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The National zoo and aquarium in Canberra is celebrating its first birth of a siamang gibbon. The species is classified as endangered and it is estimated that the wild population has decreased by 50% over the past 40 years. Zookeepers do not know the sex of the gibbon yet and may not for a few monthsContinue reading...
Researchers trying to protect the Great Barrier Reef fabricate environmentally safe bait by harnessing the pheromones the marine pests use to communicate
Researchers say the discovery can be used to create pheromone lures that attract the marine pest in large numbers and make them easier to remove.Continue reading...
About 450 icebergs – up from 37 a week earlier – have drifted into waters where Titanic sank, forcing vessels to divert and raising global warming fears
More than 400 icebergs have drifted into the North Atlantic shipping lanes over the past week in an unusually large swarm for this early in the season, forcing vessels to slow to a crawl or take detours of hundreds of kilometres.Continue reading...
A coalition led by New York state insists Trump administration has a legal obligation to regulate the emission of carbon pollution: ‘The law is clear’
A coalition of 17 US states filed a legal challenge on Wednesday against efforts by Donald Trump’s administration to roll back climate change regulations, deepening a political rift over his emerging energy policies.
Led by New York state, the coalition said the administration has a legal duty to regulate emissions of the gases scientists believe cause global climate change.Continue reading...
Technologies that use gels, liquids, and molten silicon or salt could all claim a slice of the growing renewable energy storage market
Between the political bickering following a spate of blackouts in South Australia and the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeting that he had a fix, and then the South Australian government announcing that it will build a grid-connected battery storage facility, interest in renewable energy storage has never been higher.
While lithium ion batteries sold by Tesla and others are perhaps the most widely known storage technology, several other energy storage options are either already on the market, or are fast making their way there.Continue reading...
Complaint lodged over prospect of Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility partially funding 400km rail line
A $1bn federal loan to builders of a railway line between the proposed Adani coalmine and the coast would be a direct breach of government policy, a legal group has claimed.
Environmental Justice Australia has lodged a formal complaint with the Productivity Commission over the prospect of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility partially funding the 400km rail line.Continue reading...
Crown-of-thorns starfish are one of the most aggressive reef-destroyers in the world. A single female can produce up to 120 million offspring in one spawning season, and these spiny invaders eat coral, weakening entire reef systems. They’re a serious problem in northern Queensland, and are likely to move south.
But after three years of work, my colleagues and I have made a discovery, published in Nature today, that could offer a whole new way to fight them: we have decoded the gene sequence for the crown-of-thorns’ pheromones, which prompt them to gather for mating.
The project was built on the premise that if we could tap into the communications systems of starfish, we could modify their behaviours, and then eventually set up a program to capture them.
The ultimate goal was to find a way to get the starfish to converge, so it’s possible to set traps and remove them from the reef. Currently, crown-of-thorns starfish are removed by divers, who either collect them by hand or inject them with toxic solutions. This is labour-intensive and deeply inefficient.
So how do we get them into one place? Well, we exploited their natural mating behaviour. Starfish, like a lot of other marine animals – including corals – release their eggs and sperm into the water, and fertilisation occurs externally. For starfish to do this successfully they need to form a tight cluster, so there’s a strong imperative gather in one spot, given the right stimulus.Crown-of-thorn starfish grazing on healthy coral leaving behind dead white skeletons. Outbreaks of this starfish is one of the leading causes of coral reef destruction throughout the Indo-Pacific. Oceanwide Images How do starfish communicate?
We thought if we could figure out how starfish know how to get together, we might be able to replicate it. To find out what was going on, we put a group of crown-of-thorns starfish in a large aquarium, and waited for them to aggregate. We then set up what’s called a choice experiment.
We used a Y-shaped maze, and put new starfish at the base of the Y. The two arms of the Y contained either fresh seawater, or water that had just passed over the aggregating starfish in the other aquarium.
As expected, fresh seawater had no effect. These starfish aren’t very active animals – they just sat there. But as soon as the water from the aquarium hit them, they became highly active and moved towards the source.
That told us immediately that the aggregating starfish had changed the chemistry of the seawater in a significant way.
The next step was to actually sequence the pheromone proteins in that seawater. We then mapped these sequences back to the genome, and identified the genes that encode the pheromones that are making the starfish do this.
The beauty of this whole process is that there’s a direct one-to-one relationship between the sequence of proteins that make up the pheromones, and the gene sequence. Because genes are a lot easier to analyse than proteins, we can then look at them in great detail, and use that information in future projects.A crown-of-thorns starfish eating a brain coral. Australian Institute of Marine Science Eco-friendly pest control
What’s particularly good about this result is that these pheromones are unique to the crown-of-thorns starfish. The genes that encode the proteins have evolved rapidly and recently, and aren’t shared by other species of starfish that we’ve looked at. It looks like each starfish has its own unique repertoire of pheromones.
This means that any attractants or bait we develop from this project will only be recognised by crown-of-thorns starfish, and won’t impact other species.
We look at this paper as phase one: the discovery of the communication pheromones. We’re now in phase two: trying to mimic those pheromones so we can develop baits for traps to remove the starfish from the reef before they reproduce.
Ultimately we’d like for fishers up and down the Queensland coast to be able to go out and fish them and make some money out of it. That could be through a bounty, or through developing some useful (or edible) product out of the starfish to sell.
We need a quicker way to remove crown-of-thorns starfish, and real incentive to get plenty of people involved. No-one knows how many there are around Australia, but there are some reefs in Queensland that have had hundreds of thousands, or even millions, removed by conservation projects. If we see those amounts on individual reefs, the true numbers across the Indo-Pacific ocean must be astronomical.
The final, most exciting aspect of this project is the possibility of wider applications. This approach hasn’t been used before in a marine environment, but it could potentially work for a wide range of invasive species. Pest organisms are a multibillion-dollar global problem – and this could mean we move beyond mitigating invasive species and actually start controlling them.
Bernard Degnan received funding from the Australian Research Council to fund this project.
The EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, has ignored the scientific recommendation of his own agency to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, despite its links to brain damage
Environmental groups have filed a complaint against the US government over its support of a pesticide linked to brain damage in children, one week after Donald Trump’s administration rejected federally backed science and reversed an Obama-era policy.
The Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed the case against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday, seeking to force the government to follow through with the Obama administration’s recommendations to ban an insecticide widely used in agriculture.Continue reading...
German and French governments have already required that manufacturers fix vehicles spewing high levels of toxic pollution but UK is ‘doing nothing’
The diesel-fuelled air pollution crisis should be solved by making motor companies recall and upgrade the dirty cars they sold, experts said on Wednesday.
Current UK plans are focused on making diesel drivers pay to enter cities and a possible taxpayer-funded scrappage scheme.Continue reading...