The climate change charade

Sitting here, head in hands, all I can think is what a terrible day for Australia.

Only minutes ago the Senate voted to repeal the Carbon Tax. Sure, it might not have been the best option available to limit future greenhouse gas emissions, but it was a start and it seemed to be working! Even Big Business admits that very little, if any, of the financial ‘burden’ was passed on to energy consumers! The tax seemed to be absorbed pretty well by the economy and has been linked to a boost in the renewable energies sector and the creation of new manufacturing jobs… and god knows we need it! For all its faults, the Tax at least sent a message to humanity that, yes, Australia is serious about climate change and a ready, willing and valuable player on the World stage when it comes to climate policy and global action. As a Nation, we deserve to be shunned by the rest of the world over this farce.

And for all those who think that climate action falls along party lines, please explain to me why some of the most conservative governments in the world, including UK and Germany, are able to deal with climate change effectively whilst maintaining their conservative ideologies and solid economic growth?

What makes me sad is that the Senate’s decision today sends a clear and powerful message to the rest of the world that, in Australia, Science is simply considered to be another system of dogma, belief or ‘opinion’ by serious policy-makers, rather than a philosophy of objectivity and evidence-based consensus and decision making. I suppose it explains why the Government is continuing to take the advice of a teaching ‘expert’ who thinks that physically assaulting and abusing a child is fine, if done in the ‘correct way’, despite the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary, and why we’re slowly dismantling the CSIRO. Oh yeah, we don’t have a Science Minister either… forgot about that bit.

To those who think that climate change is ‘crap’ and simply someone’s ‘opinion’, please answer these questions: do you trust your car mechanic to test your brake-pads, doctor when checking up on your STIs, electrician when installing the wiring on your granny-flat extension, phone when making an electronic funds transfer? If so, you should trust and believe a climate change scientists. It’s all the bloody same philosophy!

Just because you don’t understand how something operates, doesn’t mean that it’s not TRUE! I don’t know how quantum mechanics works, for instance, but my mobile phone operates regardless of my ignorance. Likewise, I’d be hard-pressed to explain how vaccines enable disease resistance in my body, but I know that they do and that’s enough for me to get the jab! Again, just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it’s not an accurate model to explain how the physical world operates.

Trust a scientist and the scientific process – it’s the best system we have to weed out the loads of crap in this world that make our lives difficult. Fundamentally, an attack on climate scientists and the philosophy that has driven their discoveries over the past two decades or so is an attack on all who hold Science as fundamental to human enterprise.

I thought we finished fighting this corner 400 years ago or so…

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Differential effects of chemical and non-chemical control of a woody weed (Lantana camara) on native tree seedling regeneration

Lantana camara is undoubtedly one of Australia’s (and arguably the world’s) most destructive invasive plants. Research that I did during my honours found a clear negative association between lantana abundance and native plant recruitment and species richness within wet sclerophyll along the southern coastline of New South Wales (see publications in Biol Cons and FEM).Image

There’s a huge amount of research out there now on the mechanisms by which lantana impacts native plant community diversity (for example, see work by Gentle and Duggin). There is very little research available, however, on the capacity for the vegetation community to recover following lantana control.

I conducted a weed-removal experiment in 2007 within lantana-invaded turpentine forest at Macquarie Park National Park, to examine the effects of lantana invasion and two methods for its control on rates of tree seedling establishment and growth. There were two lantana-removal treatments used in this study: (1) mechanical removal of above-ground lantana biomass ONLY and (2) mechanical removal followed by the application of herbicide (Glyphosate) to cut lantana stems. This second removal treatment is the standard, intensive control measure used by bush regenerators when restoring sclerophyll forest infested with lantana. However, many bush regenerators (myself included!) are averse to using chemicals, prefering to instead mechanically remove lantana only from sensitive sites.

A single native tree seedling (nine species in total) was planted in the centre of 2 m x 2 m plots from which lantana was removed and their establishment and growth monitored monthly for one year. I also examined whether native seedling responses to lantana invasion and removal treatments varied across native tree functional groups: (1) upper canopy sclerophyllous trees of the genera Eucalyptus and Syncarpia, (2) subcanopy mesophyllous trees, such as Syzygium and Synoum and (3) species typically recorded in disturbed canopy openings or along forest edges (e.g. Trema and Acacia species).Image

I found that lantana invasion and removal had no effect on rates of seedling mortality. However, upper canopy species were significantly less likely to survive overall than subcanopy or disturbance-adapted species. Importantly, seedlings which survived the growing season were significantly larger (measured by height, basal stem width and number of leaves) in both plots dominated by native vegetation (i.e. without lantana) and where lantana’s canopy was removed and its basal shoots poisoned than in lantana-dominated plots. Furthermore, seedling growth was inhibited in plots where lantana canopy was removed but where herbicide was NOT applied to its cut basal shoots!!!

Overall, my results are not surprising and confirm the wealth of experimental evidence that already exists on the impacts of lantana and other woody invasive plants on the regeneration of native vegetation. However, my results clearly show that mechanical removal of lantana alone is unlikely to promote the regeneration of native vegetation without the application of appropriate herbicides to cut stemsIMG_0461[1]

Many bush regenerators, myself included, are hesistant to use herbicides to control weeds in ‘sensitive’ bushland, and prefer to mechanically remove both above-ground shoots and below-ground roots to control woody weeds, such as lantana. It is highly probable that mechanical removal of both lantana shoots and roots would indeed lead to a similar positive outcome for seedling recruitment as the herbicide treatment used in my experiment. However, mechanical removal of lantana roots probably disturbs the soil and promotes vigorous secondary invasion by other weeds present within the soil seed bank. Many of these are benign and transient opportunists (e.g. Conyza, Bidens and Sonchus species), but others are often more difficult to control than lantana.

I am in the process of preparing this paper for submission to Ecological Management & Restoration. Please get in touch (bgooden@uow.edu.au) if you would like further information about this project and my research on invasive plants in general.

Urbanisation impacts abundance (but not richness) of salt marsh molluscs

salt marsh impactThe preliminary results are now in: urbanisation at the landward boundary of coastal salt marshes is associated with a two-fold reduction in the density of molluscs inhabiting adjacent coastal salt marsh. Our results found, however, that despite this reduction in overall molluscan abundance, urbanisation had no effect on the number of different mollusc species (i.e. richness) present in adjacent salt marshes.

The overall aim of this project was to examine effects of shoreline urbanisation on the unique molluscan fauna within endangered salt marsh of south-eastern Australia. My student, Geoff Clarke did a stellar job with this project, counting and identifying over 7,500 individual snails from six species, most of which are restricted to salt marsh or similar vegetation that borders estuaries and coastal embayments.

Geoff surveyed 9 ‘urbanised’ and 9 ‘forested’ (which he termed natural) reference sites across three embayments (see accompanying satellite images). Each site consisted of a 40 m x 10 m quadrat at the landward boundary between marsh and casuarina forest. Molluscs were sampled from within 15 50 cm x 50 cm subplots that were randomly distributed throughout each site.Geoff also recorded the number and abundance of resident plant species and litter cover.Gastropod.PNG

Interestingly, salt marsh patches adjacent to urbanised and forested landscapes were similar in terms of number and abundance of plant species, litter cover, bare ground cover and extent of tidal inundation.

What, then, is the mechanism by which urbanisation drives a reduction in molluscan community productivity? We are exploring the following ideas in out next field season:2014-03-05 10.11.08

(1) Chemical pollutants in urban storm-water runoff limits growth of algal soil crusts upon which gastropods graze, thus indirectly limiting population sizes.

(2) Urbanisation inhibits the fecundity and recruitment of resident molluscs, perhaps through chemical disruption of embryo development and recruit establishment.

(3) Urbanisation increases rates of predation of resident gastropods (Phallomedusa and Ophicardelus) by fishes and birds.

It would be great to hear from like-minded benthic ecologists interested in these and other interactions and getting involved with future projects at University of Wollongong!

It is muddy work but immensely enjoyable!!! This project was cosupervised by Matt Rees, member of FishThinkers research hub (http://fishthinkers.wordpress.com/)IMG_4240

 

New publications out now….

Gooden, B. & French, K. (2014) Non-interactive effects of plant invasion and landscape modification on native communities. Diversity and Distributions 20, 626-632.

Gooden, B. & French, K. (2014) Impacts of alien grass invasion in coastal seed banks vary amongst native growth forms and dispersal strategies. Biological Conservation 171, 114–126.

Gooden, B., French, K. & Robinson, S.A. (2014) Alien grass disrupts reproduction and post-settlement recruitment of co-occurring native vegetation: a mechanism for diversity decline in invaded forest? Plant Ecology 215, 567-580.

Gooden, B. & French, K. (2014) Impacts of alien plant invasion on native plant communities are mediated by functional identity of resident species, not resource availability. Oikos 10.1111/oik.01724.

Gooden, B., French, K., Turner, P. and Downey, P. O. 2009. Impact threshold for an alien plant invader, Lantana camara L., on native plant communities. Biological Conservation 142, 2631–2641

Gooden, B., French, K., Turner, P. 2009. Invasion and management of a woody plant, Lantana camara L., alters vegetation diversity within wet sclerophyll forest in southP1090156eastern Australia. Forest Ecology and Management 257, 960–967

Please get in touch if you would like me to send pdf copies of these papers to you (bgooden@uow.edu.au)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Educational history

  • 2007: Bachelor of Science (Biology) Honours – Advanced, First Class (90 %), University of Wollongong. Thesis title: The Effect of the Woody Plant Invader Lantana camara on Vascular Plant Diversity in Wet Sclerophyll Forest.
  • 2004-2006: Bachelor of Science (Geoscience and Biology), University of Wollongong.
  • 2003: HSC Broken Hill (Willyama High School), UAI 98.7.

 

Employment history

CURRENT

TEACHING

Laboratory tutor

  • Conservation Biology BIOL351 (2010-current),
  • Terrestrial and Marine Ecology BIOL355 (2008, 2010, 2013),
  • Functional Biology BIOL105 (2012),
  • Marine and Freshwater Biodiversity BIOL240 (2011).

Lecture

  • Functional ecology of plant secondary metabolites, BIOL241 (2011-current)
  • Evolution of ‘life on land’, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Plant evolution, phylogeny and taxonomy, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Functional anatomy and ecology of plants, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Ecological impacts of global environmental change, BIOL104 (current)
  • Statistics for environmental scientists, ENVI391 (2011-current)

Laboratory and field course supervision

  • Plant community identification and assembly, BIOL241 (2011-current)
  • Plant identification, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Bird survey techniques, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Plant functional biology, BIOL241 (2012-current)
  • Statistics for environmental scientists, ENVI391 (2011-current)

Teacher Evaluation Summary Report for Lecture and Tutorial Classes – student evaluation score averaging 5.63 out of 6 (94 %) for BIOL241 (Biodiversity of Terrestrial Organisms) and ENVI391 (Environmental Science and Systems).

PAST

Student supervision, Janet Cosh Herbarium, University of Wollongong (2011)

Teaching assistant, plant identification course and skills for environmental assessment, Janet Cosh Herbarium, University of Wollongong (2010-2011)

Field research assistant, Division of Ecology and Evolution, Imperial College London, Silwood Park (2009). Duties/skills: Mist netting, bird surveys, population monitoring. For verification and reference, contact Alex Lord.

Project officer, Southern Habitat Pty Ltd (2008). Duties/skills: Report preparation, vegetation and weed management plans, botanical surveys, design and supervision of restoration projects, preparation of tender applications. For verification and reference, contact the Managing Director Jay Windsor (jay@southernhabitat.com.au).

Research assistant, University of Wollongong (2008). Projects: community assembly and drought and weed impacts.

Bush regenerator, Southern Habitat Pty Ltd (2005-2007). Duties/skills: weed management, revegetation. For verification and reference, contact the Managing Director Jay Windsor (jay@southernhabitat.com.au).

Research Assistant, Colgate University, New York, USA (2006). Duties/skills: extraction of diatoms from sediment cores, diatom identification. For verification and reference, contact Professor Amy Leventer.

VOLUNTEER

Janet Cosh Herbarium (2005)

Eastern Ground Parrot surveys, Barren Grounds, NSW (2004-2006)

Meals on Wheels, Home and Community Care, Broken Hill (2002-2003).

 

Professional appointments

CURRENT

  • Honorary Bulletin Editor for the Ecological Society of Australia, http://www.ecolsoc.org.au/
  • Convenor, Invasive Species Research Chapter, Ecological Society of Australia

PAST

  • NSW Regional Councillor, Ecological Society of Australia (2010-2012)

MEMBERSHIP OF PROFESSIONAL BODIES