Greater death rates for invasive rabbits from interacting diseases

30 05 2018

When it comes to death rates for invasive European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Australia, it appears that 1 + 1 = 2.1.

Pt tagged rab with RHD+myxo 1 10-08

Tagged European rabbit kitten infected with myxoma virus, but that died from rabbit haemorrhagic virus disease (RHDV). Photo by David Peacock, Biosecurity South Australia.

“Canberra, we have a problem” — Sure, it’s an old problem and much less of one than it used to be back in the 1950s, but invasive rabbits are nonetheless an ecological, conservation, and financial catastrophe across Australia.

relative rabbit abundance South Australia

Semi-schematic diagram, redrawn using data from Saunders and others and extended to include the recent spread of RHDV2, showing changes in rabbit abundance in relation to the introduction of biological control agents into north-eastern South Australia. Dotted lines indicate uncertainty due to lack of continuous annual data. The broken line indicates a level of about 0.5 rabbits ha-1, below which rabbits must be held to ensure recovery of native pastures and shrubs (from B. Cooke 2018 Vet Rec doi:10.1136/vr.k2105)

Rabbits used to reach plague numbers in much of agricultural and outback Australia, but the introduction and clever manipulation of two rather effective rabbit-specific viruses and insect vectors — first, myxoma virus in 1950, European rabbit fleas in the 1960s to help spread the virus, then Spanish rabbit fleas in the 1990s to increase spread into arid areas, and then rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) in 1995 — have been effective in dropping rabbit abundances by an estimated 75-80% in South Australia alone since the 1950s.

Read the rest of this entry »

What Works in Conservation 2018

23 05 2018

Do you have a copy of this book? If not, why not?


This book is free to download. This book contains the evidence for the effectiveness of over 1200 things you might do for conservation. If you don’t have a copy, go and download yourself a free one here, right now, before you even finish reading this article. Seriously. Go. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life.

Why you’ll laugh

OK, I may have exaggerated the laughing part. ‘What Works in Conservation 2018’ is a serious and weighty tome, 660 pages of the evidence for 1277 conservation interventions (anything you might do to conserve a species or habitat), assessed by experts and graded into colour-coded categories of effectiveness. This is pretty nerdy stuff, and probably not something you’ll lay down with on the beach or dip into as you enjoy a large glass of scotch (although I don’t know your life, maybe it is).

But that’s not really what it’s meant for. This is intended as a reference book for conservation managers and policymakers, a way to scan through your possible solutions and get a feel for those that are most likely to be effective. Once you have a few ideas in mind, you can follow the links to see the full evidence base for each study at, where over 5000 studies have been summarised into digestible paragraphs.

The book takes the form of discrete chapters on taxa, habitats or topics (such as ‘control of freshwater invasives’). Each chapter is split into IUCN threat categories such as ‘Agriculture’ or ‘Energy production and mining’. For each threat there are a series of interventions that could be used to tackle it, and for each of these interventions the evidence has been collated. Experts have then graded the body of the evidence over three rounds of Delphi scoring, looking at the effectiveness, certainty in the evidence (i.e., the quality and quantity of evidence available), and any harms to the target taxa. These scores combine to place each intervention in a category from ‘Beneficial’ to ‘Likely to be ineffective or harmful’. Read the rest of this entry »

Science + music = productivity

17 05 2018

da2a4c4015f37dcd15015a2bfcef2a2dA take on a small section of my recent book, The Effective Scientist, about the importance of music in science.

I don’t know any scientists who don’t love music, and I will go out on a limb by stating that most of us probably combine our science activities with music during the quieter times in front of the computer.

One tool that can effectively mask distractions when writing or coding, especially noisy ones, is music. I consider my earphones to be an essential tool of the science trade, for they allow me to ‘tune out’ as I ‘tune in’ to my favourite mood music.

However, a little caution is required here. If the music is set to loud to mask the ambient noises that you are presently finding annoying, you might discover that your capacity to concentrate is reduced. The style of music is also important. When I am writing actual text, anything that could induce the slightest foot tapping or head banging tends to send me off into space; I prefer something light and instrumental in these circumstances, like Vivaldi, Mozart, or Miles Davis.

On the contrary, if I am merely transcribing data, coding, analysing, or creating display items, then I tend to go more for heavy metal or electronica to set an intense pace. While this is absolutely a personal choice, you might do well inevitably to find some combination of music styles that works best for you.

I’m going to use this occasion though to list my top-10 metal/hard-core tracks that I find particularly good for coding. Somehow for me, heavy metal and coding go together like Vegemite and toast (but the combination doesn’t work for writing papers, although at this very moment I’m listen to some of the tracks listed below). This list is also a little window into my own frustration with the Anthropocene and the political inertia about limiting the damage we humans are doing to our own life-support system.

In no particular order, here are my top-10 heavy-metal/coding/angst/frustration tunes (listen to the lyrics — they help): Read the rest of this entry »

A life of fragmentation

9 05 2018

LauranceWhat do you say to a man whose list of conservation awards reads like a Star Wars film intro, who has introduced terms like the ‘hyperdynamism hypothesis’ to the field of ecology, and whose organisation reaches over one million people each week with updates of the scientific kind?

Interview with Bill Laurance by Joel Howland (originally published in Conjour)

Well, I started by asking what it is that leads him to love the natural world to the extent he does. His answer was disarmingly simple.

“I grew up in the country, on an Oregon cattle ranch, and I think my love of nature just evolved naturally from that. When I was a young kid my dad and I did some fishing and ‘rock-hounding’— searching for rare stones and fossils. As an adolescent and teen I loved heading off into a forest or wilderness, rifle in hand – back in those days you could do that – to see whatever I could find. I watched red foxes hunting, eagles mating, and even heard a mountain lion scream. I got to be a pretty good duck and game-bird hunter.”

He’s quick to point out, however, he realised his taste for guns was not so developed as his love of nature.

“I gave up my rifles for a camera, and enjoyed that even more. I really got into photography for a while. Nature has always just calmed and fascinated me —I guess that’s partly why I became a conservationist.”

Who is Bill Laurance?

William F. Laurance is one of the leading ecology and conservation scientists globally, publishing dozens of papers in journals like Nature and Science, and rewriting the way scientists in the field research the complex interactions between flora and fauna — particularly in rainforests like the Amazon.

He is a Distinguished Research Professor at James Cook University in Australia, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has received an Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council.

All this for a man from western USA who dreamed of running a zoo. Instead, he has travelled a path of intricate and game-changing research, trailblazing awareness campaigns and inspirational writings that have driven the way many see the environment over the past few decades.

Despite this profile, Laurance gave some time to tell Conjour about his life, his passion and his aims. I asked him what — considering his impressive CV — the future holds.

His response seems a real insight to the man. Read the rest of this entry »

Why do they take so long?

4 05 2018

phd1This is probably more of an act of self-therapy on a Friday afternoon to alleviate some frustration, but it is an important issue all the same.

An Open Letter to academic publishers:

Why, oh why, do some of you take so bloody long to publish our papers online after acceptance?

I have been known to complain about how the general academic-publishing industry makes sickening amount of profit on the backs of our essentially free labour, and I suppose this is just another whinge along those lines. Should it take weeks to months to publish our papers online once they are accepted?

No. it shouldn’t.

I’m fully aware that most publishing companies these days outsource the actual publishing side of things to subcontracting agencies (and I’ve noticed more and more that these tend to be in developing nations, probably because the labour is cheaper), and that it can take someone some time to work through the backlog of Word or Latex documents and produce nice, polished PDFs. Read the rest of this entry »