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The Conversation: Species don’t live in isolation: what changing threats to 4 marsupials tell us about the future

Once abundant, woylies – or brush-tailed bettongs – are now critically endangered. John GouldCC BY-SA

By William Geary (Deakin University), Adrian Wayne (The University of Western Australia), Euan Ritchie (Deakin University) and Tim Doherty (University of Sydney).

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conserving native wildlife is a challenging task and Australia’s unenviable extinction record shows us we urgently need more sophisticated and effective approaches. 

Too often we focus on saving individual threatened species. But in the wild, species do not live neatly in isolation. They are part of rich ecosystems, relying on many other species to survive. To save species often means saving this web of life. 

Our new research models what’s likely to happen to four well-known Western Australian marsupials in the biodiversity hotspot of south-western Australia, by identifying key drivers of their populations over time. 

In the past, these species were most at risk from habitat loss. But when we ran our models forwards, we found all four species would be at more risk from climate change, which is bringing heightened fire risk and a drying trend to the region. Even better control of foxes – a major predator – did not offset the trend fully.

Our work adds further weight to efforts to protect ecosystems in all their complexity. The way species – including feral predators – interact takes place against a changing climate, fire regimes, and human-made change, like logging and grazing. 

To give native species their best chance of survival, we have to embrace ecosystem-based conservation, rather than focusing on rescuing individual species. 

What did we find?

We looked at long-term monitoring data to find out what was having the most impact on the woylie (brush-tailed bettong), chuditch (western quoll), koomal (western brushtail possum) and the quenda (southern brown bandicoot), four animals living in Upper Warren jarrah forests.

Our study species, left to right and clockwise: the koomal (western brushtail possum), chuditch (western quoll), quenda (southern brown bandicoot) and the woylie (brush-tailed bettong). The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)

All four have undergone considerable population change over the last few decades and some are now threatened due to predation by foxes and feral cats, habitat loss and increased frequency of droughts and bushfires. To add to that, controlled burns, lethal fox control and timber harvesting have all taken place in our study region within this time. What we didn’t know was how these threats and conservation efforts interact. 

To find out, we built a complex statistical model of the ecosystem to pinpoint what was driving population change geographically and over time. 

We found the abundance of these species were affected most by the historical impact of habitat loss, as well as less food in the form of vegetation or prey due to the area’s ongoing decline in rainfall. 

Of the habitat lost here, most was cleared during the 19th and early 20th centuries. But now it has more or less stopped, the legacies of this change continue through the effects of habitat fragmentation and increased incursion by introduced species. That means the main falls in abundance took place decades ago. 

What about fire and foxes? These threats had less effect than habitat loss and rainfall declines, which we attribute to the broad management of both of these in the region. It was also difficult to quantify the effects of fox control because of the lack of control areas – essentially, comparable areas without poison baits in the region. 

Our work shows there’s not one simple answer for managing this ecosystem. Everything is connected. We need to embrace this complexity so that we can better pinpoint where our actions can make a difference.

This jarrah forest is typical of our study region. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)

What’s likely to happen?

While habitat loss was the major historical threat, the future looks to be different. Severe fire is set to increase and rainfall reduce due to climate change. This indicates all four species will see falling populations. 

Annual rainfall in south-western Australia has already fallen at least 20% below the historical average and further declines are expected. If severe fires arrive more often – and overlap with reduced rainfall – we could see even greater population loss. 

These threats mean local conservation managers will be less able to help. Controlling fox numbers may help at present, but in a drier, fierier future, things will get harder. 

Our modelling suggests that for woylie and koomal, lethal fox control could boost their resilience to severe fire and reduced rainfall, but not completely offset the expected losses.

Jarrah forests are now experiencing more bushfires. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)

What does this mean for ecosystem management?

It’s long been a goal for conservationists to manage ecosystems as a whole. In reality, this is often incredibly difficult, as we need to consider multiple threats (such as fire and invasive species) and conflicting requirements of different species, in the face of uncertainty about how some ecosystems work, as well as limited budgets

Ecosystems are complex webs of interacting species, processes and human influences. If we ignore this complexity, we can miss conservation opportunities, or see our actions have less effect than we expected. 

Sometimes, well-intended actions can actually produce worse outcomes for some species, such as fox control leading to a boom in wallabies who strip the forest of everything edible. 

Studies like ours wouldn’t be possible without the careful collection and synthesis of data over decades. As global climate change accelerates and the effects on ecosystems become increasingly unpredictable, conservation managers are flying blind if they do not have long-term monitoring to inform decisions on where and when to act. 

So what can our conservation managers do? They can help ecosystems survive by doing two things. First, keep managing the threats within our control – such as invasive predators and ongoing habitat loss – to help reduce damage from other threats. Second, model and anticipate the effects of future change, and use that knowledge to be as prepared as we can.

The Conversation

Understanding conflict among experts working on controversial species: A case study on the Australian dingo

Authors: Valerio Donfrancesco, Benjamin L Allen, Rob Appleby, Linda Behrendorff, Gabriel Conroy, Mathew S Crowther, Christopher R Dickman, Tim Doherty, Bronwyn A Fancourt, Christopher E Gordon, Stephen M Jackson, Chris N Johnson, Malcolm S Kennedy, Loukas Koungoulos, Mike Letnic, Luke K‐P Leung, Kieren J Mitchell, Bradley Nesbitt, Thomas Newsome, Carlo Pacioni, Justine Phillip, Brad V Purcell, Euan G Ritchie, Bradley P Smith, Danielle Stephens, Jack Tatler, Lily M van Eeden, Kylie M Cairns

Published in: Conservation Science and Practice


Expert elicitation can be valuable for informing decision-makers on conservation and wildlife management issues. To date, studies eliciting expert opinions have primarily focused on identifying and building consensus on key issues. Nonetheless, there are drawbacks of a strict focus on consensus, and it is important to understand and emphasize dissent, too.

This study adopts a dissensus-based Delphi to understand conflict among dingo experts. Twenty-eight experts participated in three rounds of investigation.

We highlight disagreement on most of the issues explored. In particular, we find that disagreement is underpinned by what we call “conflict over values” and “conflict over evidence.” We also note the broader role played by distrust in influencing such conflicts.

Understanding and recognizing the different elements shaping disagreement is critical for informing and improving decision-making and can also enable critique of dominant paradigms in current practices. We encourage greater reflexivity and open deliberation on these aspects and hope our study will inform similar investigations in other contexts.

Donfrancesco V, Allen BL, Appleby R, Behrendorff L, Conroy G, Crowther MS, Dickman CR, Doherty T, Fancourt BA, Gordon CE, Jackson SM, Johnson CN, Kennedy MS, Koungoulos L, Letnic M, Leung LK ‐P., Mitchell KJ, Nesbitt B, Newsome T, Pacioni C, Phillip J, Purcell BV, Ritchie EG, Smith BP, Stephens D, Tatler J, van Eeden LM, Cairns KM (2023) Understanding conflict among experts working on controversial species: A case study on the Australian dingo. Conservation Science and Practice PDF DOI 

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The Conversation: One of these underrated animals should be Australia’s 2032 Olympic mascot. Which would you choose?

A velvet worm from Mt Elliot, North Queensland. Image credit: Alexander Dudley/Faunaverse. Inset: A potential mascot design. Image credit: Wes Mountain/The Conversation.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia is set to host the 2032 Olympic games in Queensland’s capital Brisbane, captivating an audience of billions. With so many eyes on Australia, the burning question is, of course, what animal(s) should be the official mascot(s) of the games, and why?

Summer Olympics past have featured recognisable animal mascots such as Waldi the daschund (Munich, 1972), Amik the beaver (Montreal, 1976), Misha the bear (Moscow, 1980), Sam the eagle (Los Angeles, 1984) and Hodori the tiger (Seoul, 1988).

Iconic and familiar mammals and birds dominate the list. The trend continued at Sydney’s 2000 games which featured Syd (playtpus), Olly (kookaburra) and Millie (echidna).

But the Brisbane Olympics is a great opportunity to showcase lesser known species, including those with uncertain futures.

Sadly Australia is a world leader in extinctions. Highlighting species many are unfamiliar with, the threats to them and their respective habitats and ecosystems, could help to stimulate increased conservation efforts.

From a “worm” that shoots deadly slime from its head, to a blind marsupial mole that “swims” underground, let’s take a look at three leading candidates (plus 13 special mentions). What makes them so special, and what physical and athletic talents do they possess?

Onychophorans, or velvet worms

Velvet worms are extraordinary forest and woodland denizens thought to have changed little in roughly 500 million years. Australian velvet worms are often smaller than 5 centimetres and look a bit like a worm-caterpillar mash up. They’re found across Australia and other locations globally.

Their waterproof, velvet-like skin is covered in tiny protusions called papillae, which have tactile and smell-sensitive bristles on the end. Velvet worms possess antennae and Australian species have 14-16 pairs of stumpy “legs”, each with a claw that helps them move across uneven surfaces such as logs and rocks.

Their colour varies between species, often blue, grey, purple or brown. Many display exquisite, detailed and showy patterns that can include diamonds and stripes – clear X-factor for a potential mascot.

Although velvet worms may be relatively small and, dare I say it, adorable, don’t be fooled. These animals are voracious predators.

They capture unsuspecting prey – other invertebrates – at night by firing sticky slime from glands on their heads. Once the victim is subdued, velvet worms bite their prey and inject saliva that breaks down tissues and liquefies them, ready to be easily sucked out.

If this isn’t intimidating enough, one species (Euperipatoides rowelli) lives and hunts in groups, with a social hierarchy under the control of a dominant female who feeds first following a kill.

Despite their formidable abilities, velvet worms are vulnerable to habitat destruction and fragmentation, and a changing climate.

Jalbil (Boyd’s forest dragon)

Jalbil is found in the rainforests of tropical North Queensland. They are a truly striking lizard – bearing a prominent pointy crest and a line of spikes down the back, distinct conical cheek scales and a resplendent yellow throat (dewlap) which can be erected to signal to each other.

Despite their colourful and ornate appearance, Jalbil can be very hard to spot as they’re perfectly camouflaged with their surroundings. They spend much of their time clinging vertically to tree trunks often at or below human head-height. Some have favourite trees they use more frequently.

If they detect movement, they simply move around the tree trunk to be out of direct view.

Reaching lengths of around 50cm, Jalbil mostly eat invertebrates, including ants, beetles, grasshoppers and worms. Males may have access to multiple female mates, and breeding is stimulated by storms at the beginning of the wet season.

While Jalbil are under no immediate threat, their future is uncertain. Jalbil are ectothermic, so unlike mammals and birds (endothermic), they can’t regulate their internal body heat through metabolism. Sunlight is often very patchy and limited below the rainforest canopy, restricting opportunities for basking to warm up.

Instead, Jalbil simply allow their body temperature to conform with the ambient conditions of their environment (thermo-conforming). This means if climate change leads to increased temperatures in the rainforests of Australia’s Wet Tropics, Jalbil may no longer be able to maintain a safe body temperature and large areas of habitat may also become unsuitable.

Itjaritjari and kakarratul (southern and northern marsupial moles)

These remarkable subterranean-dwelling marsupials really are in a league of their own. Both moles can fit in the palm of your hand, measuring up to about 150 millimetres and weighing about as much as a lemon (40-70 grams).

What these diminutive mammals lack in size they make up for in digging power – if only digging were an official Olympic sport. In central dunefields, they can dig up to 60 kilometres of tunnel per hectare.

Marsupial moles are covered in fine, silky, creamy-gold fur. They have powerful short arms with long claws, shovels for furious digging. Their back legs also help them push. Instead of creating and living in permanent burrows, they “swim” underground across Australia’s deserts for most of their lives.

The impressive adaptations don’t end there either. They also have ridiculously short but strong, tough-skinned tails that serve as anchors while digging. Females also have a backwards-facing pouch and all have nose shields that protect their nostrils, ensuring sand doesn’t end up where it’s not supposed to.

Due to living underground for most of their lives, many mole mysteries remain regarding their day-to-day lives. Scientists do know they eat a wide range of invertebrates including termites, beetles and ants, and small reptiles such as geckoes.

But while neither species is thought to be in danger of extinction, there are no reliable population estimates across their vast distributions. What’s more, introduced predators (feral cats and foxes) are known to prey upon them. Itjaritjari is listed as vulnerable in the Northern Territory.

And 13 special mentions go to…

With so many amazing wildlife species in Australia, it really is a near impossible task to choose our next mascot. So I also want to give special mentions to the following worthy contenders:

The Australian giant cuttlefish

These marine animals put on spectacular, colourful displays each year when they form large breeding aggregations.

Arnkerrth (thorny devil)

A desert-dwelling, ant-eating machine that can drink simply by standing in puddles.

The Torresian striped possum

This striking black and white possum is thought to have the largest brain relative to body size of any marsupial. Their extra long fourth finger makes extracting delicious grubs from rotting wood a cinch.

Kila (palm cockatoo)

Our largest and arguably most spectacular “rockatoo”, which plays the drums.

Ulysses butterfly

Also known as mountain blue butterflies, the vivid, electric blue wings of Ulysses butterflies can span as much as 130 millimetres.

The Australian lungfish

A living fossil, which is now found only in Queensland, can breath air as well as in the water.

Mupee, boongary or marbi (Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo)

Despite being powerfully built for climbing, Lumholtz’s tree kangaroos are also adept at jumping, when alarmed they’ve been known to jump from heights of up to 15m to the ground.

The green tree python

Green tree pythons are the most vivid green snake you can possibly imagine. While adult pythons are a vibrant green the juveniles may be bright yellow or red (but not in Australia), changing colour when they are about half a metre long.

The chameleon grasshopper

Based on temperature, male chameleon grasshoppers can change colour from black to turquoise, and back to black again, each day.

Greater gliders

These fabulous fuzzballs can glide up to 100m in a single leap.

Peacock spiders

Peacock spiders come in rainbow colours and the males sure know how to shake it. Their vivid colours, such as in the species Maratus volans, are due to tiny scales that form nanoscopic lenses created from carbon nanotubes.

Corroboree frogs

They are a striking black and yellow, and desperately need help.

And finally, I’ll always have a soft spot for Australia’s much maligned canid, the dingo.

So now, over to you. What are your suggestions for unique animal mascots at the 2032 Brisbane Olympics?
The Conversation

The Conversation

Threat-abatement framework confirms habitat retention and invasive species management are critical to conserve Australia’s threatened species

Authors: Stephen G Kearney, James EM Watson, April E Reside, Diana O Fisher, Martine Maron, Tim S Doherty, Sarah M Legge, John CZ Woinarski, Stephen T Garnett, Brendan A Wintle, Euan G Ritchie, Don A Driscoll, David Lindenmayer, Vanessa M Adams, Michelle S Ward, and Josie Carwardine

Published in: Biological Conservation


Earth’s extinction crisis is escalating, and threat classification schemes are increasingly important for assessing the prominent drivers and threats causing species declines. However, a complementary framework for assessing the conservation responses needed to abate these threatening processes is lacking.

Here we draw on expert knowledge and published literature to develop a threat-abatement framework which groups threats based on the shared conservation goal of the actions needed to abate their impact and apply it to 1532 threatened species across the Australian continent.

Our analysis shows that the most important conservation actions across Australia are to retain and restore habitat, due to the threats posed by habitat destruction and degradation (via logging, mining, urbanisation, roads, and agriculture) to 86% of Australia’s threatened species. Most species also require the effective control of invasive species and diseases (82%) and improved fire management (66%).

Countering individual threats will not be enough to support species survival or recovery, because almost all species (89%) require multiple, integrated management responses to redress their threats. Our threat abatement framework enables rapid identification of broad conservation responses to aid recovery of threatened species and can be applied in other regions, scales and contexts.

Kearney SG, Watson JEM, Reside AE, Fisher DO, Maron M, Doherty TS, Legge SM, Woinarski JCZ, Garnett ST, Wintle BA, Ritchie EG, Driscoll DA, Lindenmayer D, Adams VM, Ward MS, Carwardine J (2023) Threat-abatement framework confirms habitat retention and invasive species management are critical to conserve Australia’s threatened species. Biological Conservation PDF DOI


Fox and cat responses to fox baiting intensity, rainfall and prey abundance in the Upper Warren, Western Australia

Authors: William L Geary, Adrian F Wayne, Ayesha IT Tulloch, Euan G Ritchie, Marika A Maxwell, and Tim S Doherty

Published in: Wildlife Research


Context: Invasive predators are major drivers of global biodiversity loss. Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cats (Felis catus) have contributed to the decline and extinction of many native species in Australia. The deployment of poison baits to control fox populations is a widespread conservation tool, but the effects of baiting intensity, rainfall and prey abundance on baiting effectiveness remain poorly understood.

Aims: We aimed to understand what influences the association between fox baiting intensity, red fox activity and feral cat activity, to provide inferences about what might affect the effectiveness of fox baiting in reducing fox activity.

Methods: We used generalised linear models to assess how fox and cat activity changes in relation to fox baiting intensity, rainfall, native prey availability and distance to agricultural land over a 6-year period (2006–2013) in the forest ecosystems of the Upper Warren region of south-western Australia.

Key results: We found that fox activity was negatively associated with rainfall in the previous 12 months and positively associated with prey abundance and fox baiting intensity. We also found an interaction between fox baiting and prey abundance, with fox activity increasing with prey activity in areas of low and moderate baiting intensity, but remaining constant in areas of high baiting intensity. Feral cat activity was positively associated with prey abundance and fox baiting intensity. We found no clear relationship between fox and cat activity.

Conclusions: The drivers of the association between fox baiting and fox activity are unclear because intense fox baiting was targeted at areas of known high fox abundance. However, our results indicate that intense fox baiting may be effective at decoupling the positive association between fox activity and prey abundance. Our results also suggest a positive association between fox baiting intensity and feral cat activity, thus supporting the case for integrated fox and cat management.

Implications: We caution interpretation of our results, but note that management of invasive predators could be improved by adjusting the intensity of management in response to changes in environmental conditions and local context (e.g. strategically conducting intense predator management where prey abundance is highest). Improved understanding of these associations requires a monitoring program with sufficient replication and statistical power to detect any treatment effects.

Geary WL, Wayne AF, Tulloch AIT, Ritchie EG, Maxwell MA, Doherty TS (2022) Fox and cat responses to fox baiting intensity, rainfall and prey abundance in the Upper Warren, Western Australia. Wildlife Research PDF DOI

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The Conversation: ‘Gut-wrenching and infuriating’: why Australia is the world leader in mammal extinctions, and what to do about it

A museum specimen of the extinct northern pig-footed bandicoot. Image credit: Vassil/Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle via Wikimedia Commons.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In fewer than 250 years, the ravages of colonisation have eroded the evolutionary splendour forged in this continent’s relative isolation. Australia has suffered a horrific demise of arguably the world’s most remarkable mammal assemblage, around 87% of which is found nowhere else.

Being an Australian native mammal is perilous. Thirty-eight native mammal species have been driven to extinction since colonisation and possibly seven subspecies. These include:

  • Yirratji (northern pig-footed bandicoot)
  • Parroo (white-footed rabbit-rat)
  • Kuluwarri (central hare-wallaby)
  • Yallara (lesser bilby)
  • Tjooyalpi (lesser stick-nest rat)
  • Tjawalpa (crescent nailtail wallaby)
  • Yoontoo (short-tailed hopping-mouse)
  • Walilya (desert bandicoot)
  • toolache wallaby
  • thylacine

This makes us the world leader of mammal species extinctions in recent centuries. But this is far from just an historical tragedy.

A further 52 mammal species are classified as either critically endangered or endangered, such as the southern bent-wing bat, which was recently crowned the 2022 Australian Mammal of the Year. Fifty-eight mammal species are classed as vulnerable.

Many once-abundant species, some spread over large expanses of Australia, have greatly diminished and the distributions of their populations have become disjointed. Such mammals include the Mala (rufous hare-wallaby), Yaminon (northern hairy-nosed wombat), Woylie (brush-tailed bettong) and the Numbat.

This means their populations are more susceptible to being wiped out by chance events and changes – such as fires, floods, disease, invasive predators – and genetic issues. The ongoing existence of many species depends greatly upon predator-free fenced sanctuaries and offshore islands.

Without substantial and rapid change, Australia’s list of extinct mammal species is almost certain to grow. So what exactly has gone so horribly wrong? What can and should be done to prevent further casualties and turn things around?

Up to two mammal species gone per decade

Australia’s post-colonisation mammal extinctions may have begun as early as the 1840s, when it’s believed the Noompa and Payi (large-eared and Darling Downs hopping mice, respectively) and the Liverpool Plains striped bandicoot went extinct.

Many extinct species were ground dwellers, and within the so-called “critical weight range” of between 35 grams and 5.5 kilograms. This means they’re especially vulnerable to predation by cats and foxes.

Small macropods (such as bettongs, potoroos and hare wallabies) and rodents have suffered most extinctions – 13 species each, nearly 70% of all Australia’s mammal extinctions.

Eight bilby and bandicoot species and three bats species are also extinct, making up 21% and 8% of extinctions, respectively.

The most recent fatalities are thought to be the Christmas Island pipistrelle and Bramble Cay melomys, the last known record for both species was 2009. The Bramble Cay melomys is perhaps the first mammal species driven to extinction by climate change.

Overall, research estimates that since 1788, about one to two land-based mammal species have been driven to extinction each decade.

When mammals re-emerge

It’s hard to be certain about the timing of extinction events and, in some cases, even if they’re actually extinct.

For example, Ngilkat (Gilbert’s potoroo), the mountain pygmy possum, Antina (the central rock rat), and Leadbeater’s possum were once thought extinct, but were eventually rediscovered. Such species are often called Lazarus species.

Our confidence in determining whether a species is extinct largely depends on how extensively and for how long we’ve searched for evidence of their persistence or absence.

Modern approaches to wildlife survey such as camera traps, audio recorders, conservation dogs and environmental DNA, make the task of searching much easier than it once was.

But sadly, ongoing examination and analysis of museum specimens also means that we’re still discovering species not known to Western science and that tragically are already extinct.

What’s driving their demise?

Following colonisation, Australia’s landscapes have suffered extensive, severe, sustained and often compounding blows. These include:

And importantly, the ongoing persecution of Australia’s largest land-based predator: the dingo. In some circumstances, dingoes may help reduce the activity and abundance of large herbivores and invasive predators. But in others, they may threaten native species with small and restricted distributions.

Through widespread land clearing, urbanisation, livestock grazing and fire, some habitats have been obliterated and others dramatically altered and reduced, often resulting in less diverse and more open vegetation. Such simplified habitats can be fertile hunting grounds for red foxes and feral cats to find and kill native mammals.

To make matters worse, European rabbits compete with native mammals for food and space. Their grazing reduces vegetation and cover, endangering many native plant species in the process. And they are prey to cats and foxes, sustaining their populations.

While cats and foxes, fire, and habitat modification and destruction are often cited as key threats to native mammals, it’s important to recognise how these threats and others may interact. They must be managed together accordingly.

For instance, reducing both overgrazing and preventing frequent, large and intense fires may help maintain vegetation cover and complexity. In turn, this will make it harder for invasive predators to hunt native prey.

What must change?

Above all else, we genuinely need to care about what’s transpiring, and to act swiftly and substantially to prevent further damage.

As a mammalogist of some 30 years, the continuing demise of Australia’s mammals is gut-wrenching and infuriating. We have the expertise and solutions at hand, but the frequent warnings and calls for change continue to be met with mediocre responses. At other times, a seemingly apathetic shrug of shoulders.

So many species are now gone, probably forever, but so many more are hurtling down the extinction highway because of sheer and utter neglect.

Encouragingly, when we care for and invest in species, we can turn things around. Increasing numbers of Numbats, Yaminon and eastern-barred bandicoots provide three celebrated examples.

Improving the prognosis for mammals is eminently achievable but conditional on political will. Broadly speaking, we must:

  • minimise or remove their key threats
  • align policies (such as energy sources, resource use, and biodiversity conservation)
  • strengthen and enforce environmental laws
  • listen to, learn from and work with First Nations peoples as part of healing Country
  • invest what’s actually required – billions, not breadcrumbs.

The recently announced Threatened Species Action plan sets an ambitious objective of preventing new extinctions. Of the 110 species considered a “priority” to save, 21 are mammals. The plan, however, is not fit for purpose and is highly unlikely to succeed.

Political commitments appear wafer thin when the same politicians continue to approve the destruction of the homes critically endangered species depend upon. What’s more, greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets are far below what climate scientists say are essential and extremely urgent.

There’s simply no time for platitudes and further dithering. Australia’s remaining mammals deserve far better, they deserve secure futures.

The Conversation
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The Conversation: Labor’s plan to save threatened species is an improvement – but it’s still well short of what we need

Not a priority species: the endangered greater glider. Image credit: Josh Bowell/AAP

By Euan Ritchie (Deakin University), Megan C Evans (UNSW Sydney) and Yung En Chee (The University of Melbourne). 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s dire and shameful conservation record is well established. The world’s highest number of recent mammal extinctions – 39 since colonisation. Ecosystems collapsing from the north to the south, across our lands and waters. Even species that have survived so far are at risk, as the sad list of threatened species and ecological communities continues to grow.

During the election campaign, Labor pledged to turn this around. On Tuesday, federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced what this would look like: a new action plan for 110 threatened species. The goal: no new extinctions. “Our current approach has not been working. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the same results,” Plibersek said.

But is this really a step change? Let’s be clear. This plan is a welcome improvement – especially the focus on First Nations rangers and Indigenous knowledge, clearer targets, better monitoring and the goal of protecting 30% of Australia’s lands and seas within five years.

But the funding is wholly inadequate. The A$225 million committed is an order of magnitude less than what we need to actually bring these threatened species back from oblivion. The grim reality is this plan is nowhere near enough to halt the extinctions. Here’s why.

There’s nowhere near enough funding

Conservation costs money. Recovering threatened species takes effort. Tackling the threats that are pushing them over the edge, from feral cats to land clearing, is expensive. “Measures of last resort”, such as captive breeding, creation of safe havens and translocations, takes more still.

How much is enough? Estimates put it at A$1.7 billion per year. This is around one-seventh of the money Australian governments spent on fossil fuel subsidies last financial year. If there’s funding for that, there should be funding for wildlife.

Make no mistake – starving conservation of adequate funding is a choice. For decades, Australia’s unique environment and wildlife have been thrown consolation crumbs of funding – even though they are our collective natural heritage, fundamental to human survival, wellbeing and economic prosperity, and a major draw card for tourists and locals. You can see the results for yourself: more extinctions and many more threatened species.

Picking winners means many species will lose

Labor’s plan is focused on arresting the decline of 110 species, and 20 places such as the Australian Alps, Bruny Island and Kakadu and West Arnhem Land.

Unfortunately, that’s a drop in the ocean. Combined, we now have more than 2,000 species and ecological communities listed as threatened. Picking species to survive betrays our remarkable, diverse and largely unique plants, animals and ecosystems. It suggests – wrongly – that we have to choose winners and losers, when in fact we could save them all.

The plan assumes recovering priority species may help conserve other threatened species in the same areas and habitats. This is questionable, given only around 6% of listed threatened species are slated to receive priority funding, and how much the needs of different species can vary even in the same habitats and ecosystems. Different species respond very differently to fire regimes, for instance.

Policies and laws are essential

Funding by itself isn’t enough. Unless all levels of governments enact and enforce effective policies aimed at conserving species and their homes, the situation will worsen. Australians are still waiting to see what reforms actually emerge from Graeme Samuel’s sweeping review of the main laws governing biodiversity and environmental protection.

Alignment of policies is vital. What’s the point of saving a rare finch from land clearing if you’re simultaneously opening up huge areas to fracking, polluting groundwater and adding yet more emissions to our overheated atmosphere? Despite Labor’s rhetoric on threatened species and climate change, they are still committed to more coal and gas.

Similarly, native vegetation clearing and habitat loss is barely mentioned in the threatened species plan. Yet these are leading causes of environmental degradation, as the 2021 State of the Environment Report makes clear.

If you want to save the critically endangered western ringtail possum and endangered black cockatoos, why would you approve the clearing of habitat vital to their existence? The Labor government did just that in July.

Conserving more land isn’t a panacea

Protecting 30% of Australia’s lands and oceans by 2030 sounds great. But protecting degraded farmland is not the same as protecting a biodiverse grassland or wetland. And establishing protected areas is not the same as effective management.

To get this right, the new areas must add to our existing conservation estates by adding species and ecological communities with little or no representation. They must help species move as they would have before European colonisation, by connecting protected areas separated by human settlement or farms. And there must be enough money to actually look after the land. There’s no point protecting ever-larger tracts of degraded, weed-infested, rabbit, deer, horse, pig, fox and cat-filled land.

The 50 million hectares of land and sea to be added by 2027 is supposed to come almost entirely from Indigenous Protected Areas. But again, where’s the funding? Right now, these land and sea areas get a pittance – a few cents per hectare per year.

It’s also important to support conservation on private land, where many threatened species live and where significant gains can be made. Maintaining wildlife on private land can also help farmers and landholders through pollination and seed dispersal as well as broader ecosystem health.

We need laws with teeth

If you liked it, you should have put a law around it. If the federal government is serious about ending extinctions, it should be enshrined in legislation. As it stands, “zero extinctions” is a promise with no clear way for us to see who is responsible or how the promise will be kept.

Too cynical? Alas, there’s a very real trend here. Successive governments have avoided accountability for losing species doing exactly this. They release strategies on glossy paper which note we all have a role to play in conservation – but strangely omit the part about who is responsible when a species dies out. If you want to save species, make human careers depend on species staying alive.

We know strong legislation and billions rather than millions of dollars are needed to stop extinctions. So far, the new government has announced inadequate funding, a non-binding strategy with an aspirational goal, and a seemingly rushed idea of a biodiversity market, dubbed “green Wall Street”, which made conservationists including the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists very concerned.

Tossing breadcrumbs to conservation is what we’ve done for decades. It’s a major reason why our unique species are in this mess. Time’s up.

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The Conversation: Should we bring back the thylacine? We asked 5 experts

Image credit: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

By Signe Dean, Science and Technology Editor, The Conversation.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In a newly announced partnership with Texas biotech company Colossal Biosciences, Australian researchers are hoping their dream to bring back the extinct thylacine is a “giant leap” closer to fruition.

Scientists at University of Melbourne’s TIGRR Lab (Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research) believe the new partnership, which brings Colossal’s expertise in CRISPR gene editing on board, could result in the first baby thylacine within a decade.

The genetic engineering firm made headlines in 2021 with the announcement of an ambitious plan to bring back something akin to the woolly mammoth, by producing elephant-mammoth hybrids or “mammophants”.

But de-extinction, as this type of research is known, is a highly controversial field. It’s often criticised for attempts at “playing God” or drawing attention away from the conservation of living species. So, should we bring back the thylacine? We asked five experts.

Axel Newton, Evolutionary Biologist at TIGRR Lab

YES, with a “but” (more on that shortly). The thylacine is one of the most tragic stories of the modern era, being actively hunted to extinction through a government bounty scheme. Unlike other extinct species, the thylacine was eradicated less than 100 years ago. Its habitat and ecological environment that it once thrived in is still intact.

I think we have an obligation to do everything in our power to bring back this remarkable animal, particularly as our forebearers were the direct cause of its disappearance. However, we also have an ethical and moral responsibility to ensure that the animal we resurrect is a 99%+ thylacine and not an almost-thylacine hybrid.

The largest challenge of this endeavour is reconstructing the genome of an extinct species without access to any living tissue (the difference between de-extinction and cloning). This equates to putting together a 3-billion-piece puzzle, with our hands tied behind our back.

Inevitably some argue that money used on this project could be put to better use through actively preserving habitats of animals on the brink. But this project will have enormous conservation benefits to already threatened species, and has the potential to generate significant advancements to human health.

The crux of this is through producing the genetic tools and methods to edit the DNA of stem cells, and then turn those stem cells back into an animal. This technology will not only meet our end goal of turning a surrogate marsupial cell into a thylacine, but in the process allow us to reintroduce genetic diversity into endangered populations. We could take bio-banked tissues of rare, endangered species, and produce animals to be reintroduced into the environment to increase beneficial genetic diversity. Not only this, but the work could be applied for targeted gene therapy to correct mutations underlying human health and cancer.

So, should we bring the thylacine back, yes. Not only for the fate of this incredible, lost species, but also the significant benefits this project will produce for humanity as a whole. As long as we keep the moral and ethical considerations at the forefront, we have an opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past.

Parwinder Kaur, Geneticist and Biotechnologist

MAYBE. It depends on the complex risks re-introductions of extinct species would have on our current ecosystems. Will such risks outweigh the potential benefits and fear unsuccessful environmental management actions?

Earlier this year, our DNA Zoo Australia team completed a chromosome-length 3D genome map of thylacine’s closest living relative: the numbat. This raised the tantalising prospect of piecing together the thylacine’s genetic sequence, which in turn would offer the possibility of reintroducing one of Australia’s most iconic lost species.

But the big question our team faced was: shall we go after resurrecting the dead, or help numbats first? Numbats are now struggling and on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 numbats left in the wild and the species officially listed as endangered. The answer was simple: focus on what we have first.

We live in exciting times when biotechnology offers various promising alternatives for achieving this purpose, and probably a better use of these techniques will be towards preserving critically endangered species on the verge of extinction.

In my opinion, focusing on de-extinction could compromise biodiversity conservation by diverting resources from preserving ecosystems and preventing newer extinctions. It is no trivial work in terms of resources and skills required to revive an extinct animal; given the low level of investments into conservation research, we need to be very careful as a scientific community to not prioritise preservation over resurrection.

Euan Ritchie, Wildlife Ecologist

MAYBE. There is much to consider with such an ambitious project. Most importantly, we must greatly increase efforts to save and recover living species, and it’s simply far cheaper and easier to conserve what we have than to attempt to resurrect species and their ecological roles.

This requires confronting the many causes for species decline & extinction, and, broadly speaking, our unsustainable existence and inability to share this planet with other species.

At current rates of species decline and extinction, de-extinction will not be able to come even close to resurrecting what we have destroyed. So which species do we try to bring back, and why? And, if it is even possible, will resurrected species behave the same way, will they perform the same ecological roles and affect ecosystems in the same way? I’m very doubtful.

However, we must stop perpetuating the idea that conservation is a zero-sum game, feeding a flawed narrative that we must choose which projects, species and ecosystems we support. A shortage of money isn’t the issue, values and priorities are. For perspective, it’s estimated Australia spent A$11.6 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2021–22, but recently only allocated A$10 million to 100 priority threatened species, fewer than 6% of the country’s listed threatened species.

It’s vital we maintain robust scrutiny and scepticism of ambitious projects, but we must also support scientists to push boundaries and take educated risks. And sometimes we learn, even when we ‘fail’.

Personally, I would love to see thylacines back in the wild, but I’m not optimistic we’ll see a self-sustaining and genetically diverse population of thylacines any time soon, if at all. If such projects are to proceed, I also hope that Indigenous people, and communities more broadly, are properly consulted and involved.

Julian Koplin, Bioethicist

YES. Most of us think we should protect ecosystems from damage and prevent animals from going extinct. This might be because we value nature for its own sake, or it might be because we think biodiversity is good for humans ourselves.

Importantly, both of these reasons also support de-extinction. One reason to bring back (approximations of) animals like the Tasmanian tiger and woolly mammoth is to help restore the ecosystems they used to live in; another is to bring humans a sense of wonder and awe, and perhaps even greater respect for the natural world. So, why not push ahead?

Perhaps the most serious ethical worry is that de-extinction is a poor use of resources; we could probably make a bigger difference to biodiversity by funding conservation efforts instead. But this objection isn’t decisive. The costs of de-extinction may come down over time.

Also, it’s unclear whether many people funding de-extinction efforts would otherwise have funded traditional conservation projects instead. We should keep an eye on the costs, but we shouldn’t reject de-extinction outright.

Corey Bradshaw, Ecologist

NO. While the scientific endeavour to demonstrate capacity to re-animate long-extinct species does have some merit, claiming that the approach will counter present-day extinction rates or could be used as a conservation tool is naïve.

Viable populations require thousands of genetically diverse individuals to be able to persist in the wild. There is simply no prospect for recreating a sufficient sample of genetically diverse individual thylacines that could survive and persist once released.

Also, large predators like thylacines require large home ranges to gather food, establish territories, and raise young. The reason they were driven to extinction in the first instance was due to perceived conflict with landholders, so even if the problem of genetic diversity could be solved, the social licence to re-establish a large population of predators is unlikely to be granted (consider the case of dingo persecution throughout most of Australia today).

Furthermore, the available habitats in Australia that could support a large population of thylacines have dwindled or been degraded radically since the early 19th Century. Combined with no-analogue climates of the immediate future due to global warming, it is unlikely that there would be sufficient available habitat to support a viable population.

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The Conversation: Curious Kids: what is the apex predator of the world?

11-year-old Mahood of Brisbane asks: what is the apex predator of the world?

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“What is the apex predator of the world?”

—Mahmood, age 11, Brisbane

Hi Mahmood, thanks for this interesting question!

Well, what sorts of animals do you typically imagine when you think about apex predators? Great white sharks, polar bears, killer whales, crocodiles, African lions, anacondas … perhaps a wedge-tailed eagle?

To determine what the apex predator of the world is, we first need to understand what types of “predators” there are, and what we mean by “apex”.

Different types of predators

Contrary to popular belief, predators aren’t just species with large sharp teeth or fangs, hooked beaks, or razor-sharp claws. A “predator” is any species that eats part of, or all of, another living species – or in some cases its own species (which is called “cannibalism”).

Predators can be:


These animals eat the flesh of other animals. Cannibalism is a special form of carnivory, and is widespread across the animal world. It has been recorded in several hundred species, including spiders, insects, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals (including humans).


These are animals that eat plants, but they’re still considered predators. So yes, kangaroos are predators too, but they simply eat plants rather than animals. Although it appears this wasn’t always the case in Australia – beware Balbaroo fangaroo!


These are animals or other organisms that live on (ectoparasites) or in (endoparasites) another species. They feed on this “host” for nutrients. Ticks, leeches and hookworms are all examples of parasites.


These are organisms whose young develop on or inside another host organism, feed on it, and end up killing the host as a result. The iconic movie Alien features such a scenario, albeit fictional (although you might want to wait a few years before watching it). This group includes species of wasps, flies, beetles and worms.

It all depends on the environment

Apex predators are often referred to as “top predators” because they sit at the top of their food chain and are typically considered to be dominant and without predators of their own.

It’s important to note apex predators don’t have to be particularly large. Although they often are, it’s more about how their size compares with the species they interact with, and how they behave within their own ecological community.

Imagine a terrarium in your home with some plants and various insects, including a praying mantis; the praying mantis is most certainly the apex predator here.

Now imagine letting them all loose in a field somewhere. The praying mantis is now potentially on the menu for a spider, frog, bird, or other larger predator.

A predator that is below other predators in the “pecking order” can be referred to as a mesopredator. For example, wolves are often considered apex predators, and are known to compete with and even kill coyotes (mesopredators).

In areas without wolves, however, coyotes might ascend to the apex position. They are known to kill cats, which can indirectly benefit songbirds.

In Australia, dingoes are considered apex predators. They hunt and eat a wide range of animals including kangaroos, emus, feral goats and feral deer.

But dingoes, similar to many predators around the world, are frequently killed by humans.

Danger in numbers

Because our question is concerned with determining the world’s main apex predator, we’ll need to consider how widespread a species is.

There are some “apex” predators that are found throughout much of the world, including grey wolves, blue whales, killer whales and great white sharks.

In my mind, however, humans are clearly the overall apex predator of the world. We’ve even been called the super-predator!

Human impact spans the entire globe – from the land to sea, and the south pole to the north pole.

Compared to other predators, we use a much larger percentage of the world’s food resources, as well as water and other natural materials. In doing so, we cause widespread environmental harm.

Humans are having a devastating effect on some other apex predator populations, threatening their chances of long-term survival.

For instance, although there are situations where large sharks have killed humans, it’s estimated humans kill more than 100 million sharks per year. Many shark species are at risk of extinction as a result.

The good news is we can all make choices to help reduce our environmental footprints and help protect other species – predator or otherwise.

The Conversation

Interspecific variation in the diet of a native apex predator and invasive mesopredator in an alpine ecosystem

Authors: Eilysh R Thompson, Don A Driscoll, Susanna E Venn, William L Geary, and Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Austral Ecology


Carnivores have key ecological roles in structuring and regulating ecosystems through their impacts on prey populations. When apex- and meso-predators co-occur in ecosystems, there is the potential for complex interspecific interactions and trophic dynamics that can affect the composition and functioning of ecological communities.

Investigating the diet of sympatric carnivores can allow us to better understand their ecological roles (e.g. potential suppression of herbivores) or impacts (e.g. predation of threatened species).

Australia’s alpine region provides an ideal system in which to explore spatial and temporal variation in predator and prey interactions, using the dingo (Canis dingo) and invasive red fox (Vulpes vulpes) diet.

We examined the diet of dingoes and foxes across three different mountains and seasons in Victoria’s alpine region, using macroscopic scat analysis.

There was little diet overlap between the two carnivores, with foxes having a broader diet than dingoes. Dingoes primarily consumed larger mammal species, including invasive sambar deer (Cervus unicolor, 44%), and the native common wombat (Vombatus ursinus, 34%), whereas foxes typically consumed smaller mammals, including the native bush rat (Rattus fuscipes, 55%), and the invasive European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus, 15%). Dingoes consumed more than thirty times the volume of large invasive mammals (predominantly sambar deer) than did foxes. Foxes consumed close to 15 times as many critical weight range individuals per scat than dingoes. Only one threatened critical weight range mammal species was identified within scats, the broad-toothed rat (Mastacomys fuscus), found within five fox scats.

Our results suggest that the introduction of novel prey may alter predator–predator interactions by causing a reduction in the dietary overlap. Therefore, in the context of integrated wildlife management and biodiversity conservation, any control of novel, invasive prey populations needs to consider possible flow on effects to apex- and meso-predator diets and potential secondary impacts on native prey.

Thompson ER, Driscoll DA, Venn SE, Geary WL, Ritchie EG (2022) Interspecific variation in the diet of a native apex predator and invasive mesopredator in an alpine ecosystem. Austral Ecology PDF DOI

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The Conversation: 6 books about the climate crisis that offer hope

By Euan Ritchie (Deakin University), Erin O’Donnell (The University of Melbourne), Gregory Moore (The University of Melbourne), Kristen Lyons (The University of Queensland), Peter Christoff (The University of Melbourne), and Stefan Kaufman (Monash University).

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coral bleaching, floods, bushfire, biodiversity decline and extinction – as we witness the effects of climate change, amid a stream of reports warning of the cost of government inaction, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.

How to counter the gloom? We asked six environmental experts to each nominate a book about the climate crisis that offers hope.

Euan Ritchie recommends All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson (2020)

Despair, disempowerment and division are all enemies of positive action, and crippling in the face of tremendous challenges such as the climate change crisis. All We Can Save is the antithesis of such emotions and concerns. Hope is a powerful motivator, especially when it’s delivered in such a creative, thoughtful, inclusive and diverse way.

Critically, All We Can Save brings together women’s voices, spanning culture, geography and ages. Women are still, shamefully, not heard nearly enough – and worse, actively suppressed in some instances and quarters. Society suffers because of this.

In this book, however, scientists, farmers, teachers, artists, journalists, lawyers, activists and others share their unique perspectives, through their essays, poetry and art. They explore how to confront the climate crisis, the damage already inflicted, but most importantly, how to bring about positive change and progress.

Food for the mind and soul, at at time when it’s needed more than ever.

Peter Christoff recommends Great Adaptations: In the Shadow of a Climate Crisis by Morgan Phillips (2021)

There is no point in pretending. There are no “good stories” about global warming. They are all framed by the crisis we refuse to talk about in Australia. We desperately need a national conversation about how to live in the perilous world forming around us.

Morgan Phillips’s Great Adaptations: In the Shadow of a Climate Crisis is not an Australian book. Its perspectives are international – British, European, Nepalese, North American.

Phillips doesn’t flinch from contemplating bleak prospects: systemic collapses, food and water insecurity, biodiversity decline. But his focus is neither on sheer doom, nor naive techno-optimism. He instead brings careful balance to his consideration of good adaptation and harmful (mal) adaptation.

He pushes us to think beyond fragmented reactions to individual climate catastrophes, such as droughts, fires, floods and storms – reactions that favour the wealthy and are based on the delusion that all will spring back to “normal”.

His aim is realistic “transformative adaptation”. He argues for enduring, flexible and equitable adjustments to nature’s new lottery. At the heart of his examples of success – from “fog harvesting” for water in arid Morocco to climate-responsive agro-forestry in Nepal – is the need for constant dialogue to guide adjustments to changing conditions.

Great Adaptations is a brilliant provocation for the discussion we must have.

Kristen Lyons recommends Who Really Feeds the World? The Failure of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology by Vandana Shiva (2016)

The climate crisis has accentuated already unjust and ecologically unviable global food systems. Australia’s recent bushfires and floods, for example, destroyed crops, devastated food-producing landscapes and their communities, and disrupted transport networks. Each laid bare a corporate controlled food system characterised by escalating food prices, growing rates of hunger, and food insecurity.

How might fair and just food systems be fostered – systems that are resilient in the face of climate chaos?

In Who Really Feeds the World? The Failure of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology, Vandana Shiva sets out principles and practices that may offer some solutions. Drawing on a range of examples from around the world, including the
Navdanya movement based in India (which she founded), Shiva presents agroecology, living soil, biodiversity and small-scale farming as life-affirming responses.

Small-scale farmers on small parcels of land already produce 70% of the world’s food. They really can feed the world.

The challenge then – one of many – is how we might breathe life into the principles advocated by this award-winning environmental activist, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award and Sydney Peace Prize. In an Australian context, this will include addressing the violent settler-colonial foundations upon which Australia’s agriculture and food systems have been built.

Erin O’Donnell recommends Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science by Jessica Hernandez (2022)

Raging fires, desperate droughts and unprecedented floods underscore the power and terror of the climate catastrophe. As we experience these brutal reminders of our dependence on healthy ecosystems, many of us are searching for a different way to reconnect with the world around us.

In Fresh Banana Leaves, Jessica Hernandez offers us the concept of “kincentric ecology”, in which the enduring relationship between Indigenous peoples and place is one of mutual interdependence.

She argues that “we are not separate from nature” and that “Indigenous peoples view their natural resources and surroundings as part of their kin, relatives, and communities”.

Hernandez’s book demonstrates the power of Indigenous science (and the leadership of Indigenous peoples) to help bring all of us back into good relations with nature. In doing so, she offers us a glimpse of a decolonised, just and sustainable future.

Stefan Kaufman recommends The Precipice: Exisiential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord (2020)

In The Precipice, Toby Ord considers a range of “existential risks” that could, in the next few centuries, curtail the immense potential for long-term human flourishing. It leaves me perversely hopeful about climate change for three reasons.

Firstly, while acknowledging that climate change will cause immense suffering, Ord only identifies a few, relatively unlikely scenarios that leave humanity extinct or “stuck” barely surviving.

Secondly, he considers a range of human-generated and natural risks that are of even greater concern. Many of these risks are exacerbated by the increasing accessibility of powerful technologies once available only to elites, such as bio-engineering and artificial intelligence. These are all risks that we either create or will need to cooperate to mitigate; their occurrence and their level of impact are within our influence.

Thirdly, Ord makes a compelling case that we have many of the institutions, technologies and policy tools necessary to manage long-term existential risks. There is work all of us can do now to help. Climate change can make many other risks worse. Solving it requires solving others at the same time.

The Precipice leaves one with a sense that we will need to be better humans to make it through the next centuries, but a brighter future awaits. If we attain this future, we will deserve to, because we will have married our power and prosperity with civilisational maturity, compassion and wisdom.

Greg Moore recommends Trees and Global Warming: The Role of Forests in Cooling and Warming the Atmosphere by William J Manning (2020)

As climates change and Australia warms, trees are often seen as a panacea, but, as is invariably the case with ecosystems, things can be complicated.

As William J. Manning tells us in Trees and Global Warming, trees can warm as well as cool the atmosphere. The colour of their leaves (light or dark green) influences how much radiation is absorbed, transmitted and reflected, and how much they cool.

Manning is not looking at trees and forests through rose-coloured glasses, but through a strong scientific lens. They come out as winners when it comes to tackling climate change because, cultivated effectively, they can shade and cool, reduce the urban heat-island effect, sequester carbon, and much more.

Trees are an essential, cost-effective and sustainable part of living with climate change. We must protect the trees and forests that we have. Planting more trees is part of a quick and cheap solution, providing more liveable towns and cities across our continent.

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The Conversation: Australia’s next government must tackle our collapsing ecosystems and extinction crisis


By Euan Ritchie (Deakin University), Ayesha Tulloch (Queensland University of Technology) and Megan C Evans (UNSW Sydney).

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s remarkable animals, plants and ecosystems are world-renowned, and rightly so.

Unfortunately, our famous ecosystems are not OK. Many are hurtling towards collapse, threatening even iconic species like the koala, platypus and the numbat. More and more species are going extinct, with over 100 since British colonisation. That means Australia has one of the worst conservation records in the world.

This represents a monumental government failure. Our leaders are failing in their duty of care to the environment. Yet so far, the election campaign has been unsettlingly silent on threatened species.

Here are five steps our next government should take.

1. Strengthen, enforce and align policy and laws

Australia’s environmental laws and policies are failing to safeguard our unique biodiversity from extinction. This has been established by a series of independent reviews, Auditor-General reports and Senate inquiries over the past decade.

The 2020 review of our main environmental protection laws offered 38 recommendations. To date, no major party has clearly committed to introducing and funding these recommendations.

To actually make a difference to the environment, it’s vital we achieve policy alignment. That means, for instance, ruling out new coal mines if we would like to keep the world’s largest coral reef system alive. Similarly, widespread land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales makes tree planting initiatives pointless on an emissions front.

Despite Australia’s wealth of species, our laws protecting biodiversity are much laxer than in other developed nations like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. These nations have mandatory monitoring of all threatened species, which means they can detect species decline early and step in before it’s too late.

2. Invest in the environment

How much do you think the federal government spends on helping our threatened species recover? The answer is shockingly low: Around $50 million per year across the entire country. That’s less than $2 a year per Australian. The government spent the same amount on supporting the business events industry through the pandemic.

Our overall environmental spending, too, is woefully inadequate. In an age of mounting environmental threats, federal funding has fallen sharply over the past nine years.

For conservationists, this means distressing decisions. With a tiny amount of funding, you can’t save every species. That means ongoing neglect and more extinctions looming.

This investment is far less than what is needed to recover threatened species or to reduce the very real financial risks from biodiversity loss. If the government doesn’t see the environment as a serious investment, why should the private sector?

The next government should fix this nature finance gap. It’s not as if there isn’t money. The estimated annual cost of recovering every one of Australia’s ~1,800 threatened species is roughly a mere 7% of the Coalition’s $23 billion of projects promised in the month since the budget was released in late March.

3. Tackle the threats

We already have detailed knowledge of the major threats facing our species and ecosystems: the ongoing destruction or alteration of vital habitat, the damage done by invasive species like foxes, rabbits and cats, as well as pollution, disease and climate change. To protect our species from these threats requires laws and policies with teeth, as well as investment.

If we protect threatened species habitat by stopping clearing of native vegetation, mineral extraction, or changing fishing practices, we will not only get better outcomes for biodiversity but also save money in many cases. Why? Because it’s vastly cheaper to conserve ecosystems and species in good health than attempt recovery when they’re already in decline or flatlining.

Phasing out coal, oil and gas will also be vital to stem the damage done by climate change, as well as boosting support for green infrastructure and energy.

Any actions taken to protect our environment and recover species must be evidence-based and have robust monitoring in place, so we can figure out if these actions actually work in a cost-effective manner against specific objectives. This is done routinely in the US.

Salvaging our damaged environment is going to take time. That means in many cases, we’ll need firm, multi-partisan commitments to sustained actions, sometimes even across electoral cycles. Piecemeal, short-term or politicised conservation will not help Australia’s biodiversity long-term and do not represent best use of public money.

4. Look to Indigenous leadership to heal Country

For millennia, First Nations people have cared for Australia’s species and shaped ecosystems.

In many areas, their forced displacement and disconnection with longstanding cultural practices is linked to further damage to the environment, such as more severe fires.

Focusing on Indigenous management of Country can deliver environmental, cultural and social benefits. This means increasing representation of Indigenous people and communities in ecosystem policy and management decisions.

5. Work with communities and across boundaries

We must urgently engage and empower local communities and landowners to look after the species on their land. Almost half of Australia’s threatened species can be found on private land, including farms and pastoral properties. We already have good examples of what this can look like.

The next government should radically scale up investment in biodiversity on farms, through rebates and tax incentives for conservation covenants and sustainable agriculture. In many cases, caring for species can improve farming outcomes.

Conservation is good for humans and all other species

To care for the environment and the other species we live alongside is good for us as people. Tending to nature in our cities makes people happier and healthier.

Protecting key plants and animals ensures key “services” like pollination and the cycling of soil nutrients continues.

We’re lucky to live in a land of such rich biodiversity, from the ancient Wollemi pine to remarkable Lord Howe island stick insects and striking corroboree frogs. But we are not looking after these species and their homes properly. The next government must take serious and swift action to save our species.

The Conversation

What do you mean, ‘megafire’?

Authors: Grant D Linley, Chris J Jolly, Tim S Doherty, William L Geary, Dolors Armenteras, Claire M Belcher, Rebecca Bliege Bird, Andrea Duane, Michael‐Shawn Fletcher, Melisa A Giorgis, Angie Haslem, Gavin M Jones, Luke T Kelly, Calvin KF Lee, Rachael H Nolan, Catherine L Parr, Juli G Pausas, Jodi N Price, Adrián Regos, Euan G Ritchie, Julien Ruffault, Grant J Williamson, Qianhan Wu, and Dale G Nimmo

Published in: Global Ecology and Biogeography


Background: ‘Megafire’ is an emerging concept commonly used to describe fires that are extreme in terms of size, behaviour, and/or impacts, but the term’s meaning remains ambiguous.

Approach: We sought to resolve ambiguity surrounding the meaning of ‘megafire’ by conducting a structured review of the use and definition of the term in several languages in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. We collated definitions and descriptions of megafire and identified criteria frequently invoked to define megafire. We recorded the size and location of megafires and mapped them to reveal global variation in the size of fires described as megafires.

Results: We identified 109 studies that define the term ‘megafire’ or identify a megafire, with the term first appearing in the peer-reviewed literature in 2005. Seventy-one (~65%) of these studies attempted to describe or define the term. There was considerable variability in the criteria used to define megafire, although definitions of megafire based on fire size were most common. Megafire size thresholds varied geographically from > 100–100,000 ha, with fires > 10,000 ha the most common size threshold (41%, 18/44 studies). Definitions of megafire were most common from studies led by authors from North America (52%, 37/71). We recorded 137 instances from 84 studies where fires were reported as megafires, the vast majority (94%, 129/137) of which exceed 10,000 ha in size. Megafires occurred in a range of biomes, but were most frequently described in forested biomes (112/137, 82%), and usually described single ignition fires (59% 81/137).

Conclusion: As Earth’s climate and ecosystems change, it is important that scientists can communicate trends in the occurrence of larger and more extreme fires with clarity. To overcome ambiguity, we suggest a definition of megafire as fires > 10,000 ha arising from single or multiple related ignition events. We introduce two additional terms – gigafire (> 100,000 ha) and terafire (> 1,000,000 ha) – for fires of an even larger scale than megafires.

Linley GD, Jolly CJ, Doherty TS, Geary WL, Armenteras D, Belcher CM, Bliege Bird R, Duane A, Fletcher M, Giorgis MA, Haslem A, Jones GM, Kelly LT, Lee CKF, Nolan RH, Parr CL, Pausas JG, Price JN, Regos A, Ritchie EG, Ruffault J, Williamson GJ, Wu Q, Nimmo DG, Poulter B (2022) What do you mean, ‘megafire’? Global Ecology and Biogeography PDF DOI


Fire as a driver and mediator of predator–prey interactions

Authors: Tim S Doherty, William L Geary, Chris J Jolly, Kristina J Macdonald, Vivianna Miritis, Darcy J Watchorn, Michael J Cherry, Mike L Conner, Tania Marisol González, Sarah M Legge, Euan G Ritchie, Clare Stawski, and Chris R Dickman

Published in: Biological Reviews


Both fire and predators have strong influences on the population dynamics and behaviour of animals, and the effects of predators may either be strengthened or weakened by fire. However, knowledge of how fire drives or mediates predator–prey interactions is fragmented and has not been synthesised.

Here, we review and synthesise knowledge of how fire influences predator and prey behaviour and interactions. We develop a conceptual model based on predator–prey theory and empirical examples to address four key questions:

  1. how and why do predators respond to fire;
  2. how and why does prey vulnerability change post-fire;
  3. what mechanisms do prey use to reduce predation risk post-fire; and
  4. what are the outcomes of predator–fire interactions for prey populations?

We then discuss these findings in the context of wildlife conservation and ecosystem management before outlining priorities for future research.

Fire-induced changes in vegetation structure, resource availability, and animal behaviour influence predator–prey encounter rates, the amount of time prey are vulnerable during an encounter, and the conditional probability of prey death given an encounter. How a predator responds to fire depends on fire characteristics (e.g. season, severity), their hunting behaviour (ambush or pursuit predator), movement behaviour, territoriality, and intra-guild dynamics.

Prey species that rely on habitat structure for avoiding predation often experience increased predation rates and lower survival in recently burnt areas. By contrast, some prey species benefit from the opening up of habitat after fire because it makes it easier to detect predators and to modify their behaviour appropriately.

Reduced prey body condition after fire can increase predation risk either through impaired ability to escape predators, or increased need to forage in risky areas due to being energetically stressed. To reduce risk of predation in the post-fire environment, prey may change their habitat use, increase sheltering behaviour, change their movement behaviour, or use camouflage through cryptic colouring and background matching.Field experiments and population viability modelling show instances where fire either amplifies or does not amplify the impacts of predators on prey populations, and vice versa. In some instances, intense and sustained post-fire predation may lead to local extinctions of prey populations.

Human disruption of fire regimes is impacting faunal communities, with consequences for predator and prey behaviour and population dynamics.

Key areas for future research include:

  • capturing data continuously before, during and after fires;
  • teasing out the relative importance of changes in visibility and shelter availability in different contexts;
  • documenting changes in acoustic and olfactory cues for both predators and prey;
  • addressing taxonomic and geographic biases in the literature; and
  • predicting and testing how changes in fire-regime characteristics reshape predator–prey interactions.

Understanding and managing the consequences for predator–prey communities will be critical for effective ecosystem management and species conservation in this era of global change.

Doherty TS, Geary WL, Jolly CJ, Macdonald KJ, Miritis V, Watchorn DJ, Cherry MJ, Conner LM, González TM, Legge SM, Ritchie EG, Stawski C, Dickman CR (2022) Fire as a driver and mediator of predator–prey interactions. Biological Reviews PDF DOI


Counting the bodies: Estimating the numbers and spatial variation of Australian reptiles, birds and mammals killed by two invasive mesopredators

Authors: Alyson M Stobo-Wilson, Brett P Murphy, Sarah M Legge, Hernan Caceres-Escobar, David G Chapple, Heather M Crawford, Stuart J Dawson, Chris R Dickman, Tim S Doherty, Patricia A Fleming, Stephen T Garnett, Matthew Gentle, Thomas M Newsome, Russell Palmer, Matthew W Rees, Euan G Ritchie, James Speed, John-Michael Stuart, Andrés F Suarez-Castro, Eilysh Thompson, Ayesha Tulloch, Jeff M Turpin, and John CZ Woinarski

Published in: Diversity and Distributions



Introduced predators negatively impact biodiversity globally, with insular fauna often most severely affected. Here, we assess spatial variation in the number of terrestrial vertebrates (excluding amphibians) killed by two mammalian mesopredators introduced to Australia, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cat (Felis catus). We aim to identify prey groups that suffer especially high rates of predation, and regions where losses to foxes and/or cats are most substantial.




We draw information on the spatial variation in tallies of reptiles, birds and mammals killed by cats in Australia from published studies. We derive tallies for fox predation by

  1. modelling continental-scale spatial variation in fox density,
  2. modelling spatial variation in the frequency of occurrence of prey groups in fox diet,
  3. analysing the number of prey individuals within dietary samples and
  4. discounting animals taken as carrion.

We derive point estimates of the numbers of individuals killed annually by foxes and by cats and map spatial variation in these tallies.


Foxes kill more reptiles, birds and mammals (peaking at 1071 km−2 year−1) than cats (55 km−2 year−1) across most of the unmodified temperate and forested areas of mainland Australia, reflecting the generally higher density of foxes than cats in these environments. However, across most of the continent — mainly the arid central and tropical northern regions (and on most Australian islands) — cats kill more animals than foxes. We estimate that foxes and cats together kill 697 million reptiles annually in Australia, 510 million birds and 1435 million mammals.

Main conclusions

This continental-scale analysis demonstrates that predation by two introduced species takes a substantial and ongoing toll on Australian reptiles, birds and mammals. Continuing population declines and potential extinctions of some of these species threatens to further compound Australia’s poor contemporary conservation record.

Stobo‐Wilson AM, Murphy BP, Legge SM, Caceres‐Escobar H, Chapple DG, Crawford HM, Dawson SJ, Dickman CR, Doherty TS, Fleming PA, Garnett ST, Gentle M, Newsome TM, Palmer R, Rees MW, Ritchie EG, Speed J, Stuart J, Suarez‐Castro AF, Thompson E, Tulloch A, Turpin JM, Woinarski JCZ (2022) Counting the bodies: Estimating the numbers and spatial variation of Australian reptiles, birds and mammals killed by two invasive mesopredators. Diversity and Distributions PDF DOI

Media Science communication The Conversation

The Conversation: ‘The sad reality is many don’t survive’ – how floods affect wildlife, and how you can help them

A koala joey was found drenched and trembling near the edge of the Brisbane River. It was one of the lucky animals to be rescued from the severe floodwaters. Image credit: WWF Australia

By Euan Ritchie (Deakin University) and Chris J Jolly (Macquarie University).

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For over two decades, bull sharks have called a Brisbane golf course home after, it’s believed, a flood washed them into the course’s lake in 1996. Now, after severe floods connected their landlocked home back to the river system, these sharks have gone missing, perhaps attempting to seek larger water bodies.

This bizarre tale is one of many accounts illustrating how Australia’s wildlife respond to flooding. But the sad reality is many don’t survive. Those that do may find their homes destroyed or, like those bull sharks and others, find themselves displaced far from their original homes or suitable habitat.

The RSPCA and other wildlife care organisations have received hundreds of calls to help rescue and care for stranded animals. But the true toll on wildlife will remain unknown, in part because we know surprisingly little about the impacts of floods on wildlife.

Still, as many animals have amazing abilities to survive fire, so too do many possess the means to survive or even profit from floods. After all, Australia’s wildlife has evolved over millions of years to survive in this land of extremes.

How wildlife responds to floods

Floods rapidly turn land habitats into underwater habitats, allowing aquatic animals to venture into places you wouldn’t expect. Flooding during northern Australia’s annual wet season, for example, sees crocodiles occasionally turn up in people’s backyard pools.

Land-dwelling animals typically don’t fare as well in floods. Some may be able to detect imminent inundation and head for higher, drier ground. Others simply don’t have the ability or opportunity to take evasive action in time. This can include animals with dependent young in burrows, such as wombats, platypus and echidnas.

The extent to which flooding affects animals will depend on their ability to sense what’s coming and how they’re able to respond. Unlike humans who must learn to swim, most animals are born with the ability.

Echidnas, for example, have been known to cover large areas of open water, but fast flowing, powerful floods pose a very different proposition.

Animals that can fly – such as many insects, bats and birds – may be able to escape. But their success will also partly depend on the scale and severity of weather systems causing floods.

Many birds, for example, couldn’t get away from the heavy rain and seek shelter, ending up waterlogged. If birds are exhausted and can’t fly, they may suffer from exposure and also be more vulnerable to predators, such as feral cats and foxes.

During floods, age old predator-prey relationships, forged through evolution, can break down. Animals are more focused on self preservation, rather than their next meal. This can result in strange, ceasefire congregations.

For example, a venomous eastern brown snake was filmed being an unintentional life raft for frogs and mice. Likewise, many snakes, lizards and frogs are expert climbers, and will seek safety in trees – with or without company.

Some spiders have ingenious ways of finding safety, including spinning balloon-like webs to initiate wind-driven lift-off: destination dry land. This is what happened when Victoria’s Gippsland region flooded last year.

One of the challenges of extreme events is it can make food hard to find. Some animals – including microbats, pygmy possums, and many reptiles – may reduce their energy requirements by essentially going to “sleep” for extended periods, commonly referred to as torpor. This includes echidnas and Antechinus (insect-eating marsupials), in response to bushfire.

Might they do the same during floods? We really don’t know, and it largely depends on an animal’s physiology. In general, invertebrates, frogs, fish and reptiles are far better at dealing with reduced access to food than birds and mammals.

What happens when floods recede?

Flooding may provide a bounty for some species. Some predators such as cats, foxes, and birds of prey, may have access to exhausted prey with fewer places to hide. These same predators may scavenge the windfall of dead animals.

Fish, waterbirds, turtles and other aquatic or semi-aquatic life may benefit from an influx of nutrients, increasing foraging opportunities and even stimulating breeding events.

Other wildlife may face harsher realities. Some may become trapped far from their homes. Those that attempt to return home will have to run the gauntlet of different habitats, roads, cats, dogs and foxes, and other threats.

Even if they make it home, will their habitats be the same or destroyed? Fast and large volumes of water can destroy vegetation and other habitat structures (soils, rock piles) in minutes, but they may take many years or decades to return, if ever.

Floodwaters can also carry extremely high levels of pollution, leading to further tragic events such as fish kills and the poisoning of animals throughout food chains.

How can you help?

Seeing wildlife in distress is confronting, and many of us may feel compelled to want to rescue animals in floodwaters. However, great caution is required.

Wading into floodwaters can put yourself at significant risk. Currents can be swift. Water can carry submerged and dangerous obstacles, as well as chemicals, sewage and pathogens. And distressed animals may panic when approached, putting them and yourself at further risk.

For example, adult male eastern grey kangaroos regularly exceed 70 kilograms with long, razor sharp claws and toe nails, and powerful arms and legs. They’ve been known to deftly use these tools to drown hostile farm dogs in dams and other water bodies.

So unless you’re a trained wildlife expert or animal carer, we don’t recommend you try to save animals yourself. There is more advice online, such as here and here.

If you’d like to support the care and recovery of wildlife following the floods, a number of organisations are taking donations, including WWF Australia, WIRES and the RSPCA.

What does the future hold?

While many Australian wildlife species are well adapted to dealing with periodic natural disasters, including floods, we and wildlife will face even more intense events in the future under climate change. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions can lessen this impact.

For common, widespread species such as kangaroos, the loss of individuals to infrequent, albeit severe, events is tragic but overall doesn’t pose a great problem. But if floods, fires and other extreme events become more regular, we could see some populations or species at increased risk of local or even total extinction.

This highlights how Earth’s two existential crises – climate change and biodiversity loss – are inextricably linked. We must combat them swiftly and substantially, together, if we’re to avoid a bleak future.

The Conversation
Media Science communication

360info: The koala in the coal mine

Indigenous rangers programs are win-win solutions to the problems of species conservation and loss of culture. Image credit: Parks Australia

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info

With the scrutiny on climate change, the collapse of Australian ecosystems has received scant attention. But saving them is entirely possible.

Australia’s iconic koala, listed as endangered in the Australian regions of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in 2022, is unfortunately far from alone.

Since European colonisation of Australia, roughly 230 years ago, at least 39 native mammal species have been driven to extinction. The Australian continent, with its extraordinary and largely unique (endemic) plants and animals, now has more than 1,900 threatened species and ecological communities.

Ecosystems from the tropics to Antarctica, including the Great Barrier Reef, are showing signs of collapse.

Ecologists and conservation biologists have been documenting and warning of the widespread demise of nature for decades. Then in 2019 an intergovernmental body confirmed what many had been pointing out: we are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event.

Using the fossil record as a reference for ‘normal’ rates of extinction, we are now seeing rates of extinction tens, hundreds or thousands of times higher than expected.

It’s a crisis no less catastrophic than climate change, but one that garners far less attention.

Far too few recognise the need to combat climate change, environmental destruction, and extinction in an integrated way.

Addressing climate change has rightly received considerable global attention. But climate change is one dimension — albeit a big one — of the environmental and extinction crisis we face.

Without a substantial increase in investment in conservation, habitat destruction and modification, invasive species, pollution, and disease will continue to be key threats. If we hope to turn things around, we need stronger, not weaker environmental legislation. And ultimately, if environmental decline is to stop, we will need to confront the main driver of these issues: consumption and living unsustainably.

Climate change, extinction, and environmental health are inextricably linked.

Protecting forests, either on land or underwater, helps to capture and store carbon thereby helping to fight climate change. It also provides homes for countless species. Restoring whale populations can increase the productivity of oceans, as what whales leave behind after their meals helps to fertilise microscopic phytoplankton, which themselves capture carbon and drive foodchains.

Restoring or protecting nature via returning species to landscapes, often known as ‘rewilding’, is seen as a key ingredient in fighting climate change and extinction.

Everything is linked, and needs to be managed as though it is.

Another key ingredient for change is investment. The more countries invest in conservation, the better their conservation outcomes will be. Money is needed for establishing conservation reserves, and just as importantly, managing them. It also costs money to monitor species’ populations and the diversity of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms within them.

By area, most land and sea is not under conservation protection, and many threatened species occur on private land. Conservation initiatives spanning public and private land would better protect them.

Investing in people to carry out conservation would have far reaching benefits. For example, Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Ranger programs help to conserve native plants and animals, reduce invasive animal populations, manage fire, and maintain connections with culture and Country. Likewise, undertaking pest animal control, revegetation, species reintroductions and other conservation-focussed actions, can create jobs in cities and regional towns.

It’s estimated it would cost around A$1.7 billion a year to bring all the species on Australia’s threatened list back to health. Australia currently spends around A$120 million a year on targeted threatened species conservation and recovery. Recently, it committed A$10 million (or $100,000 each) to 100 species deemed a priority, of the more than 1,800 species on the threatened list.

Despite its immense social, cultural, economic and environmental value, Australian governments and society seemingly don’t see the environment as a priority investment. The question we must confront, is why?

Publications Research

Beyond spatial overlap: harnessing new technologies to resolve the complexities of predator–prey interactions

Authors: Justin P Suraci, Justine A Smith, Simon Chamaillé-Jammes, Kaitlyn M Gaynor, Menna Jones, Barney Luttbeg, Euan G Ritchie, Michael J Sheriff, and Andrew Sih

Published in: Oikos


Predation risk, the probability that a prey animal will be killed by a predator, is fundamental to theoretical and applied ecology. Predation risk varies with animal behavior and environmental conditions, yet attempts to understand predation risk in natural systems often ignore important ecological and environmental complexities, relying instead on proxies for actual risk such as predator–prey spatial overlap.

Here we detail the ecological and environmental complexities driving disconnects between three stages of the predation sequence that are often assumed to be tightly linked: spatial overlap, encounters and prey capture. Our review highlights several major sources of variability in natural predator–prey systems that lead to the decoupling of spatial overlap estimates from actual encounter rates (e.g. temporal activity patterns, predator and prey movement capacity, resource limitations) and that affect the probability of prey capture given encounter (e.g. predator hunger levels, temporal, topographic and other environmental influences on capture success). Emerging technologies and statistical methods are facilitating a transition to a more spatiotemporally detailed, mechanistic understanding of predator–prey interactions, allowing for the concurrent examination of multiple stages of the predation sequence in mobile, free-ranging animals.

We describe crucial applications of this new understanding to fundamental and applied ecology, highlighting opportunities to better integrate ecological contingencies into dynamic predator–prey models and to harness a mechanistic understanding of predator–prey interactions to improve targeting and effectiveness of conservation interventions.

Suraci JP, Smith JA, Chamaillé‐Jammes S, Gaynor KM, Jones M, Luttbeg B, Ritchie EG, Sheriff MJ, Sih A (2022) Beyond spatial overlap: harnessing new technologies to resolve the complexities of predator–prey interactions. Oikos PDF DOI


Australia’s biodiversity crisis and opportunity

Author: Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Science (Letters)

Australia is failing to meet its international obligations to conserve its unique native biodiversity and ecosystems. Most of Australia’s plants and animals are found nowhere else on Earth, but since colonization about 230 years ago, at least 100 endemic species have been driven to extinction, and 17 ecosystems spanning the continent are now showing signs of collapse. Many more species face the same grim fate, with more than 1900 species and ecological communities currently listed as of conservation concern under Australia’s centerpiece environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Numerous reports demonstrate that Australia is simply not doing enough to address key threats to biodiversity, including land clearing and urbanization, invasive species, altered fire regimes, pollution, disease, and climate change. Despite being a member of the G20, Australian federal and state government environmental spending is well short of what’s required to reverse the nation’s biodiversity extinction trajectory.

A stark example of this failure is the newly announced priority threatened species list. Just 100 threatened species — fewer than 6% of the country’s listed threatened species — are earmarked for conservation attention and AUS $10 million of new funding, equating to about $100,000 per species. Of Australia’s Critically Endangered or Endangered species, only 2 of 25 frog species (8%), 7 of 53 invertebrate species (13.2%), and 28 of 776 plant species (3.6%) make the priority list.

Stronger environmental laws, combined with a substantial increase in investment in environmental and conservation spending, will not only benefit Australia’s biodiversity but also undoubtedly deliver substantial social, cultural, and economic benefits. The international community is moving to implement a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and heads of state recently met at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to chart a course to avert the climate change crisis deepening. Australia must be a leader of change, not a laggard.

Ritchie EG (2022) Australia’s biodiversity crisis and opportunity. Science PDF DOI


Twenty important research questions in microbial exposure and social equity

Authors: Jake M Robinson, Nicole Redvers, Araceli Camargo, Christina A Bosch, Martin F Breed, Lisa A Brenner, Megan A Carney, Ashvini Chauhan, Mauna Dasari, Leslie G Dietz, Michael Friedman, Laura Grieneisen, Andrew J Hoisington, Patrick F Horve, Ally Hunter, Sierra Jech, Anna Jorgensen, Christopher A Lowry, Ioana Man, Gwynne Mhuireach, Edauri Navarro-Pérez, Euan G Ritchie, Justin D Stewart, Harry Watkins, Philip Weinstein, Suzanne L Ishaq

Published in: mSystems (American Society for Microbiology)


Social and political policy, human activities, and environmental change affect the ways in which microbial communities assemble and interact with people. These factors determine how different social groups are exposed to beneficial and/or harmful microorganisms, meaning microbial exposure has an important socioecological justice context. Therefore, greater consideration of microbial exposure and social equity in research, planning, and policy is imperative.

Here, we identify 20 research questions considered fundamentally important to promoting equitable exposure to beneficial microorganisms, along with safeguarding resilient societies and ecosystems. The 20 research questions we identified span seven broad themes, including the following:

  1. sociocultural interactions;
  2. Indigenous community health and well-being;
  3. humans, urban ecosystems, and environmental processes;
  4. human psychology and mental health;
  5. microbiomes and infectious diseases;
  6. human health and food security; and
  7. microbiome-related planning, policy, and outreach.

Our goal was to summarize this growing field and to stimulate impactful research avenues while providing focus for funders and policymakers.

Robinson JM, Redvers N, Camargo A, Bosch CA, Breed MF, Brenner LA, Carney MA, Chauhan A, Dasari M, Dietz LG, Friedman M, Grieneisen L, Hoisington AJ, Horve PF, Hunter A, Jech S, Jorgensen A, Lowry CA, Man I, Mhuireach G, Navarro-Pérez E, Ritchie EG, Stewart JD, Watkins H, Weinstein P, Ishaq SL (2022) Twenty Important Research Questions in Microbial Exposure and Social Equity. mSystems PDF DOI