It’s a bit strange to publish an article that we want to prove otherwise – we’ve identified the 63 Australian birds, mammals, fish, frogs and reptiles most likely to go extinct over the next 20 years.
Australia’s extinction record is abysmal, and we thought the best way to end it was to identify the species most at risk, as they require the most urgent action.
Prior to this article, we worked with conservation biologists and managers across the country to publish research on the species closest to extinction within each major group of animals. Birds and mammals came first, followed by the fish, reptiles and frogs.
From these, we have identified species that require immediate work. Our goal is to try to ensure that our extinction predictions do not come true. But it won’t be easy.
Animals at Risk
The hardest to save will be five reptiles, four birds, four frogs, two mammals and one fish, for which there are no confirmed recent records of their continued existence.
Four are almost certainly extinct: the Christmas Island shrew, Kangaroo River Macquarie Perch, northern gastric brood frog and Victorian Prairie Earless Dragon. For example, there have only been four records of the Christmas Island shrew since its discovery in the 1930s, with the most recent being in the 1980s.
While some of the 16 species that were feared to be extinct may still persist as small undiscovered populations, none have been found, despite searches. But even for species like the buff-breasted button quail, those who seek still remain hopeful. It is certainly too early to abandon them completely.
Read more: Is the buff-breasted button quail still alive? After years of research, this century-old bird mystery has yet to be solved
We know that the other 47 highly endangered animals we observed still survive, and we should be able to save them. These are composed of 21 fish, 12 birds, six mammals, four frogs and four reptiles.
For starters, if all of their ranges were combined, they would fit in an area of just over 4,000 square kilometers – a circle just 74 km in diameter.
Almost half of this area is already managed for conservation with less than a quarter of the species living on private land without conservation management.
More than a third of highly threatened taxa are fish, particularly a group called galaxiidae, many of which are now confined to tiny streams in the headwaters of mountain rivers in southeastern Australia.
Genetic research suggests that the different species of galaxiid fish have been isolated for over a million years. Most have been sunken by the trout introduced in just over a century. They were only saved from extinction by waterfall barriers that trout cannot jump.
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The other highly endangered animals are scattered throughout the country or on offshore islands. Their ranges never overlap – even King Island’s three highly endangered birds – a spinybill, a chickadee and the orange-bellied parrot – use different habitats.
Unfortunately, it is still legal to clean up the habitat of the King Island brownbill, even though there are hardly any left.
It’s not all bad news
Fortunately, work has begun to save some of the species on our list. To begin with, 17 are among the 100 species prioritized by the new Threatened Species Strategy15 of which, like the Kroombit Tinkerfrog and the Bellinger River Turtle, have recently secured new funding to support their conservation.
There are also actions on the ground. After the devastating fires of 2019-2020, large masses of sediment washed into streams as rain saturated bare and scorched hillsides, smothering freshwater fish habitats.
In response, Snobs Creek Hatchery in Victoria is devoting resources to captive breeding some of the most affected native fish species. And in New South Wales, the fences have been built to prevent wild horses from eroding the river banks.
Existing programs have also had success, with more orange bellied parrots back from migration than ever. This species is one of seven we have identified in our article – three birds, two frogs and two turtles – whose breeding in captivity contributes to conservation.
Ten species – six fish, a bird, a frog, a turtle and Gilbert’s potoroo – are also benefiting from relocation to new habitats in safer locations.
Read more: We name Australia’s 26 frogs most at risk of extinction by 2040 – and how to save them
For example, seven western ground parrots were moved from Cape Arid National Park to another site last April and are do so well others will be moved there next month.
Wet seasons since the 2019-2020 fires have also helped some species. Regent honeyeaters, for example, are having their best year since 2017. Researcher Ross Crates, who has been studying the birds for years, says 100 birds have been found, there are 17 new fledglings and good flocks of birds wild and newly released captives. seen.
In fact, in some places the weather may have been too favorable. While good flows helped some galaxiids reproduce, invasive trout also benefited. Investigations are underway to verify whether the flows were high enough to cross the trout barriers.
There is still work to do
The hatchery program is only funded for three years, and a lack of funds and trained staff means that attempts to ensure populations are safe from trout have been spotty. And you can’t afford to be unequal when species are at the limit.
Some laws also need to be changed. In New South Wales, for example, freshwater fish are not included in the Biodiversity Conservation Act are therefore not eligible for funding from Save Our Species or otherwise laudable framework commitment to zero extinction in national parks.
Somewhere else, clearing continues in shrub tit and brown spine habitat on King Island – none of this is necessary as there is little native vegetation left on the island.
The swift parrot’s habitat in Tasmania continues to be exploited. The Key Western Swamp Turtle Reserve near Perth is surrounded by booming development.
Additionally, the story we tell here is about the fate of Australian vertebrates. Many other Australian invertebrates are likely to be equally or even more at risk – but so far they have been largely overlooked.
Nevertheless, our work shows that no more vertebrates should be lost in Australia. The new Labor government has pledged funds to recovery plans, koalas and crazy ants. Hopefully money can also be found to prevent extinctions. There is no excuse for our predictions to come true.
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