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A round-up of the latest science and news from Australasia.

Parrots Divided

By Stephen Luntz

The eastern and western ground parrot are now considered distinct enough to justify their separation into separate species.

Parrots Divided

Australia has a new species of bird, with the eastern and western ground parrot considered distinct enough to justify their separation. The discovery will add urgency to conservation measures for the western variety, which is threatened by development of the coastal heathland in which it is found.

“This really shows the value of museum collections,” says Dr Stephen Murphy of the Wildlife Conservancy. “We relied almost solely on birds collected 100 years ago. Museums keep track of biodiversity. You can’t overstate how important these collections are.”

Urban Songbirds Raise Their Voice

By Stephen Luntz

City-dwelling birds are struggling to compete with background noise.

A study of the common songbird the silvereye has found differences between urban and rural songs and calls, as city-dwelling birds struggle to compete with background noise.

Studies in Northern Europe have shown similar effects, but Dominique Potvin of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Zoology says: “This study is the first to demonstrate varied adaptations of urban bird songs over such a vast geographical area, and as such, these changes may have wider implications for mate choice and evolution in urban populations of this species.”

Dinosaur Stampede in Doubt

By Stephen Luntz

An ambling herbivore, rather than a hunting carnivore, made Australia’s famous dinosaur tracks, a new paper claims.

Anthony Romilio, a PhD student at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences, has examined the large dinosaur footprints at Lark Quarry in Central Queensland. In work published in Cretaceous Research he has concluded that the tracks were made by an ornithopod that is possibly related to Muttaburrasaurus rather than a terrifying theropod resembling Tyrannosaurus rex.

2010 the Hottest on Record

By AusSMC

Yet another warm year gives the climate change deniers something to ponder

The World Meteorological Organization has confirmed that 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, together with 2005 and 1998. In 2010, global average temperature was 0.53°C above the 1961-90 mean.

These statistics are based on data sets maintained by the UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit (HadCRU), the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Neural Response to Acupuncture Lasers

By Stephen Luntz

Brain scans reveal laser stimulation of acupuncture points.

A study of the use of infrared lasers has found that those placed at acupuncture points considered to benefit stress and depression produce positive changes in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. Laser intervention on a non-acupuncture point resulted in less significant activation.

Deep Sea Volcano Found in Bight

By Stephen Luntz

Extinct volcano found in waters 2 km deep.

An unexpected deep sea volcano has been discovered in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park’s Benthic Protection Zone (BPZ). The BPZ is a narrow strip of the sea floor stretching south from near the Western Australian border to the edge of Australia’s exclusive economic zone.

Beetle Threatens Hives

By Stephen Luntz

African beetle threatens pollination of fruit and vegetables.

The small hive beetle poses a major threat to both Australian honey production and the fertilisation of crops and native flora, according to University of Queensland entomologist Dr Bronwen Cribb. However, the danger is being overshadowed by menaces of colony collapse disorder and the varroa mite (AS, Jan/Feb 2009, p.9).

Exercise Boosts Cellular Metabolism

By Stephen Luntz

Interaction between exercise and temperature on cellular metabolism.

Moderate exercise burns off more calories than the energy used by the exercise itself, a new study suggests. Without exercise we may burn off less energy in the process of thermoregulation.

A/Prof Frank Seebacher and doctoral student Elsa Glanville of the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences studied the metabolism of native bush rats (Rattus fuscipes). When the temperature is below 30°C the rats use energy to keep their bodies warm.

Ancient Asteroid Impact Revealed

By Stephen Luntz

Australia's second-largest impact linked to geothermal energy.

Research into the geothermal energy potential of the Cooper Basin has led to the discovery of an ancient asteroid impact, possibly Australia’s second-largest. Intriguingly, the impact may be the reason that the Basin holds so much potential to supply Australia with clean energy.

Vale Frank Fenner, Vanquisher of Smallpox

By Stephen Luntz

One of Australia’s greatest scientists, Professor Frank Fenner, passed away on 22 November 2010 after a short illness. He was 95.

Fenner studied science and medicine at the University of Adelaide before joining the Army Medical Corp. He was awarded an OBE for his work combating malaria in New Guinea.

Fenner first came to prominence when he, along with Macfarlane Burnet and Ian Clunies Ross, injected themselves with the myxoma virus to prove it was harmless to humans. The subsequent release of the virus controlled rabbit plagues for decades until resistance became widespread.