People 'biggest threat to mammal survival'

Sonia Kohlbacher

Developers will be able to better see the toll their plans could take on thousands of mammal species after a study found human land use was the single biggest threat to their survival.

Researchers have found people pose the most risk to wiping out 4421 mammal species after comparing changes in land use between 1993 and 2009 and their chances of extinction from 1996 to 2008.

"They can tolerate some human pressure but beyond, where we start to see industry, it becomes a disaster, there is a clear tipping point," University of Queensland Professor James Watson told AAP.

"How we change land use impacts them."

The study shows activities like widespread deforestation, mining and development are to blame for their increasing vulnerability.

It also found big data can be used to predict their survival.

"This result contrasts with the findings from previous extinction risk modelling for mammals, where the importance of human pressure as predictors was found to be lower than environmental or life-history variables," it said.

Professor Watson says predicting trends in the way land is used or developed has become easier and more accurate because of the kind of data available.

It also means being able to forecast the response of animals to those changes and enables planning to reduce the risk of extinction.

"(That is) fundamental data that policymakers can use to change the course of the future for the environment," Professor Watson added.

"Right now conservation doesn't have that ability."