From kangaroos to giant spiders, Australia is well-known for its biodiversity. The continent has nearly 600,000 native species, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. For example, half of the world’s marsupial species come from Australia. In its five-year report, Australia State of the Environment compiles the latest updates on the continent’s rich biodiversity.
Biodiversity includes plants, animals, fungi, and other microorganisms. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 15, Life on Land, biodiversity is essential to the collective survival, well-being, and prosperity of people and the planet.
In Australia, scientists keep finding new species. However, the continent’s biodiversity is declining, and the number of threatened species keeps increasing. Per June 2021, there are 1,918 threatened species in Australia under different categories: Extinct or Extinct in the Wild (105), Critically Endangered (294), Endangered (724), Vulnerable (787), and Conservation Dependent (8).
Critical findings on Australia’s biodiversity are as follows:
- Plants: Australia is home to about 10% of the world’s plants (21,000 species). Among notable threatened plant species are eucalypts and orchids.
- Animals: Around 21% of Australian mammals are threatened species. Three new bird species are assessed as threatened. The reptile Emoia nativitatis is now Extinct, and there are 67 threatened reptile species. Among 243 native species of frogs, five are Extinct, and 50 are threatened. Meanwhile, 285 invertebrate species are listed as threatened, 22 Australian freshwater fish species face the highest risk of extinction, and little is known about subterranean fauna.
- Fungi and other microorganisms: There isn’t much data available, so tea-tree fingers (Hypocreopsis amplectens) are the only species listed as Critically Endangered.
Habitat loss and degradation presents the most dominant pressure on Australia’s plants and animals. Together with climate change and invasive species, they negatively impact biodiversity across almost all of Australia, sometimes irreversibly.
Here are some key findings about the pressures on Australia’s biodiversity:
- Population: Human activity, urban development, and population growth lead to pollution, overfishing, land clearing, and other conditions that affect biodiversity.
- Industry: Extensive agriculture, land clearing, and mining and energy production result in habitat loss and pollution.
- Climate change: Subtle changes (lifecycle shifts, rising temperature, etc.) and extreme events (fires, droughts, etc.) cause mass mortality. Aquatic environments in southern and eastern Australia are among the most impacted.
- Invasive Species: They’re a primary cause of extinction for Australian fauna. The threat of new diseases and pathogens also exists and may worsen.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is Australia’s key national legislation for protecting threatened species and communities. However, the report deems it not effective. Additionally, while climate change has been identified as a threat, only a small portion of recovery plans include specific actions to mitigate it.
Meanwhile, Australia’s protected area system has improved with the addition of Indigenous Protected Areas. Indigenous rights, knowledge, and values have become increasingly central to conservation management, but more needs to be done to integrate them into legislation and policy.
Naz is the Manager for Editorial Asia at Green Network. She performs the role of Editor for Green Network Asia and Reviewer for Green Network ID.