Environment Institute

Best practice guide for forensic timer identificationA new guide on the illegal timber trade has been released in a global effort to clamp down on timber trafficking crimes.

The Best Practice Guide for Forensic and Timber Identification was prepared by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), with a substantial contribution from the Environment Institute’s Dr Eleanor Dormontt. Dr Dormontt is an expert in the field of illegal timber trafficking and her research was recently featured in New Scientist.

The Guide was developed in response to international concerns about the loss of global biodiversity and degradation of natural ecosystems. In particular, the illegal trafficking of wildlife and timber has been recognised as a significant threat to global conservation efforts.

Forensic science may be used to clamp down on illegal timber trafficking by providing solid evidence in prosecution cases against criminals. However, the collection of forensic data must follow strict procedures to be credible and admissable in court.

The Guide aims to provide a uniform approach to the collection of forensic data of timber and is intended for worldwide use. The Guide was officially launched in May in Vienna and is now available for pdf download.

Further information can be found at the UNODC Wildlife and Forest Crime Publications website.





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A common marine crustacean has shown researchers that it’s all set to beat climate change – the males will get more attractive to the females, with a resulting population explosion.

The University of Adelaide study is the first to show how mating behaviour could change under the warmer waters and more acidic oceans brought by climate change.

PhD student Katherine Heldt and University of Adelaide ecologist and evolutionary biologist Dr Pablo Munguia studied the herbivorous amphipod, Cymadusa pemptos, in large tanks under the elevated temperature and CO2 predicted for 100 years from now. This work was in collaboration with Professor Sean Connell, Dr Bayden Russell and PhD student Kathryn Anderson.

The amphipod family includes the land-based beach-hopper or sand flea commonly seen hopping around on beaches. In Cymadusa pemptos, like other marine amphipods, males have larger claws than females, which are used as a display to attract females or a weapon to fend off other males.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study found the population increased twenty-fold under predicted warmer waters and high CO2.

“Climate change most usually comes with predictions of severe negative impacts on population sizes, if not extinctions,” says Dr Munguia, in the University’s Environment Institute. “In general, booming populations are not predicted.

“It got even more interesting, however, when we dug deeper and found that males were much larger in size than in previous generations under cooler waters and lower CO2, and their bigger claws were disproportionately larger still. Females stayed the same size.

“On top of that, where there had been variation in large claw size throughout the population, suddenly all the males had large claws. This happened within a few generations.

“It seems that sexual selection for this attractiveness trait could mean that every male was equally attractive to the females, resulting in very large numbers of females – almost 80% – becoming pregnant, causing a massive population explosion.”

Because the future climate change conditions also promoted increased growth of the marine algae which amphipods eat, constraints on competition for food were removed, allowing males to support their energy-demanding bigger claws and enabling the population to grow.

“We know that climate change will be cataclysmic for many species but in some cases it will not,” says Dr Munguia. “This is the first quantitative example of how it will be beneficial for some individual species, albeit with massive consequences to the environment overall.

“We’ve also shown how mating systems may potentially change. If all males are equals in claw size, then perhaps claws will no longer become a key trait. Our research shows how we can start remapping ideas on how mating systems may become modified under future climate.”

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Thinking about the future in decision making and planning processes is critical. In this article we look at one of the best tools to do this: Scenario planning.


Thinking about the future reveals many questions

When we think about how our own lives will change in the future, it is full of uncertainties. Missed or taken opportunities. Unexpected offers. Then turning of the years brings with it new challenges and benefits.

But when we think about how a city will develop, it is the tale of all of its inhabitants. How will they live? Where will they work? And how will they get there?

These are a few of the more obvious questions related to urban development. The answers are a mixing pot of an individual’s choices. They are choices based on many things including:

  • values
  • needs
  • wants
  • the region’s economic development
  • migration rates
  • policy decisions.

When we put all these factors together, the future starts becoming uncertain.

“The more likely future isn’t.” – Herman Kahn

This quote (1967) summarises the challenges of considering the future. When we forecast for the ‘most likely’ future, we know that the future won’t turn out to be the ‘most likely’. A memo by Lin Wells (of the Pentagon) in 2000 to Donald Rumsfeld summarised the challenges of prediction in regards to defence planning. He concluded with,

‘All of which is to say that I’m not sure what 2010 will look like, but I’m sure that it will be very little like we expect, so we should plan accordingly.’

But how do we plan ‘accordingly’?

In the Intelligent Water Decisions Research Group, we use several methods for attacking challenges to infrastructure or strategic planning.

For infrastructure problems, we look to develop robust or adaptive systems. Those systems must be capable of reaching their performance requirement under various future conditions. An example is the article here by Jeff Newman on the optimisation of water systems.

For broader strategic challenges we help by developing exploratory scenarios. We see how they can be integrated into scenario planning approaches.

Exploratory scenarios begin with the question, what could happen? The exploration of the future is based on two things. The first is a consideration of the main drivers of a system. The second is plotting out various coherent timelines for each driver. We use the latter to create diverse, and creative but plausible futures of a system.

Scenario plannning: Adelaide’s five cities of 2050

We recently developed and delivered a scenario process with members of South Australia’s State Mitigation Advisory Group. This group advises cabinet on a range of natural and man-made hazards. The process involved a series of workshops. It was developed andfacilitated by members of IWDG. We developed five scenarios for Greater Adelaide in 2050.

The scenarios mapped out various drivers and how they would interact. They showed how risk would change over the next 35 years. See a recent article in Fire Australia on some of the work.

How the scenarios worked

The scenarios were built on two questions. The first was how effective mitigation policies would be. The second was how resilient the community would be. Framing the exploration of the future on these questions allowed the scenarios to focus on the policy responses available to government.

The process used an integrated model that we developed with our colleagues in the Netherlands, RIKS. The model allowed five stories of the future to be translated to quantitative inputs. Using this model, we also explored how various land uses and developments progressed over the time period. It considered how these developments would  impact on future risk. (You can learn more about this by reading my previous article, which was on the importance of including exposure in risk assessments).

The importance of considering the future in decision making and planning processes is critical. Scenario planning is a great tool to use for considering the strategic challenges faced by governments and private companies. The process is valuable because it brings stakeholders together in complex decision-making environments. Yet it also the parties involved to build trust and consensus.

To explore how a scenario planning process could help you in your work, please contact me at graeme.riddell@adelaide.edu.au.

This article was written by Graeme Riddell and was originally published in Intelligent Water Decisions.

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The University of Adelaide’s Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility (URAF) invites you to join them for an information session and networking opportunity. Title: Drones, the University and Beyond When: 3pm, Friday October 7, 2016 Where: Room 313/314, Level 3, The Braggs This event is an opportunity to obtain a deeper insight into some of the URAF’s current projects, as […]

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The Environment Institute’s Dr Eleanor Dormontt has been featured in the latest edition of New Scientist, sharing her insights into the illegal timber trade. The New Scientist article delves into the promises of new technologies, such as DNA analysis, to hamper the illegal wildlife and timber trade. Dr Eleanor Dormontt speaks about the barriers to employing these potential […]

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The next Sprigg Symposium will be presented by Dr Laurie Menviel, DECRA Fellow from the University of New South Wales. She will present a seminar entitled “The role of ocean circulation changes as a climate driver during the last glacial period” Title: The role of ocean circulation changes as a climate driver during the last glacial […]

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Professor Bronwyn Gillanders has been recognised for her extraordinary contributions to fish and fisheries sciences. Prof Gillanders was awarded the K Radway Allen Award, the highest award granted by the Australian Society for Fish Biology (ASFB). She is the first South Australian and first woman to receive this prestigious award. The award was presented at a joint […]

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Dr Susannah Eliot, board member at the Environment Institute, has been awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of Adelaide. Dr Eliot, who already holds a PhD in cell biology from Macquarie University, has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to science communication. Dr Eliott joined the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) as founding CEO in 2005 […]

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The University of Adelaide will work with South Australian food manufacturer Spring Gully Foods to investigate potential sources of food colourings among Australian native plants. The project has been awarded an Innovations Connections Grant of $25,000, under the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme. Innovation Connections encourages and assists small and medium businesses to access knowledge, engage […]

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The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) AusPlots Facility has recently celebrated a significant milestone, having completed its 500th plot in the rangelands. The AusPlots Facility, which is based at the University of Adelaide, is a surveillance monitoring program that undertakes assessments of ecosystems across the country. Since 2009, they have been collecting data, making measurements and […]

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