Issue 486, 24 Aug 2018


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Expert Reaction: Neonicotinoid replacement hinders bumblebee reproduction

Expert Reaction: Irrigation efficiency not so efficient

Expert Reaction: 2017/18 provisional suicide statistics

In The News: Approval for samurai wasp to slay stink bug 

Blog: Video workshops in Christchurch and Dunedin

New from the SMC global network

Irrigation efficiency woes

It might seem like common sense that increasing the efficiency of irrigation would save water, but the equation isn't that simple.  

In a Policy Forum published today in Science, international experts argue that increasing efficiency simply results in more water being used on farms and less being returned to the environment.

As Dr Brent Clothier from Plant & Food Research explained to the SMC, the irrigation efficiency paradox is that "any water saved by the individual farmers does not - global empirical evidence shows - serve to reduce water takes across the entire catchment". Instead, more people end up using the water. "So, individually, the farmers might well use water efficiently, but the total extraction of water by the whole community of farmers across the catchment is not reduced."

Not only is the water not 'saved' but it also reduces the amount of water being returned to the ground through leaks or other means. Dr Leanne Morgan from the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management at the University of Canterbury told the SMC: "the reduced groundwater levels can impact spring flows and require farmers to lower wells (at considerable cost) to access the now deeper groundwater". She says this is an example of the "unintended consequences that might arise from irrigation efficiency initiatives designed to reduce water use."

We don't tend to think New Zealand has issues with water scarcity, but Professor Troy Baisden from the University of Waikato says because of the rapid expansion of dairy, wine and fruit into drier regions over the past few decades, "our freshwater available for irrigation is already fully allocated or over-allocated in these regions".

In an unrelated piece, Dr Mike Joy from Victoria University of Wellington wrote on Newsroom that irrigation dams like the one proposed for Waimea River in Nelson are a "dumb idea" as the "lock us all into a high-risk, high-cost, high-impact water storage system". For those upset at the Government's stance on irrigation, a recently-shelved irrigation scheme in the Waimate District has been revived by private backers.

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the Science article.

Quoted: Newsroom

"What we would like to see is the beginnings of a whole new industry built on sustainably-grown tōtara.

We would like to see more employment, we would like to see high quality jobs in Northland."

Scion’s general manager of research and investment Russell Burton on the viability of growing tōtara for timber.

Samurai to slay stink bug

Ramped up biosecurity controls have done a good job of keeping the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug out of the country. But should the one-dollar-coin-sized bugs gain entry to our greener pastures, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has pre-approved the release of their traditional foe: the pin-head sized samurai wasp.

The bug has decimated crops in North America and poses one of the most significant biosecurity threats to our agricultural sector – particularly the kiwifruit and wine industries. It also has the potential to attack native plants like karaka and kowhai.

The EPA’s decision means they are only able to release the non-native samurai wasp if stink bugs slip through the border and invade. The samurai wasp is not the only biocontrol agent we have at our disposal. The EPA has previously released other parasitic wasps to control the agricultural pests like clover root weevil and coddling moth. However, this is the first time the EPA has given pre-approval to release a species into the country ahead of a threat, an advance the agency’s organism manager Stephen Cobb told Newsroom was “ground-breaking”.

“Bio-control is increasingly what the primary sector and people focused on conservation are looking at as it is considered possibly a bit more environmentally friendly than the use of pesticides or herbicides or chemicals,” said Cobb.

New Zealand winegrowers biosecurity manager and emergency response manager, Dr Edwin Massey, who is also a member of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Council previously told RNZ the samurai wasp is both a surveillance and control tool.

“The wasp favours brown marmorated stink bug eggs over any other stink bug egg, so releasing it only when there is a stink bug incursion is exactly the right thing to do.”

The Ministry for Primary Industry’s Dr Catherine Duthie told Newsroom: “We’ve got quite an arsenal lined up. This parasitoid [samurai wasp] is just one of those tools.” MPI is also preparing pheromone-laced traps to lure the stink bugs, a spray to kill them, and trained dogs to locate areas with bug infestations.

“Essentially the parasitoid is a mop-up measure to make sure that we don’t get any further adult or nymph brown marmorated stink bugs into the population.”

The decision was covered by local media.

Video workshops go South

In October, the Science Media Centre will take its popular science video making workshops to Christchurch and Dunedin.

These video workshops (produced in collaboration with Baz Caitcheon) focus on giving scientists the tools and skills to communicate their research in short videos aimed at an online audience.

Producing short videos using the high-definition camera built into your smartphone or tablet has never been easier. We’ll show you to how to develop a video concept and give you tips on the best ways to shoot, edit and distribute your video content. In the weeks following, Baz will mentor you to help you produce your first science video.

The workshops are free to attend, but limited to 15 places. This is a competitive application process – the best applicants will be selected based on the video concepts outlined in the application form.


November SAVVY in Wellington

Our flagship media training course returns to Wellington for our fourth and final two-day Science Media SAVVY for the year.

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public. 

Ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work. 


Policy news & developments

Waste working group: Eugenie Sage is tasking the Ministry for the Environment with coming up with solutions to issues around landfill waste management and product stewardship. An Auckland recycling group has already received funding from the Waste Minimisation Fund to recycle construction and industrial waste.  

More tradie places: The funding for trade schools is getting streamlined, with small changes that will hopefully make it easier for those to attend and succeed at Trades Academies, including funding for Māori and Pasifika learners aged between 16 and 40 to achieve in pre-trades training.

Lincoln-bury? The two Christchurch-based universities are exploring a potential merger to help retain Lincoln’s capacity to deliver world-leading teaching and research.

MV Edda Fonn: The Government has approved the purchase of a dive and hydrographic support vessel for the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Frogs struggle to stay afloat: New Zealand’s pepeketua/native frog species remain in trouble, according to the latest report on the conservation status of New Zealand’s amphibian species.

Akd Hospital Injection: Auckland District Health Board has received a cash injection from the Government to repair aging infrastructure.

Cash for polytechs: The Government will provide Unitec with a $50 million loan and Whitireia with a capital injection of $15 million to support them as both institutes go through major change.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Lombok earthquakes: different building designs could lessen future damage
Graeme MacRae, Massey University

Friday essay: the meaning of food in crime fiction
M. Jean Anderson, Carolina Miranda, Victoria University of Wellington; Barbara Pezzotti, Monash University

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Mould, sweet mould: inside New Zealand’s damp housing crisis
Ethan Donnell, director of Sick Homes, describes the people he met, and the reality of the places they live on The Spinoff.

A Climate Reckoning for Australia
An outsider's opinion (in this case, the editorial board of the New York Times) on Australia, now ex-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, and the climate change policy that couldn't get over the line. 

Plastic, paper, or polypropylene? It’s complicated
With a ban on single-use plastic bags looming, Newsroom's Farah Hancock takes a look at the environmental impact of some of the alternative ways to get groceries from the supermarket to the kitchen.

Coconut oil is 'pure poison', says Harvard professor
For certain health food shops and wellbeing sites it is the panacea that helps everything from bad hair and mental grogginess to obesity and haemorrhoids. But the carefully-crafted image of coconut oil as a cure for many ills has been roundly rejected by Harvard professor Karin Michels.

Milking it
Stuff's series on milk lets the cream rise to the top with stories about bringing back glass bottles, raw milkthe truth about budget milk, a day in the life of a dairy farmer, and the environmental footprint of dairying.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Official information kept secret too long

For the past few months, Mark Hanna has been gathering and analysing data from 12 government agencies, looking at how they handle requests made under the Official Information Act.
Honest Universe
Science, PR and dirty tactics: Q&A with Nicky Hager

Zara Shahtahmasebi talks to Nicky Hager about areas where science can collide with PR.
Guest Work
Low stakes PISA

New Zealand’s low PISA rank seems, in part, due to Kiwi students not taking the test very seriously.
The Dismal Science
Newspaper warns of human-induced climate change in 1912

An insightful newspaper article from 1912 has been making the rounds on social media again.
Code for Life

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Queenstown Research Week: 25-31 August, Queenstown. Molecular biologists of every flavour diverge on Queenstown for the annual mega-conference.
  • Coastal Hazards: 27 August, Mount Maunganui. An expert panel explains the latest sea level rise science and gives advice on how to support coastal communities prepare for long-term change.
  • Raising the Bar: 28 August, Auckland. The University of Auckland is putting on 20 talks in 10 inner-city bars on one night. Talk topics range from blockchain to insomnia to the unlikely correlation between lasers, milk and sperm.
  • Eat like a champion: 28 August, Palmerston North. US Professor Teresa Ann Davis will make the case for the importance of animal-derived protein in a healthy diet.
  • Can you marry your cousin?: 28 August, Dunedin. Can you legally marry your first cousin in New Zealand? Professor Hamish Spencer will reveal the answer to this and other questions about the intriguing matter of cousin marriage.
  • Supervolcanoes: 28 August, Napier; 29 August, Gisborne; 30 August, Taupō. Colin Wilson continues his Rutherford Lecture series delving into the life and times of supervolcanoes.
  • Free Radicals: 29 August, 30 August, Christchurch. Free radicals focuses the microscope on the often unsung achievements of women in science and technology. 

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