Community News

Australia’s Plant Species in Decline

VOICES FOR THE EARTH

The fact that Australia’s unique wildlife is in decline is, unfortunately, a recurring theme, with report after report identifying the causes. Drought and bushfires associated with climate change and land clearing for agriculture and urban expansion are the main contributors to habitat loss which is driving those declines
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However, while much-loved animals and birds receive most of the attention, our equally unique flora has been largely overlooked, until now. As the year from hell closes, a group of scientists have released findings that Australia’s plant species are also suffering major declines, with threatened plants having fallen by an average 72% over the last 20 years.

This is a huge loss but comes as little surprise to those working on the ‘front line’ over that period. It should also be recognised that there are thousands of plant species that are headed for extinction, but yet to be listed as threatened. This is because the gathering of evidence necessary to nominate a species to be declared threatened is time-consuming, and our governments do not fund that work, which is mainly left to concerned ecologists to undertake at their own expense.

Species’ decline frequently starts with local extinctions, something I have personally witnessed. All have been the result of fire, or more specifically too frequent fire. The repetitive burning of the landscape, supposedly for pasture management or hazard reduction, is having a devastating impact, as many species do not have time to mature and produce seed before they too are burned. Extinction occurs when there is no soil seed bank left.

Unfortunately, with a heating world leading to an increased threat from bushfire, the populist knee-jerk reaction is to undertake more hazard reduction burning and allowing massive habitat fragmentation by allowing the clearing of fire breaks along property boundaries.

In short, it is largely our mismanagement of nature that is driving extinctions of both flora and fauna, and the trend will not be reversed without a massive, and sincere, commitment from all of society. That will require political leadership and unity.

John Edwards

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