Australia has already witnessed over 100 extinctions, which of our natives are we most likely to lose next?

Feral Herald |

Australia’s Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has pledged to stop new extinctions. But which species are most at risk of going extinct and what will it take to keep them safe?

Native wildlife on the brink of extinction

The stocky galaxias, a small, mottled fish with a beautiful golden iris, survives in a tiny 3-kilometre stretch of Tantangara Creek above a waterfall in Kosciuszko National Park. The rest of the catchment is now uninhabitable to them because of predatory invasive trout.

This critically endangered fish is unlikely to survive in the wild. According to expert analysis, the stocky galaxias has a 67% risk of extinction within the next 20 years. All it would take would be an angler shifting trout above the waterfall or an extreme storm drowning out that last barrier between the stocky galaxias and invasive trout. If the Snowy 2.0 scheme goes ahead, the stocky galaxias could be wiped out instead by the climbing galaxias. And feral horses are adding to its woes by degrading what little area the stocky galaxias does still inhabit.

Stocky galaxias and their remaining habitat in Kosciuszko National Park. Photos by Zac Atkins & Jamie Pittock.

Another of our natives unlikely to survive much longer is the critically endangered native guava (Rhodomyrtus psidioides). This shrub or small tree was common on the edges of rainforests in Queensland and News South Wales and important in forest regeneration. But the arrival of a new fungus in Australia has decimated it.

Just 12 years since myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) was first detected, native guava has been assessed as having a ‘high’ risk of extinction within one generation (about 20 years). Adding to the damage, in some areas native guavas are being replaced by the notorious weed lantana (Lantana camara), making our rainforests more susceptible to fire.

The stocky galaxias and native guava are just two of about 100 unique Australian species that were recently assessed by the now defunded Threatened Species Recovery Hub as having a high or greater than 50% risk of extinction within 10–20 years. Invasive species represent a significant threat to nearly three-quarters of them.

Animals at risk

About 32–42 vertebrate animal species are on this high extinction risk list. The lower number takes into account 10 species that are probably already extinct, although not yet confirmed or recognised formally as such.

Those at highest risk are:

  • 22 freshwater fish species
  • 8 frog species (4 probably extinct)
  • 6 reptile species (4 probably extinct)
  • 4 bird species (3 probably extinct) and an additional 8 subspecies
  • 2 mammals (1 probably extinct).

The plains wanderer is one of 42 Australian animals with a high risk of extinction within a generation. Photo by David Cook.

Another 20 animals face at least a 30% risk of extinction. Although many more mammals are highly threatened, most are now safer from extinction because they have been translocated to islands and fenced reserves that are protected from predatory foxes and cats.

Continuing the pattern of the past 2 centuries, invasive species are the most prevalent threat to at-risk animals. Of the 37 species at high risk for which threats have been rated, 36 are threatened to a high or medium degree by invasive species.

Invasive predators and pathogens dominate, with the most prevalent threats being chytrid fungus (the main threat to native frogs) and invasive trout (a major threat to native freshwater fishes). The list also includes several invasive ungulates (pig, deer, horse). In addition to invasive species, many at-risk species are threatened by habitat loss, adverse fire regimes and climate change.

Plants at risk

Also at high risk of extinction – within 10 years – are 49 plant species. These plants are all only known to exist in a single population or number fewer than 250 individuals while still being in decline. An additional 187 plants were assessed as being at risk of extinction within the next 10–100 years.

Another assessment, published in 2021, predicted the likely extinction of an additional 16 native tree species due to disease caused by myrtle rust. Although this fungus has only been in Australia for a little over a decade, it already infects over 350 native plant species.

Scrub myrtle (Rhodamnia rubsecens) has been badly hit by myrtle rust since the disease reached Australia in 2010. The Invasive Species Council has a 2030 goal of no new extinctions caused by invasive species. Eight recent studies by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub make clear how challenging that is. Invasive species are a significant threat to about three-quarters of the 100 or so species at high risk of extinction within the next 2 decades. Photo by Tim Low.

Overall, invasive species – mainly myrtle rust, Phytophthora cinnamomi (a water mold), feral herbivores (rabbits, goats, deer, horses) and weeds – are significant drivers of at least 54% of the imminent extinctions predicted for Australia’s native plants.

What will it take?

To meet its pledge for zero new extinctions, the Australian Government will need to greatly boost conservation efforts. Most of the at-risk species have no recovery plan and most of their threats are escalating.

The leading threats to the around 100 Australian native species assessed to be at a high risk of imminent extinction. The tallies represent the number of native species which are impacted to a high or medium degree by each threat.

But protecting our natural world is about more than simply preventing all-out extinctions through measures like captive breeding and seed banking. It requires a national focus on abating the major threats that are behind Australia’s extinction crisis. Invasive species, a major driver of so many imminent extinctions, must be a high priority.

To achieve zero new extinctions, we urgently need much more ambition, a more systematic approach, more funding and national coordination to abate the threats that are leaving so many of our native plants and animals teetering on the brink of extinction. This is the focus of the Invasive Species Council’s Threats to Nature project.

More information:


  • Garnett ST, Hayward-Brown BK, Kopf RK, Woinarski JC, Cameron KA, Chapple DG, et al. Australia’s most imperilled vertebrates. Biological Conservation. 2022; 109561.
  • Lintermans M, Geyle HM, Beatty S, Brown C, Ebner BC, Freeman R, et al. Big trouble for little fish: identifying Australian freshwater fishes in imminent risk of extinction. Pacific Conservation Biology. 2020; 26(4): 365-377
  • Gillespie GR, Roberts JD, Hunter D, Hoskin CJ, Alford RA, Heard GW, et al. Status and priority conservation actions for Australian frog species. Biological Conservation. 2020;247: 108543.
  • Geyle HM, Hoskin CJ, Bower DS, Catullo R, Clulow S, Driessen M, et al. Red hot frogs: identifying the Australian frogs most at risk of extinction. Pacific Conservation Biology. 2022;28: 211–223
  • Geyle HM, Tingley R, Amey AP, Cogger H, Couper PJ, Cowan M, et al. Reptiles on the brink: identifying the Australian terrestrial snake and lizard species most at risk of extinction. Pacific Conservation Biology. 2020; 27: 3-12.
  • Geyle HM, Woinarski JC, Baker GB, Dickman CR, Dutson G, Fisher DO, et al. Quantifying extinction risk and forecasting the number of impending Australian bird and mammal extinctions. Pacific Conservation Biology. 2018;24: 157–167.
  • Silcock J, Fensham R. Using evidence of decline and extinction risk to identify priority regions, habitats and threats for plant conservation in Australia. Australian Journal of Botany. 2018;66: 541–555.
  • Fensham RJ, Carnegie AJ, Laffineur B, Makinson RO, Pegg GS, Wills J. Imminent extinction of Australian Myrtaceae by fungal disease. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 2020;35: 554–557.
  • Garnett S, Baker GB. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020. CSIRO Publishing; 2020.
  • Woinarski J, Burbidge A, Harrison P. The Action Plan for Australian mammals 2012. CSIRO publishing; 2014.
  • Chapple D, Tingley R, Mitchell N, Cox N, Bowles P, Macdonald S, et al. The action plan for Australian lizards and snakes 2017. CSIRO Publishing; 2019.

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Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]