ICON tells Victoria’s Parliament to ‘walk the walk’ on urban greening

The ICON Science group has submitted our response to the Parliament of Victoria’s ‘Inquiry into Environmental Infrastructure for Growing Populations’. Our city has grown rapidly – has our access to nature kept up? 

It’s commendable that our leaders have turned their minds to this topic, as COVID-19 has reminded us of the enormous importance of natural capital such as local parks to people’s well-being. While green open spaces kept many of us healthy and happy through lockdown, Melbourne’s ‘environmental infrastructure’ could be better. RMIT research demonstrates that the city lost 2000ha of tree cover between 2014-2018, and many residents do not have a substantial green space in walking distance of home, as demonstrated by research by our colleagues in the Australian Urban Observatory. Many of the parts of the city with the least access to environmental infrastructure are also the city’s most socially disadvantaged, as demonstrated in the grey areas in the map below, prepared by researchers at ICON lab.  

It’s clear that we have some catching up to do, but how we do that is important. In our submission to the Inquiry into Environment Infrastructure, we wanted to ensure that tree canopy was considered ‘environmental infrastructure’ – there’s much more to urban nature than just grass and footy ovals. We have also highlighted that while efforts to increase green infrastructure should be ramped up, ensuring that they are of value to biodiversity and are easily accessible is equally important. These assets not only deliver health and social benefits, but also generate jobs and promote economic activities. In fact, they build safety nets and strengthen resilience of people, biodiversity, and ecosystems to shocks.

Many of the pieces are in place to improve the city’s environmental infrastructure. Melbourne has developed high-quality plans for urban nature, such as The Living Melbourne Strategy and the draft Metropolitan Open Space Strategy – we have the right words on paper. In the wake of COVID, now is the time “walk the talk”. Quick translation of such plans into action through expedited funding, resourcing, and removal of institutional barriers is of paramount importance.

You can read our submission here

Society for Conservation Biology Melbourne Twitter Conference

ICON scientists were out in force last Thursday and Friday at the first ever Twitter conference of the SCB Greater Melbourne Chapter. A huge congratulations to the organising committee and moderators (including ICON members Matthew and Holly) that braved the technology issues, found stray threads, and kept the tweets flowing. For many of us, it was the first time presenting in this format, but the quality of presentations was outstanding!

Our fearless leader, Sarah, defeated technology glitches to kick off the talks with an inspirational opening plenary that urged readers to plan for, and create everyday nature in cities.

In the following session on Fitting Nature into Melbourne, Katherine presented her systematic review results for how plant origin influences biodiversity in urban green spaces (keep a look out for the paper, coming soon!)

On Thursday afternoon, the Strategies for Designing Urban Spaces for Nature session saw a triple header of ICON Scientists. First up, Marco presented his work investigating how biodiversity and ecosystem services are treated in urban planning and policy documents (the answer is not well – another paper to look out for!).

Holly then presented her connectivity modelling work for the City of Melbourne, including prioritisation of road segments for greening action, to reduce the impact of these roads as barriers for wildlife. Rounding out the session, Thami presented on the process of setting biodiversity targets in the recently finished Biodiversity Plan for Fisherman’s Bend.

On Friday, Georgia presented her work on cat control in the Threats to Nature in Melbourne session, and in the Connection to Nature session, Matthew shared his new survey results on connection to Nature in the City of Melbourne.

With COVID-19 lockdowns now extended in Melbourne, and second waves potentially hitting other cities, Twitter Conferences may be the way of the future. They are very engaging and it is almost easier to gain post-talk feedback and ask questions – plus the talks are up there in perpetuity so you’ll never miss a thing!

It’s not too late, check out the hash tag #SCBMelb20 or follow the links above to view the talks and post your questions now!

Invertebrate use of rooftops in Melbourne

Green roofs are a peculiar kind of designed habitat. In already highly urbanised areas, where there is large pressure on efficient land use, green roof retrofits are a key strategy to bring back nature without losing building capital.

While green roofs are known to have many economic and social benefits, such as stormwater retention and thermal buffering, their usefulness as wildlife habitat remains an open question. Multiple studies record insects, birds, spiders and other animals existing on green roofs, but there is little known as to how (and if) they are subsisting, or indeed what they are doing up there.

Native Halictid bee visiting a native Scaveola flower on the Parliament green roof. Photo Credit: Jess Baumann.

This is the focus of a new study by ICON Science researchers Georgia Garrard and Katherine Berthon, and research assistant Jess Baumann, who are setting out to document how animals (particularly birds and insects) are using green roofs in the City of Melbourne by monitoring two new green roof retrofit developments. This project is funded under the City of Melbourne ‘Green Our Rooftop’ initiative, and uses a large new green roof retrofit that is set to be constructed on 1 Treasury Place in Fitzroy, as well as the innovative Melbourne Skyfarm that will replace the top level of the Siddeley Street Carpark in Docklands.

Monitoring a green roof retrofit before and after its construction is an ideal way to answer some of the tricky questions about the secret life of rooftop animals. For example, we don’t yet fully understand the value of a single roof, the primary pathways by which animals come to live or forage on a roof, and whether there is any movement of animals between rooftops.

It is often not acknowledged that some invertebrates (like spiders and flies) and some birds (like the Peregrine Falcons nesting on 367 Collins St) are capable of using bare roof spaces. Knowing this baseline of buzzing activity helps us know what animals have been attracted after a green roof is installed. This allows us to quantify the added value of a new green roof in the landscape.

It is likely, however, that the construction of a green roof is so disturbing and prolonged for a site that it might wipe the slate clean. This is where monitoring the site immediately after construction is important – it tells us the first-comers, and potentially highlights stowaways that have been transported onto the roof with the plants or in the soil. Perhaps surprisingly, snails have been found in large quantities on some green roofs, many stories high – likely as a result of hitch-hiking on plant material during roof installation.

We will also monitor nearby ground sites that might act as sources of animals that appear on the new green roofs. This may also show whether anything that is transported onto the roof might spill over into adjacent environments. Often soils and plants used in green roof construction come from far away, and can create assemblages of species that are atypical of the regional area. Finally, monitoring adjacent roof sites helps answer whether there is any spill over effects that might generate synergistic or additive effects of multiple green roofs popping up in the landscape.

During our study we will also be recording specific plant-insect interactions so we can not only know what insects are up on the roof, but what they are using it for. Pre-covid lockdown we had just finished collecting the baseline data to show what’s happening before the roofs have been constructed. Not surprisingly there wasn’t much happening on the bare roofs except for a few spiders and flies, whereas ground sites were still bustling with summer insect life.

At the end of our study we hope to know a little more about what makes a green roof good for biodiversity. Importantly, we want to avoid making roofs that act as “ecological traps” by enticing animals to live there without adequately fulfilling their life-cycle needs. Already we know that some ground nesting birds, whose nestlings are left to fend for themselves after hatching, find low reproductive success on green roofs. Solitary bees also struggle to produce viable offspring on roofs above 5 stories high. So, how do we create green roofs that provide the right resources, especially for breeding? To stay tuned follow the ICON blog or follow me on Twitter @CityKat75

References:

Baumann, N. (2006) Ground-nesting birds on green roofs in Switzerland: Preliminary observations. Urban Habitats 4 (1), 37-50.

MacIvor, J.S. (2015) Building height matters: nesting activity of bees and wasps on vegetated roofs. Israel Journal of Ecology & Evolution (ahead-of-print), 1-9.

Madre, F. et al. (2013) A comparison of 3 types of green roof as habitats for arthropods. Ecological Engineering 57, 109-117.

Williams, N.S. et al. (2014) Do green roofs help urban biodiversity conservation? Journal of Applied Ecology 51 (6), 1643-1649.

Shafique, M. et al. (2018) Green roof benefits, opportunities and challenges – A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 90, 757-773.

National Reconciliation Week 2020

By Natasha Ward

This year we celebrate National Reconciliation Week in a very different way than we could have ever predicted. From our homes, we mourn the loss of lives, families, culture and history. But we also work hard to look into the future. Whilst this may be like a random week chosen during the year, it has a very important historical meaning.

We always begin this week on the 27th of May. This is the date of the 1967 referendum, after which Indigenous Australians were counted in the Australian census. This week ends on the 3rd of June, the anniversary of the Mabo Decision, where is was acknowledged that this land was not Terra Nullius, and should never been called such, which lead to the Native Title Act. These dates are some of the more significant milestones in the reconciliation journey of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“In This Together”, the theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week, speaks loudly for all Australians during this tough time. We may be physically distant, but for many we have made a conscious effort to reach out, regardless of our race or cultures, to show that we will support each other no matter how rough times get ahead. I hope that this kinship continues beyond these next months, and this strong community continues to grow and build, so that we may work towards a stronger unified people, who recognise the importance of reconciliation for all Australians.

By striving for reconciliation and acknowledgement of our Traditional Owners nobody loses their history, but we will gain a rich culture and history that goes back 60,000+ years. We have far to go, but we can do it, as long as we are all #InThisTogether.

Announcement: New ARC-funded Linkage Grant

We are excited to announce that ICON Science members Sarah Bekessy, Georgia Garrard, and Matthew Selinske, along with Emily McLeod (Zoos Victoria), Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne), Yoshi Kashima (University of Melbourne), and Amanda Rodewald (Cornell University) have been awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.

The grant is co-funded by partners Zoos Victoria and Genovese Coffee and supported by KeepCup and the Smithsonian Institute’s Bird Friendly Coffee Initiative.

The grant “Effective biodiversity behaviour change across supply chains” aims to examine the structural and behavioural barriers to biodiversity-friendly production and consumption, how to overcome them, and increase positive biodiversity impact via behavioural spillovers. We will use coffee production and consumption as a case study to test behavioural interventions and develop a framework for generalising to other behaviours impacting biodiversity. The research will benefit Zoos Victoria’s planned “Wildlife-friendly Coffee Campaign” and Genovese Coffee’s sustainability efforts.

Keep updated on the progress of the grant and forthcoming job postings for a postdoc and PhD student by following the ICON Science blog and Twitter account @ICON_Science.

Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?

By Hugh Stanford

28637138718_2f9253a4be_c

Image: John Englart / CC BY-SA 2.0

Due to a growing global interconnectedness, the world is a highly uncertain place where the daily lives of individuals are increasingly susceptible to the happenings half a world away. To find examples of this, one only has to look at Australia’s current run through 2020, where ‘unprecedented’ climate change fuelled bushfires have given way to the ‘unprecedented’ realities of a COVID world. In these times, where the notion of ‘normality’ starts to appear as a novelty, the way in which we govern ourselves and the places we live needs to be adaptive in the face of uncertainty. The existing theory on resilience and sustainability advocate for an adaptive governance approach, where our governance systems are designed not to resist inevitable shocks, but to utilise them to shift towards a better future.

In a new book chapter titled “Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?”, ICON Science PhD candidate Hugh Stanford investigates how well Australian biodiversity land-use planning policy has gone about incorporating adaptive thinking into key policy documents. The chapter uses an analytical framework to assess land-use planning policies in Melbourne and Sydney, determining how well they adopt adaptive governance elements. The chapter concludes that, while some policy measures provide for adaptability in the face of uncertainty, more needs to be done to better protect Australia’s unique and valuable biodiversity from threats of an unpredictable future.

Reference

Stanford H., Bush J. (2020) Australia’s Urban Biodiversity: How Is Adaptive Governance Influencing Land-Use Policy?. In: Roggema R., Roggema A. (eds) Smart and Sustainable Cities and Buildings. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37635-2_14

What difference do protected areas make on vegetation extent and condition?

Picture 1.png

Logging road in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Roshan Sharma.

Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms on Earth and underpins the health of our planet. It provides important ecosystem services like food and fibre that are the basis of human existence. However, exploitative human activities on Earth have created an unprecedented breakdown of the environment, causing global biodiversity loss at an unprecedented rate and scale. Land cover change, mainly the conversion of vegetation – the state and processes that support biodiversity – is by far the most important driver of biodiversity loss. This conversion is led by the expansion of croplands, urban areas, infrastructure, logging, mining and fire (Curtis et al., 2018). 

The establishment of protected areas (PAs) is one of the most important and globally applicable approaches to reducing these conversions. PAs are clearly defined geographical areas that limit human activities in prescribed areas. Since the campaign to expand PAs in the World’s Park Congress in 1982, nations have strived to increase the extent of land under protection. The global PAs have grown to cover more than 28.4 million square kilometres or around 13 per cent of the Earth’s land surface (UNEP-WDPA, 2019). Further, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has called to increase the protected area state to 17 per cent of the Earth’s land surface (Aichi Target 11). 

Picture 2.png

With the vast areas of land already under protection and calls to increase it, are PAs making a difference? PAs are known to be disproportionately established on marginal lands with least pressure of conversion and places unimportant for biodiversity. This means that PAs may not be having the intended impact – a reason many have criticised them. To understand the difference a PA is making, the outcome after the PA has been implemented needs to be compared with what would have happened without the PA in place (referred to as the counterfactual scenario). Estimating the counterfactual is the crux of finding such a difference or impact. However, estimating counterfactuals can be difficult due to the non-random allocation of PA. Evaluations that fail to accurately estimate the counterfactuals without considering non-random allocation of PAs and other spatial processes will cause bias and result in invalid estimates of impact.

This issue intrigued ICON Science PhD candidate Roshan Sharma, who started searching for literature for impact evaluation studies on PAs. He found that the literature is largely scattered, varied, and in many cases contradicting regarding how much difference PAs were making. There was a clear research gap that needed to be addressed.

Roshan decided to conduct a systematic review to address this research gap. Systematic reviews can be a great approach to synthesising evidence and generating higher quality evidence than individual studies. If done correctly, these reviews can allow researchers to come closer to understanding the true effect of an intervention. 

In an effort to increase the transparency and reproducibility of the review, Roshan developed a protocol with the help of ICON Science peers Ascelin Gordon and Marco Gutierrez, and fellow researchers from the University of Helsinki, the University of Western Australia, the University of Cambridge, and James Cook University. The protocol follows the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence guidelines and ROSES (RepOrting standards for Systematic Evidence Synthesis) reporting framework. Following the standard guidelines and frameworks ensures that the review covers all relevant literature, implements a dual consistency checking in screening and data extraction to remove reviewer bias, has a quality appraisal of all selected studies, and synthesizes only high-quality studies. Publishing the protocol ensures the results of the review will be published regardless of the findings, effectively removing publication bias. The protocol has been recently published in Environmental Evidence and can be found here

Now that the protocol has been published, Roshan and the team will be moving forward to undertake the review. They hope the results of the review will be useful for the larger scientific community and policymakers. There is an ongoing debate on whether the successor of Aichi Target 11 will be on setting higher area targets for PAs or emphasize more on impact measures. Thus, they hope that their findings will be relevant to the development of new post-2020 CBD targets. 

References

Curtis PG, Slay CM, Harris NL, Tyukavina A, Hansen MC. Classifying drivers of forest loss. Science. 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aau3445

Sharma, R., Eklund, J., Barnes, M. et al. The impact of terrestrial protected areas on vegetation extent and condition: a systematic review protocol. Environ Evid 9, 8 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-020-00191-y

UNDEP-WDPA. The world database on protected areas. 2019.

Haptic pathways: co-designing inclusive, civil and sensorial moments in the city

by Freya Thomas

A few members of ICON Science recently collaborated with Dr Zoe Myers from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre in the School of Design at the University of Western Australia by entering a design challenge set by The City of Melbourne.

Our design was titled:

Haptic pathways: co-designing inclusive, civil and sensorial moments in the city

Our winning design sought to create a design for new and improved opportunities for immersive nature experiences that focus on the use of native vegetation to provide a sensory connection to nature in cities. Our design specifically focused on producing diverse sensory experiences, including previously under-emphasised and under-explored facets of sensory connection, such as touch and smell.

Our Haptic Pathway imagined urban greening along an inner-city residential street in Melbourne that was:

  • Inclusive – space and pathways to empower all residents, although particularly those who struggle to move through standard urban spaces and have reduced capacity to engage through sight and sound, to feel comfortable moving through a public space through everyday routines and through all seasons.
  • Civic – a design on a ‘regular’ urban street to invite people of all abilities, perceptions and ages to engage with biodiversity through incidental experiences.
  • Sensorial – a space with diverse and layered multi-sensory natural elements. A design that actively works with senses of touch and smell instead of just sight.
  • Ecological – we incorporated indigenous and native plants to provide sensorial experience but also biodiversity benefits by encouraging ecological interactions with birds and insects, highlighting the local ecology of the area.

Design elements we incorporated into Haptic Pathways include:

  • Colour blocking in central road verges specifically aimed at being striking to visually impaired people. The ecological value of this intervention is through mass plantings of floral resources for pollinators. Plants such as Wahlengergia species could be used which provide resources for native bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
  • Small aromatic, colour and sound blocks along footpath verges were designed particularly to smell and touch on rainy days. Aromatic plant species chosen, like Prostanthera species, also provide habitat for bird species.
  • Accessible sensory spaces designed to be used by wheelchairs, walking frames and prams, where people would be surrounded by colourful, textual and aromatic plants such as Chocolate lillies and fluffy Ptilotus species flowers.
  • Braille graffiti walls highlighting amazing local biodiversity where the ecological information about species is written in braille at an accessible height.

We included a comprehensive plant list of indigenous and Australian species using categories such as colour, trees and shrubs for rainy days, other aromatic species, small shrubs and ground cover textual plants to touch, plant for aural experiences, plants for temporally changing plantings.

Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 3.04.07 pm

Image: Zoe Myers

It was an excellent collaborative and creative experience and we hope our design will inspire creative, accessible and ecologically minded plantings in urban areas.

Time to focus on reducing beef consumption as US faces meat shortage

The US may soon start experiencing meat shortages as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 virus crisis impacting slaughterhouses, increasing the cost of meat and the likelihood of beef imports from Brazil. In Brazil beef production contributes to deforestation resulting in biodiversity loss and global greenhouse emissions. Now is an important time to reassess our relationship with beef and reduce overall consumption. But how do we do it?

cow-932817_1920

Researchers at ICON explored the most feasible and effective ways for individuals in the US to reduce their beef consumption. Using a novel expert elicitation method, we asked experts to identify leverage points in the beef supply chain and consumption environment (e.g. restaurants, supermarkets, homes) that could potentially have the greatest impact. Our experts selected a number of different interventions they felt will be effective. These included continuing to develop ‘fake meat’ alternatives to beef, and engaging food distribution companies, such as Tyson Foods, to offer more vegetarian and non-beef options. Now is not the time to import beef from Brazil where it is a major driver of environmental change but instead reduce overall beef consumption in the US, benefiting biodiversity and climate change mitigation efforts globally.

Read more about our findings and the selected interventions in the article We have a steak in it: Eliciting interventions to reduce beef consumption and its impact on biodiversity published in the journal Conservation Letters.

Reference:

Selinske, MJFidler, FGordon, AGarrard, GEKusmanoff, AMBekessy, SAWe have a steak in it: Eliciting interventions to reduce beef consumption and its impact on biodiversityConservation Letters2020;e12721. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12721

Turning suburbs into mini office hubs as an opportunity to cut commute times post-COVID

Cities around the world are planning for more people to be walking and cycling to work instead of catching public transport, once lockdown restrictions are lifted. Measures that are being implemented in cities like New York, Paris and Milan include closing streets to cars and putting more bike lanes in their streets.

Thami Croeser (ICON Science) suggests another alternative for widely spread cities like Melbourne, where people travel longer distances to get to their workplaces. His idea is to turn suburbs into mini office hubs, with vacant offices and shopfronts used as co-working spaces or satellite offices for large companies. This approach would allow more people to walk or cycle to work while cutting long commute times and continuing to practice social distancing if needed.

1024px-Brunswick_Street,_Fitzroy,_Victoria,_Australia
Image: Mat Connolley / CC BY-SA

In an analysis using census and Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning data, Thami mapped the areas where potential office hubs could be located and identified homes in a 5-minute walking distance from those places. He found that up to 97 per cent Melburnians live within walking or cycling distance of a shopping strip and potential office hub.

The analysis and potential benefits of Thami’s suggestion are discussed this week at Domain.