Threatened species in 2016… what does their future look like

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Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews, was appointed in July 2014 to bring a new national focus and effort to secure our threatened flora and fauna.

On 16 July 2015, Gregory Andrews released the Threatened Species Strategy at the first Threatened Species Summit. This document explains how the policies and programs of the Australian Government will work to protect and recover threatened species. The five-year Action Plan in the Strategy identifies mammals, birds and plants as the first set of threatened species to be addressed, and resolves to tackle the devastation inflicted on Australia’s threatened species by feral cats. The Action Plan is the start of a five year Australian Government response. The key action items areas that are priorities are:

  • tackling feral cats;
  • safe havens for species most at risk;
  • improving habitat; and
  • emergency intervention to avert extinctions.

Targets to measure success are:

  • 2 million feral cats culled by 2020;
  • 20 threatened mammals improving by 2020;
  • 20 threatened birds improving by 2020;
  • Protecting Australia’s plants; and
  • Improving recovery guidance.

In February 2015 and December 2015, Greg Andrews released his ‘Threatened Species Commissioner Reports to the Minister for the Environment’. These reports provide a detailed report on the progress the Government is making towards achieving the items detailed in the Action Plan.

When the Threatened Species Strategy was first released it only nominated the first 12 birds and 12 mammals to be targeted for protection, however, on 22 January 2016 the final 8 birds and 8 mammals were listed. The list of mammals that are foci species are:

Numbat  Leadbeater’s possum
Mala  Central rock-rat
Mountain Pygmy Possum  Gilbert’s potoroo (new)
Bilby  Western Ringtail possum (new)
Golden Bandicoot  Black-footed rock-wallaby (new)
Brush-tailed rabbit-rat  Eastern Quoll (new)
Eastern bettong  Woylie (new)
Western quoll  Northern hopping mouse (new)
Kangaroo Island dunnart  Christmas Island flying-fox (new)
Eastern barred bandicoot  Mahogany glider (new)

The list of birds that are foci species are:

Mallee emu-wren  Norfolk Island green parrot
Night parrot  Orange-bellied parrot
Regent honeyeater  Southern cassowary (new)
Hooded plover  Swift parrot (new)
Yellow chat  Australasian bittern (new)
Western ground parrot  White-throated grasswren (new)
Norfolk Island boobook owl  Golden-shouldered parrot (new)
Eastern bristlebird  Mallefowl (new)
Helmeted honeyeater  Eastern curlew (new)
Plains wanderer  Red-tailed black cockatoo (south-eastern) (new)

This Commonwealth Government initiative has the potential to be an effective strategy. Woinarski et al. (2015) reported that over the last 200 years >10% of the 273 endemic terrestrial mammal species had become extinct, with a further 21% of endemic land mammal species now assessed to be threatened, indicating that the rate of loss is likely to continue.

Australian terrestrial mammals that have become extinct since 1788 include:

Western long-beaked echidna  Zaglossus bruijnii
Thylacine  Thylacinus cynocephalus
Pig-footed bandicoot  Chaeropus ecaudatus
Desert bandicoot  Perameles eremiana
Yallara (lesser bilby)  Macrotis leucura
Desert bettong  Bettongia anhydra
Nullarbor dwarf bettong  Bettongia pusilla
Desert rat-kangaroo  Caloprymnus campestris 
Broad-faced potoroo  Potorous platyops 
Kuluwarri (central hare-wallaby)  Lagorchestes asomatus
Eastern hare-wallaby  Lagorchestes leporides 
Toolache wallaby  Notamacropus greyi
Crested nailtail wallaby  Onychogalea lunata 
Dusky flying fox  Pteropus brunneus
Lord Howe long-eared bat  Nyctophilus howensis
Christmas Island pipistrelle  Pipistrellus murrayi
White-footed rabbit-rat  Conilurus albipes
Capricorn rabbit-rat  Conilurus capricornensis
Lesser stick-nest rat  Leporillus apicalis 
Short-tailed hopping-mouse  Notomys amplus
Long-tailed hopping-mouse  Notomys longicaudatus 
Large-eared hopping-mouse  Notomys macrotis
Darling Downs hopping-mouse  Notomys mordax
Broad-cheeked hopping-mouse  Notomys robustus
Long-eared mouse  Pseudomys auritus
Blue-gray mouse  Pseudomys glaucus
Gould’s mouse  Pseudomys gouldii 
Bramble Cay melomys  Melomys rubicola
Maclear’s rat  Rattus macleari 
Bulldog rat  Rattus nativitatis 

In addition to the above list there are other species that are listed as critically endangered or endangered, and could disappear in the near future. A more effective approach than has been taken in recent years is required. It is hoped that the Threatened Species Commissioner is capable of providing the impetus and drive for a better outcome.

Recovery plans

Comprehensive and well written recovery plans are a first step in the process of ensuring these remaining threatened species do not follow the above list of species into extinction. These recovery plans require specific, quantifiable and measurable objectives, with effective and robust monitoring programs being put in place at intervals of less than 5 years. All recovery plans should be independently peer reviewed and evaluations independently undertaken with the results widely publicised. For many species, this will mean a more objective, scientific and robust approach is taken in the planning and evaluation of the effectiveness and implementation of these recovery plans.

Role of the Threatened Species Commissioner

The Commonwealth Government website indicates the Commissioner will take a practical, evidence-based approach to ensuring that conservation efforts and investment are better targeted, more coordinated and more effective. As with recovery plans, the Threatened Species Commissioner requires specific, quantifiable and measurable objectives, with reports to the Minister providing quantifiable evidence of changes and improvements.

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Reference

Woinarski, J. C., A. A. Burbidge, and P. L. Harrison. 2015. Ongoing unraveling of a continental fauna: Decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Photo credit: Top – Northern Quoll captured during a monitoring program (Ed Swinhoe); bottom – Western Grey Kangaroo inspecting a camera trap

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