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By Helen Paynter 22 November 2021 4 min read

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A disaster is unfolding in our backyards and on our doorsteps. It is in our cities, farms, forests, rivers, reefs, parks and playgrounds. The threat is invasive species in Australia. From feral cats to toxic toads, choking weeds, deadly fungi and armies of ants, Australia is in the grip of an unprecedented attack on our native wildlife, environment and way of life.

While invasive species are a major threat globally, they have been the major cause of native animal and plant extinctions in Australia. Their damage to native species is worse than habitat destruction and climate change.

Our new Fighting Plagues and Predators report, produced with the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, examines the impact invasive species are having on Australia and offers a roadmap to help manage the problem.

Impact of invasive species in Australia

Since European settlement, invasive species have contributed to the confirmed extinctions of 79 Australian species. More recently, invasive species in Australia have been the dominant driver in nearly all extinctions since the 1960s.

Feral cats and red foxes have already killed off at least 25 native mammal species across central and southern Australia. Now, a new wave of mammal extinctions is looming across northern Australia, as intense fires and overgrazing by feral cattle, pigs and buffaloes remove shelter and make it easier for feral cats to hunt.

Our scientist and report co-author Dr Andy Sheppard said the damage done by invasive species to biodiversity is very serious for Australia.

"Invasive alien species are ranked number five globally in terms of their impact on the environment. But in Australia they are ranked number one," Andy said.

"Feral animals and weeds have been in Australia since the first fleet arrived. But over recent years the numbers of pests like foxes and cats has increased greatly. This has been encouraged by land use change and climate change."

The environmental, economic, cultural and health costs of invasive pests are multiplying.

No time to waste

Plagues of pests are not a distant problem to worry about tomorrow. They are here now.

While current strategies have slowed some impacts, the challenge is for all Australians to work together to come up with new ways to stop the harm caused by invasive species.

As more invasive species take hold and spread, the pest problem is growing; recent arrivals include myrtle rust, bird flu, white spot disease in prawns, ehrlichiosis disease in dogs, fall armyworm, Asian honeybees and several invasive ant species.

The financial cost is already enormous. Invasive species – predominantly weeds, cats, rabbits and fire ants – are conservatively estimated to have cost Australia $390 billion over the past 60 years (about $25 million per year) in impacts and control measures. This cost will grow markedly if new pests, weeds and diseases are able to invade Australia.

©  Bruce Webber CSIRO

Taking up the fight

By working together, and investing in innovative technology and management approaches, we can ensure Australia’s extraordinary, irreplaceable native animals and plants can survive for future generations to treasure.

Everyone has a role to play and there are simple steps you can take to help protect our environment and our industries as we move towards a pest free future.

Here are some things you can do:

Travel safely

Don’t bring restricted items into the country or your state or territory. Follow the rules, don’t be sorry and declare all items when returning home from overseas or interstate.

Be a responsible pet owner

Pets make fabulous companions but both cats and dogs are responsible for native animal population declines. Walk dogs on leads, keep cats indoors and never dump unwanted pets. Register your animals and keep them out of wildlife areas. Keep your pets healthy and free of disease.

Grow natives in the garden

Find out the best plants to grow and when to plant them. Consider native species rather than introduced plants. Remove any weeds that grow in your backyard and dispose of green waste properly. Check your plants for signs of disease and be on the lookout for weeds that pose a biosecurity risk to Australia.

Report pest species

Report pest animal locations through the FeralScan app. Download it from the app store or visit the website. You can also report pest or disease concerns to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Protect farm animals

Always be on the lookout for symptoms of diseases that could impact your stock and animals on nearby farms.

Keep a healthy hive

If you keep bees, keep your hive healthy. Make sure you know how to identify pests and diseases. Register your hive and comply with state and territory rules.

Article adapted from the Fighting Plagues and Predators report.

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