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SMC Heads-Up: Pest costs, DIY climate modelling, kauri

SMC Heads-Up: Pest costs, DIY climate modelling and kauri killer in the Coromandel

Issue 272 29 March - 4 April 2014

Pests an expensive problem - RSNZ

Weeds, wasps, rats and sea squirts are among a swarm of pests and diseases that represent a growing threat to New Zealand's economy and environment, according to a new report released this week by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Challenges for pest management in New Zealand is authored by a panel led by Royal Society of New Zealand Fellows and draws on national and international research to explore and discuss the current state of pest management and the unique nature of the New Zealand situation.

"Pests have and are costing the country billions of dollars, both in terms of revenue lost and in control costs. There are also very substantial environmental costs associated with loss of native biodiversity and New Zealand's clean green reputation," said Fellow of the Society and co-author of the report, Dr Stephen Goldson in amedia release.

The report duly acknowledges New Zealand's leadership in environmentally and socially sensitive pest management, but warns that urgent action is needed to develop new approaches and to improve existing tools to protect the country's environment and economy.

Specific issues highlighted by the report included the need to improve public engagement, better harnessing of the power of modern information technology and the need to increase our understanding of the biology of pests and their impact.

The report, media release, executive summary and an infographic can be found on the Royal Society of New Zealand website.

You can read a roundup of media coverage on the Science Media Centre website.

Climate report on the horizon

What risks from climate change will New Zealand need to confront? What areas are most vulnerable, and what actions will be required? What options are still on the table for limiting greenhouse gas emissions?

The next section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest report (Fifth Assessment report; AR5) - the most comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of the world's vulnerabilities from climate change and options for reducing impacts - is due out next week.

The Working Group II (WGII) report will focus on risks and impact of climate change on a regional as well as global scale, including specific impacts in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific.

A press conference releasing the WGII report and summary for policy makers will be streamed via this page at 1pm Monday 31st March 1PM NZT.

You can read expert commentary on the first segment of the AR5 report (The Physical Science Basis from Working Group I) , released last year, on the Science Media Centre website.

Journalists seeking information ahead of the conference can get in touch with the Science Media Centre for more details.

On the science radar this week...

Deep dive champions, translating dolphin whistles, ebola puts bats off the menu, healthy sleeping and a late addition to the solar system.

Kauri dieback detected in Coromandel

Kauri dieback disease has been found in the Coromandel Peninsula, a part of the country previously thought to be free of the tree-killing pathogen.

The announcement came this week after tests confirmed the presence of the disease in two trees in Whangapoua Forest north of Whitianga. A 319-hectare section of the forest has been closed as precaution while further testing is undertaken.

"This is a serious blow to our efforts to conserve kauri and protect it from this disease,"Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith said in a media release.

"I am taking a precautionary approach by immediately closing the affected area to reduce the risk of spread. It will also enable time to determine the extent of the disease and our on-going management of kauri dieback in the wake of this negative news."

Kauri dieback is disease caused by a fungus-like microorganism called Phytophtora taxon Agathis (PTA) which infects kauri trees' roots and damages the tissues that carry nutrients and water within the tree, effectively starving the tree to death. Nearly all infected trees die and there is no known cure.

The disease was first formally identified in 2008 and infected trees has been found in Northland, the Waitakere Ranges and on Great Barrier Island, where warning signs and equipment cleaning stations have been put in place.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy urged asked the public to do its part to prevent the spread of the disease. "This means adopting biosecurity measures of cleaning and disinfecting footwear, vehicle tyres and machinery when moving to or from any kauri forests," he said.

"We also urge walkers to keep to formed tracks. We need to take a precautionary approach of assuming every kauri stand may be infected."

You can find out more about Kauri dieback disease, and how to prevent its spread, on the Keep Kauri Standing website.

A round up of media coverage is available on the Science Media Centre website.

Quoted: Otago Daily Time

''During the rugby season there's no time to be sick"

Canterbury Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder on the team getting flu vaccinations

Do-it-yourself Climate modelling

Any New Zealander with a home computer and an internet connection will soon be able to power up their own climate model. The work will help scientists find the causes of the record high temperatures that hit Australia and New Zealand in 2013.

The online citizen science climate experiment, Weather@Home, created by a group of scientists at the University of Oxford, the UK Met Office, the University of Melbourne and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand, allows computer users who sign up to create climate model simulations that produce 3D representations of weather for 2013.

It works by participants volunteering the spare processing power on their computers to crunch weather data from a state-of-the-art global climate model that includes a finely detailed regional model over Australia and New Zealand.

Users can then watch these evolve in real time or let them run quietly in the background, ultimately helping scientists to better assess the impacts of climate change and its relationship to extreme weather.

NIWA climate scientist and Weather@home New Zealand programme leader Dr Suzanne Rosier says the aim of the project initially is to improve understanding of how extreme weatherconditions such as heatwaves and drought may be changing.

Dr Rosier says the computing power harnessed in this way from thousands of volunteers is phenomenal.

"It enables scientists to run these global and regional climate models many thousands of times - far more than would be possible with conventional computing resources.

"That is what is needed when attempting to address problems involving extremely rare weather events and enables scientists to put some hard numbers on how the risks of these events might be changing."

You can find out more about Weather@Home Australia and New Zealand, and how to sign up, here.

The AusSMC held an online briefing with experts involved in the program from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, officially launching Weather@Home Australia and New Zealand. You can watch the briefing here.

Policy news and developments

Quality Accounts: The Ministry of Health has welcomed the publication of DHB Quality Accounts - reports assessing the quality of health care services offered by each DHB and prioritising areas for improvement.

Worst intersections: New Zealand's 100 riskiest intersections are being targeted for safety improvements as part of the Government's on-going effort to reduce death and injury on our roads.

Snapper rules: MPI is bringing in changes to the rules for snapper in the Snapper 1 Region, lowering the catch limit from nine to seven snapper per fisher per day and increasing the size limit is increasing to 30cm (from 27cm).

New From the SMC

Experts Respond:

H1N1 Flu: Experts comment on cases of H1N1 influenza recently reported in NZ.

Video games: Experts respond to research suggesting time spent playing violent video games may be linked to aggressive thoughts and behaviour in children

In the News:

Tree disease: Kauri dieback disease has been detected in the Coromandel Peninsula, a part of the country previously thought to be free of the tree-killing disease.


Weather@Home: Hear about the new citizen science project allowing any Kiwi with a computer to help predict extreme weather.

Reflections on Science:

Science communication: For Unlimited, Prof Shaun hendy writes about the need for scientists to step up and share their expertise in a crisis.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:

Taking on Rhys Darby and Nanotech - New Sciblogger and nanotechnologist Michelle Dickinson gives comedian Rhys Darby the Scientific Smackdown on youtube.

Nano Girl

World Water Day, 22 March - Hydrologist Daniel Collins raises a glass to World Water Day on its 21st birthday.


Advising men on prostate cancer screening - 'Is the cart before the horse in terms of evidence?' asks Diana Sarfati and Dr Caroline Shaw.

Public Health Expert

Research highlights

Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

No success for student drinking internet initiative: Among university students in New Zealand, an online alcohol screening and brief intervention program produced only a modest reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed per drinking episode but not in the frequency of drinking, overall amount consumed, or in related academic problems. The findings come from to a study which screened over 5,000 students at seven universities.


Crows know Aesop's fables: New Caledonian crows may understand how to displace water to receive a reward, with the causal understanding level of a 5-7 year-old child, according to a new University of Auckland study. Scientists used the Aesop's fable riddle- in which subjects drop stones into water to raise the water level and obtain an out-of reach-reward-to assess New Caledonian crows' causal understanding of water displacement.Video available.


HPV vaccine programme cost effective: New Zealand researchers analysing the benefits of the vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) have determined that the the current NZ programme is cost effective in terms of improving quality of life for NZ females and males and by lowering the number of HPV cases and associated cancers. However they suggest that a more intensive school-only programme, similar to Australia, may give more bang for buck - especially as the cost of the vaccine decreases.


Urban sprawl eats food-growing land: A University of Auckland study has found that as urban development spreads out from Auckland city, quality agricultural soil is being covered by commercial and residential developments at an accelerating rate. The authors note that such is expansion is set to continue, as Auckland's population in forecast to grow to 2.5 million by 2040.

Land Use Policy

Archaeologist sinks 'NZ's oldest shipwreck' theory: A paper published last year suggested that timber found near Kaipara Harbour was evidence of New Zealand's oldest shipwreck, based on radiocarbon dating and tree ring analysis - a theory which has attracted extensive media attention. Now an Australian marine archaeologist has scuttled the conclusions drawn in the article, noting that historical records do not fit with suggested series of events. The study "lacks sufficient corroborating historical and archaeological research," she says. No media release available.

Journal of Archaeological Science

Deep diving whales set a new record: A group of Cuvier's beaked whales have broken the deep dive record from any mammal, dropping nearly 3km below the ocean surface and holding their breath for over 2 hours. Satellite-linked tags were used to record the diving behaviour and locations of eight Cuvier's beaked whales off the Southern California coast. The deepest dive was recorded was just shy of 3km while the longest lasted 137 minutes - both breaking the current mammalian dive record previously set by the southern elephant seal.


Upcoming sci-tech events

For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.

Advantage NZ: 2014 Geotechnical Petroleum Forum -1-3 April, Wellington.

Paying for pills: The impact of prescription charges on health and healthcare - SACS Seminar with Prof Pauline Norris - 2 April, Wellington.

Brain Day 2014 - 4 April, Auckland.

Neuroimaging: Tools to Study the Human Brain in Health and Disease - Cognitive Neuroscience Seminar with Prof Nancy Andrease (US) - 4 April, Auckland.

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