Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent

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Over the past two centuries, Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent and 19 ecosystems show signs of collapse or are on the verge of collapse, according to a damning government report.

The report on the state of the environment, published today, indicates climate change, habitat loss, invasive speciespollution and mining put Australia’s unique flora and fauna under pressure.

Since 2016, 202 animal and plant species have been listed as threatened, including the koala and the gang-gang cockatoo.

Earlier this year, the koala was declared endangered in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. (Provided)
It is estimated that each year up to 6.3 million feral cats will kill 456 million native mammals, 446 million reptiles, 272 million birds and 92 million frogs.
Habitat loss and invasive species are the two biggest threats to native mammal populations. It is estimated that each year up to 6.3 million feral cats will kill 456 million native mammals, 446 million reptiles, 272 million birds and 92 million frogs. (University of South Australia)

This represents an average increase of 8%, but the authors are concerned that “current listing processes are failing to keep up with the actual rate of biodiversity loss”.

The greatest increase in threatened listings was seen in invertebrates and frogs, the lowest in birds and reptiles.

This rate of decline was exacerbated by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020.

It is estimated that between one and three billion animals were killed or displaced as more than 10.3 million hectares caught fire.

Fires burned simultaneously in several Australian states and territories during the Black Summer Fires.
Fires burned simultaneously in several Australian states and territories during the Black Summer Fires. (Philip Frost)
Threatened fauna, left to right: Carpentarian rat and painted button quail.
Threatened fauna, from left to right: Carpentarian Rat and Painted Button Quail. (Provided)

Five mammals could go extinct over the next two decades, said the report’s lead authors, Dr Ian Cresswell, Dr Terri Janke and Professor Emma L. Johnston.

  • Central rock rat
  • Northern Jumping Mouse
  • carpenter rock rat
  • Christmas Island flying fox
  • Black-legged tree rat

“Most mammalian extinctions in Australia have been caused by predation from introduced species, particularly the wildcat and European red fox; extinction rates are particularly high in arid and semi-arid parts of Australia “, says the report.

Australian birds are also showing significant population declines, with the bird species most at risk found only on the islands or in southern Australia.

Larger gliders

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“At least” 19 ecosystems are also showing signs of collapse, with alpine environments and the Great Barrier Reef being among the most threatened.

Jodie Rummer, professor of marine biology at James Cook University, said repeated episodes of mass bleaching make it harder for marine species to rebound.

Images captured show excessive coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef's John Brewer Reef.
Images captured show excessive coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef’s John Brewer Reef. (Global Fund)
“The increased frequency and severity of these events allow species minimal time to adapt in the short term (acclimatization), recover from repeated heat stress, or adapt (change their DNA over generations) in the long term” , she said.

“This is particularly concerning for top predators like sharks which have slow generation times, which take a decade or more to reach sexual maturity, but which are so important to ecosystem health. .

“Every element of the ecosystem feels the heat.”

Dr Andrew King, senior lecturer in climate science at the University of Melbourne’s School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said the report should serve as a “wake-up call”.

“While Australia has historically been a land of extreme weather and climate variability – experiencing drought and heat, fires and floods – human-induced climate change is causing extremes more frequently and with more devastating impacts” , did he declare.

“This report should serve as a wake-up call to the damage we are causing to the world around us.

“We need to decarbonize our economy and our society as quickly as possible to try to limit the environmental losses we will incur as we continue to warm the world.”

Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek promised the environment “is back on the priority list”, ahead of the report’s release today.

“I’m not going to stick my head in the sand,” she said.

“The State of the Environment Report is a shocking document – it tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment, and a decade of government inaction and willful ignorance.

“Now is the time to read this report and take action.”

The review was carried out by a team of scientists last year, but the previous Morrison government delayed its publication until after the federal election.
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