Western Australia dinosaur tracks, new study

This video says about itself:

Dinosaur Footprints in Broome, Western Australia

At Gantheaume Point and 30 m (98 ft) out to sea are dinosaur footprints dated as Early Cretaceous in age (approximately 130 million years ago). The tracks can be seen only during very low tide.

From the Science Network of Western Australia site:

Friday, 16 October 2015

Dinosaur tracks offer window to ancient landscapes

Written by Kandy Curran

RESEARCHERS are working to reconstruct scenes from 130 million years ago, when Australia was still connected to Antarctica and covered in towering conifer forests, via dinosaur tracks.

When the sun, moon and earth align to produce the biggest tidal range, Dr Salisbury from The University of Queensland and his team of palaeontologists, geologists and roboticists are on the exposed intertidal zone to study the coast where some 16 species of dinosaur once roamed.

The ambitious project aims to digitally catalogue remnant dinosaur tracks over an 80 km stretch of coastline and then use that imaging to reconstruct the ancient landscape that was inhabited by some of the planet’s biggest dinosaurs.

These tracks are the only known evidence of dinosaurs along the Broome coast thus far, as the muddy sediment that the dinosaurs walked over has hardened to eventually form sedimentary rock.

“We also want to figure out just how many different types of dinosaur tracks there are in this area to get a handle on the significance of the footprint fauna, because to this point very little detailed work has been done,” Dr Salisbury says.

With many only exposed for a few hours each day, and only a few days each year, the team have had to adopt innovative remote sensing technologies to speed up the process.

In addition to making moulds of various tracks with a quick setting silicon rubber, thousands of photographs are being taken using a conventional camera and a low-flying drone.

These images are used to create virtual 3D models that are combined with laser scans from a hand-held LiDAR unit developed by CSIRO.

Geological analysis of various rocks in the area has revealed that many of the tracks seem to occur in the same layer of sandstone, created as seasonal floods inundated low-lying sandbars and floodplains. It was over this muddy environment that the dinosaurs walked and left their tracks.

Dr Salisbury says his team is now beginning to contextualise the tracks over large geographic areas, and can better understand which direction the dinosaurs were travelling, whether they were walking or running, and if they were interacting or crossing the landscape in groups, searching for food, or trying to escape predators.

“One of the really special things about the tracks is that they’re part of the creation mythology associated with indigenous law and culture in this area; they’re integrated into a song cycle that extends along the coast, with the knowledge of the tracks probably extending back thousands of years”.

In an effort to protect, promote and educate the public about the dinosaur tracks of the Dampier Peninsula, Dr Salisbury and members of the Broome community formed a Dinosaur Coast Management Group in 2014.

Dr Salisbury and his team have provided outstanding presentations on their research in the Science on the Broome Coast series, drawing large audiences on both occasions.

The science series, which aims to showcase the exciting research that is underway on Broome’s coast, is an initiative of the Roebuck Bay Working Group and Yawuru Land and Sea Unit, and sponsored by Inspiring Australia, Rangelands NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the Department of Parks and Wildlife and Broome Shire Council.

Western Australian fish threatened by climate change

This video is called Wildlife of Western Australia.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Tropical fish in WA Kimberley facing extinction from climate change, researchers say

By Erin Parke

12 July 2015

Entire species of tropical fish could be wiped out by climate change, according to a research team that has spent months carrying out a study in Western Australia’s north.

The team from the University of Melbourne is looking at how sensitive freshwater species are to small increases in water temperatures.

PhD student Matthew Le Feuvre said the results were cause for concern.

“We’re finding a lot of species are living potentially very close to their maximum thermal limit, so these species will be very sensitive should the climate change in the Kimberley,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“If water temperatures and air temperatures increase by just a degree or two, you could potentially see a lot of species fail to adapt and go extinct as a result, or at least become far more vulnerable.”

The team focussed on 18 species that are found only in the river systems of the Kimberley.

Until now, little research has been done on the river systems, partly because they are located in remote areas accessible only by helicopter or boat.

The University of Melbourne study involved eight months of trekking and camping in some of the most rugged terrain in Australia, to allow researchers to collect specimens.

“We’ll arrive at a beautiful spot in the Kimberley with a ute and a trailer fully loaded with sampling gear and a tinny, and then we basically throw the whole kitchen sink at it,” Le Feuvre said.

“We use a variety of nets, a baited underwater video camera, and we use an electro-fisher, which basically stuns the fish in the water and then you can scoop them out, which is a really useful tool for sampling fish.

“We also use traditional hook and line fishing techniques and also snorkelling, so we use a whole lot of methods at each site for a couple of days.”

The fish were packed into customised eskies for the 4,000 kilometre flight to laboratories at the University of Melbourne.

Testing Begins

In Melbourne, they were put into a flow-rest barometer, to measure the amount of oxygen they consumed as the water temperature was increased in tiny increments.

That is when the sensitivity of the fish was discovered, Mr Le Feuvre said.

“We’ve found that these species basically fail to function above 34 degrees, which is roughly the temp of the water you find in the Drysdale river in the wet season,” he said.

The Kimberley species were also considered to be highly vulnerable because of their unusually limited range.

“The Mitchell Falls Gudgeon [for example] is only found around the Mitchell Falls, so it’s only known for a couple of kilometres upstream from the falls, and a couple of kilometres downstream from the falls,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“There’s one species from the Drysdale River that’s only been caught once… so it’s a really rare species and we failed to find it in more than eight months of fieldwork.”

It is hoped the work results in some of the species being added to a national register of threatened species.

While 20 per cent of Australian freshwater fish species are currently included on the register, none of the endemic Kimberley species are listed.

Conservation group Environs Kimberley said the research work was groundbreaking.

“So little research has been done in the remote areas of the Kimberley, and there’s so much more work to be done up there,” said Marine Projects Officer Jason Fowler.

“It’s certainly going to help build a case to protect these river systems.”

Beautiful new waterlily species discovered

This video says about itself:

Kew Gardens‘ Carlos Magdalena discovers new species of waterlily

5 June 2015

Carlos Magdalena – Kew Gardens’ resident tropical plant and waterlily expert – has discovered a brand new species of waterlily while on a plant hunting expedition in Western Australia.

From Kew botanic gardens in London, England:

Beautiful new waterlily species discovered by Kew plant hunter Carlos Magdalena

4 June 2015

The discovery of a new waterlily species in the wild surprises experts as an identical plant has already been grown at Kew.

A new waterlily species has been found on a plant-hunting expedition in a remote spot in Kimberley, Western Australia. As plant-hunter Carlos Magdalena investigated the waterlily, it became clear this was not the first time the species has been encountered by Kew experts.

An identical plant had previously been collected in the Northern territory and then grown at Kew. It was thought the lily grown at Kew must be a hybrid — a cross between two different plant varieties. However, the discovery in Kimberley was thousands of kilometres from the location where the original lily was found, and there were no examples of the suspected parent plants in the surrounding area. It was then that Carlos realised it was indeed a well-defined and separate species. He explains:

‘After years of wondering about this plant, it was huge a surprise to make this discovery. Finding the first population was a shock, but then we found creeks filled with just this species — it was breathtaking.’

The discovery is a personal victory for Carlos, as this is the first time he’s discovered a species previously unknown to science. Carlos is already famous for his plant conservation work after saving the world’s smallest waterlily (Nymphaea thermarum) from extinction in 2009.

He joined the expedition in the hope of furthering waterlily conservation but was faced with very challenging conditions. As well as covering hundreds of miles of remote wilderness by jeep and helicopter the scientists, despite careful checks, were still faced with the omnious threat of the saltwater crocodile. The crocodiles inhabitat the lakes, creeks and ponds where the waterlilies grow and posed a serious threat to the scientists, as Carlos says:

‘It was extremely scary at times. Ultimately, if you are attacked by a crocodile, there is nothing you can do but accept your fate as waterlily fertiliser! Despite spending great lengths of time assessing the risk, there were occasions where we had to enter potentially dangerous waters to reach a critically-endangered species that desperately needed further research.’

The team was willing to face the risk as these explorations are such an important part of plant conservation, Carlos explains:

‘It is vitally important that we have a thorough knowledge of how many species there are out there. Without it, it is impossible to protect them. Where they are, how many, which threats they may face — all these factors must be established. Plant conservation of this nature is at the very heart of what Kew exists to do.’

Carlos was part of a team from Kew, Kings Park Botanic Gardens, and the University of Western Australia, who wanted to collect as many native species as possible for cultivation. The researchers also wanted to study and develop the germination, and storage, of waterlily seeds from the many species of Nymphaea found in the vast territories of Queensland and Kimberley.

Once this discovery has been backed up with DNA analysis, the next step will be to officially name the waterlily. Carlos has collected a dozen species from 30 different locations, which have been duplicated in Australia and Kew. If successfully grown at Kew, their DNA will be available for international researchers to study, and will produce seeds that will be stored at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst. And of course, they will be put on display for visitors to admire.

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.

Obscure and attractive monitor lizards to know and love: here.