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Research stories

The following stories relate to Tasmania’s Research sector.

Button grass mystery continues

The mystery of Tasmania’s iconic button grass plains – which cover much of our south-west wilderness – remains unsolved. Fifty years on from ground-breaking research into Tasmania’s button grass, we are no closer to finding the answer. Scientists have been divided for half a century over whether these landscapes naturally evolved, or whether they are the result of fire regimes used by indigenous Tasmanians. Professor David Bowman from the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Tasmania explains: “In 1968 Tasmanian Professor of Botany, WD Jackson, published a really fascinating paper about western Tasmania and the role fire had in shaping its landscape…In 1968 these were amazing ideas that plants could influence fire activity and that fire activity could shape landscapes, that landscapes could be shaped by cultural practices.” 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr Jackson’s theory, which went on to influence global thinking about the role of fire in the natural environment.

13 August 2018, Edition 197

Saving Tasmania’s wombats

University research could help save our mange-affected wombats at the Narawntapu National Park, on Tasmania’s north coast. The bare-nosed wombat population at the park has been decimated, dropping by 94% over the past seven years. The wombats become riddled with sarcoptic mange – caused by skin burrowing parasites leading to hair loss and skin thickening – which causes the animals to slowly starve to death. University of Tasmania (UTAS) researchers are helping us to understand why. The research team has found mange causes major loss of body heat, highly increased metabolic rates and the alteration of a wombat’s fat content. UTAS researcher Alynn Martin said these are vital clues: “The loss of heat and metabolic rise leads to affected wombats burning up high amounts of energy and being restricted by the disease in their foraging efforts. This results in the animals’ inability to eat enough to replace energy levels and in many cases, even survive.” Sarcoptic mange affects more than 100 animal species, and UTAS hopes this research will also help save other animals – such as mange-affected wolves – as well as Tasmania’s wombats.

13 August 2018, Edition 197

Shipwreck beer a global sensation

Edition 195_ShipwreckBeer

It’s the Tasmanian story sparking global excitement: the world’s oldest beer brought back to life from yeast discovered in a shipwreck off Flinders Island.

12 June 2018, Edition 195

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

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Reinventing Devonport

Edition 197_Devonport

The transformation of Devonport is underway, with the first stage of a massive $250 million urban renewal project ready for its official opening.

13 August 2018, Edition 197

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