Australian quokkas and plants, new study


This video from Australia is called Quokka with baby.

By Shannon Verhagen in Australia:

April 9, 2015

Mapping the future of Rottnest‘s furry friends

We all know Rottnest Island‘s iconic quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) love eating treats from tourists and poking around inside public buildings but local researchers have identified plant species on the island that the quokkas need for food and shelter.

The Murdoch University study identified eight plant species used for food and four used for shelter by the quokkas and mapped their extent and distribution using hyperspectral remote sensing data.

They collected fresh faecal samples from 210 quadrats across the islands’ twelve native vegetation types over a two week period in 2011 to conduct dietary analysis.

The study found a clear preference for Guichenotia ledifolia, a non-significant food source for Rottnest Island quokkas 50 years ago, which suggests compositional changes in island vegetation over time may have caused this species to be more dominant in the landscape.

Researcher Patricia Fleming says a history of grazing, fire and land clearing has altered Rottnest’s vegetation structure and composition and therefore the quokkas’ vegetation use.

“The diet of these animals is likely to have changed over the last 50 years and probably has shifted from that of over 200 years ago,” Ms Fleming says.

“The vegetation on the island has changed markedly over that time, largely due to anthropogenic influences.”

Quokkas were found to have a clear preference for Melaleuca lanceolata and Acacia rostellifera for shelter, highlighting the importance of dense, protective vegetation.

They used remotely sensed, hyperspectral airborne imagery to map the principal food and shelter species in order to determine the locations where the preferred species are evident and where the principal species overlap.

Ms Fleming says managing these key habitat locations is essential as the Rottnest Island population suffers severe seasonal crashes due to a lack of permanent water bodies and intense browsing pressure from other quokkas.

“There are definitely times of the year for example, at the end of summer when the first cold nights hit those that are in worst condition, that animals are likely to be physiologically stressed,” Ms Fleming says.

“The forest [on the mainland] has more resources and the animals can probably access a much greater area to obtain their requirements.”

“The Rottnest Island population is resource limited.”

“It is likely that loss of a key plant species will alter the carrying capacity of the island,” she says.

More information: “Spatial analysis of limiting resources on an island: diet and shelter use reveal sites of conservation importance for the Rottnest Island quokka.” Wildlife Research, 41(6), 510.

Marine biology discoveries off Western Australia


This video from Australia says about itself:

Deep-sea secrets of the cryptic Perth Canyon unveiled

15 March 2015

Scientists have completed a successful two-week mission unlocking the secrets of Perth Canyon, a deep ocean gorge the size of the USA’s Grand Canyon.

From LiveScience:

Huge Underwater Canyon Is Home to Amazing Deep-Sea Creatures

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | March 23, 2015 03:51pm ET

A two-week-long seafaring mission off the coast of western Australia has helped illuminate a deep and dark underwater abyss the size of the Grand Canyon.

During the trip to Perth Canyon, researchers encountered countless deep-sea organisms, including Venus flytrap anemones and golden coral. They even found a lost piece of equipment — an autonomous ocean glider that had gone missing two years earlier.

The scientists, from the University of Western Australia‘s Oceans Institute, began their mission on March 1 on the Falkor, a research vessel owned by an American nonprofit organization. Once aboard, they sailed about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Fremantle, a city on the western Australian coast. They then used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the underwater canyon, which extends from the continental shelf for more than 2.5 miles (4 km) to the ocean floor. [Marine Marvels: Spectacular Photos of Sea Creatures]

“We have discovered near-pristine, sheer-drop cliffs of over 600 meters [1,968 feet] and mapped structures that are rarely found in other parts of the ocean,” Malcolm McCulloch, the project’s leader and a professor of earth and the environment at the University of Western Australia, said in a statement. “It is truly a huge canyon.”

The canyon likely formed more than 100 million years ago, the researchers said. Back then, it appears that an ancient river cut the canyon during rifting that separated western Australia from India. Nowadays, the submerged canyon is a hotspot for marine life, attracting blue whales and other sea life in search of a tasty meal.

Researchers knew little about the canyon’s structure and the creatures that inhabited it until this expedition. Using the Falkor’s cutting-edge mapping systems and ROV, they explored Perth Canyon at depths of more than 1.2 miles (2 km). By the end of the mission, the research team had traveled more than 1,118 miles (1,800 km) to map the canyon’s 154 square miles (400 square km).

The canyon’s deepest point is 2.6 miles (4,276 m) below the ocean’s surface, McCulloch said.

“It is at a depth where light can’t penetrate, making a dark water column where there are no signs of light from above or below,” he said.

Still, the researchers found a surprisingly rich community of deep-sea creatures that cling to the canyon’s walls. For instance, about 1 mile (1.6 km) below the surface, they found brisingid seastars and mushroom soft corals. Other researchers have documented these animals living in Perth Canyon before, and now these creatures have been found in other deep-sea areas around the world.

The team also used the ROV to collect samples of the deep-sea corals. In the coming months, the scientists plan to determine the coral‘s age, how fast they grow, and whether global warming or ocean acidification has changed their habitat.

The work may also help other researchers, especially those who study deep-sea ecosystems and the factors that threaten survival in these places, they said.

During the project, the researchers also stumbled across an old piece of equipment — an autonomous ocean glider that went missing while it was exploring the canyon more than two years ago. When the team spotted the bright-yellow glider at a depth of about 0.4 miles (700 meters) underwater, everyone celebrated, said Chari Pattiaratchi, a professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia.

Next up, researchers will use the Falkor to test underwater robotic vehicles at Scott Reef, off the coast of northwestern Australia.

World’s smallest monitor lizard discovery in Australia


This video says about itself:

24 March 2014

Sir David Attenborough narrates a documentary about the life and crimes of Africa’s most notorious raider the monitor lizard. To feed its monster appetite, it will steal from under the noses of humans, lions and crocodiles, but with its criminal lifestyle comes extreme danger. The Nile Monitor is Africa’s largest lizard and most notorious ‘raider’ – its ultimate challenge is to steal the heavily guarded eggs and young of the Nile crocodile – can this expert thief pull it off?

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Newly discovered Dampier peninsula goanna to go on display at WA Museum

The lizard, which grows to a maximum length of 23cm, is the world’s smallest and newest addition to the genus that includes monitors and Komodo dragons

Tuesday 30 December 2014 07.36 GMT

A newly discovered species of reptile, the Dampier peninsula goanna, has gone on display at the Western Australian Museum. The lizard is the world’s smallest addition to the Varanus genus, the family that also includes monitors and Komodo dragons.

The lizard on display, a female named Pokey, may look ordinary to the untrained eye but for scientists she’s an evolutionary marvel.

Unlike her relatives, who are often large and found over a widespread area of Australia, Pokey and her fellow Dampier peninsula goannas are found only on the peninsula north of Broome and Derby in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. The species is quite tiny, growing to a maximum 23cm in length and weighing only 16 grams.

WA Museum’s reptile expert, Dr Paul Doughty, said the discovery of the Dampier peninsula goanna was significant because it is a new species.

Doughty said this goanna diverged from its closest living relative – the short-tailed monitor – about six to seven million years ago, about the same time humans and chimpanzees split off from their common ancestor.

Museum visitors will be able to observe her small head, tiny legs, stretchy body and short tail, which Doughty described as a “funky” shape for a goanna.

See also here.

Rare spectacled hare-wallaby seen in Western Australia


This video from Australia is about the rufous hare-wallaby. They are relatives of the recenttly rediscovered spectacled hare-wallaby.

From Wildlife Extra:

Rare Spectacled Hare-wallaby sighted in Western Australia

The threatened Spectacled Hare-wallaby has been sighted near Broome in Australia after nearly a decade without any recorded sightings in Kimberley region.

Although the species is widespread throughout other parts of northern Australia, the wallaby, which gets its name from its distinctive orange fur that surrounds each eye, is considered very rare in the Kimberley region and numbers here are declining.

“We need to keep a close eye on the threats to this rare and fascinating animal so we get the right information to help it survive into the future,” said Dr Alexander Watson of WWF-Australia.

“Their shelter and feeding requirements make them highly sensitive to habitat changes, so assessing their numbers is a good indicator of overall health of the local environment.”

The Spectacled hare-wallaby uses large grass tussocks for shelter from predators and the extremely hot daytime temperatures. Inappropriate fire regimes and trampling by larger animals can put the wallaby at risk of exposure.

The Spectacled hare-wallaby is well suited for life in extreme arid conditions, having adapted to extract and retain water from their food. However, their population is still at risk from modern threats such as introduced predators, grazing, frequent fires and extreme weather events like droughts.

Australian armed forces bishop charged with child abuse


This video is called Australia: bishop charged with abuse.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Catholic Bishop Max Davis charged with sex offence dating back to 1969

Updated Mon 30 Jun 2014, 2:24pm AEST

The Bishop of the Australian Defence Force has been charged with a sex offence dating back to 1969.

Bishop Max Davis is believed to be the most senior clergyman in the Catholic Church, and the first bishop, to be charged with a child sex offence.

The 68-year-old is due to appear in Perth Magistrate’s Court on July 25, charged with three counts of indecent treatment of a child under 14.

The alleged incident took place when Bishop Davis was teaching at St Benedict’s College in New Norcia, north-east of Perth. …

According to The Catholic Weekly, Bishop Davis grew up in Perth and was ordained in 1971.

He is one of a long line of military bishops to have served the Defence Forces.

He was in the Navy in the early 60s, according to the weekly. He has been Australia’s military bishop since 2003.