Native birds found dead, believed poisoned, on northern Victorian property

ABC Shepparton By Rhiannon Tuffield Warwick Long and Bronwen O’Shea

Authorities have discovered more than 120 dead native birds, believed to have been poisoned, on a rural property in northern Victoria.

Police and officers from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) raided a property near Violet Town after receiving multiple reports from the community.

They found the carcasses of 76 wedge-tailed eagles, a number of kites, hawks, falcons and other species including a kookaburra, a cockatoo and a number of kangaroo joeys.

Some of the dead animals were found in a freezer, while the skeletons of dozens of birds were found in a paddock.

Test results determined the species had been poisoned, leading DELWP to broaden its investigation.

The discovery follows multiple reports and investigations into bird deaths in the region in the past five years, and is the second mass killing of wedge-tailed eagles in Victoria in two years.

“We’ve had reports going back at least 12 months and indicate there are varying stages of decay, and all that is left is skeletons and some feathers,” DELWP spokesman Greg Chant said.

“Other birds were fresh, indicating this activity unfortunately has been going on undetected for a while.”

Community warned of deaths for years

Members of the nearby Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group wrote to the Environment Minister and the DELWP on August 1, voicing their frustration that more hadn’t been done to stop wedge-tailed eagle deaths in their region.

The letter said that for many years there had been knowledge about the illegal killing of wildlife and warnings to authorities about who was suspected.

“When our group or concerned landholders have contacted your department, we have been told that there is nothing they can do without clear evidence showing that the landowners allegedly responsible for these deliberate killings have committed the crime,” the group wrote.

“As farmers and progressive landholders, we do not think that this response is adequate, as it perpetuates a culture where it is possible for a minority of landowners to continue poisoning these wonderful animals because the chances of being caught or prosecuted are so small.”


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Native birds found dead, believed poisoned, on northern Victorian property

ABC Shepparton By Rhiannon Tuffield Warwick Long and Bronwen O’Shea

Updated yesterday at 4:46pm

Close up of a wedge-tailed eagle skull in a green paddock

PHOTO: The discovery was described by one official as “horrific”. (Supplied: DELWP)RELATED STORY: Farm worker jailed for 14 days and fined for poisoning 406 wedge-tailed eagles

Authorities have discovered more than 120 dead native birds, believed to have been poisoned, on a rural property in northern Victoria.

WARNING: This article contains images that people may find disturbing.

Key points:

  • More than 100 animals, mostly wedge-tailed eagles, found in varying stages of decay during raid in regional Victoria
  • Police also found dead joeys, a kookaburra and a cockatoo in a freezer
  • Residents want harsher penalties for people found to have killed native animals for financial gain

Police and officers from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) raided a property near Violet Town after receiving multiple reports from the community.

They found the carcasses of 76 wedge-tailed eagles, a number of kites, hawks, falcons and other species including a kookaburra, a cockatoo and a number of kangaroo joeys.

Some of the dead animals were found in a freezer, while the skeletons of dozens of birds were found in a paddock.

Test results determined the species had been poisoned, leading DELWP to broaden its investigation.

The discovery follows multiple reports and investigations into bird deaths in the region in the past five years, and is the second mass killing of wedge-tailed eagles in Victoria in two years.

“We’ve had reports going back at least 12 months and indicate there are varying stages of decay, and all that is left is skeletons and some feathers,” DELWP spokesman Greg Chant said.

“Other birds were fresh, indicating this activity unfortunately has been going on undetected for a while.”

The skeleton of a native bird in a green, leafy paddock

PHOTO: Some of the skeletal remains found on a property at Violet Town. (Supplied: DELWP)

Community warned of deaths for years

Members of the nearby Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group wrote to the Environment Minister and the DELWP on August 1, voicing their frustration that more hadn’t been done to stop wedge-tailed eagle deaths in their region.

The letter said that for many years there had been knowledge about the illegal killing of wildlife and warnings to authorities about who was suspected.

“When our group or concerned landholders have contacted your department, we have been told that there is nothing they can do without clear evidence showing that the landowners allegedly responsible for these deliberate killings have committed the crime,” the group wrote.

“As farmers and progressive landholders, we do not think that this response is adequate, as it perpetuates a culture where it is possible for a minority of landowners to continue poisoning these wonderful animals because the chances of being caught or prosecuted are so small.”

Person with blue gloves loads feathered remains of eagle into a grey plastic bag

PHOTO: Investigators collected the remains of dozens of wedge-tailed eagles. (Supplied: DELWP)

The group’s chairman, Doug Robinson, said he was happy to see something being done, but that authorities needed to listen more to communities that feared native animals were being killed.

“I think it has just left people feeling powerless, that they suspected and reported it and not seen action take place [for years] as a result,” he said.

“In that sense we are delighted that the department has responded so effectively in this case now.”

He said the group wanted formal inspections and warnings for those suspected of breaking the law, as well as harsher penalties, including bans on farmers growing crops or livestock, if they’ve been found to have killed native animals for financial gain.

Discovery horrifies neighbours

Violet Town resident Libby Woodward said she was “horrified” by the discovery.

“I hope the people responsible are caught and punished, and I hope that that will be a lesson to other farmers not to do it,” she said.

“Mostly I just want them to stop, because it’s just a terrible blight on our lives.”

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Native birds found dead, believed poisoned, on northern Victorian property

ABC Shepparton By Rhiannon Tuffield Warwick Long and Bronwen O’Shea

Updated yesterday at 4:46pm

Close up of a wedge-tailed eagle skull in a green paddock

PHOTO: The discovery was described by one official as “horrific”. (Supplied: DELWP)

Authorities have discovered more than 120 dead native birds, believed to have been poisoned, on a rural property in northern Victoria. Police and officers from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) raided a property near Violet Town after receiving multiple reports from the community.

They found the carcasses of 76 wedge-tailed eagles, a number of kites, hawks, falcons and other species including a kookaburra, a cockatoo and a number of kangaroo joeys. Some of the dead animals were found in a freezer, while the skeletons of dozens of birds were found in a paddock. Test results determined the species had been poisoned, leading DELWP to broaden its investigation.

The discovery follows multiple reports and investigations into bird deaths in the region in the past five years, and is the second mass killing of wedge-tailed eagles in Victoria in two years.

“We’ve had reports going back at least 12 months and indicate there are varying stages of decay, and all that is left is skeletons and some feathers,” DELWP spokesman Greg Chant said. “Other birds were fresh, indicating this activity unfortunately has been going on undetected for a while.”

The skeleton of a native bird in a green, leafy paddock

PHOTO: Some of the skeletal remains found on a property at Violet Town. (Supplied: DELWP)

Community warned of deaths for years

Members of the nearby Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group wrote to the Environment Minister and the DELWP on August 1, voicing their frustration that more hadn’t been done to stop wedge-tailed eagle deaths in their region. The letter said that for many years there had been knowledge about the illegal killing of wildlife and warnings to authorities about who was suspected.

“When our group or concerned landholders have contacted your department, we have been told that there is nothing they can do without clear evidence showing that the landowners allegedly responsible for these deliberate killings have committed the crime,” the group wrote. “As farmers and progressive landholders, we do not think that this response is adequate, as it perpetuates a culture where it is possible for a minority of landowners to continue poisoning these wonderful animals because the chances of being caught or prosecuted are so small.”

Person with blue gloves loads feathered remains of eagle into a grey plastic bag

PHOTO: Investigators collected the remains of dozens of wedge-tailed eagles. (Supplied: DELWP)

The group’s chairman, Doug Robinson, said he was happy to see something being done, but that authorities needed to listen more to communities that feared native animals were being killed.

“I think it has just left people feeling powerless, that they suspected and reported it and not seen action take place [for years] as a result,” he said.

“In that sense we are delighted that the department has responded so effectively in this case now.”

He said the group wanted formal inspections and warnings for those suspected of breaking the law, as well as harsher penalties, including bans on farmers growing crops or livestock, if they’ve been found to have killed native animals for financial gain.

Discovery horrifies neighbours

Violet Town resident Libby Woodward said she was “horrified” by the discovery.

“I hope the people responsible are caught and punished, and I hope that that will be a lesson to other farmers not to do it,” she said. “Mostly I just want them to stop, because it’s just a terrible blight on our lives.”

Wildlife officer wearing black gloves takes photos of a plastic bag held up by second wildlife officer.

PHOTO: The dead birds were discovered during raid on a property near Violet Town. (Supplied: DELWP)

Ms Woodward said farmers needed to be better educated about the role eagles played in the ecosystem.

“The eagles do more good than they do harm, because they kill rabbits and hares and young foxes and feral cats,” she said. “The fact that we have less of them is just a terrible thing because we have more problems with rabbits and hares. It’s causing us to have erosion and all sorts of problems because they’re missing, and farmers need to be educated that they’re not the problem that they think they are.”

Eagle deaths harm environment

The native wedge-tailed eagle — a legally protected species — is on the endangered species list due to a negative stigma that has seen it butchered by farmers in the past. All native birds are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975 and deliberately killing them carries a penalty of up to $39,652 and/or six to 24 months’ imprisonment.

Mr Chant said there was a common misconception that the eagles swooped down and carried livestock away, adding that he was concerned the killings were impacting the bird population.

“I’d like to think this [is the only case], because if it’s more widespread than we think, well the impact it’s having on wedge-tail populations in Victoria might not be sustainable for much longer if we keep seeing these mass killings.”

He said he believed that in the absence of the dominant eagle, other birds were attracted to the area which was causing more birds to die.

“It’s horrific. Our officers have taken this job on because they have a love and a deep appreciation for nature, and to be walking across paddocks and finding the iconic eagle species dead and curled up in paddocks, it’s quite difficult.

“We’re very keen to determine why these eagles died or how they died, and we are very determined to find out who is responsible for this activity.”

No charges have been laid and the department is still investigating.


ARTIFICIAL TREES CAPTURE NEW BIRD SPECIES ON CANDID CAMERA

The Australian National University, Canberra

An experiment from The Australian National University (ANU) using artificial trees has attracted birds and other wildlife never before seen in a damaged Canberra landscape – catching them on camera at the same time.   

The experiment is a collaboration with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service and uses a series of power poles and translocated dead trees erected in landscape under regeneration.

The ANU researchers saw a four-fold increase in bird species on five recently erected power-poles. There was also a seven-fold increase in bird species across five re-purposed dead trees.

In a separate project on the same site, the birds were captured on motion-sensitive cameras hidden in the artificial structures, with the footage providing a public database for species activity.

Associate Professor Philip Gibbons from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society wanted to test whether artificial structures could be used to provide a home for birds and other wildlife when mature trees were cut down for residential and other development.

He says the artificial trees work better than he “could have ever hoped for”.

“Even if we plant new trees elsewhere to replace those we knock down they take a century to mature and develop suitable habitats for birds and wildlife,” Associate Professor Gibbons said.

“Globally, mature trees are in decline and we’re going to see an absence of mature trees in some landscapes by the end of this century. So these artificial structures are really key to filling that gap to preserve the ecosystem.

“And from what we can see they work. Not only did they attract birds to the landscape, but they also provided a home for ladybirds, wood spiders and microbats.”

Associate Professor Gibbons said the artificial trees weren’t a “cure-all”.

“The structures can only do so much and we found 37 per cent of bird species that live in mature forests did not venture into the artificial structures,” he said.

“We need to preserve as many mature trees as we can, continue to plant more new seedlings for the future and then raise these artificial structures if we are to mitigate this deficit of mature trees for future generations.

“At the end of the day, you can’t beat real trees. But they can take years to grow. So this is a great option in areas needing regeneration or while you wait for trees to mature.”    

The study area, a 50-hectare site at Barrer Hill in the Molonglo Valley, has been set aside for regeneration to offset mature trees and other native vegetation cleared for new suburbs.

The final piece of the restoration project was a “living art sculpture” created from a 400-year old yellow box tree cut down in a nearby suburb and re-erected in the offset site.

Dr Mitchell Whitelaw from the ANU School of Art worked with American architect Joyce Hwang from University of Buffalo and Darren Le Roux of ACT Parks to install motion-sensitive cameras into the tree-sculpture.

They’ve captured images of more than 23 bird and animal species using the structures including a peregrine falcon, nankeen kestrel and tawny frogmouth.

More common species such as crimson and eastern rosellas, starlings, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, galahs, red wattlebirds, willie wagtails, red-rumped parrots, kookaburras, bats and marsupials are also using the structures.  

See Dr Whitelaw’s database of pictures and videos on the Molongolo Life website.

People can watch and contribute to the content by tagging and identifying species.

“As well as some delightful and beautiful images, we’ve caught footage of a currawong raiding a starling’s nest. This is the sort of action in nature people just don’t get to see every day,” Dr Whitelaw said.

“The database is a real-time record of the restoration of an ecosystem. We want people to feel connected to these public places and the wildlife in them.”

White-tailed eagles return to southern Britain after 240 years

Patrick Barkham The Guardian

A white-tailed eagle, Britain’s largest bird of prey.
 A white-tailed eagle, Britain’s largest bird of prey. Photograph: Mike Crutch/Forestry England/PA

White-tailed eagles are gracing the skies of southern Britain for the first time in 240 years after six eaglets were released on the Isle of Wight.

The huge birds, which are fitted with satellite tags, are expected to disperse along the south coast of England in a scheme backed by the environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, who welcomed the return of the “majestic” species.

It is hoped Britain’s largest bird of prey will eventually breed in the wild and mirror the success of the reintroduction scheme in Scotland.

The birds, which grow to have a wingspan of up to 8ft (2.4 metres) and are also known as sea eagles, were persecuted to extinction across Britain by the start of the 20th century. It took several decades after chicks from Norway were returned to Scotland in the 1970s before the birds bred and expanded their range. There are now 130 breeding pairs across Scotland, and the six young Isle of Wight birds were taken from Scotland under special licence.

“This release is a great opportunity for the Isle of Wight to expand its ecotourism market, creating wealth and jobs in the local economy,” Villiers said.

The Scottish reintroduction, which centred on the Isle of Mull, was found to have bolstered the local economy by up to £5m a year.

In the five-year reintroduction programme led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, up to 60 white-tailed eagles will eventually be released. At first they will be offered food at feeding stations to encourage them to settle along the south coast.

Roy Dennis, founder of the foundation, said: “I have spent much of my life working on the reintroduction of these amazing birds and so watching them take to the skies of the Isle of Wight has been a truly special moment.

“Establishing a population of white-tailed eagles in the south of England will link and support emerging populations of these birds in the Netherlands, France and Ireland, with the aim of restoring the species to the southern half of Europe.”

Tony Juniper, the chair of Natural England, which is licensing the trial, said: “The return of these spectacular birds to England is a real landmark for conservation. I very much hope that it will also provide a practical demonstration of the fact that we can actually reverse the historic decline of our depleted natural environment.

“It will also show how helping the recovery of our wildlife can be done at the same time as bringing benefits for people, in this case by offering a boost to the local economy through wildlife tourism.”

Moves to reintroduce white-tailed eagles into East Anglia 10 years ago were defeated by opposition from local farmers, who feared the birds would terrorise young pigs and take lambs.

The Isle of Wight was chosen as the location to reintroduce the species because its quieter coasts, cliffs and woodlands provide potential nesting and resting sites, while the Solent and surrounding estuaries offer plenty of food, with fish such as grey mullet and water birds forming the bulk of the eagles’ diet.

The dinosaur bird

Karen Hunt

Image may contain: grass, outdoor and nature

Oh North Queensland, how good it was to see you again.

A short break to refresh the soul, only a week so not many chances to scope out the birdlife.

But Mission Beach delivered – my first sighting of a Southern Cassowary in the wild.

I’d only seen them in captivity before and its always a bit of a gamble to see them doing their stuff at any particular time, on any particular day – even in Mission Beach where sightings are quite common.

But my nearest and dearest suggested a cruise around some back streets and there one was, crossing a road in the distance, the silhouette immediately recognisable from the signs on every street corner.

A tiny window to grab a photo or three and he/she was gone, up a curving driveway and out of sight, but not, I think, out of mind for a very long time.

They’re pretty impressive birds, not as tall as an emu, but bulky, with a I’m-a-gentle-giant-until-you-push-me-too-far type attitude. Their blue necks and red wattles are brighter than I imagined and this one had a curiously divided casque – not sure what that was all about – but those huge toes are impressive even from a distance. This is a Jurassic Park kind of bird; you can see the dinosaur genes in every considered step.

And tough you’d think. But not tough enough to avoid the dogs which take young ones every year. Or cars cruising the roads cutting through their forest homes and which they have to traverse, at their own peril.

Allen Sheather who works with conservation organisation Rainforest Rescue, says three adult cassowaries have been killed in the last three months in the Mission Beach area, another in the Daintree, possibly by people like us who were driving around hoping to spot one. With no accurate data to judge populations, its sadly ironic that the rarity of a cassowary invites its most likely killers.

Ironic too that the tropics which give rise to the rain forest, can also rip it apart, threatening the birds with starvation. Cyclones rip the forest apart, denuding trees of the fruit the cassowaries need to survive.

But somehow, the dinosaur bird hangs on.

Searches in the wake of Cyclone Trevor in the Iron Range rain forest of Cape York, far north of Mission Beach, have found traces of birds, footprints and scats of at least 4 individual birds. And Allen Sheather says the efforts of many conservation groups in protecting both birds and habitat has meant that overall, cassowary numbers remain reasonably stable.

Probably.

I hope the one I saw survives and breeds and lives on in the eternal twilight of the Australian rain forest. I hope one day I can take my Canadian-born grandchildren to Mission Beach and see a dinosaur bird strolling by, haughtily ignoring the gawkers. I hope those worthy souls who battle to save the cassowaries and the rain forest don’t lose hope.

Because without support from government and individuals, without the effort and will to preserve the national estate in all its glorious forms, without people leashing their dogs and taking care when they drive, hope is all we’ve got.

Aotearoa’s most endangered birds receive three new man-made nesting sites

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one

Workers on a mission to protect the Tara iti
Workers on a mission to protect the Tara iti Source: 1 NEWS

New Zealand’s most endangered bird, the fairy tern, will receive a boost to their breeding season following the creation of three new man-made shell nesting sites in Waipu, north of Auckland.

It was reported earlier this year that around 40 of the native birds, otherwise known as tara it, were initially thought to be left. But an additional chick hatched in late December and then another two were born on New Year’s Day.

The shell patch breeding sites is said to create safer places for the Tara iti to nest, protecting them from tidal inundation and sand blow.

These shell patches will contain 130 tonnes of locally sourced shell, transported by helicopter into the new and safer sites.

“Other than predator control, habitat enhancement is the most important action that can be taken to ensure the tara iti’s survival,” said Linda Guzik of Shorebirds Trust.

Fairy terns can’t be bred in captivity because they’re very particular about their nests. They can be found near beaches in Northland’s Waipu, Mangawhai and north Auckland’s Pakiri.

“In past we’ve had nests impacted from high winds, which means the parent birds can’t find their eggs, and king tides washing the nests away,” Tara Iti Recovery Group leader Troy Makan said in a statement. “The new sites will be placed in the rear of the dunes, providing more protection for the chicks and their parents.” 


Meet the ‘Hercules parrot’ from prehistoric New Zealand — the biggest ever discovered

Trevor H. Worthy, The Conversation

Heracles inexpectatus on the forest floor, with three small wrens foraging at its feet. Picture: Dr. Brian Choo, Flinders University.Source:Supplied

Say hello to Heracles inexpectatus, a parrot the size of a human child.

But don’t worry, you won’t meet one face-to-face.

Our new discovery lived around 20 million years ago in what is now New Zealand — adding to the islands’ rich and storied collection of remarkable bird species.

Heracles was truly a giant among birds, The Conversationreports.

It was about one metre long, stood 80-90cm tall, and weighed about 7kg. That makes it about the same size as a dodo, and far bigger than its modern-day cousin, the kākāpō. Unsurprisingly, given its heft, it was likely also flightless.

We discovered Heracles in the St Bathans Fauna, a collection of 20 million-year-old fossils from Central Otago.

Over the past 20 years, our research has discovered around 40 species from the St Bathans Fauna, including a wealth of fascinating prehistoric bird remains. These include eggshell and fragments of moa ancestors, a tiny kiwi, many ducks, a couple of pigeons, flightless rails, hawks and eagles, shorebirds, songbirds, and several small parrot species. Crocodilians, turtles, bats and even rare land mammals complete this eclectic group.

Heracles now reveals that another avian giant existed in this fauna. For the first and only time since, a giant parrot occupied the herbivore/omnivore niche on a forest floor.

emarkably, the fragments of bone that allowed us to discover this giant parrot had sat on a shelf since 2008, patiently waiting for their turn to be described. We had known that St Bathans also contains eagle fossils of similar size, so the Heracles fossils were put on the eagle pile while we waited to find some more fossils that might tell us more.

But upon pulling them out and looking more closely, it was immediately clear that these were not eagle bones, so we started trying to work out what they were. Parrots were not on our radar at first, purely because these bones were far larger than those of any known parrot. But after a while the bones told their story — they were of a parrot, and nothing else was remotely similar. Moreover, they were in some ways fairly similar to the kākāpō.

And so Heracles inexpectatus was born, the name derived from Greek mythology.

So what was a giant parrot doing in ancient New Zealand? What did it eat? Could it have had a taste for meat, as the kea still does? These mountain parrots prey on the chicks of burrowing petrels and are notorious for attacking sheep.

But in New Zealand 20 million years ago there were no sheep, and in fact no large mammals at all. Probably, like most parrots, Heracles ate plants. Its size meant no fruit was too big, no nut too tough to crack. And the botanical evidence shows that it lived in a rich and diverse subtropical forest, where cycads, palms, casuarinas and up to 60 species of laurels thrived.

All these plants would have provided a rich bounty for this large parrot. But we warrant that it likely still snacked on moa occasionally, as kea still did more recently, when they got mired in swamps.

Trevor H. Worthy is an Associate Professor and leading vertebrate palaeontologist at Flinders University. Continue the conversation | trevor.worthy@flinders.edu.au

This article originally appeared in The Conversation and is republished here with permission

Young birds dedicate specialized brain cells to learning new songs

By Chrissy Sexton Earth.com staff writer

In a groundbreaking new study, experts at Columbia University have pinpointed what happens in the brain of a young songbird as it learns a new tune. The findings demonstrate the extraordinary flexibility of the developing brain.

The auditory cortex, which is the neural region that processes sounds, is similar in both birds and mammals. Therefore, the findings may help to explain why it is so easy for children to pick up on their native language, yet adults tend to struggle to learn a language that they were not exposed to early in life. 

“The language sounds we learn as infants shape the way we hear for the rest of our lives, and the vocal sounds that songbirds hear while young may have the same effect,” said study senior author Dr. Sarah M.N. Woolley. “By mapping these birds’ auditory systems as they learn their songs, we hope to decipher the mechanisms that guide our own capacity to learn speech.”

The zebra finch is the most commonly studied songbird species. A young male zebra finch listens and imitates a song performed by his father during the first three months of life.

“When first learning to sing, the juvenile’s song is unstructured, similar to the way a human baby babbles before producing words,” said study first author Dr. Jordan Moore. “But by the time the bird nears adulthood, it reproduces the more complex aspects of its father’s song. We were interested in what is happening in the brain during this song learning period.”

The analysis was focused on neurons in the auditory cortex. While monitoring this neural activity, the researchers played recordings of songs to zebra finches and long-tailed finches. Next, they played synthetic sounds that were designed to match certain acoustic features of the birdsongs.

The experiment enabled the team to identify a neural circuit in the auditory cortex where the responses of the brain cells become specialized for the songs that the birds learn.

“After identifying this circuit, we wanted to understand its flexibility,” explained Dr. Woolley. “How does this circuit change over time as the bird learns and matures? And how do these changes integrate the bird’s biology and its experience with the song its tutor sings?”

To investigate, the researchers placed eggs from the two finch species in the nests of a third songbird species, the Bengalese finch. The team could then assess whether the young birds learned the songs of their adoptive fathers.

Among the young songbirds that were introduced to foster fathers, the auditory neurons showed specialized tuning for the acoustic features of Bengalese finch song. This confirms that the selectivity of the early birdsong is not simply shaped by the bird species, but by what the young bird learned to sing.

The study is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.