We name the 26 Australian frogs at greatest risk of extinction by 2040 — and how to save them


Spotted tree frog.
Michael Williams/Its A Wildlife Photography, Author provided

Graeme Gillespie, The University of Melbourne; Conrad Hoskin, James Cook University; Hayley Geyle, Charles Darwin University; Jaana Dielenberg, Charles Darwin University; Nicola Mitchell, The University of Western Australia, and Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin UniversityAustralia is home to more than 240 frog species, most of which occur nowhere else. Unfortunately, some frogs are beyond help, with four Australian species officially listed as extinct.

This includes two remarkable species of gastric-brooding frog. To reproduce, gastric-brooding frogs swallowed their fertilised eggs, and later regurgitated tiny baby frogs. Their reproduction was unique in the animal kingdom, and now they are gone.

Our new study published today, identified the 26 Australian frogs at greatest risk, the likelihood of their extinctions by 2040 and the steps needed to save them.

Tragically, we have identified an additional three frog species that are very likely to be extinct. Another four species on our list are still surviving, but not likely to make it to 2040 without help.

#1 The northern gastric-brooding frog (Rheobatrachus vitellinus) is likely already extinct, primarily due to chytrid fungus disease.
Hal Cogger

The 26 most imperilled frogs

The striking yellow-spotted tree frog (in southeast Australia), the northern tinker frog and the mountain mist frog (both in Far North Queensland) are not yet officially listed as extinct – but are very likely to be so. We estimated there is a greater than 90% chance they are already extinct.

The locations of the top 26 Australian frogs at risk of extinction. ** Species likely to be recently extinct. * Species more likely than not to become extinct by 2040 unless there is action.
Jaana Dielenberg/Threatened Species Recovery Hub

The next four most imperilled species are hanging on in the wild by their little frog fingers: the southern corroboree frog and Baw Baw frog in the Australian Alps, and the Kroombit tinker frog and armoured mist frog in Queensland’s rainforests.

The southern corroboree frog, for example, was formerly found throughout Kosciuszko National Park in the Snowy Mountains. But today, there’s only one small wild population known to exist, due largely to an introduced disease.

Without action it is more likely than not (66% chance) the southern corroboree frog will become extinct by 2040.

#6 The southern corroboree frog (Pseudophryne corroboree) is close to extinction.
David Hunter/DPIE NSW
#3 The yellow-spotted tree frog (Litoria castanea) is likely extinct. It was once common throughout the New England Tableland and Southern Tablelands region in NSW, and the ACT. It is sensitive to chytrid fungus disease and also impacted by climate change, habitat loss and invasive fish.
David Hunter/DPIE NSW

What are we up against?

Species are suffering from a range of threats. But for our most recent extinctions and those now at greatest risk, the biggest cause of declines is the amphibian chytrid fungus disease.

This introduced fungus is thought to have arrived in Australia in the 1970s and has taken a heavy toll on susceptible species ever since. Cool wet environments, such as rainforest-topped mountains in Queensland where frog diversity is particularly high, favour the pathogen.

The fungus feeds on the keratin in frogs’ skin — a major organ that plays a vital role in regulating moisture, exchanging respiratory gases, immunity, and producing sunscreen-like substances and chemicals to deter predators.

Dead frog
Chrytrid disease killed this green-eyed tree frog.
Robert Puschendorf
#8 Armoured mist frog (Litoria lorica) populations have been decimated by chytrid fungus disease. It has been lost throughout former mountainous rainforest habitats where the fungus thrives. Without effective action, it’s likely to be extinct within 20 years.
Conrad Hoskin

Another major emerging threat is climate change, which heats and dries out moist habitats. It’s affecting 19 of the imperilled species we identified, such as the white-bellied frog in Western Australia, which develops tadpoles in little depressions in waterlogged soil.

Climate change is also increasing the frequency, extent and intensity of fires, which have impacted half (13) of the identified species in recent years. The Black Summer fires ravaged swathes of habitat where fires should rarely occur, such as mossy alpine wetlands inhabited by the northern corroboree frog.

Invasive species impact ten frog species. For the spotted tree frog in southern Australia, introduced fish such as brown and rainbow trout are the main problem, as they’re aggressive predators of tadpoles. In northern Australia, feral pigs often wreak havoc on delicate habitats.

#15 The Kuranda tree frog (Litoria myola) is found in a very small area near Cairns. Its primary threat is loss and degradation of habitat due to development.
Conrad Hoskin
#20 The white-bellied frog (Geocrinia alba) is the Western Australian frog at greatest risk of extinction. The tadpoles of this tiny terrestrial breeding frog rely on wet soil to develop. Reduced rainfall is contributing to declines.
Emily Hoffmann

So what can we do about it?

We identified the key actions that can feasibly be implemented in time to save these species. This includes finding potential refuge sites from chytrid and from climate change, reducing bushfire risks and reducing impacts of introduced species.

But for many species, these actions alone aren’t enough. Given the perilous state of some species in the wild, captive conservation breeding programs are also needed. But they cannot be the end goal.

#11 A northern corroboree frog in the captive breeding program run by the ACT Government.
Peter Taylor/Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Captive breeding programs can not only establish insurance populations, they can also help a species persist in the wild by supplying frogs to establish populations at new suitable sites.

Boosting numbers in existing wild populations with captive bred frogs improves their chance of survival. Not only are there more frogs, but also greater genetic diversity. This means the frogs have a better chance of adapting to new conditions, including climate change and emerging diseases.

Our knowledge of how to breed frogs in captivity has improved dramatically in recent decades, but we need to invest in doing this for more frog species.

Please save these frogs: The 26 Australian species at greatest risk of extinction.

Finding and creating wild refuges

Another vital way to help threatened frogs persist in the wild is by protecting, creating and expanding natural refuge areas. Refuges are places where major threats are eliminated or reduced enough to allow a population to survive long term.

For the spotted-tree frog, work is underway to prevent the destruction of frog breeding habitat by deer, and to prevent tadpoles being eaten by introduced predatory fish species. These actions will also help many other frog species as well.

The chytrid fungus can’t be controlled, but fortunately it does not thrive in all environments. For example, in the warmer parts of species’ range, pathogen virulence may be lower and frog resilience may be higher.

Chytrid fungus completely wiped out the armoured mist frog from its cool, wet heartland in the uplands of the Daintree Rainforest. But, a small population was found surviving at a warmer, more open site where the chytrid fungus is less virulent. Conservation for this species now focuses on these warmer sites.

This strategy is now being used to identify potential refuges from chytrid for other frog species, such as the northern corroboree frog.

Dr Graeme Gillespie during a survey for the spotted-tree frog.
Michael Williams/Its A Wildlife Photography

No time to lose

We missed the window to save the gastric-brooding frogs, but we should heed their cautionary tale. We are on the cusp of losing many more unique species.

Decline can happen so rapidly that, for many species, there is no time to lose. Apart from the unknown ecological consequences of their extinctions, the intrinsic value of these frogs means their losses will diminish our natural legacy.

In raising awareness of these species we hope we will spark new action to save them. Unfortunately, despite persisting and evolving independently for millions of years, some species can now no longer survive without our help.

The Conversation

Graeme Gillespie, Honorary Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne; Conrad Hoskin, Lecturer/ABRS Postdoctoral Fellow, James Cook University; Hayley Geyle, Research Assistant, Charles Darwin University; Jaana Dielenberg, University Fellow, Charles Darwin University; Nicola Mitchell, Associate Professor in Conservation Physiology, The University of Western Australia, 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.

New research reveals these 20 Australian reptiles are set to disappear by 2040



Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko
Conrad Hoskin, Author provided

Hayley Geyle, Charles Darwin University and David Chapple, Monash University

Action came too late for the Christmas Island forest skink, despite early warnings of significant declines. It was lost from the wild before it was officially listed as “threatened”, and the few individuals brought into captivity died soon after.

Australia is home to about 10% of all known reptile species — the largest number of any country in the world. But many of our reptiles are at risk of the same fate as the Christmas Island forest skink: extinction.

In new research published today, we identified the 20 terrestrial snakes and lizards (collectively known as “squamates”) at greatest risk of extinction in the next two decades, assuming no changes to current conservation management.

Preventing extinctions of Australian lizards and snakes.

While all 20 species meet international criteria to be officially listed as “threatened”, only half are protected under Australian environmental legislation— the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This needs urgent review.

Many of these reptiles receive little conservation action, but most of their threats can be ameliorated. By identifying the species at greatest risk of extinction, we can better prioritise our recovery efforts — we know now what will be lost if we don’t act.

Six species more likely than not to go extinct

Our research team — including 27 reptile experts from universities, zoos, museums and government organisations across the country — identified six species with greater than 50% likelihood of extinction by 2040.

This includes two dragons, one blind snake and three skinks. Experts rated many others as having a 30-50% likelihood of extinction over the next 20 years.

More than half (55%) of the 20 species at greatest risk occur in Queensland. Three live on islands: two on Christmas Island and one on Lancelin Island off the Western Australian coast.

Two more species are found in Western Australia, while the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and New South Wales each have one species.




Read more:
Australia’s smallest fish among 22 at risk of extinction within two decades


Each of the 20 species at greatest risk occur in a relatively small area, which partly explains the Queensland cluster — many species in that state naturally have very small distributions.

Most of the top 20 occupy a total range of fewer than 20 square kilometres, so could be lost to a single catastrophic event, such as a large bushfire.

A map of Australia showing where the 20 snakes and lizards are located
The approximate locations of the 20 terrestrial snakes and lizards at greatest risk of extinction.
Author provided

So why are they dying out?

Reptile species are declining on a global scale, and this is likely exacerbated by climate change. In Australia, where more than 90% of our species occur nowhere else in the world, the most threatened reptiles are at risk for two main reasons: they have very small distributions, and ongoing, unmitigated threats.

The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko meets this brief perfectly. This large and spectacular species was only discovered in 2013, on a remote mountain range on Cape York. It’s threatened by virtue of its very small distribution and population size, and by climate change warming and drying its upland habitat.

Arnhem Land gorges skink
The Arnhem Land gorges skink is considered more likely than not to become extinct by 2040. Threats include changes to food resources and habitat quality, feral cats, and possibly poisoning by cane toads.
Chris Jolly

Habitat loss is also a major threat for the top 20 species. Australia’s most imperilled reptile, the Victoria grassland earless dragon, used to be relatively common in grasslands in and around Melbourne. But the grasslands this little dragon once called home have been extensively cleared for agriculture and urban development, and now cover less than 1% of their original extent.




Read more:
Click through the tragic stories of 119 species still struggling after Black Summer in this interactive (and how to help)


Little conservation attention

For most reptile species, there has been less conservation work to address the declines, partly because reptiles have historically received less scientific attention than birds or mammals.

We also still don’t fully understand just how many species there are in Australia. New reptile species are being scientifically described at an average rate of 15 per year (a higher rate than for other vertebrate groups) and many new reptiles are already vulnerable to extinction at the time of discovery.

The Mount Surprise slider, a light-brown snake
The Mount Surprise slider is threatened by invasive plant species and cattle compacting sandy soils.
Stephen Zozaya, Author provided

To make matters worse, few reptiles in Australia are well-monitored. Without adequate monitoring, we have a poor understanding of population trends and the impacts of threats. This means species could slip into extinction unnoticed.

Reptiles also lack the public and political profile that helps generate recovery support for other, (arguably) more charismatic Australian threatened animals — such as koalas and swift parrots — leading to little resourcing for conservation.

Lessons from the past

Only one Australian reptile, the Christmas Island forest skink, is officially listed as extinct, but we have most probably lost others before knowing they exist. Without increased resourcing and management intervention, many more Australian reptiles could follow the same trajectory.

The Roma earless dragon sitting up on hind legs.
Habitat loss and degradation due to agriculture is a major threat to the Roma earless dragon. It has not been listed under Australian legislation.
A. O’Grady Museums Victoria, Author provided

But it’s not all bad news. The pygmy bluetongue skink was once thought to be extinct until a chance discovery kick-started a long conservation and research program.

Animals are now being taken from the wild and relocated to new areas to establish more populations, signifying that positive outcomes are possible when informed by good science.

And the very restricted distributions of most of the species identified here should allow for targeted and effective recovery efforts.

By identifying the species at greatest risk, we hope to give governments, conservation groups and the community time to act to prevent further extinctions before it’s too late. Neglect should no longer be the default response for our fabulous reptile fauna.




Read more:
A hidden toll: Australia’s cats kill almost 650 million reptiles a year


The Conversation


Hayley Geyle, Research Assistant, Charles Darwin University and David Chapple, Associate Professor in Evolutionary and Conservation Ecology, Monash University

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

How Earth’s plastic pollution problem could look by 2040



Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Costas Velis, University of Leeds and Ed Cook, University of Leeds

During a visit to a bookstore a few weeks ago, we couldn’t help but stare at a display unit featuring no fewer than ten books telling you how to rid plastics from your daily life. We’re bombarded by information on the topic of marine litter and plastic pollution, but how much do we really know about the problem?

Think about other planetary challenges, like climate change or ozone layer depletion. Mature areas of research have developed around them, allowing scientists to identify where the gases that cause these problems come from, and how much reaches the atmosphere each year.

But when it comes to plastic pollution, we know close to nothing about how and where plastic waste is generated, managed, treated and disposed of, especially in low and middle income countries. As a result, we’re struggling to limit the amount of litter accumulating in the environment.

Our research published in Science involved a herculean effort to spot, track and model the current and future flows of plastics into the world’s land and waterbodies. We found that plastic entering the marine environment is set to double by 2040 and, unless the world acts, more than 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste will be dumped on land and in waterbodies.

By identifying the ways in which this litter is produced and distributed, we’ve also discovered how best to reduce the plastic deluge. In the process, we found the unsung heroes on the frontline fighting the pollution crisis who could be the world’s best hope of stemming the tide.

Discarded face masks on a rocky beach.
Single-use plastic consumption has increased during the pandemic.
Fevziie/Shutterstock

The world’s plastic problem in numbers

We developed a model called Plastic-to-Ocean (P₂O) which combines years of accumulated knowledge on global flows of plastic. It compares our current production, use and management of waste with what is projected in the future.

Do you burn your waste in the garden or in the street? Do you drop it into the river? If you answered no to both of these questions then you are possibly one of the 5.5 billion people whose waste gets collected. If you were among the remaining two billion, what would you do with your uncollected waste? Would you make use of a nearby stream, cliff edge, or perhaps squirrel the odd bag in the woods after dusk?

More often than not, uncollected plastic waste is simply set on fire as a cost-free and effective method of disposal. Our model suggests that cumulatively, more than 2.2 billion tonnes of plastic will be open burned by 2040, far more than the 850 million tonnes that’s anticipated to be dumped on land and the 480 million tonnes in rivers and seas.

Having tracked the sources of plastic items through the supply chain and their fate in the environment, we explored what might help reduce aquatic pollution. We found that the single most effective intervention is to provide a service for the two billion people who currently don’t have their waste collected.

A graph showing how different measures could reduce the flow of plastic into the ocean.

Breaking the Plastic Wave, Author provided

But, of the nine interventions we tested, none solved the problem on their own. Only an integrated approach that in addition to increasing collection coverage includes interventions such as reducing demand for single-use and unrecyclable plastic and improving the business case for mechanical recycling, could be successful. For the countries suffering most from plastic pollution, this knowledge could offer a way forward.

But even in our best-case scenario, in which the world takes the kind of concerted and immediate action proposed in our study, approximately 710 million tonnes of plastic waste will be released into the environment by 2040. That may sound a lot, but it would mean an 80% reduction in the levels of plastic pollution compared to what will happen with no action over the next two decades.




Read more:
The ocean’s plastic problem is closer to home than scientists first thought


Could waste pickers save the day?

Our work also cast light on the contributions of 11 million waste pickers in low and middle-income countries. These informal workers collect waste items, including plastics, for recycling, to secure a livelihood for day-to-day survival. The model estimates that they may be responsible for 58% of all plastic waste collected for recycling worldwide – more than the combined formal collection services achieve throughout all the high-income countries put together.

Without this informal waste collection sector, the mass of plastic entering rivers and the ocean would be considerably greater. Their efforts should be integrated into municipal waste management plans, not only to recognise their tremendous contribution but to improve the appalling safety standards that they currently endure.

A man in India peddles a bicycle cart to collect rubbish.
An additional 500,000 people will need to be reached by waste collection services each day until 2040.
EPA-EFE/JAIPAL SINGH

Establishing a comprehensive baseline estimate of sources, stocks and flows of plastic pollution, and then projecting into the future, has been an immense task. When it comes to solid waste, the availability, accuracy and international compatibility of data is notoriously insufficient.

Plastic items occur throughout the world in tens of thousands of shapes, sizes, polymer types and additive combinations. There are also considerable differences in cultural attitudes towards the way waste is managed, how plastic products are consumed, and the types of infrastructure and equipment used to manage it when it becomes waste.

Our modelling effort was a delicate and tedious exercise of simplifying and generalising this complexity. To understand how reliable, accurate, and precise our findings are likely to be, think of the first models that estimated how sensitive the climate is to human influence back in the 1970s.

Hopefully, the strong evidence base we have presented today will inform a global strategy and strong local preventive action. The plastic pollution challenge can be substantially controlled within a generation’s time. So, is anyone ready to act?The Conversation

Costas Velis, Lecturer in Resource Efficiency Systems, University of Leeds and Ed Cook, Research Fellow in Circular Economy Systems, University of Leeds

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

2040: hope and action in the climate crisis



Optimism is an essential part of our climate solution.
GoodThing Productions

John Wiseman, University of Melbourne

It was framed as “the climate election”, but last week Australia returned a government with climate policies that make the task of building a zero-emissions, safe climate Australia even harder.

This result comes at a time when international studies are raising the real and imminent spectre of a mass extinction crisis and many communities are already struggling with the consequences of the climate emergency now unfolding around us.

Amid the growing strength of movements like Extinction Rebellion and climate activist Greta Thunberg’s advice to “act as you would in a crisis”, Australian film-maker Damon Gameau’s new climate change solutions film 2040 focuses on highlighting the huge range of climate action opportunities being explored and accelerated, not just in Australia but around the world.




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Why art has a part to play in tackling climate change


Structured as a visual letter to Gameau’s four-year-old daughter, 2040 takes us on an engaging, upbeat journey, introducing us to a wide array of climate and energy solutions already underway. The film then fast-forwards 20 years to help us imagine how a zero-emissions world might unfold.

2040 is a letter to Damon Gameau’s four-year-old daughter.
GoodThing Productions

The film and accompanying book showcase a rich tapestry of climate action stories from around the world, from renewable energy microgrids in Bangladesh, to autonomous electric vehicles in Singapore and regenerative agriculture in Shepparton, Victoria.

Economist Kate Raworth speaks eloquently about the urgent need for a new “doughnut economics” approach, which grows jobs and health and well-being rather than consumerism, pollution and inequality.

Paul Hawken, founder of the Drawdown project reminds us we already have the tools required to build a just and resilient zero-carbon economy. Our key task now is to mobilise the resources and harness the creativity required to bring this work to scale at emergency speed.

Importantly, the 2040 project also includes the Whats Your 2040 website, where audiences can explore their own personal climate action plans.

I have had the privilege to contribute ideas and advice to the 2040 film project, drawing on research I’ve undertaken over the last ten years on strategies for accelerating the creation of post-carbon economies. Its also been exciting to see such enthusiasm and determination from audiences watching 2040, particularly among students and young people.

From fear to hope and action

While 2040 doesn’t avoid hard truths about the rapidly escalating risks and dangers of the climate emergency, Gameau has made a clear choice to focus his narrative of “fact based dreaming” on stories of hope and action rather than just chaos and catastrophe.

The goal is to offer viewers a refreshing and energising change from yet more images of burning forests and melting glaciers.

Of course, some will also bear in mind the cautionary warning of Greta Thunberg:

I don’t want you to be hopeful…I want you to feel the fear I feel every day…I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is.

US author Rebecca Solnit provides another valuable perspective. “Hope”, she argues “is not about what we expect. It’s an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world. Hope is not a door but a sense that there might be a door.”

In my work with climate scientists, activists and policy makers over the last ten years I’ve had many challenging conversations about finding the right balance between fear and hope; threat and opportunity; naive optimism and paralysing despair.

Emergency response

One useful source of wisdom in navigating this tension is research on effective and timely responses to more immediate natural disasters, like fast-moving storms, floods and fires.

Successfully dealing with an emergency requires recognising that decisive action is urgently necessary, possible in the time available, and desirable. Broken down, this means understanding:

  1. the emergency is real and heading our way, but
  2. there is a clear course of action that will significantly reduce the danger, and
  3. the benefits of decisive collective action clearly outweigh the costs and risks of inaction.

There is certainly no shortage of scientific and experiential evidence about the scale and speed of the climate emergency which has now arrived at our door. But the case for radical hope, defiant courage and decisive collective action also continues to strengthen.

We can see this in the remarkable rise and global impact of the School Climate Strike, Green New Deal, Extinction Rebellion, and fossil fuel divestment initiatives like Market Forces.

2040 trawls the world for innovative solutions to climate problems.
GoodThing Productions

This challenge is also being taken up by some sections of the business world. (See, for example, Ross Garnaut’s recent lecture series outlining Australia’s great potential as a renewable energy superpower.)

Ideas like this are particularly important in developing a convincing and compelling narrative about a future post-fossil fuel economy that creates high-quality secure jobs and leaves no Australian worker or community behind.




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The poster is political: how artists are challenging climate change


The election outcome is clearly a significant setback for those who had hoped that there might now be clearer air for a more mature conversation in Australia about the necessity, urgency and desirability of accelerating the transition to a just and resilient zero-carbon economy.

None of us know exactly how our journey into a harsh climate future will evolve. We can however be sure that the journey will be far tougher if we close our eyes and fail to act with honesty and imagination; wisdom and courage. 2040 makes an important contribution to this urgent and essential work.


2040 was released in Australia on May 22.The Conversation

John Wiseman, Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne

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