Faunal extinction in Australia
This chapter provides an overview of the faunal extinction crisis in
Australia and outlines the key threats to the survival of Australia's unique
The status of Australia's biodiversity
Many submitters noted that Australia has a large, diverse range of unique
wildlife. The Wilderness Society commented:
Australia is one of the world's megadiverse countries: we
have around 10% of all the world's species. We have a very high level of
endemism compared with other countries. For example, 46% of our birds, 87% of
mammals, and 93% of reptiles are only found here.
However, extensive evidence was received about Australia's very poor
record of protecting its unique wildlife, which set out the ongoing decline in
biodiversity since white settlement. An article by Professor John Woinarski et
Australia's isolation has resulted in its remarkable
biodiversity distinctiveness but also the extraordinary vulnerability of its
biota to novel threats. With the dwindling abundance, range, and diversity of
so many species, we see now only a faint shadow of the richness and abundance
of the Australian mammal fauna that existed at the time of European settlement.
The extent of the decline means that Australia has one of the world's
worst records for the extinction and lack of protection for threatened fauna
and is ranked second (after Indonesia) in the world for ongoing biodiversity
Submitters cited reports indicating that more than 10 per cent of endemic
terrestrial land mammal species have become extinct over the last 200 years,
which represents 50 per cent of the global mammal extinctions during that
In comparison, only one native land mammal from continental North America has
become extinct since European settlement.
Mr Paul Sullivan, the Chief Executive of BirdLife Australia, commented
on Australia's birds and stated that at least four bird taxa have recently
become extinct, and the national threatened bird index shows that relative
abundance of threatened birds has decreased by 52 per cent between 1985 and
2015. This includes birds such as the rainbow bee-eater, kookaburra and magpie.
This compares very unfavourably with the 624 per cent increase in the population
of threatened birds in the United States.
Dr Graham Edgar, who appeared in a private capacity, provided evidence
about the significant loss of biodiversity in the marine environment. Commenting
on research on sediment cores from around south-eastern Tasmania, Dr Edgar
Every single core that we took showed that over the last 100
years there had been a catastrophic decline in the marine community in the
system. So from an average of 23 species per slice of the core around 1900, we
were down to around seven species today, of which four were introduced species.
So basically the whole system has collapsed but with no recognition and nothing
other than this study to show for it. This study has not been extended anywhere
else but it is clearly important to understand what the scale of these losses
are and to try and categorise them properly.
BirdLife Australia also commented that, while biodiversity is declining
globally, in many respects, Australia is a global anomaly. BirdLife Australia
went on to explain:
Australia is renowned worldwide for its unique and diverse
flora and fauna. We are a wealthy nation with comparatively good governance and
a high degree of political stability. Yet Australia is one of the worst
performers for preventing extinction...Most of the continent is remote from urban
communities and intensive areas of human development, yet we have high rates of
extinction, with many of these having occurred in remote areas.
Overview of the decline in
The ongoing decline in biodiversity has been identified in a range of
reports on Australia's environment. Australia's Fifth National Report to the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) stated that:
In general, declines in population size, geographic range and
genetic diversity are being seen among a wide range of species across all
groups of plants, animals and other forms of life in Australia.
The CBD report also noted a major decline in mammals in northern
Australia, changes in species composition and loss of ecological integrity
across a range of threatened ecological communities, and degradation in native
The latest State of the Environment (SoE) Report 2016 commented that 'the
status of biodiversity in Australia is generally considered to be poor and
deteriorating'. It was noted that mammal declines in northern Australia have
continued; and there has been a significant decline in some bird species. The SoE
report commented that 'very limited information is available to assess the
state and trends of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, except for a few
In relation to mammal extinctions, the SoE report commented that the number of mammal
extinctions 'is vastly greater than that recorded for any other country'.
In January 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) released its report on Australia's environmental
performance. The OECD report commented that 'Australia is one of 17 megadiverse
countries. Although gaps in knowledge hamper proper assessment, the overall
status of biodiversity is poor and worsening'.
The OECD report went on to acknowledge that steps had been taken to improve
conservation outcomes, however, it found that:
...the pace and scale of progress have not been enough to
improve the status and trends of ecosystems and species...Small initiatives and
limited investment are insufficient to fully address a legacy of land clearing
combined with growing pressure from population growth, expanding development,
invasive species and climate change.
When considered together, these reports provide clear evidence of the
deterioration of Australia's biodiversity. Significantly, it was suggested to
the committee that the rate of decline in biodiversity is expected to continue.
BirdLife Australia, for example, commented that 'we anticipate the rate of EPBC
[Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation] listings (new listings
and uplistings) will only increase (in volume and pace) over the next 10–50
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub stated:
Where recent population trajectory information is available,
the overwhelming trend for EPBC Act-listed animal species is for ongoing
population decline (174 species); in contrast, only three listed species are
considered to be increasing. Extinction is a likely end result of ongoing population
decline for threatened species.
WWF-Australia also saw a poor outlook for Australia's fauna and suggested
that, given increases from 2011 to 2015 in the number of listed critically
endangered animals and plants, 'a further wave of extinctions is imminent'.
Mr James Trezise, a Policy Analyst for the Australian Conservation Foundation
This is a crisis that is clearly unfolding in front of our
eyes, and it's not like the pressures that are driving these events are abating
or diminishing—in fact, they are ramping up. Australia is now a global
deforestation hotspot. Let that sink in: we stand next to places like the
Amazon and Indonesia for deforestation.
The reasons for this outcome were clearly articulated by the Centre of
Ecosystem Research, which stated:
Extinction rates are accelerating because the underlying
causes are not being addressed effectively by Australian governments,
communities and industries, and laws and policies meant to protect against loss
of species are not adequately implemented (regulation and compliance) or often
subsidiary in decision-making to development legislation (e.g. mining, water
The following discussion provides a more detailed analysis of the increase
in the number of fauna listed as threatened and the trend rate of extinction in
Rate of faunal extinction in Australia
At the time of European settlement, much of the fauna now regarded as
threatened flourished across the continent. The Northern Territory Government
noted extinctions had occurred even in the arid lands of central Australia and
stated that this area experienced the worst mammal loss since European
Woinarski et al provided evidence of the rate of mammal extinction in Australia
from settlement and stated:
Although the detail of the patterning is imprecise, the
available evidence indicates a broad sequential wave of mammal losses,
beginning from the first settled areas in southeastern Australia (coincident
with the first arrivals of some associated threats) from the 1840s, reaching
central Australia in the 1890s with rapid declines there particularly over the
period of 1930–1960 and marked losses continuing from about the 1960s to the present
day in much of northern Australia.
Woinarski et al also pointed to records of the collection of skins of
now extinct and threatened species as evidence of this earlier abundance. For
example, in one year (1908), a single company marketed 100 000 brush-tailed
rock-wallaby skins; and in about 1900, dealers in Adelaide sold a now-extinct
subspecies of brush-tailed bettong by the dozen at about ninepence a head for coursing
on Sunday afternoons.
One significant example of the decline of a previously abundant species
is the koala. The number of koalas at the time of European settlement has been
estimated as being up to 10 million.
Following settlement, koala populations came under pressure from clearing of
habitat, fire and hunting. Woinarski et al, in their study of mammal
extinctions, commented that in the 31 days of the last open season in
Queensland in 1927, 500 000 koala skins were collected.
While hunting of koalas ceased by 1930, continuing pressure from
clearing of habitat, disease, fire and drought, saw numbers decline
significantly. Koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the
Australian Capital Territory were listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act in
May 2012. The Species Profile and Threats Database utilised in the listing
process assessed koala populations in the period 1990 to 2010 as having declined
by 43 per cent in Queensland and 33 per cent in New South Wales.
Despite being listed as vulnerable, submitters argued that koala numbers
are still declining, with the Australian Koala Foundation estimating that there
are fewer than 100 000 koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as
Localised extinction is now predicted—Koala
Action submitted that the koala is now 'on the brink of extinction in many
regions of Queensland'. Koala Action noted that between 1996 and 2014 the
estimated mean decline in koala density in the Koala Coast (Redlands) was 80.25
per cent and in the Pine Rivers 54.28 per cent.
While environmental awareness has grown from the 1960s, with both the
Commonwealth and state governments enacting legislation to protect
biodiversity, declines in abundance and extinctions have continued to occur. For
example, the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 responded
to 'the widespread view expressed by the Australian public that endangered
species are a national problem that requires Commonwealth Government
involvement'. The Act established national lists of endangered and vulnerable
species and endangered ecological communities. At that time there were 226 species
and sub-species of plants and 73 species of animals regarded as endangered,
with a further 661 species and
sub-species of plants and 66 of animals regarded as vulnerable.
Since the introduction of the EPBC
The EPBC Act replaced the previous ad hoc approach to environmental
legislation. In relation to biodiversity, it was the first time that the
Commonwealth Government had 'legislated for the holistic concept of
One of the objects of the EPBC Act is to conserve Australian biodiversity.
In order to achieve its objects, the EPBC Act enhances Australia's capacity to
ensure the conservation of its biodiversity by including provisions to protect
native species, including the prevention of extinction and the promotion of the
recovery of threatened species, and protection of ecosystems.
The EPBC Act provides for species identification and listing of species
and ecological communities as threatened. Since the commencement of the EPBC
Act, new categories have been added for listed threatened species and
ecological communities. Critically endangered, conservation dependant and
extinct in the wild have been added to the previous categories of endangered,
vulnerable and extinct for threatened species and critically endangered and
vulnerable have been added to the previous category of endangered for
Trends in listings
Many submitters noted that since the introduction of the EPBC Act in
1999, the list of nationally threatened species and ecological communities has
increased by more than 30 per cent.
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub added that, since the EPBC Act's inception,
only 13 animal species have been delisted, five animals species have been down-listed
(mostly due to review or new information) and 46 species have had their
conservation status up-listed, mostly because of ongoing and severe deterioration
in their conservation outlook.
The SoE Report 2016 provides information on the threatened species list as
at December 2015:
- 74 ecological communities, of which 31 were listed as critically
endangered, 41 as endangered and 2 as vulnerable.
- 480 animal species, including 55 listed as extinct or extinct in
the wild, an increase of 44 species since 2011. The number of nationally listed
threatened animal species has increased for all taxa except amphibians. This
included seven new mammal species listed as endangered and four new species
listed as vulnerable. Two species of marsupial mole were delisted. The number
of threatened bird species increased by 15 species; the number of critically
endangered bird species increased by seven. Four species were uplisted to
critically endangered since 2011.
- 1294 plant species, including 37 species listed as extinct.
The SoE Report 2016 also provides the change in listings between 2011
and 2015 and noted that in that period, the list of nationally threatened
species and ecological communities increased, with the addition of 30 new
ecological communities, and 44 animal and 5 plant species.
Figure 2.1 provides EPBC Act fauna listings for 2011 and 2015.
Figure 2.1: Number of fauna listings under the EPBC Act,
2011 to 2015
of the Environment and Energy, SoE Report 2016.
In July 2018, there were a total of 511 faunal species listed under all threatened
species categories, an increase in total listings of 31 since 2015.
On 18 February 2019, the reclassification of listed species reduced the
total number of threatened species to 506.
Table 2.1 provides the EPBC Act list of threatened fauna in 2018 and
Table 2.1: EPBC Act list of
Species number 2018
Species number 2015
Other animals (1)
species extinct or extinct in wild (55)
in the wild
Department of the Environment and Energy, Species Profile and Threats
Database, www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicthreatenedlist.pl; and State of the Environment Report, Terrestrial
plant and animal species: Threatened species lists, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/biodiversity/topic/2016/terrestrial-plant-and-animal-species-threatened-species-lists#figure-bio14number-of-fauna-species-listed-under-the-environment-protection-and-biodiversity-conservation-act-1999-2011-and-2015--119471 (both
accessed 28 February 2019).
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub provided an analysis of population
trajectory of EPBC Act listed threatened animal species, based mainly on recent
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessments. The
trajectory is provided in Table 2.2.
Table 2.2: Population
trajectory of EPBC Act listed threatened animal species
Years on EPBC Act list
Source: Threatened Species Recovery Hub, Submission 159,
Attachment 1 (The ongoing decline in the population and conservation status
of threatened fauna), p. 7. See submission for notes accompanying table.
Faunal species extinctions
The EPBC Act list includes 55 fauna species either extinct or extinct in
the wild. However, evidence suggests that the number of extinctions is much
For example, while the EPBC Act lists 27 extinct mammal species, the
Threatened Species Recovery Hub have identified 34 mammal extinctions in
Australia since European settlement. It was added that of the 27 listed mammal
extinctions include seven subspecies. As a consequence, 'only 59% of the
extinctions of Australian mammal species are formally acknowledged under the
Act, severely under-playing the extent of loss'.
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub added that 'the rate of Australian
mammal extinctions has continued largely unabated, with an average of
1–2 Australian endemic mammal species being made extinct per decade since
about the 1850s'. The Hub also noted that many of the now extinct mammal
species had vast ranges and large population sizes.
The cumulative number of extinct mammal since 1800 is provided in figure 2.2.
Figure 2.2: Cumulative number of extinctions of
Australian endemic mammal species since 1800
that, for some species, the dating of extinction is too difficult to assess, so
the graph does not include all extinct species
Species Recovery Hub, Submission 159, Attachment 1 (The ongoing
decline in the population and conservation status of threatened fauna), p.
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub also provided information on the
rate of extinction of reptiles and noted that the first known extinction of an
Australian endemic reptile species since 1788 occurred in 2014, with the death
in captivity of the last known Christmas Island forest skink (Emoia
It also noted that two other Australian endemic lizards, the blue-tailed skink (Cryptoblepharus
egeriae) and Lister's gecko (Lepidodactylus listeria), became
extinct in the wild in 2010 and 2012. The Threatened Species Recovery Hub
commented that extinction, or extinction in the wild, of these three Australian
endemic lizards represents about 10 per cent of the 31 global reported
reptile extinctions since 1500. The Hub stated that, other than the extinction
of one tortoise species, these three reptiles are the only known reptile extinctions
in the world since the 1970s.
Submitters also commented that two other species–Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys
rubicola), the and Christmas Island Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi)—have
gone extinct in the last decade.
In February 2019, the Minister, based on advice from the Threatened Species
Scientific Committee (TSSC), determined to move the Bramble Cay melomys to the
extinct category. At that time, the Tammar wallaby was removed from the
extinct list to not listed.
The committee also received evidence that 'many more Australian animal
and plant species have not been sighted for decades, which warrants full scientific
assessment for extinct listing'..
For example, three subspecies and one species of Australian bird are thought to
have gone extinct in the last two decades: Spotted Quail-thrush (Mt Lofty
Ranges), Hooded Robin (Tiwi Islands), Star Finch (southern) and White-chested
White-eye. All were seen in the 1980s or early 1990s but have not been sighted
Given the concern that the EPBC Act listings do not accurately reflect
the current outlook for many species, the Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW, concluded:
Many more Australian animal and plant species have not been
sighted for decades, warranting full scientific assessment for extinct listing.
Species that are threatened with
The committee also received evidence that pointed to a range of species
which are threatened with extinction in the coming decades.
For example, Green Fire Science highlighted that, according to the Action
Plan for Australian Mammals, 56 mammal species and 33 mammal
subspecies are threatened with extinction.
BirdLife Australia noted recent research which has identified a group of
threatened birds at high risk of extinction in the next 20 years. It stated
that 'these are taxa that have not attracted significant recovery effort,
funding and/or lack recovery plans, representing the failure of successive Australian
Governments to meet our international obligation to protect and conserve
In addition, submitters stated that, for many species, there is too
little information about them to have them listed. The TSSC stated that:
There are large numbers of other poorly known but imperilled
species at risk from extinction but they are not protected because we know so
little about them. Sufficient data are available for other species that have
not been assessed. Scientists suspect that many hundreds of thousands of Australian
species remain undiscovered or poorly known, and that many of these species are
at as great a risk of extinction as those formally listed as threatened.
Green Fire Science commented that research suggested that 'the number of
EPBC Act listed threatened fauna species in Australia is possibly just 1/20th
of the number that may actually be threatened'. Further, numerous species may
have been lost before they were known to science. Green Fire Science concluded
that 'we are constantly under-stating the severity of the crisis facing us'.
Issues raised in relation to the
threatened species list
As the EPBC Act list is at the heart of the legislative framework for
threatened species recovery and protection, it was argued that the list must be
rigorous and reflect the current situation of listed species. The Threatened
Species Recovery Hub stated:
The list of Australia's threatened species provides a robust
foundation for recovery efforts and the application of regulatory protections. The
list should therefore be justified, up-to-date and appropriately include all
Australian species that are threatened with extinction. If the list is not comprehensive,
so must our approach to conserving species be inadequate. An accurate, scientifically
robust list thus provides a strong foundation for the prevention of extinction,
and the recovery, of Australia's threatened species.
However, the committee received a range of evidence commenting on aspects
on the process for listing threatened species and ecological communities
- lengthy delays between nomination and listing of species and
- the lists are incomplete, inaccurate and are not reviewed;
- heavy reliance on public nominations;
- problems with listing where there is insufficient data;
- taxonomic bias in the lists; and
- lack of emergency listing provisions.
The following discussion provides an overview of the evidence received
in relation to these issues. The committee's final report will consider
these issues in greater detail.
Delays in nomination
Submitters stated that the process for listing is slow—at best taking up
to a year, but generally taking two years.
While the EPBC Act includes timeframes for the TSSC to complete its assessment
of nominations, the Act allows the TSSC to seek an extension of time to do so. The
Department of the Environment and Energy (the department) has informed the
committee that, at the time of writing, there are currently 13 species for
which the assessment completion time has been extended by the Minister, at the
TSSC's request. The department also commented that the requests and
justification for extensions are available on the departmental website.
One example of a delay in the assessment of a change in listing is the
Australian sea lion. In 2005, the sea lion was EPBC Act listed as vulnerable.
However, in 2008, the IUCN listed it as endangered. The TCCS is currently
assessing the listing of the Australian sea lion and has been doing so for a
number of years.
As a consequence of the time taken to complete a nomination, a species may
continue to decline and their conservation status can become more threatened.
In addition, the failure to list a species may result in a lack of adequate consideration
being given when a development proposal is being assessed. To address these
concerns, submitters called for a simpler and faster nomination and listing
process with statutory timeframes for the assessment of nominations.
Lack of accuracy
In addition to concerns about the accuracy of listed species that have
gone extinct, submitters also questioned the accuracy of the threatened species
list for other classifications. For example, Associate Professor Mark
Lintermans stated that the listings of freshwater fish grossly underestimate
the actual number of threatened taxa. Professor Lintermans added:
It is estimated that approximately 1/3rd of Australia's
freshwater fish are yet to be formally described, and it is this cryptic
freshwater fish biodiversity that is providing the bulk of recently identified
taxa that urgently needs conservation action.
The department commented that 'many of the species listed under the EPBC
Act do not regularly have their status reviewed'. The department added that 'comprehensive
reviews of all listed species is challenging due to the large number that are
Reliance on public nominations
Submitters argued that the threatened species list relies heavily on ad
hoc nominations from 'under-resourced community groups rather than any program
of systematic review'.
Impact of insufficient data
Many species are either unassessed or classified as data deficient,
meaning they do not receive environmental protection or management even if they
are at threat and declining.
Lack of emergency listing
As listing of a threatened species can take up to two years, submitters
supported the inclusion of an emergency listing mechanism. For example, the
Humane Society International stated that there should be a means by which 'more
urgent nominations can be prioritised and emergency listings made where there
are demonstrated immediate or significant threats'.
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub commented that:
[Emergency listing] may be particularly critical where species
experience sudden, catastrophic declines, or where a new species discovered
during an environmental impact assessment could be at risk from the proposed
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub provided the case of the Bellinger
River Snapping Turtle, Myuchelys georgesi, to illustrate the need for
emergency listing. In 2015, the turtle experienced an up to 90 per cent loss of
population in under one year due to disease. While a recovery program has been
established, the change in the formal conservation status under the EPBC Act
took from February 2015 to December 2016 to be completed. The Hub noted that 'during
which time the Commonwealth would have been unable to legally use the turtle's
proposed Critically Endangered status in considering applications for
developments that would impact them'.
Key drivers of faunal extinction
According to the state of the environment report, the key pressures of
habitat clearing and fragmentation, invasive species and climate change remain
high on the list of pressures that threaten listed species and ecological
communities, and biodiversity in general.
Evidence received by the committee also pointed to a range of threatening
processes, both singly and in combination, driving biodiversity loss in
- habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation;
- invasive species including cats and foxes;
- changes to fire management;
- climate change; and
Habitat loss, degradation and
The Commonwealth Endangered Species Scientific Sub-committee (the
predecessor to the TSSC) commented that it was 'strongly of view that land
clearance has been the most significant threatening process in Australia since
European settlement' and should land clearing continue, additional species will
Many submitters supported this view.
Dr Prowse for example, commented:
The extinction of species and the loss of biodiversity is
clearly a crisis of our own making. The reasons for this crisis are really quite
clear: the loss of habitat is driving a loss of biodiversity and leading to
extinction of species.
The Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW, provided the following overview
- between 1972 and 2014, more than 7.2 million ha of primary forest
was cleared across Australia, about 7 per cent of the available forest;
- in 2015, Eastern Australia, including NSW, was identified as one
of only 11 regions of the world undergoing high deforestation and the only
one in a developed country;
- deforestation has contributed to serious declines in woodland
birds and reptiles. For example, it was estimated that about 100 million native
birds, reptiles and mammals were killed because of destruction of their habitat
in NSW between 1998 and 2005; and
- the loss of such habitat threatens the continent's biodiversity,
affecting 60 per cent of Australia's nearly 1700 threatened species.
Professor David Lindenmayer, appearing in a private capacity, provided
evidence on the impact of logging on forest biodiversity. He stated:
What we have seen, particularly in the last 20 years, is a
significant decline in what we call site occupancy—that's the occupancy of
these long-term sites by various elements of biodiversity. We have seen site
occupancy for Leadbeater's possum decline by half, 50 per cent, in the last 20
years. Greater gliders have declined by 64 per cent. We've seen significant
declines in virtually all of the species of possums and greater gliders on
which we have worked. We have seen declines in 24 of the 49 species of birds on
which we work.
The rate of land clearing is contentious. The Australian Veterinary
Association pointed to work by Evans which indicated that a lack of consistency
between Queensland's SLATS (Statewide Landcover and Tree Study) and the Australian
Government's NCAS (National Carbon Accounting System). The study concluded that
'in the absence of a robust quantitative evaluation, it is not yet clear
whether deforestation rates have significantly changed following other recent
policy changes in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia'.
This issue will be explored further in the committee's final report.
Dr Reside provided evidence on the threat of extinction facing the
black-throated finch from habitat loss. The black-throated finch has been EPBC
Act listed as endangered for nearly 14 years. As a result of habitat loss
it has now disappeared from over 80 per cent of its original range and is now
confined to two major areas around Townsville and the Galilee Basin in Central
Invasive species including cats,
foxes and cane toads
Invasive species have contributed significantly to species extinctions
in Australia. The Invasive Species Council stated that 'invasive species have
been overwhelmingly the main cause of animal extinctions in Australia,
primarily responsible for at least three-quarters of the mammal losses, about
half the bird losses and all frog and lizard losses'. The Council went on to
note that the recent extinctions and extinctions on Christmas Island (of the Christmas
Island pipistrelle, Christmas Island forest skink, Blue-tailed skink and the
Lister's gecko), were all due to invasive species such as the Asian wolf snake,
cats, black rates and Asian giant centipedes. The Council concluded that 'Christmas
Island offers a sobering case study of the destruction that can be wrought by
Submitters commented on the benefits of eradicating invasive species for
faunal populations. Many pointed to the example of Macquarie Island where feral
cats, rabbits, ship rates and house mice had destroyed important seabird
populations and sub-Antarctic ecosystems. An eradication program was completed
in 2014 and since that time, populations of eight threatened bird species had
either stabilised or recovered.
A further example was provided by Professor Moritz who noted that the baiting
of foxes in Western Australia 'was demonstratively effecting in recovering
threatened species there'.
Some evidence pointed to the need for a more stringent environmental biosecurity
regime, which would prevent the arrival into Australia of potentially harmful
new invasive species. For example, the Invasive Species Council supported a
stronger regime, particularly for islands, where native animal populations were
more vulnerable to the effects of invasive species. The Invasive Species
Council also noted that island habitats also offered substantial opportunities
for the recovery of threatened fauna, as feral animals could be eradicated to
protect endemic species.
Changed fire management
Changed fire regimes is considered a major threat that has contributed
to the extinction of six mammal species, and is a significant pressure on 35
threatened mammal species.
Professor Bowman provided evidence on the impact of the change from Aboriginal
...the fire regimes that were applied to that national park
were completely at odds with the fire regimes under Aboriginal practice. I
wanted to know about Aboriginal practice. I've worked in central Arnhem Land
for 20 years. I've seen traditional Aboriginal fire management. I've
worked on an estate that was very rich in biodiversity. Again, that system
where we worked has now also deteriorated.
Disease is now affecting a number of Australia's native animals,
including: Tasmanian devils and facial tumour disease; chytrid fungus with
global impacts on wild frog populations; Bellingen River turtle virus; Koala
chlamydia; and sarcoptic mange in wombats.
The department noted that in 2014, seven frog species were identified as
being at high risk of extinction from the disease chytridiomycosis,
resulting from infection by the chytrid fungus, with a further 22
species assessed as being at moderate to lower risk of extinction.
Climate change is recognised as having a severe impact on the survival
of species across the globe and in Australia it is seen as one of the major
factors in biodiversity decline and species loss in both the terrestrial and
marine environments. Professor Brendan Wintle, a Director of the Threatened
Species Recovery Hub, commented that 'of the 450 listed animals in the EPBC
Act, almost all of them are actually still declining, so there is a real risk
also that these declines will be accelerated and exacerbated by climate change'.
Australia has already lost one known species due to the effects of climate
change. In 2016 a report found that the Bramble Cay melomys was found to have become
extinct due to sea level rise, which was attributed to climate change.
The committee was also provided with evidence of the impact of extreme
weather arising from climate change. In the case of the white lemuroid ringtail
possum which lives on Mount Lewis in Far North Queensland, a severe heatwave in
2005 had a catastrophic impact on population numbers.
Impacts of faunal extinction and decline
The impacts of faunal extinction and decline are multifaceted and pervasive;
it is not only the environment that suffers but also Australian society and our
The committee received extensive evidence on the ecological impact of
faunal loss and decline and the need to maintain health and diverse ecosystems.
For example, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, citing a study by Fonesca, stated:
...the stability in natural ecosystems modulates depending on
their richness and the functional role played by its composite species. In some
cases extinction will have no effect at all if the role of the species lost is
assumed by others, but extinction can have devastating ecosystem effects if the
species lost performs a unique function or if services are compromised.
The Wilderness Society submitted that emerging research shows the
impacts of diversity loss might be sufficiently large to rival the impacts of
other global drivers of environmental change such as climate change—that is,
diversity loss may have fundamental impacts on global life systems such as
water exchange, nutrient cycling and climate.
The Threated Species Recovery Hub added:
Ecological research worldwide has documented the beneficial
interactions of species in food webs and has shown that simplification of food
webs due to the extinction (or functional disappearance) of some species can
have cascading and complex effects on biodiversity, ecosystem processes and ecosystem
Disturbance of ecosystems through loss and decline can cause substantial
change and the recovery of threatened species will have environmental benefits.
Many threatened species have roles in the dispersal of seeds of native plants
and spores of beneficial fungi. They play a role as ecosystem engineers and in
balancing populations through predation as well as moderation of fire regimes,
control of vegetation composition, and prevention of erosion.
In this regard, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy pointed to ecosystem
de-stabilisation in Tasmania due to the functional loss of two apex predators,
the extinct Thylacine and now reduced Tasmanian devil populations due to Devil Facial
Tumour Disease. As a consequence, 'over the past two decades significant shifts
in predatory species especially feral cats now impacting critical weight range
species such as bandicoot and bettong mean that Tasmania's status as a safe
haven is perilously at risk'.
Bush Heritage Australia also added that quoll populations are at risk in
Tasmania from increased numbers of feral cats.
The Northern Territory Government noted declining biodiversity of
complex ecosystems and stated that the 'loss and decline of threatened species,
along with the wider declines of species that they are indicative of, have
potential ecological domino effects on other species and communities'. These
effects include: reduced prey availability for native predators, changes in
community composition and competition, reduction in species for pollination and
seed/fruit dispersal, and loss of environmental engineers, for example mammals
that burrow and dig.
Further evidence of the ecological contribution of threatened species
was provided by the Western Australian Government, which provided the following
- the endangered Carnaby's Cockatoo contributes to the health of
the Endangered Banksia woodlands of the Swan Coastal Plain ecological community
through its role in removing wood boring grubs and pruning trees and shrubs to
increase flowering and fruiting;
- the burrows of the vulnerable bilby provide shelter and refuge
for at least 20 species of arid zone mammals, reptiles and birds. Bilby
burrows also accumulate nitrogen and other nutrients and hold moisture for
longer periods in arid environments, which support improved plant regeneration;
- the Critically Endangered woylie turns over large volumes of
soil, dispersing seeds and fungi, improving water infiltration, nutrient
cycling, plant regeneration and reducing fire risk by lowering leaf litter fuel
The Ecological Society of Australia pointed to the part played by
Australian marsupials such as bettongs and potoroos in dispersing spores of
fungi which are of benefit to trees. The loss of these marsupials has a
cascading effect on the health of the entire ecosystem.
Many mammals such as bandicoots and rat-kangaroos dig for food and in the
process turn over large volumes of soil, keeping soil in a loose and friable
state, accelerating recycling of nutrients, and enhancing penetration of
Other submitters cited the loss of dingoes from the environment in order
to protect livestock as contributing to the rise in numbers of kangaroo and feral
In further evidence to the committee, submitters commented on the
importance Australia's unique biodiversity on our character, our economic
wellbeing and for Indigenous Australians.
Mr Trezise of the ACF drew to the committee's attention the place of
Australia's biodiversity at the core of our national identity; that we are
taught from a young age the wonders of our native fauna.
Professor Wintle, Threatened Species Recovery Hub, added that the loss of
species degrades our society and that:
Species have a right to exist, and the loss of species
degrades our society. We have a responsibility to pass on to future generations
the wondrous natural heritage that we've been so fortunate to inherit, and we
need to pass it on in a state that's equal to or better than when we inherited
it. The current faunal extinction crisis represents a major threat to the
legacy of our generation.
Australians depend on thriving ecosystems for their well-being and
prosperity. Extinction and species population loss reduces overall biodiversity
in any ecosystem, reducing the stability of ecosystems and affecting the
efficiency of ecosystem function. The Australian Veterinary Association,
Queensland Branch submitted:
Biodiversity in all its complexity is essential for the
maintenance of ecosystem services, clean and adequate water supplies, clean
air, soil fertility and stability, carbon sequestration and to address climate
change. Human health and prosperity as well as that of the natural world is
ultimately dependent upon addressing faunal extinctions. A healthy fauna can
only exist in conjunction with a healthy flora and microbiota.
The Centre for Ecosystem Science similarly emphasised the importance of
maintaining healthy ecosystems and argued that 'prolonged over-exploitation of
[Australia's] landscapes has eroded their capacity to deliver economic
prosperity and security'. The Centre added:
Ecosystems deliver services such as clean water and air, soil
stability and fertility, climate regulation, carbon storage, recreational and
tourism opportunities, as well as production goods such as food, fibre and
timber. Although many of these services are often regarded as economic
externalities, they cannot be taken for granted and their maintenance costs cannot
be ignored without eroding Australian incomes and business profitability.
Other submitters pointed to impacts on particular industries, should the
extinction crisis not be addressed. This included losses to the tourist
industry when iconic wildlife such as the koala no longer exist or when
ecological systems such as the Great Barrier Reef are so degraded that their
appeal to tourists diminishes. The continued loss of fauna risks crop and stock
production and therefore loss of food supplies.
The Environmental Farmers Network commented that
Ecological networks, like all complex systems, behave in
unpredictable ways when components are removed (become extinct). Ecological
processes are critical to sustainable farming, eg pollination, water
filtration, breakdown of crop residues and the recycling of nutrients. Fauna
play roles in these things.
A further matter raised in evidence was the fundamental importance of Australia's
unique flora and fauna to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have
strong connections and obligations to country. The Australian Institute of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) submitted that:
Retaining connection to country is critical to the identity
and cultural continuity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies and
as a consequence, for the wellbeing and freedom of individual Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people. Indigenous peoples' laws and philosophical
traditions, kinship, language and art are all connected through their relationship
with lands and waters.
AIATSIS went on to state that 'Indigenous owners prioritise caring for
country as part of their overarching obligations and spiritual relationships
with their lands and waters because of their interconnectedness with all
aspects of the natural environment'.
Any extinction affects that interconnectedness. The ACF commented:
Extinction events can have profound cultural implications.
There are deep connections between Indigenous culture and custom and Australia's
wildlife. Extinction events break these connections. They can and have
significant impacts on communities and can further perpetuate social
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page