A fondness for beetles (beetles rock!!!!)

Photo: G Dallimore

When I talk to people about my work on beetles (or Coleoptera) there is often a very large elephant beetle in the room. Behind the smiles and genuine wish to appear interested, they actually think I’m a strange nerd who studies an obscure world.  Well, let me explain myself. Read more of this post


Where are the kids – our next generation of ‘nature geeks’

A snake skin 'Pure Gold'

There is one species missing on my regular walks in the local nature reserve, kids. Kids are so scarce that adults are suspicious if they sight them and assume they must be up to ‘no good’.  And yes while there is some evidence of teenage habitation (like the empty bottle of Passion Pop I recently found at the summit) there is not much everyday kid action happening in the bush. Read more of this post

Should we manage kangaroo numbers in the ACT?

Eastern grey kangaroo. Photo: Brett Howland

“To compare it to any European animal would be impossible” Joseph Banks describing a kangaroo in 1788.

Much allure and myth exist about one of the worlds most unique animals, the kangaroo. There is not one, but 47 different species of kangaroo ranging from the size of a small dog, to the massive 85kg red kangaroo. In the Australia Capital Territory, four species of kangaroo and wallaby exist, the swamp wallaby, the red-neck wallaby, the common wallaroo and the eastern grey kangaroo. The eastern grey kangaroo is by far the most numerous and attracts a significant amount of attention and controversy over its management.

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I’m fretting about our forests.

Deforestation in Bolivia. Taken from International Space Station in April 2001 (Photo: NASA)

I don’t know if you watched Foreign Correspondent the other day (Episode: Paper/Tiger, televised 2/8/2011). It was about rainforest destruction in Sumatra, Indonesia. I watched it and it was confronting. It’s had me thinking about many things. One of them, guitars.

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To be or not to bee? Valuing the unknown.

Why do some groups get overlooked in favour of the more familiar? Why you should care about native bees.

Native Megachile bee. Image: Alvesgaspar

I am now going to ashamedly confess that when I started my PhD, I didn’t even know that Australia had any species of native bee. This may be due to the fact that, growing up in inner Melbourne, deprived of contact with indigenous wildlife much of the time, I am a terrible naturalist. Alternatively, it perhaps stems from the phenomenon whereby many zoology undergrad and honours students are preoccupied by the cute and furry, instead of the small and functional, so I hadn’t really thought to think about them before. In any case, the fact of the matter is we do – about 1,500 species in fact. Now, at the risk of enraging my entomologically-minded colleagues who claim that bees are the ‘birds of the insect world’ (i.e. pretty and charismatic, and get more attention than other groups), I’m just going to put it out there and say YES, they are incredibly colourful and charming. Read more of this post

Fire history – is it really that important?

Fire in mallee vegetation

Fire is an ecological process that is critical to the survival of many plants and animals. It has been used by humans as a tool for thousands of years: either by creating fire or suppressing it.

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It’s got me stumped

Canberra's tallest tree

How much is an old tree worth? Often we only make the effort to appreciate something’s value until it’s threatened or (worse) till it’s gone. Take the case of Canberra’s tallest tree, now Canberra’s tallest stump.

This blog was inspired by Karen’s blog on the value of old trees in Canberra’s urban forest. Her research has shown that big, old trees have considerable biodiversity value. But what does that mean when other values (like public safety) are in conflict? And how does the value for one person compare to the values of other people, and who takes responsibility? All these questions came into sharp focus for me recently when the government cut down our city’s tallest urban tree.

The tallest gum tree in Canberra’s urban forest was a ribbon gum growing in a little park in the suburb of Ainslie, just up the street from where I live. No-one really talked about it, it had always been there. It was so huge (over 40 metres tall) that you kind of didn’t notice it – it was simply part of the landscape. And, because no-one noticed it, no-one asked if it was a good idea that it was growing right next to a community tennis court (and club house). Besides being a wonderful looking gum it also housed a large number of birds including a family of gang gangs and a pair of little hawks.

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What value an old tree?

Typical park with old tree in Duffy Canberra

Large, old trees are a familiar part of the suburban landscape, protected for their environmental and economic benefits.  But do they provide biodiversity benefits too?

It’s easy to get lost in Canberra’s suburbs: streets curve and dogleg in bewildering patterns that make a map a necessity in unfamiliar areas.  But what is the reason for this tangle?  Although I would not presume to understand what goes on in an urban planner’s mind, my guess is that part of the answer comes down to the presence of remnant eucalypts, i.e. large, old trees.

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What’s the point of science if no one listens?

Photo by David Cook

A while ago one of my colleagues raised the question whether we should be ‘outcome’ or ‘output’ driven in our research. I took these comments as referring to our focus on publishing articles, over research leading to changes in management. This got me thinking about a situation two years ago.

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