Category Archives: Uncategorized

Feral Cat Control in Australia – 5-year report

Read the full report here.

Since 2015, members of ICON Science have been working with the Office of the Threatened Species Commissioner to assess the national management of feral cats across Australia. This work is part of the wider Threatened Species Strategy, and recognises the significant threat to Australia’s native species that is posed by feral cats.

Taking place across 5 years, this work aimed to document who is engaging in feral cat control, how many cats have been removed and how close Australia is to meeting the ambitious targets set out in the Threatened Species Strategy.

We are pleased to share the final report from this 5-year project, which has involved a cross section of the interdisciplinary team here at ICON Science.

Number of feral cats removed by individual survey respondents in each 2-digit postcode area

Methods
In addition to collated data from government reports and repositories, we undertook strategic online surveys of individuals and organisations who are most likely to be undertaking feral cat control. The 2020 online survey collected raw numbers of feral cats controlled, control area estimates, control methods and information on the type of environment where work has taken place. We also asked participants to indicate the location of their feral cat control activities (see featured map at top of post).

We used the variation in feral cat control numbers collected from the sample of local councils, farmers and shooters/hunters who took part in the survey to project the number of cats controlled on a national scale. This allowed us to provide a bounded estimate for the total number of feral cats removed between 2015 & 2020.

Posterior distributions and 95% credible intervals of a) the mean number of feral cats culled by farmers, and b) the projected total number of feral cats culled by farmers who engage in feral cat control but did not respond to our survey.

Key results
Our final 5-year cumulative estimate for the number of feral cats controlled ranges between 1,493,520 and 1,669,568 cats, with a most likely estimate of 1,581,544 cats having been removed from the environment since 2015.

Other results:
– 2917 individuals completed the online survey, 61% of whom said they were engaged in feral cat management (the survey was targeted at groups likely to be undertaking cat control).
– In our survey sample, feral cat control activities were concentrated in the more populous areas of eastern Australia.
– Non-government organisations engaged in feral cat control activities report most activity taking place in urban areas.
– Individuals are more likely to be operating in farmland or scrubland.

The unique area managed for feral cats as reported by respondents to our surveys, derived from the location data points and area estimates recorded by organisation and individual survey respondents.

Kirk, H., Garrard, GE., Kusmanoff, AM., Gregg, EG., & Bekessy, SA. (2020) Updated assessment of the national effort towards feral cat control. Report for the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Download pdf

Our favourite conservation journal articles of 2020

As part of the final work week of the year, some of us from ICON wanted to share our fav journal papers of the year. A synopsis of each paper is provided below, and as you would expect from an interdisciplinary group, they cover a diverse range of topics.

Have a safe and healthy end of the year and we look forward to connecting in 2021.

Sarah Bekessy  

Sheldrake, M. 2020. Entangled Life. Penguin Books

My favourite science read was a book – Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (How fungi make our worlds, change our minds and shape our futures). Read the New York Times review of the book here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/books/review-entangled-life-fungi-merlin-sheldrake.html

Katie Berthon

Mills, J.G., Bissett, A., Gellie, N.J., Lowe, A.J., Selway, C.A., Thomas, T., Weinstein, P., Weyrich, L.S. and Breed, M.F., 2020. Revegetation of urban green space rewilds soil microbiotas with implications for human health and urban design. Restoration Ecology.

In a time of global health crisis, the knowledge that biodiverse urban environments can help increase our health and immunity is one of the best good news stories this year. While the links between biodiverse environments and gut health are old news, this study shows that it is possible to rewild our cities enough to restore biodiverse microbiota and will give us the necessary exposure we need to develop healthy and well-functioning immune systems. The authors compare the microbiota of different greenspaces in Playford, South Australia and find that restored sites with more diverse plant communities were able to get close to remnant or pre-city condition of microbiota. The nuances with soil are complicated, but my key take away is – rewilding can restore communities!

Ascelin Gordon

Waddock, S., 2020. Reframing and Transforming Economics around Life. Sustainability, 12(18), p.7553.

As many of us know, economic considerations are vital when trying to work on biodiversity conservation. More and more people are pointing out the fundamental problems with our current neoliberal economic systems, with their primary focus of on continual growth and failure to decouple themselves from increasing environmental impacts. This paper offers a new “framework for economics that affirms life”, and through this presents some radical and fundamental changes we need to make a society. These are the types of changes that would treat the fundamental causes of biodiversity loss, rather than just working to alleviate the symptoms.

Emily Gregg

MacFarlane, D. and Rocha, R., 2020. Guidelines for communicating about bats to prevent persecution in the time of COVID-19. Biological Conservation, 248: 108650.

I think we all find it fairly impossible to think back over 2020 without thinking about COVID-19, so for me the paper that stood out this year was definitely Douglas MacFarlane and Ricardo Rocha’s perspective piece ‘Guidelines for communicating about bats to prevent persecution in the time of COVID-19’. As well as being timely and straight to the point in terms of communicating some conservation messaging tips, it also furthered the conversation on how we need to consider the impact of our own messaging on reenforcing unhelpful narratives in the media and our own communities.

Cristina Hernández Santín

Apfelbeck, B., Snep, R.P., Hauck, T.E., Ferguson, J., Holy, M., Jakoby, C., MacIvor, J.S., Schär, L., Taylor, M. and Weisser, W.W., 2020. Designing wildlife-inclusive cities that support human-animal co-existence. Landscape and Urban Planning, 200: 103817

This paper provides a framework to integrate the needs of wildlife in city planning. It helped me envision a city that is actively acting from a biodiversity conservation perspective. What I love about this paper is that it is fauna centric and with the explicit goal of protecting species displaced by urbanization, not those adapted to urban environments. Similar to other design/planning frameworks with an environmental focus, the authors call for transdisciplinary collaboration in identifying areas in the city and setting biodiversity targets. Additionally, they recommend that projects should consider the target species’ life cycles and budget for the post-occupancy phase with monitoring and environmental management considerations in place. Finally, it asks for a participatory approach to work with the community and actively resolve any disservices or perceived threats.

Holly Kirk

Birch, J., Rishbeth, C. and Payne, S.R., 2020. Nature doesn’t judge you–how urban nature supports young people’s mental health and wellbeing in a diverse UK city. Health & Place, 62: 102296.

I read quite a few urban nature & human wellbeing papers this year, but Birch et al’s really stuck in my mind as it focussed on the how young people articulated their relationships with urban nature.  I enjoyed reading the young people’s descriptions experiencing urban nature in their own words and the surprising array things that created a connection with nature. The paper also underlined for me the importance of maintaining & enhancing natural spaces in cities – many of the young people described how seeing the deterioration of childhood parks made them feel worse. There is a strong need to provide high-quality everyday nature experiences, which should be prioritised in areas of higher urban deprivation. Access to urban nature cannot be seen as a luxury.

Alex Kusmanoff

Krpan, D. and Houtsma, N., 2020. To veg or not to veg? The impact of framing on vegetarian food choice. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 67: 101391.

 This paper experimentally tests three alternative ways of framing vegetarian meal options on menus, and finds that pro-environment, social, and neutral framing are all more effective at eliciting vegetarian meal choices from non-vegetarians than ‘vegetarian’ framing. Overall, this study reinforces an important point how you say something can be as important as what you say. However, it should be noted that these studies were undertaken online via respondent surveys, and did not measure the actual behaviour of diners; it would be great to see if this effect is replicated in the field restaurant. In the meantime, this paper offers insights into how framing may be applied to promote vegetarian food choices.

Matthew Selinske

Ecker, U.K., Butler, L.H., Cook, J., Hurlstone, M.J., Kurz, T. and Lewandowsky, S., 2020. Using the COVID-19 economic crisis to frame climate change as a secondary issue reduces mitigation support. Journal of Environmental Psychology70: 101464.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has generated a lot of thought and consideration of what the post crisis world will look like. Will governments double down on fossil fuel use in a bid to jump start economies or will we be compelled to take a greener path forward? In their paper Ecker et al. tested different framing effects of COVID and climate change messaging on climate change concern and mitigation support. They tested two framings 1) our response to the COVID crisis is ‘trial run’ for future climate action and 2) that climate change action should take a ‘back seat’ to more immediate economic concerns post crises. The trial run framing did not as expected increase concern or mitigation support for climate change and the back seat reduced both concern and mitigation support. I liked the article as it was a good reminder that we should be considerate of how we talk about moving conservation forward during and post crisis. As my colleague Alex Kusmanoff is fond of saying how we say stuff matters.

Hugh Stanford

Cooke, B., 2020. The politics of urban greening: an introduction. Australian Geographer, 51(2), pp.137-153.

The editorial by Cooke 2020 provides an overview of the role politics plays in shaping urban greening outcomes. The paper encourages a more critical lens be applied when undertaking urban greening research and challenges often dominant technocratic and apolitical perspective of urban green space planning. Given the growing body of research on the potential social and ecological benefits provided by urban green spaces, Cooke 2020 capitalises on the opportunity to take stock of how the academic discourse has evolved so far and proposes a more robust and socially minded direction in which the field of urban greening research can proceed.  Given all that’s transpired in 2020 and the way in which we’ve all relied on our public green spaces, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate time to start conversation about what we as a society wish to get out of urban greening and how best to go about achieving it; in this way, Cooke 2020 hits the nail on the head.

Celebrating NAIDOC Week 2020

Photo Credit: Holly Kirk

2020 has been a year for reflection and delays, and in due style last week we celebrated a delayed NAIDOC Week. This is a time for delving deep, recognising and reflecting on the culture and peoples who have shaped this land through centuries of change.

Always was, always will be…

That was the theme for this years’ NAIDOC week, which pays homage to this land and the peoples that shaped it before it had the name ‘Australia’. It refutes the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ that led to mass-scale dispossession and often violent conflicts between Indigenous people and colonial settlers.

The idea that you are standing, sitting, sleeping or reading this post while on stolen land is a disconcerting one, especially for those who are the descendants of colonial settlers or new migrants since. How do we sit in this discomfort and what action can we take to reconcile this past?

A good start is to acknowledge the past and understand the impact of past injustices. Though criticised for its lack of action, the Rudd apology in 2008 was a turning point in the discourse at the national level – at least now we had stopped denying the truth.

We are the stories we tell ourselves.

The quote has been repeated so many times in various ways, it’s hard to know who is first to have said it. The stories we tell ourselves become the reality we live. We too can help change our own internal discourse by learning more about the history of this country, its peoples and their culture, as well as our place in it.

Whose land are you on?

Mount Donna Buang, Yarra Ranges NP, Victoria.
Photo: Holly Kirk

One of the biggest misconceptions about Aboriginal Australia is its expected uniformity. Prior to European settlement, there were 300-500 Indigenous nations, each with their own languages and customs. Sadly, many of these languages are becoming or are already extinct – something you might not think possible given our current ability to document everything online.

These language groups and their geographical bounds are often what we refer to when we think of Indigenous Country. Connection to Country and Caring for Country are phrases you might have heard, but not stopped to think about what they meant, or been able to consider the reality that there are actually many Countries.

Imagine the stories you tell about the places you have been. I was born here, I grew up there, this is where I met my future partner. In Australia we use a mix of place names, original or derived indigenous names like Wagga Wagga and Mallacoota, as well as those that came long after the first peoples already had named them.

We at ICONScience live and work across Melbourne and its outskirts, Perth, and regional Victoria. Said differently, we live and work on lands of the Dja Dja Wurung, Woiwurung, and Boonwurrung language groups of the Kulin Nations, Wajuk country in WA, and Jaitmatang country in regional Victoria.

Can you imagine how your story would change if you mapped your life according to the Indigenous Country you stood on? There are many tools out there to help you, like this map from AIATSIS that covers all of Australia, or the Welcome to Country App (on Apple phones only) that gives you location specific information.

Paying the rent

It is both politically unpalatable and personally unsettling to talk about Australia as being unceded land. What do we do with that knowledge? How do we reconcile it with our current lifestyle?

Melbourne city skyline. Photo: Holly Kirk

It is difficult for the average Australian, who right now might be jobless or struggling to pay rent, to imagine providing restitution for the misgivings of their ancestors, or those they live with. It is hard to feel how privileged we are.

And yet, acknowledging the past does not remove its ongoing effects. Indigenous people are half as likely to own their own home, more likely to be unemployed or incarcerated, and have a lower life expectancy (for more information see Australia’s Welfare 2017 report or the Closing the Gap campaign). Never again, we said in 2008, but in 2020 more children than ever are being taken from their families under controversial child protection policies.

A movement that acknowledges the political complexity of restitution is the notion of “Paying the Rent“. First born out of NAIHO (now NACCHO) and a team of dedicated activists in Victoria, the movement urges for governments to pay a percentage of the Country’s income to Aboriginal peoples while allowing for self-determination and governance on how that money is spent for repatriation.

But you don’t have to wait for the government to act. You can pay the rent yourselves through this Victorian website.

Other steps

Sunrise at Rowles Lagoon, WA. Photo: Holly Kirk

This is a good point to acknowledge that money cannot fix everything. There are other things that are needed in the process towards reconciliation with First Nations people.

High on the list are calls to allow Indigenous voices to be heard in parliament (e.g. the Statement from the Heart) and other governance processes; an official treaty that gives Indigenous Australians the power for self-determination; and integration of the true history and understanding of Indigenous cultures into our education system.

If respect for indigenous culture was embedded into the fabric of the Australian way of life, we wouldn’t need this moment to reflect during NAIDOC week, we would see it reflected in our everyday.

Resources

If you want to explore beyond simply acknowledging Country, there are a range of resources designed to teach you and help you connect to Indigenous culture, history, music and language – check out this list here.

There are also many great books to read including Dark Emu by Bruce Pasco, who uses settler colonial accounts to dispute the idea that Aboriginal peoples were simply hunter-gatherer societies.

Claire Land’s book Decolonising Solidarity is also a great book club read with lots of associated resources to help you to have those difficult conversations about how to act as a non-Indigenous ally.

For those interested in conservation and engaging with Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Knowledge, have a look at CSIRO’s Our Knowledge Our Way guidelines, and the Three Category Approach Workbook by the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub

We don’t need to import rare parrots – there are so many better ways to get close to nature

This is a Scarlet Macaw – one of the many magnificent species of parrot endemic to south and central America. An Australian Government study is considering whether it is appropriate to allow imports of these birds, following pressure from the local pet trade.  

Image credit: Jay Warburton- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scarlet_Macaw_(17275987).jpeg

Importing parrots from overseas has been banned since 1995. This is because importing birds, even when they’re spectacular, is a spectacularly terrible idea. I spoke to the ecologists in our group and they gave me some clear reasons why.  

First – and this is the one the government is looking at seriously – moving birds internationally might mean we see movement of diseases too.

The risks include avian infuenza, parasites and mosquito-borne diseases. These diseases aren’t just a risk to humans, but also our wildlife, and there have been disasters in past. The fungal plant disease, Myrtle Rust (Austropuccinia psidii) passed all of our border controls in 2010, and spread through the country, killing substantial areas of native vegetation. Several native plant species went from common to critically endangered as a result. For the 12 species of Australian parrots that are already endangered, any outbreak could lead to extinction. The government notes quarantine as a key risk management strategy – which we have recently learned the limitations of quite intimately, being a Melbourne-based lab in the age of COVID-19. 

On top of disease risk, there’s the damage that the pet trade can do by promoting poaching and smuggling. This hasn’t been addressed directly by the Australian government’s enquiry, but for a number of South American parrot species, trapping for the pet trade has compounded the enormous pressures these birds face from deforestation, with many species already at the brink of disappearing altogether. Spix’s Macaw (star of the 2011 film Rio) is now extinct in the wild, and over 40 species of parrot in the region are endangered or critically endangered. Opening new markets that could encourage poaching is the last thing these birds need.  

On top of that, we’ve got a long history of disastrous examples of imported species getting out and going feral (you’ve probably seen a common or Indian mynah today, and then there’s the infamous cane toad).  There is also the ethical question of whether it’s fair to take wild, sociable tropical birds with large home ranges and keep them alone in cages.  

Stack up all these considerations and a pet macaw isn’t just risky – it’s unconscionable.  

The good news is that we’re an island with masses of amazing endemic species, including some truly spectacular parrots and cockatoos. Really, with locals like this, why would you go abroad? 

While you’d need to take a bit of a drive to see the magnificent Pink Cockatoo in its mostly arid inland habitat, you don’t need to go far to have wonderful experiences with nature. Even for city dwellers, there are a lot of positive, rewarding ways you can get into contact with our bird life, sometimes without even leaving the house. This week, members of our lab engaged in Birdlife Australia’s ‘backyard bird count’ – spotting species including black cockatoos, musk lorikeets and galahs. If you want to learn more about the wildlife right on your doorstep, a great way is to get involved with one of the accessible citizen science projects running across Australia as we speak. Spring is a great time for this, as other national recording events are taking place, including Frog ID week (6th – 15th November) and the national pollinator count (8th-15th November). Many of these citizen science projects have free identification apps attached, helping you recognise common species and making it easy to record your findings. The most famous of these is iNaturalist, but there are others you might not know about: BirdCountSpidentifyFrogID, and Butterflies Australia. For each Australian state you can also find excellent free field guide apps to all groups of common fauna. 

If you have a keen green thumb, you can also start cultivating your own little patch of wilderness that the birds will love. Many native species rely on private gardens for foraging or nesting resources, and you can do your bit by increasing the number of native plants, building a bird box or providing water (especially during the next hot, dry summer). Check if your local council has a wildlife gardening program, which often have free resources and sometimes offer free plants to help get you started.  

If you have a bit of extra time, or a bit of extra space, there are a range of active volunteer groups that you can join – whether it be providing care for injured wildlife through Wildlife Victoria/WIRES NSW, or maintaining habitat through the ‘friends of’ group for your local park (e.g. Friends of Westgate ParkRoyal Park or the RBG in Melbourne, or similar groups in Perth and Sydney). Not only will you learn loads about the local wildlife in your area, but you can actively participate in programs to encourage them to be healthy and thriving – while making like-minded friends along the way! 

Once you know a little more about who lives in your backyard or local park, the best way to connect with your local wildlife community is to spend some time outside. Take 5 minutes to look closely at a flowering plant, or watch a patch of water and you might be surprised at what you notice! Tiny native hoverflies visiting for a meal, or a family of wood ducks washing. Taking a little more time to watch the world around you will open a whole new window onto your own personal wildlife documentary. Check out some of the special and unexpected connections people have made with urban nature here.  

Getting to know your locals can also prevent unfriendly encounters – magpies, for example, are less likely to swoop you during breeding season if you’ve got to know them beforehand, and sometimes will even introduce you to their babies

Of course, having a pet in the house is lovely too. For many of us that have faced loneliness through lockdown, companion animals are something we value more than ever. The thing is, there are plenty of loving animals that really need homes – we really don’t need to plunder distant jungles (at risk of plague, extinctions, feral outbreaks and general animal cruelty) to find a bit of company. Adopt a pet at your local shelter instead; it’s much less likely to learn to swear at you.  

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?

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

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. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-11 at 7.01.17 pm

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

Insects_Blog_FT

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

Native_wasp_scaveola_DSC_6329

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.

Seastar

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).

Seastar_cake

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?