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article imageAustralia is on the brink of an 'extinction calamity'

By Karen Graham     Feb 11, 2015 in Environment
Much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. But in the past 200 years, the continent has lost one in ten of its native animals, through predation by introduced predators like the feral cat and red fox, and large-scale managed fires.
These latest findings are the result of a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and suggest the scope of the problem is more serious than was first thought. Scientists in the study, from Charles Darwin University, Southern Cross University and the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Wanneroo, warn of an "extinction calamity" facing Australia's native mammals.
Australia is a special and unique nation in many ways. It is a continent that encompasses all of its biodiversity. It is also the only developed country on Earth with a low population density and the economic ability to protect its unique biodiversity sans competition for land use or destruction of habitat. Yet, since 1788, 11 percent of 278 endemic land mammals have been lost, 21 percent are threatened with extinction, and an additional 15 percent are near extinction.
The Eastern quoll is one of Australia s endangered mammals. Cane toads  feral foxes and cats have al...
The Eastern quoll is one of Australia's endangered mammals. Cane toads, feral foxes and cats have all had an impact, reducing their numbers significantly.
Michael Barritt & Karen May
"No other country has had such a high rate and number of mammal extinctions over this period, and the number we report for Australia is substantially higher than previous estimates," said conservation biologist John Woinarski, who led the research. Woinarski added that the 56 land mammals that are threatened indicated this high rate of loss will continue to escalate unless something is done.
"The extent of the problem has been largely unappreciated until recently because much of the loss involves small, nocturnal, shy species with [little] public profile - few Australians know of these species, let alone have seen them, so their loss has been largely unappreciated by the community."
Mahogany gliders are threatened due to habitat loss  with over 80 percent of its natural habitat bei...
Mahogany gliders are threatened due to habitat loss, with over 80 percent of its natural habitat being cleared to grow sugar cane.
Pfinge at fr.wikipedia
Australia's ongoing problem with predatory feral animals
Red foxes, feral cats, feral rabbits, feral pigs, and feral goats are responsible for the extinction or decline of a number of endemic mammals unique to Australia, as well as creating adverse changes in ecological communities, said the Australian Department of the Environment in 2004. But since the draft of this report, there has been little done to eradicate these feral animals.
Feral cats are a huge problem. First brought to Australia from Britain in the 1800s, they established themselves very quickly, says Chris Johnson, professor of zoology at the University of Tasmania. Johnson estimates that feral cats eat about 75 million native animals every night in Australia. That's "more than 20 billion mammals, reptiles, birds and even insects every year."
The thing that troubles the professor the most is the loss of some endemic creatures we haven't even discovered yet. "There are mammal species that have only just been described and we realize that they must have been abundant 200 years ago, but then vanished. So what caused them to vanish? The leading candidate for that cause, I think, is the feral cat," he said.
Australia s feral cat population is being blamed for the loss of a number of endemic species.
Australia's feral cat population is being blamed for the loss of a number of endemic species.
Eddy Van 3000 from in Flanders fields
Red foxes were introduced to Australia from Britain in the early 1800s solely for the purpose of the traditional English sport of fox hunting. The spread of foxes across the continent just happened to coincide with the spread of another invasive species, the rabbit, a key prey item of the fox. Today, there are over 7.2 million red foxes.
Needless to say, several solutions have been tried, from hand-baiting and aerial baiting of the predators to controlled fires to reduce their numbers. Called "prescribed burning," managed brush fires are used for a number of purposes, from maintaining biodiversity to reducing the buildup of flammable fuel loads. But unless the feral cat and red fox populations are brought under control, there will continue to be a loss of endemic mammals in Australia, say the researchers.
More about Australia, Biodiversity, endemic species, introduced predators, largescale fires
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