CIE Spotlight: First record of the trace fossil Protovirgularia from the Middle Permian of southeastern Gondwana (southern Sydney Basin, Australia)

Authors & 

SourceAlcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology 

Brief summary of the paper: This study reports the first examples of well-preserved chevronate trails referable to Protovirgularia longespicata De Stefani, 1885 from the early Middle Permian (Roadian) upper Wandrawandian Siltstone of the southern Sydney Basin, southeastern Australia. The highly meandering trace with closely spaced, papillate chevrons is interpreted to have been produced by the locomotion-feeding behaviour of certain protobranch bivalves in an offshore environment. The dense trails occurring on the upper bedding planes of pebbly siltstone may represent a gregarious lifestyle, where junior and senior individuals of the trace-maker bivalves coexisted while moving within sediments. The Wandrawandian Protovirgularia also represents the first known occurrence of this ichnotaxon from a glaciomarine environment in the Permian eastern Gondwana. The global record of Protovirgularia occurrences suggests that these trails had a wide environmental distribution since the Cambrian, and there is no obvious difference in the environmental distribution of Protovirgularia after the Permian‒Triassic transition.

CIE Spotlight: Review and clarification of Bungonibeyrichia Copeland, 1981 (Ostracoda) from the upper Silurian-Lower Devonian of New South Wales, Australia

AuthorsTamara T.A. Camilleri,  & David J. Holloway

SourceAlcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology 

Brief summary of the paper: The abundant and diverse beyrichioid ostracod faunas preserved in Silurian and Devonian silisiclastic strata of the Lachlan Orogen in southeastern Australia include specimens of the genus BungonibeyrichiaBungonibeyrichia copelandi sp. nov. is proposed for the fossil material, originally misidentified at species level, on which the description of this genus was based. The new species is nominated as the type species for Bungonibeyrichia in accordance with Article 70.3 of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Bungonibeyrichia is distinguished from other beyrichioid genera on the basis of a distinctive combination of lobe, velum and crumina features.

CIE Spotlight: Bayesian networks elucidate interactions between fire and other drivers of terrestrial fauna distributions

Authors: Bronwyn A. Hradsky, Trent D. Penman, Dan Ababei, Anca Hanea, Euan G. Ritchie, Alan York, Julian Di Stefano

Source: Ecosphere

Brief summary of the paper: Fire is a major driver of community composition and habitat structure and is extensively used as an ecological management tool in flammable landscapes. Interactions between fire and other processes that affect animal distributions, however, cause variation in faunal responses to fire and limit our ability to identify appropriate fire management regimes for biodiversity conservation. Bayesian networks (BNs) have not previously been used to examine terrestrial faunal distributions in relation to fire, but offer an alternative statistical framework for modeling complex environmental relationships as they explicitly capture interactions between predictor variables.

We developed a conceptual model of the interactions between drivers of faunal distributions in fire-affected landscapes, and then used a non-parametric BN modeling approach to describe and quantify these relationships for a suite of terrestrial native mammal species. We also tested whether BNs could be used to predict these species’ distributions using only remote-sensed or mapped variables. Data were collected at 113 sites across 47,000 ha of continuous eucalypt forest in the Otway Ranges, southeastern Australia; time-since-fire (TSF) ranged from six months to 74 yr. Habitat complexity increased with TSF and forest wetness. Critical-weight-range (35–5500 g) marsupials and rodents were generally more likely to occur at long unburnt sites with high habitat complexity, and in wetter forest types. In contrast, large grazers and browsers preferred less complex habitats and younger or drier forest. Species occurrences were more strongly affected by habitat complexity than TSF, coarse woody debris cover, or invasive predator (Vulpes vulpes or Felis catus) occurrence.

Bayesian network models effectively discriminated between the presence and absence of most native mammal species, even when only provided with data on remote-sensed or mapped variables (i.e., without field-assessed data such as habitat complexity). Non-parametric BNs are an effective technique for explicitly modeling the complex and context-dependent influence of fire history on faunal distributions, and may reduce the need to collect extensive field data on habitat structure and other proximate drivers.

 

CIE Spotlight: Departure time influences foraging associations in little penguins

AuthorsGrace J. Sutton , Andrew J. Hoskins, Maud Berlincourt, John P. Y. Arnould

Source: PLOS ONE

Brief summary of the paper: Recent studies have documented that little penguins (Eudyptula minor) associate at sea, displaying synchronised diving behaviour throughout a foraging trip. However, previous observations were limited to a single foraging trip where only a small number of individuals were simultaneously tracked. Consequently, it is not known whether coordinated behaviour is consistent over time, or what factors influence it.

In the present study, breeding adults were concurrently instrumented with GPS and dive behaviour data loggers for at least 2 consecutive foraging trips during guard and post-guard stage at two breeding colonies (London Bridge and Gabo Island, south-eastern Australia) of contrasting population size (approximately 100 and 30,000–40,000, respectively). At both colonies, individuals were sampled in areas of comparable nesting density and spatial area. At London Bridge, where individuals use a short (23 m) common pathway from their nests to the shoreline, > 90% (n = 42) of birds displayed foraging associations and 53–60% (n = 20) maintained temporally consistent associations with the same conspecifics. Neither intrinsic (sex, size or body condition) nor extrinsic (nest proximity) factors were found to influence foraging associations. However, individuals that departed from the colony at a similar time were more likely to associate during a foraging trip. At Gabo Island, where individuals use a longer (116 m) pathway with numerous tributaries to reach the shoreline, few individuals (< 31%; n = 13) from neighbouring nests associated at sea and only 1% (n = 1) maintained associations over subsequent trips.

However, data from animal-borne video cameras indicated individuals at this colony displayed foraging associations of similar group size to those at London Bridge. This study reveals that group foraging behaviour occurs at multiple colonies and the pathways these individuals traverse with conspecifics may facilitate opportunistic group formation and resulting in foraging associations irrespective of nesting proximity and other factors.

CIE Spotlight: Defending the scientific integrity of conservation-policy processes

Authors: Carlos Carroll, Brett Hartl, Gretchen T. Goldman, Daniel J. Rohlf, Adrian Treves, Jeremy T. Kerr, Euan G. Ritchie, Richard T. Kingsford, Katherine E. Gibbs, Martine Maron, James E. M. Watson

Source: Conservation Biology

Brief summary of the paperGovernment agencies faced with politically controversial decisions often discount or ignore scientific information, whether from agency staff or nongovernmental scientists. Recent developments in scientific integrity (the ability to perform, use, communicate, and publish science free from censorship or political interference) in Canada, Australia, and the United States demonstrate a similar trajectory. A perceivedincrease in scientific-integrity abuses provokes concerted pressure by the scientific community, leading to efforts to improve scientific-integrity protections under a new administration. However, protections are often inconsistently applied and are at risk of reversal under administrations publicly hostile to evidence-based policy.

We compared recent challenges to scientific integrity to determine what aspects of scientific input into conservation policy are most at risk of political distortion and what can be done to strengthen safeguards against such abuses. To ensure the integrity of outbound communications from government scientists to the public, we suggest governments strengthen scientific integrity policies, include scientists’ right to speak freely in collective-bargaining agreements, guarantee public access to scientific information, and strengthen agency culture supporting scientific integrity.

To ensure the transparency and integrity with which information from nongovernmental scientists (e.g., submitted comments or formal policy reviews) informs the policy process, we suggest governments broaden the scope of independent reviews, ensure greater diversity of expert input and transparency regarding conflicts of interest, require a substantive response to input from agencies, and engage proactively with scientific societies. For their part, scientists and scientific societies have a responsibility to engage with the public to affirm that science is a crucial resource for developing evidence-based policy and regulations in the public interest.

CIE Spotlight: Using multiple lines of evidence to assess the risk of ecosystem collapse

AuthorsLucie M. BlandTracey J. ReganMinh Ngoc DinhRenata FerrariDavid A. KeithRebecca LesterDavid MouillotNicholas J. MurrayHoang Anh NguyenEmily Nicholson

Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences

Brief summary of the paper: Effective ecosystem risk assessment relies on a conceptual understanding of ecosystem dynamics and the synthesis of multiple lines of evidence. Risk assessment protocols and ecosystem models integrate limited observational data with threat scenarios, making them valuable tools for monitoring ecosystem status and diagnosing key mechanisms of decline to be addressed by management.

We applied the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems criteria to quantify the risk of collapse of the Meso-American Reef, a unique ecosystem containing the second longest barrier reef in the world. We collated a wide array of empirical data (field and remotely sensed), and used a stochastic ecosystem model to backcast past ecosystem dynamics, as well as forecast future ecosystem dynamics under 11 scenarios of threat. The ecosystem is at high risk from mass bleaching in the coming decades, with compounding effects of ocean acidification, hurricanes, pollution and fishing.

The overall status of the ecosystem is Critically Endangered (plausibly Vulnerable to Critically Endangered), with notable differences among Red List criteria and data types in detecting the most severe symptoms of risk. Our case study provides a template for assessing risks to coral reefs and for further application of ecosystem models in risk assessment.

Women ecologists provide strength in numbers

Originally published at deakin.edu.au here

Encouraging girls into science is a tough ask, but one that surely benefits from role models. Nationally and internationally there is a recognition of the lack of representation of women in scientific jobs. However, it’s clear that the Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) is bucking that trend – with excellent female representation in traditional STEM subject areas.

The number of early and mid-career women researchers in Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) has reached a critical mass. There are currently 62 women in the CIE, out of a total of 139 members, including PhD students.

Their projects aim to build understanding of the interactions between animal behaviour, physiology and ecology, with the aim of explaining the distribution and resilience of our animals and ecosystems, particularly in the face of environmental change.

Many of CIE’s female staff and students also have young families and have had to devise creative ways to balance the challenges of family and work. These have included setting up flexible, part-time working arrangements, engaging in informal support networks, and providing grant and publication reviewing and career mentoring for one another.

The most senior female researcher in CIE, ARC Future Fellow Professor Kate Buchanan has three primary school-aged children of her own and juggles the demands of managing an active research team with a busy household. This can be stressful at times, but CIE’s critical mass of supportive, like-minded female academics reduces some of the difficulty.

“Authorship by women academics in ecology is about 30 per cent internationally,” she said. “As a proportion of the academic staff, the CIE has a higher proportion of female researchers. It’s not clear exactly why, but it’s likely to be in part a result of the supportive culture we have developed, with backing from CIE Director, Professor Marcel Klaassen, himself a father of three daughters.

“In the CIE, part-time work is commonplace, as well as working from home, working flexible hours and using whatever means we can to support our families and achieve our career goals. If women can find or invent an environment that encourages research activity within the bounds of family demands, female academics can thrive.

“Women understand the issues faced by other women. We are not born self-publicists, so we try to encourage each other to promote our work and develop our career pathways”. PROFESSOR KATE BUCHANAN, ARC FUTURE FELLOW PROFESSOR

“As a mid-career academic, I greatly appreciated participating in Deakin University’s “Academic Women Aspiring to Leadership” program and found the training and advice offered by the University very much supported my career goals. The excellent provision of on-campus childcare at the University has also been vital in allowing me to maintain my research outputs, whilst I managed young kids.”

Dr Lee Ann Rollins and Dr Mylene Mariette are successful early career researchers at the CIE, undertaking important evolution-related research. Both are recipients of prestigious ARC “Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards” (DECRAs) to support their research, and both have had their findings published in leading science journals in the past year.

A geneticist specialising in invasive species, Dr Rollins is focusing her DECRA on rapid evolution of cane toads at their invasive “front line”. She is seeking to understand whether rapid evolution occurs through genetic or epigenetic means; in other words, whether changes in organisms are caused by modification of gene expression, rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

“Cane toads in Australia have very little genetic diversity, but huge differences in phenotypes,” Dr Rollins explained.

“In Western Australia, for instance, cane toads have longer legs than those in the east. In the absence of genetic variation, it is possible epigenetic modifications underlie the rapid changes we’ve seen.

“Traditionally, epigenetic modifications were thought to drive short-term individual modification, but not evolutionary change. We are using Australian cane toads to test whether epigenetic change is influencing evolution in this system.”

Dr Rollins is the mother of two high school students, and has a “super-supportive partner” who has been their primary care-giver for the past several years. She is enthusiastic about the value of strong female role models in academia.

“Kate Buchanan has been an amazing role model and mentor to almost every female researcher in the CIE – she is especially sensitive to the issues that are important for us,” she said.

“This can make all the difference to someone’s career.”

Also researching evolution, Dr Mariette and her team have produced the first evidence that zebra finch parents can adjust the development of their offspring within the egg in response to air temperature by modifying their calls. This previously unknown ecological function for embryonic hearing abilities could prove critical for the survival of a number of bird species in a warming climate.

Associate Professor Rebecca Lester is another CIE researcher juggling family and academic responsibilities. Associate Professor Lester, based at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus, has reduced her hours to spend time with her 18-month old son. However, she is passionate about continuing her research into ways to improve freshwater and estuarine management systems, “so we can have clean drinking water, adequate irrigation and water for other uses, and keep the natural systems healthy.”

While Associate Professor Lester was on maternity leave, a postdoctoral researcher was appointed to keep her research program on track, while sessional staff covered her teaching duties.

“In the past, during maternity leave for most academics the research would have just sat there, but we managed to ‘line up all the ducks’ and get this covered,” she said.

“We hope this can become more standard support.”

The value of the work of CIE’s women researchers seems almost incalculable. Thanks to their determination and collaboration, they are providing crucial insights as to how the environment might be protected in the face of unprecedented pressures from climate change, population growth and development – so future generations can enjoy it as we do.

Metrics reveal true efforts of work and motherhood

Burwood-based conservation scientist Dr Emily Nicholson has been inspirational in her efforts to advance her career, protect the planet and support other women scientists.

Seeking a permanent research position while caring for three young sons, she encountered a career brick wall. Then she discovered that reframing her achievements could provide a way forward.

She took a scientific approach to the problem, realising that reporting her productivity metrics to account for her time away from work, including numbers of publications, citation rates and grant income – and showcasing her time away from work – would help to ensure she was judged fairly. The approach worked. She gained a tenured post in the next position she applied for, at Deakin.

More importantly, she shared her tactics in a paper in the internationally leading journal “Science” and became a role model for women across the globe. Her article has been viewed over 25,000 times since it was published in May 2015, and is in the top one per cent of all articles measured by Altmetrics for social media reach.

In 2015 Dr Nicholson was acknowledged as an outstanding female leader in STEM research through an inaugural “Inspiring Women Fellowship” a scheme funded by the Victorian Government through the Office of the Lead Scientist and delivered by veski.

She also received a 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Award, as part of the global research team that developed a new framework for ecosystem risk assessment, the Red List of Ecosystems. The Red List has been adopted as the global standard by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the world’s biggest environmental organisation – and by governments, researchers and NGOs worldwide, and has influenced Australian policy.

CIE Spotlight: Determination of the physical drivers of Zostera seagrass distribution using a spatial autoregressive lag model

Authors: A. J. Hirst, K. Giri, D. Ball and R. S. Lee

Source: Marine & Freshwater Research

Brief summary of the paper: Seagrass mapping has become a key tool in understanding the causes of change in seagrass habitats. The present study demonstrates a method for examining relationships between seagrass habitat polygons and environmental data generated by hydrodynamic, wave, catchment and dispersion models. Seagrass abundance data are highly spatially autocorrelated and this effect was corrected using a spatially simultaneous autoregressive lag model (SSARLM).

The physical processes that determine the spatial distribution of seagrass in Port Phillip Bay, Australia, were investigated by examining the links between seagrass distribution and abundance and broadscale hydrodynamic (waves, currents), physical (light, depth, salinity and temperature) and catchment (nutrient and suspended sediment concentrations) processes. The SSARLM indicated that the distribution of Zostera spp. meadows is principally constrained by two physical thresholds, namely, wave height or exposure and light. The former excludes seagrasses from colonising wave-exposed coastlines, whereas the latter directly determines the depth profile of seagrasses through its influence on light availability. In total, 95% of all seagrass occurred within grid cells with a mean significant wave height of <0.38 m and a mean percentage irradiance of >33% surface levels. By comparison, variation in water quality, represented by variables such as modelled total nitrogen, suspended solids or salinity, had little influence on seagrass distribution.

CIE Spotlight: High fidelity: extra-pair fertilisations in eight Charadrius plover species are not associated with parental relatedness or social mating system

Authors: Kathryn H. Maher, Luke J. Eberhart-Phillips, András Kosztolányi, Natalie dos Remedios, María Cristina Carmona-Isunza, Medardo Cruz-López, Sama Zefania, James J. H. St Clair, Monif Alrashidi, Michael A. Weston, Martín A. Serrano-Meneses, Oliver Krüger, Joseph I. Hoffman, Tamás Székely, Terry Burke and Clemens Küpper

Source: Journal of Avian Biology

Brief summary of the paper: Extra-pair paternity is a common reproductive strategy in many bird species. However, it remains unclear why extrapair paternity occurs and why it varies among species and populations. Plovers (Charadrius spp.) exhibit considerable variation in reproductive behaviour and ecology, making them excellent models to investigate the evolution of social and genetic mating systems.

We investigated inter- and intra-specific patterns of extra-pair parentage and evaluated three major hypotheses explaining extra-pair paternity using a comparative approach based on the microsatellite genotypes of 2049 individuals from 510 plover families sampled from twelve populations that constituted eight species. Extra-pair paternity rates were very low (0 to 4.1% of chicks per population). No evidence was found in support of the sexual conflict or genetic compatibility hypotheses, and there was no seasonal pattern of extra-pair paternity (EPP).

The low prevalence of EPP is consistent with a number of alternative hypotheses, including the parental investment hypothesis, which suggests that high contribution to care by males restricts female plovers from engaging in extra-pair copulations. Further studies are needed to critically test the importance of this hypothesis for mate choice in plovers.

CIE Spotlight: The Effects of Food Waste on Wildlife and Humans

Authors: Thomas M. Newsome and Lily M. van Eeden

Source: Sustainability

Brief summary of the paper: A reduction in the loss and waste of human food is a global issue for addressing poverty and hunger in poorer nations, and for reducing the environmental footprint of the agriculture sector. An emerging issue, however, is that food wasted by humans is often accessible to wildlife, affecting wildlife ecology and behaviour, as well as ecological processes and community dynamics.

Here we highlight the extent of such impacts, drawing on examples from mammalian predators and other taxonomic groups. We then develop two conceptual models. The first shows how wildlife access to food waste can exacerbate human-wildlife conflicts. The second highlights that when food waste is removed, the effects on wildlife and ecosystem processes should be monitored.

The conceptual models are important when considering that large quantities of food waste are intentionally and unintentionally provided to wildlife around the world. We conclude there is an urgent need to change the way people currently manage the food we produce.