Monday, December 20, 2010

How to get over rejection: Publishing is my new best friend

I got the dreaded email last week. The one we all fear. The Rejection Notice.

Yep, my first rejection notice for a manuscript. And it won't be my last; it is a normal process for a scientist. Being a 'Scientist in Training', I took it on board as a learning experience.

However, what I have also noticed as being normal is the lack of comprehensive information on how to get published in each individual journal. Of course, there is plenty info on how to write, how to get a a paper together, but not preparing for that specific journal. Given this, I decided to start a list of helpful tips that people have given me. I plan to add this over time. And because I believe that all good relationships are two sided, I have also listed a few ways that I think Editors of Journals can also improve their chance of receiving high level and good quality manuscripts.

Helpful Tips I have been given (so far)

Email! The Editor is your best friend
Instead of allowing me to submit to a lower level Journal (in fear!), my supervisor encouraged me to email the editor of the journal he likes. I sent the Editor my abstract, author list, title and asked if it was appropriate for consideration and if not, why and what journals I should try. I have done this several times now, and 50% of the time I have recieved fantastic responses from the Journal with some really useful feedback (which was also not on their online page!). 

Just be wary; this does not always work. I did this again today for a different Journal, and had a pretty dismal response, that included '... your co-authors should be determining the appropriate journal, not myself.'

If you do get rejected and decide not to resubmit to the same journal, as courtesy thank the Editor for the comments that you used when resubmitting to another Journal. They will hopefully remember this when you try for next time (and that you aren't all bad).

Young Scientists need to focus on...
This advice was from two Editors of two different Journals that I happen to know personally. They said that these things are some of the biggest mistakes that young or new scientists make when writing manuscripts:
  • Making sure they interpret their data correctly;
  • Getting a conceptual model or framework out of their data;
  • Telling a story - beginning flows to the end, and that everything you do/said matches and constructs that story.
All of these things may mean the difference between a low or higher level journal, or how you can turn a dull review into a Journal delight!

If you are unsure about your paper, send it out to someone for review before submitting! I have sent most of my papers out to either Journal Editors or experts in the field that I know and trust. This has really helped with getting the papers spot-on and I have recieved some really helpful feedback. 

Seven Tips for Post Rejection Hell
These are from one of my supervisors:
1. Walk away, they are bastards
2. Come back a week or two later and look at the comments
3. Make a list of what you need to change
4. Make the changes, methodically
5. Have all your co-authors look over it, and even consider external review
6. Resubmit to a same/different Journal
7. The bastards become useful

Don't skip the small stuff...
One of my friends was asked to Peer-Review two papers by the same authors. She rejected them both and gave them alot of constructive feedback. She then recieved these two papers again (for review) from a different Journal. When she started to read them, she realised that they had made none of the changes she suggested. Always make sure you address all the comments/criticisms, even if you do send it to another journal or don't entirely agree with all the comments. The chances of the paper going to the same reviewers is pretty high; just think about how many people are in your field? Making sure you address all the criteria ensures you don't waste your and their time and increases your chances of getting published.

... Saying this, I have also have another friend that keeps on getting rejected by whom she believes to be the same person. This is more an issue of Personality (below).

Journals are random
Just because it has high Impact Factor doesn't mean it is more difficult to get into. Each journal has different rejection rates and different requirements. Try and find someone experienced in publishing or editing to get some advice about the Journals you are interested in.

Also consider what Journals you are referencing in your work. Try and aim the paper at these Journals or make sure you include some references from your Target Journal in your work, where possible.

Just remember to not take the criticism and the rejection personally. A highly respected scientist that I know has been publishing in the same journal for 20 years. All of a sudden he has had several rejection notices. Why? A new Editor. Ludicrous! Try to focus on the science and not on the personalities. 

There are some good Peer-Reviewed-Published Review Quotes lolling around the internet that demonstrate the issues of personality. Check out Boing Boing and Twisted Bacteria for a few laughs and some tears.

Helpful Tips for Journals/Editors (from a young scientist)

P-Plates and constructive criticism
Many young scientists use the publication opportunity to contact Editors and to go through the painful rejection/reviewing process to learn. Constructive criticism is always welcome, particularily when it is sought/asked for, and it can be done as part of the reviewing process. After all, we want to learn how to get our work published, how to do better and how to make sure we meet the Journal guidelines (and not waste your time!).

Lists, Lists and Lists
Many of the Journal websites really have little information about what the Journal really wants. Sure, they often have broad aims, but nothing really concrete. A more comprehensive guide with very specific wants and requirements for the Journal would be very useful for both Authors, and waste less of the Editors time as well. This could include scope, breadth (local/international), types of assessments, how the topic should be defined in terms of the Journals scope, case study use etc.

I hope these tips help you, whether you are an Editor or a writer or a young/new scientist. And if you have any more tips, I would love to hear them. Please send them in or leave them in the comments section below.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Waffles are not Soil

I was planning to celebrate World Soil Day by writing about some iconic female soil scientists. Instead I spent it eating waffles with my garden loving friends, walking around a highly turbid lake, and cleaning the floors from all the mud that was dragged in from the recent and unusually torential rain...

 Turbid (brown soil stained) river in Santiago, Chile

So I guess, I did celebrate World Soil Day after all!

Happy digging.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mystical Fungi

A big thanks to Kelly Rae Burns, an Austin TX artist who drew a request for me: mystical soil fungi.

You can check out this and other art on her blog: Foxes in the Graveyard

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Freezing Cold Soil

Super excited after learning about Cryosols (frozen soils) at the World Congress, I am delighted to see that The Polar Soils Blog and Dr Becky are up and running again!

Dr Becky and the crew have just headed off to Antarctica for Season 4 of research. Looking forward to some tales.

At the same time, she also let me in on a new secret: The World Of Nematodes Blog.

Sampling for Nematodes (Courtesy The World Of Nematodes)

What could be more awesome than a worm that can live in ice? Follow the blog for 2010/2011 season of Antarctic Worm Adeventures!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scientist, in Training?

I have spent the last few weeks teaching four undergraduate students, all of whom I adore in very different ways. I have been lucky and privileged to guide these students through scientific thought and principles, and explore ideas with them.

The four students are all very different and interesting. One is a similar age to me, and carries as much cynicism. Another two are bright sparks. One bounces off the walls with energy and eagerness to learn and dive into new ideas. The other is just as light, but is more contemplative and thoughtful. The last student is eager and keen to show talent. They all have good ideas and I look forward to seeing more with age. Just as they differ in personality, they differ academically. All four are exceptional students in different ways, and all learn differently and all need different types and levels of teaching.

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was in their shoes. And really, I still am. Although each of the students require different learning, there are always lessons to be learned about the life of being a scientist. I learnt these lessons when I was their age, and they are two things that I feel guide me as a Scientist.

Always remember that you will be learning every day for the rest of your life.

The best example I have of this is from an Academic morning tea at my school a few years ago. I was talking to a young academic about the perils of being, well, a young academic. This particular academic, 10 years my senior, was somewhat insulted that I still placed them in that class of academia. This is when an older academic, closer to 30 years my senior, butted in. He said 'Ah! You are a young academic until you die! Me, I am close to death and still I am young.' He was referring to the fact that you are always learning, and always growing; adding new knowledge and reanalysing. Even retraining your own thought processes. And with each new student you have new challenges and new learning opportunities. And that is the beauty of science; you are always learning and challenging yourself.

I talk about some of the important parts of learning and acceptance of continual learning in my previous post about what it is to be a Scientist.

The more you learn, the more you realise you don't know.

To me this idea is based around one piece of information, no matter how small. When you learn something new, it adds to your understanding of the world and how things work. However, on contemplation of that new piece of information, you begin to feel fear. You realise how little you know and that the world is far bigger and more complicated that you previously thought. If I think the world is big now, I hate to see how big it will feel in 20 years time!

I often share lunchtimes with one of my academic Mentors. We often have long conversations about this and that; sustainable fishing, bushfire management, perils of policy in action. The best thing is that we learn new things from each other and this is where we have two choices. I could learn, never talk about it again and walk away. Or we could think about it and talk about it again. The second option is the fun one. What we have done is to have consciously and subconsciously contemplated that new piece of information, and realized what we don't know; regardless of our ages.  This of course prompted both my Mentor and myself to ask more questions, think of more ideas, go away and learn, have more ideas... and so forth, resulting in the prompting of more scientific ideas and debate.

So, I suppose that is why I am the same as my students. I am still learning and the more I learn the more I realize I don't know. I continue to question, ponder,  research and contemplate. And that in so many ways is what makes a scientist, the ability to learn and grow knowledge. To put pieces of a puzzle together and come up with an idea, that leads to another and another and another... We are all really Scientists in Training.

And maybe that all seems very simple and obvious. But it is certainly something that I remind myself about, I teach and that I train myself to do everyday...

For my Four Students, you know who you are. And to those Academics whom have shared some of their learning with me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Want some interesting soil reads?

You can now get the 19th World Congress of Soil Science Proceedings on the web!


My personal faves are:

* Eric Craswell on Peak Phosphorous (his talk was updated to reflect new 2010 research)
* Mark Tibbett on carbon in mine rehabilitation and CSI Soils.  Mark recently featured in New Scientist.
* Cryosols - frozen soils are rad!
* Pauline Mele and her team on the Soil Metagenomic project in Victoria, Australia
* Do ants move soil up and down and around the nest? By Don Johnson in the USA.

Or you can simply browse the themes or look up some of the authors.

Sorry for the hiatus on posts. Been in the lab for some mega phosphorous and nitrogen experiments. Will be back online soon :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Soil Myths #3: Clay Breaker is not always your best friend

Too much gypsum can be a pain in the butt! Gypsum (calcium sulphate dihydrate: CaSO4.2H2O) or more commonly known as Clay Breaker, when used in large quantities can cause all sorts of problems. I was reminded of this in the last week as I worked on adapting a method to deal with gypsum interfering in nutrient measurements. Too much gypsum makes it difficult to measure nutrients, such as nitrogen. Gypsum is a type of salt, and for humans, plants and soil to much salt can be bad for health. So why are we recommended to use Clay Breaker? Do you really need Clay Breaker for your yard? Or are the Fertiliser companies ripping you off?

Why use Clay Breaker?

Clay Breakers or Gypsum are used to literally break-down clay. Traditionally, gypsum was used on heavy sodic clays in agricultural environments. These clays have a high content of sodium which reduces the porosity and water retention of soils, and hence plant growth. Soil scientists call this problem Sodicity. The calcium present in the Clay Breaker swaps with the sodium in the soil, and helps to bind the soil together. It improves porosity and water retention of soil, and thus plant growth also improves.

In your own backyard, you would use Clay Breaker in a similar way. People often use Clay Breaker when starting or improving a garden. In Australia, including Canberra, we often have heavy clay soils in our backyards. Gardens can be sparse, as there is not enough water in the soil for even grass to grow! So, when thinking about putting in a veggie or other garden, Clay Breaker comes to mind as a way of getting more moisture into the soil and improving plant growth. However, it isn't always the best option...

Example of a sodic soil; with a hard surface that plants can't get through!

Why is Clay Breaker not always the best option? 

Gypsum targets a specific type of soil, not necessarily the one in your backyard. Gypsum is great for targetting problems of sodic soils. However, not all clays are sodic! In fact, in Australia most sodic soils are found in river terraces, plains and in drainage areas; areas where sodium builds up from water movement and where sodium is naturally occuring. Some researchers say Sodic Soils make up about 28% of Australia. This means that the soil in your backyard may not necessarily be sodic. In fact, your soil may actually have heaps of calcium to help bind it, and this is when Gypsum may cause problems!

Gypsum can be unkind to your plants. Soils have a natural amount of salts present; natural salts of Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Sodium etc. When you add Gypsum, you increase the salt content of the soil. If you add too much Gypsum, you can cause your soil to become too salty. When this happens, many plants refuse to grow or some start to grow and then wither and die. They are intolerant to the amount of salt in the soil as a result of the Gypsum application. 

But do not fear!! It actually may be another problem causing your clay to have poor plant growth, and there are other ways of fixing it.  First, you can work out what is wrong with your soil, and then what to add to get better plant growth.

Does your backyard look like this? 
You may have a problem with compaction and carbon!

What other problems could it be and what can I do about it? 

If Gypsum is not what you need to use in your Garden, how can you tell and what else can it be? You can do a few tests on your soil to work out the problem and how to solve it!

Step 1: Is it Sodicity?
  • Pull out your pH kit. If it has a pH greater than 7 (basic), it may be sodic.
  • Now, get a dish and add 1cm deep of rain or bottle water. Place 3 pieces of soil (about 1.5cm diameter) into the dish and leave for 5 minutes. If the water goes cloudy, then it is likely to be Sodic. Follow the Cure below. If your soil falls apart or does nothing, go to Step 2. 
Cure: Add 500g of Gypsum per meter square and gently hoe into your soil. If you aren't noticing any results after 6-12 months, try adding a reduced volume of 100g. Take care to use it sparingly, or you may get problems with salinity! Don't be suprised if you have a failed crop immediately after Gypsum use. You need about 6-12 months for the Gypsum to naturally integrate with the soil and for the salinity to reduce. In addition, you can also add some organic matter (below) for nutrients and improving soil structure.

Sodic soil with Gypsum added (white flecks). 
This soil is very saline and has only a few plants growing in it.

Step 2: Is it Carbon and Compaction (or both)?
  • Get a dish and add 1cm deep of rain or bottle water. Place 3 pieces of soil (about 1.5cm diameter) into the dish and leave for 5 minutes. If the peds fall apart or stay solid (but you still can't get anything to grow), then the problem is probably compaction and a lack of organic matter. 
  • Now for the hoe test! Get a shovel or hoe and try to dig a hole. If you are able to dig a bit of a hole without too much strain you probably have a Carbon problem. If the hole is really hard to dig, and you can bearly go down a few centimeters, the problem is Compaction. Check out the Cures for each below.
Carbon Cure: Low carbon means soil does not bind together, and water holding is reduced. It also means there are less soil bugs and nutrients for your plans. Replacing carbon through mulches is the best way to improve this problem! Add a mixture of Mulches to your garden and rake/hoe in. You can get some guidelines about Mulch mixes from a previous post: Mulch ain't Mulch. You will need to leave it 6-12 months before you see any really good results! Growth and productivity may be a bit slow to begin with.

Compaction Cure: Compaction usually happens with house construction. Heavy machinery tamper down soil, and reduce the ability of soil to hold water, roots to get into the soil and bugs to cycle nutrients. The best way to deal with this is a bit of Hard Yakka, mixed with some organic matter! Get out the hoe and the shovel and dig as deep as you can!!! If you can, get a loan of a rotary hoe and get nice and deep! But don't forget to check Dial before you Dig first! Add some mulch mix (as above), and double it!! Again, it may take some time to see results, but it will happen.

And if you still want to use Clay Breaker anyway, limit it to 100-200g per meter square. Otherwise you  may risk killing your plants!

Sodic soil (middle) with no treatment and with different treatments of Gypsum and Mulches.

Before you go for the bag of Clay Breaker, ask yourself 'Do I really need this?' Don't give into the fertiliser companies! You may not need Gypsum/Clay Breaker, and in fact, you may be killing your plants. Instead, do a few tests and work out if you need to use Clay Breaker, or if you need some Organic Matter!

For more info on Sodic Soils, check out this neat Guide by Central West CMA.   And if you want to get some more Info on your soil, gypsum application and Sodicity, you can send it away to a lab for analysis. Always happy to answer questions.

Happy Spring Gardening!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Spring is here, so get those shovels digging!

For us lucky people in the Southern Hemisphere, Spring has arrived. Sort of. Although we have had a few days of mild weather, we have also had lashings of cold and wet-windy storms. Many of us have not seen this much rain for over 10 years.

Regardless of the ups-and-downs of the beginning of Spring, we can start getting excited about our Summer crops! With the good weather, warmer days, nice moist soil, now is the perfect time to work on your Veggie Garden. And if you are a first time Veggie-Producer, you can check out some courses in your area:

If you are in Canberra, the Environment Centre is offering a Permaculture Course.

Topics covered are based on permaculture principles and include:
planning, soil, composting, water, 'where and when to grow what' and
finally ....harvesting !

Dates: 18-Sep-2010 and 25-Sep-2010
Time: 10.00-2.30pm
Teacher: Barbara Schreiner
Where: Canberra Environment and Sustainability Resource Centre Cnr
Lawson Circuit and Lennox Crossing, Acton
Cost: $180
Bring: A light lunch...tea/coffee provided
Bookings: info(@)
Payment: In advance by Direct Fund Transfer, cheque or cash.

You can check out your local Growers Society for courses and land:
Canberra Organic Growers
Australian-wide Community Gardens

... and don't forget you can always get some good advice on Garden Blog Networks, such as
Aussie Gardening
Sowing Seeds with Christine Milne 
Peter Cundall's Veggie Patch

Now, I have just got to work on my box-garden. The winter has taken the toll on the veggies (cold soil = no harvest). Hoping they will perk-up with the warmer weather and will get some peas, cauliflower, broccoli and spinach before I plant my summer veggies.

Happy digging!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CRC Young Scientists = Competition, Rudeness and Collaboration in the life of Young Scientists

'I know you, I have read your work'. (starts to walk away) 'You need to learn how to spell phosphorous* correctly!' was the first and only thing that one of my science heroes said to me when I introduced myself. I was crushed, depressed and wondered what I had ever done wrong to deserve such stupid and unnecessary negative feedback. I am not the only person who has been confronted with rude peers and academics. Many of my colleagues have had similar problems, some even worse.

I decided to delve into the issue of rudeness in science and academia. What are some of the things that happen? Why do they happen? What can we do about it? To do this, I have collated real stories from a range of scientists. Many of these scientists are early career academics or PhD students. I have also included the opinions and ideas from older and more experience academics, and also from mature age PhD scholars. The three questions were discussed with the contributors, or have been collated from previous discussions with them on the same issues.

What is rudeness in academia?

Early career academics tend to have unique problems when entering the world of academia. Many young academics, those undertaking a PhD degree, working or just finished their PhD suffer from what I like to term 'Unnecessary Soul Destruction'. Many of us have had our souls crushed at the hand of a senior academic or even by one of our own peers.

What do you mean by Unnecessary Soul Destruction (USD)?

Like each word implies, USD is the tearing of the soul as a result of persistent negative feedback, bullying, over-competitive behaviour, belittling and general rudeness from academics and peers. Some examples include:

A young and very capable Hydrologist had a co-author on one of her papers tell the other co-authors that she was crap. Funnily enough, the other co-authors disagreed and it got back to her. 

A soil scientist was repeatedly ignored by a peer because they disagreed, with good argument, about using their peers specific method of analysis. 

Several ecologist and soil scientist friends have had their thesis' examined and received personal and threatening comments including about being 'a pinko greeny' or 'You are from XX university, well I am just about sick of... '

On another occasion, someone was told 'How many times do I have to tell you that it doesn't exist! I am a genius! And A Churchill Fellow! You will listen to me!' by their boss when they tried to explain the problem of sodic soils and river bank erosion. 

Another time, a soily was very happy at seeing an old colleague. This was reciprocated with 'I read your thesis. It was crap. You should have done...'

At a conference, which is by far the most earth shattering of places, a Geologist was told her work was rubbish. There was much difficulty in trying to face the conference the next day. 

Each of these comments cause USD. The comments and actions are no longer about science. They become about ego and competitiveness. They are demeaning, rude, do not considers peoples thoughts, opinions or emotions, and in the end make people feel bad about themselves and that they are a lesser scientist. Sure, we all need feedback and criticism. But where does this blur with being out rightly rude? Do you really need to tell someone that they are crap and should have done better? Is it necessary to ignore someone just because they disagreed about the relevance of your work in their own research?

Isn't research, constructive criticism and feedback all about working through problems together, solving them and helping each other out? As a scientist, isn't it ok to question ideas and research, especially if you are able to explain why and in a reasonable manner? I thought to counteract some of the bad, I should also put in some examples of the good:

From a Hydrologist: "I feel personally that there is a huge lack of role models in science. There are plenty of scientists who are bad to extraordinarily bad role models, but I am the only PhD student of all I know (bar one who shared the same supervisor!) who had a good role model as a supervisor, who encouraged and supported me, taught me the tricks of the trade, gave me the tools I needed to be successful, created important networking opportunities for me, and was professional in his conduct at all times."

My own supervisors are always quite positive. They take the time to explain problems and solutions. They do not expect me to know everything (after all, I do have my Research L-Plates on) and are always very supportive. They give me advice when necessary, and also tell me when I have done a good job. They allow me to question and criticise previous work, and take the time to understand my thoughts.

At conferences, the best scientists are the ones who see you as an equal. The ones you can have a chat with about their topic, are delighted to meet you, and don't think you are stupid for asking questions. These are the scientists that make you happy.

So, we know that there is bad behaviour in the science and academic community. We also know what  good behaviour is in academia and research. So, why do we get the bad?

Competition vs Collaboration

Several people I talked to, myself included, have been advised to 'not talk to Dr. (insert name)  anymore, otherwise face career problems'. How outrageous! Clearly a 20-something old couldn't possibly know any more than a 40+ year old! So why do they feel so threatened and need to bully us out of a career pathway?

Money. Need I say anymore?

The inherent nature of funding of science and research is based on:
1. Papers
2. Papers
3. Papers
4. That you are fully-more-awesome-than-anyone-else

If you want a promotion, it is based on papers. If you want a grant, it is based on papers. It becomes about who is best at producing papers, and how much more awesome you are because of it. It has nothing to do with team work, rigorous methods, thinking outside the square, teaching ability, personal attitude etc etc. Instead it is about being the best in your field, infallible to question, and always right. To keep this position, you need to employ certain tactics. Wondered why peers and academics at conferences will often ask 'So how many papers  have you written and in what journals?' Well, I think this is how they measure a) if you are a threat, b) if you are worth talking too, c) can use you.

Threatened: Maybe they like your ideas and see you are smarter then them and could take all their research money?!?! They must dispose of you! This may be through demeaning and discouraging comments, behavior or other mechanisms to make you feel bad about yourself. Anything to make them feel more superior and look better, and make you feel bad about yourself. This is classic bullying behaviour over perceived power differences. 

You aren't good enough: Oh, you haven't published by the age of 6... sorry, not good enough. The eyes glaze over or they go on to tell you how awesome they are. This will be to make themselves known as being awesome, that you need to fear their competitiveness and their mighty paper list. Don't buy into it. Walk away. Again with the bullying behaviour...

I could use you: Collaboration as a relationship of convenience. This is where collaboration occurs with equally-awesome-people that are also in enough of a different field that it doesn't cause any problems of competitiveness or ego, or by the minions (research assistants, PhD students) under the wings of the big-wig. That is all well and good, but do you want to work with someone who is just using you?

Therefore, it is possible to suggest that the problems of over competitiveness, rudeness and USD is potentially related to the behavior caused by the funding and promotion system. Of course, this is only speculation and only one possible answer to the question. I am sure there are many more influences, including personality, gender, age, being a sore loser... etc... I am certainly not a sociologist or a psychologist, and I am sure there are plenty of others out there with more ideas and thoughts on this matter...

What can we do about it?

For this blogs sake, lets assume that one of the biggest problems is the structure and heirachy of Scientific and Academic field. One of my supervisors said to me:

'Jess, you can choose who you do and do not want to work with...'

He was implying that you can work with other scientists with whom you share the same ideals. In other words, you can work with a team that belittles you or you can choose to work with scientists that have good ideas, share knowledge, work as part of a team, educate and care about the science more than the money, fame or the publications. Although, this is somewhat of an ideal world... it is possible. Working as part of a selective team means greater happiness, better collaboration, and more job satisfaction. You can choose what grants to go for, and how it will best suit the team (not just the individual players).

Another tactic is to take more care in who you get introduced too. Personally, I am very cautious. I have had enough negative experiences now to wait and be introduced by someone I already know (and trust enough to know they like this person) or I tentatively introduce myself knowing it could end up dire.

Is academia and science for you? You will always have to put up with 'attitude' as long as there is the pedestal-based promotions and funding system. You either have to ignore it and focus on the science, or really ask yourself 'Is this really want I want to compete with? Can I really put up with this crap?' But don't leave it at that. Ask yourself 'Is their science REALLY any better than mine?' And should we be asking our funders and our organisations to consider things other than publications when deciding who gets the next promotion or $1 mill grant? Should the amount I have written really be the one and only thing considered in my job application? And if that is what the organisation is focused on, do I want to work there? Or do I want to work somewhere that values me as a scientist?

Also, do they really know how they are treating you? Years of racing to the top and learning familiar behaviour from other peers may have made them oblivious. Perhaps you need to gently tell them... 

Do you want to compete or collaborate for the prize?

So leave the big-wigs alone, let them play their silly games. It isn't going to make our science any better by over analysing their actions. All we can do is get on with the job, work with people we like, be introduced to other scientists by ones we already know (and trust), and try to change the funding and promotion system (although that is much more easily said than done). After all, Science and Research should be about working together to come up with creative solutions to real life problems, not comparing the size of your head!

Love to hear more of your own stories on your own experiences, why you think it happens and solutions to the problem! Please leave me a message below.

I would like to give my sincerest thanks to all the contributors to this post. You are all brave, strong and hard working individuals. I would also like to thank all the amazing supervisors out there; the ones that understand, take time, help, avoid negative criticism, and help us get through some of the hard parts of being a scientist and young academic. Without the good, we would only but fall into the bad.

*Note: There are two ways of spelling phosphorous/phosphorus

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thinking of Climate Change?

It is the Australian Federal Election this coming weekend (21st August) and this time many people are thinking of climate change when making their vote:

Think climate change Australian Election 2010 from Edwina Wright on Vimeo.

Before you vote, please have a look at the Parties Policies on Climate Change and Environment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Soil Media: Top Soil Stories from the 19th World Congress

So much soil! The 19th World Congress of Soil Science concluded on 6th August in Brisbane, Australia. It was my first WCSS and didn't fail to give me some great insight into some new and interesting topics. The congress focused on 'soil solutions for a changing world' and its diverse array of topics covered this issue well. With about 2000 papers, it was hard to pick my favourite sessions and talks. Here are some that I particularly enjoyed.

Will Steffen opened the theme on Climate Change and Soils with discussing the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is what he terms as the time in the Earth's history of unprecedented change to the environment as a result of humanity. In fact, Will stated that humans are currently using more than the productivity of one Earth per year - meaning we are taking more from Earth than what it produces.

Helaina Black from Scotland discussed the codependency between Scotsmen and whiskey! Not drinking, I am afraid. She stated that whiskey brings in a revenue of $1.65 billion dollars per year to the Scottish government! Helaina and her team were able to demonstrate the positives of looking after soil, and improving carbon sequestration, or alternatively face a decline in revenue from the whiskey industry (not to mention being depressed at the lack of scotch!).

Talitha Santini, from Western Australia, talked about using massive pressure cookers to destroy nasty chemicals in bauxite mine residue, and reduce environmental impact. Her colleague, Mark Tibbett, also talked about bauxite mine rehabilitation and the changes in soil carbon over time since mine closure.

Rai Kookana dared to suggest that Biochar may have some problems. His research demonstrated that biochar can bio-accumulate pesticides and herbicides. This makes me somewhat concerned about other bio-accumulates, and implications in nutrient cycling. My fears were then founded by Daniel Dempster at University of Western Australia.

Estelle Dominati discussed a three-tiered approach to valuing and assessing ecosystem services from soil: Soils, Services and Humans. Whilst, Patrick Lavelle and his team (the longest list of authors at WCSS) talked about assessing ecosystem services on a landscape level in the Amazon. Pauline Mele and her gigantic Australian team have unravelled some secrets of soil biology and function using metagenomics, or DNA of biological communities. Whilst Alan Halfen and Stephen Hasiotis came up with a novel way of tracing ant movement of soil (yes, it does involved painting and pretty colours).

I went to a whole session about Cryosols (frozen soils), which I knew nothing about. Frozen soils are well cool (pardon the pun). James Bockheim talked about the importance of cryosols, carbon storage and global warming. Did you know they hold 50% of all soil carbon world wide? Thomas Scholten then took us to the Tibetan Plateau. He also talked about carbon and nitrogen cycling and soil formation in a warming climate. Now back down south, to Antarctica. David Hopkins and his team discussed finding life and food webs in the dry valleys of Antarctica. North again, to Hokkaido, Japan and Yukiyoshi Iwata told of more positive stories regarding climate change. Increase ice melt in soils has lead to increased permeability and decreased erosion of soils in prime agricultural area.

The best fun at the Congress was definitely the session on soils in pop and modern culture. You can find this in the new book: Soil and Culture. Big congrats to Edward Landa who has found umpteen movies in which soil features. This includes the Coen Brothers films and their use of soil as a means of making the normal seem bizarre. Dominique Arroways talked about soil in comics, and his co-author A.C Richer de Forges even made a poster-comic on soils for the Congress. Excellent way to teach soils to kids! This idea was supported by Colin Campbell and his team in Ireland who have soil mascots for education. Whilst George Van Scoyoc in the USA prefers to use the internet and late night sessions to engage his Uni students. Alexandra Toland talked about soil in education and art, whilst Christian Feller discussed soil in art history. Mark Tibbett appeared again in another (!) hat. This time as a taphonomics, or looking at changes in the soil which may occur from crimes like murders; the CSI of Soil Science!

A great week at the Congress, and I learnt many new things about soil. See you all in Korea in 2014!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are there really over 2000 soil scientists in the world?

Can you imagine over 2000 soil scientists in one place at one time? What will they all be talking about? Sounds like a nerd fest to me! (of the dirty kind)

Next week (1st - 6th August) is the 19th World Congress of Soil Science, being held in Brisbane, Australia. Soil scientists from around the world are converging on Brisvegas for the every 4-year congress, to swap soil science and information. The last time the congress was held in Australia was in 1968 in Brisbane.  Soil science and ideas have changed considerably in the last 40 years, with focus and slogan being 'soil solutions for a changing world'. Some topics include: soil and climate change, soil carbon sequestration, soil water interface, attracting (young) people into soil careers, soil in urban environments and sustainable agriculture.

Where do the 2000 soil scientists come from? Everywhere! My school, The Fenner School @ANU, has 15+ soil scientists attending the congress. Although we are a relatively small contingent compared to other institutions, we have a huge diversity of papers. I am presenting some findings on adapting methods for extracting water soluble phosphorous in saline sodic soils. My co-PhD'ers are presenting some of their research on changes in soil chemistry with stream restoration and changes in soil carbon under farming pasture and tree lots in South Eastern Australia. The contingent are also presenting papers on nutrients in pasture cropping, soil carbon methods, public engagement of soil science and alpine soils. In addition, 3 of us will be representing the NSW/ACT Branch of the Australian Society of Soil Science Inc. It looks to be a very busy and exciting week of soil!

Love to hear if any of you (fellow soil scientists, bloggers and readers) are coming to the congress. Would be great to catch up and meet you all.

See you at the Congress!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fanciful Fungi #5: More Fungi than you can poke a stick at!

Old burnt logs have more life then you would think. A June walk to the top of Camelback in Tidbinbilla Park let us capture some of the most beautiful fungi attacking dead, burnt wood seasoned from the January 2003 fires. The damaged and rotting timber is the perfect home for detritus loving fungi! So much rotting food :D

Oh! Basidiomycota, how I love you so. You can be found in hard ground, or hanging out of logs <3 These fungi were only about 30-40mm wide and hanging on the end of this burnt stick in a wet valley at the base of the walk. They are likely to be Woody Pore-Fungi or Leathery Shelf-Fungi. I didn't want to disturb them too much, so didn't have a look underneath to see if they had pores. This would have helped in the identification. However, my book was unable to help me for such small sized wood-fungi.

This fungi was found just across from the one above! It may even be on the same burnt tree.  It is a Basidiomycota, and most likely as species of Stereum. Their Curved shapes, with defining rainbow colours of chocolate, caramel and cream are often found on dead wood.

Jelly fungi have to be my favourite. These guys were only as big as your pinky-finger nail! They were everywhere on the walk, attacking all types of dead timber. Heterotextus peziziformis is their rad name. They are almost translucent, and I wish they were larger so I could try looking through them at other objects.

Clumping mushrooms in the scar of a burnt tree, surrounded by some sort of white leathery shelf-fungi. I was unable to identify the white colony fungi, but I believe the mushrooms are Collybia eucalyptorum. They have cream-colour gills and reddish brown stems, and like to hang our on mature eucalypts in moist forests.

Tiny tiny tiny fungi! Again, another type of shelf-fungi or woody pore fungi which my book was unable to help me identify. They were a 85% cocoa chocolate brown colour, and clumped up to form tiny colonies.  Another unidentified species that likes rotting wood as a home.

Looking for some new fungi friends? Have a look at this log. The last 4-fungi were all found on the same log. In fact, they weren't the only fungi on the log. I had to stop photographing as I counted the number of species. There were about 20-30 species on one log alone! Plenty of new friends if you are a fungus. The top-left photo are of more Collybia eucalyptorum. C. eucalyptorum like hanging with feathery-grey toadstools (top-right), some puff-ball fungi barely 10mm in size (bottom left) and woody pore fungi probably related to Australohydnum dregeanum (bottom right).

These rotting-timber lovers are only some of the fungi found in the moist forests @ Tidbinbilla. I found many more species in rotting mulch and litter from trees. Some species were even growing out from road-pavement and holding onto dear life on the batters at the edge of the road. However, charred decomposing wood is definitely the place to be if you are a fungi!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Terra-forming: The Science of Extra-Terrestrial Land Rehabilitation

Instead of thinking about useful PhD things when I was sieving and grinding my (5th sampling round) soil, I spent the whole time daydreaming about the possibility of terra-forming on land other than Earth. I realised given the knowledge we have now, that it is actually possible.

Really, I blame Dr Who for this one. I was watching a special episode, where David Tennant as The Doctor goes to Mars. He finds the first humans on Mars, including a biodome. The biodome included food-producing and other plants. For pest control, they had also introduced animals, including birds.

And then, I saw an job ad for a Lunar Soil Geologist. They are to head a team looking at soil on the Moon. Of course, I could do nothing except think about extraterrestrial soils, terra-forming and if I ever was luck enough to get a job there, if I got to go to the Moon. Zoe said it was unlikely. She had heard an interview with a lady who had dedicated her life to water on the Moon, and she had never been. How am I supposed to classify soils properly if I can't look at them in-situ?!?! Geesh!

Later that day, I was waiting for an appointment when I picked up a copy of Cosmos. It was the special edition on SETI with Frank Drake (is he a relative?).  Someone/thing (?!?) was trying to tell me to think about the realities of terra-forming. As I gave the coincidences some thought, I realised that terra-forming on Mars and the Moon may not be just science fiction. In fact, current science can help guide us towards extraterrestrial gardens, and even my own research can answer some of the current questions regarding terra-forming. 

What is Terra-Forming?
Terra-forming is a word use by many science fiction writers to explain a process of making an extraterrestrial world habitable for humans. Terra-forming uses a planets resources, such as frozen water and ground, and manipulates it through ecology and technology to make it habitable for humans and other species. A famous fiction series on terra-forming includes Red, Green and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Once upon a time, I would have left the idea of growing plants on Mars to science fiction. Now I am not so sure. Is it possible to grow plants on Mars or the Moon?

What do we need to live? 

Before we think of extraterrestrial living, lets think of our own life on Earth. What things does Earth provide us so we can live
* Atmosphere with oxygen
* Sun
* Water
* Food
When we think about terra-forming another planet, we know we need to consider these things to make it habitable for human life.

How can we use current science? 
Many planets we have identified, like Mars, are too far from the sun to have the same lifeforms we have on Earth. Distance from the sun is crucial for water and for photosynthesis: both keys to life.  Water needs to be in liquid and vapor form for biology to utilise. Distance from the sun regulates temperature and light, and thus affects the growth of plants.

Both the Moon and Mars are known to have frozen water (NASA Mars Program and National Geographic NASA Moon Crashes).

Food (Plants)
Regolith materials are weathered rocks, which aid in the formation of soils. You can find weathered rock on Mars and the Moon. Regolith can be used to grow plants and produce food. Soil amelioration, or adding nutrients and chemicals to the soil, is often undertaken on our own soils to help plants grow. Ameliorants can be also be used on Lunar and Martian materials to aid in plant growth.

The interaction between plants, animals, water, land and distance from the sun regulate the atmosphere. We need an atmosphere that contains Oxygen for us to survive. Recreating similar conditions to what we have on Earth needs to consider these things.  

How do we grow food then? 
On the Moon and Mars we have water, regolith materials, but limited light and an atmosphere not like our own. Suppose we want to build a permanent space station, and they must be able to grow their own food. What can we do to make things grow?

Just like in Dr Who, we can consider artificially constructed domes. This includes things like the Montreal Biodome. The biodome manipulates the environment, including temperature, atmosphere and light, along with plants, animals and even microbiology and fungi to create its own ecosystem! Using domes in an extraterrestrial environment is called paraterraforming. Domes are kind of cheating the whole terra-forming thing. Domes artificially create an ecology, whereas real terra-forming implies the construction of an ecosystem which will make an atmosphere suitable for human life. Is there a way we can do it without using a fake-environment?

What do you mean terra-forming is related to your research...

Pretend we are on Mars. We have frozen water, different atmosphere to our own, regolith materials (Martian Soil), and that we are able to create a better light source for the planet (you know, those big mirrors you see in movies...).  We have everything we need to undertake terra-forming via land rehabilitation.

We can use principles of land rehabilitation when we consider terra-forming. Some of my recent research (Drake et al 2010) and principles founded by David Tongway, discuss that all ecosystems have 4-key features: Landscape, Functions, Structure and Composition. These four features are interlinked to form an ecosystem. Conversely, when you don't have an ecosystem, you can use these 4-features to help build an ecosystem. An example is in mine rehabilitation. A mined landscape is pretty similar to the moon; both have very little life, and are often bare regolith/rock materials. We have to build an ecosystem where there is nothing, and these 4-features help guide processes to engineer an ecosystem.

We start with finding a stable landscape, and then helping functions. This includes using ameliorants or microbiology (you know, they found extinct life on Mars! Perhaps they are dormant?) to recreate water and nutrient cycling. Once we have good water and nutrient cycling, we can then add plants, animals and habitat features. Together, the 4-features form a natural ecosystem which is adapted to the conditions on the mine site/planet, is able to look after itself and is resilient to changes. So, if we consider land rehabilitation principles, we can potentially build an ecosystem on another planet!

Is terra-forming complete? Well, the combination of light, plants, animals, water will create an atmosphere, possibly even one similar to our own. The only way we will be able to tell is to try, to learn more about rehabilitation on earth, and to monitor changes and adaptively manage our terra-forming practices.

So, I suppose I can say that by researching mine-rehabilitation, that I am also potentially improving our knowledge on how to grow food on Mars! Pretty rad.

Terra-forming is so complex! Understanding each intricate detail would take hundreds (possibly thousands) of years of research. We still have many unanswered questions regarding space travel, let alone the ability to utilise a planet to make it habitable for human life. Besides all of the science questions, there are other questions too: ethics, political and economic. However, just thinking about how real science could potentially used to grow plants on Mars is pretty cool!

For more on Scientists exploring terra-forming and growing plants on other planets/Moons, have a look at some of the links below:
ScienceBlogs: Could we garden on Mars?
Pruned: Fake Moon Dirt
Technovelgy: Space Mirrors Could Create Mars Pocket Eden
Mars Homestead Project

For copies of my papers, please email me!

Want to know more about land rehabilitation? Leave me a comment!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fungi can help to save the World!

Fungi really are my obsession at the moment. I recently watched a Ted Talk by Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world! Even though we know very little about fungi, there is also a lot we do know.

Paul talks about the properties of different fungi, particularly Mycelium, and how they are the veins in our planet.
Is this the largest organism in the world? This 2,400-acre (9.7 km2) site in eastern Oregon had a contiguous growth of mycelium before logging roads cut through it. Estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years old, this one fungus has killed the forest above it several times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees. Mushroom-forming forest fungi are unique in that their mycelial mats can achieve such massive proportions.
—Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running

Fungi can form huge underground highways; we only see them is when a mushroom or toadstool pops up. Fungi are great organic recyclers, decomposers and filters. They can break down anything into simple sugars, which are then used by other organisms or help to bind soil. Fungi are essential in nutrient and water cycling, and are important for plants, animals and our environment. So, we know that they are important for ecosystems, what else can they do?

The 6-ways Paul says that fungi can save the world, include:
* Cleaning up petrochemical spills: Fungi break down complex chemicals into simple sugars. This means that fungi can be used to clean up oil spills on soil, and can possibly even help with the clean up of the BP spill! Even better, that fungi rehabilitated a site so well,it helped to start and entire new ecosystem.
* Ecotonol: The simple sugars that fungi make could be a source of ethanol. Fungi could break down waste materials, and the sugars it produces then harvested and used in fuels.
* Medicines: Fungi are known to have strong antibiotics, such as penicillin. There is a lot of potential to discover more medicines in different fungi species. For example, the Agericon fungi reduced prevalence of small pox and may do the same for strains of influenza.
* Life Boxes: Cardboard packaging boxes are made with fungi and seeds in the paper walls. After the box is used, it can be opened up, watered and a food garden will grow!
* Reduces bacteria, such as E. coli, in recycled water used on gardens. 
* Kills pests: Paul found that modifying spores of fungi can stop termite invasions! He even tried this in his own home.

Before I watched Paul's talk, I tried to guess some of his ideas. Some of my thoughts were the same, but some were also different:
* Land rehabilitation: Same as what Paul discovered, fungi can be and are used in land rehabilitation. Fungi are often innoculised into seeds or soil to help with growth and development of an ecosystem. I was considering looking at fungi as part of my research on mine rehabilitation. As my fungi-loving supervisor pointed out, there is so little we know about fungi, it would take 4-5 PhD's before we even knew what species were endemic to the area, let alone their role in plant and ecosystem development! However, many rehabilitated mines in Africa have shown that fungi are the first organisms to grown on sites high in heavy metals. Perhaps they can be used to clean up heavy metals and start the process of mine rehabilitation? They could also be used to help start nutrient cycling and plant development.

* As a food source: Many vegetarians know that mushrooms are a high source of iron and protein in their diets. In fact, many vegetarian foods are made with mushroom protein: fake chicken nuggets, Quorn brand, Asian fake-meats etc. The best thing about fungi production is that they can use wastes to grow! This means we don't need to supply them with fertiliser or chemicals or lots of space. They are incredibly energy efficient, and just need nice moist and dark conditions. They have the potential to provide a critical source of iron and protein to developing nations, whilst recycling wastes and limiting use of inputs.
Mushroomy Mince! Yum!

* Help in food production: Particular strains of fungi are often inoculated in seeds to help growth of plants, such as lucerne or other crops. The fungi has  symbiotic relationship with the plant. The plant provides it a home, while the fungi helps to transform nutrients into plant-available forms, and thus helps it grow. Mycorrhiza are well known to help with phosphorous and nitrogen transformation for plants. What other fungi species can help with plant growth? Do they have potential to be used in other food crops? Can we increase production or reduce diseases using fungi? Can we use inoculated seeds world-wide? Could fungi reduce famine? So many questions!

Fungi have so much potential, and there are still so many questions. By better understanding fungi, we can harness their natural nutrient cycling and cleaning abilities to produce food, fuel, medicines, and healthy environments. Who knows what else they can do! What are some ways you think fungi can help save the world?

Want to know more about Fungi and how they can save the world? Check out Paul's talk via TED Talks (below), Paul's company (Fungi Perfecti) or his research on Mycelium and how it can save the world.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fanciful Fungi #4: Fungi love the Rain

Fungi like the rain! This year is supposed to be exceptional for fungi. With the rain in the earlier months and the cool weather (but not too cold!) we are now lucky to see some rare and beautiful fungi. Dr Andrew Claridge, a mycologist (fungi doctor) in NSW Parks and Wildlife, goes out every Friday for a truffle hunt with his wife and various other truffle lovers. They have found at least one new species of fungi each week! Some of the fungi have laid dormant over the dry years, and popped up during good conditions. Only now we are able to see and classify them. Just goes to show how little we know about fungi.

I decided to do some of my own fungi detection work this week up on Mt Ainslie. All of these beauties were found on the path between my house and the summit. I wonder if any of them are a new species?

Angus spotted this bright orange fungi on a log just as we started walking up the hill. We found it several more times on other decaying and dried logs. It mainly followed cracks or filled holes. I think it is part of the Basidiomycota family, and a type of Tyromyces, possibly T. merulinus. It is a woody pore-fungi, which prefers dead wood (like this log), and often colonises in patches.

Two in one! As I went to take a photo of the green toadstools, I noticed the tiny fungus on the wood; the size of a finger nail! What a lucky find!  The green toadstool is a Basidiomycota, and possibly a Cortinarius species. They were hidden under a rotting log. The cute fungi on the log is a woody pore-fungi. Nether are in my book! Maybe they are new...

These cute toadstools were everywhere on the walk; they liked places with thick leaf litter! There tops were about the size of a twenty-cent piece, and the old ones dried to a cream colour. Their stem and gills were also a cream colour. Unfortunately, my book was unable to help! They are a Basidiomycota, but no idea of the genus or species. I think I need to start taking samples to give to a Mycologist.

This white porous fungi looked like it had been kicked out of the ground and dumped where I found it. No idea on its natural growing location makes it hard to identify. However, I think it is either a coral fungi or a woody porous-fungi. Given its dirty bottom, I would think that it emerged/grew through soil. Given this, it is more likely to be a coral fungi. I searched through my book, thinking it wasn't there (another one unidentified *sigh*) and realised it is actually a bracket-fungi! It is a Laccocephalum mylittae or Native Bread. It emerges from the ground with an enclosed brown fruiting body, and white pores inside. It is these white pores that you can see in the photo. It is also edible, and is eaten by Indigenous Australians!

With the damp weather, it is the best time to spot magical fungi. Try hunting for fungi in your local area. You never know when you might find a new species! 

For more facts on fungi and truffle spotting, check out this article at ABC Science: Native Truffles are Fun Guys

Friday, June 25, 2010

We Can't Eat Coal: Some of the Potential Benefits of Mining Tax in Australia

What will 11-month old Alexander see, eat and breath in 30 years time?

It was my first drive through the beautiful Hunter Valley when I saw the mines, the power plants and the dust haze in the sky. Only a few weeks ago, I drove from Canberra to visit my old friend Jules and her son, Alexander. They live in the Upper Hunter, and mining is part of their daily routine. I noticed the slag heaps, mounds, holes and piles of coal. Questioning people, I discovered some interesting facts and concerns about the industry in the area. People were concerned about mining in rich agricultural regions, like the Liverpool Plains. They were worried about water and air quality. The people of Broke were concerned about the Gas Plants proposed for the middle of their town. As I drove back to Canberra, past the vineyards facing the mines, it got me thinking about the long-term implications of mining and the potential benefits of the Mining Tax.

Can we fix that hole in the ground?

Mining results in changes to the environment, such as holes and mounds, and it is difficult to fix these changes. Current legislation requires strict environmental management and reporting of mining operations. This includes mine rehabilitation bonds; money which is kept until the site has been repaired after mining has finished. Only one mine in Australia has had its bond returned as a result of successful rehabilitation. This demonstrates that mines are responsible for repairing the land and looking after the environment. This is reflected in the work by various parties, such as Goldfields Environmental Management Group. However, mining causes irreversible environmental change, and there has only been limited research by industry and independents to understand some of these changes. Some of my own research is focused on improved understanding of rehabilitation after mining. In particular, determining methods to rehabilitate under extreme mine conditions and frameworks for rehabilitation (Drake et al. 2010). However, more research is needed to determine effective long-term rehabilitation of mine sites for multi-purposes, including agricultural production and conservation.

Does mining impact on agriculture and food security?

Mining is impacting on high agricultural production areas, and this has the potential to reduce food security. The Hunter Valley and Liverpool Plains are two of the most agriculturally productive regions in Australia. Both are also mineral resource rich. There is concern that mining in these high agricultural areas will reduce land available for food production, and thus decrease food security. In July 2009, ABC news looked into the issue of mining on the Liverpool Plains. They found that 'The area produces massive quantities of wheat, corn, sunflower seeds, canola, and sorghum along with sheep and cattle. The soil there is so good the locals say you can grow anything - even in drought'. Should we be mining in areas that are so fertile and support us during drought? How will this affect future food supplies? Not only is there concern about food production, but if the land after mining will ever produce food again. There has been some international research into restoring closed mines back to agricultural land. This includes looking at the impact of mine wastes (heavy metals and toxins) in the food chain and production agriculture. However, there is a lack of Australian specific case-studies regarding the use of post-mined land for agricultural production. Therefore, restoring agricultural systems post-mining, and the impact that mining may have on food security needs to be better understood.

It is a non-renewable resource! 

One day, the resources will run out and the profiteering will be over. Minerals are non-renewable resources. This means that once they are dug up and used, they are gone. You can only use coal once. This means that we only have the ability to profit from these resources once. There are many concerns about what will happen once the mines are gone. Towns, like Broken Hill, which were once booming with minerals and wealth become ghost towns. Once the minerals are gone there are no jobs, no money and no services. Mining non-renewable resources creates wealth in a short period of time, but also has long-term repercussions once gone. More research and investment needs to go into long-term economic and social issues concerning mine closure. Could the Mining Tax be used?

How can we use the Tax for the future? 

Mining can cause impacts on the environment, and has the potential to impact on our social, economic and agricultural systems. We need to know more about the impact mining may have on our future and how to deal with it. Should we consider using  part of the Mining Tax to improve understanding of these issues and invest in our future?

One way of dealing with the future impact of mining is an investment fund using a proportion of the Mining Tax. The Mining Tax could be used to tackle some of the problems that may occur from mining. It has already been stated that part of the Tax is to be used for super contributions, which will help to secure our future. It could also be used to invest in other future economic, environmental and social securities. This could include schools, health care, alternative income sources at mine closure etc. The tax could also fund research directly related to mining, including: improved understanding of environment and rehabilitation, food and water security, social and economic futures, alternative/renewable energy and technologies. Investing in researchwill help us understand how to deal with some of the issues of mining and secure our future.

Future Funds?

Future Funds have been created by many countries to invest in the future of their nation. Future Funds come under the banner of Sovereign Wealth Funds, which are used to invest in the future of the country. Each country will have a different source of funding and different objectives for the fund. For example, Norway have the Government Pension Fund which is funded from oil profits. Australia already has a future fund, and is appropriately titled the Future Fund. The money sourced for the Future Fund is non-commodity (not from mining) and is used to benefit superannuation, infrastructure, healthcare and education, among other objectives. Could we consider investing some of the Mining Tax into the Future Fund? Perhaps they could broaden the goals of the fund to include investment in mining related research and future securities? 

How the Mining Tax will be spent or used as part of a Future Fund will determine the benefits of the Tax for the Australian people and environment. How do you think we can spend the Mining Tax to secure the future of Mining in Australia? A fund for our future? What do you want to wake up to in 30 years time? What do you want Alexander to wake up to in 30 years time?

Love to hear your ideas and opinions. Please leave them below.

For more on mining in our food-bowl, see: Landcare Liverpool Plains. I am also happy to send a copy of any of my papers upon request.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Are you game?

It is the new Farmville! Catchment Detox has been going viral, with players of all varieties getting hooked. The best thing is, it teaches sustainable catchment management practices with every turn.

Catchment Detox (CD) is an innovative way of teaching the public about sustainable land and catchment practices through real-time gaming. CD was a joint development between CSIRO, e-Water CRC, ABC, National Science Week and The Australian Government.

'CD is based on a model developed by CSIRO Division of Land and Water and e-water Co-operative Research Centre. Modelling the impact of activities in a catchment is complex science. While Catchment Detox is a game and not a scientific model, it is based on today’s scientific understanding of water and catchment management issues'.

It works in a similar way to other real-time games (such as Farmville), where you can make decisions about your farm and each turn which will then affect subsequent turns. Unlike Farmville where the result of a turn is subjective and unrealistic, the result of taking a turn in CD is quite realistic! This means that all the turns you make are based on science and the outcome is directly a result of your actions. As an example, if you decide to produce a lot of food (and use a lot of water) in a turn when there is also a drought, your next turn will result in poor environmental outcomes. However, if you decide to conserve your water during a drought, your environmental outcomes in the next round will improve. The player learns what is good or bad management in their catchment from the result of each turn. The object of the game being that the player will succeed in positively managing their catchment.

Alternative media for education on complex environmental issues is a great way to get younger generations interested. It is also a great educational resource, and can be used in the classroom. There is additional educational material available on the site.

Have a go! You know you want too...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fanciful Fungi #3 : Truffles in your Backyard

Fungi in my own backyard! Edible? Maybe. Thousand-dollar truffles? Unlikely. However, you never know when you could find a delicious truffle in your own backyard.

This beautiful specimen was in one of my experiments. The soil for this experiment is from Lake Cowal, NSW and is covered with locally sourced woodmulch. The mulch is made from both native and introduced species. This means the fungi could be Australian or from elsewhere. This tiny fungi was found in a cluster underneath the woodmulch. Each were about 1cm long, with brown stem and a lighter coloured top. I was unable to find anything in my book, but it could be a stem-puffball or some sort of coral fungi. My supervisor, John Field, was hopeful it was the early stage of an edible truffle. Maybe I can make some truffle money to help run my experiments???

These beauties were found in my backyard. They popped up under a conifer after some cold-wet weather. I believe they are a Basidiomycota (toadstools and mushrooms), a Cortinarius species. There are about 2000 species of Cortinarius, making them difficult to identify. However, there is a list available on Wikipedia. These are definitely not truffles. Cortinarius species can range from edible, to magic, to deadly. You have to be careful before you eat!

Believe it or not, Australia has its very own truffles. Trees, Truffles and Beasts talks about forests and fungi in Australia, including truffle species found in our native forests. We don't eat these truffles, but there is a movement to commercialise Australian truffle species. Currently, Australia produces the same species that are favourable in France; T. melanosporum. This requires tree species that are native to European conditions (hazlenuts and oaks). If we consider our own native truffle production, we can also improve remnant forest conservation. A movement towards native truffle production will have many positive benefits for the environment. Landholders may be more likely to look after remnant forest or may even replant native forest to produce truffles. This means improved biodiversity, water quality and soil in our landscape.

However, there is still alot of research needed regarding Australian truffles before commercialisation.  Researching truffle growing, tree and truffle species, and even if they are edible (tasting!!) is important information to help support an industry. Trees, Truffles and Beasts do talk about animals which eat the truffles. Perhaps we can use tour native animals as culinary guides?

Next time you are digging around in your backyard and you find a funny mushroomy lump it may be a truffle! (just be careful about eating it... )

For information on the truffle industry in Australia, see the Australian Truffle Grower's Association Website or Truffles Australis.