Noelene Duckett, 5 Amery Street, Ashburton  VIC  3147.  Email:

Welcome to the first issue of the Range Management Newsletter for 2011.  This issue begins with our usual ‘From the President” column from John Taylor updating everyone on Society business over the last few months.  John has also written an excellent summary of the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Society for Range Management which can be found on page 8.  Please note that Annual General Meeting of the ARS is coming up on the 16 May 2011 – please check pages 2-3 for further information.

This year has certainly been a remarkable year with regards to rainfall in most parts of the country but does it fit in with expected patterns? Take a look at the article from Bob Vines and Jim Noble which discusses Australian rainfall patterns over time and see what you think!

The deadline for the next issue will be early June 2011.  I hope to include some feedback from the International Rangeland Congress being held in Argentina in April (I know that there are at least 10 Aussies attending) and also a summary of the Society’s AGM reports.  Feel free to submit any other articles of interest to members!

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John Taylor, ARS President and Director, Rangelands Australia/Professor of Rangeland Management at The University of Queensland, Gatton  QLD  4343.

Over the past 6 months we’ve seen a dramatic turnaround in the weather across most of Australia, and spectacular responses from the plants, animals, waterways, and the spirits of people in the rangelands in particular.  With above average and even record spring and summer rainfall, we now have a rare opportunity for renewal that we must not let slip through our hands.  While the drought has been a threat to our natural resources and enterprises, the rains and even the floods provide great opportunities for reflection, reenergizing, refocusing, restoration and perhaps reorientation.   I know that in some areas this opportunity has come with a price, but for those of you who directly or indirectly influence the management of our rangelands, please take some time to think about the opportunities presented … and seize them now.  In a country with a highly variable climate, it may be quite a while before an opportunity like this arises again!

Council activities

Your Council has met by teleconference on two occasions since the last RMN.  At these meetings we have considered and approved: Honoraria for key Society roles (e.g. Subscriptions Manager; Newsletter Editor; Finance and Audit Officer; Chair, Publications Committee; Editor, The Rangeland Journal; and Website Manager), ‘in principle’ participation in the Global Rangelands Repository, travel grants, extensions of the terms of several Associate Editors, the appointment of Murray McGregor to the Publications Committee, and initiated a review of membership categories and subscriptions.  On behalf of Council, congratulations to Christine Ferguson, Carolyn Ireland, Bob Karfs, Peter O’Reagain and Bob Shepherd for their successful applications for a Travel Grant.  We look forward to reading reports of their travels in future RMNs.  Associate Editors of TRJ provide a valuable service to the Society, and I am pleased to advise that Maria Fernandez-Giminez (CSU), Brandon Bestelmeyer (USDA-ARS/NMSU) and Neil MacLeod (CSIRO) have accepted a second term in that role.

As this goes to press we have another scheduled Council teleconference in mid-March, and at this we will be considering a draft policy regarding advertising in ARS Publications (i.e. TRJ, RMN and the Website), a preliminary report on the Bourke Conference, nominations for ‘Fellow of the ARS’, nominations for the Website Manager, the process for recruiting a new Editor-in-Chief (TRJ), the AGM Agenda, and a report on our presence at the 2011 Society forRange Management (SRM) meeting in Billings MT.

Regarding the latter, the ARS, CSIRO Publishing and Rangelands Australia had a joint presence at the 2011 SRM Meeting under the banner ‘Australian Rangelands’.  The purpose of the presence was to raise awareness of the ARS, the 2012 ARS Conference in Kununurra, rangeland-related publications produced by CSIRO, and Australian courses in rangeland management.  The booth was backed with a new ARS Banner and posters promoting TRJ and the Rangeland Management programs.  There was strong interest in the flyers on display, such as CSIRO Rangeland Books and Journals, CSIRO 2011 Journals Update, The Rangeland Journal, 2012 Kununurra Conference, ARS Membership flyer and application form, and the Rangeland Management Postgraduate Program brochure.A report on the SRM meeting and some of the technical sessions is provided on page 8 of this newsletter.

Several members of Council, and most of the 2011 Travel Grant recipients, will be at the forthcoming International Rangeland Congress in Rosario (Argentina).  Again, the ARS will be participating with CSIRO Publishing and Rangelands Australia in mounting an ‘Australian Rangelands’ stand at the Trade Display.  Our membership Secretary and CSIRO Publishing will monitor the response in membership applications and journal subscriptions over the next 12 months.

Looking further ahead, we’ve set a date for the AGM (16 May 2011), and I would encourage members to participate.  Please note that financial members can nominate for a position on Council or place a motion on notice, and should contact the Secretary, Dr Carolyn Ireland (, if they wish to do so.

I look forward to catching up with some of you in Rosario in early April.

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The 2011 Annual General Meeting of the Australian Rangeland Society will be held on:

Monday 16 May 2011 at 5 pm (Qld time)
37 Pioneer Crescent, Bellbowrie, Queensland, 4070

The agenda will include:

  • Minutes of the 2010 Annual General Meeting
  • Receive the President’s report
  • Receive the Financial Reports
  • Election of office bearers
  • Motions on notice
  • General business

Election of Office Bearers

Section 16 of the Articles of Association of the Society provide for elections in each alternate year beginning in 1983 commencing at the end of the next Annual General Meeting. Positions are held for 4 years.  The officers of the Society are President, Finance and Audit Officer, Secretary and up to five General Council Members.  Accordingly nominations are called for five of these positions for a term of four years as set out in the Articles.

The name of the present holder is shown along with an expression of their intention to nominate.

President                                     John Taylor  –  will nominate as President
Secretary                                     Carolyn Ireland
Finance and Audit Officer         Peter Marin –  will nominate as Finance and Audit Officer
General Council Members      Annabel Walsh  –  will nominate as a General Council Member
Graeme Tupper  –  will nominate as a General Council Member
Peter Johnston  –  will retire
Kate Masters
Larissa Lauder

Any financial member wishing to nominate for a position on Council must ensure their nomination form is lodged with the Secretary by April 10 2011.  Nomination forms are available from the website

Motions on Notice

Any financial member wishing to place a motion on notice before the Annual General Meeting must ensure that the signed motion is lodged with the Secretary by 6 April 2011.

Nominations and Motions should be emailed to:
Dr Carolyn Ireland, Secretary of the ARS

The AGM will be followed by light refreshments.  Please let Carolyn Ireland know if you will be attending.

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2011 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING (Meeting #215)  – Monday 16 May 2011 at 5 pm Queensland time

37 Pioneer Crescent, Bellbowrie, Queensland, 4070 or join via teleconference – Dial 1800 173 224 and enter pin 715901#


1.  Open meeting

2.  Apologies

3.  Accept the minutes of the 2010 Annual General Meeting (Meeting #206)

4.  Review and accept the President’s Report (John Taylor)

5.  Review and accept the Financial Report (Peter Marin)

6.  Election of office bearers

Section 16 of the Articles of Association of the Society provide for elections in each alternate year beginning in 1983 commencing at the end of the next Annual General Meeting. Positions are held for 4 years.  The officers of the Society are President, Finance and Audit Officer, Secretary and up to five General Council Members.  Accordingly nominations are called for five of these positions for a term of four years as set out in the Articles.

The name of the present holder is shown along with an expression of their intention to nominate:

President                                     John Taylor  –  will nominate as President
Secretary                                     Carolyn Ireland
Finance and Audit Officer         Peter Marin –  will nominate as Finance and Audit Officer
General Council Members      Annabel Walsh  –  will nominate as a General Council Member
Graeme Tupper  –  will nominate as a General Council Member
Peter Johnston  –  will retire
Kate Masters
Larissa Lauder

7.  Motions on notice

Solvency resolution

‘That the Directors have reason to believe that the Australian Rangeland Society Ltd will be able to pay its debts as and when they become due and payable.’

8.  Other motions

Change of Directors

As part of the regular rotation of Council members, the AGM will be asked to formally accept resignations of existing Directors and the Company Secretary and appoint new officers.  John Taylor, Carolyn Ireland and Peter Marin have nominated as Directors, John Taylor has nominated as President and Peter Marin has also nominated as Finance and Audit Officer and Company Secretary.

‘That the nominations of John Taylor, Carolyn Ireland and Peter Marin as Directors of The Australian Rangeland Society Ltd be accepted and that the nominations of John Taylor for President and of  Peter Marin for Finance and Audit Officer and Company Secretary of the Australian Rangeland Society Ltd be accepted.’

9.  General business

10.  Close meeting

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Bob Vines, formerly CSIRO Division of Forest Research, Private Bag 10, Clayton, Vic 3168. Present address: 15 Stanley Grove, Canterbury, Vic 3126.

Jim Noble, formerlyCSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284, Canberra, ACT 2601.  Present address: 10-12 Tyndall Street, Mittagong, NSW 2575.

Following work by Noble and Vines in 1993, additional research on Australian rainfall patterns has indicated that past results are further vindicated by observed behaviour in 2010.  This brief review describes what has now taken place and presents a short description of the basis upon which earlier investigations on rainfall patterns have been founded.

In 1964, when Vines began research on bushfires at the Chemical Research Laboratories of CSIRO, many local Fire Authorities had hinted that 1965 was likely to be a very bad fire year. This advice arose from records of past fires in Victorian eucalypt forests that clearly indicated the occurrence of severe outbreaks in 1913, 1926, 1939 and 1952 (all of which had spread over great areas). This obvious “cyclic” pattern of 13 years apparently followed a corresponding quasi-cyclic pattern of rainfall shortages, as observed over much of the State. evertheless Vines was sceptical, and he initially set out to prove the reality of such fortuitous fire-cycles to be unlikely.

At this stage, Vines had examined the important Rainfall Decile Maps in Gibbs and Maher’s (1967) Bulletin No. 48 (as published by the Bureau of Meteorology) where the Maps serve as Drought Indicators on a year-by-year basis from 1885 to 1965. These have been consistently up-dated to the present day and the Decile Maps are contoured in seven stages from very much below-average, through average, and then to very much above-average: they therefore show pictorially, in yearly fashion, those areas throughout Australia which are Dry and Wet. The corresponding Polarity Maps should also be mentioned, as published later (see Currie and Vines 1996). From studying all these special Maps, Vines believed it worthwhile to continue his work.

Furthermore, he had been in touch with Dr E.G. Bowen, past Chief of the CSIRO Division of Radiophysics, who had a related interest in weather patterns. Bowen had developed a method for the Filter analysis of rainfall series, and he allowed Vines to use his system to investigate further the original Victorian precipitation figures (together with the corresponding figures from State bushfire data). Thus, with Bowen’s Filter system, it was possible to produce wave-trains in the time domain for various rainfall series from different Australian cities and towns. It was in this way that the results to the year 2000 were obtained, as reported in this review.
By now, Vines had also investigated various South African rainfall data provided by Dr P.D. Dyson and his co-workers, who had reported highly significant results indicating the existence of quasi-periodic rainfall patterns based on 16-20, 10-12 and 6-7 year cycles – as well as other changes of shorter term. This was of interest to Vines since his Australian analyses of these extra South African data provided much the same results, which were also in good accord with his overall impressions regarding rainfall patterns in Australia to the year 2000.

In a recent publication on Australian rainfall patterns and the Southern Oscillation, Vines (2008) produced further evidence for “cyclic” variations in precipitation over much of eastern Australia, with periods of 18-19 years (long term), 10-12 years (medium term) and 6-7 years (short term). Two of these periods were identified in an earlier paper (with R.G. Currie: 1996) as due to the 18.6 year Luni-solar (Mn) cycle and the Sunspot cycle (Sc) of nominal period 10-12 years – and by using Maximum Entropy Spectral Analysis on a total of 308 Australian rainfall records spread throughout the continent, Currie was able to show that the (Mn) cycle was statistically significant at a confidence level of 99.9%. The Sunspot cycle (Sc) was less significant, but Currie had already proved it to be of much greater importance in North America from his extensive studies of more than 3,200 rainfall records in the USA. As well, Vines found later that the short-term (6-7 year) cycle in Australia was also very important (and with a corresponding high level of significance) by using standard spectral analysis on the available data he had studied previously.

Noble and Vines had collaborated previously (Noble and Vines 1993, Vines et al. 2004 ) in an effort to determine whether their suggested rainfall cycles could be related to any apparent “biological cycles” – as postulated for a number of plant and animal species in Australia (see later). In addition, by analysing Australian rainfall records from 1856 (when the collection of data for the city of Melbourne began), Noble and Vines were also encouraged to examine the nature of the two great droughts, now of historical note for that city (and for other areas in eastern Australia where early rainfall records are also available). As well, they were now much better able to explain the advent of major drought-seasons in Australia (often with accompanying bushfires) and to show how the recent long, and most devastating dry spell in Victoria ever recorded – when yearly rainfall in Melbourne was continually below average from 1997 to the end of 2009 – was essentially an extended repeat of what happened one hundred years ago, during the other very serious Australian drought which ran from 1895 to 1902.

This review concentrates on results from three papers of special interest in the present context – Currie and Vines (1996) and Parts 1 and 2 by Vines and Noble, both of the latter having been written in the 21st Century (see Note 1). They deal with research on wave-trains, as derived from data for the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), and also from rainfall figures provided by the Bureau of Meteorology for cities such as Melbourne, and for numerous towns or districts in eastern Australia. All these wave-trains (as produced from Bowen’s Filter system) show distinct similarities – although there are significant differences which require explanation. It is important to study the actual Figures in the three papers, in order to compare the final results from these past studies (especially those from Part 2). The following summary carefully analyses such findings in terms of the “cycles” involved.

Note 1:  Their study of rainfall patterns could, in fact, be regarded as Part 1 of Vines’ subsequent (2008) paper – which has therefore become Part 2 – see References

The Long-term (18.6 year) Cycle

As an example, results for the SOI and the city of Melbourne are discussed in terms of their 18.6 year (Mn) wave-trains both of which, in the 19th century, show minima at much the same times, i.e. very close to the dates 1861.7 and 1880.3 – 18.6 years apart. These are the dates of epochs, when the gravitational (tidal) effects of the sun and moon upon the earth are at a maximum (as listed by Currie 1984).

At the beginning of the 20th Century a series of “reversals” took place, when the rainfall wave-train curves for Melbourne and those for the SOI suffered (separate) 180 degree phase changes. Indeed, the minima for both curves were now advanced and were close to the mid-epoch years 1908.2, 1926.8, 1945.4, 1964.0, 1982.6 and 2001.2. These were times of very severe drought, all of which led to the correspondingly bad fire-years that were experienced over wide areas – these being especially disastrous in the southern eucalypt forests from 1926 onwards, eventually leading to the worst-ever Victorian bushfires in the summer of 2009.

Again, at the end of the 20th Century, the SOI curves suffered another “reversal”, although the comparable wave-train curves for Melbourne’s rainfall did not, until much later. In fact, the minimum in the (Mn) wave-train for Melbourne was delayed – the “reversal” only being observed just before the epoch year of 2010.5, after a very dry spell including major droughts in 2002/3, 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Conversely, maxima of the long-term (Mn) wave-train curves were now seen close to epochs with dates 1917.5, 1936.1, 1954.7, 1973.3, 1991.7 and 2010.5 – when pronounced rainfalls were apparent in the semi-arid country zones of central New South Wales, and more northern areas. These very wet years then determined the nature of extreme fires in the inland plains during 1917-8, the early to mid 1930s and particularly during the mid 1950s (in 1953, 1954 and 1955): and yet again in all three years 1973, 1974 and 1975 (i.e. near the related epoch years of 1954.7 and 1973.3 – see details in Part 2).

A recent publication by the Bureau of Meteorology, “State of the Climate” (2010), also indicates that it was wet once more in the early 1990s (particularly in Queensland and the Northern Territory) and rains continued there sporadically while the drought in Melbourne and the south was intensified. However, at the same time, amplitudes of the pronounced (Mn) wave-trains in eastern Australia had increased progressively from the mid-1930s well up to the present day (see Currie and Vines: 1996, page 1259 – where the famous very wet years near epoch 1973.3 are also especially mentioned). These years in the mid-1970s were, indeed, famous because the surprising floods then were almost as bad as our widespread Australian floods at the present time – evident now in year 2010 and extending into Victoria in 2011.

Yet, the return of these even worse floods now is merely an extension of the insidious (Mn) rainfall pattern up to the next epoch year of 2010.5. This explanation is confirmed by the latest Rainfall Decile Maps for 2010 (which appeared in January 2011) where it is clearly shown that the uniquely strong (Mn) cycle, of period 18.6 years, has become so extreme that abundant rain is evident over nearly all of eastern Australia and the Northern Territory. Indeed, the amplitude of the cycle is of such strength that, inevitably, Victoria is fully included within its reach as well. Furthermore, as might be expected, the Bureau of Meteorology has also reported recently that concomitant sea-surface temperatures over nearby parts of the western Pacific Ocean are higher now than in any previously known La Niña episodes!

The Short-term (6-7 Year) Cycle

This cycle shows similar wave-train minima – 6.5 years apart for both the SOI and rainfall readings. The overall results obtained from analyses of rainfall data for Melbourne are essentially the same throughout Victoria as a whole (except in the eastern coastal regions of Gippsland): and the same is true for many other rainfall stations within eastern Australia (see Part 2). Indeed, most minima for the 6-7 year cycle in eastern Australia during the 20th century are:
1919   1932    1944/5  1959   1972   1985   1997   2009
1913   1926   1938/9    1952  1965   1978   1991   2003

The results are shown in staggered form (indicating alternate minima) because the evident droughts, occurring approximately every 13 years from 1913 up to 1978 (and beyond), coincide with exactly the same dates of bad fire years that Vines was warned about when starting work on fire research in 1964. The intermediate droughts of years from 1919 to 1972 also led to bad fires: but perhaps the worst fire-years took place during very hot summers. Of course, the less intense run of fires was not always mild and, from 1972 onwards, the continuing droughts in 1997 and 2003 further culminated in the 2009 fire season – the worst ever recorded in Victoria!

The Medium-term (10-11 Year) Cycle

The medium-term (Sc) rainfall cycle was shown to be of less significance than the long-term and short-term cycles. As already mentioned, minima of the medium-term cycle are usually evident a few years before Sunspot Maximum, as referring to the actual Sunspot Cycle (Sc).

Approximate drought minima since 1910 to the end of the century were therefore seen in:
1915, 1925/6, 1936, 1947, 1957, 1967, 1978, 1988 and 1999.

Although not as important as the other two cycles, the Sunspot Cycle does have some significance and it certainly reinforced the 1926 drought; and especially in producing the dry year of 1967 immediately after the well-known very severe drought of 1965.

In Part 2 it was mentioned that results for Darwin, as described in Part 1, were incorrect because of a missing data point. The wave-trains for Darwin have been revised and again show more or less identical times for the “reversals” observed – in other words they still exhibit similar times for the “reversals” to those originally mentioned in Part 1. As is very much to be expected, it is now evident that the new curves derived from the true rainfall data for Darwin also show essentially the same behaviour as those obtained from analysis of data for the SOI. However, the results for Darwin in Part 1 (suggesting extremely low precipitation about year 1978) are, in fact, spurious – and arise entirely from the missing data point.

In this connection, it must be mentioned that Bowen’s Filter system provides an additional fourth curve which reveals the moving-average for any rainfall data analysed over a given period of time – so displaying all obvious very long-term trends in precipitation during that interval. Since the beginning of the 21st Century, the trend for rainfall in Darwin (and for other areas to the north of the continent) has shown a rapid rise, whilst that for Melbourne (and for rainfall in many other southern areas) has substantially decreased (see Note 2). Vines (2008) called for further Australian records to be analysed in the years 2012 or 2013, in order to ensure that the extent of all likely changes in future might be properly evaluated. This matter has been complicated by findings from a recent report in Nature (Haighet al. 2010), where a surprising variation in solar irradience between the years 2004 and 2007 is described, which seems to have produced related variations of ozone concentrations in the upper atmosphere. The article is controversial but, if further substantiated, could possibly have implications for the present work as reported in past papers.

Finally, it is interesting to speculate about the total variance contribution which Bowen’s Filter system can also reveal – i.e. the sum of all four Filter outputs. Vines (1985) tentatively suggested a figure of 40-50% for total variance with respect to rainfall-series in Northern Europe: and similar rough estimates can be obtained from many of the Power Spectra illustrated in previous papers. Spectral Analysis of rainfall data from other parts of the world often show significant peaks in the range 4.5-5 years, about 3.5 years and 2-2.5 years: and it is well known that such results are found in Australia too (the latter relating to the quasi-biennial oscillation). Indeed, they constitute those extra parts of Australian rainfall (inclusive also of random elements) which account for 50% or more of the entire rainfall output. However, these are not found in the filter-analyses described here, since the program specifically excludes high-frequency components with periods of less than about 6 years.

Note 2:  This observation provides further evidence from recent Mathematical Ciculation Models for easren Australia, which attempt to simulate variability in climate with respect to latitude, as related to greenhouse emissions.

Bushfire Cycles and Rainfall Patterns

The connections between drought and bushfires have already been described in the previous sections, in terms of their “cyclic” relationships. In addition, some of the ecological consequences of drought and flood have also been discussed in Part 1 (see Vines et al. 2004), but further interesting connections between rainfall patterns and the incidence of bushfires in Australian forests, woodlands and grasslands are apparent (Vines 1974, 1977, 2008, Noble and Vines 1993, Vines et al. 2004). This is understandable because fires in dominant forests occur mainly during summer after lengthy droughts when litter-beds are dry and flammable as, for example, in Canada and Australia (Armstrong and Vines 1973). On the other hand Australian grass-fires, especially in the semi-arid zones, are mostly experienced when rains have produced massive herbage fuel-loads prior to the summer season, and these have subsequently wilted and senesced (Noble 1991, Noble and Grice 2002).

It is also evident that relationships between precipitation patterns and drought can reasonably be described in terms of the wave-outputs derived by Filter-analysis. The apparent connections with similar analyses of Southern Oscillation Indices are again of particular interest – although the more general influence of El Niño upon weather in many parts of Australia is well known.Indeed, the management of water resources in Australia – for example, increased irrigation controls mooted for the Murray-Darling Basin – would be made easier if we knew more about weather patterns and could predict future El Niño and La Niña events. Of course the Murray has, at last, been flooded again in the year 2010, together with the increase in rainfall throughout eastern Australia and Victoria as a whole: while many parts of the Darling had already experienced the expected change some few months before.

Biotic Responses to El Niño and La Niña Events

The significance of La Niña events in promoting the periodic production of abundant grass fuels in rangelands, especially short-lived perennial species such as speargrass (Austrostipa variabilis), has been referred to earlier. Subsequent episodic fire, combined with post-fire browsing of regenerating shrubs by once-widespread mesomarsupials including the burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur) during subsequent El Niño seasons, probably played a significant role in regulating “woody weed” populations (Noble et al. 2007.)

The nature of the antecedent rainfall regime is highly influential in mediating the dynamics of many animal communities throughout the semi-arid zone, especially birds that “… ignore the calendar and await the rains before they start their breeding season” (Lamond 1949, p. 57).

Vines et al. (2004) referred to research describing how many migratory and nomadic bird species such as the budgerigar (Melopsitticus undulatus) and the banded stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus) are able to exploit irregular falls of rain and subsequent flushes of food in various parts of arid Australia. Recent widespread flooding in both the Lake Eyre and Murray-Darling Basins during 2010 triggered major reproductive activity by many species, especially waterfowl, in hitherto drought-stressed wetlands like the Macquarie Marshes in central New South Wales.

Population irruptions or plagues of both vertebrate and invertebrate pests may also follow La Niña events. In Part 1 (Vines et al. 2004) Noble described how drought-breaking rains could be a primary cause of mouse plagues based on earlier research by CSIRO (Singleton and Redhead 1989). This theme was further expanded thus: “The 1984 mouse-plague followed the 1982-3 drought and subsequent drought-breaking rainfall in the spring of 1983. Confirmation of this hypothesis may follow should spring-rains occur in 2003/4, to be succeeded by yet another mouse-plague”. That prediction was subsequently authenticated with plagues reported from NSW and northern Victoria in 2004. Both were rapidly brought under control by extensive use of poisons. Outbreaks were also recorded last winter across Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria following bumper wheat harvests, especially in South Australia (ABC News 5-7-10). Similarly, a major irruption of the long-haired or plague rat (Rattus villosissimus) occurred across the Mitchell Grasslands of western Queensland early in 2010 before the rains, ostensibly the heaviest for 30 or 40 years (Tony Grice, pers. comm.),following a major wet season across northern Australia during the 2009/10 summer.

Subsequent plagues of grasshoppers including the Australian plague locust (Choitoicetes terminifera), the spur-throated locust (Austracis guttulosa) and the migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), also occurred during 2004 in western NSW and Victoria; but such swarms occur more often, and thus may be regarded as not so “unusual” (Vines et al. 2004). However, at the time of writing this communication (spring 2010), it is already apparent that recent drought-breaking rains across much of eastern Australia have resulted in widespread hatchings of locusts, especially in south-western Queensland and north-western New South Wales where nymph bands or ‘swarms’ were forming 1.8-3 metres off the ground in late October (Sydney Morning Herald 28-10-10, p. 4; see also SMH 8-11-10, p. 1). In the absence of effective control measures based on aerial spraying, such swarms, once they become widely dispersed, could pose a significant threat to agricultural production across much of the Murray-Darling Basin, including parts of northern and western Victoria – although the present widespread floods have largely reduced the risk in affected areas.

While not aiming to provide a comprehensive overview, this short communication has attempted to summarize some aspects of Australia’s notoriously variable climate, especially in relation to rainfall behaviour and its effects upon both human and other inhabitants.


Armstrong, J and Vines, RG (1973).  Possible Periodicities in Weather Patterns and Canadian Forest-fire Seasons. Forest Fire Research Institute, Ottawa, Canadian Forest Service Information Report FF-X-39.

Currie, RG (1984).  Evidence for 18.6 year lunar-nodal drought in western North America during the past millennium. Journal of Geophysical Research  89, 1295-1308.

Currie, RG and Vines, RG (1996).  Evidence for Lunar-Solar Mn and Solar Cycle Sc signals in Australia rainfall data. International Journal of Climatology  16, 1243-1265.

Haigh, JD, Winning, AR, Toumi, R and Harder, JW (2010).  Declining solar activity linked to recent warming. Nature (Lond.) 467, 696-699.

Lamond, HG (1949).  An Aviary on the Plains. Angus and Robertson: Sydney.

Noble, JC(1986).  Prescribed burning in mallee rangelands and the potential role for aerial ignition. Australian Rangeland Journal  8, 118-130.

Noble, JC (1991).  Behaviour of a very fast grassland fire on the Riverine Plain of southeastern Australia. International Journal of Wildland Fire  1, 189-196.

Noble, JC and Grice, AC (2002).  Fire regimes in semi-arid and tropical pastoral lands: managing biological diversity and ecosystem function. In Flammable Australia:Fire Regimes and the Biodiversity of a Continent. (Eds RA Bradstock, JE Williams and AM Gill) pp. 373-400. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Noble, J.C.and Vines, R.G. (1993).  Fire studies in mallee (Eucalyptus spp.) communities of western New South Wales: grass fuel dynamics and associated weather patterns. The Rangeland Journal  15, 270-297.

Noble, JC, Hik, DS and Sinclair, ARE (2007).  Landscape ecology of the burrowing bettong: fire and marsupial biocontrol of shrubs in semi-arid Australia. The Rangeland Journal  29, 107-119.

Singleton, GR and Redhead, T (1989).  House mouse plagues.  In Mediterranean Landscapes in Australia: Mallee Landscapes and Their Management. (Eds JC Noble and RA Bradstock) pp. 418-433. CSIRO Australia, Melbourne.

Vines, RG (1974).  Weather Patterns and Bush-Fire Cycles in Southern Australia. Technical Paper No. 2, CSIRO Division of Chemical Technology, Melbourne.

Vines, RG (1977).  Possible relationships between rainfall, crop yields and the Sunspot cycle. Journal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science  43, 3-13.

Vines, RG (1985).  European rainfall patterns. Journal of Climatology  5, 607-616.

Vines, RG (2008).  Australian rainfall patterns and the southern oscillation. 2. A regional perspective in relation to Luni-solar (Mn) and Solar-cycle (Sc) signals. The Rangeland Journal  30, 349-359.

Vines, RG, Noble, JC and Marsden, SG (2004).  Australian rainfall patterns and the southern oscillation. 1. A continental perspective. Pacific Conservation Biology  10, 28-48.

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John A Taylor, ARS President and Director, Rangelands Australia/Professor of Rangeland Management at The University of Queensland, Gatton  QLD  4343.

This meeting was held in Billings Montana in the second week of February.  Montana is the fourth largest state in the USA, its agricultural industries are worth about $3 billion annually, and about 70% of it is rangeland.  It has a relatively low human population density (<16/sq km) and the largest grizzly bear population (I don’t believe there’s a direct correlation here… well I hope not!).  It was also damn cold at that time of year!  We had around 10-15cms of snow, a few windy days, and daily temperatures ranged from highs of -5° to -12°C to lows of -7° to -25°C.  The day I left Billings was the first day the temperature rose above freezing, and even then it was only 4°C!

Over 1500 people attended the meeting from at least 8 countries.  Of these, around 25% were students and 12% were producers/ranchers.


There were over 30 Technical sessions and Symposia, and over 130 posters.  Abstracts of these are available on the SRM website at:  Oral presentation sessions included a well attended Producers Forum, and addressed some long-standing issues and new/emerging issues.  Long-standing issues/sessions included:

  • Range Ecology
  • Grazing Ecology/Management
  • Vegetation Management and Restoration
  • Invasive Species/Weed Management
  • Riparian Systems
  • Fire Ecology and Management
  • Wildlife Habitat and Management
  • Ecological Sites and Thresholds
  • Managing Rangelands for Ecosystem Services
  • Inventory, Monitoring & Assessment.

For me, ‘fresh’ and unusual sessions included:

  • Agency Accomplishments – Making a Difference on the Ground
  • Communicating Effectively with Livestock Producers
  • New Paradigms for Collaborative Research and Management
  • Foraging for Rangeland Information in an Unfamiliar Virtual World
  •  Wolves on the Landscape.

Compared to the 2010 SRM meeting, there was little on Climate change, Carbon sequestration, and Human/social dimensions.

I’ll outline a few of the unusual sessions of the 2011 meeting, and share some of the insights I gained from other sessions in this group.

Agency Accomplishments

This session was focused on demonstrating the success of agency partnerships (eg. agencies such as ARS, BLM, NRCS, USFS, USGS) with ranchers, researchers and others, and promoting opportunities for further collaboration.  I presume that the catalyst for this session was a perception that they haven’t been very successful, but the case studies presented clearly contradicted that view.

Communicating Effectively with Livestock Producers

The catalyst for this half-day session was the ‘disconnect between grazing management and research’.  Presentations covered high intensity short grazing systems, managing for resilience to better deal with disturbance, and the change from a high-tech grain operation to a low input sustainable grazing system.

New paradigms for Collaborative Research

This full-day session focused on ways to foster and strengthen collaborative efforts to address the big scientific and management challenges of today and tomorrow.  It was acknowledged that these were typically complex, large scale issues which: crossed geographic and other boundaries, required an interdisciplinary approach, and involved government, agencies and private landowners.  Having said that, it was emphasized that agencies don’t collaborate, people collaborate.  Excellent presentations were given on the challenges to effective collaboration, important conditions for effective collaboration, and the personal qualities to look for in a potential collaborator.

A key driver/’stick’ for greater collaboration in the US will be the USDA’s new integrated paradigm for research, education and extension, and the ‘carrot’ – the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s annual ‘research’ budget of $700 million.  The Program Manager for the UDSA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture explained that this initiative comes with a new business model and a focus on national ‘challenge areas’ rather than disciplines, and includes mandated shifts towards more integrated and applied research compared to basic research.  Indeed, this will see no less than 40% of the annual budget spent on applied research, and no less than 30% spent on integrated research (ie. integrated research, education and extension projects).  It is anticipated that some of these grants will be big (eg. up to $9m p.a. over 5-10 years).

The USDA has acknowledged that these projects will be more difficult, labour intensive and administratively complex, but the agency believes it will be worth these hassles and expects a greater return on their investments through measurable outcomes, novel integrated ideas, scientific advances, more relevant training and educational outcomes, institutional changes and public policy innovations.  To achieve this, they want trans-disciplinary research, not just multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary research.  They believe that this will help them achieve new pathways to discovery, build the research teams of the future, and re-engineer the research enterprise.

It seems inevitable that this model will become popular here.  Indeed, some could argue that we are already seeing elements of it here in some R&D Corporations and in National Programs like ‘Caring for our Country’.  It will be interesting to see if this sort of thinking flows through to Australia’s National Strategic Rural R&D Investment Plan.

Foraging for Rangeland Information in an Unfamiliar Virtual World

In the era of ‘information overload’ and the explosion of  information of ‘dubious value’, this half-day session addressed the challenge of finding the most relevant and reliable scientific information.  It covered search engines, internet technologies and web resources, and provided an update on two initiatives – Global Rangelands Online Knowledge System and the ‘eXtension’ portal.

A Range Science Information System (RSIS), developed by the Universities of Idaho and Montana, will help people identify the ‘venerable’ resources.  This system takes the curated reading lists of leading US range specialists, and has domain experts annotate the lists with comments on the strengths and value of each of the papers listed.

Among the technologies, the ‘cool’ things were a Soil Web application for smart phones that enabled the user to see a detailed description of the soils at their location, interactive clickable maps and exploration of landscapes over time with Google Earth, and use of YouTube videos for teaching.

The Global Rangelands Initiative will bring together some of these technologies to provide a global portal for rangeland resources, and will be the subject of a larger article in the next RMN.

Wolves on the Landscape

The Grey Wolf was re-introduced into parks and reserves in Idaho and Montana in the mid 90’s, and there is now a population of around 850 in Idaho alone.  They have expanded onto grazing lands (like the grizzly bear), and livestock predation by wolves has increased sharply since 2003.  They are also having a direct impact on wildlife numbers, and wider and more subtle ecological and socio-economic impacts.  In one part of Idaho alone, over 350 head of sheep and cattle were predated by wolves in 2009, but this number is a gross underestimate as only 1 in 10 predations are typically detected.  The wolves are also influencing where cattle, deer and elk graze and calve, and have been linked to significant reductions in income for hunting-related businesses and State coffers, and loss of jobs in Montana.  To expand, elk are now grazing more on crops/farmland and are taking up to one third of crop production, and ranch management costs (e.g. fencing) have risen rapidly.  Hunting for elk and deer has been big business in Montana (i.e. $2m spent in the State per day; with the ‘ripple effect’ of hunting making a $1 billion annual contribution to the Montana economy).  However, with the lack of game hunters are going elsewhere, and 7-8 outfitters have gone out of business.  Hikers, skiers and people living in outer residential areas are increasingly being confronted by wolves, and people are changing their lifestyle and recreational pursuits accordingly.  To me, this is a classic case of an apparently simple intervention, done for good reasons, which is now having major economic, environmental and social consequences in a region.  Not surprisingly, there was a little tension in this session.

Student focus

There was a strong focus on the next generation of ranchers, extension officers and researchers, with a special Youth Forum, awards for a Plant Identification contest and a Range Management exam held at the meeting, and awards for Student posters and presentations.  In one of the team problem-solving competitions students were directed to identify international initiatives of relevance to US issues, and to draw out the lessons for US range management paradigms.  Among the 13 posters in this session were two incorporating Australian experience in: a) water management and b) management of feral horses.

Awards and accolades

Dr Joel Brown was honored with the award of ‘Fellow of the Society of Range Management’.  This award recognizes exceptional service to the SRM and in advancing the science and art of range-related resource management. Joel is a former member of CSIRO, who now works for NRCS in Las Cruces NM.  Readers may recall that Joel provided an international perspective in his summation of the ARS Bourke Conference.

The 64th SRM meeting was a well-planned and well run meeting, with a good program, the venues in close proximity (thankfully), and plenty of opportunities for networking.  In fact, the weather facilitated congregation rather than dispersal of people.  Congratulations to the organizers.

Looking ahead

With President Obama due to make a major budget statement in the following week the bars and restaurants were awash with rumors of Federal budget cuts to most agencies which could flow down to the State level.  No doubt the details will emerge over time.

The next SRM annual meeting will be held in Spokane Washington from 29th January to 3rd February 2012.  They have a lot more trees and I’m advised that it won’t be as cold.  The theme will be ‘Lessons from the Past: Strategies for the Future’, which should be very interesting.

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The next Biennial Conference of the Society will be held in Kununurra, Western Australia from the 23-27 September 2012.

The conference will bring together managers, users and researchers of rangelands together for discussion of ‘hot topics’ and current rangeland issues.  The conference will feature the latest research and development and the synthesis and application of knowledge.

The theme for the conference is ‘celebrating diversity: people, places, purpose.’  The proposed topics for discussion include:

  • Strategic land and water use planning in northern Australia
  • Balancing pastoral, tourism, mining and conservation uses in the rangelands
  • Indigenous land use and management
  • Latest techniques in grazing, biodiversity, fire and carbon management
  • New science for rangeland management in a multiple use framework
  • Case studies in land restoration and land use change.

Stayed tuned for more information about the conference in future newsletters and on the Society’s website ( in upcoming months.Further information about the conference will also be available from Paul Novelly, Chair of the Organising Committee by emailing

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Electra Kalaugher – Hamilton  NZ

Peter See – Newman  WA

Gholamreza Sanjari – Indooroopilly  QLD

Jock Duncan – Burra  SA

Paul Jones – Emerald  QLD

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Membership Rates; GST inclusive, if paid by 31st March

Australia             Overseas Airmail

Individual or Family

  •  Full (Journal + Newsletter)/Student                    $100/$80                 $125/$100
  •  Part (Newsletter only)/Student                               $60/$45                   $70/$50


  •  Full (Journal + Newsletter)                                      $135                          $165
  •  Part (Newsletter only)                                                $75                             $90


New members are encouraged to join the Society via the ARS website (

Renewing members should also pay their 2011 dues through the website, if possible.

A renewing member should logon using their Username, which is their email address as in the ARS database, and their Password, which is “new login xxxx”, xxxx being the member’s membership number.  If you do not know your membership number, please contact Graeme Tupper by email,  Some members may have changed their Password in the database, in which case, Graeme Tupper will not know it. If you encounter problems in logging on, contact Graeme Tupper.

  • Membership Fees paid after 31st March 2011incur a penalty of an additional $15.00 per subscription.
  • All rates are quoted in AUSTRALIAN currency and must be paid in AUSTRALIAN currency.
  • Membership is for the calendar year 1st January to 31st December. New member subscriptions paid after 1st October are deemed as payment for the following year.

Any member who has not paid his/her subscription by 31st March of the financial year for which it is payable shall be deemed unfinancial, and all his/her rights and privileges as a member of the Society are suspended until the subscription is paid.

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The Society has two awards to assist members with either:

  • travel expenses associated with attending a conference or some other activity, or
  • studies related to the rangelands.

Applications for each award will be considered on a yearly basis and close in November of each year.  Any member of the Society interested in either award is invited to apply.

Australian Rangeland Society Travel Grant

This grant is intended to assist eligible persons to attend a meeting, conference or congress related to the rangelands; or to assist eligible persons with travel or transport costs to investigate a topic connected with range management or to implement a program of rangeland investigation not already being undertaken.  The grant is available for overseas travel and/or travel within Australia.  It is not intended for subsistence expenses.

Australian Rangeland Society Scholarship

This scholarship is for assisting eligible members with formal study of a subject or course related to the rangelands and which will further the aims of the Australian Rangeland Society.  The scholarship is available for study assistance either overseas or within Australia.  It is not intended to defray travel expenses.

How to Apply

Members interested in either award should submit a written outline of their proposed activity.  Applications should clearly address how the intended activity (ie. travel or study) meets the aims of the Society.  Applications should be brief (less than 1000 words) and should be submitted to the Secretary, Carolyn Ireland, before 30 November.  An application form can be downloaded from the ARS website at  For further information contact Carolyn by phone on (08) 8370 9207 or email at


Applications for the Travel Grant should include details of the costs and describe how the grant is to be spent.  Applications for the Scholarship should include details of the program of study or course being undertaken and the institution under which it will be conducted, and information on how the scholarship money will be spent.  For both awards details of any other sources of funding should be given.

Applications for either award should include the names of two referees.

Finally, on completing the travel or study, recipients are required to fully acquit their award.  They are also expected to write an article on their activities suitable for publication in the Range Management Newsletter or The Rangeland Journal as appropriate, and for the Australian Rangeland Society website, within six months of completion of their travel or study.


No formal qualifications are required for either award.  There are no age restrictions and all members of the Society are eligible to apply.  Applications are encouraged from persons who do not have organisational support.

There is a restriction on both awards for overseas travel or study assistance in that the applicants must have been members of the Society for at least 12 months.  The awards can be for Australian members to travel to or study overseas or for overseas members to travel to or study in Australia.

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