Tag Archives: outreach

Through The Lens Of A Biologist: A Wildlife Photographer Shares His Story

Over the last two years, I had the chance to spend over 100 days at sea on board the German research vessel Sonne, transversing the Atlantic and examining all sorts of fascinating deep-sea animals. On these trips, the scientists were joined by someone whose goal it is to bring the science to the people: Solvin Zankl, who has been a professional wildlife photographer for over 20 years.

When the deep-sea nets reach the surface, the biologists start stressing, frantically ensuring the catch is properly documented and preserved. This is when Solvin’s smorgasbord starts, as he calmly looks through the catch and picks out the more interesting specimens, some of which he knows and some of which he has never seen before. Then he slowly maneuvers his small canisters of cold water into the cold room to spend the next hours meticulously portraying each animal.

Since I believe his job is an absolute dream job for many biologists, I asked him a few questions on how he got into this profession and what some of the challenges are.

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10,000 Hours Listening For Screaming Koalas

Image Credit: sandid, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped

Mini-acoustic sensors reveal occupancy and threats to koalas Phascolarctos cinereus in private native forests (2021) Law et al., Journal of Applied Ecology, https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.14099

The Crux

Forests that lie on privately owned land make up a huge percentage of Australia’s native forests – over 23%. That’s 164 million hectares, a massive swathe of territory for Australia’s amazing endemic species to call home.

The problem is that because it’s private, it’s often difficult to survey. Which means there’s a huge chunk of an ecosystem that we have very little knowledge about. Sometimes this frustrates, but other times it breeds novel approaches to conservation.

This week’s authors wanted to survey native Australian forests, with one species in mind – the charismatic and oft-threatened koala. They took an approach which brought land-owners on board, and sent them audio recording equipment to register the presence of koalas, in an effort to figure out how many koalas made use of private forests.

What They Did

Spread across Australia’s privately owned forests, the researchers found just under a million hectares worth of land that they estimated to be suitable for koalas. They contacted the owners of said land and explained the project and its significance. Once the owners understood the concept and the work involved, they were sent ‘Audiomoths’ – small recording devices that can be attached to trees in koala habitat and record male koalas bellows during mating season (September to December).

Recording koala bellows isn’t that straightforward though, and many recordings had to be removed from the final results as heavy wind and rain made it difficult to determine what was making what noise.

Once koalas were identified, their presence was modelled against a range of different human impacts, including nearby roads and land clearance, and environmental variables like extent of vegetation and local fire severity.

Did You Know: Koala Extinction

Koalas are notoriously picky eaters, and many people know that they will only eat eucalyptus leaves. Yet it goes further, with some koalas only eating leaves from certain species of eucalyptus tree, having grown so accustomed to these species that their gut bacteria can’t tolerate anything else. It means that relocating koalas can be almost impossible, and that preserving their natural habitat is of the utmost importance (and benefits a huge range of other species).

Read More: What Being Functionally Extinct Means, Why Koalas Aren’t, and Why Things Are Still Pretty Dire

What They Found

The survey resulted in almost 10,000 hours of recordings across 128 properties and three years. Over 1,600 bellows were recorded across 41% of all the sites surveyed.

The only variables which had an affect on koala presence were the proximity of sealed (paved) roads and the vegetation cover. The closer by a sealed road was, the less likely koalas were to show up. Heavily forested areas were also less likely to house koalas, whereas forest that was more fragmented by grassland and open woodland were better suited for them.

Problems

The study mentions early on that there are often differences between private and public forest, yet there’s no comparison here between the two. Using Audiomoths in public nature reserves would have made for a great comparison, particularly to check whether the environmental and human variables affected koalas in the same way. However the constraints here are financial ones, and I think the authors would agree that it’s more interesting the double the data for this particular experiment rather than double the Audiomoth budget and make a comparative study.

So What?

The environmental results here aren’t particularly interesting – koala’s habitat preferences are relatively well studied. What is a real positive is the success of the technique used, that of bringing private landowners on side and getting a wealth of data in return. An added bonus of a project like that is that as well as collecting data, you get the opportunity to share scientific knowledge and teach a group of the public about local wildlife.


Dr. Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist who completed his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and is currently working as a climate data analyst at Ducky AS. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

Unlocking The Mystery Behind The Survival Of Norwegian Bats

This is a guest post by Mari Aas Fjelldal. Original Norwegian text can be found in this Adressa article.

It’s a warm day in July when I knock on the door of a house in Trondheim. A person appears in the doorway and looks at me a bit uncertainly after spotting the huge, black antenna I am holding in my hand.

“Hi,” I say, trying to flash my biggest smile, “My name is Mari. I am a biologist and a bat-researcher at NTNU! I am very sorry to bother you, but I am looking for a bat and I believe it might be living here with you?”

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Crossing the River Between Fishers and Fish Science

"We need the next generation of scientists to be at the coalface, communicating good scientific information."

This article was first published in late 2018 (Image Credit: Mallee Catchment Management Authority, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)

When a food source provides almost half a planet with protein, you can expect the people who deliver that food source to play an important role in society. Fishing is no exception. Any country that has a marine or freshwater ecosystem in close proximity will have a fishing community, and that community can play a variety of roles, from something as simple as putting food on people’s tables to campaigning heavily to keep your country from joining the EU.

So it makes sense that fishers should have access to good fish science, at every level. If you’re a multi-million-dollar corporation, you need to know how fish stocks will respond to certain catch levels over a sustained period. If you’re a local or specialised fishing community, you need to know how available your catch will be in five years given temperature increases. And if you’re one person on a boat in a river, you might want to know how best to treat an over- or under-sized fish to ensure it survives being released.

It follows, then, that there should be open communication between fish scientists and fishers. At this year’s Australian Society of Fish Biology conference, I asked a variety of delegates a simple question: Is there open communication?

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Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson: Rise of the Planet of the Insects

Anne-Sverdrup-Thygeson has made it her life's mission to fascinate the world - with insects

Anne-Sverdrup-Thygeson has made it her life’s mission to fascinate the world – with insects (Image Credit: Håkon Sparre, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

The Internet has been set abuzz (pun intended) lately by rumours of the Insect Apocalypse. And whilst the concept itself is depressing, it’s worth smiling at the fact that the public has finally started to take an interest in the ecological plight of a group of animals until recently ignored whenever possible. After all, insects include, wasps, cockroaches, bees and myriad other ‘nasties’.

Professor Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson is one academic/author who has made it her life’s mission to turn people around on insects, which includes her recent Brage Prize nominated book “Terra Insecta”. Sam Perrin and I sat down at the recent Norwegian Ecological Society Conference to ask Anne about why people have an aversion to creepy crawlies, how scientific communication helps in her mission, and whether or not the planet could survive the eradication of the mosquito.

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