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.




Read more:
How many species on Earth? Why that’s a simple question but hard to answer


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.




Read more:
Another Australian animal slips away to extinction


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.




Read more:
An end to endings: how to stop more Australian species going extinct


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.

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Sharma calls for Australia to play a bigger international role on climate


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Liberal candidate in Wentworth, Dave Sharma, has called for
Australia to do more on the international stage to address climate change, declaring this is “where our efforts can have the biggest impact”.

These efforts should include trying to turn around the United States’ decision to leave the Paris agreement, Sharma told the Coalition for Conservation on Tuesday night.

As Scott Morrison this week has sought to boost his government’s
credentials on the climate issue, Sharma said a small improvement in the emissions trajectories of large emitters such as China would have much greater impact than anything Australia could itself do.




Read more:
Morrison to announce $2 billion over 10 years for climate fund


Australia produced only 1.3% of global CO2 emissions. “This is not an argument for doing nothing. We need to be credible in our own efforts to reduce our emissions. But it does make clear that Australia cannot solve climate change by ourselves,” he said.

“This [international effort] is where Australia should be more ambitious and invest greater effort. In the diplomacy and the negotiations to ensure all countries keep their Paris commitments. In helping to raise the level of ambition over time, as technology allows.

“And in persuading countries that have pulled out of the Paris
agreement – including the United States – to come back in.

“This is where we should be investing additional effort, and where I believe my own experience in multilateral negotiations could help us,” said Sharma, a former diplomat.

Sharma, who last year lost in the Wentworth byelection to independent Kerryn Phelps, is running again in Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat. The Liberals believe they have some hope of regaining the seat, on the assumption the savage protest vote against the ousting of the former prime minister is likely to have diminished.

Climate change was an important issue in the byelection campaign, and Sharma presents as one of the more progressive voices in the party on it.

This week Morrison announced initiatives including A$2 billion over a decade to extend the emissions reduction fund that Tony Abbott established, now rebadged as the Climate Solutions Fund, $1.38 billion towards building the Snowy 2.0 scheme, and support for a new interconnector between Tasmania and the mainland.




Read more:
The government’s $2bn climate fund: a rebadged rehash of old mistakes


Sharma said: “We need to be serious and credible in addressing the risk posed by climate change, and for that we – and I mean the whole world here – need to be lowering our emissions and reducing our carbon footprint”.

“We are in the midst right now of a technology-driven energy transition.

“From centralised, fossil-fuel based power generation, with a ‘dumb’ one-way grid.

“To a more decentralised network, with greater renewables generation, backed by storage, and a ‘smart’ two-way grid where households are both consumers and suppliers of power.

“This transition is being driven by market forces, competitive
pressures, consumer and corporate behaviour, and capital markets.”

Coal would continue to have a role during this transition. Sharma said. “But market forces are pushing coal out of the energy mix,” and not just in Australia.

“In Australia, new coal-fired power generation simply cannot compete with the cost of renewables plus storage.

“And – whether people like it or not – carbon risk is real and is already being factored in by banks, investors and the markets. Glencore’s announcement last week is illustrative.”

But if coal was closed down with haste, power bills would go up and the lights would go out, he said.

“A steady transition to greater renewable energy sources is feasible and practical — but an overnight switch is not”.

The energy markets were headed in the right direction, Sharma said.

“If we work with the grain of market forces, help smooth out the
necessary transition, and ensure clear signals are sent to investors, then we can meet our Paris emissions reduction targets in the electricity sector without having an impact on price or reliability”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia: Climate Change to Bring Bigger Waves


The link below is to an article that reports on a possible consequence of climate change for Australia – larger waves.

For more visit:
http://www.nature.com/news/climate-change-may-bring-bigger-waves-for-down-under-1.12199

Article: Pac Man Frog


The ‘Pac Man Frog’ is a name given to the Amazon Horned Frog, which is described in the article linked to below. This frog will eat almost anything smaller than itself and then some (or at least try and eat some things bigger than itself).

For more visit:
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/amazon-horned-frog/

Holiday Update


My latest holiday plan has gone flop – the back packing holiday is a no-goer. Reason? It would seem from all reports that the Tops to Myalls Heritage Trail has been abandoned, with parts of the route now so overgrown as to be unrecognizable. I have been told of walkers in recent times having to back track a fair distance when the way ahead was no longer able to be walked. So as disappointing as it is I have abandoned the trail myself and will now do something else.

With time running out for a settled option, I have decided to fall back on an earlier idea and that is to visit the Cathedral Rocks National Park and possibly do some further walks at the Dorrigo National Park. I have booked a vehicle (car rental) for the trip so things are fairly settled now as far as the destination is concerned. I am now going to put some meat on the bones of my idea and draw up an itinerary, Google Map, etc. So some real detail of what I plan to do will be coming over the next few weeks.

This isn’t going to be an expensive holiday or a long one, but is mean’t to be a simple time-out break and one that will allow me to plan some much bigger holidays for later in the year and into the coming year also.