How the weather can influence a deadly frog fungus

The chytrid fungus has devastated amphibian populations worldwide, causing the decline of at least 500 species. While some Australian frog species have been impacted heavily by this disease, others, like Western Australia’s motorbike frog, appear to have fared better.

To investigate the prevalence of the chytrid fungus in populations of motorbike frogs, researchers from the CAUL and TSR Hubs studied environmental conditions at 45 wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain and swabbed almost 1200 frogs.

The results, published in a new report, show that the chytrid fungus is widespread and infects motorbike frogs throughout the area. However, the prevalence of the chytrid fungus in frog populations varies spatially and temporally with variation in environmental conditions at a site and across seasons. During the winter, 57% of the frogs sampled were infected with chytrid, but in the summer this dropped to only 4%. Hot weather (above 28 oC) was strongly linked with low infection rates, and the salinity of wetlands was also found to inhibit chytrid.

Further research is needed to understand why motorbike frogs are still thriving while two closely related species (growling grass frog and green and golden bell frog) are declining, when all three species are exposed to the chytrid fungus, habitat loss and other threats.

Photo by Kirsten Parris

Regional liveability featured in UN-Habitat & WHO sourcebook

Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with around 90% of us living in urban areas. As our city populations continue to rise, more people are choosing to move to regional towns for economic reasons or to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Most of the existing research into liveability has focussed on large urban areas, but CAUL-Hub researcher Dr Melanie Davern has created a series of regional liveability assessments to support councils with their planning needs. This research was featured in the UN-Habitat and the World Health Organization’s Compendium of Inspiring Practices: Health Edition, which has since been included in a new sourcebook, Integrating Health in Urban and Territorial Planning.

The sourcebook, which can be used by anyone in the public health, urban and territorial planning sectors, guides the development of urban and regional communities that focus on improved human health and wellbeing outcomes. 

Image: ‘Bendigo’ by Mariyath, available at https://bit.ly/3jbWctv, licenced under CC BY 2.0. Full terms: creativecommons. org/licenses/by/2.0/au

 

A Clean Air Plan for Sydney

While air pollution in Sydney is generally less severe than in many comparable cities globally, there is evidence that exposure to air pollutants, even at low levels, can be a threat to population health. The CAUL Hub co-designed a program of research with key stakeholders, including the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, to fill gaps in our understanding of air quality in Australia’s largest city.

A Clean Air Plan for Sydney draws together the current understanding of air quality in Sydney, the latest air quality research, and critical evidence-based recommendations. Researchers found concentrations of air pollutants in Sydney, like in many Australian cities, are dominated by anthropogenic emissions.

The report recommends reducing emissions at the source, using greener energy sources and educating the public to reduce their individual exposure. The research has led to improved air quality modelling, and informed State Government strategies on climate change, transport and energy. 

Image: Air quality captured in Sydney on December 10, 2019 during the bushfire crisis.

What did we learn from The Living Pavilion?

Last year, the University of Melbourne was transformed into a haven of biodiversity and Indigenous stories through the installation of over 40,000 Kulin Nation plants, plus artworks, gathering spaces and soundscapes.

While The Living Pavilion was primarily an Indigenous-led festival space, it was also a research project.  A series of studies were undertaken to investigate whether a temporary event space can successfully transfer knowledge and evoke a sense of Aboriginal belonging and sovereignty.

Surveys conducted over the course of the three-week event found that 84% of participants agreed, or strongly agreed that they felt more connected to Indigenous culture by visiting the event. The data also revealed there was a 40% increase in people’s perception of the site as an Aboriginal place.

More key takeaways are detailed in a new report, and for those of you who missed it or want to revisit the event, take a look at The Living Pavilion video. 

 Image: The Living Pavilion by Isabel Kimpton

Balancing greener, denser cities

Denser cities can offer many advantages, including better housing affordability, shorter commutes and more social interaction. But increased density can come at an environmental cost by reducing a city’s urban vegetation. So how can we strike a balance between density and greenery?

In partnership with CSIRO, CAUL-Hub researchers have developed a model that can help planners assess the impact of proposed developments on urban forest cover. In a new paper, researchers used the tool to predict the effect of increased housing densities on tree canopy cover in a prominent Perth suburb in 30 years’ time. It is hoped the model can help planners to deliver more sustainable designs and plan for ways to mitigate the loss of urban vegetation. 

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash