In the lead-up to World Biodiversity Day on 22 May, the Invasive Species Council has reviewed recent research showing Australia has been averaging at least 4.5 probable extinctions every decade since the 1960s. More than previously thought.
An average of almost 3 extinctions per decade have been caused mainly by invasive species.
A new report by the Invasive Species Council – GONE: Australian animals extinct since the 1960s – profiles the losses of 23 animal species, including species recently assessed by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub as probably extinct (with a >70% likelihood).
‘Telling the stories of these modern extinctions is a way of honouring those lost species, all unique to Australia, but also to learn from the past so as to better avoid future extinctions,’ said lead author and biologist Tim Low.
‘The report reveals that extinctions remain shockingly common and that both the extinction drivers and the animals being lost are becoming more diverse.
‘When you look at animal extinctions since European colonisation, one major threat stands out as an exterminating force – invasive species,’ said Mr Low.
Up to 1960, the main causes were cats and foxes preying on mammals, and rats (as well as human hunters) preying on island birds.
But since 1960, the exterminators have included several other invasive species – chytrid fungus, wolf snakes and trout – as well as other threats such as land clearing and hydrological changes. Frogs and reptiles have joined the lists of those gone forever.
‘As new invasive species arrive and spread, as climate change and fire regimes intensify and as more habitat is lost, the causes of extinction will continue to multiply,’ said Mr Low.
‘If the Australian government is genuinely committed to zero extinctions they need to start dealing effectively with the multitude of threats and prevent new threats arising.
‘Australia has long had one of the highest rates of animal extinctions in the world (the highest for mammals).
‘The stories of modern extinctions show we have not yet learned from past mistakes. It is not enough to try to save species on the verge of extinction. Unless we focus on abating the major threats, more species will disappear before they are recognised as doomed.
‘The average Australian has not heard or known about most of these native animals that are gone forever. Telling their stories is a way to honour them and raise awareness of the problem’, said Mr Low.
Tim Low, author and biologist, is available for interview.
Media inquiries: Tania Sincock at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 02 8006 5004
Photos from the report for media use are available via Hightail.
Background notes for editors:
- The report profiles each of the 25 animals unique to Australia that are thought to have been lost since 1960.
- This includes species accepted as extinct (listed by the Australian Government) and those that have been assessed recently by researchers in the Threatened Species Recovery Hub as likely to be extinct (>70% likelihood for animal extinctions).
- Probable animal and plant extinctions since 1960: 23 animals, 4 plants.
- Invasive species have been the primary cause of extinctions since 1960, responsible for 17 extinctions. Habitat loss and degradation have caused 7 extinctions. Climate change has caused 1 extinction.
- The invasive species that have caused modern extinctions are cats, foxes, chytrid fungus, wolf snakes, black rats, brown trout, Trypanosome lewisi (see page 6 of the report).
- The rate of modern extinctions is at least as high if not higher than past extinctions.
- See page 7 of the report for a full list of probable extinctions.