Australia Day

Today is Australia Day, marking the 1788 arrival of the First (British) Fleet in Australia. As well as establishing the island continent as a British colony, the First Fleet advanced the scientific study of the region. John White, Surgeon-General to the colony, was a keen amateur botanist and zoologist. His Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (with colour plates added later) included notes on Australian flora and fauna:

Arthur Bowes Smyth, a naval surgeon on the Lady Penrhyn, made similar observations. His journal included 25 drawings, like this one of an emu (the first known drawing of that bird):


The Blue Mountains Water Skink


The endangered Blue Mountains Water Skink, Eulamprus leuraensis (photo: “Sarshag7”)

I have previously mentioned my interest in ecological niche modelling and amphibians. The cute little skink above, native to the Blue Mountains near Sydney, is sadly endangered. The black circles in the map below show online occurrence records for the skink. These range in altitude from approximately 530 to 1,170 m.

The blue area shows a predicted potential range for the species, based on MaxEnt modelling using those occurrence records and BioClim climate data. The model does not take into account the skink’s need for sedge and shrub swamps with permanently wet boggy soils – there are readily available online land cover datasets, but these have insufficient spatial resolution to identify the 30 or so swamps in which the skink is found. The predicted potential range for the skink is consequently very much exaggerated, and covers 1,320 sq km, of which 63% falls within national parks or other protected areas. Hopefully that is enough to stop this beautiful amphibian from becoming extinct, although it continues to face threats from urban sprawl, feral cats, and vegetation changes.


Social media in Australia

I have just been reading the 2015 Sensis Social Media Report, which contains all kinds of interesting facts. For example, out of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Tumblr, Facebook is the most heavily used. Also, the cliche “Men are from Mars, women are on Pinterest” turns out to actually be true:

Other data shows that Facebook usage is trending slightly downwards over time, while use of LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+ is increasing. After rising up to 2014, Twitter usage is also down. Consistent with this, many Twitter users report deleting their profile. To a lesser extent, Facebook and Snapchat users also report this.

Data on age shows that under-30s are particularly active on Instagram and Snapchat:

Bar charts were produced using R. Read the report for more details.

Update: For comparison, here are corresponding charts for the USA:

Data for these second two charts is from a report by Pew Research.


National Science Week 2016

National Science Week is here again in Australia. See the website for events during the week. You can also read a science book or visit a museum. Even if you’re not in Australia, there’s the chance to get involved in a citizen science project to identify wildlife in photographs. So why not take part?

Animal dangers in Australia

Australian Geographic recently dug out a coronial report on animal-related deaths in Australia. The bar chart below shows average annual deaths for the period 2000–2010. Venomous snakes, like the one pictured above, only kill an average of 1.7 people each year (compared to about 1,600 motor vehicle deaths for the same period – almost 1,000 times as many).

The greatest animal-related dangers are actually falling off a horse (5.5 deaths per year) or motor vehicle accidents (MVA) involving collisions with animals on the road (also 5.5 deaths per year). The widespread fear of sharks and snakes in Australia reflects the extensive media coverage of the relatively few incidents which actually occur.


Praising UNSW


UNSW lower campus (photo: Jinbo Bu)

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) – located in the suburb of Kensington in Sydney – was founded in 1949. Its original focus was on engineering and technology, and it still excels in those fields, being ranked 68th in the world on the Times Higher Education list of engineering institutions. UNSW is home to the Sunswift solar car team, who came fourth in the 2015 World Solar Challenge Cruiser class in a beautiful solar sports car called eVe:


UNSW’s solar car Sunswift eVe crosses the 2015 WSC finish line (my photo)