Australian Eco Systems in Peril

WEI spent much of yesterday following up on the High Performance Plan, The Winning Edge, announced by the Australian Sports Commission. Towards the end of the day, I wrote this summary.

Since posting the summary I have been thinking about performance ecologies. During the last three years I have explored ecology ideas and their relevance to sport. I am particularly interested in island sanctuaries and Don Merton’s work. I have had a look at Coral Reef research too.

So it should come as little surprise that I started to contemplate the connections between The Winning Edge and Tim Flannery’s recent Quarterly essay, After the Future: Australia’s New Extinction Crisis.

QE31Like Phillip Adams, my breath was taken away by Tim’s opening paragraph (page 6) in The Extinction Problem part of the essay:

In late August 2009 a tiny, solitary bat fluttered about the rainforest … We don’t know precisely what happened to it. Perhaps it landed on a leaf at dawn … and was torn to pieces by invasive fire ants; perhaps it succumbed to a mounting toxic burden … Or maybe it was simply worn out with age and ceaseless activity, and died quietly in its tree hollow. But there is one important thing we do know: it was the very last Christmas Island pipistrelle on earth. With its passing an entire species winked out of existence.

The second paragraph of the section has an eerie resonance with The Winning Edge:

Two decades earlier the island’s population of pipistrelles had been healthy. A few scientists watched the species’ decline with concern … they could see that without action its demise was imminent.

In the Winning the Next Race section (page 2) of The Edge:

Australia’s international sporting achievements … over the past 30 years have been impressive … But the world is changing. International competition is intensifying and improving all the time. Many other nations have now replicated our innovations, tapped into our expertise and made strategic investments, and as a result have become strong competitors in international sport. This is true of developed and developing nations alike. … Our Olympic performance peaked nearly a decade ago. Since Athens in 2004 our place in the upper echelons of medal-winning nations has drifted downwards. The London Games provided clear signs that even in sports where we have had great success, there are new and re-emerging competitive challenges.

In his conclusion (page 76), Tim observes:

But what we need to remember is that we know how to solve this problem. It is not like many complex and social issues, where key factors lie outside Australia’s control. Furthermore, the costs are not great, and the expertise requires is in place. Nothing is keeping us from success except our failure to be accountable – to ourselves and future generations.

He has a way forward:

Quantify the problem, devise a plan to deal with it based on sound science, and report on the outcomes. And keep politics out of it.

The Game Plan (page 5) for Australian sport in The Edge:

  • Invest for success
  • Plan to perform
  • The right support
  • Good governance and capability
  • Evidence-based decisions


Both ecologies require us to accept their intrinsic value. Both are fragile. Both can flourish if we are prepared to defer and cooperate. There are enormous lessons to learn in sport from the experiences and expertise of ecologists.

Supporting either or both these ecologies requires enormous faith and trust. Imagine the conversations that the Australian Sports Commission Board could have with Tim Flannery as a member!

These conversations might start with the quote from Keith Hancock that Tim uses to introduce his essay (page 1):

When it suits them, men may take control and play fine tricks and hustle Nature. Yet we may believe that Australia, quietly and imperceptibly … is experimenting on the men … She will be satisfied at long last, and when she is satisfied an Australian nation will in truth exist.

Developing Performance Contexts: Ecology Insights

A brief post to note a remarkable Science Show program on Radio National.

When humans first set foot in New Zealand almost a thousand years ago, they encountered a rich fauna of reptiles and flightless birds. These first human visitors, and visitors and settlers since brought with them rats, cats, mice, rabbits and stoats which feasted on the local fauna, or degraded the environment, driving many original species to extinction. But luckily, a few small offshore islands remain undisturbed. Now scientists are using these islands as ecological lifeboats, as a source supplying birds and reptiles back to the mainland.

If you do not have time to listen to the podcast have a look at the transcript.

I think it contains some great insights for those who are looking to develop long term, sustainable performance cultures (ecologies). I think the power of the insights is that they come from outside the literature on performance.

They include:

  • The role research and development plays in charting ecological change.
  • The good fortune in having made a strategic decision over 120 years ago to preserve island habitats.
  • The early adoption of GPS and GIS to map and deliver pest eradication schemes.
  • The use of forensic science to map the risk of invasive species and develop probabilistic models of behaviour of these species.
  • The development of biosecurity procedures to safeguard sanctuaries including training procedures for detection dogs.
  • The use of triple bottom line measures to evaluate the effectiveness of island sanctuaries. (David Towns observed that “So we’re trying to interest some theoretical economists in this kind of thing and we are rather hopeful that there will be other people also that we can drag into this kind of a debate because the value of biodiversity as an ecosystem service to people has never been worked out. A good way to calculate it has never been defined. We desperately need to have it because to make the planet inhabitable we need to show people what their biodiversity is worth to them.“)
  • New Zealand shares its expertise on eradication of pests.

The program concluded with a discussion of the development of a mainland sanctuary, Tawharanui Open Sanctuary at Tawharanui Regional Park. It is a pest-proof sanctuary protected by a fence. Tawharanui exemplifies all the lessons learned on the islands and I was immensely impressed by the intense attention to detail in the creation, management and development of a mainland sanctuary.

I left the program thinking of the enormous synergies between the ecologies of sanctuaries and the environments we seek to create to enhance performance.

Photo Credit

Moulting Gentoo Penguin Macquarie Island

And the sky opened up to breath us in

Linking, Connecting, Sharing

Each day I receive a range of links to blogs posts and web tools. A post from the ABC (18 January) alerted me to James Fowler, Jaime Settleb, and Nicholas Christakis’ work, Correlated genotypes in friendship networks. Their paper encouraged me to think about linking, connecting and sharing.

The abstract of their paper notes that:

It is well known that humans tend to associate with other humans who have similar characteristics, but it is unclear whether this tendency has consequences for the distribution of genotypes in a population. Although geneticists have shown that populations tend to stratify genetically, this process results from geographic sorting or assortative mating, and it is unknown whether genotypes may be correlated as a consequence of nonreproductive associations or other processes. Here, we study six available genotypes from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to test for genetic similarity between friends. Maps of the friendship networks show clustering of genotypes and, after we apply strict controls for population stratification, the results show that one genotype is positively correlated (homophily) and one genotype is negatively correlated (heterophily). A replication study in an independent sample from the Framingham Heart Study verifies that DRD2 exhibits significant homophily and that CYP2A6 exhibits significant heterophily. These unique results show that homophily and heterophily obtain on a genetic (indeed, an allelic) level, which has implications for the study of population genetics and social behavior. In particular, the results suggest that association tests should include friends’ genes and that theories of evolution should take into account the fact that humans might, in some sense, be metagenomic with respect to the humans around them.

On the same day I found the genotype paper I received a link from a friend to a Linked Data post. I noted too that week 3 of LAK11 is focusing on the Semantic Web, Linked Data, and Intelligent Curriculum (the syllabus is here). I am missing LAK11 as I am CCK11. Week 5 of CCK11 is discussing Groups, Networks and Collectives.

Diigo lists have become an invaluable resource for me too. I am tracking the Diigo Community Group; a Teacher-Librarian Group; a Plurking Educators’ Group;  a Web 2.0 Group: and a Web 2.0 Tools’ Group.

In the last year I have been exploring ecology metaphors of sharing and post regularly about items that resonate with me. I am becoming interested increasingly in the visualisation of networks. Thanks to James, Jaime and Nicholas I am off to read Erez Lieberman, Christoph Hauert and Martin Nowak’s paper on Evolutionary Dynamics on Graphs and to ponder the friendship possibilities of such dynamics.

I am sorry that I am not at the Recent Changes Camp in Canberra this weekend. However I will follow their wiki as a peripheral participant.

Photo Credit

FlickrVerse 2005