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.

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.

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

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).