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Kingsford et al. 2017 Continental impacts of water development on waterbirds, contrasting two Australian river basins: Global implications for sustainable water use


The world’s freshwater biotas are declining in diversity, range and abundance, morethan in other realms, with human appropriation of water. Despite considerable dataon the distribution of dams and their hydrological effects on river systems, there arefew expansive and long analyses of impacts on freshwater biota. We investigatedtrends in waterbird communities over 32 years, (1983–2014), at three spatial scales intwo similarly sized large river basins, with contrasting levels of water resource devel-opment, representing almost a third (29%) of Australia: the Murray–Darling Basin andthe Lake Eyre Basin. The Murray–Darling Basin is Australia’s most developed riverbasin (240 dams storing 29,893 GL) while the Lake Eyre Basin is one of the less devel-oped basins (1 dam storing 14 GL). We compared the long-term responses of water-bird communities in the two river basins at river basin, catchment and major wetlandscales. Waterbird abundances were strongly related to river flows and rainfall. For thedeveloped Murray–Darling Basin, we identified significant long-term declines in totalabundances, functional response groups (e.g., piscivores) and individual species ofwaterbird (n = 50), associated with reductions in cumulative annual flow. These trendsindicated ecosystem level changes. Contrastingly, we found no evidence of waterbirddeclines in the undeveloped Lake Eyre Basin. We also modelled the effects of the Aus-tralian Government buying up water rights and returning these to the riverine environ-ment, at a substantial cost (>3.1 AUD billion) which were projected to partly (18%improvement) restore waterbird abundances, but projected climate change effectscould reduce these benefits considerably to only a 1% or 4% improvement, withrespective annual recovery of environmental flows of 2,800 GL or 3,200 GL. Ourunique large temporal and spatial scale analyses demonstrated severe long-term eco-logical impact of water resource development on prominent freshwater animals, withimplications for global management of water resources.

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Centre for Ecosystem Science 2017 Submission to drafts of the Regulations for the Biodiversity Conservation Act, the amended Local Land Services Act and supporting tools in New South Wales

Executive Summary

The Centre for Ecosystem Science (CES), UNSW Australia, supports all legislative and other instruments of government that improve effectiveness of biodiversity conservation, founded on a strong evidence base. Current rates of loss of biodiversity around the world, in Australia and in New South Wales are unprecedented. The continued loss of biodiversity in NSW indicates a clear need to assess the effectiveness of the legislative framework that governs biodiversity conservation. CES welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the draft Regulations for the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016.

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Rees et al. 2017 In the absence of an apex predator, irruptive herbivores suppress grass seed production: Implications for small granivores


Many examples exist of species disappearing shortly after the extinction of a previously co-occurring apex predator, however processes connecting these events are often obscure. In Australian deserts, dingo Canis dingo eradication is associated with declines in abundances of small granivorous birds, even though dingoes and these flying birds rarely directly interact. We hypothesised that dingoes facilitate small granivores by reducing populations of large, grazing kangaroos Macropus spp., thereby increasing grass seed production and availability. To test this prediction, we monitored kangaroo abundances and surveyed grass seed production and biomass of native pastures in matched, desert habitats with dingoes and where dingoes were functionally extinct. Dingo absence was associated with 99.9% greater abundances of kangaroos, 88% - 98% lower pasture biomasses and 85% - 97% lower densities of grass seed heads. To test that these vegetation effects were related to kangaroo grazing, we constructed large herbivore exclosures in areas where dingoes where functionally extinct and there were no grazing livestock. After three years of kangaroo exclusion, pasture biomass and grass seed production were each 87% greater than in adjacent, grazed control plots. Regeneration of vegetation within the kangaroo exclosures demonstrated that kangaroo grazing was responsible for the differences in native pastures we had observed associated with the functional extinction of dingoes. Our results indicate that reduction of grass seed availability by kangaroo grazing is a likely explanation for the relative rarity of small granivorous birds in areas where dingoes are functionally extinct. In areas where apex predators have been eradicated, reintroducing and conserving apex predators or intensively controlling mammalian herbivores would be necessary to mitigate destructive herbivory.

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Gordon et al. 2017 Shrub encroachment is linked to extirpation of an apex predator

Abstract The abundance of shrubs has increased throughout Earth's arid lands. This ‘shrub encroachment’ has been linked to livestock grazing, fire-suppression and elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations facilitating shrub recruitment. Apex predators initiate trophic cascades which can influence the abundance of many species across multiple trophic levels within ecosystems. Extirpation of apex predators is linked inextricably to pastoralism, but has not been considered as a factor contributing to shrub encroachment. Here, we ask if trophic cascades triggered by the extirpation of Australia's largest terrestrial predator, the dingo (Canis dingo), could be a driver of shrub encroachment in the Strzelecki Desert, Australia. We use aerial photographs spanning a 51-year period to compare shrub cover between areas where dingoes are historically rare and common. We then quantify contemporary patterns of shrub, shrub seedling and mammal abundances, and use structural equation modelling to compare competing trophic cascade hypotheses to explain how dingoes could influence shrub recruitment. Finally, we track the fate of seedlings of an encroaching shrub, hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa angustissima), during a period optimal for seedling recruitment, and quantify removal rates of hopbush seeds by rodents from enriched seed patches. Shrub cover was 26–48% greater in areas where dingoes were rare than common. Our structural equation modelling supported the hypothesis that dingo removal facilitates shrub encroachment by triggering a four level trophic cascade. According to this model, increased mesopredator abundance in the absence of dingoes results in suppressed abundance of consumers of shrub seeds and seedlings, rodents and rabbits respectively. In turn, suppressed abundances of rodents and rabbits in the absence of dingoes relaxed a recruitment bottleneck for shrubs. The results of our SEM were supported by results showing that rates of hopbush seedling survival and seed removal were 1·7 times greater and 2·1 times lower in areas where dingoes were rare than common. Our study provides evidence linking the suppression of an apex predator to the historic encroachment of shrubs. We contend that trophic cascades induced by apex predator extirpation may be an overlooked driver of shrub encroachment.


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Kingsford 2017 Submission on proposed Basin Plan amendments for the Northern Basin

Scientific evidence supports an increase in environmental flows to achieve sustainability for the environmental assets of the Northern Basin and the Murray-Darling Basin, beyond the 390GLs per year. The proposed reduction of 70 GL per year will continue to drive ongoing degradation of northern basin environmental values and ecosystem services provided by rivers, requiring future adjustments to provide more water for the rivers, particularly with the increasing effects of climate change of increasing temperatures and potential changes to run-off. This submission identifies eight major concerns which clearly show there is insufficient evidence for a recommendation to reduce the environmental flow target of the Northern Basin of the Murray-Darling Basin. The submission provides 10 reasons for supporting this position of rejecting the recommendations for reductions in water recovery.

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Morris and Letnic 2017 Removal of an apex predator initiates a trophic cascade that extends from herbivores to vegetation and the soil nutrient pool

Abstract: It is widely assumed that organisms at low trophic levels, particularly microbes and plants, are essential to basic services in ecosystems, such as nutrient cycling. In theory, apex predators' effects on ecosystems could extend to nutrient cycling and the soil nutrient pool by influencing the intensity and spatial organization of herbivory. Here, we take advantage of a long-term manipulation of dingo abundance across Australia's dingo-proof fence in the Strzelecki Desert to investigate the effects that removal of an apex predator has on herbivore abundance, vegetation and the soil nutrient pool. Results showed that kangaroos were more abundant where dingoes were rare, and effects of kangaroo exclusion on vegetation, and total carbon, total nitrogen and available phosphorus in the soil were marked where dingoes were rare, but negligible where dingoes were common. By showing that a trophic cascade resulting from an apex predator's lethal effects on herbivores extends to the soil nutrient pool, we demonstrate a hitherto unappreciated pathway via which predators can influence nutrient dynamics. A key implication of our study is the vast spatial scale across which apex predators' effects on herbivore populations operate and, in turn, effects on the soil nutrient pool and ecosystem productivity could become manifest.

Purwandana et al. 2016 Ecological allometries and niche use dynamics across Komodo dragon ontogeny

Ontogenetic allometries in ecological habits and niche use are key responses by which individuals maximize lifetime fitness. Moreover, such allometries have significant implications for how individuals influence population and community dynamics. Here, we examined howbody size var- iation in Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis)influenced ecological allometries in their: (1) prey size preference, (2) daily movement rates, (3) home range area, and (4) subse- quent niche use across ontogeny. With increased body mass, Komodo dragons increased prey size with a dramatic switch from small (≤10 kg) to large prey (≥50 kg) in lizards heavier than 20 kg. Rates of foraging movement were described by a non-linear concave down response with lizard increasing hourly movement rates up until ∼20 kg body mass before decreasing daily movement suggesting reduced foraging ef- fort in larger lizards. In contrast, home range area exhibited a sigmoid response with increased body mass. Intrapopulation ecological niche use and overlap were also strongly structured by body size. Thus, ontogenetic allometries suggest Komodo dragon’s transition from a highly active foraging mode exploiting small prey through to a less active sit and wait feeding strategy focused on killing large ungulates. Further, our results suggest that as body size increases across ontogeny, the Komodo dragon exhibited marked ontogenetic niche shifts that enabled it to function as an entire vertebrate predator guild by by exploiting prey across multiple trophic levels.


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Parr et al 2016 Cranial Shape and the Modularity of Hybridization in Dingoes and Dogs; Hybridization Does Not Spell the End for Native Morphology

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Clarke-Wood et al. 2016 The ecological response of insectivorous bats to coastal lagoon degradation

Coastal lagoons provide key habitat for a wide range of biota but are often degraded by intense urbanization pressures. Insectivorous bats use these highly productive ecosystems and are likely to be impacted by their decline in quality. We compared bat activity and richness and invertebrate biomass and richness across a gradient of lagoon quality (9 lagoons) in the Greater Sydney region, Australia to determine the extent to which bats and their prey were impacted by lagoon degradation. Bats were more diverse and 19 times more active at higher quality lagoons. The trawling bat, Myotis macropus, was absent from all low quality lagoons, but these lagoons were used by other species such as Miniopterus schreibersii oceanensis. Invertebrate richness and biomass did not differ significantly across lagoon quality. We examined potential mechanisms of insectivorous bat decline at degraded lagoons by measuring toxic metal concentrations in bat fur, invertebrates and sediment. Lead and zinc were detected at environmentally significant levels in the sediments of lower quality lagoons. Furthermore, lead concentrations were 6 times the lowest observable adverse effects level for small mammals in the hair of one individual M. macropus. The present study demonstrates that coastal lagoons support a rich bat community, but ongoing development and pollution of these habitats is likely to negatively impact on insectivorous bat species, especially trawling species.


Letnic et al. 2016 The crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda) in the south-eastern Strzelecki Desert

Our survey trips always uncover something surprising. Recently we observed a range extension of the crest-tailed mulgara or ampurta, (Dasycercus cristicauda), which was very exciting! We discuss our observations in an article published in Australian Mammalogy. The article can be accessed here: 

The abstract of this article is reproduced below.

We report observations of the crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda) in the south-eastern Strzelecki Desert. Our observations, made during spotlight surveys and using infrared cameras, extend the contemporary range of D. cristicauda to the east by 180 km but subfossil records show that these observations are within the pre-European-settlement range of the species. Whether our observations represent a range expansion or localised population irruption of a previously unknown refuge population is not known. Future studies are recommended to establish the distribution of D. cristicauda in the region and the factors determining its distribution and abundance

Keith et al. 2015 The IUCN red list of ecosystems: Motivations, challenges and applications

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Murray et al. 2015 Tidal flats of the Yellow Sea: A review of ecosystem status and anthropogenic threats

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Skidmore et al. 2015 Environmental science: Agree on biodiversity metrics to track from space

Conservation scientists should collaborate more with space agencies, such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), on identifying measures to help track biodiversity declines around the world. For full publication click here.

Kingsford 2015 From barriers to limits to climate change adaptation: path dependency and the speed of change

This review examines the broad-ranging effects of climate change with respect to six case studies: the Australian Alps, the Coorong and Lower Lakes, the Great Barrier Reef, the Macquarie Marshes, small inland communities affected by drought and the Torres Strait Islands.

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Murray 2015 Tidal flats are disappearing
Hunter et al. 2015 Reintroduction of Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia can restore top-down control in ecosystems where dingoes have been extirpated

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Catelotti et al. 2015 Inundation Requirements for Persistence and Recovery of River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in Semi-arid Australia

The building of dams and diversion from rivers has had a major impact on the wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin. The Macquarie Marshes is one of the better studied of these wetlands. It is a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, one which the Australian Government has formally notified the Ramsar Bureau of likely ecological change in character, predominantly because of the impacts of water resource development. To read the publication click here

Abrahms et al. 2015 The context of road-use by African wild dogs highlights the importance of considering animal behaviour in conservation planning

Roads are among the most widespread forms of landscape alteration globally, so effective conservation planning requires an understanding of how they can affect animal movement. Using novel GPS collar technology we found that the response to roads by endangered African wild dogs, Lycaon pictus, varied with behaviour as well as with habitat. African wild dogs selected roads when travelling, ignored them when running (mostly hunting) and avoided roads when resting. Road-use increased in denser habitats, suggesting that roads may enhance wild dog movement through the landscape. Overall, this work highlights the importance of animal behaviour in conservation planning. Click here for full publication.

Tulloch et al. 2015 Why do we map threats? Linking threat mapping with actions to make better conservation decisions

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Leo et al 2015 Interference competition: odours of an apex predator and conspecifics influence resource acquisition by red foxes

Apex predators can impact smaller predators via lethal effects that occur through direct killing, and non-lethal effects that arise when fear-induced behavioural and physiological changes reduce the fitness of smaller predators. To read full publication, click here

Bino et al. 2015 Developing State and Transition Models of Floodplain Vegetation Dynamics as a Tool for Conservation Decision-making: a Case Study of the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar Wetland

Freshwater ecosystems provide a range of critical services including clean water, food, power as well as recreational and tourism. Although covering only a fraction of the earth’s surface (0.8%), freshwater ecosystems harbour a considerable proportion of biodiversity worldwide. They are also among the more vulnerable, degrading in quality and extent at disturbing rates. Australia’s freshwater ecosystems are no exception. Degradation has predominately been driven by increasing freshwater demand and construction of dams, diminishing and altering the flow of water. To read the publication click here

Kingsford et al. 2015 A commentary on ‘Long-term ecological trends of flow-dependent ecosystems in a major regulated river basin’, by Colloff et al.

Colloff et al. in Marine and Freshwater Research ( examined time-series data for flow-dependent vegetation, invertebrates, fish, frogs, reptiles and waterbirds in the Murray–Darling Basin, 1905–2013. They concluded that temporal patterns fluctuated, declining during droughts and recovering after floods. They suggested that major changes in land use in the late 19th century permanently modified these freshwater ecosystems, irretrievably degrading them before major water diversions. Restoring water to the environment might then be interpreted as not addressing biotic declines. We argue that their conclusions are inadequately supported, although data quality remains patchy and they neglected the influence of hydrology and the timing and extent of water resource development. We are critical of the lack of adequate model specification and the omission of statistical power analyses. We show that declines of native flow-dependent flora and fauna have continued through the 20th and early 21st centuries, in response to multiple factors, including long-term changes in flow regimes. We argue that flow-regime changes have been critical, but not in isolation. So, returning water to the environment is a prerequisite for sustained recovery but governments need to improve monitoring and analyses to adequately determine effectiveness of management of the rivers and wetlands of the Murray–Darling Basin.

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Pomilia et al 2015 African wild dog ranging patterns in northern Botswana

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Rees et al. 2015 Ravens are a key threat to beach-nesting birds

Fish waste left on beaches by recreational fishers could harm shore-nesting birds by attracting native crows that eat the birds’ eggs. To read full publication, click here

Bino et al. 2015 Life history and dynamics of a platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) population: four decades of mark-recapture surveys

Knowledge of the life-history and population dynamics of Australia’s iconic and evolutionarily distinct platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) remains poor. We marked-recaptured 812 unique platypuses (total 1,622 captures), over four decades (1973–2014) in the Shoalhaven River, Australia. Strong sex-age differences were observed in life-history, including morphology and longevity. Apparent survival of adult females (Φ = 0.76) were higher than adult males (Φ = 0.57), as in juveniles: females Φ = 0.27, males Φ = 0.13. Females were highly likely to remain in the same pool (adult: P = 0.85, juvenile: P = 0.88), while residency rates were lower for males (adult: P = 0.74, juvenile: P = 0.46). We combined survival, movement and life-histories to develop population viability models and test the impact of a range of life-history parameters. While using estimated apparent survival produced unviable populations (mean population growth rate r = −0.23, extinction within 20 years), considering residency rates to adjust survival estimates, indicated more stable populations (r = 0.004, p = 0.04 of 100-year extinction). Further sensitivity analyses highlighted adult female survival and overall success of dispersal as most affecting viability. Findings provide robust life-history and viability estimates for a difficult study species. These could support developing large-scale population dynamics models required to underpin a much needed national risk assessment for the platypus, already declining in parts of its current distribution.


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Morris et al. 2015 Divergent foraging behaviour of a desert rodent, Notomys fuscus, in covered and open microhabitats revealed using GUDs and video analysis

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Kennish et al, 2015 2015 Saltmarshes

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Bino et al. 2015 Prioritizing Wetlands for Waterbirds in a Boom and Bust System: Waterbird Refugia and Breeding in the Murray-Darling Basin

A systematic prioritisation of wetlands for waterbirds, across about 13.5% of the Murray-Darling Basin, using a 30-year record of systematic aerial surveys of waterbird populations.

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Feit et al. 2015 Invasive Cane Toads’ Predatory Impact on Dung Beetles is Mediated by Reservoir Type at Artificial Water Points

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Rodríguez et al. 2015 A practical guide to the application of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems criteria

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