Deforestation taking a heavy toll on international bird haven
“An analysis has found deforestation is severely affecting forest bird species in Colombia, home to the greatest number of bird species in the world.” UQ News Articlefeaturing Dr Pablo Negret. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109044)
African lion counts miss the mark, but new method shows promise
New methods of photographing and data analytics to count lions could improve our understanding of their movements. UQ News Articlefeaturing Dr Alexander Bracxkowski. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1002/2688-8319.12015).
Belt and Road’s financiers fall short on biodiversity
“Few financiers of international infrastructure program, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are requiring biodiversity safeguards.” UQ News Articlefeaturing Divya Narain. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1038/s41893-020-0528-3).
Stopping deforestation: lessons from Colombia
UQ News Articlefeaturing Dr Pablo Negret. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13522).
Biodiversity offsetting is contentious – here’s an alternative
“A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting – and help nations achieve biodiversity targets.” UQ News Articlefeaturing Dr Jeremy Simmonds. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1111/conl.12695) and watch this excellent synopsis here: https://youtu.be/kQ-3rkcmQ9I
“Darker male giraffes have been found to be more solitary and less social than their lighter-coloured counterparts, according to new research from The University of Queensland… “ UQ News Articlefeaturing Dr Madelaine Castles. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.08.003)
“New research has found that habitat loss is a major concern for hundreds of Australian bird species, and south eastern Australia has been the worst affected…” UQ News Articlefeaturing Dr Jeremy Simmonds. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13331)
“Deforestation in Colombia has been linked to armed conflict and forests’ proximity to coca crops, the plant from which cocaine is derived…” UQ News Articlefeaturing PhD student Pablo Negret. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.07.021)
“Tree climbing lions star in a new National Geographic documentary filmed by a University of Queensland PhD candidate…” UQ News Articlefeaturing PhD student Aleksander Braczkowski. See more here (natgeotv)
“An endangered Queensland bird is at risk of extinction because environmental legislation is failing to protect its habitat, according to a University of Queensland-led study…” UQ News Articlefeaturing Dr April Reside. Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2019.01.005)
This group, led by Martine Maron and James Watson, and supported by Maron Lab members Jeremy Simmonds and Laura Sonter, aims to examine how compensatory approaches like offsets can be harnessed to deliver the best outcomes for biodiversity and people in different parts of the world.
In recognition of the differing in-country contexts in which compensatory policies are implemented, the group, comprising stakeholders from private industry, non-government organisations and academia, will examine which approaches—ranging along a spectrum from the funding of protected areas to net gain of biodiversity—are most suitable in particular circumstances.
Compensatory conservation is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ tool—different approaches will be more or less appropriate for different places. Over the next 12 months, this working group will develop the guidance on what is likely to work best, and where.
One of the recent policy changes made in Queensland and New South Wales has been the introduction of self-assessable codes that allow landholders to clear native vegetation without a permit. These codes are meant to allow small amounts of “low-risk” clearing, so that landholders save time and money and government can focus on regulating activities that have bigger potential impacts on the environment.
Thinning involves the selective removal of native trees and shrubs, and is widely used in the grazing industry to improve pasture quality. It has been argued that thinning returns the environment back to its “natural state” and provides better habitat for native wildlife. However, the science supporting this practice is not as clear-cut as it seems.
Vegetation “thickening” is part of a natural, dynamic ecological cycle. Australia’s climate is highly variable, so vegetation tends to grow more in wetter years and then dies off during drought years. These natural cycles of thickening and thinning can span 50 years or more. In most areas of inland eastern Australia, there is little evidence for ongoing vegetation thickening since pastoral settlement.
Thinning of vegetation using tractors, blades and other machinery interrupts this natural cycle, which can make post-drought recovery of native vegetation more difficult. Loss of tree and shrub cover puts native wildlife at much greater risk from introduced predators like cats, and aggressive, “despotic” native birds. Thinning reduces the diversity of wildlife by favouring a few highly dominant species that prefer open vegetation, and reduces the availability of old trees with hollows.
Many native birds and animals can only survive in vegetation that hasn’t been cleared for at least 30 years. So although vegetation of course grows back after clearing, for native wildlife it’s a matter of quality, not just quantity.
Land clearing by stealth?
Thinning codes in Queensland and New South Wales allow landholders to clear vegetation that has thickened beyond its “natural state”. Yet there is little agreement on what the “natural state” is for many native vegetation communities.
It may be that the actual amount of vegetation cleared under thinning codes is less than the notifications suggest. But we will only know for sure when the next report on land clearing is released, and by then it will be too late.
Getting the balance right
Vegetation policy needs to strike a balance between protecting the environment and enabling landholders to manage their businesses efficiently and sustainably. While self-regulation makes sense for some small-scale activities, the current thinning codes allow large areas of vegetation to be removed from high-risk areas without government oversight.
Thinning codes should only allow vegetation to be cleared in areas that are not mapped as habitat for threatened species or ecosystems, and not to an extent where only scattered trees are left standing in a landscape. Stronger regulation is still needed to reduce the rate of land clearing, which in Queensland is now the highest in a decade.
Protecting native vegetation on private land reduces soil erosion and soil salinity, improves water quality, regulates climate, and allows Australia’s unique plants and animals to survive. Landholders who preserve native vegetation alongside farming provide essential services to the Australian community, and should be rewarded. We need long-term incentives to allow landholders to profit from protecting vegetation instead of clearing it.
The Scientific Exploration Society provides high profile Awards for projects that will leave a lasting legacy and benefit in the field in which a winners’ expedition takes place, but also inspire a wider audience to the issues being addressed through film, photography and the pure passion of the recipient.