The Newsletter is published quarterly, and will be posted on this site from now on. Members will continue to receive a hard copy through the post. The programme, including notices of coming talks, field activites and other events, will continue to appear separately under Events
NEWSLETTER NO: 136 JULY 2010
Dr. Helene A. Martin
School of BEES
University of New South Wales
Sydney NSW 2052
IN THIS ISSUE
We welcome our new member:
Mr. Daniel B. McDonald, Interests: Plant genetics, biology, ecology.
AWARDS FROM THE JOYCE VICKERY SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH FUND
BARRY, Katherine. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University.
PROJECT: Bacteria in butterflies and bright colouration: does Wolbachia infection drive the evolution of brightly coloured sexual signals?
Eurema hecbe is a colourful butterfly of North Queensland and females choose males on the brilliance of their colour, which includes both ‘human visible’ colour and ultraviolet iridescence. Infection with Wolbachia feminises male butterflies. Can the males tell the difference between the real females and the fake ‘neo-females? Awarded $1,400
BUBOST, Anne-Laurance. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie
PROJECT: Development and evolution of cerebral lateralization: fishes as model organisms.
Cerebral lateralization partitions the function between the two hemispheres of the brain, e.g. handedness. It is thought to facilitate effectiveness and doing more than one thing at once. Lateralisation varies enormously between species and from one individual to another within a species. Lateralised pigeons are better at finding grain hidden in grit than non-lateralised individuals. It is thought that there may be a cost to lateralisation. Awarded $500.
CARTHEY, Alexander. School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences,
University of New South Wales.
PROJECT: The role of naivete in vulnerability to predators: recognition and response in some native mammals.
Olfactory clues, odours, are the main way prey detect predators. Naivete native mammals will be exposed to odours of an introduced predator when feeding to see how long it is before the mammal recognised the danger and stop s feeding. Recognition of the danger is not enough: the vulnerable mammal must develop an anti-predator strategy. Awarded $1,200
CORRELL, Rachel. School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University.
PROJECT: Testing Bergmann’s rule in a widespread Australian mammal: geopraphic size variation in Rattus fuscipes, the bush rat.
Bergmann’s rule, studied elsewhere in the world but not in Australia, considers that size is fundamental to the animal’s morphology, physiology, ecology, behavior, evolution and probability of extinction, ie, the size of widespread species shows clinal variation with regard to environmental factors. Limited studies with Australian mammals show some do not follow Bergmann’s Rule. Geographic size variation of bush rat will be monitored against environmental factors. Awarded $700
CROOK, Natasha J. School of Environment Sciences and Resource Management,
University of New England.
PROJECT: Reduction of road kill in the bare-nosed wombat in the Nowendoc ‘hot-spot’ .
There have been few studies on the effects of road kills on wildlife populations, but it could be serious and little is known about the ecology of the bare-nosed wombat. This study will investigate the home range and movement patterns of wombats that live near roads in the hot spot. The work will determine whether the wombats will use culverts and other structures to cross the road. Awarded $800.
HARMS, Danilo. School of Animal Biology, University of Western
PROJECT: Vicariance and origins of diversity in Australian pseudoscorpions, subfamily Pseudotyrannochthoniiae
These small, predatory arthropods belong to one of he oldest terrestrial animal groups. In Australia, they are confined to wet temperate and subtropical forests along the east coast from southern Queensland to Tasmania and to southern forests of Western Australia. Ten species have been described but there are an estimated 40 undescribed new species. Awarded $ 1061.
HEAP, Stephen. Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne.
PROJECT: Factors influencing nest–site establishment in a terrestrial toadlet, Pseudophryne bibronii
The toadleta are territorial but little is known about how they establish their territories. It is generally thought that they fight and the better fighter wins the territory, but it is now thought that they fight but give up fighting if the prize is not worth the risk of injury or other costs. Experiments will test different hypotheses. Awarded $500.
HOWARD, Floyd. School of Geosciences, University of Sydney
PROJECT: Aboriginal abandonment of Kangaroo Island.
When Europeans arrived on Kangaroo Island, there were no people there and the wildlife was extraordinarily tame. The discovery of artifacts showed that humans were there once, and the latest date was 4,300 years. Kangaroo Island was cut off from the mainland 9,000 ago, so why and how did they leave the Island? The sediments will be analysed for pollen and charcoal with the expectation that change(s) will establish the date of depopulation. Awarded $1,200
MILNER, Richard. Research School of Biology, Evolution Ecology and Genetics, Australian National University.
PROJECT: Choosing your enemies based on their friends.
This study will determine whether the occurrence of defensive coalitions of the fiddler crab (Uca mjoebergi) influences a floating individual’s decision about whom to fight. Specifically, do they take into account the size of a male’s neighbour before they initiate a fight with a resident? Awarded $504.
STARRS,. Danswell. Research School of Biology, Australian National University.
PROJECT: Dispersal and survival of freshwater fishes.
Many fish have a bipartite lifestyle in order to access necessary resources and maximise survival. There is a great diversity of breeding strategies in fishes. It was thought that larvae drifted in the current and populations were open. For many fish, this is not so: they settle close to ‘home’. This study will label fish in their infancy with radio-isotopes and follow their dispersal. Awarded $1,000
THOMAS, Nanette. Annandale
PROJECT: Molecular and morphological analysis of the Winteraceae.
The taxonomy of the Winteraceae will be studied using molecular and morphological analysis to elucidate generic boundaries. Awarded $610.
TURTON, Margaret. Wentworth Falls.
PROJECT: Monitoring a colony of White-striped free tailed Bats (Tadarida australis)
In March/April, the juveniles and adults leave the maternity colony, but we don’t know where they go. It is assumed that they are nomadic and go to warmer climates, but in Sydney’s mild climate, this may not be so. This study will use radio-tracking to determine if they remain in the general area, and when and how they forage. Awarded $1,260.
WEGENER, Benjamin. School of Biological Sciences, Monash Universiy.
PROJECT. Sexual selection in the Southern Bottletail Squid (Sepiadarium austrinum)
This study will investigate the role of courtship, allocation of sperm, promiscuity and multiple paternity. Awarded $1,300.
THE FRATERNITY OF THE MATERNITY – MONITORING A BAT MATERNITY COLONY: a talk given by Ms Margaret Turton.
There are about 1100 species of bats in the world and they are important pollinators of flowers and distributors of seeds. Bats are the only nocturnal predators of insects (birds are the daytime predators) and can eat a quarter of their body weight in a night. They tend to live in large colonies which makes them vulnerable. In Israel, fruit bats which lived in caves, along with other insectivorous bats, were eating the crops. The caves were fumigated, exterminating several species of bats. The crops were devastated by insect plagues for years afterwards.
Microbats use echolocation by emitting a sound which bounces back to give them a ‘picture’ of the terrain and to catch insects. Low frequencies travel further and high flying bats use it, while low flying bats in a cluttered environment use high frequencies. Microbats can live in many different habitats: in disused mines and buildings, in tree hollows and under bark. They may live in extreme environments, such as sea caves on Cape York Peninsula where they have to battle strong winds to reach their roosts.
Each species forages in a different way, e.g., over the canopy, within the canopy, close to the ground. There are 22 species of microbats in Sydney, with some of them rare. The white striped free-tailed bat is the largest of the insectivorous micrbats around Sydney, weighing about 43 grams. It is a high flyer and hard to catch, but is placid when caught. Lesser long eared bats weigh about 7 grams and will bite if caught. The white striped free-tailed bat is found over most of Australia but is absent over the northern-most part.
In the white striped free-tailed bat, the tail is free from the wing membranes which are stretched between the fingers. There are bumps on the top of the ears which may be sensory, or may be aerodynamic, like bumps on the fluke of the hump back whale. They have thick fur and the white stripe.
Many of the white striped free-tailed bats roost in the old Armory at Olympic Park which was used to store ammunition and explosives. There are four buildings, all well spaced, with earth embankments around them. They get the westerly sun and are a good roost. Others roost in trees and elsewhere. The only known maternity colony is in a building and the Armory is Heritage listed. The bats enter under the roof, but they do not hang upside down: instead, they squeeze in between the bricks and the timbers
Bats may be studied by recording their calls. Video monitoring allows bats to be counted and to see what they are doing. The disadvantage is that nine hours of video recording requires nine hours of watching. Some bats were tagged and monitored. There may be mishaps with equipment, for example, when monitoring white striped free tailed bats, an I-button data logger failed because it was full of mites.
Mating occurs in winter and the young are borne in January. Most bats leave the roost in June-July-August. Most males leave the roost, but there are always some males there, and they may be the younger ones hanging around. We don’t know where they go or where the satellite roosts are. Most males reach maturity in 16-20 months and the females in 9 months. There is high fidelity with 60% returning to the same roost next season.
The bats have different calls: a social call, a feeding buzz and loud
chittering just before leaving the roost. Pairs of bats leave the roost
within seconds and return within 17 seconds of each other. Do they
cooperate? They come and go several times during the night.
Do they come back to feed the young? This work of monitoring their behaviour
AUSTRALIAN NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY: ANZANG SIXTH COLLECTION
South Australian Museum.
Published in 2009 by CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Vic.
Paperback, 144 pages, colour photographs, AU$ 39.95.
This book publishes the collection from the photographic competition
and exhibition, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctic and New Guinea (ANZANG),
held by the South Australian Museum. The photography is stunning,
the ultimate coffee table book. Each photograph represents many hours
of patient waiting and many photographs for that one fabulous shot.
The photographer has provided a short description of his subject and technical
details of how the picture was taken.
The Overall Winner, 2009, is a bushfire scene, with fire fighting aircraft in view. The winner of the portfolio of six pictures includes the book’s cover photograph of green luminescent jelly fish.
The section Animal Behaviour contains many striking photographs of animals in action and my favourite is the runner up, a pictures of a large black ant being attacked by many small green ants, each stretching out legs, wings and other appendages, although a Wagtail harassing an Osprey is hard to beat. The Animal Portrait section features insects, birds, reptiles, frogs, sea creatures and a wombat. A group of Apostle Birds and a Masked lapwing with chick are quite endearing.
The winner of the Botanical Subject section, portrait or habitat shot, is a picture of sundews that is quite ethereal. There are flowers and seed pods as would be expected, and a habitat shot of grass tree regrowth after fire, The Underwater section has fish, jelly fish, turtles and squid, but the most unusual is a mouth-breeder fish with a mouth-full of eggs.
The Wilderness Landscape winner is a picture of a spectacular storm cloud deluge. There are grand landscapes, icebergs and reflection from Antarctica, and the most intriguing is what looks like a field of white flowers, but the caption tells us it is spider webs in a swamp. There is a section on Threatened Animals or Plants, which includes a stunning picture of quolls on a lichen encrusted branch. The subject matter in a section on Black and White Photography is just as excellent. The section on Interpretive Photography has some beautiful pictures because of the unusual lighting. The most unusual is a picture of sunlit raindrops, which was hard to guess before reading the caption.
The section Our impact has some sad scenes and the Junior Photography section has photographs just as excellent and varied, taken by entrants under 18 years of age.
The beauty and variety of nature is a visual treat, and we would not be able to see many of these subjects without spending the many hours that the photographers have spent to get that perfect shot.
AUSTRALIAN BUSTARD: Australian Natural History Series.
Mark Ziembicki, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood (February 2010)
Paperback 120 pages, colour photographs, AU$ 39.95
A large, heavy, slow-reproducing, ground-dwelling bird, which can fly great distances but often reluctantly takes to the wing, already stands at a disadvantage with humans. If it also tastes delicious it is seriously disadvantaged. The Australian Bustard, also known as the Plains Turkey (Ardeotis australis) is all these, and has suffered heavily since the arrival of Europeans in Australia as a result. It is the heaviest flying bird in Australia. This book presents a synopsis of current and past knowledge of the Australian Bustard, and it is illustrated with a section of 8 pages of colour photographic plates and some black and white photographs throughout the text.
Chapter 1 offers an introduction to the bird along with a brief account of its place in Australia’s history and folklore since the arrival of Europeans. In 1770, Banks and Solander were the first Europeans to have recorded seeing an Australian Bustard, and shortly afterwards became some of the first Europeans known to have eaten one. Upon settlement, more of these birds, (abundant and widespread at the time) were noted, and of course more were shot and eaten leading to the beginning of a major species decline. Many place names are named after the Australian Bustard, referencing either the words bustard or turkey (in areas outside the distribution of Brush Turkeys), and the common names of several plants, such as Turkey Bushes (Eremophila) on account of the preference of these birds for the fruits of these plants. Chapter 2 places the bird into an Aboriginal context. A selection of Aboriginal names are given, along with a few Dreaming myths. Australian Bustard taboos are covered, in as much as what is publicly known. Totemic relationships and the significance on these for conservation are discussed, along with methods and other aspects of hunting. An intriguing topic arising from this is the use of complex sign languages when hunting; these have been developed among a number of language speaking groups for a variety of purposes, but are important when hunting to avoid spooking prey.
Chapter 3 places the Australian Bustard into a broader context by giving an overview of the taxonomy and key characteristics of bustards (Otitidae), an Old World family with 25 species across 11 genera, with a single species in Australia. The Australian Bustard currently sits in Ardeotis with three other species in India, Africa and Arabia; in the past these have been lumped into a single species. The physical characteristics of the Australian Bustard are then covered including size, sexual maturity, plumage, bare parts and vocalisations It is currently unknown as to whether there is a geographic trend in size, given that the Australian Bustard is a species with a wide distribution.
Chapter 4 covers the bird’s distribution and various aspects of habitat. The once abundance soon declined in settled areas, mostly the result of hunting. They are now largely absent from much of the south-east and the south-west corner, and are sparsely distributed through much of their southern range. They are also found in southern Papua New Guinea, cut off from the Australian population by rising waters at the end of the last ice age, but were apparently never found in Tasmania. Northern and central Australia have traditionally been considered to be strongholds of the species, but recent atlas results have shown declines in the Northern Territory, especially in the arid southern parts. However, they have increased in some parts of northern Australia, mostly as a result of clearing or creating suitable, if artificial, habitat.
Australian Bustards have a preference for flat open areas, including grassland, open shrubland and open woodlands, and artificial habitats such as croplands and gold courses. In monsoonal northern Australia, grasslands have heavy grass cover early in the Dry, dying off as the dry season progresses. Australian Bustards utilise these grasslands heavily in the early Dry; as the season progresses these open up, and woodlands and watercourses are utilised more. The late Dry is the peek breeding season and males prefer open areas for displaying. Since females prefer cover for raising young, ecotones between woodlands and grasslands, or in arid areas, between grasslands and scrub, or between low chenopod shrubland and tall mulga shrublands are the most sought after areas.
Chapter 5 covers diet and the daily routine. Australian Bustards eat a wide variety of foods, with balance of both animal and plant foods. As with many birds they are active from dawn to the early morning, and from late afternoon through to after sunset. In the monsoonal north, male bustards spend more time foraging in the early dry than later in the season: they need to build up fat reserves early in the season, because during the breeding season in the late Dry they may spend most of their time displaying and may lose considerable weight during this time.
Chapter 6 is tantalisingly titled “Exploding Bustards”. In northern Australia, the males gather at leks to display and compete for the attention of females. Leks are referred to as “exploded” when the individual birds within a display area are scattered over wide distances, up to 2km apart. It is not known whether arid zone bustards behave similarly, but is unlikely given spatial and temporal patchiness of habitats and resources. Social hierarchy, lek fidelity, display rituals, mating, next selection and raising young are all covered. Chapter 7 looks at movements which range from sedentary birds in horticultural areas of the north and cleared areas, through migration where resources are seasonally available, through to nomadic movements in arid areas where resource availability is unpredictable (although these may overlay some degree of seasonal movements also). They also move opportunistically in response to fire, and often congregate at these areas to pick up food such as insects. The use of bird atlasing and satellite tracking in studying Australian Bustards’ movements is also discussed.
The final chapter outlines threats and conservation. The Australian Bustard suffered heavily from hunting during the early years of the colonies. It is currently listed as Near Threatened nationally, Vulnerable in South Australia and the Northern Territory, Endangered in NSW and Critically Endangered in Victoria. John Gould warned of its decline in 1865, the same year of the last record of this species from my local patch in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and it was protected in NSW under a game protection act the following year. Hunting continued illegally for some time and still occasionally happens. Legal traditional hunting by Aboriginal people still occurs in central and northern Australia. Other pressures which have contributed to their decline include introduced predators such as foxes, habitat alteration, including the spread of woody weeds, pesticide use and altered fire regimes. Conservation measures include a captive breeding programme in Serendip Sanctuary in Victoria, which has had mixed results since its inception in the mid ‘60s.
A stylistic quibble I have with all of the titles in this series which I have read is that, although there is a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book, references are not given throughout the text. Another stylistic issue is that common names for species are not capitalised, an increasing trend in journalistic writing; this is of course just a matter of preference, but I prefer my common names to remain as proper nouns. Stylistic quibbles aside, I cannot fault Ziembicki’s writing. This would have to be most well-written of all of the titles in this series which I have read. It is not only written in an informative, clear style, but it is entertaining to read. Ziembicki’s writing has well placed occasional touches of humour and wry observation. As with others in the series, it is aimed at a broad audience across many levels; it’s an informative and entertaining account of an iconic Australian bird and would make a worthy addition to anyone’s natural history shelves. I recommend grabbing a copy, sitting back and reading up about the Australian Bustard.
[Linnsoc Home Page][About the Society][Events][Proceedings][Research Grants][Publications][Membership]