Surprising reason so many Aussie animals have gone extinct: 'Out of control'
While the world was advancing for humans, dozens of species were being wiped out from their natural home ranges.
In the last 60 years, mankind has walked on the moon, invented the internet, discovered DNA, and created the Walkman, Playstation, and Facebook. There's also been gains in the rights of minorities, women and even animals.
Distracted by this progress you’d be forgiven for not noticing that since the 1960s, Australia has wiped an estimated 23 animal species from their home ranges. Those aware of this embarrassing loss would probably imagine the country’s shocking rates of land clearing were primarily responsible, but you’d be wrong.
A new report has found that invasive species were behind the loss of 17 animals. With the world more globalised than ever, the Invasive Species Council (ISC) is warning the nation may not be ready to prevent a new pandemic wiping out many of our beloved native species.
“Mobility of people and products is accelerating madly — it’s getting out of control,” report author Tim Low told Yahoo News Australia. “Look at the way Covid-19 jumped out of nowhere and took over the world. That can happen with any kind of disease affecting any kind of plant or animal.”
Australian animals extinct since the 1960s includes 23 probable wild extinctions of animals since the 1960s, including three that survive but were wiped out of their wild home ranges.
Does this mean we shouldn't care about habitat loss?
"No, certainly not," was Mr Low's blunt response.
Habitat loss remains a critical threat to many iconic Australian species including koalas, which were listed as endangered in 2022. Mr Low is arguing that if we want to prevent extinction then there needs to be a focus on preventing biosecurity threats to our wildlife.
"There's a very strong bias in the way biosecurity is run — it's all about protection agriculture... we need a rebalancing so that it focuses much more on the things that could cause extinction," he said.
Why fungus, plagues and flu are a threat to Australia
One key area of concern is bird flu, which has already wiped out millions of birds and swept across every continent except Australia and Antarctica. It could enter Australia through migratory birds.
But the illegal importation of crayfish into the country could be equally devastating because it could transmit a plague pathogen that’s already known to have resulted in mass mortalities across Europe and Asia. It could wipe out 22 native species of spiny crayfish in Australia.
Although the focus of the ISC report is animals, invasive pathogens also risk obliterating entire plant species. There are 16 across NSW and Queensland at imminent risk of extinction from myrtle rust. This fungus was found to have invaded Australia from South America in 2010, despite Australia’s border security knowing it posed a threat.
Top invasive killers
6 species — Chytrid fungus
4 species — Cat and wolf snake
2 species — Fox
1 species —Trypanosome parasite, black rat, trout
Habitat loss and climate change have also contributed to the loss of Australian species.
Will invasives be the biggest killers in the future?
Mr Low expects invasive species to continue to be the biggest driver of extinction in Australia until the end of the century.
Australia lost a concerning number of frogs since the 1990s. Eight further species have a high risk of becoming extinct from disease by 2040 and a further five species have a low to moderate risk of being wiped out by climate change. Several species of native fish are also under threat because of the introduction of trout.
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By the end of the century, he expects climate change to take over. So far, Australia has only lost one species to climate change, the Bramble Cay melomys. "If we get 4 degrees increase in climate change, it'll be catastrophic," he said.
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