.

  • Written by Matt Herring, PhD Candidate, Charles Darwin University
Endangered species are living happily in rice fields. Bitterns in Rice/Matt Herring, Author provided

The debate around the Murray-Darling Basin is often sharply polarised: irrigation is destroying the environment, or water reforms are ruining farming communities.

But there is another story. In the Riverina region of southern New South Wales, a strange waterbird is using rice fields to live in and breed.

The endangered Bunyip Bird, also called the Australasian Bittern, is famous for its deep booming call – for thousands of years thought to be the sound made by the mythical Bunyip.

It’s a sound now familiar to most rice growers. In 2012, Birdlife Australia and the Ricegrowers’ Association teamed up to learn more about bitterns in rice. The total bittern population, including New Zealand and New Caledonia, is estimated at no more than 2,500 adults.


À lire aussi : Why a wetland might not be wet


The first question was how many bitterns are using rice crops. After surveying the birds on randomly selected farms, we crunched the numbers. Our results, just published, are staggering.

Across the Riverina, we conservatively estimate these rice crops attract 500-1,000 bitterns during the breeding season, about 40% of global population. It turns out the way rice is grown provides ideal water depths and vegetation heights for bitterns. It’s also favourable for their prey: frogs and tadpoles, fish and yabbies.

A bittern nest with chicks and eggs. Matt Herring, Author provided

There is a growing body of global research investigating how human-made habitats can help fill the gap left by our vanishing wetlands, from ditches for rare turtles to constructed ponds for threatened amphibians. Rice fields around the world show great promise as well, with various “wildlife-friendly” farming initiatives. In California, farmers re-flood harvested fields to support thousands of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl, while in Japan consumers pay a premium for “Stork Rice” to help endangered species.


À lire aussi : For the first time we've looked at every threatened bird in Australia side-by-side


However, rice fields are no substitute for natural wetlands, and it’s now clear both play a crucial role in sustaining the bittern population.

Satellite tracking has shown us that at harvest time bitterns disperse to some of southeastern Australia’s most important wetlands, including the Barmah-Millewa system along the Murray River, Coomonderry Swamp near Shoalhaven Heads in New South Wales, Pick Swamp in South Australia, and Tootgarook Swamp on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne.

Water efficiency might be bad news for the bittern

Rice farming in Australia’s Riverina has a century-long history. The amount grown varies greatly from year to year, depending on water allocations, and ranged from 5,000-113,000 hectares over the past decade. Around 80% is exported and it provides food for up to 20 million people each year.

Driven by water efficiency, many rice growers in the Riverina are switching their methods to intermittent flooding and not “ponding” the water – maintaining inundated fields – until later in the season.

A shorter ponding period will likely reduce opportunities for the bitterns to breed successfully before harvest. Another threat to bitterns is farmers switching to alternative crops and horticulture, none of which provides them habitat.

Around 40% of the global Australasian bittern population come to the Riverina’s rice fields. Matt Herring, Author provided

During the 2017-18 irrigation season, there was more cotton grown than rice for the first time in the Riverina. It’s usually simple economics: irrigators will generally grow whatever gives them the best return per megalitre of water, with their choice having no net effect on the overall amount of irrigation water used in the system.

Water management in the Murray-Darling Basin is complicated, with fluctuating temporary water prices and trading between catchments. Water is allocated to either agriculture or the environment, setting up a dichotomy. But we think allocations to serve a single purpose may be overly simplistic, and the way bitterns use rice offers a case study for considering multi-purpose water use.

Working closely with growers, we are identifying ways to develop cost-effective incentive programs for bittern-friendly rice growing, where a sufficient ponding period is provided, with complementary habitat on banks, in crop edges and adjacent constructed wetland refuges. The aim is to boost the bittern population with the help of rice farmers.

Bitterns can nest and feed in rice paddies, but they depend on fields being flooded. Matt Herring, Author provided

We are also surveying consumers about their attitudes towards bittern-friendly rice. Would you pay a premium for rice products that offset additional costs to growers for bittern conservation? How do you feel about adjusting water and conservation policies?


À lire aussi : Protecting the world's wetlands: 5 essential reads


Bitterns are not the only threatened species that use the Riverina’s rice fields. The endangered Southern Bell Frog and Australian Painted Snipe have also adapted to rice crops, and it’s likely there are significant populations of other species too.

With 61% of Australia managed by farmers, the need to incorporate wildlife conservation on farms has never been greater. We hope our work will help address the divisive, sometimes toxic debate around water use in the Murray-Darling Basin, uniting irrigators and environmentalists.

Matthew Herring also works as a private consultant for the Bitterns in Rice Project, a collaboration between Birdlife Australia, Ricegrowers' Association of Australia and Riverina Local Land Services, with funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.

Kerstin Zander receives funding from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub (National Environmental Science Programme)

Stephen Garnett receives funding from the National Environment Science Program and the Australian Research Council

Wayne A. Robinson ne travaille pas, ne conseille pas, ne possède pas de parts, ne reçoit pas de fonds d'une organisation qui pourrait tirer profit de cet article, et n'a déclaré aucune autre affiliation que son poste universitaire.

Authors: Matt Herring, PhD Candidate, Charles Darwin University

Read more http://theconversation.com/meet-the-endangered-bunyip-bird-living-in-australias-rice-paddies-120342

Plants are going extinct up to 350 times faster than the historical norm

Plant extinctions have skyrocketed, driven in large part by land clearing and climate change. Graphic Node/Unsplash, CC BY-SAEarth is seeing an unprecedented loss of species, which some ecologists are...

Jaco Le Roux, Associate Professor, Macquarie University - avatar Jaco Le Roux, Associate Professor, Macquarie University

Vital Signs: economically, Australia is at risk of becoming Germany, and not in a good way

Once, emulating Germany would be something to be proud of. Not at the moment. ShutterstockIt’s four years since then Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned Australia had been heading to “a Gree...

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW - avatar Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

'What is wrong with me? I'm never happy and I hate school'

Remember, there is always someone to talk to about these things. Wes Mountain Hi, I was just wondering if something’s wrong with me because I’m never happy and never want to do anything a...

Louise Remond, Clinical Psychologist, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Louise Remond, Clinical Psychologist, University of Technology Sydney

Friday essay: how a Bengali book in Broken Hill sheds new light on Australian history

The large book bearing a handwritten English label, 'The Holy Koran', was not a Quran, but a 500-page volume of Bengali Sufi poetry. Samia KhatunSome 1,000 kilometres inland from Sydney, over the Blu...

Samia Khatun, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London - avatar Samia Khatun, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London

Unlawful strip searches are on the rise in NSW and police aren’t being held accountable

Being strip searched by the police can be intrusive, humiliating and harmful. Typically, strip searches involve being required to strip naked in front of police officers, who often give the direction ...

Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law, UNSW - avatar Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law, UNSW

How to make good arguments at school (and everywhere else)

There are more important things than winning an argument – like making everyone feel valued. www.shutterstock.comFrom as early as Grade 3 teachers start teaching children how to put across thei...

Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland - avatar Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland

GM crops: to ban or not to ban? That's not the question

The South Australian government recently announced its intention to lift the long-standing statewide moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops, following a statutory six-week consultation period. ...

Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History and Philosophy, and Deputy Dean Research (Faculty of Arts), University of Adelaide - avatar Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History and Philosophy, and Deputy Dean Research (Faculty of Arts), University of Adelaide

Grattan on Friday: Courting 'quiet Australians' from 'bubble central', it's been a remarkable first year for Scott Morrison

Can Scott Morrison maintain the image of separation from the Canberra elite, given he's its most powerful member? AAP/The ConversationEven Scott Morrison, with his abundant self-belief, couldn’t...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Trust Me, I’m An Expert: Why the Hong Kong protesters feel they have nothing to lose

Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people again took to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against the government – the 11th straight weekend of demonstrations that began in June over a pro...

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling - avatar Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling

We need a national renewables approach, or some states – like NSW – will miss out

In the absence of federal policy, states are pursing their own renewable targets. Karsten Würth/UnsplashAustralia’s primary federal renewable energy target – to have 33 terawatts of r...

Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne - avatar Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne

A Hippocratic Oath for data science? We’ll settle for a little more data literacy

Bias in, bias out: many algorithms have inherent design problems. Vintage Tone/Shutterstock I swear by Hypatia, by Lovelace, by Turing, by Fisher (and/or Bayes), and by all the statisticians and data ...

Lewis Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide - avatar Lewis Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide

Australia's latest military commitment should spark assessment of how well we use our defence forces

Just when we thought Australia was getting serious about shifting priorities away from the Middle East to its own neighbourhood, the prime minister has announced another Middle East step up. Australia...

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University - avatar John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

Australia bans video games for things you'd see in movies. But gamers can access them anyway

A screenshot from survival videogame DayZ. Bohemia InteractiveIn the last three months, the Australian Classification Board has “refused classification” for at least four video games &ndas...

Brendan Keogh, ARC DECRA Fellow, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Brendan Keogh, ARC DECRA Fellow, Queensland University of Technology

Victorian changes to gender on birth certificate will not increase sexual violence. Here's why

Under the proposed changes, TGD people in Victoria can change the gender on their birth certificate without having to undergo medical intervention. ShutterstockThe Victorian government is considering ...

Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne - avatar Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne

What kind of state values a freeway's heritage above the heritage of our oldest living culture?

The government intends to destroy Djab Wurrung sacred trees and sites to upgrade the Western Highway at the same time as it seeks heritage status for the Eastern Freeway. Allies Decolonising/gofundmeT...

Libby Porter, Professor of Urban Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University - avatar Libby Porter, Professor of Urban Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

Why full-fat milk is now OK if you're healthy, but reduced-fat dairy is still best if you're not

The Heart Foundation now backs full-fat milk if you're healthy. But it still recommends reduced-fat milk if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. from www.shutterstock.comThe Heart Foundation...

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle - avatar Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

Tim Fischer – a man of courage and loyalty – dies from cancer

Tim Fischer aboard a one-off passenger train last month to raise money for the Albury Wodonga Cancer Centre trust fund. Sally Evans/ Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre Trust FundFormer deputy prime...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil choke point in the world. Use our interactive map to explore it

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDAfter months of increasing tension between Iran and the US, on Tuesday the Morrison government committed a warship, surveillance aircraft and about 200 troops t...

Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor - avatar Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor

Greenland isn't Denmark's to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism

The coast of Greenland is not for sale. ShutterstockDonald Trump is not the first US President to make an offer of buying Greenland from Denmark – but he might be the last. Home of some 56,00...

Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster - avatar Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

A Guide for Tenants

The cost of purchasing a home has been increasing, and the size of deposits needed, make buying pr...

Top ways for men to look after their skin

According to Jack Simmons, from Aboutmen, more and more men are taking pride in their appearance a...

Top 10 Caravan Storage Tips & Tricks

Taking caravan trips is a popular Aussie pastime, but if you have spent more than a few days in ...

5 Meaningful Gifts Your Mother Would Simply Love

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to amaze the person who loves you the most with a thoughtful gift? Why ...