Environment Institute

Research on the worldwide rise of cephalopod populations has taken the world by storm recently, and now the “Squidlings” research team, led by Dr Zoe Doubleday and Professor Bronwyn Gillanders has taken out the inaugural “Peer Prize for Women“!


The competition called for votes from the researchers’ “peers”. Only verified researchers were able to cast a vote. The competition received 40 entries from across Australia and a total of 1474 votes from researchers around the world. Find out more about the entrants here.

The cephalopod research received 183 votes, to take out the Earth, Environmental & Space Science Prize. The research team has won $10 000 to put towards more great research. Congrats to the Squidlings!

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Giant Ice Age species including elephant-sized sloths and powerful sabre-toothed cats ­that once roamed the windswept plains of Patagonia, southern South America, were finally felled by a perfect storm of a rapidly warming climate and humans, a new study has shown.

Extinct jaguar_SMALL

Extinct jaguar: Partial jaw of a large, extinct jaguar discovered in a cave in the Ultima Esperanza region of Patagonia. Credit: Fabiana Martin/CEHA

Research led by the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, published today in Science Advances, has revealed that it was only when the climate warmed, long after humans first arrived in Patagonia, did the megafauna suddenly die off around 12,300 years ago.

The timing and cause of rapid extinctions of the megafauna has remained a mystery for centuries.

“Patagonia turns out to be the Rosetta Stone – it shows that human colonisation didn’t immediately result in extinctions, but only as long as it stayed cold,” says study leader Professor Alan Cooper, ACAD Director. “Instead, more than 1000 years of human occupation passed before a rapid warming event occurred, and then the megafauna were extinct within a hundred years.”

The researchers, including from the University of Colorado Boulder, University of New South Wales and University of Magallanes in Patagonia, studied ancient DNA extracted from radiocarbon-dated bones and teeth found in caves across Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego, to trace the genetic history of the populations. Species such as the South American horse, giant jaguar and sabre-toothed cat, and the enormous one-tonne short-faced bear (the largest land-based mammalian carnivore) were found widely across Patagonia, but seemed to disappear shortly after humans arrived.

The pattern of rapid human colonisation through the Americas, coinciding with contrasting temperature trends in each continent, allowed the researchers to disentangle the relative impact of human arrival and climate change.

“The America’s are unique in that humans moved through two continents, from Alaska to Patagonia, in just 1500 years,” says Professor Chris Turney, from the University of New South Wales. “As they did so, they passed through distinctly different climate states – warm in the north, and cold in the south. As a result, we can contrast human impacts under the different climatic conditions.”

The only large species to survive were the ancestors of today’s llama and alpaca – the guanaco and vicuna ─ and even these species almost went extinct.

“The ancient genetic data show that only the late arrival in Patagonia of a population of guanacos from the north saved the species, all other populations became extinct,” says lead author Dr Jessica Metcalf, from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“In 1936 Fell’s cave, a small rock shelter in Patagonia, was the first site in the world to show that humans had hunted Ice Age megafauna. So it seems appropriate that we’re now using the bones from the area to reveal the key role of climate warming, and humans, in the megafaunal extinctions,” says Dr Fabiana Martin, at the University of Magallanes.


Media Contact:

Professor Alan Cooper, Study leader.
Phone: +61 8 8313 5950.
Mobile: +61 (0) 406 383 884

Robyn Mills, Media Officer.
Phone: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 (0)410 689 084

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Current immigration rates into Australia, and associated projected population growth, will make greenhouse gas emissions targets even more difficult to achieve in the future, a University of Adelaide-led study has found.

Published in the journal Asia and the Pacific Policy Forum, Professor Corey Bradshaw (University of Adelaide) in collaboration with Professor Barry Brook (University of Tasmania), examined the relative contribution of different immigration policies to Australia’s future population size and emissions trajectory. Australia’s natural population growth is below replacement, so both its recent past and future increases in total population size result from net immigration.

The researchers investigated how much Australia needs to reduce its per capita emissions to achieve future emission reduction targets under six different immigration scenarios: zero net immigration; ‘business-as-usual’ net intake of 215,000 people/year; constant proportional immigration of 1% of the total population; total net intake of 20,000 and 100,000 a year; and doubling the net total immigration.

“Australians are among the highest per capita greenhouse gas emitters on the planet, exuding a whopping 25-27 tonnes of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide equivalents) per person per year,” says Professor Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. “By way of comparison, the French emit 5.2 tonnes, the Chinese 6.7 tonnes, the Canadians 14.1 tonnes and the Americans 17.0 tonnes – our emissions record is appalling.”

The researchers looked at the current national targets of 5% reduction on year 2000 emissions by 2020, and 26-28% reduction on year 2005 emissions by 2030, as well as an earlier, no longer in place, target of 80% reduction on year 2000 emissions by 2050.

They found that achieving the 2030 target of 27% reduction (the median of 26-28%) would require a drop in per capita yearly emissions to between 12.5 and 17.4 tonnes by 2030, depending on the immigration scenario.

“We’ll need to achieve massive reductions in our per capita emissions, regardless of which immigration policy we follow,” says Professor Brook, Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania.

“If we maintain constant proportional net immigration of 1%, we would have roughly 10% more emissions by 2030 than if our population remained stable. To meet the 2030 target we would need to get down to 15 tonnes of emissions per person by 2030 and, even at zero net immigration, that figure would be 12.5 tonnes. That’s under 14 years from now.

“We need a rapid energy revolution if we want any chance of stemming emissions to meet our targets.”

The 80% reduction by 2050 would require a drop to 3-5 tonnes emissions per person, equivalent to reducing per capita output by 6 to 10 times relative to today’s emissions.

“Australia has no credible mechanisms in place to achieve these goals,” says Professor Bradshaw. “That will require substantial policy changes across population, energy, agriculture and the environmental sectors.”

Media Contact:

Professor Corey Bradshaw, lead author, University of Adelaide. Phone: +61 8 8313 5842, Mobile: +61 (0) 400 697 665

Professor Barry Brook, co-author, University of Tasmania. Phone: +61 (03) 6226 2655, Mobile: +61 (0) 420 958 400

Robyn Mills, Media Officer. Phone: +61 8 8313 6341, Mobile: +61 (0)410 689 084, robyn.mills@adelaide.edu.au

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The Environment Institute has two entries in the Peer Prize for Women in Science, so get involved and support your colleagues by voting! The first group is “Squidlings” Professor Bronwyn Gillanders and Zoe Doubleday have led this submission. They have submitted an interview style video, so click here to view the video and vote for […]

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Major funding success for a project which will have and enormous impact on South Australia’s agricultural productivity and biodiversity conservation. The South Australian team will attract approximately 50% of the funding and is led by bee pollination expert Dr Katja Hogendoorn and Professor Andy Lowe. The announcement states: More than $5.2 million will be invested in R&D […]

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Erinn Fagan-Jeffries explains a whole new world of life under the Australian desert, Stygofauna in her presentation for the FameLab final. Congratulations and well done to Erinn for taking Adelaide research to the world stage in such stellar fashion! Abhimanya Veerakumarasivan from Malaysia was crowned the Winner, with his presentation explaining how genetics with transform future […]

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Erinn Fagan-Jeffries is through to the FINAL of FameLab competition and will compete in the final on the 10th June. Erinn competed in the semi-final of FameLab at the Cheltenham Festival in the UK yesterday, up against 27 competitors from around the world. The other finalists are: Dina El-Zohiry (Egypt) Alba Aguion (Spain) Erinn Fagan-Jeffries […]

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The move from life on land to life in the sea has led to the evolution of a new sense for sea snakes, a University of Adelaide-led study suggests. The international team, led by researchers in the University’s School of Biological Sciences, studied tiny and poorly understood structures on the heads of snakes called ‘scale […]

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The biggest FameLab International Final yet kicks off on June 9, with 27 candidates from all over the world taking part in the final rounds at Cheltenham Science Festival! Erinn Fagan-Jeffries took out the Australian FameLab Competition, and has travelled to Cheltenham, UK to represent the University of Adelaide, and Australia, in this international science […]

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Illegal wildlife trade has been estimated between $10 billion and $20 billion a year, comparable to illegal trade of drugs or weapons. The Pangolin or scaly ant-eater, is thought to be the most traded mammal in the world, and are poached and traded for almost every part of their body. Their scales are believed to […]

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