As a custodian species of the planet’s ecosystems, we have become disconnected from our responsibilities, attending to the patterns that build the complex web of life. Our activities and waste products are disrupting ecosystems, impacting the reproductive success of other animals. Pharmaceutical waste can persist even in the most remote places on the planet, including Antarctica. But it’s not all bad news, particularly if we pay attention to where we’ve come from, and where we’re going.
Seals were harvested heavily in south-eastern Australia in the 1800’s, reducing thriving colonies of five seal species to a single species. Today, citizen scientists from every continent participate in the annual SealSpotter Challenge, using footage from drones flying over Seal Rocks to count the number of pups. This count enables scientists like Dr Rebecca McIntosh and Ross Holmberg to analyse seal population data faster and more accurately so that they can see how the population is fairing over time.
An iconic species of the Australian Alps, the mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus) is found in a unique and fragile habitat that is highly sensitive to environmental change. Habitat conservation and genetic rescue-based conservation efforts have allowed some populations to rebound, but the possum is facing new threats, and the species remains Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Bogong moth, a key food source in the mountain pygmy possum diet, has declined in recent years. Efforts to understand Bogong moth biology are underway.
The Society’s first female member, Helen Harriet Neild (1859 – 1907) was registered as a Member of the Royal Society of Victoria on 10th October, 1889. The second child and eldest daughter of eleven siblings in the Neild household, Nellie had been brought up as a young society woman, notably singing at the Shakespeare Society’s musical gatherings in the late 1880s. She had attended the University of Melbourne to attain a science degree, which in those early years was offered as a Bachelor of Arts under Sir Frederick McCoy’s guidance. She is identified by Dr Allan Madsley as a zoologist.
You may not know it, but Australia is facing an extinction crisis. With the worst rate of mammalian extinction in the world, over 1,700 species of animals and plants are currently at risk of becoming extinct in Australia. The future of biodiversity conservation relies on multiple factors, including removing native animals from the dangers of introduced predators, changing the culture of clearing land, and having support of the government, conservationists, and society as a whole. These changes would help populations to recover, however when the gene pool of a species has bottlenecked so much, even if the population size increases, their genetic health will remain poor. To avoid the current health problems such as all koalas having chlamydia and Tasmanian devils having infectious facial tumours, genetic rescue is potentially the solution. With Dr Weeks and his colleagues leading the way, endangered and threatened Australian flora and fauna will hopefully flourish once again.