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Research stories

The following stories relate to Tasmania’s Research sector.

Polar adventurer home in Hobart

Edition 194_OlivierHawkins

Hobart is gateway to the Antarctic and home to a passionate group of polar experts. Among their ranks the intrepid Dr Frederique Olivier – adventurer, scientist and documentary film-maker.

8 May 2018, Edition 194

Kids join archaeological dig

Edition 194_KerrieLodge

Young archaeologists-in-training have joined the dig at an important excavation as part of an innovative education initiative.

8 May 2018, Edition 194

National award for scientist

Edition 193_IMAS

A Tasmanian scientist has been honoured with a prestigious national award for helping to unlock the mystery of a deadly virus decimating the oyster industry.

11 April 2018

Devils at home in San Diego

Two Tasmanian devils are winning hearts in San Diego, USA, where they are now happily settled into their new home at the city’s famous zoo. A “laid-back” male – named McLovin – and a “shy” female – named Quirindi (pronounced Kwa-ren-dee) – are now receiving visitors and drawing great interest. The Tasmanian ambassadors are also shining a light on the fight to save our devils. McLovin and Quirindi arrived from Taronga Western Plains Zoo late last year, and recently relocated to San Diego Zoo’s ‘Australian Outback’ exhibit after completing mandatory quarantine. San Diego is currently one of the few zoos in the U.S. with Tasmanian devils. A zoo statement described these newest additions as “extremely significant,” and part of a partnership program between San Diego and Taronga Zoos, designed to, “inspire needed support for Tasmanian devil conservation.” Tasmanian devils face the threat of extinction in the wild due to the deadly facial tumour disease which kills infected animals within six to 12 months: “The disease is incredibly rare and is one of few contagious cancers in the world. The good thing about that is, it attracts a lot of scientific attention. San Diego Zoo supports research that’s being done on the disease, so there’s still a lot of hope for the devils.”

11 April 2018, Edition 193

‘Tick of health’ for Tasmania’s brand

Edition 193_BTSurveyweb

The annual health check of Tasmania’s brand has returned a diagnosis of ‘excellent health’.

10 April 2018, Edition 193

Nests lift albatross numbers

Edition 192_Alderman

Artificial mud-and-concrete nests provided to vulnerable shy albatrosses on a remote island are proving winners. Breeding success for pairs using the artificial nests on Albatross Island in Bass Strait has been 20 per cent higher than those on natural nests. More than 100 specially designed nests were airlifted from the Tasmanian mainland to the island before the present breeding season, which has seen a jump in the number of albatross chicks hatched. The Parks and Wildlife Service said albatross pairs arriving on the island to breed had been struggling to find and keep enough nesting material. Many nests were poor quality, having been affected by weather. "Monitoring had shown that birds with inferior nests were less likely to successfully raise a chick," biologist Dr Rachael Alderman said. "Shy albatross lay a single egg in late September and those eggs have now hatched ... there are many more months ahead for all the chicks and a lot can change, but so far it's very promising." The scientist has spent 15 years studying the giant birds which are threatened by plastic ingestion, habitat loss, feral animals and climate change. Shy albatrosses are endemic to Australia and only nest on Albatross Island, Pedra Branca and Mewstone Island, all off the Tasmanian coast.

Image by Matthew Newton, courtesy of WWF-Aus

8 March 2018, Edition 192

Gliders are invaders, study finds

Sugar gliders, the major predators of two critically endangered Tasmanian parrot species, are not native to the State of Islands, according to a study published in the Journal of Conservation Biogeography. Ecologist Catriona Campbell, the lead author of the study, said sugar gliders were brought to Tasmania from Victoria in 1835 as pets. “They quickly escaped their enclosures and within 10 years were seen in local forests surrounding Launceston,” she told Australian Geographic. They have since spread across Tasmania's main island and are the main predator of both orange-bellied parrots in the far south-west and swift parrots in the east. When the researchers combined historical museum records and articles with genetic data they became convinced of the gliders' invasive status. Dejan Stojanovic, an ANU scientist who recently initiated a crowd-funding campaign so his team could build 100 nesting boxes with mechanical doors that shut at night to protect swift parrots from gliders, said: “The study is very important because it opens a much wider array of management options for protecting swift parrots." The gliders have also been identified as the main predator of orange bellied parrots that nest in decreasing numbers each year at Melaleuca. Scientists are urging the Tasmanian Government to change legislation that protects sugar gliders.

8 March 2018, Edition 192

Academic wins China Fellowship

Professor Steven Smith, from UTAS’s School of Natural Sciences, has been awarded a 2018 President’s International Fellowship by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Smith is internationally recognised for his work in identifying genes controlling plant growth. The prestigious fellowship will enable him to further his research in Beijing, concentrating on how a combination of genes could boost grain production.

“My research has found genes which determine the number of shoots, fruits and seeds that are produced by plants,” he said. “Changes to plant architecture in cereals provided the foundation for the Green Revolution of the last century, resulting in huge increases in global grain production. The aim now is to introduce combinations of specific genes into major cereals, such as rice and wheat, to increase grain production with minimum impact on the environment.” Professor Smith said the fellowship would give him access to resources not available in Australia. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing since 2013 and has recently been appointed to the editorial board of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' official journal, Science China.

8 March 2018, Edition 192

Devils are breeding younger

The devastating Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) has triggered evolutionary responses that may help the species to coexist with the cancer. Co-author of an Australian and French collaborative research paper, Dr Rodrigo Hamede from UTAS’s School of Natural Sciences said: “While hosts and infectious diseases are ‘enemies’ with opposite interests they must learn to live with each other. All the evidence suggests that devils have the capacity to adapt to this transmissible cancer at genetic and phenotypic levels. We have been observing natural selection in action and this has happened in a very short amount of time.” Dr Hamede said that DFTD-induced extinction was now unlikely in the short term, although dangers remained. Separate research led by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program has found that devils are breeding younger in another apparent response to DFTD. Biologist and lead author of the monitoring research, Billie Lazenby, said the structure of wild devil populations had shifted dramatically, with devils over the age of two being very rare in comparison with pre-DFTD times. “Devils in diseased areas are now breeding younger and having more pouch young, which has allowed them to persist at low levels in the wild,” she said. “Earlier breeding in young devils means that they are contracting DFTD younger."

8 March 2018, Edition 192

30 Tasmanians share honours

Edition 191_Farquhar

Expatriate Tasmanian scientist, Graham Farquhar, AO, was named Senior Australian of the Year, while 29 other local people were honoured in the 2018 Australia Day Awards.

8 February 2018, Edition 191

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Tasmania's Stories Edition 194

Edition 194_GraingerFuchsTT

The May edition of Tasmania’s Stories begins with the news that a landmark $700 million contract has been inked for two new Bass Strait Ferries. Please enjoy your May newsletter.

11 May 2018, Edition 194

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