Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 - The Nature Conservancy
A new wave of extinctions is now threatening Australian mammals, this time in northern Australia, according to a group of leading Australian scientists.

The four scientists today (September 2 2010) released a report Into Oblivion: The disappearing mammals of northern Australia that for the first time details the extent of the decline.

Compiled by Dr John Woinarski (one of northern Australia’s leading scientists), Dr James Fitzsimons from The Nature Conservancy, Dr Sarah Legge (the lead scientist from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy) and Dr Barry Traill from the Pew Environment Group, the report combines historic information with new data to present a compelling case that if no action is taken, mammal extinctions will unfortunately be inevitable.

Dr James Fitzsimons, from The Nature Conservancy, says: “Based on current trends, many native mammals will become extinct in northern Australia in the next ten to 20 years.”

“The fact is this real risk of extinction threatens even large and iconic national parks in northern Australia such as Kakadu, Litchfield and Nitmiluk.”

In Kakadu, for example, a robust scientific monitoring program over the past 15 years shows that the abundance of 10 native mammal species has declined significantly, whereas no species increased significantly.

For 136 plots sampled between 2001 and 2004 and again between 2007 and 2009, site-level species richness declined by 65% and the total number of individuals declined by 75%. The most marked declines were for the Northern Quoll, Fawn Antechinus, Northern Brown Bandicoot, Common Brushtail Possum and Pale Field-rat.

The report says the main drivers of mammal decline include inappropriate fire regimes (too much fire), predation by feral cats, Cane Toads, vegetation changes associated with the pastoral industry and potentially disease.

Dr Fitzsimons says that the first step towards a solution is to recognize and highlight the problem which is why The Nature Conservancy commissioned the report.

“We are not seeking to point the finger of blame at anyone but rather to build a case for action while offering practical solutions that could stem extinction losses.”

He warns that the decline of native mammals in northern Australia may be a signal of looming environmental decay, the first and most obvious indicator of more pervasive ecological ill-health.

“These animals are disappearing because of what we have done to their environment, because of a small range of factors that should be within our understanding and budget to reverse, manipulate and manage.”

The report says that targeted management of all the known threats is urgently required to ensure the survival of mammals.

In the shorter-term, there is also a need to strengthen the safeguards on islands off northern Australia, as a temporary refuge for ‘at risk’ species until a more comprehensive solution can be reached on the mainland.

Dr Fitzsimons said the report’s findings diminished Australia’s heritage and stained the nation’s stewardship of the land.

“Australia has national, state and territory legislation and signed international commitments that oblige us to conserve our biodiversity. The report’s findings suggest we are failing badly.” he said.

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Penny Underwood

P: 03 9818 8540
W: www.nature.org/australia

Keywords

extinction, The Nature Conservancy, native mammals, Australia

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