Thursday, April 27, 2017

April Speaker Report: The Cane Toad Challenge by Rob Capon

Our speaker Professor Rob Capon, an Organic Chemist, is a Professorial Research Fellow and Group Leader at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. In collaboration with colleagues (University of Sydney’s Professor Rick Shine and his team) they have developed and patented a pheromone based cane toad control technology. This technology allows for the rapid, cost effective species selective trapping of cane toad tadpoles in managed waterways (i.e. dams, creeks, ponds, lakes, canals etc.).

Cane toads are prolific breeders, and the team has identified the short window in time when tadpoles are swarming at the margins of water bodies in the breeding season as an ideal opportunity to make a dent in intergenerational recruitment (that is, take out the young guns before they become adults). Their approach is both environmentally sustainable and safe, as well as being intuitive and simple to implement - if they provide the pheromonal baits. The story of how they achieved their goal of identifying the pheromone was the subject of Professor Capon’s fascinating and well-received talk.

He commenced with a brief history of the spread of and previous attempts to control cane toads. It became apparent that in order to find a practical, long term solution (the Challenge) there was a need to understand the cane toad’s chemical ecology, as had been done with insects where species specific pheromones have been used successfully in insect traps. In theory, it was believed, the same principle should hold for toads.

The problem with cane toads is their toxicity, making it important to learn how it uses their chemistry. This involved dissecting and investigating the structure of the parotoid gland. The parotoid gland is the raised area on the cane toad’s shoulders from where a poisonous, milky substance is exuded when the toad is caught by a predator. The gland contains a mass of small vesicles, each with a duct leading to a pore on the surface of the skin. What the researchers discovered was that the toxin stored in the vesicles was not as potent as that exuded onto the skin. The potency was increased by the addition of an enzyme, stored in even smaller vesicles either side of the duct. This very clever system ensured that the toads were not themselves endangered by storing a lethal cardio toxin in their bodies.

How, then, can this knowledge be used as a control method? It was already known that cane toad eggs are poisonous, as are the tadpoles. Female cane toads coat their eggs with the same toxin to protect them from predators, but the pheromone in this toxin also acts as an irresistible lure for cane toad tadpoles. Cane toad tadpoles eat the eggs from later spawnings, possibly to obtain protein, to renew their own toxin, or simply because of genetic competition. The pheromone is species specific and does not attract frog tadpoles.

Professor Capon and his team extracted the pheromone from adult toad toxin and developed a system to lure tadpoles into traps. The chemistry the tadpoles hone in on is replicated, coated on to an air stone (a porous stone used in aquariums) and placed in a very simple plastic box-trap, with simple plastic funnels fitted in holes drilled in the side. The chemical scent trail leaks from the box into the surrounding water, where the tadpoles detect it and follow it back into the trap. These traps have, for example, been used successfully on Bribie Island (10,000 tadpoles trapped in a 24-hour period) and at Thornlands (44,000 over a season).

There is a web page and video explaining the Cane Toad Challenge that members who were absent from the presentation will find interesting – and even those who did attend will be interested to see the end of the video that was cut short by a power cut. See “An ugly menace” online (http://www.uq.edu.au/research/impact/stories/an-ugly-menace/).


Professor Capon has donated to the Cane Toad Challenge, the travel money provided to him by the Field Nats.
(Report by Deb Ford)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Outing Report: March 2017: Wyreema Wetlands

Our morning at Wyreema was an excellent follow-up to Mick Atzeni’s talk of Friday night. The whole project was much easier to conceptualise when we could see the true scale of it, and get a feel for the lie of the land.
John Mills from Toowoomba Regional Council was kind enough to come and explain to us the ins and outs of sewage treatment generally, and what the changes in Toowoomba’s sewage management mean for the Wyree-ma wetland. It was particularly interesting to have him explain just why it was a good idea to pipe sewage all the way to Wetalla. Apparently Toowoomba previously had a poor record of letting too much nitrogen and phosphorus flow into the Murray-Darling river system, and was a major contributor to the serious problem of blue-green algae. Major changes to Wetalla’s processing method mean that we can now be proud of the clean water that we send down the river. John also brought up the subject of increased “hard-pan” – the increasing area of land under hard surfaces, such as buildings, roads, and driveways – which results in increased stormwater run-off. This will affect the wetlands site.
The Wyreema plant still has a function. It receives the sewage from Wyreema and Cambooya, and sends it on to Wetalla, so a small corner of the site will continue to be involved in this. TRC’s decision is still to be made as to what can be done with the remaining area, which consists of a large area of open land, the old sewage ponds, and the dam which now collects Wyreema’s stormwater run-off.  The stormwater dam will continue to attract birds, but it is still to be decided to what extent TRC might feel able to support the restoration of the area to the high-quality wetland it was, when the sewage treatment ponds were in use.
These shallower ponds provided excellent shallow-water feeding-ground for wading birds. We could also see that unlike the steeper-sided stormwater dam, they provided an excellent habitat for rushes and sedges, which in turn provided nesting sites and shelter for birds.
Members discussed several issues with John, including the TRC’s perceived need to remove sludge from the ponds as part of the process of restoring the land to an acceptable state. John pointed out that sewage works are subject to requirements in this regard, similar to those for mines.
Members queried the necessity of this, considering that birds had been using the habitat, without apparent harm, for 20 years. They also suggested that increasing the pond area, and therefore the seepage area, could be a way of contributing a local solution to the problem of reduced groundwater recharge because of rapidly increasing hard-surfacing of the land. As the increasing local difficulty of accessing bore water demonstrates, it may be that sending all that potential recharge water away downstream is not the happiest solution. Meanwhile, the birds would benefit from the resultant wetlands. Thank you to both John and Mick, for a morning which was both enjoyable, and left us feeling much better-informed about the Wyreema Wetlands issues.
Visiting by Yourself
It is possible to look at the wetland’s birds from outside the fence at any time. This only gives a view of one of the ex-sewage ponds, but because it is shallow, it is the best one for wading birds. The deeper stormwater dam can only be seen from inside the fence, but you can ONLY enter the precinct if you follow certain Toowoomba Regional Council requirements. If you would like to do it, would you please contact Mick Atzeni first to find out about them? It would be helpful to the success of the project, if you could let Mick know of any birds you see there. His email address is: tiddalac@gmail.com
(Report by Patricia Gardner)

Birds, Frogs and Dragonflies List compiled by Al Young

Yellow rumped Thornbill (or 'butter bum')
having a bath at Wreema (photo: Al Young)
Birds – Pacific Black Duck, Grey Teal, Straw-necked Ibis, White-faced Heron, Black-shouldered Kite, White-headed (Black-winged) Stilt (1),  Masked Lapwing, Black-fronted Dotterel (8), Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon), Crested Pigeon, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon (Hodgson Cr), Cockatiel, Red-rumped Parrot, Pale-headed Rosella, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Grey Butcherbird, Pied Butcherbird, Australian Magpie, Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike (Hodgson Cr), Willie Wagtail, Magpie-lark, Torresian Crow, Golden-headed Cisticola, Zebra Finch and Australian Pipit. (Taxonomy follows the International Ornithological Congress, 6.3, 2016)


Frogs: Two species of frogs were heard calling in a patch of rushes in Hodgson Creek. They were Spotted Grass Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) and Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni). The call of the Spotted Marsh Frog is like a short machine gun burst –‘Burrup Burrup’, whereas the Striped Marsh Frog makes a soft ‘toc-toc’ call.

Dragonflies along Hodgson Creek, Cambooya:
There was a considerable amount of dragonfly activity, mostly associated with ‘begetting’, near the remaining pools of water in Hodgson Creek. Males were actively patrolling their territories with some males and females flying in tandem thus allowing the females to deposit eggs into the water. I managed to identify four different species of dragonflies with a further two or three species of medium-sized dragonflies unidentified because they didn’t perch to allow a photo to be taken. Interestingly there were no damselflies present.
Australian Emperor (Hemianax papuensis)
Male and female flying in tandem
Blue Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum)


Scarlet Percher (Diplacodes haematodes)
No dark markings on a scarlet
abdomen
Wandering (Common) Percher
(Diplacodes bipunctata). Note: dark
markings on a reddish orange abdomen

(Photos by Al Young)

THE GRASSLAND AT WYREEMA WETLAND
(Article and photo by Patricia Gardner)

At our March meeting, Rod Hobson and Bruce Lawrie told us that the vegetation around the ponds might include some good quality Queensland Bluegrass grassland, a Regional Ecosystem type (11.8.11), which is classified as “of concern”. Because of the dry weather, they found it difficult to be sure when they visited, a few weeks ago. They remarked on the importance of grasslands as ecosystems and the tendency for them to be undervalued in comparison with treed ecosystems. They expressed the hope that if further investigation showed the Wyreema wetland to have value as a grassland, any planting of trees would be carefully restricted to prevent damaging it.
On our outing, we found it similarly difficult to get a good idea of the full range of plants there, though because of the recent rain it was looking a little healthier than when Rod and Bruce saw it. Given that many of our local grassland plants either die back to their perennial underground roots in dry times, or have seed that won’t germ-inate until good rain comes, there are likely to be more species there than we saw.
Blushing bindweed (Convolvulus erubescens
There was certainly plenty of Queensland bluegrass Dichanthium sericeum there. Other grasses included Yabila grass (star grass) Panicum queenslandicum. There were very few native trees, but we saw Mountain coolibah, Eucalyptus orgadophila and Sally Wattle, Acacia salicina. These species, and their very sparse distribution, are both typical of R.E. 11.8.11.

Healthy grasslands always contain a good population of
wildflowers. We saw blushing bindweed Convolvulus  erubescens; sensitive plant Neptunia gracilis; plover Daisy Leiocarpa brevicompta; tah vine Boerhavia dominii; yellowtop daisy Senecio pinnatifolius (AKA Senecio lautus) and maloga bean Vigna vexillata (the little yellow pea). We also saw a good scattering of Austral cornflower Rhaponticum australe (AKA Stemmacantha australe), the vulnerable plant mentioned by Mick on Friday night. These little grassland forbs are all good butterfly host plants.





Speaker's Report - March Meeting: Wyreema Wetlands

Pink-eared Duck, Black-tailed Water Hen and the Golden Goose

Last year it came to our notice that there is a bird habitat in ‘our backyard’. At the March meeting of the Club Michael Atzeni spoke on the ‘Wyreema Wetlands’ and entitled his talk ‘Saving the Council’s golden goose’.
The ‘Wyreema Wetlands’ has been known for the past 20 years as the sewage treatment area for Wyreema and     Cambooya. With the amalgamation of the shires, this sewage treatment area is to be decommissioned and all waste directed, eventually, to Wetalla. Decommissioning, by law, requires the Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) to return the area to what it was before it became a sewage treatment plant. That is, all possible contam-inants must be removed. This includes the sludge at the bottom of the small ponds which could contain biohazardous chemicals. It was pointed out that since the waste was coming from a small population and there are no hospitals or industries in Cambooya, pollutants could be small in number. The argument that the sludge was harmful to bird life was dismissed as birds seem to flock to sewage treatment plants, as many in the audience could testify!
The 320 acres, with its ephemeral ponds, storm-water dam, surrounding grasslands and stands of taller native vegetation, is home to 95 (and growing) species of birds of which 30 are rare and five are ‘firsts’ for the Toowoomba region. It was the sighting of the Pink-eared Duck which first alerted Michael to the importance of this area as a potential wetlands habitat. Currently the small ponds are drying out as no water is entering them. There is water in the large primary pond which is the deepest and this is used by a very large number of ducks. Only the previous week the Eastern Rosella, Boobook Owl and Yellow-throated Miner were seen. The keen eyes of young Blade Preston have been an asset in recording the species.
The area around the ponds is predominantly grassland. The Austral Cornflower (Rhaponticum australe) is growing well there (though classed as ‘vulnerable’) and three other vulnerable species of plants have been documented. It is hoped that the vision of having a sustainable and biodiverse wetlands habitat at Wyreema will be achieved and that a wildlife sanctuary can be created as the centrepiece of a unique local recreational space.
How to achieve this? First, the area has to be secured as a wetland ecosystem. Second, a secure water supply is needed along with secure land tenure. It is hoped that the Department of Parks & Gardens of the TRC would oversee the development of this ecotourism site (similar to the TYTO wetlands near Ingham which receives some 21,000 visitors per year and generates a large income for Ingham).
Michael hopes that a management committee can be put in place, linking up the local Wyreema community, wildlife conservation groups, research institutes, the Queensland Government and local schools. (Wyreema primary school is already involved.) There is a great need for baseline data on water quality and also for wild-life surveys. At this point in time, TRC should not proceed with the filling of the ponds and the water supply needs to be increased. The area needs to be redesigned to optimise stormwater run-off, storage and minim-isation of seepage. Michael has presented his case for the establishment of the ‘Wyreema Wetlands’ to the TRC and has received some support from some Council members. There is still a long journey ahead.

Visit wyreemawetands.blogspot.com.au for some wonderful photos of the flying visitors to the Wetlands.
(Report by Linda Mangubhai)


Monday, March 6, 2017

Moths seen on a property near Cooby Dam, Toowoomba

The photos have been taken by Glenda Walter and identification by Don Gardner and Glenda Walter, both members of the Toowoomba Field Naturalists Club.


Agalopus centiginosa Thyrididae

Cernia amyclaria Geometridae

Coesyra cyclotoma Oecophoridae

Comana collaris Limacodidae

Cossidae family

Emperor Gum Opodiphthera eucalypti Saturniidae

Emperor Gum Opodiphthera eucalypti Saturniidae

Grammodes ocellata Noctuidae

Mataeomera ligata Noctuidae

Melanodes anthracitaria Geometridae

Oenochrominae subfamily Noctuidae

Ozarba punctigera Noctuidae

Parepisparis excusata Geometridae




Bugs, Grasshoppers and other invertebrates seen on a property near Cooby Dam, Toowoomba

Photos and identification by Glenda Walter, a member of the Toowoomba Field Naturalists Club


 Ground Assassin Ectomocoris patricius Reduviidae

 Cicada Bark squeaker Pauropsalta corticinus (now Altrapsalta) Cicadidae

Gum tree shield Poecilometis patruelis Pentatomidae

Leaf hopper Cicadellidae nymph

Leaf hopper Eurymeloides bicincta Cicadellidae (Nymph)

Leaf hopper Eurymeloides punctata Cicadellidae

Pentatomidae

Beefly Bombyliidae

 White-tipped beefly Comptosia apicalis


Grasshopper Goniaea sp

Grasshopper Greyacris profundesculcata (nymph)

Antlion Bandidus brevisculus

Giant green slantface grasshopper Acrida conica



Green Lacewing Mallada signatus

Katydid Conocephalus sp

Katydid Ducetia sp

Katydid Meadow Conocephalus semivittatus

Katydid Spotted Ephippitytha trigintiduoguttata

Katydid Torbia viridissima

Mantid Lacewing Mantispidae


Bee

Cockroach Barred Nymph Cosmozosteria subzonata Blattidae

Cricket Teleogryllus sp Gryllidae

Earwig Nesogaster sp Spongiphoridae

Phasmid Phasmatodea

Wasp Ichneumon Leptophion sp

Wasp Ichneumonidae

Heurodes turritus





Frogs seen on a property near Cooby Dam

Photos and identification by Glenda Walter, a member of the Toowoomba Field Naturalists


Bleating tree frog Litoria dentata

Broad palmed rocket frog Litoria latopalmata

Emerald spotted tree frog Litoria peronii

Green tree frog Litoria caerulea

Ornate burrowing frog Limnodynastes ornata

Striped marsh frog Limnodynastes peronii