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Action needed to save Australia’s plants and animals

A new study carried out with the support of eight universities and seven environmental organizations in Australia has identified the most endangered plants and animals on the continent. This is the most comprehensive national-scale dataset describing the threats that are faced by Australia’s flora and fauna. 

The researchers identified 1,339 species of plants and 456 species of animals that are listed as threatened under the Australian Commonwealth law by habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation, other invasive species, and disease. Among these, ten birds, seven mammals, twenty fish, six reptiles, and one butterfly are likely to become extinct in the next two decades if no major conservation actions are undertaken.

Some of these species are struggling with a large variety of threats. The swift parrot, for instance, is facing no less than 17 different threats, including habitat loss from agricultural processes and logging, invasive weeds, and climate change. Similarly, koalas are severely afflicted by habitat loss from urban development and agriculture, diseases, dog attacks, and many other stressors. 

The publication of this dataset in the journal Ecology and Evolution is an important step forward for increasing the efforts to save these endangered animals. 

“Before now we didn’t have comprehensive information on the threats to these species, and more importantly, the severity of those threats,” explained study co-author Dr. April Reside from the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences.

“More accurate conservation efforts are now possible due to the ability to categorize and address these threats facing our at-risk species,” said study lead author Michelle Ward, a doctoral student at UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Looking at the data, conservation managers can see that mitigating habitat loss, invasive species, and disease, while also improving fire regimes and curtailing the impact of climate change wherever possible is crucial for curbing species decline.”

The database has already been widely distributed to federal and state governments, as well as conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, BirdLife Australia, and the Nature Conservancy. In order to protect these numerous endangered plant and animal species, collaborative action is urgently needed.    

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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