Tag Archives: biodiversity

Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss

Authors: Tim S Doherty, Alistair S Glen, Dale G Nimmo, Euan G Ritchie and Chris R Dickman

Published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Abstract

Invasive species threaten biodiversity globally, and invasive mammalian predators are particularly damaging, having contributed to considerable species decline and extinction. We provide a global meta-analysis of these impacts and reveal their full extent.

Invasive predators are implicated in 87 bird, 45 mammal, and 10 reptile species extinctions — 58% of these groups’ contemporary extinctions worldwide. These figures are likely underestimated because 23 critically endangered species that we assessed are classed as “possibly extinct.”

Invasive mammalian predators endanger a further 596 species at risk of extinction, with cats, rodents, dogs, and pigs threatening the most species overall.

Species most at risk from predators have high evolutionary distinctiveness and inhabit insular environments. Invasive mammalian predators are therefore important drivers of irreversible loss of phylogenetic diversity worldwide.

That most impacted species are insular indicates that management of invasive predators on islands should be a global conservation priority. Understanding and mitigating the impact of invasive mammalian predators is essential for reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss.

Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG, Ritchie EG, Dickman CR (2016) Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences PDF DOI

 

The Conversation: Nature is neglected in this election campaign – at its and our own peril

By Don Driscoll and Euan Ritchie (Deakin University).

The electioneering has begun. In a campaign set to be dominated by economic issues, the Coalition and Labor are locking horns over who can best manage our finances, protect jobs and make housing more affordable. The Greens predictably decry the major parties, including their cavalier climate-change policies.

These are important issues, but are they highest priority on the political agenda? An arguably even greater issue exists that nobody is seriously championing, but which impacts all of us, socially, environmentally and economically.

Our natural heritage – the plants, animals and other organisms that help define Australia’s identity – are in dire straits. Yet this biodiversity crisis is barely mentioned in political discourse, nor is it foremost in the public consciousness.

Everlastings in the Australian Alps. But will they be? Image credit: John O'Neill via Wikimedia Commons

Everlastings in the Australian Alps. But will they be? Image credit: John O’Neill via Wikimedia Commons

The world economy is losing €50 billion (A$73 billion) a year through lost ecosystem services. It is predicted to lose €14 trillion per year by 2050 without action now. With potentially 7% of global economic product at stake by mid-century, nature conservation must surely be on the agenda in this election.

Actions needed to conserve our natural heritage, and reap substantial rewards, will challenge some of our most cherished ideas about social and economic policy. This demands reforms to reverse creeping losses to our democratic process.

Looking at the major parties’ platforms, it is clear that nature is not on the agenda. Labor lists 23 positive policies, none of which deals directly with conserving Australia’s plants and animals. The Liberal-National Party has done slightly better, claiming to believe in preserving Australia’s natural beauty and environment for future generations. However, its federal platform, released last year, shows no evidence of this belief.

Public concern has also shifted away from nature issues and towards other concerns like terrorism, as well as traditional areas of focus such as health care and the economy. This shift can be seen in some surprising places, such as the major grassroots lobby group GetUp – of its ten current campaigns only one, the Great Barrier Reef program, is directly about conserving wildlife diversity.

Environmental riches, but for how long?

The value of biodiversity to humans is well established (for example, see here, here, and here). Biodiversity reduces stress, crime and disease. It also provides new economic opportunities and many other benefits, from climate control, to flood defence, to the many benefits delivered by birds.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but like the polar ice they are at risk of disappearing through our neglect.

Despite biodiversity’s immense value, Australia’s natural heritage is not assured. Good news stories exist,
but as a succession of government State of the Environment reports over recent decades has shown, our natural heritage continues to be squandered.

The reports cite population growth, economic growth and climate change as key drivers of decline. Land clearing and invasive species also lead to biodiversity loss. All must be addressed to reverse the alarming trajectory of our wildlife.

These threats to our natural heritage should be high on the political agenda. But despite recent extinctions, caused in no small part by a failure to act quickly on conservation advice, bureaucrats and politicians have failed to rise to the challenge. Australia’s plants, animals and other wildlife continue to be swept aside with an enthusiasm and abandon reminiscent of the 19th-century pioneers.

Why the lack of action?

Nature is missing in action from the political agenda for many reasons. Here are two key ones: questionable political donations and processes, and the gagging of the public service, government and university scientists. Both issues go to the heart of our democracy.

Australia has some of the weakest electoral laws concerning political donations and spending. Time lags between receiving donations and declaring them means that appropriate scrutiny of policy motivations, particularly at election times, is uncommon. This is concerning, because links between political favours for donors, while hard to prove, are frequently noted.

These correlations are not surprising. Corporate political activities are typically not gestures of goodwill, but a widely accepted corporate strategy aimed at securing better outcomes. Because many companies depend on using land for activities such as digging up resources and clearing native vegetation, the success of their political donations can often be reflected in damage to nature.

Equally concerning is the deafening silence from people who really know how damaging government policies can be for the environment. Inconvenient truths might challenge government policies. So public servants, including government scientists, are prohibited from speaking, or tweeting. Governments will go to extremes more often seen in the pages of crime thrillers to track down and punish whistle-blowers.

Governments attempting to silence academics hit the spotlight over cattle grazing trials in Victorian national parks. A senior Victorian public servant reportedly threatened to withdraw further funding from the University of Melbourne if the university did not agree to oversee the government’s grazing trial, despite the trial being widely regarded as flawed and unnecessary. Faced with this type of pressure, many university scientists simply avoid public debate for fear of damaging their job prospects or government funding.

In this climate of silence, major biodiversity issues and damaging government policies aren’t appropriately aired. The public don’t hear about it and so can’t make informed decisions at the polling booth. Consequently, government and public service barriers to honest media coverage undermine an informed democracy.

Valuing and preserving nature are critical for our well-being and prosperity, but species continue disappearing at alarming rates to causes we could better manage.

There are things that can be done, at a political level, to help stop this erosion of Australia’s natural heritage before it’s too late. In addition to adequately funding conservation, we should reform political funding rules. We should also encourage, even legally require, honest and open disclosure of how government policy impacts our environment.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article online, including reader comments.

The Conversation

 

Effects of the fire regime on mammal occurrence after wildfire: site effects vs landscape context in fire-prone forests

Authors: Evelyn K Chia, Michelle Bassett, Steve WJ Leonard, Greg J Holland, Euan G Ritchie, Michael F Clarke and Andrew F Bennett

Published in: Forest Ecology and Management, volume 363 (March 2016)

Abstract

Wildfires have major impacts on ecosystems globally. Fire regimes (including fire frequency, intensity, season and type of fire) influence the status of species by altering habitat suitability at the site scale, and by creating heterogeneity at the landscape scale.

The relative effects of site and landscape-scale fire attributes on animal species are rarely examined together. Such knowledge is important, given that fire regimes are sensitive to changing land management practices; and that fires are predicted to become larger and more frequent in some regions as a result of climate change.

Here, we tested the relative influence of elements of the fire regime (fire severity, fire history) at the site-scale, and the landscape context (extent of surrounding unburnt forest, fire heterogeneity) on the occurrence of native terrestrial mammals after severe wildfire in south-eastern Australia.

We conducted surveys by using automatically triggered, infrared cameras at 80 sites in fire-prone eucalypt forests, 2–3 years post-wildfire. Thirteen native mammal species were recorded, eight of which were detected with sufficient frequency for analysis.

Most species were widespread (35–90% of sites) and recorded in all fire severity classes. Fire effects at the site-level were more influential than landscape context effects arising from heterogeneity in the fire regime (e.g. extent of surrounding unburnt forest). Fire severity was the most influential of the fire-regime elements investigated, but it affected different species in different ways.

This study highlights three main points relevant to conservation of terrestrial mammals after wildfire. First, spatial variation in fire severity associated with wildfire (ranging from unburned to severely burned stands) is an important contributor to the post-fire status of species. Second, post-fire environmental conditions are significant: here, rapid regeneration of vegetation following drought-breaking rains greatly influenced the suitability of post-fire habitats. Third, it is valuable to consider the effects of the fire regime at multiple scales, including both the site (forest stand) and its landscape context.

Insights from short-term surveys, such as this, will be enhanced by complementary longitudinal studies, especially where they encompass environmental variation through the post-fire succession.

Chia EK, Bassett M, Leonard SWJ, Hollanda GJ, Ritchie EG , Clarke MF, Bennett AF (2016) Effects of the fire regime on mammal occurrence after wildfire: Site effects vs landscape context in fire-prone forests, Forest Ecology and Management PDF DOI

Fire severity and fire-induced landscape heterogeneity affect arboreal mammals in fire-prone forests

Authors: Evelyn K Chia, Michelle Bassett, Dale G Nimmo, Steve W J Leonard, Euan G Ritchie, Michael F Clarke and Andrew F Bennett

Published in: Ecoshere, volume 6, issue 10 (October 2015)

EucFires

We examined the role of topography, fire history and fire sensitivity on the occurrence of arboreal mammals 2 to 3 years after wildfire in temperate Eucalypt forests. Image credit: Elizabeth Donoghue via Flickr.

Abstract

In fire-prone regions, wildfire influences spatial and temporal patterns of landscape heterogeneity. The likely impacts of climate change on the frequency and intensity of wildfire highlights the importance of understanding how fire-induced heterogeneity may affect different components of the biota.

Here, we examine the influence of wildfire, as an agent of landscape heterogeneity, on the distribution of arboreal mammals in fire-prone forests in south-eastern Australia.

First, we used a stratified design to examine the role of topography, and the relative influence of fire severity and fire history, on the occurrence of arboreal mammals 2–3 years after wildfire. Second, we investigated the influence of landscape context on the occurrence of arboreal mammals at severely burnt sites. Forested gullies supported a higher abundance of arboreal mammals than slopes.

Fire severity was the strongest influence, with abundance lower at severely burnt than unburnt sites. The occurrence of mammals at severely burned sites was influenced by landscape context: abundance increased with increasing amount of unburnt and understorey-only burnt forest within a one kilometre radius.

These results support the hypothesis that unburnt forest and moist gullies can serve as refuges for fauna in the post-fire environment and assist recolonization of severely burned forest. They highlight the importance of spatial heterogeneity created by wildfire and the need to incorporate spatial aspects of fire regimes (e.g. creation and protection of refuges) for fire management in fire-prone landscapes.

Chia EK, Bassett M, Nimmo DG, Leonard SWJ, Ritchie EG, Clarke MF, Bennett AF (2015) Fire severity and fire-induced landscape heterogeneity affect arboreal mammals in fire-prone forests, Ecosphere, 6:10 PDF DOI

Multiple threats, or multiplying the threats? Interactions between invasive predators and other ecological disturbances

Authors: Tim S Doherty, Chris R Dickman, Dale G Nimmo and Euan G Ritchie

Abstract

Invasive species have reshaped the composition of biomes across the globe, and considerable cost is now associated with minimising their ecological, social and economic impacts. Mammalian predators are among the most damaging invaders, having caused numerous species extinctions.

Here, we review evidence of interactions between invasive predators and six key threats that together have strong potential to influence both the impacts of the predators, and their management.

We show that impacts of invasive predators can be classified as either functional or numerical, and that they interact with other threats through both habitat- and community-mediated pathways.

Ecosystem context and invasive predator identity are central in shaping variability in these relationships and their outcomes. Greater recognition of the ecological complexities between major processes that threaten biodiversity, including changing spatial and temporal relationships among species, is required to both advance ecological theory and improve conservation actions and outcomes.

We discuss how novel approaches to conservation management can be used to address interactions between threatening processes and ameliorate invasive predator impacts.

Doherty TS, Dickman CR, Nimmo DG, Ritchie EG (2015) Multiple threats, or multiplying the threats? Interactions between invasive predators and other ecological disturbances, Biological Conservation, 190, 60-68 PDF DOI

Science Network Western Australia: Thousands predicted to die along state barrier fence

The south-west of WA is a global biodiversity hotspot. The state barrier fence has had a questionable impact on controlling pest species and extending it would likely cause more harm than good.

Read more, including reader comments, on the Science Network Western Australia website.

Published: Continental-scale governance failure will hasten loss of Australia’s biodiversity

Authors: Euan G Ritchie, Corey JA Bradshaw, Chris R Dickman, Richard Hobbs, Christopher N Johnson, Emma L Johnston, William F Laurence, David Lindenmayer, Michael A McCarthy, Dale G Nimmo, Hugh H Possingham, Robert L Pressey, David M Watson and John Woinarski

Abstract

Conserving biodiversity against a global backdrop of rapid environmental change poses one of the biggest and most important challenges to society. For this reason, systems of nature reserves have never been more important.

Protected areas are under threat in many parts of the world (Mascia and Pailler 2011), but the weakening of protected areas in a rich, developed country with a global reputation for conservation leadership (Harrison 2006) is particularly alarming (Ritchie 2013). Consequently, we are concerned about the recent spate of substantial policy, legislative and management changes being made by three of six Australian state governments for exploitative uses of national parks — actions that could affect much of Australia and have significant negative effects on biodiversity.

In recent decades, the Australian state and federal governments have collectively built a system of terrestrial and marine conservation reserves that aspires to be comprehensive and adequate, and to form the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. The resulting national reserve system is imperfect, but goes some way toward protecting Australia’s unique species and ecosystems (Taylor et al. 2011). That system is now being systematically undermined, even while continental-scale biodiversity losses are underway.

Ritchie EG, Bradshaw CJA, Dickman CR, Hobbs R, Johnson CN, Johnston EL, Laurence WF, Lindenmayer D, McCarthy MA, Nimmo DG, Possingham HH, Pressey RL, Watson DM, Woinarski J (2013) Continental-scale governance failure will hasten loss of Australia’s biodiversity, Conservation Biology, 27(6) 1133–1135 PDF DOI

The Conversation: Should we move Tasmanian Devils back to the mainland?

This Tasmanian Devil needs a holiday. How about the mainland? Flickr/sillypucci

This Tasmanian Devil needs a holiday. How about the mainland? Image by sillypucci [CC BY-NC 3.0] via Flickr

In almost all parts of the world our environment is under siege and we are losing the battle to save many species from extinction. The most common threats behind this unfolding catastrophe are habitat loss and modification, invasive species, and climate change. What can we do?

Usually we focus on treating the symptoms — planting trees or shooting pest animals — but these treatments often fail. Perhaps we need radical new solutions for fixing broken ecosystems.

One such solution could be introducing (or reintroducing) species to ecosystems. There is now a serious and broad-based proposal to release Tasmanian Devils into the wild at Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, saving devils from extinction in Tasmania, and restoring damaged ecosystems on the mainland.

What is rewilding?

We can look at the Tasmanian Devil proposal in terms of an ecological concept known as rewilding. In essence, rewilding seeks to restore ecological function to habitats by introducing or reintroducing species that could perform vital roles.

Perhaps the best example comes from Yellowstone National Park in the US, where wolves were returned after a 70-year absence. Wolves are crucial to Yellowstone’s ecosystems. Without them herbivores like deer and moose flourish, and prevent trees from producing saplings (see video below).

In Australia, the Tasmanian Devil is an ideal candidate for reintroduction to the mainland.

Saving devils

Tasmanian Devils used to inhabit mainland Australia. When exactly they went extinct on the mainland is uncertain, with dates ranging from 5,000 to as recent as 500 years ago. But in 1881 Frederick McCoy, the first director of the National Museum, noted that Tasmanian Devils (or perhaps that should be “mainland” devils) are very common in the most recent cave deposits in Victoria. These fossils are identical to living devils in Tasmania.

Why they became extinct is more mysterious. Various theories have attributed blame to climate change, over-hunting by Aboriginal Australians, and dingoes.

But whatever the cause, current conditions at Wilson’s Promontory closely resemble those in Tasmania, and have likely remained unchanged for thousands of years, with no dingoes and plenty of prey. So we can be sure that the devils would fit in.

But why move them now?

One excellent reason is that there is a genuine risk that devils could become extinct in the wild by 2025, as a result of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). A mainland population would act as a large, wild insurance population, outside of Tasmania where DFTD is present.

How would the mainland benefit?

So we know Tasmanian Devils have been on the mainland before, and that moving them might help save the species from extinction. But what could devils offer the mainland?

One of the biggest benefits devils could offer is in the control of the red foxes, feral cats and overabundant herbivores (such as wombats, rabbits and wallabies). Evidence for this comes from Tasmania. Following the decline of devils due to DFTD, species such as the feral cat have been increasing. This in turn is associated with a halving in population size of a smaller, native predator, the Eastern Quoll (once present, but now extinct in Victoria).

Some have also suggested that the reason foxes have only recently established themselves in Tasmania is not solely due to humans introducing them, but because devils declined around the same time. Prior to DFTD, devils may have been acting as a first line of defence against foxes by killing their cubs.

Currently we spend a lot of money managing foxes on mainland Australia through baiting programs. But are we going to do this forever? Devils may provide a 24-7 predator control service, free of charge.

Focusing on foxes also ignores the fact that there is no effective control of probably Australia’s most damaging feral animal, cats. As noted above, devils are capable of limiting cats too.

Another issue at Wilson’s promontory is an over-abundance of herbivores including wombats, swamp wallabies, rabbits, kangaroos and hog deer. All of these increased rapidly following the removal of dingoes in the 1940s.

In high numbers these herbivores can radically alter habitats, making them unsuitable for other species. We can shoot herbivores to keep them down, or we could introduce a natural predator such as Tasmanian Devils.

What’s next?

Parks Victoria and an ambitious multi-institutional research hub, the Wildlife Biodiversity Co-operative Research Centre are behind the new proposal to move devils to Wilson’s Promontory. Planning is underway for a comprehensive proposal to the Victorian and Tasmanian governments, and thorough consultation with the public.

With this in mind I urge our leaders to be bold and act now. There are always risks with moving species, but not taking calculated risks to conserve our wildlife is perhaps even worse. A devil reintroduction should be viewed as a positive and strategic national decision, and one for which future generations will thank us.

It is not often we can achieve win-wins in conservation, but helping prevent the extinction of the Tasmanian devil by re-establishing a mainland population, and restoring desperately needed ecosystem function to habitats, may just be the best conservation win-win waiting to happen.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Loose laws threaten Australia’s wildlife

Kookaburras, koalas and kangaroos — Australia is well known for its charismatic animals and vast, seemingly untamable, wild spaces. But throughout the country, the national parks and reserves that protect these unique animals and ecosystems have come under increasing threat. New rules and relaxed regulations, which bolster immediate economic growth, are putting pressure on Australia’s already-threatened biodiversity.

Read more at Mongabay.com

The dingo: from sinner to saviour — NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

I’m extremely excited, proud and humbled to announce that I am part of a collaborative research team awarded this year’s NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

It's a big night for 'Team Dingo' at the Eureka Prizes

It’s a big night for ‘Team Dingo’ at the Eureka Prizes.

Our research centres on the much-maligned and often polarising predator: the dingo.

Though sometimes miscast as vermin, our research shows that dingoes are key elements in the struggle to reduce damage caused by foxes, feral cats and even kanagroos; and that ecosystems with dingoes have better vegetation and more diverse and abundant populations of small native mammals. In fact, a good dose of our native dog can sustain biodiversity and help land managers control invasive species.

Part cultural icon, part livestock pest, Australia’s largest terrestrial predator is also an important component of healthy ecosystems and a useful contributor to environmental recovery and the protection of threatened species.

‘Team Dingo’ is:

  • Professor Chris Johnson, University of Tasmania
  • Dr Michael Letnic, University of New South Wales
  • Dr Euan Ritchie, Deakin University
  • Dr Arian Wallach, James Cook University
  • Adam O’Neill, Evelyn Downs Station.
'Team Dingo' celebrate at the Eureka Prizes

‘Team Dingo’ celebrate at the Eureka Prizes. Left to right: Dr Euan Ritchie, Dr Arian Wallach, Prof Chris Johnson, Dr Mike Letnic. Image: Australia Museum and Daniel O’Doherty.

On behalf of the team, I would also like to congratulate our fellow Eureka finalists: Dr David Post, Dr Francis Chiew (CSIRO), Dr Bertrand Timbal and Dr Harry Hendon (Bureau of Meteorology) for their work on the causes and predictability of climate variability and its impacts on water availability; and Dr Jason Sharples (University of New South Wales) and Richard McRae (ACT Emergency Services Agency) for their research on the causes and effects of catastrophic firestorms.

Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, school science and science journalism and communication.

Science Alert: Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

Another attack on Fraser Island — the flashpoint for dingo management issues — has highlighted our complex relationship with Australia’s largest terrestrial predator.

The Fraser Island Dingo is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Image by Glen Fergus [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The Fraser Island Dingo is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Image by Glen Fergus [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 park after a near 90-year absence, the balance of an entire ecosystem shifted. Grazing by overabundant elk dropped leading to recovery of native aspen, willow and cottonwood trees. Beavers returned, small predators and scavengers increased and coyote numbers dropped, indirectly benefiting the threatened pronghorn antelope.

Recent research from around the globe is demonstrating that large predators, like wolves and dingoes, play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Read more at Science Alert

The Australian: MPs’ ignorance puts parks in peril

Last week the world was appalled when Ecuador decided to open up one of its iconic national parks for petroleum development. Yet the world should be even more disappointed in Australia, a far wealthier nation whose parks could be facing even worse threats.

Why is Australia going down this reckless path? It’s all down to the state governments.

Read more about the threats facing Australia’s national parks: grazing, logging, clearing, development and worst of all: the erosion of vital government protections.

Published: The dingo and biodiversity conservation — response to Fleming et al.

Authors: Chris N Johnson and Euan G Ritchie

Abstract

Several authors have recently argued that dingoes could be used to help conserve biodiversity in Australia. Fleming et al. (2012) [Australian Mammalogy 34, 119–131] offer the alternative view that restoration of dingo predation is unlikely to help native species, and is more likely to do harm. We think many of the arguments used by Fleming et al. to reach that conclusion are either unsound or beside the point, and we explain why.

Dingo Christopher Watson Wikimedia Commons 1248 x 772

The dingo is Australia’s largest terrestrial predator. But what does that mean for smaller predators, prey and the interactions between them? Image by By Christopher Watson [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons.


Johnson CN, Ritchie EG (2013) The dingo and biodiversity conservation: response to Fleming et al. Australian Mammalogy, 2013, 35, 8–14 DOI PDF

Big Desert update 2

I’ve just returned from a glorious two-week family holiday in sunny north Queensland. How I’ve missed the place, so much cool wildlife everywhere! Among the highlights were spotting a male cassowary with three chicks (my son is currently obsessed with these oversized birds), watching platypus swim from our front veranda on the Atherton Tablelands — if you’re looking for a biologist’s paradise you can’t go wrong here — and taking the kids spotlighting for NQ’s arboreal mammals. We missed out on tree kangaroos, alas, but we did see green ringtail, lemuroid, and Herbert River ringtail possums, coppery brushtail possums and long-nosed bandicoots. And at age five, Rohan seems to be well on his way to a successful career in field ecology, spotting the eye-shine of many possums himself.

But enough on holidays; what I’d like to update everyone on is the first results to roll in from our Big Desert work. As I’ve written previously, this is an incredibly remote and largely unstudied region, so there’s much to be discovered and learned. What have we found so far? Well, I’ll let the video, below, do most of the talking, but what’s most exciting is that we’ve confirmed there is a dog population in the park, and some individuals appear to look very much like dingoes. We always suspected this, but it’s nice to have positive confirmation. Another interesting result is that goats were not recorded on any of the cameras so far, as compared to the Murray Sunset National Park, to the north, where goats are very abundant, but dogs/dingoes are absent. It’s early days, the habitats of Murray Sunset and the Big Desert / Wyperfeld region are somewhat different, and I’m sure we’ll find some goats in the region soon enough, as they’ve been recorded there. But, it does suggest dingoes may be playing a role in keeping goat numbers down, as we know they do from other studies conducted in other parts of Australia .

Some may remember the Victorian Government recently reviewed the evidence for the existence of big cats; the legendary Black Panther. Well, we may just have found it ourselves! (second-last clip in the video). On a serious note though, cats appear to be relatively common, and great variation exists in their morphology (as seen on the videos). Cats are known to be a major factor behind the extinction of many native species, and new research also shows how they have large impacts on wildlife through the spread of toxoplasmosis. We’re keen to understand more about the role of foxes and dingoes in suppressing cats and therefore disease transmission, but more on that later…

No rest for the wicked. I’m off to Belfast next week to attend the 11th International Mammalogical Congress. I’ll be speaking about the dingo barrier fence and co-chairing a symposium on trophic cascades, ecological restoration and conservation of mammals. I’m really looking forward to a week of listening to mammal research from around the world, and perhaps just a wee Guinness or two as well.

Relaxed laws imperil Australian wildlife

This letter was originally published in Nature on behalf of 21 co-signatories. DOI

Policy and legislative changes by Australia’s state governments are eroding the vital protection of the country’s unique biodiversity.

Reserves are being opened up to ecologically disruptive activities, such as grazing by domestic livestock, logging, mining, recreational hunting and fishing, and commercial development. Protected habitats on private and leasehold land are imperilled too. Queensland and Victoria, for example, are relaxing hard-won laws that limit vegetation clearance on private land, further accelerating the loss of regional biodiversity.

Collectively, these actions increase the pressure on biodiversity conservation in protected areas, many of which are already showing biodiversity loss (for example, the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia). Ecological connectivity is being lost, which will hamper the dispersal of species and their ability to respond to climate-change effects.

Species extinctions are primed to increase. Too many of the country’s unique fauna and flora have been wiped out over the past two centuries (see, for example, C. Johnson Australia’s Mammal Extinctions; Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006), including the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus murrayi) in 2009.

There could be no worse time to weaken reserve protection and relax laws designed to reduce habitat loss.

The Conversation: Making national parks truly national

Australia boasts over 500 national parks covering 28 million hectares of land, or about 3.6% of Australia. You could be forgiven for thinking we’re doing well in the biodiversity-conservation game.

But did you know that of those more than 500 national parks, only six are managed by the Commonwealth Government?

Kakadu National Park – our biggest and possibly most important national park – is a global conservation embarrassment. Image by Cgoodwin [CC-BY-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Kakadu National Park – our biggest and possibly most important national park – is a global conservation embarrassment. Image by Cgoodwin [CC-BY-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has proposed extending the Commonwealth’s power to veto potentially high-impact activities like logging, grazing and mining proposed in national parks.

As ecologists and conservation scientists, we couldn’t agree more with the intent of this proposal, although we have several recommendations and caveats.

Read more at The Conversation.

The Wire: Australia’s National Parks under threat

Experts are warning Australia’s National Parks are facing a ‘death by a thousand cuts’. As protections against grazing, hunting and logging within the parks relax, we are at risk of finding out first-hand just how fragile these eco-systems are, and why they desperately need protecting.

Professor Bill Laurance and I speak to The Wire’s Graham Backhaus.

via The Wire

The Conversation: Our national parks must be more than playgrounds or paddocks

Kakadu National Park. Image: Thomas Schoch [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Kakadu National Park. Image: Thomas Schoch [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s make or break time for Australia’s national parks.

National parks on land and in the ocean are dying a death of a thousand cuts, in the form of bullets, hooks, hotels, logging concessions and grazing licences. It’s been an extraordinary last few months, with various governments in eastern states proposing new uses for these critically important areas.

Read more at The Conversation