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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.

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?

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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

Nurturing Nature, designing a home with biodiversity in mind: Sanctuary Magazine

Here at ICON Science we are passionate about conservation of biodiversity, both outside of cities and within. Georgia Garrard et al (2018) published their thoughtful paper Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design which aims to question how we plan, design and build cities so that they make a positive, on-site contribution to biodiversity and encourage everyday access to nature for residents. 

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Exert from Sanctuary piece

Recently, Sarah, Georgia and others published an article in Sanctuary Magazine entitled ‘Nurturing Nature, designing a home with biodiversity in mind’ in which we explain how to systematically think about incorporating biodiversity sensitive design into houses.

Please have a read and get inspired to welcome biodiversity into your life to enjoy the benefits of connection to everyday nature!

 

Help save wildlife in your own backyards

‘Eco-anxiety’ is a term that describes the sense of despair for the state of the planet that has settled on many of us since the Australian summer of bushfires. Aside from broader concerns about climate change, many of us have a feeling of helplessness knowing that over 1 billion animals perished in the fires and now that 113 species are closer to extinction and need urgent assistance.

People living in cities might understandably feel even more helpless, given the physical distance to the fire zones. Many people have donated money to organisations to support wildlife in the fire zones. But there is more we can do in our own backyards to support fire affected species. 

A group of ecologists from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne, including researchers from the CAUL and TSR Hubs, have outlined things city folk can do in their own backyards to help 10 species threatened by the recent bushfires that also occur in urban areas. Read about it in our Conversation piece. 

The article has now been read by over over 11,000 people and shared via radio interviews including with ABC South-East NSW and on the nationally broadcast “Weekends” program with Andrea Gibbs (ABC Perth, from 1:19:48).

ICON’s Highlights of 2019

It’s been a big year here at ICON Science. We’ve started new projects, celebrated completed PhDs, attended a variety of conferences and had the pleasure of hosting many visiting researchers. But we’ve had our share of frustrations, and many trying days battling with R code, Reviewer 2 and planetary despair.

But rather than letting the unticked boxes on our overly optimistic yearly to-do lists hang over our heads, we’re going to end the year celebrating our wins! In this blog post we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate our highlights for the year, ranging from accepted articles and theses (!), to the absolute joy of being outside in the field.

Nothing can really top finishing my PhD but also a few research papers came out this year that were the outcomes of fun, long term collaborations on privately protected area research in Australia (Selinske et al. 2019), and prediction in social-ecological systems (Travers et al. 2019). Another highlight was working with Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning to start considering how we can better link the outcomes of behaviour change programs to biodiversity impacts. Finally, very pleased and grateful to be starting a postdoctoral research position in the new year! – Matthew S.

The highlight of my year is being back in the field with my trusty camera! Oh, how I love taking photos of plants and insects and I feel eternally grateful that I have a job that actually requires me to go out every two weeks into nature. I am one lucky duck. Below is a teaser of some of the little critters I have encountered this year, but stay tuned for an informative 2020 as we finish fieldwork and begin some proper deskwork time. – Freya

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Some of the critters Freya has captured so far out on fieldwork. (Images: Freya Thomas)

I started the year by walking the Overland Track in perfect weather – what a great way to start 2019! Two major highlights for me were being awarded an ARC Discovery Project with Sarah Bekessy, Andrew Knight and Atte Moilanen, and being appointed to DELWP’s Scientific Reference Group. The Discovery Project will investigate onsets as an alternative to offsets that could deliver on-site benefits and net gains for biodiversity. I’ve also really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the ecological planning for the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal project, and was delighted to see Matthew Selinske become a Dr! – Georgia

Finally publishing my first first-author paper from my Master’s project (Gregg et al. 2019) was definitely a major highlight for me! That paper has been hanging over my head for a while! Receiving a DPIE/ESA Outstanding Outreach Award was also a great moment, and I’m excited to work on a school science project as part of that team for next year. Celebrating the #untweetables on Twitter during the week leading up to Threatened Species Day was also a nice moment to share with the entire ICON team. – Emily

I’m very satisfied with what I accomplished this year. I completed my PhD confirmation milestone and presented part of my research at the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) annual conference, where I also took a training course on Strategic Thinking for Sustainability and met researchers and professionals working on environmental assessment and biodiversity conservation. Hanging with the ICON mates has also been a lot of fun! Outside the PhD, completing a half and a full marathon were great moments in my year – Marco

My ongoing Melbourne Fieldwork this year has brought many interesting sights, sounds and new knowledge on the wonderful creatures inhabiting Melbourne green spaces, and my successful bid for the Green Our Rooftop Grants brings exciting new opportunities to apply what I have learnt in a different context! An additional highlight for me would definitely be having the opportunity to present my research on where native species belong in green space planning to an audience of architects, planners, artists and ecologists at The Nature of Cities Summit in Paris, and become part of the global conversation on how to build cities better for people and nature. – Katie

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Native wasp (Image: Katherine Berthon)

This year has been fantastic for me. Joined ICON group as a PhD student and now moving into the next year as a PhD candidate. Published 4 research papers as a co-author outside of the PhD project (Rimal et al., 2019), (Rahman et., 2019), (Rimal et al., 2019), (Sharma et a., 2019), further 2 more papers undergoing review. A protocol paper (a chapter for the PhD) is in review. This year was also about making friends, lot of beer drinking and chilling – for a long-term research collaboration. – Roshan

A major highlight of 2019 for me was us hosting a successful (even fun!) workshop to set out the objectives and target species of the Fisherman’s Bend ecology strategy, in which I was responsible for leading a creative storytelling exercise to draw robust objectives from a group of scientists, policymakers and community members. I also enjoyed having the chance to present the findings of a year of analysis to the European Commission in Brussels, outlining new tools and planning processes for greening in our seven partner cities in Europe and beyond. – Thami

On behalf of everyone here at ICON Science, Happy Holidays to all and we’ll see you in the New Year!

Xmas 2019

ICON Science’s Christmas Party at Portarlington | December 2019

Vale, Derwent River Seastar

“RIP little star
sorry your light
has gone out “

Yesterday at a team meeting, we took a moment to bid farewell to the Derwent River Seastar, which was found to be extinct after a fairly complex process of laboratory intrigue. This makes it the fourth species in Australia thusly departed this decade, and its timing is poignant – we just submitted our submission to the Senate Enquiry into Australia’s Faunal Extinction Crisis.

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The dearly departed Marginaster Littoralis.

Despite the Seastar being a fairly obscure beast that lacks soft fur or big, wet eyes full of relatable sentiment, we felt an unusual sorrow. After a bit of reflection we tracked this back to the fact that the Seastar was in fact our cake entry to last year’s Threatened Species Bakeoff (yes, the very bakeoff that First Dog cleverly skewered earlier this month).

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Our 2017 seastar cake, made with awareness-raising flour. Might also work as a parma.

Pause for thought for conservation psych gurus like Matthew and Alex: does any engagement with a species, however non-charismatic, even baking it as a cake, help us care about its conservation status? Are there lessons for less-than-charismatically named organisms that Emily studies, like the Bastard Grunt or Depressed River Mussel.
Is the story of our baked gingerbread Seastar a fitting final message? Or is icing sugar just not the answer?

Grappling with the social dimension of novel ecosystems

Regardless of what conservation decisions are made, none can be said to be objective. From the species we choose to protect, to the ecosystems we choose to study, or the management strategies we endeavour to implement – all these decisions are fundamentally driven by the conservation values held by decision-makers.

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Anna Backstrom and others from ICON Science explore this idea in a new paper on the social dimensions of novel ecosystems.

Novel ecosystems are a contentious space for conservationists because they are a consequence of human-induced environmental change. For some, they are a vivid example of what conservationists are fighting to reverse. But often these changes are irreversible. For others, novel ecosystems represent a closure of the nature-human divide and are the new wild.

Management benchmarks for novel ecosystems are difficult to establish. There is an argument that all species would have been new to a system at one point in time, therefore every ecosystem could be considered novel. Choosing what historical trajectory to aim for is not simple. Novel ecosystems are also places where indigenous species have learnt to make use of the non-indigenous. This is seen in habitat gaps filled by exotic plants that are then used by indigenous fauna. Here, a decision is needed about which species to manage for – eradicate the non-indigenous species and lose habitat or maintain the exotics to protect the fauna species.

Resolving management decisions for novel ecosystems requires conservation decision-makers to acknowledge and trade-off between multiple values, which may be environmental, social or economic. We propose a values-based decision approach for determining appropriate management of modified ecosystems and argue that it is only within this ecological decision-making context that there is a defined role for the novel ecosystem concept. Using this approach, novel ecosystems are assessed not as “right” or “wrong”, but by the extent to which they meet desired ecological, social, and economic objectives. 

Citation:

Backstrom AGarrard GE, Hobbs RJ, Bekessy SA. (Online, 6 February 2018) Grappling with the social dimension of novel ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. doi:10.1002/fee.1769.