Australian ants stopping greenhouse gases?


This 2015 video is about Camponotus terebrans ants.

From the University of South Australia:

Sugar ants’ preference for urine may reduce greenhouse gas emissions

February 6, 2020

An unlikely penchant for urine is putting a common sugar ant on the map, as new research from the University of South Australia shows their taste for urine could play a role in reducing greenhouse gases.

Led by wildlife ecologist Associate Professor Topa Petit, the Kangaroo Island-based research found that sugar ants prefer urine over sugar — the food source after which they’re named — nocturnally foraging on it to extract nitrogen molecules, some of which could end up in the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

The Australian-first study compared the behaviours of sugar ants (Camponotus terebrans) as they were exposed to different concentrations of urine (human and kangaroo ~ 2.5 per cent urea), sugar water (20 per cent and 40 per cent), and urea in water (at 2.5 per cent; 3.5 per cent; 7 per cent and 10 per cent), finding that sugar ants were most attracted to higher concentrations of urea, mining them for long periods within a dry sand substrate.

While other ants are known to be attracted to urine, this is the first time that ants have been observed mining dry urine from sand, and for a long period of time.

Assoc Prof Petit says the curious discovery could play a role in nitrogen cycling.

“When I first noticed the ants swarming to scavenge urine, it was purely by accident. But under research conditions we found that the ants determinedly mined urea patches night after night with greater numbers of ants drawn to higher urea concentrations,” Assoc Prof Petit says.

“Camponotus terebrans are undoubtedly looking for urea in urine because, similar to certain other ant species, a bacterium in their digestive tract allows them to process urea to get nitrogen for protein.

“This remarkable ability to extract urea from dry sand not only shows how sugar ants can survive in arid conditions, but also, how they might reduce the release of ammonia from urine, which leads to the production of nitrous oxide, a highly active greenhouse gas.”

Nitrous oxide (NO2) is a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And while less abundant than carbon dioxide emissions, its presence in the atmosphere has increased substantially over the past decade, accelerated mostly by the widespread use of fertilisers.

Assoc Prof Petit says that while there is still a lot to learn about the foraging behaviours of sugar ants, the study shows a symbiotic relationship between ants and vertebrates such as kangaroos in dry environments, and evidence of the nitrogen cycle at work.

“The ability of sugar ants to thrive in dry, sandy environments and use sources of nitrogen that may not be available to other species is impressive. It may give them a competitive advantage by allowing them to feed more offspring and therefore increase their numbers,” Assoc Prof Petit says.

“Researchers working on ants as bio-indicators on grazed and ungrazed lands should take ants’ ability to process urea into account, because large amounts of urine will probably affect the assortment of ant species in the area. It would also be interesting to investigate how much ants may modify the urine ammonia volatilises from paddocks.

“This is not the last we will hear about these sugar ants — they could open up a whole new field of research.”

Bushfires kill Kangaroo island humans, kangaroos, others


This 4 January 2020 video from Australia is called Kangaroo Island fires continue as locals count cost of damage to infrastructure, animals | ABC News.

This 30 December 2019 video says about itself:

Volunteers struggle to save wild animals from Australia fires

There are no official counts or estimates of how wildlife has been affected by the deadly bushfires in Australia that have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) in five states since September. The fire and heat are either killing the native fauna such as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and echidnas, or driving them out of the bushland and into peoples homes.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

“The fire went so fast, the animals had no chance”

“Your heart is breaking. It was really devastating.”

Although it is not yet possible to record the exact extent of the damage, it is already clear that the unique nature on the Australian Kangaroo Island has suffered greatly from the wildfires. The island, slightly larger than the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant, is popular with eco-tourists.

Hundreds of kangaroo and sheep carcasses can be seen on images and many habitats of rare species have been lost.

“The fire moved so fast that most animals had no chance,” says ecologist Pat Hodgens in Australian media. “Only by chance, some habitats may have been spared. Let’s hope so.”

A 78-year-old travel guide and his 43-year-old son died on the island when they were caught up in their car by the flames. A total of 24 people died in the fires throughout Australia and an estimated 500 million birds, mammals and reptiles died.

In addition to the many kangaroos that give the island its name, there was also a large koala population, which, unlike the animals on the mainland, was not yet plagued by a persistent chlamydia infection. After the fires, a game park on the island currently handles eighteen specimens, but has had to finish off many more. Shepherds have also euthanised hundreds of wounded sheep.

In addition, there is serious concern about, eg, the endangered marsupials, bandicoots, protected glossy black cockatoos and vulnerable Kangaroo Island dunnarts on the island. The eight game cameras that were used to monitor the latter species were lost in the flames, which means that the 300 animals were probably burned.

“Even if there are survivors, there is no food for them now,” ecologist Heidi Groffen sighs to AP. “We hope to catch a few before they are completely gone.”

Gray-headed flying foxes

One of the centers that takes care of injured animals is the Australia Zoo, founded by the world-famous conservationist Steve Irwin.

His daughter informed via Instagram that the animal park itself is not threatened by the flames and that 90,000 animals have already been treated. Among them is also a whole colony of gray-headed flying foxes that were in a rescue center that was in danger of catching fire.

View this post on Instagram

Our @AustraliaZoo Wildlife Hospital takes in animals from all over Australia. Hundreds of grey-headed flying foxes, a species listed as vulnerable, have been flown to Queensland after the rescue centre they were recovering in was at risk from fire and evacuated. Some of the orphans are now being cared for by the team at the hospital until they’re big enough to go home, and there’s no threat of fire. 🦇 In September, flying fox admissions to the hospital skyrocketed by over 750% due to drought conditions and lack of food. Flying foxes are now being drastically affected by wildfires and we’re again seeing an influx of these beautiful animals from across the country. This week, we treated our 90,000th patient. To cope with so many animals being admitted to the hospital, in 2019 we opened a sea turtle rehabilitation centre, sea snake ward and are about to complete a new bird recovery area, but it’s still not enough to keep up. We need to build a new ward for our patients. Wildlife Warriors from around the world are asking how they can help us save native wildlife, you can donate on our website www.wildlifewarriors.org , or support our fundraiser to start construction of our newest ward by visiting the link in my bio! 💚

A post shared by Bindi Irwin (@bindisueirwin) on

Many Australian celebrities are now committed to benefit campaigns because of the fires. Actress Nicole Kidman donated $ 500,000 and called on others to do the same. Singer Pink donated the same amount, and rapper Iggy Azalea, born in Sydney, also called on to give generously with a picture of a rescued koala.

A collection by Australian comedian Celeste Barber, who has family in the affected area, was also widely shared. Almost three million euros were raised in three days for emergency aid.

Earlier this week, tennis star Nick Kyrgios had promised to donate 125 euros for every ace he hit at the ATP Cup, which had to move to Victoria due to the smoke in Sydney. The promise has already cost him around 2500 euros.

“It’s hard,” said the Australian emotionally after his first game. “At every store I could only think of that. It is difficult to concentrate on tennis then.” He said he was happy to be able to donate this money to firefighters, victims and conservationists.

Other players gave their own spin to Kyrgios’ initiative. Simona Halep, not known for her aces, promised to donate to every time she gave her coach a hard time played on the track, “this way the amount goes up faster”. The Australian Ashleigh Barty even promised to donate her entire prize money from the Brisbane tennis tournament that starts tomorrow.

In total, an area slightly larger than the Netherlands has gone up in flames. Australian Prime Minister Morrison, criticized for his lack of urgency, has called on 3,000 military reservists to help fight the fires. …

The effects of the fires are also noticeable in New Zealand, about 2,000 kilometers away: the smoke turns the sky orange there.

This 5 January 2020 video says about itself:

The sky above the New Zealand city of Auckland turned orange with haze from Australia’s raging bushfires 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) away on Sunday.

Koala drinks Australian cyclist’s water


This 27 December 2019 video from South Australia says about itself:

Koala approaches cyclist for drink from water bottle in Australia

Dec. 27 (UPI) — A cyclist in Australia stopped to give a drink from her water bottle to a thirsty koala that approached her bicycle in the road.

Anna Heusler said she and some friends were cycling in the hills near Adelaide, South Australia, when they encountered a koala in the road.

“We were descending from Norton Summit Road back into the city early this morning and we came around a bend and there was a koala sitting in the middle of the road,” Heusler told 7News. “Naturally, we stopped because we were going to help relocate him off the road.”

A video posted to Instagram shows the koala accepting a drink from her water bottle and climbing onto her bicycle.

“I stopped on my bike and he walked right up to me, quite quickly for a koala, and as I was giving him a drink from all our water bottles, he actually climbed up onto my bike,” she said. “None of us have ever seen anything like it.”

She said the koala was escorted back to the woods at the side of the road.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Because of the ongoing fires and heat, koalas are having a hard time and thousands have recently died. That estimate was made by Australian Environment Minister Ley yesterday.

The minister thinks that possibly 30 percent of all koalas in the affected region have died, “because about 30 percent of their environment has been destroyed”. It would then be about 8000 dead koalas. …

In the coming days, another heatwave is expected in the eastern part of Australia, which has been dealing with catastrophic forest fires for weeks. In total there are around two hundred fires, of which more than half in the state of New South Wales.

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and so far the forest fires have cost the lives of eleven people.

KOALA RESCUERS SHARE MOVING RECOVERY STORIES Peter Luker, a volunteer firefighter and animal caretaker with the Ipswich Koala Protection Society, has seen horrific things this fire season ― but currently has the pleasure of watching little Maryanne, a baby koala who lost her mother and a claw, make a full recovery. [HuffPost]

Night diving in South Australia, video


This 17 March 2019 video says about itself:

Jonathan travels down under to South Australia in search of a famous dive site: the Edithburgh Jetty. Night dives under this jetty on the Yorke Peninsula are renown for amazing encounters with a variety of spectacular and odd creatures, including the pajama squid. Jonathan is on a hunt to find a Pajama squid and encounters quite a few animals along the way, including more than one species of octopus, mating bobtail squid, sea horses and much more!

JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD is an Emmy Award-winning underwater science/adventure series featuring underwater cinematographer/naturalist Jonathan Bird.

Australian cuttlefish video


This 20 January 2019 video says about itself:

Jonathan and the whole family head to Australia to dive with the world’s largest cuttlefish spawning aggregation near Wyalla, South Australia. These are some huge cuttlefish!

JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD is an Emmy Award-winning underwater science/adventure series featuring underwater cinematographer/naturalist Jonathan Bird.

Leafy seadragons of South Australia


This video says about itself:

4 November 2018

In an epic expedition down under, the Bird family goes on a search for the most exquisite seahorse in the world–the Leafy Seadragon! Just south of Adelaide in South Australia is a place where the “Leafies” can be found! But the water is cold and the wind is blowing!

JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD is an Emmy Award-winning underwater science/adventure series featuring underwater cinematographer/naturalist Jonathan Bird.

Trump-Russia escalation stops Australia bombing Syria


This video from the Australian Senate says about itself:

Question Time – Australia’s involvement in Iraq and Syria

12 August 2015

Scott [of the Australian Greens] questions the [right-wing] Abbott Government over negotiations with the US to increase Australia’s military role in Iraq and Syria.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Australia suspends air operations in Syria

Today, 08:48

Australia is stopping temporarily bombing Syria. According to the Australian Department of Defense, it is a precautionary measure, as the tensions between Russia and the United States over the air strikes have risen.

The reason for the tension is an incident in which US pilots shot a Syrian fighter plane down on Sunday. Russia, ally of Syria, is furious about that. Yesterday, Moscow announced that it is now considering all aircraft and drones of the international [Donald Trump’s Pentagon-led] coalition operating west of the Euphrates river as targets.

Also Australia has been a part of the international coalition that has been active over Syria for several years, but the country has now suspended that. The department does not yet say how for long the suspension will last.

The Australian participation in operations on Iraq will continue, says the ministry.

Raising the specter of the Syrian conflict escalating into a military confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers, the Russian Defense Ministry Monday issued a warning that it would treat any US or allied aircraft operating in western Syria, where Moscow’s own forces, as well as those of the Syrian government, are based, as a hostile target: here.

Good Australian dolphin news


This video from South Australia says about itself:

18 September 2012

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is one of the gems of metropolitan Adelaide. Located in the Port River and Barker Inlet, the sanctuary is just 20 minutes from the city centre and features a 10,000-year-old mangrove forest. A resident pod of about 30 bottlenose dolphins call the river home, while another 300 visit the area regularly.

To learn more about the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary, visit here.

Video filmed and produced by Hartwig Heller.

From Science News:

City dolphins get a boost from better protection and cleaner waters

by Sarah Zielinski

11:08am, November 3, 2016

There are many places in the world where you can see bottlenose dolphins, but the dolphins swimming in the Port River estuary near Adelaide, Australia, are special. They gambol about in waters surrounded by factories, power stations and other signs of human habitation.

For much of the 20th century, there were no dolphin sightings in the inner estuary. Prior to European settlement in 1858, bottlenose dolphins were commonly seen by the local Kaurna aboriginal tribal group. But as the city of Adelaide was built, the dolphins disappeared. What changed that enabled their return? A combination of improved environmental conditions, a little bit of protection and some public education, researchers report October 24 in Marine Mammal Science.

“The future of these dolphins would appear to be as secure as any population of any species can be in this era of climate change,” says the study’s lead author, Mike Bossley of Whale and Dolphin Conservation Australasia in Port Adelaide, who has studied the area’s dolphins for 25 years.

As the city of Adelaide grew, the Port River grew to be an unfriendly spot for marine wildlife. People cleared away the marshes and mangroves, replacing them with sulfuric acid and soda ash producers, sugar refineries and power stations. Sewage and storm water flowed into the river. Boats and ships traversed the estuary, which had become the main shipping port for the state of South Australia. And no one reported a dolphin sighting between 1940 and 1980.

Scientists began field studies in 1989 and started finding bottlenose dolphins — and documenting threats to them. In addition to pollution, any dolphins brave enough to traverse the Port River had to deal with boat strikes, infections, entanglement with nets and other marine trash and even deliberate attacks. In response, the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary was established by law in 2005, setting aside a small patch of river for the resident dolphin population (about 30 live in the river; another 300 visit the area regularly) and establishing resources for public education about the dolphins. And over the last few decades, water quality has improved as some of the least environmentally friendly activities — such as sulfuric acid production, salt evaporation and coal-fired power production — have ended.

In 1990, Bossley and his colleagues started surveying the Port River dolphins. The researchers would take their boat out on a 40-kilometer journey through the estuary, following the same path each time and photographing any dolphins they saw. They used distinguishing marks, such as shape or notches, on a dolphin’s dorsal fin to identify the animal and ensure each was only counted once.

From January 1990 to December 2013, the researchers made a total of 735 complete journeys, averaging one survey every 11.7 days. Based on those surveys, and the near absence of dolphins in the 1980s, the team estimates that bottlenose dolphin sightings are increasing by about 6 percent a year.

“The trends in sightings provide compelling evidence of a large change in some aspect of relative abundance and occupancy and usage of the Port River estuary,” the researchers write. The increase could be the result of an increase in the resident population, in the number of visiting dolphins or a combination of both.

Improved water quality may be better for the dolphins or their prey. Plus, the establishment of the sanctuary gave the dolphins some protection against human activities. In addition, Bossley notes, “by designating the area as a sanctuary, the public is both more aware and more protective of the dolphins.” The dolphins still have to deal with human impacts — the river is not pollution free, an attack occurred as recently as 2014 and there’s a growing new potential threat in the form of tourism — but the dolphins appear to be able to cope.

The Adelaide dolphins offer a lesson in conservation, Bossley and his colleagues note. Corralling off large areas for wildlife from human activities isn’t always necessary. “People have to learn to live with wildlife,” Bossley says. And that “requires taking into account both the wildlife itself and its habitats.”

Amorphophallus flowers in Adelaide, Australia


Titan arum

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation today:

Smelly corpse flower draws late-night visitors to Adelaide Botanic Gardens

A stench has drawn late-night visitors to Adelaide‘s Botanic Gardens as one of the world’s biggest flowers, the titan arum or corpse flower, has bloomed in its Bicentennial Conservatory.

The smell is likened by some people to rotting fish — and in the rainforests of Sumatra, where the plant is native, the scent encourages pollination.

It is the second corpse flower to bloom in Adelaide in just over a month and horticulturalist Matt Coulter of the Botanic Gardens said the conservatory remained open until midnight to let people get a whiff.

“It actually smells strongest into the evening,” he explained.

“The plant actually pulses the smell out, so it’s not just one smell that just hangs around [but] every 20 or 30 seconds the plant will push out some aroma and then that will dissipate and then another 20 or 30 seconds [later] it will actually push it out again.”

The flower blooms and emits its unusual aroma for a couple of days before it starts to wither.

Mr Coulter said a decade of propagation and nurturing by Botanic Gardens staff had achieved the two blooms within just weeks.

“We’ve been growing it, potting it up and hoping that one day it would come into flower and luckily enough we’ve been able to have two within a month which is quite incredible for our state,” he said.

“It’s quite rare to get one flower — to get two within a month is fantastic.”

The conservatory opened again at 7:00am today to give visitors a chance to see and smell the flower.

“It’s a very strong sort of ammonia, rotting fish sort of smell,” Mr Coulter said, and gardens visitors agreed.

One said: “It smells like a corpse or what I imagine a corpse would smell like.”

“I suppose it does smell a bit like rotting flesh but it’s quite an acrid smell,” another said.

Good South Australian shorebird news


This video says about itself:

The Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary- BirdLife Australia

24 March 2015

Just north of Adelaide, on the east coast of Gulf St Vincent, lies one of South Australia’s most important areas for migratory and resident shorebirds. Dubbed the “Samphire Coast” for its vast network of natural samphire saltmarshes, the area supports nationally and internationally significant numbers of migratory and resident shorebirds and has been recently gazetted by the state as the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary.

52 shorebird species, including 37 migratory species, have been recorded in the Samphire Coast where they benefit from a unique mix of natural and artificial habitats including: Extensive tidal mudflats, saltmarshes, tidal creeks and estuaries, stormwater detention wetlands, effluent water treatment ponds and commercial saltfields.

To learn about BirdLife Australia’s continuing conservation work in the area and more, visit here.

From BirdLife:

Shorebirds gain new sanctuary in South Australia

By Sean Dooley, Wed, 02/12/2015 – 21:14

Paul Sullivan, CEO of BirdLife Australia, welcomed the announcement from SA Environment Minister, Mr Ian Hunter, that the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary will be proclaimed a National Park.

Mr Hunter told the crowd gathered at the Adelaide Flyway Festival in October that the government would also pursue a nomination for the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary to be acknowledged as a site of significance in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway.

The world’s shorebirds are in crisis. According to BirdLife Australia, their populations have collapsed in recent years, and nowhere has this has been highlighted more than in Australia.

Most migratory shorebirds we see in Australia make an astounding migration from Siberia and Alaska each year, an arduous journey along the ‘East Asian–Australasian Flyway’ through China, Korea and South East Asia to spend the summer in Australia.

All along the Flyway, they are losing the habitats they rely on to survive. Their plight was recognised at the Flyway Festival held on the shores of Gulf St Vincent at Adelaide’s St Kilda foreshore.

“Our shorebirds are in big trouble,” said Paul Sullivan, CEO of BirdLife Australia. “We must be driven by a positive future for shorebirds. We need champions to fight the silent shorebirds crisis.”

Mr Sullivan acknowledged that shorebird conservation was an international issue, and that countries along the flyway need to step up to conserve these birds whose travels span the globe, although it is also crucially important to deal with local issues in Australia too.

The newly established Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary was an important first step, he said.

“The Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary is a role model for other states. We need more protected shorebird sites in every state and the Northern Territory.”

“If Australia, as a nation, steps up and plays a leadership role in shorebird conservation at home, we will gain the moral authority to ask China and Korea to do the right thing.”

Mr Sullivan highlighted that conservation organisations, such as BirdLife Australia, community groups, experts and governments must work together in a coherent partnership if they are to achieve any positive change, he said.

“If we can articulate together how we will make a difference, we can inspire people to help make it happen.”

Australia is a stunning birding destination, but with more than 700 bird species, many of which are endemic to the region, it can also be an overwhelming one. Whether birders are residents familiar with their local birds, just getting started birding or visitors with no experience with Australian species, Birds of Australia: A Photographic Guide is a comprehensive and visually stunning resource: here.