In the news…

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 Article  featuring Dr Pablo Negret.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109044)

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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 Article featuring Dr Alexander Bracxkowski.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1002/2688-8319.12015).

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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 Article featuring Divya Narain.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1038/s41893-020-0528-3).

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Stopping deforestation: lessons from Colombia

UQ News Article featuring Dr Pablo Negret.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13522).

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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 Article featuring Dr Jeremy Simmonds.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1111/conl.12695) and watch this excellent synopsis here:

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The dark giraffe, the new dark horse

“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 Article featuring Dr Madelaine Castles.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.08.003)


Native birds in south eastern Australia worst affected by habitat loss

“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 Article featuring Dr Jeremy Simmonds.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13331)


Coca and conflict: the factors fuelling Colombian deforestation

“Deforestation in Colombia has been linked to armed conflict and forests’ proximity to coca crops, the plant from which cocaine is derived…”
UQ News Article featuring PhD student Pablo Negret.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.07.021)


Tree climbing big cats roar onto the small screen

“Tree climbing lions star in a new National Geographic documentary filmed by a University of Queensland PhD candidate…”
UQ News Article featuring PhD student Aleksander Braczkowski.
See more here (natgeotv)


How to send a finch extinct

“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 Article featuring Dr April Reside.
Read more on this study here (DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2019.01.005)


SNAPP Compensatory Conservation working group

The first meeting of the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) working group on compensatory conservation was held in Santa Barbara, California, in the first week of August.

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.

Working group members: (Back row, left to right) Hugo Rainey, Joe Kiesecker, Ray Victurine, Jeremy Simmonds, Todd Stevens, (Front row, left to right) James Watson, Laura Sonter, Martine Maron, Steve Edwards, Philippe Puydarrieux, Fabien Quétier (photo credit: Ginger Gillquist, NCEAS)

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.


Is ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ a good idea?


Martine Maron recently contributed a chapter to a new book, “Effective Conservation Science: Data Not Dogma” edited by Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, and Brian Silliman.

Martine’s chapter is one of many excellent contributions, including one by Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science colleagues James Watson and Richard Fuller on replacing under-performing nature reserves.

The book will be published by Oxford University Press in October 2017.


Land clearing on the rise as legal ‘thinning’ proves far from clear-cut

April Reside, The University of Queensland; Anita J Cosgrove, The University of Queensland; Jennifer Lesley Silcock, The University of Queensland; Leonie Seabrook, The University of Queensland, and Megan C Evans, The University of Queensland

Land clearing is accelerating across eastern Australia, despite our new research providing a clear warning of its impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, regional and global climate, and threatened native wildlife.

Policies in place to control land clearing have been wound back across all Australian states, with major consequences for our natural environment.

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.

However, substantial areas of native forest are set to be cleared in Queensland under the guise of vegetation “thinning”, which is allowed by these self-assessable codes. How did this happen?

Thin on the ground

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.

Under the Queensland codes, up to 75% of vegetation in an area can be removed without a permit, and in New South Wales thinning can reduce tree density to a level that is too low to support natural ecosystems.

All of this thinning adds up. Since August 2016, the Queensland government has received self-assessable vegetation clearing code notifications totalling more than 260,000 hectares. These areas include habitat for threatened species, and ecosystems that have already been extensively cleared.

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.

Our research has shown that Australian governments spend billions of dollars trying to achieve the benefits already provided by native vegetation, through programs such as the Emissions Reduction Fund, the 20 Million Trees program and Reef Rescue. Yet far more damage is inflicted by under-regulated clearing than is “fixed” by these programs.

The ConversationImagine what could be achieved if we spent that money more effectively.

April Reside, Researcher, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland; Anita J Cosgrove, Research Assistant in the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland; Jennifer Lesley Silcock, Post-doctoral research fellow, The University of Queensland; Leonie Seabrook, Landscape Ecologist, The University of Queensland, and Megan C Evans, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Environmental Policy, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Alex Braczkowski wins 2017 Elodie Sandford Explorer award

PhD candidate Alex Braczkowski was recently awarded the prestigious 2017 Elodie Sandford Explorer award by the Scientific Exploration Society.

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.

Alex  will use his award to perform the first leopard surveys in Uganda, and will also be working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to film Ishasha’s famous tree-climbing lions. 

Well done Alex!