Wonders of the Big Wet

Ovens River red gumsIn July, I invited readers to send in observations about how the ‘Big Wet’ years of 2010-2011 affected native vegetation in their local area. Many readers submitted fantastic comments, which I promised to synthesize. I’ve divided the observations into a series of topics which I’ll post in the next few weeks as there were far too many comments for one blog post.

This week, I’ve pooled together all of the observations from the wettest of the wet areas, from floodplains, rivers and wetlands. Continue reading

Top 20 Oz Ecology Blogs

At one of the first conferences that I attended, an elderly professor was asked, ‘at what stage in one’s career should a researcher begin to engage with the media and the public?’ His esteemed response went something like, ‘a career should be spent building one’s soapbox, before one even considers standing upon it’. Many in the audience quietly groaned. Years later I chuckled as another speaker proclaimed, ‘the world’s top research economists invariably discover ethics sometime after they retire’.

Fortunately, that old world has turned, and today’s up-and-coming ecologists are far, far better than their predecessors at communicating their research to the public. Nowadays, every researcher, young and old, can tell the world about their work through the internet. In this month’s blog, I’ve collated my favorite blogs by Australian ecologists into a Flipboard Magazine for you all to enjoy. Continue reading

What did you get from the Big Wet?

Raywood rainfall

Annual rainfall at Raywood in central Victoria. The Big Wet years of 1973 and 2010 are shown in red. Data Source: Bureau of Meteorology. Click on the image to get a bigger, clearer view.

As climate change intensifies, we expect to get a lot more extreme weather events. It’d be great if we could predict how ecosystems will change after those events, but we can’t, for lots of reasons. One obvious reason is – we didn’t collect much information after past events to help guide us in the future.

Way back in ’73, the small town of Raywood, near Bendigo in central Victoria, got 928 mm of rain. On average, Raywood gets just over 400 mm a year, so it was a long wet year. Torrential rains came again in ’74. That Big Wet wasn’t unique to Raywood, and La Nina drenched every town, small and big, across south-east Australia. What impact did that extraordinary event have on native vegetation? Continue reading

Wetland quiz: answers revealed

2006 wetland closeupHow wrong can I be? I blithely predicted that last week’s quiz was far simpler than the previous one, but few readers guessed the correct answer. To re-cap, the question was: which species colonized the eastern side of Little Wallenjoe Swamp? Continue reading

Growback 6: A wetland quiz

canal & creek

It’s been a while since the last ecology quiz. This month’s puzzle should be a lot simpler than the last one.

A century ago, an irrigation channel, 100s of kilometers long, was built. The channel crossed many creek-lines, altering the natural flow patterns. In the photo above, two creeks run to the north (top). The creek on the left now banks up south of the channel, and a weir wall regulates flows to the north. The weir reduces flows along the creek and affects a string of intermittent wetlands further downstream. Continue reading

Can livestock grazing benefit biodiversity?

The endangered Plains Wanderer needs an open grassland habitat. Photo source: The Internet Bird Collection.

Grazing by livestock (mainly sheep and cattle) has irreversibly degraded many natural ecosystems in Australia. Consequently, stock are usually removed from public land when new conservation reserves are declared. The damaging effects of livestock on ecosystems such as rivers, wetlands and the alps are well known.

On the other hand, ecologists have recommended that stock continue to graze in certain types of reserves. Continue reading