"WildObs" camera trapping in the news

19 September 2022

The “WildObs” camera trapping push, an initiative of Matthew Luskin’s Ecological Cascades Lab in partnership with TERN, and largely funded by CBCS, has been selected as a feature project for UQ’s Research and Innovation Week, and garnered some great media in recent days.

Read this UQ News piece, "Big brother of the bush"

Ecological Cascades PhD candidate Zachary Amir was interviewed on Channel 9’s Saturday night news, and it is now a two-minute clip viewable on their Facebook page

About the WildObs workshop, O'Reilly's, July 2022

Some 126 Australian mammal species are listed as extinct or threatened; for many others, we simply do not have sufficient data to establish population trends. Collecting and analysing data on free-ranging animals is burdensome, and relies substantially on the use of expensive manpower or equipment. Camera traps are widely used to study and monitor threatened and invasive vertebrates, but produce big data that are difficult to store, process and analyse.

As a result, existing camera trap initiatives and datasets are also nearly all siloed, offline and incompatible, creating barriers to collaboration across organisations and preventing powerful cross-site or temporal analyses of population trends.

To solve these problems, CBCS sponsored a workshop in July to establish The Wildlife Observatory (WildObs).

Over a rainy retreat in Lamington National Park, 35 attendees from Australia’s leading academic, NGO and government organisations convened to pave a way forward for this ambitious initiative. They identified key steps required: 1) Standardise ongoing camera deployment and datasets for improved data utility with a deployment manual; 2) Mobilise vast troves of existing “legacy” camera datasets that are being lost every year; 3) Create an accessible smartphone field app to ensure robust sampling protocols and metadata collection; 4) Secure Australian data for the future with free unlimited image backups in the cloud; 5) Harness the vast power of AI to rapidly and accurately process images; and 5) Collate, curate and share a world-first continental database at TERN and a user-friendly online dashboard that enables ecologists and land managers Australia-wide to explore prior projects, register new projects and freely access all data and infrastructure, with support to easily run robust analyses.

Achieving this will be difficult, but the pay-off huge. A national vertebrate database would produce a step-change in the timeliness, scale and depth of evidence available to managers and researchers as they respond to pests, bushfires, floods and climate change.

Image: Jayden Hausfeld, TERN

The black-throated finch and Adani: "Guardian Australia" update

5 April 2022

Conservationists, including CBCS’s Dr April Reside, Chair of the Black-Throated Finch Recovery Team, are holding Adani to account over the mining company’s failure to consult over management of the Endangered black-throated finch.

Around 16,000 hectares of habitat for the finch are being cleared or impacted near the Adani (now Bravus) Carmichael coalmine in central Queensland.

Adani has drafted a new management plan without input from the recovery team, and the dispute centres on differing interpretation of the mandated requirement to consult.

April is authoring the updated black-throated finch’s national recovery plan, and reports that she has not received any data from Adani to help inform that plan.

Read the full article in The Guardian Australia.

Image: Stephanie Todd

Bycatch in commercial fishing: skilled fishers can avoid it

5 April 2022

CBCS postdoc Dr Leslie Roberson has led a paper with her PhD thesis supervisor, Chris Wilcox of CSIRO, which is the last chapter of her PhD. Published in Nature Sustainability, it is titled “Bycatch rates in fisheries largely driven by variation in individual vessel behaviour”.

Despite lots of attention and research, fisheries remain a primary threat to lots of endangered species (e.g., sea turtles, dolphins and porpoises, dugongs, sawfish, mantas and other elasmobranchs). Bycatch is usually managed at the fleet level, but more data is needed to isolate the effect of individual vessels, where fishers vary in their skills at avoiding things they don’t want to catch.

Using incentives/behaviour change techniques in combination with more traditional management could catalyse skills transfer and probably innovations as well, and could be cheaper than more rules that are difficult to enforce.

Read the paper here and a piece in The Conversation here.

Image: Federico Burgalassi - Unsplash

45,000 marine species at risk globally

16 February 2022


Jeremy Bishop Unsplash
Jeremy Bishop Unsplash

New work by CBCS and global researchers has identified the most vulnerable marine species and categorised the anthropogenic threats they face – from climate change to ocean pollution to fishing.

Through this categorising work and reviews of marine biology literature, the researchers developed a novel framework, which has prioritised more than 45,000 species at risk in the world’s oceans.

This information will inform decision about allocating and prioritising resources to protect species at risk. It will be especially important given the accelerating pace of environmental change.

CBCS’s Dr Nathalie Butt and Associate Professor Carissa Klein say that a diverse range of species are dealing with these threats.

For example, molluscs, corals and sea urchins are feeling the impact of a variety of anthropogenic marine threats.

Climate-change related stressors such as ocean acidification are especially harmful to the flowerpot corals of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Persian Sea, as are starfish, sea snails and flying fish.

Roughy fishes are vulnerable to the effects of ocean pollution.

The framework can accommodate new information about both species and threatening processes, which means it can be applied at particular locations to protect the ocean and its species in those places.

This was a joint project between The University of Queensland and the University of California Santa Barbara, involving taxonomic experts from around the world.

UQ News


Love of nature has a genetic basis

5 February 2022

Zac Porter Unsplash

Twin studies have revealed that a good part of how much we enjoy nature and feel a connection to it has a heritable basis.

While it has long been known that experiences of nature are key to human health and wellbeing, people differ in how much they want, enjoy and seek out such experiences.

CBCS’s Professor Rich Fuller and colleagues from Singapore studied more than 1,100 pairs of twins to understand the basis of feelings of affinity for nature. The results were surprising.

Identical twins were more similar than fraternal twins in this respect. It turns out that connection to nature is around 35 to 50% genetically inherited, with the balance of factors being environmental or cultural.

This means that even though there is a strong genetic basis to feeling a love of nature, much of it does still depend on factors that remain under our control.

And nature experiences need not be out of the ordinary. The evidence shows that even the amount of time we spend in our backyards and local parks is heritable.

There may be no better reason to seek out green gyms, participate in urban greening, or just take that walk in a local park or reserve.

Radio segment, Robyn Williams’ The Science Show

The Conversation article

BBC Science Focus article


Biodiversity in the suburbs: The surprising number of species that share our homes

During the stay at home directive over the last few months, CBCS members Dr Andrew Rogers and Dr Matthew Holden together with their housemate Dr Russell Yong began to wonder exactly how many other things lived in their suburban home. Remarkably, in just over 6 weeks, they identified more than 500 species of plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. The project generated the #stayhomebiodiversity challenge, which has seen engagement across four continents, and received both local and international media attention.

Read news stories at:

Left to right: Dr Matthew Holden, Dr Russell Yong and Dr Andrew Rogers

Night parrot found to have poor vision, keeps running into things in the dark

12 June 2020

Australia's elusive night parrot may be in decline because the species has trouble seeing in the dark, a team of researchers has found.

Photo: Bruce Greatwich

Key points:
  • The night parrot's eyesight has been proven to have low resolution at night due to small optic nerves and lobes

  • Flinders University researchers created a 3D model from a night parrot skull CT scan

  • A western Qld grazier says reflective tape on fences may help the endangered species' survival

CBCS PhD candidate Nick Leseberg said the night parrot's bad eyesight explained his observations in outback Queensland.

"It always puzzled me that there are owls that live in the forest and they can fly around trees, but the night parrot seemed to live in such open plain spinifex," he said.

"It made me wonder, maybe the night parrot's vision isn't as good as we thought."

Logging and fire both make forests more flammable

7 June 2020

The clear and overwhelming evidence is that logging makes forests more flammable. These are the findings of four peer-reviewed, published scientific studies from four institutions in six years, and of multiple scientific reviews.

Photo: Chris Taylor

The likely reasons are that after logging, increased sunlight dries out the forest floor, thousands of fast-growing saplings per hectare increases the fuel for a fire to burn, and the wind speed on hot days increases because of the lack of a tree canopy (wind speed is a key factor in creating extreme fire conditions). Most branches that burn in a bushfire are smaller than the diameter of a human thumb. Young trees burn almost completely while big, tall trees often remain alive and standing after fire.

As scientists, our purpose is to inform the public and decision-makers about the peer-reviewed scientific evidence. The evidence is that logging makes forest more flammable.

Jamie Kirkpatrick, distinguished professor in geography and spatial sciences at the University of Tasmania, with co-authors Dr Jennifer Sanger, Dr Chris Taylor, Dr Robert Kooyman, Dr Phil Zylstra and Professor James Watson.

What’s in a name? The role of defining ‘wilderness’ in conservation

9 February 2019

  • In a recent opinion piece published in the journal Nature, several ecologists question recent efforts to delineate areas of wilderness and intactness around the world to define conservation targets.
  • They argue that it would be better to build a broadly supported consensus that includes the perspectives of local and Indigenous communities.
  • But the leader of a team, Professor James Watson from The University of Queensland, who recently mapped out the remaining wilderness on land and in the ocean said that identifying these areas and developing new targets that incorporate their conservation is critical because current international agreements do not prioritise their protection.

Full coverage of the story on Mongabay.

Back from the dead

9 February 2019

The hunt for the night parrot: a fat, dumpy, green parrot that lives in the desert and comes out at night.

BBC World Service: radio programme featuring Nick Leseberg, PhD candidate at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.


Bolder targets needed to protect nature for people’s sake

University of Queensland researchers have found that humanity is at risk without more diverse, ambitious and area-specific conservation targets.

Professor Martine MaronDr Jeremy Simmonds and Professor James Watson from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences say current targets lack the scope required to support the critical services that nature provides.

“Humanity asks a lot of the natural world,” Professor Maron said.

“We need it to purify our water and air, to maintain our soils and to regulate our climate.

“We keep increasing the extent of protected areas – and we need to – but that hasn’t stopped the ongoing loss of natural systems.”

She said the current target of protecting 17 percent of terrestrial systems isn’t enough to protect all species as well as provide the benefits humanity requires.

“We need to retain enough of the Earth’s natural systems in the right places to preserve healthy watersheds, to store carbon, to protect the last wilderness areas and to maintain human–nature interactions, but at the moment we don’t have specific, area-based targets for all these goals,” she said.

The researchers also want to see urgent reforms into how decisions are made about what is retained and where.

“The alteration of many natural systems is often irreversible, and continuing down this path with no end point is utterly irresponsible,” Dr Simmonds said.

He said calls for the conservation of 50 percent of the planet, or “half Earth” are bold, but may still fall short of what is needed for the integrity of critical systems, like a stable climate.

“When we add these targets up, we’re likely to find that we need much more nature to safeguard both humanity and all the other species that live on the planet,” Dr Simmonds said.

“It’s time to embrace a diverse set of retention targets to limit the ongoing erosion of the nature we rely upon.”

The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution (DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0595-2).

Media: Martine Maron,, +61 417 110 537; Dominic Jarvis,, +61 413 334 924.

Scientists suggest binding goals to save the Amazon

20 November 2019

As thousands of wildfires and deforestation escalate in the Amazon rainforest, a team of international scientists has called for governments to enact six key goals to protect the vital wilderness.

Photo: Planet Labs

UQ’s Associate Professor Salit Kark, the paper’s senior author, said cross-boundary collaboration was key for protecting the Amazon. The team, including a group of University of Queensland researchers, discussed the signing of the Leticia Pact in September 2019, where seven South American governments managing the Amazon made joint statements toward better protecting the Amazon.

Professor Kark said she hoped the Pact’s signatories and other South American nations would heed the call to do more to save the Amazon.

“These goals are a crucial step toward addressing the escalating environmental crisis and its global impacts,” she said.

The researchers’ letter has been published in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz7489).