Simply returning rescued wildlife back to the wild may not be in their best interest


It can be tough in the wild, especially if you’re a rescued animal or an orphan reared by human care.
Shutterstock/Andrea Geiss

Bruce Englefield, University of Sydney and Paul McGreevy, University of Sydney

There are few checks done to see how well injured or orphaned Australian animals survive after they’ve been released into the wild, we found in our new research published on Sunday.

That’s a worry for the more than 50,000 native animals that are released in Australia each year. It’s especially worrying for any orphans who’ve never experienced life in the wild.

But we found the rules governing the return of wildlife are not always in the animal’s best interest.




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Not just activists, 9 out of 10 people are concerned about animal welfare in Australian farming


Our review of Australian animal welfare legislation, regulations, codes of practice and policies found a complex regulatory system that varies between states and territories. It’s a system that is fragmented, contradictory and inconsistent.

This makes it difficult for the many thousands of volunteers and others who try to rescue and rehabilitate native animals.

Australia lags in animal welfare

We believe Australia lags behind the developed world in animal welfare and animal law. This situation evolved haphazardly and is hampered by policies that rely on assumptions based largely on neither scientific nor factual evidence.

Current policy mandates that rehabilitated rescued animals must be placed into the wild. The survival of these animals after release depends on their behavioural and physical attributes, yet some could be ill-equipped to survive.

From our reading of current regulations, any such assessment of an animal’s suitability for release is either negligible or questionable.

There is also no reliable method of identifying animals after release. Indeed, most jurisdictions forbid it and, perhaps as a direct result, there is minimal monitoring to show what happens to released animals.

Return to where?

In general, all Australian jurisdictions require rehabilitated animals to be returned to the wild. But rather than using a more general definition of rehabilitation we should think of returning the animal to its natural habitat or state.

The distinction between these two possible destinations is far from semantic. It can be argued the natural habitat (or state) of a hand-reared orphan animal, is one of captivity.

Many wildlife carers releasing an animal and seeing it disappear into the wild may equate this with success, but this may be an unfortunate convenient illusion.

The released animal may not be the happy state that carers may prefer to assume. Vague assumptions that naturalness in releasing animals to the wild is reliably associated with better well-being are largely unfounded.

But wildlife carers have no choice in the matter. They are required to consign the animals, to which they have devoted hours of care, to an uncertain fate for which they may be very poorly prepared.

And they must do so even if their knowledge, experience and pragmatism directs their thinking to more favourable alternative solutions. These include allowing some native animals to be kept in large-scale facilities such as private fenced enclosures, national parks, islands and other fenced options.

Concern for orphans in the wild

The regulations make no distinction between animals that are injured, rehabilitated and released, and those that are rescued as orphans. These are often physically unharmed but require milk substitute feeding from a bottle and nurturing by – and possible inadvertently bonding with – humans prior to release to the wild.

Adult and juvenile native animals raised in the wild usually have all their innate and learned behaviour instincts intact when they are injured and rescued.

Unless they remain in captivity for a prolonged period, or are subjected to inappropriate housing and handling, their instincts generally persist and kick-in once they have been released. They have an opportunity to survive.

In contrast, the chances for orphans to survive after release seems remote.

Orphans that needed hand-rearing generally become habituated to the smells, sounds and sights of human presence and the captive environment.

The requirement to return orphans to the wild, with no account taken of their mental state, may be difficult to defend on conservation, ethical, moral and practical grounds.

Think of the carers

The physical and mental protection of Australian injured or orphaned native wildlife should be recognised as an important animal welfare issue. The physical and mental well-being of the wildlife carers who rehabilitate them is just as important as a human welfare issue.




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In the absence of criteria that take into account the mental well-being of the animals and their carers, the current policy of releasing all hand-reared wildlife to the wild must be reviewed.

Using a One Welfare approach – that considers the the animals, the humans and the environment – would see a regulatory framework that balances the needs of rescued wildlife, wildlife carers and conservation.

The public and Australia’s extraordinary wildlife carers deserve to be confident that regulation is consistent among jurisdictions and reflective of best practice for the rescued wildlife and the environment.The Conversation

Bruce Englefield, PhD Student. Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney and Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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As the dust of the election settles, Australia’s wildlife still needs a pathway for recovery



The Darling River near Louth NSW, April 2019, in the midst of a drought compounded by upstream irrigation policies.
Jaana Dielenberg, Author provided

Rachel Morgain, Australian National University; Bradley J. Moggridge, University of Canberra; Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Australian National University; John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University; Martine Maron, The University of Queensland; Sarah Bekessy, RMIT University; Sarah Legge, Australian National University, and Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University

The environment was a key concern in the recent federal election. It was also a polarising one, with concerns raised about regional industries and livelihoods. But jobs and environment need not be locked in battle: there are pathways that secure a better future for both our environment and future generations.

It’s just over two weeks since the global announcement that extinction looms for about a million species. The warning may have been partially lost in the noise of Australia’s election campaign, but it should resonate long after the political dust settles. This scale of loss will have catastrophic consequences not only for nature, but for us too.




Read more:
‘Revolutionary change’ needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis


The good news is many of the key steps to addressing Australia’s ecological challenges are also wins for jobs, industry and social well-being. Others involve more difficult choices, but could be helped with careful strategic planning and the active involvement of all those with a stake. All require factoring in costs and benefits not only to our generation, but also to generations of the future.

Here are seven suggestions to get us started.

1. Support wildlife-friendly agriculture

More than 60% of Australia is managed for agricultural production. Agriculture is a major driver of species loss both at home and abroad. Yet we know it is possible to manage our agricultural landscapes for wildlife and productivity. Actions like restoring native vegetation, establishing shelterbelts, and creating wildlife-friendly farm dams can help maintain or even boost farms’ productivity and resilience, including in times of drought.

Many farmers are already doing this but their efforts are undermined by policy instability. Political leadership and incentives such as stewardship payments and direct carbon investments are needed to support farmers as they increasingly support the nature from which we all benefit.

2. Nature-based solutions for our cities

About 90% of Australians live in cities, and the rapid expansion of our urban areas brings serious livability challenges. Urban nature can be a key part of the solution, providing a remarkable range of health and well-being benefits.

Urban greenery keeps cities cooler, improves air quality, and even boosts economic prosperity.

Cities can be hotspots for threatened species, and are justifiable locations for investing in nature for its own sake. There is substantial opportunity to create policy and regulation that can allow investment and innovation in nature-based solutions in cities.

3. Help Indigenous Australians care for natural heritage

Indigenous people prospered for millennia in Australia by forging deep connections with land, water and sky. But these connections are ever harder to maintain in the face of two centuries of colonialism and disruption to traditional lore and custom.

Traditional ownership is now recognised for nearly half of Australia’s protected area estate. Increasing investment in Indigenous ranger programs from the current 6% of the conservation estate budget and incorporating traditional knowledge could deliver many social, environmental and economic benefits.

Long-term stability with these programs provides for healthy communities, maintains connection to country, and delivers enormous environmental benefits.

Foreshore revegetation is one process that can help species recover.
CSIRO, CC BY

4. Invest in species recovery

Many valiant efforts to help threatened species are undertaken by dedicated groups with often limited resources. They have shown that success is possible. But to prevent extinctions we need much greater investment in strategic and committed management of species, and of pervasive threats like changed fire regimes and changed water flows. Australia’s investment in biodiversity conservation is low compared with other countries, particularly in light of our high rates of species loss.

Investing in threatened species and conservation works. Involving the community in recovery actions can also create employment, skills and many other benefits, especially to rural and Indigenous communities.

5. Build strategically important safe havens and strengthen biosecurity

Much of Australia’s wildlife is threatened by introduced species – predators, herbivores, weeds and disease. Chytrid fungus, introduced through the pet trade, has devastated frog populations. New pathogens like myrtle rust, which affects many Australian plants, look set to repeat this scale of loss. Invasive predators such as cats and foxes are the single biggest threat to most of Australia’s threatened mammals, some of which survive only on islands and inside fenced areas.

Strong biosecurity, of the kind that has long helped Australian agriculture, is vital to prevent introductions of new invasive species. New havens are needed in strategic locations, underpinned by national coordination and partnerships, to help protect species like the central rock rat that are still not safe from predators.

Invasive species harm Australia’s native wildlife.
Shutterstock

6. Support integrated environmental assessments

Regional development, mining and urban expansion are part of our economy. They can also harm species and ecosystems.

Improving resourcing for decisions about environmental approvals can ensure they are underpinned by sound science. Independent oversight and review could help ensure environmental approvals are credible, transparent, and consistent with Australia’s conservation commitments. Strengthening and expanding protections for critical habitat could ensure our most vulnerable wildlife is protected.

Development can be designed to avoid wholesale devastation or “death by 1,000 cuts”. But ensuring that crucial species habitats are protected will require careful planning based on strong environmental and social science. Applying existing provisions for integrated environmental assessments, fully resourcing these processes, and ensuring all affected people – including local and Indigenous communities – are involved from the start, can help plan a future that works for industries, communities and natural and cultural heritage.

7. Minimise and adapt to climate change, including by investing in biodiversity

Climate change threatens our communities, economy, health, and wildlife – it is changing our country as we know it. It has already contributed to the extinction of species such as the Bramble Cay Melomys. Impacts will certainly worsen, but by how much depends on whether we take strong action.

Many communities, businesses and governments are aiming to tackle climate change. Strategies such as greening cities to reduce heat islands can help native species too. Investing in biodiversity-rich carbon storage (such as old growth forests) can boost regional economies. Options include restoring native ecosystems, boosting soil carbon, managing fire, and transitioning native forests from timber harvesting to being managed for carbon, while sourcing wood products from plantations.




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Our economy, communities, cultures, health and livelihoods depend on environmental infrastructure – clean water, clean air, good soils, native vegetation and animals. As with Indigenous sense of place and identities they are entangled with the creatures that share our unique and diverse continent. We steal from future generations every time a species is lost.

For our sake and that of our descendants, we cannot afford to disregard this essential connection. Investing in natural infrastructure, just as we invest in our built infrastructure, is the sort of transformational change needed to ensure our communities and economy continue to flourish.The Conversation

Rachel Morgain, Knowledge Broker, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Bradley J. Moggridge, Indigenous Water Research, University of Canberra; Brendan Wintle, Professor Conservation Ecology, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University; Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Sarah Bekessy, Professor, RMIT University; Sarah Legge, Professor, Australian National University, and Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From sharks in seagrass to manatees in mangroves, we’ve found large marine species in some surprising places


Michael Sievers, Griffith University; Rod Connolly, Griffith University, and Tom Rayner, Griffith University

When we think of mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and saltmarshes, we don’t immediately think of shark habitats. But the first global review of links between large marine animals (megafauna) and coastal wetlands is challenging this view – and how we might respond to the biodiversity crisis.

Mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and saltmarshes support rich biodiversity, underpin the livelihoods of more than a billion people worldwide, store carbon, and protect us from extreme weather events.

Mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and saltmarshes are the three key vegetated habitats found in coastal wetlands.
Tom Rayner/www.shutterstock.com

We know marine megafauna also use these habitats to live, feed and breed. Green turtles and manatees, for instance, are known to eat seagrass, and dolphins hunt in mangroves.

But new associations are also being discovered. The bonnethead shark – a close relative of hammerheads – was recently found to eat and digest seagrass.




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The problem is that we’re losing these important places. And until now, we’ve underestimated how important they are for large, charismatic and ecologically important marine animals.

Counting wetland megafauna

Today our review of the connections between marine megafauna and vegetated coastal wetlands was published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. As it turns out, far more megafauna species use coastal wetlands than we thought.


Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Before our review, the number of marine megafauna species known to use these habitats was 110, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which assesses species’ conservation status.

We identified another 64 species from 340 published studies, bringing the total number to 174 species. This means 13% of all marine megafauna use vegetated coastal wetlands.

We predominantly documented these habitat associations by electronic tracking, direct observation or from analysing stomach contents or chemical tracers in animal tissues.

Less commonly, acoustic recordings and animal-borne video studies – strapping a camera on the back of turtle, for instance – were used.

Deepening our understanding of how species use their habitats

In recent weeks, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a damming assessment of humanity’s stewardship of the natural world. Up to 1 million species were reported to be facing extinction within decades.




Read more:
‘Revolutionary change’ needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis


We need to dramatically change how we relate to and engage with species and their habitats, if we are to fix this problem.

But the question is, how can we make global change real, relevant and feasible at local and regional scales? And, as the international community rises to this challenge, what information is needed to support such efforts?

Our study suggests a critical first step to addressing the global biodiversity crisis is to deepen our understanding of links between species and their habitats. We also need to elevate how the evidence is used to both assess extinction risk and prioritise, plan and deliver conservation actions.

A juvenile lemon shark swimming in mangroves. More than half of the world’s coastal wetlands have been lost.
Shutterstock

More than half of all coastal wetlands have been lost globally and the rest are at risk from a range of serious threats, including deforestation. There is an urgent need to limit and reverse the loss of coastal wetlands to stop biodiversity loss, protect communities and tackle climate change.

Targeting places where high rates of mangrove loss intersect with threatened megafauna could lead to more efficient and effective conservation outcomes. Southeast Asia, Mexico and northern Brazil are such places.

In Southeast Asia, for example, the world’s largest mangrove forest is losing trees at a rate far exceeding global averages, largely due to aquaculture and agriculture. This is threatening the critically endangered green sawfish, which relies on these mangrove habitats.

Habitats should always be considered in assessments

The IUCN Red List assesses the extinction risk for almost 100,000 species. It provides comprehensive information on global conservation statuses, combining information on population sizes, trends and threats.

The wealth of data collected during species’ assessments, including habitat associations of threatened species, is one of the Red List’s most valuable features.

But our study shows many known associations are yet to be included. And for more than half of the assessments for marine megafauna, habitat change is yet to be listed as a threat.

‘Proportion species’ refers to all species within key taxonomic groups that are associated with coastal wetlands.
Author supplied

This is concerning because assessments that overlook habitat associations or lack sufficient detail, may not allow conservation resources be directed at the most effective recovery measures.

But it’s also important to note habitat associations have varying strengths and degrees of supporting evidence. For example, a population of animals shown to consume substantial amounts of seagrass is clearly a stronger ecological link than an individual simply being observed above seagrass.

The data on habitat associations must be strengthened in species assessments.
Shutterstock

In our paper, we propose a simple framework to address these issues, by clarifying habitat associations in conservation assessments. Ideally, these assessments would include the following:

  • list all habitat types the species is known to associate with
  • indicate the type of association (occurrence, grazing, foraging or breeding)
  • cite the source of supporting evidence
  • provide an estimate of the level of habitat dependence.

Data for decision making

Habitat loss is accelerating a global extinction crisis, but the importance of coastal habitats to marine megafauna has been significantly undervalued in assessments of extinction risk.

We need to strive to protect remaining coastal wetland habitats, not only for their ecological role, but also for their economic, social and cultural values to humans. We can do this by strengthening how we use existing scientific data on habitat associations in species assessments and conservation planning.The Conversation

Michael Sievers, Research Fellow, Global Wetlands Project, Australia Rivers Institute, Griffith University; Rod Connolly, Professor in Marine Science, Griffith University, and Tom Rayner, Science Communicator, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We must rip up our environmental laws to address the extinction crisis



The Christmas Island pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi) became extinct in 2009.
Lindy Lumsden

Don Driscoll, Deakin University; Desley Whisson, Deakin University; Euan Ritchie, Deakin University; Mike Weston, Deakin University; Raylene Cooke, Deakin University, and Tim Doherty, Deakin University

Humans are causing the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, with an estimated one million species at risk of extinction.

Addressing this crisis requires transformative change, including more effective environmental law and implementation.

Improved legislation is one of five main levers for realising change identified in the recent United Nation’s global biodiversity report and the key lesson arising from the Senate’s interim report into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis.




Read more:
‘Revolutionary change’ needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis


The Senate’s interim report, based on 420 submissions and five hearings, shows Australia is a world leader in causing species extinctions, in part because Australia’s systems for conserving our natural heritage are grossly inadequate.

To allow the continued erosion of this continent’s spectacular and remarkable array of globally unique plants and animals is a travesty of the highest order.

Inadequate protections

One of the problems is species may decline from common to extinct quite rapidly – faster than the time it takes species to be listed as threatened under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

The Christmas Island forest skink was formally listed as a threatened species only four months before the last individual died in captivity, but 15 years after the decline was first reported.

Extinction of the forest skink, Bramble Cay melomys and Christmas Island pipistrelle between 2009 and 2014 may have been averted if the risk was formally recognised in a more timely manner and effective conservation actions, such as captive breeding programs, were implemented.

Currently, if a species is not listed, it is not a “matter of national environmental significance” and federal agency staff generally have no legal basis for acting to protect it.

The Christmas Island forest skink (left), Bramble Cay melomys (centre) and Christmas Island pipistrelle (right) all became extinct in 2009-14.
Left: Hal Cogger; centre: Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection; right: Lindy Lumsden.

The black-throated finch has been listed as threatened on the EPBC Act for 14 years and during this time 600,000 ha of potential finch habitat has been destroyed. Worse still, five large coal mines, including the Carmichael Coal Mine, have been given approval (pending environmental conditions being met in Queensland) to clear more than 29,000 ha of black-throated finch habitat in one of its final strongholds, the Galilee Basin.

Coal mining will drive these finches into the critically endangered threat category, pushing them perilously close to extinction, and all with federal government approval.




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The controversial Toondah Harbour development in Brisbane is another example of how ministerial discretion can allow disastrous environmental outcomes. The project plans to build 3,600 apartments on wetlands that provide habitat for migratory waterbirds, including the critically endangered eastern curlew.

Despite being described as “clearly unacceptable” by the federal environment department and knocking it back twice, the minister allowed a third submission to proceed for further assessment.

It was reported this decision was made in the context of legal threats and donations from the developer in question. If true, this context would make it very difficult to make impartial decisions that protect biodiversity, as environmental law intends.

Increasing ministerial discretion was a key result of 2007 amendments to the EPBC act, which meant recovery plans were no longer required for threatened species.

The amendment allowed the minister to develop “conservation advices” instead of recovery plans. This amendment downgraded protections for threatened species because a minister can legally make decisions that are inconsistent with conservation advice, but not a recovery plan.




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New environmental legislation

Based on these examples and many others that demonstrate the failings of current laws, the interim report concludes that we should rip up the EPBC act and develop stronger and more effective environmental legislation.

This includes establishing an independent Environmental Protection Agency to ensure enforcement of environmental laws, and, in a forward-looking addition by the Greens senators, an independent National Environmental Commission to monitor effectiveness of environmental legislation and propose improvements.

Australia needs a well-resourced, independent umpire for the environment, with powers to investigate environmental concerns and scrutinise government policy, akin to New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. While Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner is an excellent champion for the environment, this role provides no ability to question government actions regarding environmental protection and nature conservation.




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Australia’s species need an independent champion


Although replacing the EPBC act with new legislation may seem like a radical step to some (but not all), the interim Senate report, and the global UN report, have independently concluded major reform is essential. We are not in a moment of time when tweaking the current system will do the trick.

Changing Australia’s environmental legislation is a relatively minor update compared with the fundamental social and economic changes recommended by the UN report.

Such changes are already recommended by scientific societies like the Ecological Society of Australia, non-government organisations like Birdlife Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation, and are demanded by a growing section of society. New, fit-for-purpose legislation must be enforceable, apolitical and responsive.




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Opinion polls show that the level of environmental concern is higher in Australia than in other countries , while 29% of ABC Vote Compass respondents ranked the environment as the most important issue, up from 9% in 2016.

This groundswell of environmental concern has spawned mass protest movements like Extinction Rebellion. Young Australians also have shown their concern. In March 2019, thousands of school students took part in 50 rallies across the country to protest against “the destruction of our future”.

Decisions about what and how much we buy, what we eat, how much we travel and by what means, and family size, all contribute to our environmental footprints, and are the fundamental instigators of the biodiversity crisis.

However, we must also look to our political leaders to support effective change. The simplest and most powerful action you can take to reverse the extinction crisis is to vote for a party with policies best aligned with credible scientific advice on how we can get out of this mess.The Conversation

Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University; Desley Whisson, Lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation Biology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University; Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University; Mike Weston, Associate Professor, Deakin University; Raylene Cooke, Associate Professor, Deakin University, and Tim Doherty, Alfred Deakin Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Invasive species are Australia’s number-one extinction threat



Barking Owls are one of Australia’s 1,770 threatened or endangered species.
Navin/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Andy Sheppard, CSIRO and Linda Broadhurst, CSIRO

This week many people across the world stopped and stared as extreme headlines announced that one eighth of the world’s species – more than a million – are threatened with extinction.

According to the UN report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which brought this situation to public attention, this startling number is a consequence of five direct causes: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species.




Read more:
‘Revolutionary change’ needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis


It’s the last, invasive species, that threatens Australian animals and plants more than any other single factor.

Australia’s number one threat

Australia has an estimated 600,000 species of flora and fauna. Of these, about 100 are known to have gone extinct in the last 200 years. Currently, more than 1,770 are listed as threatened or endangered.

While the IPBES report ranks invasive alien species as the fifth most significant cause of global decline, in Australia it is a very different story.

Australia has the highest rate of vertebrate mammal extinction in the world, and invasive species are our number one threat.

Cats and foxes have driven 22 native mammals to extinction across central Australia and a new wave of decline – largely from cats – is taking place across northern Australia. Research has estimated 270 more threatened and endangered vertebrates are being affected by invasive species.

Introduced vertebrates have also driven several bird species on Norfolk Island extinct.

The effects of invasive species are getting worse

Although Australia’s stringent biosecurity measures have dramatically slowed the number of new invasive species arriving, those already here have continued to spread and their cumulative effect is growing.

Recent research highlights that 1,257 of Australia’s threatened and endangered species are directly affected by 207 invasive plants, 57 animals and three pathogens.

These affect our unique biodiversity, as well as the clean water and oxygen we breath – not to mention our cultural values.

When it comes to biodiversity, Australia is globally quite distinct. More than 70% of our species (69% of mammals, 46% of birds and 93% of reptiles) are found nowhere else on earth. A loss to Australia is therefore a loss to the world.

Some of these are ancient species like the Wollemi Pine, may have inhabited Australia for up to 200 million years, well before the dinosaurs.




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Wollemi pines are dinosaur trees


But invasive species are found in almost every part of Australia, from our rainforests, to our deserts, our farms, to our cities, our national parks and our rivers.

The cost to Australia

The cost of invasive species in Australia continue to grow with every new assessment.

The most recent estimates found the cost of controlling invasive species and economic losses to farmers in 2011-12 was A$13.6 billion. However this doesn’t include harm to biodiversity and the essential role native species play in our ecosystems, which – based on the conclusions of the IPBES report – is likely to cost at least as much, and probably far more.

Rabbits, goats and camels prevent native desert plant community regeneration; rabbits alone impacting over 100 threatened species. Rye grass on its own costs cereal farmers A$93M a year.

Aquaculture diseases have affected oysters and cost the prawn industry $43M.

From island to savannah

Globally, invasive species have a disproportionately higher effect on offshore islands – and in Australia we have more than 8,000 of these. One of the most notable cases is the case of the yellow crazy ants, which killed 15,000,000 red land crabs on Christmas Island.




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Nor are our deserts immune. Most native vertebrate extinctions caused by cats have occurred in our dry inland deserts and savannas, while exotic buffel and gamba grass are creating permanent transformation through changing fire regimes.

Australia’s forests, particularly rainforests, are also under siege on a number of fronts. The battle continues to contain Miconia weed in Australia – the same weed responsible for taking over 70% of Tahiti’s native forests. Chytrid fungus, thought to be present in Australia since 1970, has caused the extinction of at least four frog species and dramatic decline of at least ten others in our sensitive rainforest ecosystems.

Myrtle rust is pushing already threatened native Australian Myrtaceae closer to extinction, notably Gossia gonoclada, and Rhodamnia angustifolia and changing species composition of rainforest understories, and Richmond birdwing butterfly numbers are under threat from an invasive flower known as the Dutchman’s pipe.

Australia’s rivers and lakes are also under increasing domination from invasive species. Some 90% of fish biomass in the Murray Darling Basin are European carp, and tilapia are invading many far north Queensland river systems pushing out native species .

Invasive alien species are not only a serious threat to biodiversity and the economy, but also to human health. The Aedes aegypti mosquito found in parts of Queensland is capable of spreading infectious disease such as dengue, zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.

And it’s not just Queensland that is under threat from diseases spread by invasive mosquitoes, with many researchers and authorities planning for when, not if, the disease carrying Aedes albopictus establishes itself in cooler and southern parts of Australia.




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What solutions do we have?

Despite this grim inventory, it’s not all bad news. Australia actually has a long history of effectively managing invasive species.

Targeting viruses as options for controlling rabbits, carp and tilapia; we have successfully suppressed rabbit populations by 70% in this way for 50 years.

Weeds too are successful targets for weed biological control, with over a 65% success rate controlling more than 25 targets.

The IPBES report calls for “transformative action”. Here too Australia is at the forefront, looking into the potential of gene-technologies to suppress pet hates such as cane toads.




Read more:
We’ve cracked the cane toad genome, and that could help put the brakes on its invasion


Past and current invasive species programs have been supported by governments and industry. This has provided the type of investment we need for long-term solutions and effective policies.

Australia is better placed now, with effective biosecurity policies and strong biosecurity investment, than many countries. We will continue the battle against invasive species to stem biodiversity and ecosystem loss.The Conversation

Andy Sheppard, Research Director CSIRO Health & Biosecurity, CSIRO and Linda Broadhurst, Director, Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fixing Australia’s extinction crisis means thinking bigger than individual species



The endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland is an ecological community that have shrunk to 6% of their original area.
Pete the Poet/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Stuart Collard, University of Adelaide; Patrick O’Connor, and Thomas Prowse, University of Adelaide

The world’s largest assessment of biodiversity recently shared the alarming news that 1 million species are under threat of extinction.

Australia’s extinction record is poor compared to the rest of the world, and our investment into conservation doesn’t do enough to restrain the growing crisis.

Currently, 511 animal species, 1,356 plant species and 82 distinct “ecological communities” – naturally occurring groups of native plants, animals and other organisms – are listed as nationally threatened in Australia. And these numbers are increasing.




Read more:
‘Revolutionary change’ needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis


While much conservation effort focuses on protecting individual species, we are failing to protect and restore their habitats.

Our ongoing research into environmental investment programs shows that current levels of investment do not even come close to matching what’s actually needed to downgrade threatened ecosystems.

One of the programs we evaluated was the 20 Million Trees Program, a part of the Australian government’s National Landcare Program. For example, we analysed investment targeted at the critically endangered Peppermint Box Grassy Woodlands of South Australia.

Fewer than three square kilometres of woodland were planted. That’s less than 1% of what was needed to move the conservation status of these woodlands by one category, from critically endangered to endangered.

Many Australian species live in endangered woodlands.
Shutterstock

Restoring communities

Conservation efforts are often focused on species – easily understood parts of our complex and interrelated ecosystems.

In recent years, some effective measures have been put in place to conserve species that are teetering on the edge of extinction. We have, for instance, seen the appointment of a Threatened Species Commissioner and the release of a Threatened Species Strategy and Prospectus.

But we don’t often hear about the 82 threatened ecological communities in which many of these species live.

Temperate eucalypt woodlands once covered vast areas of southern Australia before being cleared to make way for agriculture. The Peppermint Box Grassy Woodlands of South Australia, for instance, have been reduced to 2% of their former glory through land clearing and other forms of degradation.

These woodlands provide critical habitat for many plant and animal species, among them declining woodland birds such as the Diamond Firetail and Jacky Winter.

The habitat of Diamond Firetails is under threat.
Andreas Ruhz/Shutterstock

Focusing on the conservation and restoration of our threatened communities (rather than individual species) would create a better understanding of how much effort and investment is required to curb the extinction crisis and improve the outcomes of biodiversity restoration.




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A problem of scale

Large-scale restoration investment programs are often touted in politics, particularly when these have a national focus. And many recent restoration programs, such as the Environment Restoration Fund, National Landcare Program, Green Army and 20 Million Trees, are important and worthwhile.

But in the majority of cases the effort is inadequate to achieve the stated conservation objectives.

Underlying threats to the environment often remain – such as vegetation clearing, genetic isolation and competition from introduced pests and weeds – and biodiversity continues to decline.




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The 20 Million Trees program, for example, is the most recent national initiative aimed at restoring native vegetation systems, attracting A$70 million in investment between 2014 and 2020.

To place the scale of this investment into context, we analysed the impact of the 20 Million Trees program on the critically endangered Peppermint Box Grassy Woodlands of South Australia.

The restoration priority for this community should be to enhance the condition of existing remnant areas. But improving its conservation status would also require more effort to increase the area of land the woodland covers.

Even if the full six-year budget for 20 Million Trees (A$70 million) was used to replant only this type of woodland, it would still fall short of upgrading its conservation status to endangered. We estimate that moving the community up a category would require a minimum investment of A$150 million, excluding land value.

And Peppermint Box Grassy Woodland is just one of the threatened ecological communities listed for conservation. There are 81 others.




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Although any effort to improve the status of threatened ecosystems (and species) is important, this example shows how current levels of effort and investment are grossly inadequate to have any substantial impact on threatened communities and the species that live there.

Our estimates relate to how restoration activities affect land cover. But ensuring they are also of adequate quality would need more long-term investment.

Boosting investment

Investment in biodiversity conservation in Australia is falling while the extinction crisis is worsening.

Protecting and restoring ecological communities will preserve our unique native biodiversity and develop an environment that sustains food production and remains resilient to climate change. But failure to invest now will lead to extinctions and the collapse of ecosystems.

To make genuine inroads and have an enduring impact on Australian threatened species and ecosystems, restoration programs must be clear on the amount they expect to contribute to conservation and restoration objectives, along with co-benefits like carbon sequestration.

The programs must be at least an order of magnitude larger and be structured to produce measurable outcomes.The Conversation

Stuart Collard, Research Fellow, The Centre for Global Food and Resources, University of Adelaide; Patrick O’Connor, Associate Professor, and Thomas Prowse, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.