Biodiversity: Science and Solutions for Australia

Chapter 3: Australia’s biodiversity: status and trends

Page 6 of 16

By David K. Yeates, Daniel J. Metcalfe, David A. Westcott and Alan Butler

Since humans first arrived on the continent, Australia’s  biodiversity has been modified extensively by habitat fragmentation, burning, invasive species, farming and other processes. We have witnessed this change through extinctions and changes in land cover, but surprisingly little is known about the status and trends of Australia’s biodiversity.

Overview

The status of biodiversity is measured by the number of species in a particular place or by the diversity of species in a particular place. Trends refer to the change in biodiversity over time.

Marine and aquatic environments show similar status and trends to terrestrial environments. Most of the declines we see are in areas close to human settlement. Many of our lakes and river systems have been extensively changed, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Evidence from monitoring shows that Australia biodiversity is declining and pressure on biodiversity is increasing. It is critically important to use scientific monitoring of biodiversity to manage Australia’s biodiversity into the future.

Discover more about the status and trends of Australia’s biodiversity:

Watch an interview with author Dr David Yeates (05:11):

Show Transcript

[Music plays and text appears:  Australia’s biodiversity:  Status and trends]

[Music plans and image changes to show Dr. David Yeates - Entomologist]

Dr. David Yeates:  All the evidence we’ve gathered to date when we monitor Australia’s biodiversity indicates that... indicate that the pressures on biodiversity continue to increase, and our biodiversity continues to decline.

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

That’s why it’s critically important that we use science and scientific monitoring in order to better manage to Australian’s biodiversity into the future.

[Image changes to a car towing a boat]

[Image changes to people handling a turtle and recording observations]

There’s a lack of data on the status and trend of Australian biodiversity in general, but Australia’s not unique in that sense in that many countries would like to have more data on the status of their biodiversity and its change.

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

One of the challenges we always face is that we didn’t really collect accurate data at the beginning of the change process, and we don’t have good accurate estimates of how many species are in Australia.

[Image changes to camera close up of a lizard]

[Images changes to people in the bush and text appears:  About 500,000 – 600,000 species in Australia]

We believe there are something like 500 or 600,000 species of animals and plants and microorganisms in Australia.

[Image changes to a person holding an animal trap]

Probably only about 25% of those have formally been named by scientists.

[Image changes to a person holding a bag with an animal inside and text appears:  Only 25% formally named]

We’re aware of many, many more, but they just haven’t received the attention they deserved in terms of scientific naming yet, and there any many, many other ones out there that we believe exist, but we don’t have accurate records for so far.

[Images changes to a person releasing the animal from a bag]

[Music playing and text appears:  Monitoring our biodiversity]

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

It’s definitely the case that monitoring Australia’s biodiversity has become much more important in the last five or ten years.

 

[Image changes to a man operating a remote flying device]

Scientists in Australia studying our biodiversity realise that we need much more accurate information through robust and well designed monitoring programs.

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

One of the important ways that Australia is addressing the knowledge gap in biodiversity monitoring is through the Atlas of Living Australia, which is delivering digital information from the plant and animal collections in Australia on the distribution and abundance of Australia’s animals and plants.

[Text appears:  Atlas of Living Australia:  www.ala.org.au]

[Image changes to webpage views of the Atlas of Living Australia]

So that’s a great initiative that allows for members of the public and scientists to go and view places where plants and animals in Australia occur, or did once occur.  So that allows managers greater understanding of the geographic distribution of Australia’s biodiversity, a much greater access than ever been available before.

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

[Image changes to picture of machine and text appears:  Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN)]

[Image changes to satellite picture]

Large scale monitoring programs for Australia’s biodiversity have begun in the last few years, especially with the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, which aims to provide on ground and satellite indirect monitoring of Australia’s biodiversity in a number of key biomes throughout the continent, so that’s a really exciting investment by the Australian government in monitoring Australia’s biodiversity.

[Image changes to people walking through the rainforest and text appears:  Far North Queensland Rainforest Supersite]

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

The National Flying Fox Monitoring Program is a good example of a single species monitoring program that gives you an understanding of the complexity and expense of monitoring a widespread species like that properly.

[Images changes to a group of people sitting on the ground in a park, talking, and text appears:  National Flying Fox Monitoring Program]

[Images changes to flying foxes hanging in a tree]

So on a particular day each year over 500 different flying fox camps, from Cooktown right down through the east Australian coast, are monitored and individual flying foxes are counted in each of those camps.

[Image changes to people observing flying foxes and recording their observations]

So that’s a tremendous effort from a lot of scientists and volunteers, and that needs to be done over many, many years to understand the trend in the diversity and abundance of those flying foxes.

[Image changes as camera pans around the treetops]

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

[Text appears:  Australian National Biological Collections]

And the National Biological Collections and the other collections in Australia are critical resources for research on Australia’s biodiversity.

[Image changes to a person opening drawers in a cabinet]

[Image changes to a tray of beetles]

They allow us to compare new species that we might discover through monitoring and survey work, with species that are already known to exist here and have names.

[Image changes to a man sitting at a desk working on a computer]

And they also allow us to assess the abundance of species through time.

[Image changes to a computer image of a beetle]

And in some cases they allow us to look back in time at genetic diversity.

[Image changes to a man viewing a beetle]

[Image changes to a person closing a drawer and observing animals in another drawer]

So there are a couple of good cases now of researchers being able to assess past genetic diversity by examining specimens that are in Australia’s Biological Collection.

[Music plays and text appears:  Monitoring into the future]

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

It’s certain that in the future the monitoring of Australia’s biodiversity with incorporate many more genetic and genomic techniques into the armoury of tools.

[Image changes to a picture of a man operating a machine and text appears:  New genetic technology for managing biodiversity]

Genetic techniques enable us to gather a lot of information very quickly now on the diversity of Australia’s plants and animals, and this provides us now with a wonderful and very powerful tool for assessing and monitoring Australia’s biodiversity in the future.

[Image changes to a spreadsheet on a computer screen]

[Image changes to a man hiking through heavy overgrowth of bush]

Australia is one of the world’s mega diverse biodiversity countries, and it... and has a very high level of biodiversity, particularly endemic biodiversity that’s only found here.

[Image changes to show man putting out his hand behind a large spider]

[Images changes to a picture of a large lizard]

We’re lucky that we have a well developed infrastructure for science and natural resource planning.

[Image changes to two men viewing a turtle]

[Image changes to a person’s hand holding an ant]

[Images of various people, equipment, and machinery flash by on screen]

We’re very well placed to use information from the collections through the Atlas of Living Australia, new genetic technologies, and really sophisticated new monitoring programs to adequately assess, monitor, and ultimately manage Australia’s biodiversity much better into the future for future generations.

[Image changes back to Dr. David Yeates]

[Text appears:  Music:  Nicolas Del Pozo, Premiumbeat.com; Additional Footage:  Bruce Webber, Justin Perry; Additional Images:  NASA, GeoScience Australia]

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]