conservation more efficient. They’re helping to save less fashionable threatened species by getting more bang for the bucks donated to cute and cuddly species.

The team of ecologists and mathematicians in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Environmental Decisions (CEED) worked with the New Zealand government to assess how to better spend money that is donated to conservation. They’ve shown that by protecting habitats shared by several different species, the money donated to charismatic ones can be stretched further to save other species as well.

Could this koala help save less cute species? 9credit: Liana Joseph
Could this koala help save less cute species? (credit: Liana Joseph)

“The way we currently attempt to save species is inefficient, choosing species that are popular or charismatic, like koalas and tigers, over those that are less well known or even ugly, like the blobfish,” says Hugh, ARC Laureate Fellow and Director of CEED.

Continue reading Who cares about the blobfish?

Virtual management of the world’s oceans

New computer models are challenging the conventional wisdom in marine science.

Virtual management of the world’s oceans
Beth Fulton’s fisheries models are used all over the world. Credit: Istockphoto
These models have revealed for example that: large populations of jellyfish and squid indicate a marine ecosystem in trouble; not all fish populations increase when fishing is reduced—some species actually decline; and, sharks and tuna can use jellyfish as junk food to see them through lean periods.

The models were developed by the 2007 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, Dr Beth Fulton, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart.
Continue reading Virtual management of the world’s oceans

Fresh Science 2010

Each year we identify early-career scientists with a discovery and bring them to Melbourne for a communication boot camp. Here are some of their stories.

More at www.freshscience.org.au

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens
Jacek Jasieniak sprinkling quantum dots. Credit: Jacek Jasieniak

Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.

Cling wrap captures CO2
Colin Scholes operates a test rig for his carbon capture membrane. Credit: CO2 CRC

Cling wrap captures CO2

High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”

Continue reading Fresh Science 2010

Ocean acidification threatens marine ecosystems

Ocean acidification, caused by increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean, poses a serious threat to marine ecosystems.

Increasing acidity affects the ability of some planktonic organisms to form shells, and is expected to change the species composition of plankton, with flow-on effects to higher levels of the food web.

Continue reading Ocean acidification threatens marine ecosystems

Antarctica under threat

Climate change will impose a complex web of threats and interactions on the plants and animals living in the ice-free areas of Antarctica.

Increased temperatures may promote growth and reproduction, but may also contribute to drought and associated effects. These scenarios are explored in a new book, Trends in Antarctic Terrestrial and Limnetic Ecosystems: Antarctica as a Global Indicator, co-edited by Australian Antarctic Division biologist, Dr. Dana Bergstrom.

Continue reading Antarctica under threat

Life beneath the sheets: 9000 years in the dark

Researchers at Geoscience Australia have unravelled the development of a unique seafloor community thriving in complete darkness below the giant ice sheets Looking into the borehole. Credit: Geoscience Australia of Antarctica.The community beneath the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica is 100 kilometres from open water and hidden from view by ice half a kilometre thick. This ecosystem has developed very slowly over the past 9,000 years, since the end of the last glaciation.

Today it is home to animals such as sponges and bryozoans fed by plankton carried in on the current. Dr Alix Post studied shell fossils within core samples where she unexpectedly found evidence of these isolated ecosystems.

Managing tropical fires for greenhouse gas abatement

Tiwi Ranger Leon Puruntatameri lighting experimental fires as part of the Tiwi Carbon Study. Credit: CSIRO Darwin
Tiwi Ranger Leon Puruntatameri lighting experimental fires as part of the Tiwi Carbon Study. Credit: CSIRO Darwin

The economic potential of carbon is the focus of a new fire project on the Tiwi Islands, 80 kilometres north of Darwin in the Northern Territory and home to 2,000 Aboriginal Australians. Nearly half of the Tiwi Islands are burnt every year, resulting in significant greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the extent of fire may provide substantial financial benefits under the emerging carbon economy.

Continue reading Managing tropical fires for greenhouse gas abatement