Australian Institute of Alpine Studies

Newsletters

No. 9 August 2000

Contents


International Year of Mountains

INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF MOUNTAINS - 2002 A Global Perspective from the International Mountain Workshop, Symposium and Forum Grenoble and Chambery, France. 4th to 12th June 2000 (Roger Good)

Books

Where are we really? (Glenn Sanecki)

Scientific Committee Recognises Global Warming as a Threat

Website

Snow Trend

Climate and the Cryosphere

News from Tasmania

Launch of the Kosciuszko Alpine Flora

Annual meeting of the Australian Institute of Alpine Studies

Permanent UV-B Monitoring in the mountains (Will Osborne and Ken Green)

The Australian Alps Stream Health Monitoring Project

Joint Publications

Application Form


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International Year of Mountains

A preliminary meeting of parties interested in participating in the International Year of Mountains was organised by the Australian Alps Liaison Committee, the CRC for Sustainable Tourism and the AIAS. This was held on 2nd August at Environment Australia in Canberra with 36 people attending. To put the Australian effort in context, Roger Good spoke of results from the recent International Mountain Symposium and Forum in Grenoble (see article this newsletter). Catherine Pickering spoke about the role of the CRC for Sustainable Tourism, Brett McNamara spoke of the role of the Australian Alps Liaison Committee, Peter Harris spoke about initiatives in education and Ken Green spoke of the role of the AIAS and the international GLORIA program (see newsletter no. 7). The main aim of the meeting was to come up with ideas for the International Year of Mountains and identify potential funding sources. A steering committee was settled upon, representing the areas of science, tourism, mountain management, education and government. Their first task will be to ensure that there is government support for the year. All in all it was a successful meeting with a lot of interest in making something of the opportunities presented by this year.

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INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF MOUNTAINS - 2002 A Global Perspective from the International Mountain Workshop, Symposium and Forum Grenoble and Chambery, France. 4th to 12th June 2000. Roger Good

The International Workshop was convened by the French mountain research and management agencies and organised by the Institut de Geographie Alpine, Joseph Fourier University, Grenoble France and was held in Grenoble and Autrans. The objectives of the Mountain Workshop were:

Delegates to the workshop were required a month prior to the workshop, to respond to a three topics set by the organising committee. The responses were synthesised into workshop discussion themes. These were:

1. Specificity, unifying characteristics and diversity of mountain regions.
Are mountains part of an ecological continuum,- the relationships between the mountains and the lowlands that must be better understood and managed as a continuum.?

2. Mountains - a product of nature or of history and human societies.
What are the zonal limitations to mountains and is it the catchments or the mountains per se that need to be managed.?

3. Mountain regions - a laboratory for society and for science.
How can we raise the awareness of mountain areas in the general community, such that they are given the same political, social and financial research and management support as that of all other major natural biomes?

Similarly each delegate provided material which the committee prepared as high quality posters in the context of the themes of the workshop.

The outcome of the Workshop will be a collective publication contributing preliminary reflections for some actions during the International Year of Mountains.

Additional to the above, a few points discussed both formally and informally were:

Australian responses to these issues.
We must become more proactive in promoting mountain ecosystems and their natural and cultural values.

We must become active contributors to the International Mountain Forum programs through the IMF internet services and conferences, and through existing ‘mountain’ newsletters eg. ‘Mountain Protected Areas Update’ produced by the IUCN Commission on Protected Areas – Mountains Theme .

We must promote the mountains with Governments and the general community as ‘outdoor’ laboratories for baseline ecological studies and the long-term monitoring of human impact on ecosystems at one end of the extremes of environmental conditions and sensitivity.

We must develop management models from our research that enable the thresholds of deleterious impacts to be identified before the impacts are manifest in irreversibly degraded landscapes.

Limits to development must be identified so that ecologically sustainable development can be defined and undertaken without compromising the very resource that attracts people to mountain environments.

Australia should participate in the natural resources audit of the World’s mountain areas proposed to be undertaken before the International Year.

A ‘mountain communications and promotion strategy’ must be prepared. A good starting point would be the bringing together of the people involved in development of the concept of the cross-border management for the Alps Parks, the signing of the MOU and the establishment of the Alps Liaison Committee. This could be a good media promotion as well as a time of reflection on the success and future of the AALC programs and other possible mountain area projects eg. Tasmania and other mainland mountain areas.

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Books

Mountain weather
A new book has just been published on mountain weather: Mountain Meteorology: Fundamentals and Applications by C. David Whiteman, Oxford University Press, 355 pp, US$39.95. Following is a short summary:

Mountain Meteorology: Fundamentals and Applications is an introduction to mountain weather. Many photographs, figures and diagrams are used to describe the patterns and events characteristic of mountain weather, to explain how they develop, how they can be recognized visually and what they mean weather-wise. Numerous examples focus on the mountain ranges of North America, but the European Alps, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and the Himalayas are also considered. The book takes a descriptive phenomenological approach (rather than a math- or physics-based approach) to make the subject accessible to the non-scientist, while also providing useful physical and conceptual models to those with scientific training.

Mountain Meteorology is divided into four parts. Part one discusses the important factors that influence mountain climate and describes the characteristic climates of the mountains of North America. Part two explains basic weather elements and processes, including topics such as mountain clouds, thunderstorms and lightning safety. Part three concentrates on terrain-forced winds and diurnal mountain wind systems, while part four applies the meteorological principles outlined in earlier chapters to various forest and land management practices and operations. Appendices, an extensive glossary and a comprehensive index complete this book.

Mountain Rivers
A new book has just been published on mountain rivers called: "Mountain Rivers" by Ellen Wohl. The book is a comprehensive overview of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of mountain rivers, as well as human impacts on these river systems. The 320 page book is part of the Water Resources Monograph series published by the American Geophysical Union Press, and sells for US$39 ISBN 0-87590-318-5.

Old Books
If you want to get hold of that hard to get mountain book Go to: http://www.alibris.com/cgi-bin/texis/searcher/main.html?tpn=h Glenn Sanecki found 6 copies of the classic Geiger ‘The Climate Near the Ground" ranging from US$30 to US$60 (We ordered the best two copies).

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Where are we really? Glenn Sanecki

As many of you would be aware the U.S. government turned selective availability (SA) off on the 2nd of May 2000. Selective availability was the error induced by the U.S. to degrade the accuracy of GPS receivers using civilian bands. What this meant was that while the U.S. military and other approved bodies were able to obtain a high level of accuracy from the GPS system, civilians and others had to tolerate error up to Ī100m in some instances.

Differential GPS (DGPS) systems are able to correct for this error by receiving additional data, usually via a radio receiver from a fixed base station. Although highly accurate, these systems are expensive, receiving equipment is relatively bulky and its use is limited to the transmission range of base stations (accuracy also degrades as the distance from the base station increases).

Handheld GPS receivers have been around for some time, and offer a level of portability unlike their larger counterparts (a GPS wristwatch is now available). The error due to SA although unlikely to inhibit the effectiveness of a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, was sufficient to limit its use as a tool to researchers in the field. The ability to return to a survey plot was hampered by the fact that you might have to wander over several thousand square metres before locating it. And too bad if you were trying to find your snowcave in a whiteout.

All this has changed. Now that SA has been turned off, accuracy of handheld GPS units using the civilian band has improved significantly. But how much really, afterall degradation resulting from factors such as signal bounce or multipath can still affect receiver accuracy.

Data from one of the Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) operated by the U.S. Coast Guard at Hartsville, Tennessee over the 1st and 2nd of May 2000 show the effects of shutting of SA. Figure 1. shows scatterplots taken before and after SA was turned off. Each plot shows geographic fixes that were taken over a 6-hour period at 30-second intervals (720 samples). SA caused 95% of the points to fall within a radius of 44.2m. In contrast without SA, 95% of the points fall within a radius of 4.1m. Both data sets were dual-frequency pseudorange, incorporating ionospheric correction and taken using an Ashtech Z-12 receiver. They were processed using ICD-GPS-200C using the broadcast parameter in the WGS 84 reference system (that’s what the accompanying notes claim, who am I to argue).

 


May 1, 2000 and May 2, 2000

Figure 1. Scatter plot showing the accuracy of GPS with (left) and without (right) selective availability.

Well that’s great, but what does that mean for those of us who use less elaborate handheld GPS receivers. To answer this question, and provide me with a distraction from the seemingly endless piles of literature that I am now wading through, I set up a simple experiment to check the accuracy of my handheld GPS.

I logged the NMEA output of my Garmin GPS II Plus using the VisualGPS software package over approximately 7 hours. This provided 13515 fixes for latitude, longitude and altitude, convincing me that my house is located at S 35.4583 E 149.1179, and an altitude of 662.04m. More importantly however, the error associated with this geographic average had a standard deviation of 2.04m (latitude) 1.68m (longitude) and 4.67m (altitude). Assuming the data are normally distributed, and that 95% of the values will lie with two standard deviations of the mean, even with a handheld GPS receiver, for the most part, I was able to obtain an accuracy of Ī4.08m latitude, Ī3.36m longitude and Ī9.34m altitude.

Accuracy of this level is more than accurate for all but the most demanding projects that we might encounter in the field. For work requiring sub-meter accuracy there is still no substitute for differential GPS, or other more accurate survey techniques. More importantly, with this new level of accuracy available to us, we should have no trouble finding our snow caves or tents in even the most testing whiteout conditions. Just remember to pack some spare batteries.

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Scientific Committee Recognises Global Warming as a Threat

There has been a ‘Preliminary Determination’ communicated to us by Dr Chris Dickman, Chairperson, Scientific Committee to support a proposal to list Anthropogenic Climate Change as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act, (NSW). Listing of Key Threatening Processes is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.

The Scientific Committee has found that:

1. The distribution of most species, populations and communities is determined, at least at some spatial scale, by climate.

2. Climate change has occurred throughout geological history and has been a major driving force for evolution.

3. There is evidence that modification of the environment by humans may result in future climate change. Such anthropogenic change to climate may occur at a faster rate than has previously occurred naturally. Climate change may involve both changes in average conditions and changes to the frequency of occurrence of extreme events.

4. Response of organisms to future climate change (however caused) is likely to differ from that in the past because it will occur in a highly modified landscape in which the distribution of natural communities is highly modified. This may limit the ability of organisms to survive climate change through dispersal (Brasher & Pittock 1998; Australian Greenhouse Office 1998). Species at risk include those with long generations, poor mobility, narrow ranges, specific host relationships, isolate and specialised species and those with large home ranges (Hughes & Westoby 1994). Pest species may also be advantaged by climate change.

5. Modelling of the distribution of species under realistic climate change scenarios suggests that many species would be adversely affected unless populations were able to move across the landscape (for example, Brereton, Bennett and Mansergh 1995). Examples of species which would be at risk in New South Wales include:

 

Mammals  
Burramys parvus Mountain pygmy-possum
Potorous longipes Long-footed potoroo
Mastacomys fuscus Broad-toothed rat
Pseudomys fumeus Smoky mouse

 

Birds  
Leipoa ocellata Malleefowl
Pedionomus torquatus Plains-wanderer
Tyto tenebricosa Sooty owl
Calyptorynchus banksii graptogyne Red-tailed black-cockatoo
Polytelis anthopeplus Regent parrot
Petroica rodinogaster Pink robin
Pachycephala rufogularis Red-lored whistler

 

Reptiles  
Delma impar Striped legless lizard

 

Amphibians  
Litoria spenceri Spotted tree frog
Litoria raniformis Growling grass frog
Pseudophryne pengilleyi Northern corroboree frog
Pseudophryne corroboree Southern corroboree frog

 

Flora
Communities likely to become threatened include alpine vegetation communities (Busby 1988, Hughes & Westoby 1994).

6. The present protected area network was not designed specifically to accommodate climate change, and the present biodiversity values of the protected area system may not all survive under different climatic conditions (see Pouliquen-Young, O. 1999). Conservation planning at the landscape scale could provide opportunities for species to respond to future climate change and the Threat Abatement Plan could address modifications to the present protected area network to account for climate change.

7. Fire is an integral part of the dynamics of many Australian ecosystems. Studies suggest that the risk of fire may increase in some areas as the climate changes and decrease in others with consequent changes to the species composition and structure of ecological communities (Brasher & Pittock 1998; NSW Scientific Committee 2000).

8. In view of the above, the Scientific Committee is of the opinion that Anthropogenic Climate Change adversely affects two or more threatened species or could cause species, populations or ecological communities that are not threatened to become threatened.

References
Australian Greenhouse Office (1998): The National Greenhouse Strategy. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Brasher, R.E. and Pittock, A.B. (1998): Australasian Impacts of Climate Change. An Assessment of Vulnerability. In Watson, R.T., Zinyowera, M.C., Moss, R.H. and Dokken, D.J. "The Regional Impacts of Climate Change. An assessment of Vulnerability", IPCC Report. Australian Greenhouse Office, Canberra.

Brereton, R., Bennett, S. and Mansergh, I. (1995): Enhanced Greenhouse climate change and its potential effect on selected fauna of south-eastern Australia: a trend analysis. Biological Conservation 72, 339-354.

Busby, J.R. (1988): Potential impacts of climate change on Australia’s flora and fauna. In ‘Greenhouse. Planning for climate change.’ed. G.I.Pearman, pp. 387-98, CSIRO.

Hughes, W. & Westoby, M. (1994): Climate change and conservation policies in Australia: coping with change that is far away and not yet certain. Pacific Conservation Biology 1, 308-18

NSW Scientific Committee (2000): Final Determination to list High Frequency Fire as a Key Threatening Process in the Schedules of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. NSW Scientific Committee, Sydney.

Pouliquen-Young, O. (1999): The implications of climate change for land-based nature conservation strategies. Australian Greenhouse Office, Canberra.

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Website

The AIAS website has moved temporarily on the Environment Australia (EA) server at http://www.environment.gov.au/bg/alpine/aias/home.htm and is waiting for confirmation that its new ‘.org.au’ home is ready. We thank the AALC at EA for hosting our website for the past few years. We’ll let you know as soon as we do where the permanent web site is!

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Snow Trend

graph

Despite the way the present season is going we are still going to be at the low end of the spectrum when the five year mean is graphed. The following graph of data from Spencers Creek shows the trend in the five year mean of snow cover in metre-days (a measure that integrates depth and duration of snow cover). The ten year total to 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999 at the bottom show a decrease in cover of about 20% to 1979 another 10% to the 1980s and 1990s. The past five years (coincident with some of the warmest years of the century) had the worst five-year average of the series - 7.5% less than the previous worst 5 years and a whopping 53% less than the best 5 years (yes that did include 1964).

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Climate and the Cryosphere

The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Joint Scientific Committee (JSC) approved the establishment of a project on Climate and the Cryosphere (CLIC) at the JSC- XXI in Tokyo, 13- 17 March 2000. The Science and Co-ordination Plan for CLIC, (available at: http://www.npolar.no/acsys/CLIC/clicindex.htm) was developed by a Task Group under the Arctic Climate System (ACSYS) Scientific Steering Group, set up in 1998 and co-chaired by Ian Allison and Roger Barry. The plan outlines research and coordination initiatives required to integrate fully studies of the impact and response of the cryosphere, and the use of cryospheric indicators for climate change detection, within the WCRP. It draws on an expert meeting on Cryospheric Processes and Climate in Cambridge, UK (February 1997), two meetings of the CLIC Task Group, and scientist input. The cryosphere is an integral part of the global climate system with important linkages and feedbacks generated through its influence on surface energy and moisture fluxes, precipitation, hydrology, and atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Snow and ice are key components of climate model response to global change, and serve as important indicators of change in the climate system. However, many aspects of the cryosphere have not been fully covered within WCRP. There are notable gaps in present studies of cryospheric elements and in appropriate treatment of cryospheric processes in climate models.

In the CLIC Science Plan key interactions are treated under the following headings:

Also considered are cryospheric indicators of climate variability and change.

Specific issues for terrestrial snow and ice include interactions and feedbacks in the current climate and its variability; in land surface processes; and in the hydrological cycle. How do changes of the seasonal thaw depth alter the land- atmosphere interaction, and what will be the response and feedback of permafrost to changes in the climate system? The primary issue regarding the role of the cryosphere in sea level change is the past, present and future contribution of land ice. It is essential to measure and explain the current state of balance of glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets, and to resolve the large uncertainties in the mass budgets of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

The details and consequences of the role of sea ice in the global climate system are still poorly known. We need better knowledge of the time-varying distributions of the physical characteristics of sea ice in both hemispheres, and the dominant processes of ice formation, modification, decay and transport which determine ice thickness distribution. Improved coupled models are required to predict changes in sea ice cover under global warming.

Key issues on the global scale are understanding the direct interactions between the cryosphere and atmosphere, parameterizing correctly the processes involved in models, and providing improved data sets for these. Ice-albedo feedback, associated polar sensitivity to climate change, and their global implications, require detailed analysis and modeling. Improved interactive modeling of the atmosphere and the cryosphere is required in respect of the surface energy budget and surface hydrology, including freshwater runoff and its impacts on the global ocean thermohaline circulation.

The cryosphere is an integrator of processes within the climate system and a strong indicator of change. Cryospheric indicators are particularly valuable where conventional observations are sparse. It is of great importance to continue existing time series of sea ice, snow cover, and permafrost, as well as glacier geometry and mass balance to monitor current change.

The scientific strategy for a CLIC programme is similar in each of the areas of interaction: a combination of measurement, observation, monitoring and analysis, field process studies and modeling over a range of time and space scales. A CLIC modeling strategy must address improved model parameterization of the direct interactions between all components of the cryosphere, the atmosphere, and the ocean. This is required at regional to global scales, with a hierarchy of models. It is also essential to provide the improved data sets needed for validation of models and parameterization schemes via in situ and remote sensing observations. CLIC data requirements will necessitate the continuation of many ACSYS data activities and their expansion to Antarctic and other cryospheric data needs.

The cryosphere is of interest to many diverse scientific organisations. CLIC will develop an implementation plan that is complementary to other initiatives and draws on the expertise of other WCRP and WMO programme components, relevant IGBP, SCAR, SCOR, IASC and ICSU activities, and other international, regional and national organizations and projects.

Further information can be obtained through the International ACSYS/CLIC Project Office (IACPO), Director, Dr Chad Dick, at the Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromso, Norway. chad.dick@npolar.no

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News from Tasmania. Kerry Bridle

At UTAS, we're busy finishing off the Alpine ARC 'Alpine vegetation dynamics and environment-plant-invertebrate relationships'. Peter McQuillan is still sorting alpine invertebrates, though he is well past the half way stage now. He's looking for a volunteer curator to manage the collection!

Jamie Kirkpatrick is off to Switzerland for a week or so to an alpine conference on mountain biodiversity from 7-10, September. The aim of the conference at Rigi/Kaltbad (limited to a maximum of 100 participants) is to initiate the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA) Network. activity - (half his luck). The conference looks very interesting and I think we'll leave it up to Ken and Jamie to give us a comprehensive report in the next issue of the AIAS newsletter. The title of Jamie's paper and his abstract are as follows:

Factors influencing the spatial restriction of vascular plant species in the alpine archipelagoes of Australia
J.B. KIRKPATRICK School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Box 252-78, GPO, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 7001. E-mail: J.Kirkpatrick@utas.edu.au

Abstract: Alpine vegetation in Australia occurs in more than 100 discrete habitat islands, which were all part of just two large habitat islands at the height of the Last Glacial. The alpine vascular flora of Australia consists of species confined, or largely confined, to alpine vegetation (alpine obligates) and those that are more widespread. Among the former element of the flora there is considerable variation in range, although most species are Australian endemics. Species and subspecies that are confined to one alpine island or have a geographic range of less than 10000 km2 are concentrated on the largest islands. The mean geographic range for the obligate alpine floras is much larger for islands on the mainland of Australia than for islands in Tasmania. Within the mainland there is a strong negative relationship between summer temperatures at the highest points of islands and mean geographic range. There is no such relationship in Tasmania, where mean geographic range declines with declining winter temperatures, increasing rainfall and decreasing soil fertility. This reflects the climatic and edaphic distinctiveness of the western Tasmanian environment and the environmental similarities between the eastern Tasmanian alpine islands and the mainland alpine islands. The concentration of alpine local endemics on the largest of the relictual alpine areas suggests that local extinction processes related to area, rather than very recent speciation and subspeciation, may be the best explanation of the prevailing patterns of restriction.

We are now revisiting our experimental sites for the CRC for Sustainable Tourism project on 'The impact of human waste disposal on the ecosystems of the back-country of Tasmania'.

Well 6 months have gone very quickly, and it is now time to get out there and dig some of those poo bags up. (They're toilet paper bags really!) I have been to one site, and there doesn't seem to be a lot going on after 6 months, no real vegetation death, and no decomposition to speak of. However, this first site is a high altitude buttongrass moorland in very organic (and wet) soil, so it is not surprising that the contents of the bags haven't decomposed very much. The next two sites to be visited, when the weather forecast is a bit friendlier, are also alpine/subalpine though the soils are less organic -so we'll see what happens there.

Other news Jennie Whinam (DPIWE) has gone off to the International Peat Congress in Canada, combined with some walking in the Rockies. She'll provide a report of her trip in the next newsletter.

All in all, we're gearing up for another early season of alpine fieldwork, though this may be our last for a while as funding from the Alpine ARC stops on December 31st. Then all we'll have is poo! (Very important, but not very romantic!)

Sphagnum peatlands – NSW & the ACT Jennie Whinam
We have received a small NHT grant, under the National Reserves Program, to assess the conservation significance of the range of floristic and geomorphic types of Sphagnum peatlands that occur in New South Wales and the ACT. It is proposed that a similar assessment will be undertaken in Victoria next financial year.

This follows on from work we have undertaken in Tasmania, which has resulted in identification of significant sites, some of which are now the subject of negotiation for management agreements, covenanting or sale (under the private forests Regional Forests Agreement). For example, we have identified rainforest sites (with Nothofagus cunninghamii or Phyllocladus aspleniifolius), lowland sites with the rare eucalypt E. perriniana, limestone sinkholes with floating mats of S. falcatulum and a rainforest-Sphagnum relict site. The results are currently being finalised for publication.

So, if you know of some cute or interesting Sphagnum peatlands in NSW or the ACT, we would like to hear from you. In particular, we would like to know location, size, tenure, any floristic or geomorphic information you might have, and whether it is likely to be ‘unusual’, and even if it is not.

Many thanks,
Jennie
Whinam@dpiwe.tas.gov.au
Nicki.Chilcott@dpiwe.tas.gov.au
Resource Management and Conservation,
Department of Primary Industries, Water & Environment
Hobart TAS 7000
Ph. (03) 623361610 Fax (03) 62333477

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Launch of the Kosciuszko Alpine Flora

A launch date has been decided for the Kosciuszko Alpine Flora. The place is still to be determined but is likely to be within the CSIRO/ANU/Botanic Gardens triangle in Canberra and the date is planned to be 7 December.

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Annual meeting of the Australian Institute of Alpine Studies

This meeting will be held on the day following the launch of The Kosciuszko Alpine Flora. All members are invited. We have booked the theaterette and envisage a program similar to that of last year. That is a short talk from all or most attendees on results of completed work, an update on current research or plans for the upcoming year. Short abstracts of talks - about 200-300 would be appreciated for the December newsletter. Could all people intending to attend please inform Ken Green so we have some ideas of numbers. Instead of following the meeting, a dinner will be held on the previous night following the launch of the Flora. Details of this are still being organised.

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Permanent UV-B Monitoring in the mountains. Will Osborne and Ken Green

The Applied Ecology Research Group at the University of Canberra, in conjunction with the AIAS and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, has established the only permanent UV-B monitoring installations in Australia outside of a capital city. The university has provided two pyranometers and associated data-loggers to measure ultraviolet-B radiation over the Australian Alps. The research is being conducted jointly by Dr Will Osborne (Applied Ecology Research Group and CRC for Freshwater Ecology) and Dr Ken Green (AERG and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service). In order to compare seasonal trends in UV-B at two elevations, one monitoring station was established at Berridale (altitude 870m) and the other at Perisher Valley (1880m). The meters used are Middleton UVR1-B pyranometers (Carter-Scott Design) that operate in the band width 303-310 nm.

Given the same degree of solar radiation, UV-B radiation increases exponentially with altitude (see Figure) so it is not surprising that there is considerable international concern about the impact of UV-B on alpine organisms, particularly given that ozone depletion has resulted in increased levels of ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface. For several years now, Dr Osborne and a small research team including Dr Green, David Hunter (research officer) and Sara Broomhall (honours student) have been attempting to examine the effect of ultraviolet radiation on alpine frogs. A recent paper in the journal Conservation Biology (April 2000) reports on the results of the group’s first experiments on the impact of UV-B on the embryos of frogs in alpine regions in Australia. This pilot study recorded a significant impact on a declining alpine species (alpine tree frog) compared to a non-declining control species (see the abstract by Broomhall et al. below). However, the study was of a fairly short duration, and UV-B radiation was recorded over only the few weeks of the study in one season. In order to understand longer term trends at different elevations, the permanent stations have been placed at altitudes differing by over 900 m. This will allow for a better examination of seasonal trends in ultraviolet radiation. Concurrent monitoring of visible light levels at both sites will also allow us to examine the influence of cloud cover on UV-B penetration to ground level, both on a daily basis and over longer periods. This monitoring represents a major initiative with respect to understanding the impact of ultraviolet radiation on one of Australia's most restricted and fragile environments.

For further information see: Broomhall,S. (1998) The implications of ozone depletion for the Australian Alps: A review. Occasional Papers in Applied Ecology (University of Canberra) No 13, 41 pp.

Copies of this are available from NPWS library at Jindabyne.

Ken Green posing beside the UV pyranometer on the roof of the NPWS building at Perisher Valley.
Ken Green
graph
Graph of increasing UV-B with altitude over a transect conducted in both directions between Waste Point and Charlottes Pass over a period of 80 minutes at around noon on February 8 2000.

Abstract
Declines have been observed in a number of Australian frog species, many of these at high elevations. Alpine regions in Australia are likely to be particularly subject to increases in ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B, 280-320 nm) because UV-B levels increase with elevation and because anthropogenic depletion of ozone has been particularly severe in the southern hemisphere. We compared survivorship of embryos and tadpoles of a declining species of frog, Litoria verreauxii alpina, with those of a sympatric non-declining species, Crinia signifera, under three ambient UV-B treatments, unshielded, control and UV-B excluding. Experiments were conducted in artificial water bodies established at three different altitudes (1365m, 1600m and 1930m) in the Snowy Mountains of south-eastern Australia. The exclusion of UV-B significantly enhanced survival of L. v. alpina (declining species) at all elevations. Overall, the probability of dying was highest in the unshielded treatments and lowest under the UV-B excluding treatments for both species over all elevations. The probability of dying was considerably higher in L. v. alpina than in C. signifera for a given UV-B treatment at the two highest elevations. Our results support the hypothesis that ultraviolet radiation is likely to be a contributing factor in the disappearance of L. v. alpina at high altitudes in Southern Australia.

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The Australian Alps Stream Health Monitoring Project

The Australian Alps attract thousands of tourists each year, for both winter and summer recreation. Managing these ever increasing numbers in an ecologically sustainable way is a constant issue for managers.

Research being conducted by the CRC for Freshwater Ecology has taken managers a step closer to achieving this aim.

Nerida Nerida

Nerida out in the field.

AUSRIVAS (Australian Rivers Assessment Tool) is a predictive modelling tool developed by the CRC that enables users to assess the health of their local river. It is easy to use, requires minimal equipment and results can be processed rapidly, making it ideal for use by community groups, managers and ecologists.

The model predicts the number and type of macroinvertebrate (animals without a backbone that can be seen with the naked eye) species likely to be found in an undisturbed area (reference site) and compares this to the number and type found in a disturbed area (test site). Certain species are known to be highly sensitive to pollution (eg mayfly larvae), others are very tolerant, (eg bloodworms) so the species that are recorded at each site can provide an important insight into what is happening in the immediate catchment.

In the AUSRIVAS models, Rivers are grouped based on their environmental characteristics (eg size, altitude, shallow, fast flowing, vegetation type) so comparisons from one river to another within a group are very reliable.

Funding by the Australian Alps Liaison Committee enabled sampling of 95 sites within the Australian Alps this year. Seventy-nine reference sites were used to provide baseline data and develop a model, with sixteen test sites sampled and assessed.

Once test sites are matched to reference sites with similar characteristics, the macroinvertebrates expected (E) if there were no environmental stress, can be compared to the macroinvertebrates observed (O). For example, an O/E of 0.7 would indicate that about 30% of the different sorts of animals expected were not collected. The missing animals indicate an unhealthy or stressed river.

A healthy or unpolluted river should have an O/E ratio close to one. The information from the 79 reference sites forms the basis of the predictive model.

AUSRIVAS not only provides us with the tools to quantify the current health of our rivers but also provides an "early-warning tool" to assist managers in preventing degradation to the biological communities of rivers and streams within the Australian Alps national parks. The impacts of management activities on rivers and streams such as track construction and fire as well as dispersed recreation can be easily assessed using the Alps model.

Stock grazing on the Bogong High Plains and the increasing pressure of Alpine tourism has long been considered damaging to this unique and fragile ecosystem.

This study has identified that these two land uses are indeed having a detrimental impact on streams.

Being able to quantify this damage may enable us to predict the impacts of certain activities and help management balance these ever-increasing pressures. The development of the Australian Alps AUSRIVAS predictive model provides an important tool that will help ensure the long-term protection of the Australian Alps.

The Alps summer riffle AUSRIVAS predictive model and a description of the methods is available on the Internet (Coysh et al. 2000, http://ausrivas.canberra.edu.au/ausrivas).

For further information, please contact Nerida Davies phone: 02 6201 2080 email: ndavies@enterprise.canberra.edu.au or Mark Lintermans Phone: 02 62072117 Email: mark.lintermans@.act.gov.au

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Joint Publications

The first of a series of joint research reports (refereed) between the CRC for Sustainable Tourism and the AIAS is currently being printed. It is titled 'Climate Change and the Plant Communities of the Kosciuszko Alpine Zone in the Australian Alps'. The authors are Dr C. Pickering (Griffith University) and Mr. T. Armstrong (formally at ANU, now working for LandCare Research (NZ) as a plant population geneticist. Copies of the research report will be available from October for free by contacting the CRC for Sustainable Tourism, or Dr Pickering, or AIAS.

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