Over the last two centuries, Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent and 19 ecosystems are showing signs of or are near collapse, a damning government report says.
Since 2016, 202 animal and plant species have been listed as threatened, including the koala and gang-gang cockatoo.
This marks an average rise of 8 per cent, but authors are concerned the “current listing processes are failing to keep up with the current rate of biodiversity loss”.
The largest increase in threatened listings has been seen among invertebrates and frogs, with the smallest among birds and reptiles.
This rate of decline has been exacerbated by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020.
It is estimated between one and three billion animals were killed or displaced as more than 10.3 million hectares went up in flames.
Five mammals could fall to extinction within the next two decades, the report’s lead authors Dr Ian Cresswell, Dr Terri Janke and Professor Emma L. Johnston said.
- Central rock-rat
- Northern hopping-mouse
- Carpentarian rock-rat
- Christmas Island flying fox
- Black-footed tree-rat
“Most mammal extinctions in Australia have been driven by predation from introduced species, especially the feral cat and European red fox; extinction rates are particularly high in arid and semi‑arid regions of Australia,” the report reads.
Australian birds are also showing large population declines, with the most at-risk bird species found only on islands or in southern Australia.
Australian marsupial listed as endangered
‘Feeling the heat’: Report a ‘wake-up’ call
“At least” 19 ecosystems are also showing signs of collapse, with Alpine environments and the Great Barrier Reef among the most at risk.
Professor in Marine Biology at James Cook University Jodie Rummer said repeated mass bleaching events is making it challenging for marine species to rebound.
“This is especially worrisome for key predators like sharks that have slow generation times, needing a decade, if not more, to reach sexual maturity, but are so important for ecosystem health.
“Every element of the ecosystem feels the heat.”
Dr Andrew King, a lecturer in Climate Science at the School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said the report should serve as a “wake-up” call.
“While Australia has always been a land of extreme weather and climate variability – experiencing drought and heat, fires and floods – human-caused climate change is causing extremes to occur more often and with more devastating impacts,” he said.
“This report should act as a wake-up call to the damage we are doing to the world around us.
“We must decarbonise our economy and society as rapidly as possible to try and limit the environmental losses that we will experience as we keep warming the world.”
Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, vowed the environment “is back on the priority list”, ahead of the report’s public release today.
“I won’t be putting my head in the sand,” she said.
“The State of the Environment Report is a shocking document – it tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment, and of a decade of government inaction and wilful ignorance.
“Now is the time to read this report and take action.”